And here's the final chapter, apologies to those of you I made sad *offers contrite cuddles*
The decision to take Loki back to Asgard had been one Thor had to fight for. Fury had wanted to keep him under S.H.I.E.L.D incarceration, still furious that Earth had been used to make an example of him. In the end he relinquished but not without making it clear relations with the Asgardians was tenuous at best now. And only when Thor swore he would imprisoned indefinitely under his keeping had he budged at all. When Loki was told of this arrangement, it seemed to make little impact.
"Better a thousand years in prison than one more day like this," had been his reply. They were his only words since Maeve had died.
The Avengers escorted them back to the desert to open the portal. The Bifrost was broken, yes, but Odin was expecting them, sending his ravens to watch over proceedings as in stone silence they parted ways, the two brothers being swallowed in a vivid flash of electric blue.
When they arrived in Asgard, Odin was waiting for them, his wizened face betraying his regret at what had happened. Loki was unable to look up at him, unable to do anything through his cloud of pain. The All Father lay a hand on his shoulder, his voice sincere as he spoke;
"I am sorry, my son. I did not mean for you to suffer such as this." He meant it, and in days past Loki would have fell to him, looking for paternal comfort. None of that now. He may not have meant this but it had happened and it was his fault.
A warmth spread from the king's hand and Loki's mortal clothing was melting away, replaced by his former robes, prickling heat spreading through his veins. He was restoring his power, perhaps by way of apology, but it barely registered. The grief was blinding, consuming. So long he had wished for this moment, but he would give it all back a thousand times over to have Maeve once more.
He allowed himself to be manacled, the muzzle dispensed with this time and led by a quintet of guards, the sight of Asgard repulsing him now. He was marched through the city to Odin's hall, Thor at their heels. A glimpse of Frigga, his mother, standing near the throne. His mother still. Her lovely face stricken as she saw him, though she did nothing. What could she do?
They spiralled deep into the catacombs of the palace, to the dungeons, to a cell, his new home. It was cold and sparse, none of the golden splendour here. He stepped into it without thought, the manacles dissolving. A wall of deadly looking spikes twisted into being to seal him in, similar to those that had once held the Destroyer. He stood in the centre, breathing through his nose. No rage, no envy, just his grief swallowing him in it's black hole.
Thor dismissed the guards once it was done and stood outside the cell, his expression torn.
"If I could take this burden from you, I would," he said, resting his hand on the wall.
"But you cannot," said Loki in a low voice. "And even if you could, I would not let you. It is all that I have left of her."
Thor sighed, rubbing his eyes before looking up again.
"One day you will come back to our family, Loki. I will not give up on you."
He turned away, pacing up the long flight of stairs out of the dungeon with heavy feet and Loki was left standing alone. He closed his eyes, remembering that last night with her, that perfect night making love under the moon, her skin milky, hair smelling of wildflowers and herbs. He reached up to his throat, fingers touching the cold silver of the triple moon pendant. A faint, mournful smile crossed his lips as he closed his hand around it, remembering the taste of her kiss, the warmth of her smile. She had been sweet and beautiful and for a short while she had been his. If he had to spend eternity in this cell he still had his memories of her and how for a short while he had known genuine love.
A pair of cornflower blue eyes snapped open to be greeted by an impossible sky. Alien constellations, nebulae, the whole of space above her as though someone had cracked the atmosphere and laid it bare.
Maeve sat up slowly, finding herself in a meadow, the grass long and lush, impossibly green, species of wildflowers she couldn't recognise rolling through it. Beyond she saw blue mountain ranges, a waterfall cutting it's way through them and tumbling into a lake. It seemed some hand had gathered up the most beautiful aspects of the world and condensed them into one perfect place.
Trying to take it all in, Maeve got to her feet, trembling as she did. Looking down at herself she found she was clad in translucent silver-blue silk that shimmered like water. She spun around on the spot, calling,
"Hello?" the word seeming feeble and stupid in a place such as this.
"Well met, Maeve."
She paused, her heart skipping at the sound of a warm, maternal voice. Turning to look at it's source she couldn't help but gasp aloud. Before her was the most incandescently beautiful woman she had ever seen, tall and soft, with full hips and platinum hair cascading past her waist. She was clothed in a white gown so thin you could see the outlines of her body and at her feet two enormous wildcats sat staring at Maeve with intent yellow eyes. The girl felt her eyes welling as she suddenly realised who was stood before her.
"Freya," she whispered, a silver tear running down her face.
"Welcome to my garden, Maeve," the woman said in that beautiful voice, cupping the girl's face and wiping the tear away with her thumb.
"Your garden… You mean Folkvangr?" Maeve breathed, her head reeling.
"Then… I'm dead?"
"Your mortal body has passed, yes. But I have seen your exploits," the Goddess said. "I chose to bring you here."
Dead. Mortal body. Dead.
Maeve could feel herself falling, slipping to the ground, landing heavily amongst the grass, her face in her hands as she struggled to breathe. Breathe? Ha! She was dead!
"It's alright," Freya said soothingly, a strong hand under her arm to pull her to her feet. "I know you are afraid, but you needn't be." She held the girl up as she recovered her footing, then gently began to steer her, saying,
"Walk with me a while."
They were walking through the meadow, Maeve's dazed eyes finding her way back to the Goddess' face, the elegant features fixed in a small, knowing smile.
"Why am I here?" she whispered as they walked, barely feeling her feet touch the ground.
"Reward where it is due," Freya replied. "You gave your life so that Thanos could be expelled from Midgard. You will know joy and peace here now for your deeds."
"That was real?" Maeve stopped, her jaw slack as she looked up at the other woman.
"You doubt it?" Freya asked, peering back at her. Her eyes were the deepest blue, the colour of oceans, boring into Maeve.
"I'm still not sure this is… Everything became very bizarre very quickly…" Maeve said lamely.
"It was. And this is. Your corporeal self has passed and I brought your spirit here. Those I deem worthy may walk in my garden." She gave her a dazzling smile, all beauty and radiance and Maeve looked around herself once more, her throat sticking.
"Then Loki…?" she breathed.
"Was who he claimed to be, yes. But you already believed that, didn't you?" Freya said, bending to scratch one of the cats behind the ears. Maeve felt an overwhelming urge to burst into tears.
"He really was a God," she whispered, more to herself than Freya. "And if this is real, then you are a Goddess. I'm dead and I love a God…" Her head snapped up and she looked at Freya, something frantic in her eyes.
"Where is he?"
The Goddess smiled down at her gently, a touch of sorrow in her face.
"I can show you," she said softly, "but I cannot take you." She held out a hand to Maeve and the girl took it tentatively. Leaning over she brought the small fingers to a decadent necklace at her throat and as they touched Maeve's mind exploded with a vision of somewhere else.
A steely, cold cell of no sort of prison she could recognise. In the centre stood Loki, clad in ornate leather robes, all green and black and dusky gold. His raven head bowed. It looked so real, she ached to lift her hand and touch his face, but as quickly as it materialised, it faded and Maeve took a deep breath, opening her eyes to find herself encircled in Freya's arms in a maternal embrace.
"Where is he?" She was whispering still, leaning against the Goddess to keep herself standing.
"In Odin's prison. The All Father has done what he must, as much to protect Loki from himself as it is to protect the Nine Realms."
"And I can't go to him?" Maeve looked up at the golden haired woman, tearing up.
"I'm sorry," Freya replied gently. "Even I cannot deny the All Father's will. If Loki knew you were here, chances are he would rip apart Valhalla itself to get to you."
Maeve stared at her aghast, before pushing herself away, a new surge of anger filling her. She turned her back on the Goddess, taking a few steps, chest heaving.
"This is all wrong! I was supposed to go to the Summerlands, to rest, to be born again! You bring me here, you show me that, but then you tell me I will never see him again?" She spun around, furious tears lining her face. "This is cruel!"
Freya approached her slowly, shaking her head.
"You do not understand," she said gently. "You have a mortal concept of time, but it is not the same here. An eternity can pass in a day. You may see him again yet. If you had reincarnated then all hope of such a thing would have been lost."
Maeve swallowed, trying to calm herself down. She allowed Freya to slowly pull her into her hold again, warm hands stroking her dark hair.
"So few remember us on Midgard now. I wanted to give you a chance," she whispered, resting her cheek on her crown. Maeve stood limply in her arms for a long while, lost in thought, then looked up at her slowly, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
"Is there any way I can at least send him something?"
Loki looked up slowly as he heard footsteps. They were light and fleet and eventually bore a fresh face maiden down the stairs, who apparently had the authority to dismiss his guards. When she turned to look at him he saw fear in her chestnut eyes and she approached his cell as one might a wolf. He stood from the bench he was sitting on, walking up to the wall of spurs to peer down at her coldly. She gave a nervous curtsey, speaking in hushed tones as she straightened;
"I am a handmaiden of Freya. My Lady bade me give you this. She said that you would know what it meant."
Slipping a slender hand through the cell, he took what she was offering and she turned quickly, running back up the steps from the dungeon.
Looking down at what he was holding, Loki felt his heart stop for a moment. It was a small doll made of woven grass, a simple figure.
Sitting back on the bench he cupped it in both hands, looking at it enrapt. Slowly a devious smile crept over his face.
I am toying with the idea of a sequel, something I've never done before. If anyone would like me to do one, please let me know. And thank you to all of you that stuck through to the end, I am so glad *hugs*