A/N: Okay. Still alive, I promise. Chaos has ensued, internets have been downed, but we are still writing! I'm afraid this one may very well be slow going as we are having some technical difficulties as of late. Internet issues are making us creative (including some time at the pub using their wifi, so if there's a random bit thrown in that doesn't make any sense, one of us had a *bit* more than we should have, or were just getting ready to write a part that included Tony in it...aka: we've had a bit too much to drink) but we will persevere! I'm hoping to make the chapters a bit on the longer side since there will be more time between them. I am very sorry for the delay.

Oh, and as usual, this is co-written by Gabrielle Day and myself.

Fair warning: This follows as part of our series. You should go back and read the others if this is to make much sense. You have been warned.


Sacrifice

The younger prince of Asgard moved through the palace hallways relatively unseen. No spell hid him, but he simply slipped through the crowded corridors without pulling any attention to himself as servants scampered to make last minute arrangements. They were engrossed in their duties of polishing marble floors, making sure that the tables held all the appropriate foods, and that nothing was out of place. It was not often that a prince had two coronations, but it was also not often that the first coronation would have ever been disrupted. Now things were more spotless than before, and the amount of people making sure that everything ran smoothly made it difficult for the younger prince to find any of his usual hiding places unoccupied. That was all well enough, as he had his own preparations to attend do.

He slipped around a pillar to the back of the banquet room, green eyes searching. He frowned slightly as he felt the shift in the air and he knew he was not alone, as he had hoped to find himself. "Surely you wouldn't be up to some sort of mischief on your brother's big day," Sif's voice filtered in.

Loki felt his lips stretch into a charming smile. "Of course not."

"Then why are you sneaking about, ducking behind pillars dressed less like a prince and more like a servant?" Sif asked, appearing from the opposite side of said pillar, arms crossed.

Loki arched a slender eyebrow. "I am hardly dressed like a servant."

"But still less like a prince." she persisted.

Loki shrugged, his smile easy. "I will be dressed in heavy royal garb soon enough and for hours on end. I am allowing myself some time of ease before my finery is required. You yourself are surely not wearing the gown you will be for the official moment."

Sif sighed. "No, I am not. But as I am bent on not having to attend yet a third coronation, as is most everybody else, and you as always are behaving suspiciously, I mean to make sure you have no tricks up your sleeve. Besides, Thor would not forgive you."

"Thor would not forgive me if he thinks I'm allowing his coronation to slip by without something special," Loki countered.

"What are you up to?"

The god of mischief sighed. Things had been quiet since their runabout with the young apprentice Beck. The cure had worked spectacularly and the wayward sorcerer had been put to trial. It had been quick and quiet as to not embarrass his master. Thor had disappeared more and more to Midgard and Loki was sure it was not simply to help his Avenger friends. He came back with a strange look in his eyes, distant, and Sif had been strangely short with him. Between his trips to Midgard and taking on a few more official duties from their father, the younger prince had seen very little of his elder brother since recovering from the magic-induced illness that had nearly killed him. He had no wish to put off Thor's special day again, but he could not honestly say that he did not have the urge to be the cause of at least a small interruption, even if it was just to catch his brother's attention for a few moments.

With another smile he lightly took Sif's arm, guiding her away from whatever it was that he had been working on. "I hear that Jane Foster will be in attendance with the other Midgardians."

Her face instantly darkened. It was a small change, anyone passing them by would not have noticed but it was precisely what Loki had hoped for. "So I hear. She and her assistant and the doctor you availed yourself of during your round with the Tesseract."

Loki let the small jab pass. "Consider this, dear Sif, this will be the first time you and the lovely Miss Foster occupy the same space, at least when our Thor is not otherwise occupied."

"So you are not unleashing a Destroyer, then." Sif said wryly. "Hardly. One does not use the same methods twice. My point being, that surely, when next to your radiance and power and vitality, her shine will fade, do you not think?"

Sif frowned. "I have no need to outshine some mortal dalliance."

Loki allowed his expression to turn surprised. "Of course not. Certainly no god of Asgard would consider long term relations with a mere mortal, and certainly not our impulsive, hot blooded Thor."

Sif looked as if she might be ready to return with a retort, but decided against it. "You've earned your epithet of Silvertongue," she said instead. "Do not ruin Thor's day."

"I shouldn't dream of it," Loki answered easily, watching her stalk away. His eyes remained on the corner that she had rounded for several moments longer than they needed to before he returned to his previous task. He shouldn't want his brother to think he had forgotten, after all.


He was not nervous. He wasn't nervous the first time - when perhaps he should have been - and he wasn't nervous now. Yes, all of Asgard was watching. Yes, the Avengers would be there as well. And yes, Jane would be watching. Thor sank to a step, leaning heavily on the pillar he found next to him. This had been the single unoccupied room he could find, and he had made use of it.

He had seen little of his brother in recent months, and as far as he had looked for him that morning, he had been unable to find anyone that could divulge his whereabouts. The blond sighed heavily.

"Nervous?" a familiar voice said from behind him.

Thor felt some of the tension dissipate. He turned to find his brother smiling up at him, eyes sparkling with mischief. "Certainly not. I am the only prince in the history of Asgard to have a rehearsal, after all."

"At least we have the assurance the performance will end on a better note than previously." Loki said, leaning next to his brother.

"I am glad to see you." Thor admitted quietly.

Loki nudged him with his shoulder. "Some things are worth repeating. Your friends from Midgard should be soon."

"Our friends." Thor corrected.

"You should leave the truth stretching to me, brother." Loki said wryly.

"Well. Stark may still have some reservations." Thor conceded.

His brother gave a short laugh and leaned forward, chin resting on the heel of his hands. They were quiet for several long moments, simply enjoying each other's company. Strange, how only a relatively short time before they had been bitter enemies. By immortals' time clock, it had only been a blink of an eye, as had their fight. Now they returned to the steadying closeness that kept them both afloat. It was a second chance that Loki had never expected, nor had even known to wish for. "You'll be spectacular," he murmured confidently.

"I know," Thor answered with a grin, receiving another playful shove from the younger god.

"Don't be an ass. It's not like this is bringing about anything that was not already known to the entire kingdom. Everyone knew you were the crowned prince, this will just make it official." He paused, his smile knowing. "So you shouldn't be nervous."

'You are right." Thor said.

"I know. It was only a matter of time before you acknowledged this truth." Loki agreed.

Thor laughed again. "About this, about this. That was not a blanket statement, brother."

"Shame. Eventually you will cave to my all knowing ways." Loki said, jerking away with a short laugh as Thor poked at him.

A servant poked his head into the room. "My princes. The Midgardians have gathered and Odin is awaiting your presence to bring them."

"I will be just one moment." Thor said.

The servant nodded and shut the door behind him.

Thor took a deep breath and Loki laid a hand on his shoulder. "I meant what I said. You will be spectacular. And I meant what I said the first time we were here, too. I love you. Never doubt that."

There was no warning when Thor pulled his brother into an embrace. He crushed the smaller god against him, wrapping his arms around the thin frame as if he were afraid that he might disappear at any moment. That he would wake up and the last stretch of time in which they had grown close again would have been some perfect dream. It was his worst fear, and a fear that gripped at him more and more when he spent long periods away from his brother. Loki did not squirm away as he would have in times past, but put one arm around Thor's broad shoulders and held tightly. "Promise me," Thor began, voice sounding choked.

When he didn't continue, Loki gave a gentle squeeze. "Promise what?" he urged.

"Promise me that we'll never stand opposed again. I don't think I could take it."

"I shouldn't see why we would," Loki chuckled. "What brings this on?"

"This day," Thor mumbled against dark hair, "this day was the breaking point for us before. And while I would move mountains and worlds for you as many times over as it took, the loss of you is more than my heart could stand."

Loki's breath caught in his throat and his fingers tightened their grip against Thor's back. For once the words would not come to his mind, would not flow from his mouth. He pulled back far enough to cup Thor's face in his hands and brushed his lips against Thor's forehead, a blessing and benediction. "No. Nor mine." he whispered.

Thor took a steadying breath. "Well, no putting it off any further."

"What?"

"You've been asking to meet Jane. Today's the day."

"It is, isn't it?" Loki murmured as he stood.

Thor eyed him warily. "You don't have anything... planned, do you?"

"Brother, you wound me. Nothing will get in the way of your coronation. On that you have my word."

Thor shook his head but offered no further questioning. They moved through the multitudes of people towards the outer walls and finally to the edge of the bridge where familiar faces awaited them. The servants that had gone to the Bifrost to collect them looked relieved to see the two princes approaching.

Loki had not seen the Avengers since his last impromptu trip to Midgard that had cleared his name on both SHIELD's files and on Asgard. Stark gave him a wary look and Rogers waved to them both. Banner was watching his surroundings with the utmost care and Romanov and Barton were as inseparable as always. Thankfully Fury seemed to have declined the invitation. Loki was not sure that he could have dealt with the one-eyed SHIELD leader for any length of time. Beside the superheroes stood Dr. Selvig and a girl in glasses that the trickster thought he might have recognized in the vaguest of senses as assistant that seemed to still be tagging along on the adventures. Darcy, or something like that.

Then there was the woman - the mortal woman - whose face lit when she saw his brother. She didn't seem to take into account those watching when she raced forward, launching herself into Thor's arms and pressing her lips against his.

Thor's response was no less warm or enthusiastic and after a moment Frigga gently coughed causing Jane to blush and pull away slightly. Thor continued to grin. "My friends, welcome to Asgard."

He made introductions as needed, hugging and shaking hands with those he had not seen in some time while Loki wound his way to Sif's side. He grinned and clasped his hands behind his back. "You could always try that approach." he suggested quietly.

Sif made no comment but jerked her elbow deftly in hopes of catching his side. He was too quick and slid away towards the warriors three throwing a wide smile her way as she glowered after him.

"Someday she won't be as forgiving," Fandral chuckled as he took a hold of Loki's thin shoulder.

The younger prince of Asgard gave a casual shrug. "I wouldn't know what you mean."

"He's just saying that he knows how you shouldn't use a woman's heart against her. Personal experience and all of that," Volstagg explained with a boisterous laugh that caught the attention of several of the Avengers.

"And we all know what happened the last time you really set Sif off," Fandral circled around.

Loki smiled easily but refused to be baited by the memory.

"Brother!"

He turned, finding Thor waving him over. Selvig eyed him cautiously, taking a half step in front of Jane even as the blond god of thunder called him to meet her.

Thor did not miss the motion and half turned to Eric, never taking his eyes off his brother. "The Loki you encountered on Earth is not the Loki you will know here. He and Jane are two extremely important parts of my life and I assure you I would not knowingly put either in danger." he murmured softly.

"You know what happened." Eric said, voice clipped.

Jane put a hand on his arm. "Eric," she said.

"And I would change that if I could. Please. Consider it a favor, for my sake."

Eric had no time to respond as Loki reached Thor's side. Thor smiled broadly. "Loki, this is Jane. Jane, my brother Loki."

Loki took one of Jane's slim hands in his own and brought it briefly to his lips. "You are as lovely as he says. It is a great pleasure to finally meet you." he murmured.

Jane smiled. "I bet you have lots of stories." she said.

Loki's smile grew. "Oh, dear lady. We shall have to spend some time in conversation later."

"But not now," Thor broke in, giving his brother a warning glare and receiving the most innocent look imaginable. If he had been anyone else, he would have been fooled. Sadly, he had fallen for the look one too many times.

"Of course," Loki agreed. "Surely they would like to be settled in and ready themselves for the festivities. I would assume Stark will want to partake of the mead earlier as well as later."

"I've heard Asgardians throw a hell of a party," Tony answered with a grin. "Guess you'll be getting me that drink before I get you yours."

Loki resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He would be good, no matter the taunts. He had promised himself for his brother's sake. Everything would be perfect. Squeaky clean and perfect.

Loki felt himself shifting closer to Thor as they walked inward and somehow, without him knowing entirely when, Jane was suddenly at his side. "So, Eric knows all these stories from when he was a kid, ones that he grew up on, and I'm wondering just how many are stories and how many actually happened."

"Ask him about the horse." Eric called from where he had joined Bruce in conversation.

Jane frowned. "Horse?"

Loki's expression darkened. "Greatly exaggerated, I assure you. There was a time when Thor was carried away by a dapple gray mare. Lovely horse. Only woman in Asgard to embarrass my brother, I think."

"Oh, that is not true," Volstagg said, joining them on Jane's other side. "There was that bar in the south, the one with the dragon over the door. Very embarrassed, our Thor before the evening was through."

Jane grinned. "Oh, really?" She paused before asking her next question, looking around. "Where's Darcy?"

"Sorry! I lost an earring!" Darcy called. She had fallen behind the group and was crouched low to the floor.

Volstagg stopped. "I shall assist her."

Loki and Jane watched him walk briskly towards the young woman. "Oh." Jane said.

"Indeed." Loki agreed.

Everyone was settled into their rooms with instructions as to where and when they were to appear. Thor disappeared shortly after the Midgardians had gone to their temporary chambers and Loki was left to his own devices. He sighed heavily, feeling the weight of the day pressing down. Truth be told he hated these large events. Perhaps it was best that Thor was the chosen one and he would never again sit on the throne. If he were to, there would be a large fiasco in which he would have to stand there and pretend that he enjoyed the stares and didn't hear the murmurs. At least the murmurs that moved through with Thor were pretty young maids commenting on his dashing looks and beautiful blue eyes. Loki was sure that the ones that moved through upon his temporary reign had nothing to do with his looks.

He found himself huddled in his own chambers, feeling very reluctant to leave, regardless of the time. He wasn't willing to play the part that everyone knew was false. It wasn't that he was in the same place as last time. Very much the opposite, as he felt that Thor was ready and had more than proven that fact. No, he was sure that it came down to the e fact that he simply was not ready to face everyone again. While Thor would be the center of everyone's greatest attention, he would be in the darkest corner alone. Utterly alone. Loki startled at the tap on the door.

He pulled the door open and leaned against the frame, arms crossed and eyebrow raised. "I do believe you have the wrong room. Your lovely maid is in another hall."

Thor huffed in amusement. "We both know you can appear as pretty as any maid in any realm."

"You promised you would not bring that up again." Loki said wryly. "Shut up and ask me in." Thor said.

Loki stepped back and motioned him in with a grand gesture. Thor rolled his eyes and followed him into the room.

"I need to ask you something." Thor said.

"No, I will not save you from Sif's wrath when she realizes that you are serious about the mortal girl."

"Sif's wrath?"

"Never mind. What?"

Thor shifted, eyes roaming over the room. Nothing had changed in years. The books that lined every wall had shifted places, some updated, others as old as Loki himself, and various spells and scribbles of incantations littered the table that his brother often wrote at. "Did I ever tell you that I used to come sit in here while you were gone?" Thor asked at last, never truly giving himself to allow thought before the question left his lips.

Loki tilted his head, determining exactly what Thor meant. By the sad tone and the far away look that was held in blue eyes, he thought he might know.

"I never moved anything," Thor added hastily. "I looked, but I never moved anything. I was afraid that I would never put it back the same and it would never return."

"I must admit, I was a bit surprised, after everything, to have it so unchanged. Why didn't Father simply have it cleared out?"

"If he wanted it cleared, Mother wouldn't let him. She would come in here too. She always thought she had managed to get by unnoticed, but I saw her in the darker hours, and I could hear her crying late at night as she sat in here."

Loki shifted uncomfortably. "Thor, we have been over this. We shall never relive those moments, brother."

"I know." He paused, the sigh heavy. "I know."

Thor moved to the bookcase, running his fingers over the spines. He stopped when he came across a wooden figurine, one that he had carved for Loki many, many years ago. It was a small Bilgesnipe, a grotesque creature he'd made humorous with curled horns and a lolling tongue. Thor smiled and picked it up, the figure smooth under his fingers. He turned back to Loki to find his bright green eyes watching him carefully. "Loki Odinson, as I am the future king of Asgard, I ask you to stand with me in my reign as my most trusted, my foremost adviser." Thor said.

"Have you been into the mead already?" Loki sighed, turning so that he was no longer meeting his brother's eyes.

Thor stammered a moment, nearly dropping the small, fragile figurine in surprise. "No, I mean just what I said. I want you to stand with me. I trust your advice over all others."

"Don't be a fool, Thor," Loki snapped, shoulders tense.

"I'm not-"

"You are. Stop and think for once. Whatever you and Father have decided in your own minds as an excuse for my behavior, I manipulated you out of my way to take the throne, took control of Asgard during Father's sleep, and proceeded to nearly destroy an entire world. That is just what I've done on Asgard that they would hold me responsible for on legal matters. Aegir would have had me in the dungeons for my treason, and you would put me at your right side? You must think these things through more carefully, brother, lest you be seen for a thoughtless fool."

Thor might have struck him, then, if they had been standing closer and they had been younger. He carefully placed the figurine back exactly as it had been. It took him several moments of inhaling the heavy scent of the books and the papers, thinking of Jane, thinking of anything else at all to quell the anger and force himself not to rip a shelf of the books off and to the floor. He was beyond that kind of out lash now. "As you wish. I will tell Father I do not wish to name an adviser at this time."

"You must." Loki said.

Thor turned, then, and Loki fell silent. "I will not. When the time comes that you understand that actions mean more to me than what people think, that you are the only one who could fill this place, we shall speak of this again. Now if you will excuse me, I have a pretty maid to find."

Loki watched as his brother stormed out the door and he sank down to the chair at his writing table. "Damn fool," he grumbled, putting his hands to his face and rubbing hard at his eyes. He wasn't entirely sure if he meant to speak of his brother or himself. He hadn't meant the words to come across as harshly as they obviously had. An advisory roll was what he was best suited for, as he did not have the hot temper that his brother did, but Asgard would not see it that way, and Thor did not realize what an impact that would have someday. What was he doing in that moment other than advising him in the manner in which he should act as the crowned prince? Loki sighed heavily, wishing that he had something stiffer than a bit of wine he had stored away in his chambers. He had gone and irritated Thor on his day. "Damn fool," he mumbled again, but this time he knew he was talking about himself.


TBC

A/N: *sigh* Poor Loki, he really is trying to help in his own way. Someday, maybe, he'll learn. Please let us know what you think. Never fear, the action won't be too long yet. It'll be packed, I assure you =D