"i know the shape your shadow takes"
Genre: Angst, Hurt/Comfort
Time Frame: Pre-Avengers
Characters: Thor, Sif (Implied Sif/Loki)
Summary: "We mourned you, brother. We all mourned you." Those left behind after the fall.
Notes: Because I have so many Loki shaped feelings thanks to this beautiful, ridiculous, absolutely perfect film! In a way, this oneshot sets right into my steel!verse (my muse has it set right after "at the gallows, an about face", and ye gods, but my AU is now really AU), but it is more my way of channeling all of my Avengers feelings into something constructive. And it is a little different, at that, style wise, so, I hope to hear what you guys think.
As always, thank-you for reading, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine but for the words.
"i know the shape your shadow takes"
After the day of Loki's fall, Thor was slow to speak of his brother to her again.
Instead, their days formed an old routine, made new for the missing pieces that were laid out, shattered, before them. She rose in the morning (her bed her own now, the left side cool and empty), and fought and trained alongside her comrades (their group of six now that of five, an odd number for paired sparring), and attended to Asgard and her needs as best as she could with the bifröst closed and the call for steel and marching feet few and far between thanks to the burned bridge.
Her brother spoke highly of his hopes for the reparation of the bridge, as did the handful of Asgard's mages and the Allfather himself, but Sif allowed herself to doubt in the dark parts of her own mind. It was hard to think of what was broken being returned as whole, and in an abstract way, she half expected the bridge to remain in pieces as long as the rest of them remained so. For had not the land always beat in tune to its own? This, she thought, should have been little different.
Mirroring her darker thoughts, Thor was a shadow of the boisterous and booming man Sif had known throughout her centuries. He was quiet in comparison to who he had been before (before, Sif had taken to calling that time of her life in her mind), quicker to take to thought rather than to deed and action; slow as to his words and careful with his blows. He wore his hurt around his eyes as he had always worn his heart on his sleeve – whether it had been in rage or humor or love – and now his emotions were a bruise, open and naked upon his skin for all to see.
The shadow was shaped in memory, she knew that, at least. In regret. It was a shape Sif knew well.
(For Sif remembered, as they all did, the day that Loki had fallen. She remembered how she had walked through the sand of Midgard, her steps aimed to return to her what was hers. She remembered how centuries of vows and fighting side by side and loving had vanished as surely as the Destroyer had drawn his hand against her, flicking her away as if she were a fly perched upon skin. His spells had been set for bones to break and skin to burn, and Sif had known true pain for the first time in her life when the Destroyer turned his flames to her at Loki's command.)
And it was a shadow she would no longer see him keep.
"Thor," she called to him when they were the last two left in the training rings, her bare arms stained with dust and her brow gleaming with sweat. "I would have you stay a moment longer."
(And Sif remembered the day that Loki had fallen, how Thor had looked on in disbelief when he learned that his father lived. That his mother yearned for his return. That his brother had festered under the burden of the throne and his blood until he had turned to stand against them in order to keep his own feet underneath him.)
"I have tired of armed sports for this day, milady," Thor answered her call, stopping in his stride. He did not turn to face her. With his back to her, his great shoulders were an unyielding line, like a bowstring, pulled tight.
"You have not had a taste for steel in many a day, my friend," Sif said in return, her brow tipped up so as to catch the sun, as if she were a blade. "I worry for you," and there and only there did she let her voice dip. It was a truth spoken between them, given with a whisper.
The sigh on Thor's lips was weary. It pained. "You need not, Sif."
"And yet, I do," she countered his words as if she were batting away a sword. She stepped forward a stride, holding her glaive in one hand, its blade kept short, and her shield in her other. Though the shield was dead of Loki's spells, it still served the purpose that it had served long before the second son had enchanted it for her protection. It would do well enough against even Thor with his strongest blows, she would wager.
"Fight me, my friend," she beckoned him, calling him to march with the challenge in her eyes. She could taste steel in her mouth as the words left her tongue. She could feel the war in her veins jump to attention - wishing for movement, for action. Her every muscle was tense, waiting for his answer – wanting more than a friendly spar from her lord and comrade. She wanted to let go, she knew in that moment. She wanted to give and take and cut away from her deadened skin until there was nothing but strong bone underneath. Perhaps then, she could calm the keening she still held in her veins. Perhaps then she could find within her her rest. And . . . perhaps, in doing so, he could find his as well.
"I will not," Thor said, his voice soft, his eyes haunted. "Not like this."
(And Sif remembered, the day that Loki had fallen, how the sea had rolled in its cradle, how the sky above had pitched from its high perch in the heavens.)
"Thor," and her voice rang out between them, flung as a spear. "You need this."
"You say this is what I need, milady?" Thor snorted, his warm voice twisted from his mouth - distorted as everything was. "How would you know?"
"I need this," she said then, her voice cracking on the last syllable. It fell; shattered. "Please."
Finally, at her words, Thor turned to look at her, his gaze long, his clear eyes a cloud. And Sif tilted her head and squared her jaw and thought only I wish to know a mountain where I have before me a stone. She needed that to anchor herself by.
Thor drew Mjölnir in a slow motion, the call of the hammer to his hand as familiar to her as her own breathing. The weapon hummed at his side, the shape of her song ancient. Sif licked her lips and tasted static. Her hand tightened on the straps of her shield and she thought, let it storm.
He moved first. Sif marched forth to meet him.
(And Sif remembered the day that Loki had fallen, how the Queen had given a sob that had been heard throughout the gilded palace when her lord husband told her how her son came to his end. Frigg had wept the bitter tears of a mother with her child lost to her, and all had sickened who had heard the unholy sound of her cry. She had not let any come near her for the better part of a fortnight before Odin had been able to pierce through her grief. Afterward, they seemed to cling together like two harbors in a storm, stronger together even for what they had lost. Thor too was more attentive to his mother after that day, as if trying to be son enough for two where before he had taken for granted the role of one and the other.)
Over the years, she had come to know Thor's every move as well as her own. She knew his feints and his blocks, his weaknesses and his strongest blows. And he too knew her - he knew the way she moved, the way she struck and spun and slipped in and out of his strong limbs, more like the wind and rain than the thundering chaos that was Thor unleashed upon the battlefield.
Now was no different. They spun over and around each other, each trading their hits, but there was an urgency to their blows that lacked any friendly jousting. There was a truth to their aim that bellied any sport for the strengthening of technique and skill.
This, Sif hoped, was an exorcism. The first of many to come.
(For Sif remembered, the day that Loki had fallen, how Thor had taken her by the arm and had sworn that his brother had jumped rather than fell. She remembered how Thor had insisted that his brother was not lost to them completely, but momentarily - 'for now' being such a small thing to their old and ancient race. She remembered how she had stolen to their clearing and had drawn her shield only to find that the steel was dead, dead and lifeless in her hand and oh, but how could one live where the other did not?)
And still he held back.
As she swung her glaive about, she wondered if he had truly fought another being since battling Loki upon the bifröst. She wondered when he had last struck with violence in his blows. She herself had not had a real challenge since the Destroyer upon Midgard's sands. And if she were to think too long about that -
- her next stride slipped. The dry ground kept from her a stumble, and she caught herself. Instead of falling, she bared her teeth and pressed forward. She yearned for action in her too still veins. She yearned for the light to return to Thor's eyes, where once an inferno had burned; burned as Loki's eyes had burned, all scarlet in a sea of blue -
- her next step faltered, again. But Thor did not press his advantage, instead staying his own stride in order to let her catch her step. And she would have none of that.
(And Sif remembered, the day that Thor had learned the truth of the blood that tied him to his brother. She remembered how he had not spoken for an entire day - how his large hands had traced patterns onto the railing of the grand terrace where Odin had left him. He had traced a single rune the whole of time, though Sif doubted that he even noticed - the rune that meant giant and greatness, both. She remembered that very next day, how he had scolded Volstagg's two youngest for playing their war games and leveling their battlecries against imagined Jötunn enemies. 'But they are only monsters,' the children had protested to his anger - and oh, but how Thor's face had clenched in pain. How Sif's heart had beat as if trying to find its pulse through ice.)
"Fight me," she snarled then when she recovered her step, and swung with her shield as if it were a melee weapon, made to shatter and bruise rather than to hide and defend. Fight me, she willed with her eyes, with her fists and her fierce words.
The words twisted something in Thor, and finally, his next blow struck. But Sif was quick, and she ducked, turning her roll to spring up behind him, striking his shoulder with the flat of her blade. "I can take it."
She paused in her turn, and knew a glancing blow as Thor caught her in the ribs. The blow skipped off of her, and she felt it ache in her lungs.
"Fight me," she insisted -
- and finally, Thor roared his great rage, bringing Mjölnir around, and -
(Sif remembered the long days thereafter that the bridge had remained unfinished. She remembered how Heimdall had stared out across the horizon, and Sif had bit her tongue and refused to ask the one thing she wished for her brother to see. 'Does he live?' she wished to ask and have answered. For she could suffer any betrayal, could bear any pain if only . . . If only . . . Instead, she swallowed her question and stood in the Gatekeeper's shadow, standing to make whole what too was taken from and left empty. If Heimdall saw, he did not say a word, granting her his blindness in silence only, his eyes skimming over Sif and her too tight grip on her dead shield, and then away to look down and down further still into the cosmos and beyond.)
- down. Hard.
This time, his arm was swift, his aim sure. She was no longer his opponent – not Sif before him, but some nameless thing that could take his every blow and stand up strong under the assault. His eyes were full, his mouth a twisted shape that bore no warcry.
He brought Mjölnir down again, and she made no move to avoid him. She simply held up her shield, and took the blow. She dug her heels into the ground, as if she were a tree, firmly planted with deep roots. Her body was a bow, absorbing the force of his blows until he had nothing more to give.
And Sif stood tall.
(And Sif remembered the even longer days that Thor spent staring into the abyss, searching. She remembered the nights when Odin would stare at the horizon, as if lost, his eyes full of regret, his clenched fists speaking of a 'what if' that burned behind every gaze, every thought. Sif had looked at her lord and king in those moments, and had found that she could not judge. She could not hate when she saw only a father mourning what he had lost just as she mourned her empty arms and Thor's empty eyes . . .)
Mjölnir was a force against her shield; like lightning against the ground, like the black storms spidering against the blue sky.
He struck and struck and struck.
Sif held her ground, her teeth bared behind her shield, her muscles straining, and -
(And Sif remembered the nights when she would steal into the second son's empty rooms and lay on the cold green sheets and imagine that somewhere, somehow . . . )
- her shield cracked.
The sound was akin to that of lightning through the air, striking her.
(And Sif remembered the nights when Thor had joined her. He had joined her in his brother's room, and had whispered his hopes that if his second was alive, that he was safe and warm somewhere. And Sif would silently hope that he was taking care of himself, and not completely lost to the black parts of his eyes. By his side in the dark she had let tears fill her eyes, and did not know shame from their fall, from their weight. In the dark she remembered phantom fingers and caresses and whispers in her ears of Sif, sighed from his mouth like she was a riddle he could not comprehend.)
The steel in her hands clattered, striking the ground.
(How Sif had mourned. How Thor had wept.)
And the battlehaze that had taken her – that had taken him – broke.
She was not quick enough to catch the two pieces her shield fell in. Instead, the halves landed in the dust of the training ring, dull and devoid of everything which had once given them life. Distantly, Sif felt herself sink to her knees next to the two pieces, the motion more an exhale of her body more than anything she consciously registered herself doing. Her mouth was open, but she had no words to fill the sound with. She had no breath within her as she reached out to touch the fractured pieces before her.
"I'm sorry," the words fell out of his mouth like rain. They tripped from Thor's tongue, more broken than anything he had uttered thus far. "I did not think it capable of doing so. Of breaking," he clarified, his eyes pained.
Sif was very still. Her knees were covered with dust, and her knuckles were bleeding from the violence of her earlier attacks. Still, she reached out, and picked up the broken pieces, her motions slow and stilled as she cradled them to her. "Anything may break, if there is enough pressure applied," she whispered. And oh, how she knew.
(A memory, of a thousand moments. A lifetime of days. "Sif?" -)
"We can fix it," Thor still said, his voice small. Weak, almost, if the very shape of the word wasn't so far from Thor and his great strength. "We can take it to Brokkr and his forge. It will be as it once was."
( - "Yes, Loki?" Lost.)
"Of course," Sif answered, but her words were hollow. Her shadow behind her was too empty, and her missing was too great, and there were now more things cracked and needing of repair than just her shield empty of Loki's magic, and Thor's side empty his second . . .
"Exactly as it was before," still Thor insisted, coming to kneel down next to her. His hand hovered over her broken shield, as if wanting to touch the metal, but not sure of his right.
Still, she did not move. "How can it be?" and when she spoke, her voice was very small, as if it were a child who spoke through her mouth.
Slowly, Thor shook his head, his great form bowing before her, hunched from the days before him and the promise of the days still stretching on ahead. "I do not know," he answered her truly, and she smiled a lopsided smile that held no humor at the simple earnestness in his voice. "But as long as there are pieces, there is a shape that can be recovered. And we still have . . . we still have the pieces."
"We still have the pieces," Sif echoed, her voice a whisper.
"The pieces," Thor agreed, his eyes falling to the shield in her hands.
When he reached down to help her to her feet, Sif let him, and curved into the shadow he threw, as if, by doing so, the black thing that stretched behind them could stretch out long enough to fill the shape of what they had lost. It was not enough, not nearly, but for now . . .
For now, they had the pieces. And they would carry on with that until, someday, they were whole once more.