Author's Notes: And here we have it, the last chapter! But before I get to that, I wanted to take a moment to thank each and everyone of my readers who have stuck with me through this story. Your words and your encouragement was more than I ever could have hoped for as an author, and I sincerely appreciated each and every review and message that was left. You guys truly make writing a pleasure, and that is a fact.
This last bit is for you, folks! Enjoy.
Part XIV: with our battle cries and gleaming helms
Throughout her centuries, certain things had become as rote to her as breathing.
Sif knew it all. She knew the twist and pull of her body on the river of the bifröst's magic through the cosmos. She knew the shape of Yggdrasil's branches dancing in the stars, for as heavy as a lady adorned with gold and jewels was the Great Mother and her swaying limbs. The cosmos shuddered, it gleamed and glowed and whispered its secrets into her ears, and one had to listen carefully in order to hear it over the great roar of the Way they raced through. The rush of time and space was a crescendo, ever growing. The song of the Mother was whispered as a lullaby, softly spoken into her children's ears.
As they sped through the stars, she could feel Heimdall's eyes on her. She could feel the gravity of Asgard as if she was a wave being pulled to the shoreline, being reclaimed from the horizon. Home was a thick undertow in the sea of space and time, and long had she known the dance of swaying before finally giving into its pull.
When the prismed shaft of light released them - the rainbow tones of the bridge dissolving into the warm gold and bronze of the Observatory and the steel and mossy blue-green of the foaming sea beyond - Sif released a breath she had not realized she had been holding. In her hand, she held the water of the Underway in a vice like grip, as if anything less would have seen all they had fought for turn to dust in her hand, useless.
They hit the floor of Heimdall's Observatory running, she and Thor. Her brother did not to stop their way, and the sound of the sword of the byway sliding against its golden sheath was as loud as the crackle of energy that still loitered after their journey. Both thundered. Both heralded.
She felt the flicker of unblinking eyes on her, as golden and as cold as the gleaming light that they had just traveled through, before the gaze looked away again.
When they reached the palace, she ignored the surprised sounds of the grooms when they saw their new winged mounts alongside those they had departed with. There were whispers of awe upon seeing two mares of a young generation of hippogryphs, and as if knowing of the eyes on her Gullfaxi threw her head, and neighed arrogantly to the small crowd that had gathered. At any other time, Sif would have found her smile and her humor within her at the sight, but not now, not yet, not when . . .
The Hall of Eir was quiet when they arrived, shaded in a welcoming half light. The flickering torches set off the warm golden tones of the gilded walls, and the long banners boasting of the Allfather's name fluttered softly in the soothing breeze that took up residence next to the matron healer's spirit.
Loki was where they had left him, still swathed in the golden spells that kept to him his stasis. The fluttering lights made gilded patterns on his skin. The shades danced, shifting from bronze to yellow and then to the palest of gold until the second son looked to be something struck from a dwarf's hammer rather than something built out of flesh and bone. Next to Loki's bedside was the Allmother, and the Queen Frigg looked as if she had not slept for even one of the nights during which they had been gone. Her lovely brown eyes were shadowed, and the gleam that normally sat upon her cheeks and within her hair was gone, leaving her as a colorless shade, near as wane as her son.
But a look of such relief split over her face when she saw them. For the first time in far too long, Frigg breathed in deep a breath she had been denying to herself when it had been unknown whether or not her youngest would live to breathe again. "Thank Yggdrasil eternal," Frigg gave her prayers to the things higher than them, coming to stand as Sif and Thor ran forward. Her eyes traced over them – pausing on where they were still coated in dragon's blood and the mire of Náströnd, before continuing on to see the vial in Sif's hand, and there her gaze remained.
At the clattering of thick soles and steel – warriors upon healing ground - Eir had slipped forth to meet them, no doubt hearing the ruckus that they had made when speeding through the palace. The half elven woman held out a slender hand, and Sif surrendered the vial she still held. She threaded her fingers together after giving up the water, as if to stay them from moving, for a part of her did trust the vial to anyone else's hands but her own.
While Eir uncorked the vial and made the potion ready, Thor made his way around Loki's sickbed, coming to stand on his brother's right side, sharing his mother's shadow to the left of him. The golden lights danced on his armor and skin as he bent forth to study Loki's face through the waves of golden light that kept to him his slumber, a tenderness in his gaze there for all to see. Sif made her way to Loki's left, careful not to disturb Eir and her work as she rested her hands on the gilded beams that made up his resting place. She was close enough to touch from where she stood, but carefully, she did not. Her heart was as a drum in her chest, beating fiercely to a savage beat, near desperate to escape the fleshly cage that surrounded it.
Then, there was a low hum in Eir's voice, and Sif felt seiðr on the air. It snagged at her bones, it pooled in her veins. Before her, Loki's breath made the golden web of spells above him dance. The light fluttered, it fractured. But it did not fall apart.
And Sif did not breathe.
Eir's fingers were long and graceful as she massaged Loki's throat, getting his still body to swallow out of reflex. He drank all of the water of Niflheimr; the Underwater a bright and piercing shade of cold blue, so out of place in the depths of Asgard and her warm and golden halls. Eir drew her hand away, and while doing so, she chanted, letting the golden mist surrounding Loki dissipate. The spells unraveled, as sure as the morning mist parting before the rising sun, and Sif peered forward to watch her friend as he breathed with his own strength, kept alive by his own might and will rather than by Eir's healing magicks.
Without the golden light granting him the illusion of health, his skin was a sickly shade of white, grey tinted and pallid, like the belly of a dead fish. His closed eyes were like bruises set into his face – purple and sunken into his skin like a wound. His breath was shallow, but still he breathed.
And Sif leaned forward, just barely letting her hand touch his own. His skin was cold against hers, but it was not the icy unnaturalness of death. Instead, it was a coolness that was uniquely him. It was a chill she had become long accustomed to over the years.
She bit her lip, and narrowed her gaze so that when he opened his eyes, she would not miss it. She would not miss him returning to her, and all would be well, and -
Loki's gaze snapped open, his eyes wild and wide and so very green as he sucked in a deep breath, filling lungs that had been too still for far too long. His mouth made an open shape, as if to scream, but no sound escaped from him. He coughed then, the sound sore and dry, and Eir was instantly at his side when he sat up quicker than his weak body should have let him, one hand supporting on his back, and the other hand firm upon his arm, growing a soft shade of gold, keeping an eye on his return to them.
As his gagging and shaking subsided, he held a hand up to cradle his head, his body still reeling from the sensation of having been torn apart and then put together from within; the elemental strands within him that creation had sparked with life having been uncorded and then rebraided again in the most violent of ways. "Remind me," he said slowly, his elegant voice wry, scratched and thin from disuse, "never to do that again if you plan on waking me afterward."
Thor gave a strangled sound, deep in his throat. The sound pulled, caught between joy and fear and grief and we almost lost you as Thor gave up the battle within himself to give Loki a moment to put himself back together again.
"Brother!" he exclaimed, the sound of his voice joyous, caught between a laugh and a sob. In Thor's eyes there were unshed tears, the gleam of them made bright in the warm light of Eir's hall. He leaned forward and unceremoniously drew the slimmer man into a bone crushing hug, the awkward angle forgotten as Thor wrapped his arms tight and squeezed for all he was worth – as if anything less would return Loki to the abyss from which they had pulled him from.
"My spine, Thor," Loki protested weakly, his voice thin with the lack of air making it to his lungs. As a master petting a hound, he patted his brother on the shoulder as if to placate him. But his eyes were smiling, giving away that he was pleased. Sif snorted at the sight, the sound wet, catching with her own tears, hot and sharp behind her ears. Try as he may – protest as he might – Loki enjoyed Thor's affections every bit as much as Thor enjoyed giving them, and his words to the otherwise were empty. "You aim to crush it and destroy all of your hard work," Loki said again when Thor had yet to lessen his hold.
Thor pulled back, just enough to let his brother breathe. "Yes, of course," he said then, his cheeks flushing pink as he released him completely.
"Oaf," Loki said, but there was a gentle humor in his voice. Thor smiled even wider at it.
"Snake," the first son returned, the old words as familiar as breathing between the two.
Brushing her firstborn aside, Frigg made her way to Loki next. The queen's smile was radiant, more a crown to her than her golden hair and the jewels that gleamed there. Elegantly, the older woman stooped to embrace her son, such a relief etched onto the lovely planes of her face.
"You foolish, foolish child," Frigg breathed against Loki's hair. Her breath shuddered in her lungs. It caught before she was able to release it. "Your mother is too old to be worrying about her heart in such a way, and I thank you not for reminding me of my age."
Loki closed his eyes for a moment, just a moment, breathing in deep as he returned his mother's embrace easier than he did Thor's. His fingers were white and bloodless from where they pressed against the fabric of her dress, as if anchoring himself. And then he let go.
Frigg lingered for a moment longer before pressing a kiss against the tangled mop of his hair when she straightened, as if he were still a child at her knee. Loki made a face at the gesture, but that too was shaped in fondness.
And Sif stood before the family, made whole once more, and found that she could not keep her grin from her face. She smiled until she could feel the cold air on her teeth, the motion of it stretching her skin.
"You gave Thor quite a fright," Sif said when Loki finally turned towards her, the word light and tangled on her tongue where she wished to say more – so much more, and did he knew how right her world now was with his breath returned to his lungs? The light returned to his eyes? Her heart hammered, and she wondered if he could hear that too – if he could know its shape and pulse with his magicks and his sights.
"And you, milady," Loki questioned, "you did not fear for me?" His voice teased. His eyes warmed.
And Sif snorted. "I welcomed the chance to have your place by our side silenced." But the words did not match the joy she could feel radiate from her face.
Across from them, Thor rolled his eyes. "The lady does not have your way with false words, brother," he called Sif on her lie. "She quickened to Hel's halls as urgently as I, and her brow was dark with thought the whole of our journey."
Loki smiled at the easy honesty that was always Thor and his heart upon his sleeve. "All the way to Hel's realm?" he questioned the rest of Thor's statement. "It seems that I have quite the tale to hear."
He would have only known bits and pieces from her dreams, from the conversations he heard around him while he was in his slumber. Sif gave a watery grin and said, "I did not care for that ending for you." Not in the least, but it was all she would say here and now – with her shield still raised and the simple relief in her eyes there only for Loki to see. "We made it so that, someday, you can write yourself a more fitting one."
She leaned in closer, and let her hand press against his own, just barely so as not to be seen. Loki's smile was soft upon her for a moment as he returned the touch – there and real and alive next to her. She felt something thick gather in her throat, like a stone. It was hard to swallow around its burning weight.
Sif then felt a weariness encompass her – a heaviness from their journey and the even heavier weight of her emotions – a weight that the adrenaline and the battlesong that their trip to Hel had done much to quell. Now it settled about her shoulders like a mantle, holding her together like gravity.
But Loki was smiling softly at them all, and his eyes were open and so very green and Sif thought only: now I can rest. Now, they all could.
If Frigg tried, she could not remember a time when her sons smiled more.
Her second son's sickbed had become a center of commotion, in the hours following Thor and Sif's return.
Loki had a steady parade of visitors, coming by to wish the second prince well and whole once more. The Warrior's Three had come to give their best to the sixth soul of their group, and Volstagg's eldest children had even drawn pictures in order to litter the prince's bedside with – the runes upon the parchment full of stick drawings and wishes for his quick recovery. Afterwards, a handful of Asgards mages, few as they were, passed through to give their best – even Amora took the time to stop by, Skurge in tow. The woman had brushed past Thor and lingered under the pretense of gifting an amulet enchanted for his healing. Loki wisely put the necklace aside, and Thor had lamented openly about the enchantress' heating spell that had singed his brow at the beginning of their quest. The jesting had the Three laughing openly, and Loki smiling slightly until Amora took her leave, her nose in the air and her long hair swishing angrily behind her. As always, the strongman was a shadow to her stride, whether she noticed his presence or not.
Now, Thor sat at his brother's right, close enough so that every time a gesture turned too grand, or he moved too quickly, he brushed his brother's arm with his own. Loki, who normally preferred his space and the keeping of it, let his brother those moments, his eyes glittering in bemusement every time Thor struck him. Sif was more circumspect than Thor, at Loki's left, close enough to share his shadow. Her dark hair was still coated in grime and dragon's blood, and her armor was stained with soot and scarred from flame, and still she did not leave. Her eyes shone with such a fondness, a fondness that had Frigg smiling to see as she called to mind her visions of the future alongside her mother's hopes deep within her chest. She saw their closeness – the way they curved into each other without thought, the way their forms were mirrored and their words finished where the other one left off - and knew such a peace at the sight. Perhaps, Frigg contemplated, if she played her cards very right, and prayed to the Mother enough, then she could even have the pleasure of grandchildren in the next few centuries. Children with mischievous eyes and too dark hair. Too long had her hall been absent the pitter patter of little feet, Frigg thought . . . and it would be a respite. A balm after the times that were to come.
But that was a dark thought. One that had no place in a room of healing. A room that was now filled with laughter and bright words and hope.
Thor was currently at the part of their tale where Mara was defeated, speaking of the wolf who slew his father in his dreams, and the snake who took up arms against him. From where she was standing by one of the ornate pillars that lined the circular room, her clasped hands turned tight as she thought of nine steps and pooling venom and endings. There was acid in her throat. Her heart gave a sick beat as she saw her son speak of how the end was to be lost – and maybe, one day – overcome, and she looked at her dark one and her golden one and thought it will all rest on your shoulders. Someday, she prayed to Yggdrasil eternal that they would all be forgiven for the paths that they had taken. For the weights they had placed on others.
"A snake as big as the world?" Loki was interrupting his brother then, drawing Frigg's ear. "Now you tell the tale as Volstagg would."
"Time to time, I do embellish for interest," Volstagg protested the slight. "I never tell a tale false, though!"
"Was it forty hobgoblins you encountered on the harbor in Almnir? Or was it a hundred and forty? I never could properly recall?" Loki's smile had a razor edge, his eyes sharp as they teased.
Volstagg twirled a snarled strand of his beard. "The number does seem fuzzy as time goes by," he admitted. "But that still doesn't make the tale anything less than true."
Loki snorted, and Thor made a large gesture, turning the attention of all back to him. "And yet, I tell no tale! Indeed, the serpent I faced was big enough to swallow the sea."
"He speaks truly," Sif spoke then, backing up her first. Her right hand she moved as animatedly as Thor, but her left hand was still, resting on the prince's sickbed. If Loki were to shift, the last finger on his right hand would brush her own. He did so often. Frigg watched the two, and found her thought of endings and far off wars fade in the face of a parent's contentment with their child's chosen one. "The serpent was large enough to swallow both sea and sky, and so large were his death wounds that Thor himself drowned in the beast's venom."
The tales continued, all voicing their outrage at such an ignoble end for their first. Thor was silent for a moment, no doubt thinking of cool hands and a voice filled with regret and the warm light that led him to his rest rather than razor venom and rank ichor. Frigg inhaled.
Soon enough, the story left Mara (Sif's hopes and Sif's dreams being underplayed by the warrior woman with a pink flush on her cheeks at such a sentiment open and bare before her comrades and friends), and entered the realm of Hel. Here Frigg leaned forward with great interest. She had met the half-alive queen only once in this time, but the memory had struck. She would have known the girl in any time, flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone, even when her lineage was born only from Frigg's heart, rather than her womb. She thought of Hel's green eyes and her sly smirk, and wondered if Sif had felt a similar attachment in the halls of Helheimr. It would have been hard not to, with the way Hel wielded her father's gift of seiðr as if it was a second skin to her.
Thor spoke of how the land of the dead was not any place he wished to visit again, telling all gathered of the uncanny silence of the souls, even as the air whispered with their songs. He spoke of a celestial and beautiful place, but empty of laughter and everything that made up light and life. He spoke of Death and her Hound, and spared no detail in explaining the odd play of life and decay that made up Hel's physical form - how even with the grotesque cloaking her, she was still a beautiful creature, formed as she was from the shadowed parts of the universe and her might.
"This is the part of the journey that you would have enjoyed the most, brother," Thor said next. "The land pulsed with seiðr – all of Niflheimr did, and I had not the senses within me to understand it the way you would have. I would have enjoyed you crossing your words with the queen – she had a razor tongue to match your own, and she wielded it as Sif here wields her glaive." Thor reached over to slap his second on the shoulder, his smile fond, even as the Three fell quiet at his words. Loki and his magicks were accepted by those closest to him, but only just. And so, to speak so passingly of such powerful things on the World Tree's boughs . . . It was easy to read the unease that loitered there, unease over such a kindredness with the uncanny and a wielding of what should have been the unwieldable. Frigg stood up straighter at the looks, daring the Three to utter a word with her eyes where she knew Loki healing and whole of heart before her. He was healing, and they would let him be, her eyes threatened. Wisely, they kept their silence.
"Your presence was missed in Helheimr. The Lady Hel would have drawn your interest even past what our own was," Sif said in agreement, and Loki turned away from Thor to look at her instead. There was a softness in his eyes for a moment before it was hidden, and Frigg felt an ache behind her bones. An old ache that had everything to do with time and its weight. The future and its sacrifices and the pains that were to come.
The torches beyond her gave a whisper. Frigg inhaled, and felt a familiar presence crawl about her skin.
When she looked around the room, searching, she found her lord husband standing by the pillar closest to the entrance of Eir's hall, his arms folded loosely about his chest as he leaned casually against the golden column. His single eye was shadowed as he listened to his son's story. His brow was creased from his thoughts, and his wide mouth was drawn into a thin line. Frigg tried for a moment to catch his eye, but his gaze was not upon her, but upon his second son. And there it stayed. She waited a heartbeat before looking back to Loki, as well.
"The dreams granted by the Hel-queen's lands are like nothing you have ever experienced before," Thor was still telling the tale. "More real than memory, more weighing than prophesy -"
" - all ghosts and goblins and ghouls?" Fandral interrupted with a laugh. "We shall have new fireside tales to scare your children with, my friend," and there, he elbowed Volstagg at the end of his words.
The hulking man narrowed a pointed gaze at the dandy. "Gelmr still has trouble sleeping at night thanks to your last tale. So, if you do not keep your tongue in line, I will remove it for you."
Fandral paled, but patted the other on the arm. "There, there now, I shall scare the child not again."
Volstagg grunted, but said not to the other's words.
"I dreamed not of ghouls," Thor said then, his words forming from the trail end of his laughter as he looked between his friends. When he spoke, his tone turned from merriment to something softer - his version of slyness, if the narrowing of his eyes spoke true. The twitch of his mouth teased as he turned to Sif. "But the lady here dreamed of motherhood – a more horrendous fate than all for a maiden who has taken up her vows for sword and shield rather than hearth and home!"
The reaction from her companions was immediate. Fandral whooped and whistled a catcall. Hogun's brows raised a fraction higher on his face – loquaciousness, for him. And Volstagg leaned over with such a grin on his expressive face. "Tell me, my lady, who is the lucky man?" Volstagg chuckled. "I must congratulate you both! For parenthood is a blessing that even the gates of Valhalla cannot compare to."
Sif rolled her eyes. "I am not pregnant as we speak, you fool," she hissed, but she wore her laughter in her eyes at their teasing. She shook her head, her hair a dark shadow about her that fluttered imperiously. "And," she added, her voice sly, her tone promising, "even if there was the possibility of my one day being so - a lady does not kiss and tell."
Fandral pouted. "A pity," but even still, his eyes were lit speculatively. She met his gaze boldly, daring him.
"The lady need not tell when she wishes not to," Hogun said, more to Fandral than anyone else. His voice was low, the shape of it grave. "Know that you have our support," he said to Sif, "if and when the time comes."
Frigg watched, near biting her tongue in bemusement as Loki raised a dark brow. "I must too congratulate the lady. Why have you not told us of the happy union, Sif?"
Sif's gaze withered, and were he not in Eir's own hall, Frigg believed that she would have struck him. But there was something soft behind the teasing in Loki's gaze, and Frigg closed her own eyes as she called her weavings of the future to mind – the vision in which her son held a crying babe, ancient lullabies on his lips as he took hold of death from the child's dreams so that she could pass a peaceful night. She saw Sif at the door of the nursery, such a smile on her face at the bond her husband had with her daughter. Frigg saw the way the tiny white hand curled about Loki's hold. The way the tired babe hiccuped and curled in deeper into her father's arms, exhausted from her cries. The child who would someday hold death and all of her secrets was nothing more than her parents pride and joy in those moments, and it would be those memories that Frigg prayed would lead them through the times to come.
"There is nothing to speak of," Sif said, her syllables bitten out between her teeth. "It was only a dream." The words were spoken with enough annoyance to convince the Three, but Thor shook his head in bemusement at his friend's words, seeing more than most would give him credit for. Loki too let his gaze linger upon her, and there was that one second of a half smile just for her before he turned back to Thor's tale.
"And then, the dragon," Thor continued with relish, turning the attention of all back to him. It was this part of the tale that had Frigg holding her breath. Her heart thundered and her fingers itched to weave, to see if prophesy had been changed for the better by what she held dearest to her.
The flames around her flickered as if in an exhale, and upon so, Frigg looked over to where Odin had last been standing. He had turned when Thor spoke of the dragon, his back to the smiling group as he made his way silently to the exit. She frowned, and when she turned again, she found Loki's eyes watching her, a weight in their depths as he looked from her to where Odin had been standing, a question in his eyes. Frigg clasped her hands before her, willing them to still as she inclined her head to her son and gave her most assuring smile. Loki nodded in return, and offered her a smile of his own – I am alright, all is well– before turning back to his brother's tale.
And Frigg turned the way her husband had gone, that last image taken and tucked away for memory in her mind - that of Loki's smile and Thor's hand firm upon his brother's shoulder, as if needing the touch to affirm that his other was there, alive and well. It was that touch, that bond, that she trusted the fate of the realms too, and she did not give that trust lightly. Now, to see that that trust was shared . . .
Odin was already down the hall by the time she made her way out of Eir's level of the palace. Above her head, the large banners bearing her husband's seal were flapping in a silent breeze, and that same wind carried the caws of ravens to her. She followed the sound, and found that Odin had only stopped when he had reached one of the balconies that overlooked Asgard beyond. The eternal realm was just preparing for the night – the sky was stained the color of blood and the cosmos swirled with shades of gold and pink beyond. The violet night sky hung past them like a weight, waiting to descend. Frigg tilted her head up to catch the wind, blowing off of the sea beyond. The saltiness of the breeze was a balm to her, letting her breath come easier in her lungs. She stepped to the railing, standing next to her Odin, her hands held out to rest right next to his own.
She was silent, waiting for him to speak first.
"They succeeded in slaying the dragon," Odin said, his voice soft, lost in thought. His one eye tangled with the horizon, looking past what she could see, to the realms which waited beyond their own. "They succeeded in slaying Níðhöggr where their elders could not."
"They will succeed in many things, where we could not," Frigg said, no reproach in her voice, only a weariness . . . and a hope. "To them will be balance . . . balance, and a future that we could only do our best to set a foundation for."
"Perhaps," Odin said, his voice a weight.
"There is no perhaps," and when Frigg spoke, she spoke her words fiercely. Proudly; as if she were a beast with claws and flames. "Our sons – together – are the key to peace in these realms. They will be such a light after your reign, my husband, and today of all days you should know pride for having raised them so – for having set them upon this path."
"This is but one path they have walked today," Odin said. "But what of the other paths still awaiting their footsteps? The paths that end with Twilight and venom and flames? What of that path?"
Frigg breathed in deep, the old argument a wound in her side. "I know not which path the future will bring," she said honestly, her words a stone in her throat as she admitted to what she feared most from the time to come. "The future holds no certainty – for the good or for the bad, but then I experience days like this one, and I know hope as a result. Such a hope."
When Odin sighed, his breath was drawn deep from his chest - deep from the parts of him that were scabbed over and scarred from memories of battle and the weight of ruling. It was a place in her husband that Frigg had spent the whole of their marriage trying to reach, and some days she felt as far away as the day when she had first pledged herself to him.
She could not see that well within him, but she could see when it was threatening to rise up and drown him. And so, she reached over, and placed a hand on his shoulder. Her other hand she raised to cradle the side of his face, turning his single eyed gaze to her. "Let yourself hope," she said, her voice tender, her eyes warm. "They sense that . . . They crave your favor and your pride like the fields crave the rain. I can only say so much where your silence sits, and they yearn, Odin – they both yearn."
She could feel his breath against her skin, it quickened as she saw that old argument run in circles within his gaze. And oh, but how she hated the twist of it. Prophesy and fate had led him to take Laufey's son from the ice all of those years ago, and prophesy and fate had been the same thing to hold Odin's affections at arms reach during the centuries that had passed. But still he loved, even if he did not wear that love openly. That love was his greatest fear – the fear that that love would someday be the weakness in his armor that would bring Asgard to her knees. But, withholding it . . . how could she make him see that the greatest of evils were caused by the greatest of pains? Balance, it was balance that their realm needed – in this and all things.
"You cannot believe that I wished for the boy to fall," Odin said then, as if searching for his words.
"I do not," she said, speaking her truths. "But you would have let him, even if you did not wish it."
"Not for my own sake," he returned, his voice weary, his tone old – as ancient as the cosmos falling in beyond them. "But for this realm, I would have. I have taken vows, as a king before a father, and that balance is one I find as such a weight upon my mind." It was the first time he had said as much to her, she knew, finding a victory in the words. The words were such a small fraction of the fight they had faced – and would face for a long time to come, Frigg knew, but it was now voiced between them. It was acknowledged.
And from that point, Frigg could weave – she could spin and sew over seams that had fallen apart at their edges. The thread had not frayed beyond repair.
It was an old reflex to her – as second nature to her as breathing to step into her husband's arms when he offered his embrace. He smelled like worn leather and the sea beyond and Frigg inhaled deeply, instantly finding a peace settle within her aging bones. Her fingers hooked in the suede that covered his shoulders. Under her cheek, his heart thundered. Within her chest, her own heart beat a quick pace to match it, in sync after so many centuries together.
Time passed. How much, she knew not. And then, she whispered, "Someday, your sons will return to Yggdrasil her spring, know that Odin Borson . . . Know that, and know hope."
His arms tightened around her. Frigg leaned in to him, and knew a harbor in the storm. "And I do hope, milady. I do."
"We all do," she echoed, her voice alight with prophesy and pride – with confidence for the time to come.
And they stood there, the Allfather and his queen, watching the realm eternal until the night fell in around them.
Loki spent another three days time in Eir's halls before becoming restless with his confinement. The healer wished to keep the prince in her hold – for the spell that he had fallen from had been an unholy thing that had attacked the core of him, the core of him that was all magic and elemental ichor, and she did not take lightly the binding of that back together. Loki, though, had never been very good with too much time to sit and think, and on that third morning, when the healer had had all of her potions mixed and relabeled with the Trickster's hand (turning a poor guard with a fractured arm to a snail; and intensifying one of the pregnant Lady's mood swings rather than calming them – much to her husband's ire), Eir finally rolled her eyes, and told the prince rather unkindly to leave her hall in peace after making him promise to tell her if here was anything further amiss.
During that time, Sif had been slow to stray from his stride unless it was to rest – their journey to Helheimr and back and been exhausting, both physically and mentally, and she and Thor enjoyed the time of healing as much as Loki did. There was a peace that had descended over them in the wake of their latest quest, and it was a peace which she relished.
Those three days that Loki had spent with Eir, she and Thor had stayed by his side every night, before finally being shooed away from the prince's bedside in the high hours of the morning. She spent those nights alone, and tried to reorder herself to sleeping in her own bed after so many years of stealing away to his. She found the middle of the bed little to her liking, but at least when it was only her, she could steal the sheets and furs all for herself without hearing about it from a cross voice in the morning. It wasn't her fault, after all, that she slept as she warred, and Loki slept like the dead – still and unmoving.
And so, that forth night, when Loki was finally released, Sif sat on the edge of her own bed and waited restlessly as the twilight beyond her fell. She had her eyes slanted towards the horizon, watching as the fleeing suns painted Asgard golden and brilliant, the cool hand of night waiting just beyond to sooth the flaming gold over with violet shadows, the gauze work of stars and nebula gases above them more intricate than the greatest treasures a dwarfish smith could make with artificial means.
Above them, Mother Yggdrasil turned her boughs to the night, and Sif took up her hunt.
Beyond her room, the shadows had lengthened. She knew the shape of them well, for this was a path she had taken many a time. She slipped with a silent step through the halls, her feet quick and her heart alight - as if their relationship was still new in its intensity and this was one of the first times she had taken this journey. By now, the twists and the turns of the palace knew her as kindred; they bent to her as she slipped from Lady Gná's suite of rooms to the royal chambers, and one in particular . . .
When she entered, Loki's chambers were dark, lit only by a handful of torches on the wall, the warm flames glowing green around the edges in a telltale sign of Loki's magic. From the furthest part of the room, there were a tall line of curtains that led to the grand balconies beyond. Normally, they were drawn closed during the day – for Loki preferred to pour over his spellbooks and scrolls by torchlight, without the bustle of the palace beyond to distract him. Now, though, they were open, letting the glory of the cosmos at the onset of night spill in and cover everything.
The tumbling starlight from beyond fell across the common area of the room like an ocean wave as Sif picked her way though – passing the nook that Loki used as his study and the piles of books that layered both the floor and numerous bookshelves which had been arranged there. A dozen magical instruments and artifacts caught her gaze, vying for her attention as she looked past them. She picked up a candle that had been left lit on the desk, and used that to walk the darker path into the innermost rooms. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness as beyond them the sea winds blew, carrying with them the scent of brine and stardust. The scent swirled with that of magic, book dust and ink, and she knew home as she breathed in deep.
"I had hoped to find you resting," her voice chided when she found him – finally picking out the dark shape of him from the shadows. Her steps where whisper soft against the gilded floor. The candle in her hand was more a shadow than anything else, dim in comparison to the violet night beyond.
Before the fire pit on the one side of the room, Loki sat in a simple and cushioned chair – the one that normally presided over the mess of a work place he like to call his desk. He sat there instead of in one of the golden seats that had been assembled around the fire, grand and gleaming and gilded. His eyes were staring, unblinking into the embers that remained of what she imagined would have been a hearty blaze earlier in the evening. His fingers were steepled, pressed to the point of his chin as he stared ahead, lost in thought.
"I have had enough rest to last me for quite some time, milady," Loki said in return to her greeting, his eyes finding hers, like a thief stealing through a lock, before slipping away again. "I am not weary."
But he sounded so. Sif tilted her head as she sat the candle down, trying to deign what could be affecting him as such. She glanced about the room, searching the familiar shapes of the shadows and finding naught to catch her attention. Until, she looked to where Loki had been hiding a new shape in her line of sight.
A grin curved onto her mouth when she saw the secret that Thor had been tiptoeing around as gracefully as a stampeding herd of bilgesnipe the past few days. He had been to and from Brokkr's forge many a time since their return, and when Sif had asked Heimdall as to Thor's journeys, the Gatekeeper had given no reply but for a shake of his head at the way the first son thought himself sly with his endeavors.
Before the second son of Asgard now stood a suit of armor, the gold of it newly minted, the freshly gilded lines a light in the shadowed room. She hooked her grin, letting its course run wide upon her face.
"You have finally settled upon a design," she said, her voice pleased, her eyes hungry and approving upon the plates and straps that were laid before her.
Loki snorted. "It was Thor's work," said he. "He came with this, just earlier." Just earlier, when the fire would have burned hot, and the setting suns would have been at the highest part of their fall.
"I knew he was up to something," Sif replied as to that, her voice fond. "He goes about subterfuge as a ram goes about his charge."
Finally, a ghost of a grin hooked upon Loki's mouth. "He was simple in his earnestness, it is true. And yet, I was honored by his attention." There was pleasure in the thought, Sif read between the lines. He spoke the truth as to his brother's intention of the gift.
. . . but as to the gift itself. Sif frowned. "Do you not like the design?" she asked, searching.
"No," Loki was quick to say. "That's not it at all. I like it very much, actually. Too much." And there his voice dipped as if struck with a dark thought. It sunk as a stone in a deep pool.
He stood as she came closer, pausing to touch her hand as she passed by him in order to stand before the suit of armor, her eyes curious upon its shape and detail. She smiled at him, even as she reached up to touch the metal as if it were something living. Tenderly, she traced the shape of entwined serpents that had been etched into the gauntlets, the thin golden lines swallowed by the curving and graceful edges of the plates. It was an elegant piece that Brokkr had produced, and Sif smiled openly at how handsome the final result was.
At the crown of the suit, still and waiting upon its stand, there was a helm, and there she understood the way Thor had walked around the whole of the day as if immensely pleased with himself. The helmet was golden, angled and set down as if to glare and challenge those smaller to step forth. And yet, that was not its claim to opposing eyes – rather, the center of attention upon the helm was a tall and very familiar set of horns, arrogant and dangerous and sweeping up and over as if to boast. It was a fitting place for such a thing to sit, Sif thought, pleased by Thor's decision – proud of his gift and the symbolism that stood behind it.
"I knew that Thor was much too pleased with himself these past two days," Sif said, amused. "He walked through the feasting halls tonight as a peacock would, with such a grin upon his face to match."
Loki snorted. "He was much pleased to grant me this," he said. "And I cannot begrudge him his pride – it is a handsome gift."
Sif turned her eyes away from the curving horns in order to catch Loki in her eye, wishing to interpret the look on his face, He was looking at the helm in such a way that confused Sif. He had yet to even touch it – to feel where the dwarfs had taken organic matter and gilded it with warm gold, the curve of them strong, the thrust of them haughty - a claim and a boast and a challenge to any who would gaze upon them. It was the mark of a strong animal, who knew how to hold his ground. Who fought with its back to what it protected and led with its head. How more fitting for Loki than Thor with his wings, as if ever ready to take flight and reign over cloud and sky and the very heavens themselves.
So she reached out, and ran a loving hand over the curve of the horns. The metal was warm under her touch. Already the steel sang with an elemental pulse, the soul of the beast Thor had slain seemingly still sitting upon the brow of the helm. There was magic in the sacrifice that Loki had gave. There was magic in the quest Thor had taken to restore to his second his breath. There was magic, and the knowledge that their deeds had not gone unnoticed by the Great Mother. They had been seen, and they now had a story whose repercussions would live ever on.
Still, Loki was silent, watching how white her single finger was against the metallic gleam of the helmet. His eyes were a weight, and she watched them carefully, deigning their shape in her mind.
She frowned, her jaw squared – and she would not have any of that, not after the peace that they had just recently achieved.
So, she took the helm from its pedestal, and with careful hands she reached up to place the cool metal upon her own brow. There was a thrill, deep in the twisting parts of her veins, at being the first to wear such a piece, and her grin was sharp like a hunting animal when she looked over to Loki so as to gauge his approval – her with her black hair, colored from his hand, and her gleaming horns, made golden from Thor's regard and Thor's favor for his second.
She made a face fit for battle, and wished that she had both shield and glaive to complete the image she presented. She could feel the call to arms march in her veins – silent since their battle against the dragon, and she felt anticipation for the morning hour and the time she intended to spend in the practice rings. It would be a glorious morning, already she knew.
"How do I look, my prince?" she asked as she knelt before him, as if she were a champion of the realm, prepared to take up arms for her lord and sovereign.
"You look suitably ridiculous," he said, the words soft. There was a fondness in his eyes, even past every dark thing she could see seeping and growing there. It was a fondness that had her smile turning fierce and her eyes bright, ever the warrior lady with her strong helm and glittering scales. She needed not hide herself as such before him, for that was what he so adored.
"They do not make me look fierce?" she protested, pique settling into her voice.
"They make you look like you are about to topple over," he countered, his mouth a wry line, hiding his burden behind the tucked sign of his humor.
Sif lifted the helm then, enough for her eyes to peek through. "Well, it was not made for my brow," she pointed out. "It was made for you and your endless skull – as thick as Thor's it would seem." She gave an exaggerated huff as she lifted the helm completely from her head. The black strands of her hair went with it for a moment, and she made a face at the pull.
"It is only because there is so much my mind has to hold," he countered with a haughty sniff, reaching over to help her before all of her hair went with the helm.
"I thought that it was your fondness of leading with your skull in a fight, like a battering ram," she flicked her finger against the right horn playfully as he took the helmet from her, holding the piece of armor for the first.
His fingers tightened, and Sif felt something in her throat leap at the way that the horns gleamed, bright in the dark at that moment – seiðr accepting seiðr and the bone beneath skin there all the much more stronger for it.
"Again, it would seem that you have me confused with my brother," Loki countered her words, his eyes hooded, his words hollow.
"Never that," she said, her voice a low whisper in her throat as she stepped closer to him, close enough to touch. He stood before her wearing black, drenched with the night's shadow, but she wished to see him gilded in that moment. Her mouth lined like an arrow from a bow, hungry as her eyes searched. "Put it on?" she bid him, pushing him back a step towards the armor. He went with her, ever the current underneath the wind of her, neither bending so much as moving together. "I wish to see it whole."
Loki was silent for a moment, his eyes considered. A heartbeat passed. Then another. "If the lady wishes," finally he said.
"She wishes," Sif said, tugging on him.
He already wore simple linens for the night, loose and black on his lean frame. The leathers were simple to put on next, all dark brown and black, like the soil after the rain. She helped him with the buckles and the zips, not because he needed her help, but because there was something thick in the air about the moment – as if she were helping a dragon to don his scales, or an eagle to crown himself with feathers rather than helping a man of flesh and bone gird himself for battle.
The undercoat of mail, the squares thick and gleaming, was next, made to be hidden on him where Thor wore his bright and open for all to see. The small squares were smooth under her hand as she found the clasps and did them tight. The plates of armor for his midsection looked to be heavy, but they were light when she held them up for him to shrug into. The plates angled like teeth crossing into each other, flaring like wings over his chest. The breastplate too gleamed, slanting up and over to V up over his shoulders and down his back again. She fastened it, and felt her heart beat slow and steady against her chest. The fresh gild of gold gleamed, it caught and swallowed any bit of light left in the room until he was like a small sun in the darkness, the focal point of all within.
She swallowed, and helped him with the plates at his shoulders and arms – these pieces would have been impossible for him to tie on his own without magicking them into place, and normally, this task would belong to a manservant. And yet, this process was now her great honor and right. As she slid the straps into place, the new leather still tough and slow to bend, she tried to shake off the heavy feeling that had settled over her – a feeling not unlike anticipation. In that moment, she felt as if she were some maiden dressing her knight for battle; a story-tale princess dressing her prince to face some far off foe. Once they were wed – if he ever got around to asking her – this would be her right and privilege before every battle, just as it would be his to assist her with her own armor. The latter would have been unique to them, but it was fitting - after all, it was not he who had just marched against a dragon for a slumbering maid. That had been her role, instead.
Sif stepped away from him only after smoothing the great fall of his cape over his shoulders, the green fabric heavy and rich – a backdrop of color to make the gold shine even brighter. The green highlighted the shade of spring that was his eyes, a flare of unnatural light deep within his face, carrying that spark of seiðr that he never could quite extinguish.
And she let out a breath at the sight of him.
Almost immediately, she brushed her first thought away – normally, Asgard was quick to say how very much unlike a warring creature their second prince was. Loki, with his rolled sleeves and fingers stained with ink, and his eyes bright with spells rather than steel when he finally moved to stand with his brother in a fight. And yet, he looked like something out of Midgard's legends in that moment, something ancient and fierce and so very much past them all. Armor was his skin, steel his veins, and there was a battle in his eyes upon which side she did know to fight.
"It suits you," she found the words tripping off her tongue. For every fight he would rather avoid, he took to each one with more ease than he would ever realize, her thoughts continued to swirl, banking and building in her mind even when she could not find the words to push them through her mouth. He was chaos and trickery and unending twists and turns, this she knew better than most. The deceit and plotting of war became him. The uncertainty of battle and the chess match that generals played . . . It was as much in his veins as it was Thor's. As it was hers. They were of the same cloth, cut along different seams, and in her pulse she felt the call to arms thunder like a drum. She could taste copper on her tongue, she could feel her breath hitch as she thought of him with his spells set for flesh to tear and skin to render.
"You flatter me, my lady," he said, his voice shadow soft to match the night all about them.
"I speak true," Sif said, her words coming fierce on her tongue. Her eyes tangled upon him, unable to look away. Her pulse sped with the urge to march, but it was different than the need to war. Her body wanted movement rather than violence. Her fingers wished to touch, to find and explore all of the new places now worn upon him. She looked at him, and knew a hunger, and with her eyes she let him know her want.
He held her gaze for a moment, but rather than stepping closer to her, he turned, and took off his horned helmet. Carefully, he set the gilded metal down down the way one would a dark and foreign object. He then sat once again, as he had when she had first found him. He leaned forward, his head bowed, cradled in his hand as if it were too great a weight to carry upon his shoulders.
And Sif frowned, worry in her gaze. "Loki, what troubles you?" she asked her question plainly, hoping for the same in return. She knelt before him, trying to find his eyes with her own as she clasped his hands between hers.
She thought that he was going to turn in on himself again when she asked. He opened his mouth once. Then twice. But he did not turn away from her. Instead, he sighed, the sound of it the release of a great burden. "We all dreamed while upon the Mórrigan's moon," he said, his syllables slow and pronounced upon his tongue, as if he was afraid of the very shape of them. "Do you recall?"
"I cannot forget," Sif said, remembering back what seemed like a lifetime ago. She remembered herself silent, as if her mouth was sewn, and Asgard in flames all before her as her destroyer laughed and laughed and laughed.
There was such a shadow in Loki's eyes. Such an awful shadow. Sif felt something unnamed in her rise, and she refused to call it fear. "What did you see in Mara's pools?" she asked the question, remembering the dread wraith and her terrible visions. She remembered how, after awakening, Loki had looked at her with a dull cast to his eyes and had refused to tell her what fear Mara had burdened him with. She had vowed to find out later, she remembered. And now . . .
She steeled her courage. She made it absolute. "Loki, what did you see?" she asked again.
And he waited a heartbeat before giving his answer. "The end of the world," Loki whispered.
And Sif felt her blood run cold.
The long lines in his throat hitched. "I was . . . I was the harbinger of the end," he said on an exhale, as if revealing a great and terrible secret. "I . . . I burned Asgard in the Twilight. I called to the dragon his flames by kindling his hate. Death herself stood by my side with her Hound, and all of the denizens of her world answered my call. The wolves devoured the sun and moon and I rejoiced because it signaled the end. I gave to Surtr his fiery sword, and to Níðhöggr his hot breath . . . And, while doing so, I wore this helm. These horns."
Her mouth opened. It closed. Before her, Loki looked at her through too wide eyes, as if he were a prisoner awaiting sentence. He trusted her with this – trusted her to judge his worth, his faults and all of the thin lines about him that he himself found wanting. His hand in hers trembled, and out of reflex she tightened her grip.
She tried to imagine the horned man she saw in her dreams – she tried to imagine his laughing mouth and dead eyes with Loki's shape and face, and found that she could not. It was an image as foreign to her as night to day. She could not make sense of it in her mind.
"Mara showed to us our darkest fears, delivered as prophesy," Sif said slowly, choosing her words to fit a shape that would cease the pounding in her heart, the blazing beneath her bones. "She knew exactly where to strike to do the most harm. To cause the most pain."
"Trickster, Liarsmith and Silvertongue," Loki rattled off of the appellations in the way of one tired. So very tired. "I have such thoughts within me at times . . . times when I can see the world burn and wonder what the flames would look like if I fanned them higher. Could I . . . do I have it in me to cause such an end? Is that truly something I am capable of?"
And Sif straightened, her face creased in indignation. "Most certainly not," she said, hissing the words until they were drawn deep from her faith and her adoration both. "You love your realm, and you love your family. It was you who took the poison for Thor, uncaring of your own life. You would have died," and here her voice hitched, her words trapped. "You would have died so that your brother could live, and if given the same choice today it is one you would still make. Is that a man who can burn the whole of Yggdrasil to the ground?"
He stood then, as if unable to contain the restlessness inside of him. He paced before her, his one hand fisted before his mouth. "But it felt so real . . ." he whispered.
Sif felt her heart ache as she watched him. She sat for only a moment before standing as well. She shadowed his stride, intercepting him in order to block his way. She raised her hands to his chest, as if her touch alone could anchor him, and with her eyes she found his gaze, holding it boldly. "Every dream feels real while we dream it," she said. "But the dragon lies dead now. He has no breath to burn the Mother. It is a fate that will no longer come to be."
"And what of Surtr?" Loki returned. "Surtr, and Lady Death's army . . . they still wait for that day. And on that day . . ."
"On that day, the Twilight will be something that we can triumph over," Sif insisted. "Look at what we did this past day. We struck against prophesy and felled the unfellable. We ended what was fated to never be ended. Do you realize what that means?"
"That the Nornir will have to find a new wyrm to fit their prophesy?" Loki said, unkindly.
Her eyes narrowed. "That means that someday, prophesy is something we can strike against and see defeated. Nothing is written as absolute, and all is still in motion. Believe us to be stubborn – or insolent enough to rise against that day. All of us," she stressed the last three words, holding his gaze with her own. "Together."
He sighed, leaning forward to rest his forehead against her own. "I do not understand where you find your strength," he whispered, as if revealing a riddle that had long since puzzled him.
"I have much to inspire it," she smiled up at him.
Hesitantly, his lips started to curve. A smile, almost. But it did not reach his eyes. He carried such a sadness about him in that moment, as if he still slept even after they had awakened him. He was not yet whole before her, and she did not know how to fill in the edges that she could see fraying.
"Sometimes your thoughts dwell in such a dark place," she whispered, her eyes heavy. She had her right hand held on his golden chestplate, over where she knew his heart to be, though she could feel its beat not through the tempered steel. "I look at you, and I know that your thoughts are where I can not follow, mired in some dark abyss. I worry about what may happen if you lose yourself there, for it is a place I cannot follow."
"And yet, there is always a tether there for you," he answered smoothly, raising his left hand to hold it over her own. His fingers were long and cold, and she knew the very shape of them better than her own. "My thoughts may be a plague at times, but they are only thoughts – smoke and mist and of no consequence compared to what I have before me."
He spoke so, but what the tongue said the heart could be slow to believe. Either way, they were words he wished to hear as true. They were not lies on the wordsmith's tongue. The tips of her fingers were white, pressed flat against him. "Know that there are those who would journey to Hel and back for you, Loki. And they are those who would not march for a shadow." She needed him to know that. She needed him to understand that, and in that moment her need was a bright and urgent thing that made her lungs tight and her heart ache. He stood whole and hale before her, and yet, she felt like they were on an abyss all over again.
"Such sentiment, on the lips of the Lady Sif," his words tried to tease, but his smile was tight. It reached not to his eyes.
"The lady loves," she said plainly, the words rarely spoken between them, but as always, when they left her tongue, she felt her lungs fill. The feeling was akin to falling, like the rush she got from flight and fight and bold and daring things. Yet, more than the sharp thrill of those ventures, this rise in her veins was full; it warmed and fed and watered until her heart felt as if nothing could ever do it wrong again. "And she would not see the worth of what she values most tarnished, even by that vessel."
He was giving her such a look then, the look that said he was trying to tear her thoughts apart through her eyes. He was trying to probe and sift and make right in his mind, and she tilted up her head and let him look unhindered. His fingers flexed over her own. His palm warmed from the heat of her. Under them, the metal binding him warmed as well.
This time, when she reached down to take his helm in hand again, he bent down so that she could place the metal atop his head with ease. He, already taller than her, was made towering with the sweeping horns, and with a smile still on her face she tugged playfully on the curve of the horns in order to keep him eye to eye with her. He bowed before her as bidden, and she stood on the tips of her toes in order to kiss him fully across the mouth. The kiss was sweet, simple and yearning and slow – an unwinding deep inside of her as much as it was an exhale for him.
The armor over him was thick, the leathers and the steel barring the whole of him from her. She couldn't feel the heat of his skin or the shape of his body, but it was a path she knew without touch enough to trace over familiar lines. She felt steel and leather bend before her as he knotted one hand in her hair and placed another high on her back. She felt his hand trace down the path her spine took, dipping in and out of the shape of her. Her sleeping tunic was thin, and he could feel all – tell all where she could only guess and trace a war path with her fingers. Slowly, she smoothed her hands down over the horns – felt him shudder against him, and knew a smirk against his lips as she read the tell tale sign from him when his breath hitched against her. The dwarfish smiths had done their work well, binding the spells of one to the other, she thought as her hands left the back of his helm in order to twist in the trailing ends of his hair, thick beneath the edge of gold. It was information to keep for later.
When she pulled away, he rested his forehead against her brow, and the press of steel against her skin was not unpleasant. She pressed against him, feeling the soft parts of her body find a shield and strength in the gilded parts of his.
"Will you come with me to the practice rings in the morn?" she took the moment to ask then, enjoying the way his pale eyes had darkened on his face, how they focused completely upon her. "Hrodgæir will be in attendance, and he has a truly spectacular blackened eye that has not yet healed. I wish for you to praise me for my handiwork." She tugged on him as she spoke, leading him backwards. He followed, as he always did.
He bent his head, the great horns on his brow towering. "As my lady bids me, I shall do," he said, his voice warm, his eyes a flare of green light bright enough to match the dance of the stars beyond.
"Then, so you are bidden," Sif raised her head imperiously, but she could not keep her smile from her face.
She turned into him again, and this time the kiss between them was needy, fit to consume. She curved into the hollow his armor made, as if she too were steel enough to latch over his heart; gold enough to protect the tender places of him until he was whole. The elegant candlelight on the walls flickered in time to Loki's breathing, throwing their shadows into sharp relief behind them, stretching further and further still with every step they took. As they did in her vision, the horned man's shadow mirrored her own. The shades meshed and formed until they were as one being - but this time there was no fear to be found in the sight. No rage or great pain at the thought of the time to come.
Instead, she knew only hope – such a hope, fierce and bright enough to envelop her bones like new skin – a hope for their future and every other. There was no longer any fear to know from the time that was yet to be. Instead, she closed her eyes as she wound against him, and thought only: let it come.
They were ready to face it.
End Notes: This is the end of the story, but not nearly the end of the series. coming soon this summer, to a fanfiction site near you, my latest chapter of the Steel!verse will go up - as of right now, I am calling it "rest upon our battlefields", and it will be set directly after the events of "bid the soldiers shoot". So, yep, I have Loki intigrating himself into the Avengers fic. And while a good portion of it may now be AU thanks to a certain film, it is still going to be Awesome. Legendary, even. And I hope to see you guys there for the ride!
And so, I will say my final thanks to everyone who has had as much fun reading about these crazy kids as I have had writing about them. You guys have made playing in this universe a blast.