Death makes friends of even the most embittered enemies.
Loki's funeral was a short, sharp affair, the great hall charged with tension, with buried whispers—the procession down to the shores of Asgard drew a silent crowd; suspicious men and curious women, Aesir all, who came to see the last of their second prince, of their once-king.
Loki Odinson, Loki Silvertongue, Loki Secret-keeper, peace be thy rest.
May the valiant call you to Valhalla.
May you live forevermore.
Volstagg is brandishing a boar leg, laughing all the while. "And then the bastard—pardon my soldier's tongue, Lady Sif—throws his damnable blade, and hits the dwarf king square in the shoulder!"
The table roars with laughter, and Sif manages a bare smile.
"By Odin, we would have all perished that day had it not been for Loki's guile," Volstagg says, words muffled through his mouthful of meat. "And mark you, during the peace-talks, would you believe, Loki convinced the little king that he had thrown his blade to deter a troll! Talked the king into giving him a prized dagger, and to this day, Loki wields—"
Down the end of the table, there is a clatter; the sound of a goblet dropped, of mead spilled across the floor. Sif's fingers tighten around her knife, and her mouth works. In the abrupt silence, Thor's fading steps are indescribably loud, echoing against the stone floors.
Her knuckles are white. She spears a cube of meat and puts it in her mouth, her teeth grinding together. She tastes nothing. She reaches for her goblet, and takes a swig of mead to wash the meat down. Volstagg's hands are still, his tale interrupted; the crowd hinging on a halted word.
"Wielded," she says, standing. "Loki wielded."
She finds Thor in Loki's room.
She remembers hiding under his bed to scare him when he returned from his daily visits to the great library; remembers wrestling him to steal his knives before he had learnt to fight with magic; remembers quiet nights here, escaping the bustling of the halls, listening to him tell tales of cities long fallen and heroes long dead.
("The wicked beauty Dahut ate her lovers alive," Loki's quiet voice is bright with excitement. "And the great gods of the realm, mighty in not only physical prowess but also intelligence, unlike our resident first-prince, Thor—"
Sif rolls her eyes; shoves him. He is slight, as tall as his brother, but where Thor is beginning to tower, Loki glides, in the shadowed corridors—and it seems to Sif, sometimes along the indents of her bones.
"Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted—" another shove. He grunts. "Upon a single command, a great wave rose from the ocean, and swallowed the city whole, all its citizens screaming beneath the great influx of water, until the city was no more."
Sif raises an eyebrow. "Is that it?"
Loki frowns. "What?"
"What happened to the wicked beauty, Dahut?" Sif mimics his hushed voice. "What happened to her? How does she die?"
"The gods drowned her, gave her the same fate as the people she led into sin," Loki shrugs. His fingers still on the edge of the page, his tongue darting out to wet his lips. He is suddenly silent.
The nerves at the end of Sif's fingers prickle, and she feels something inside of him twist. He has always been given to his silences, he was always fond of his solitude—she thinks, sometimes, that the second son is more fit to be a statesman and to conduct the business between realms than the first; but lately he is silent more than he is not. There is a new strain of quiet in him now, something sharper, something honed to a point, and sometimes she feels that he has retreated so far into himself that all the warriors of Asgard cannot pull him back.
"In death, the great become common," he says, smiling.)
Now the room is bare, though nothing has changed. The room is empty, though everything is in its right place. It is the shadows, Sif realizes with a start. There had always been shadows in the corners of Loki's room, drifting along the floor, whispering against your feet; the room had seemed softened, somehow, the edges melting away into nothing, like the emptiness between stars. She had not questioned it; Thor had not questioned it—Loki must be every inch the mystery to others as he had been to himself. There is comfort in that, she knows. There is comfort in knowing that you are never fully exposed.
Stripped of the shadows, the room now has edges. She lowers her eyes, the way one shows respect for the fallen, for the valiant dead. The walls are too bright, too definite, too full, too still, too sure a place and Sif averts her eyes, Sif looks away, Sif does not wish to see him stripped of all his mysteries—
Sif does not want to see.
It occurs to her, then, that he is very much gone.
"Thor," she says to his bowed back. "Thor."
He straightens, and she casts her eyes skywards. Weaknesses are beaten out of the Aesir; if one wished to take the oath, if one wished to spill one's blood for Asgard and write one's names into the annals of time, if one wished to sit amongst the brave in Valhalla, then one must not be weak. There is no room for frailties within her; there is no room for softness in the king-to-be.
If Thor weeps, then Sif will pretend not to see.
"I saw you leave." She says, and watches the way his hand tightens around the post of Loki's bed. "Volstagg—Volstagg is a fool. He should not have—"
"Loki did not fall." Thor says.
His voice is gruff, thick; he has been weeping. His knuckles are white from pressure, and Sif does not dare move, Sif is still—
"Loki did not fall." Thor repeats, and swallows. Sif's hand closes around the hilt of the dagger she wears at her hip, but this is not a monster she can fight, this is not an enemy she can conquer. Thor looks up at her, and her teeth close on her cheek. "Loki jumped."
She has to clench her core to stay still. Her eyelids flutter; she bites off the sound in her throat.
There is no room within her for weakness.
At night, Thor haunts the halls.
She has stayed in the same wing of the palace with the princes since she was a girl, since she had hair of spun gold before Loki cut it off. At night, Sif sits in her bed, arms clenched around her knees, and listens to her friend's footsteps trace the corridors outside.
("What folly!" Thor shouts, for Thor always seems to be shouting these days, now that his voice had stopped breaking. "Sif, I will enlarge you to the queen—why shouldn't you practice war-craft with us? You can be a Valkyrie if you wish, you are better than half the men in the training ring—you're certainly better than Loki."
The second prince's mouth is a curved shadow. Out of Thor's sight, his fingers flutter, and Thor lands on the floor with a grunt.
"You must be more careful, Thor," Loki says smoothly, stepping over his brother. "This would be most unbecoming on a battlefield."
Thor picks himself up gingerly, and claps Loki on the back. "'Course, brother." He turns to his brother. "Don't you agree, Loki? Don't you think Sif should continue her craft instead of being shut away in the queen's chambers, learning to work a loom?"
Loki makes a gesture with his hands. Sif's gaze follows the movement of his fingers—watches the seamless smoothness of his hand's motion. Funny, she thinks. Funny how he guards himself so thoroughly when he's not fighting, as opposed to when he is. "I think the Lady Sif should do as she pleases." He says. "Be it war-craft, or loom-craft, or mage-craft, or any number of things."
Thor nods. "Then we shall seek an audience—a formal audience, brother—with mother come morning. We shall enlarge the Lady Sif!"
"He's rather fond of that word," Loki notes when Thor rounds the corner ahead of them. "Did he learn it today, I wonder?"
She cannot quite bring herself to smile. Usually she dismisses Loki's taunts with a roll of her eyes, but today, there is a coil of tension in her stomach, something rising in her throat. Loki stops; looks at her.
"They would be fools to turn you down," he says quietly. "Don't worry. Don't fret. Thor will get what he wants, and what he wants is for you to continue serving—"
"But what if he doesn't?" She asks, breath rushing out of her. "What if he doesn't? What if I'm married off to an old nobleman? What if—"
"Sif." He grabs her wrist. He is of a height with her now, and can stare into her eyes without looking up. "They would be fools to turn you down. You are better than the men in the ring. You are better than me. You'll be better than Thor, too, once you sort out your footwork. They won't turn you down, Sif."
She is silent.
"They need you." Loki says quietly. "Thor needs you. Thor needs you to think for him. He needs you to plan for him; he needs you at his back. Thor needs you at his side, always, in every battle, in rain and snow and fire. I love my brother, but I know his faults—and he needs you."
A beat. She has very rarely seen Loki sincere, and even then it is almost certain he is playing a jest. Her eyes dart and flicker between his green ones. "He has you." She says.
He lets go of her wrist, draws back. A week ago she had seen him sneak into the library at night, and come out with bright eyes. She had crept into his room, and he had read to her of the space between stars; the slivers through which a very thin boy can fall.
"I won't always be here." He says.)
Thor paces the halls at night. Sif sits in her bed, and listens to his footsteps fade down the hall; listens to him chase a boy who had been dead for years.
Asgard restores itself. Asgard recovers, as it always does. Asgard learns to mouth words around the name of the second son, learns how to say simply the prince, instead of the first prince.
One king. One queen. One son. There are no more plurals for the House of Odin.
Heimdall stands guard over the broken bridge, and every so often, Sif stands upon her balcony and watches the queen make her way there to join him. Frigga always carries a bouquet of common flowers from her garden with her, and tosses the flowers, one by one, over the edge of the bridge, and stays to watch them drift; watch them fall over the brink where Asgard ends and the universe begins.
Thor is quiet and alone, more often than he is not. He spends his time between the hushed rows of books in the great library, sits where Loki used to sit, spends his nights along the palace roofs where Loki had sat as a boy, counting stars.
("Skoll and Hati," he says to her when she found him there one night. "And there, the great worm Nidhogg, who will one day bring about the end of the realms."
She does not come back.)
His eyes drift during the stiff, practiced banquets; during a dignitary's speech and during a formal procession of homage. She finds it hard to look at him sometimes; finds it hard to shake the chill at the back of her neck.
On silent nights, she is gripped by a fear, by a shiver that makes her wake sweating, makes her wake gasping at the look in Thor's eyes, at the way he breaks a little, when he thinks no one is watching.
It makes her think—the second prince is not dead. The first prince has preserved his brother within himself.
("It's my fault," Thor says to her one night, choking. He has drunk too much. She had told him to stop.
"It's my fault," he repeats. "I did this, I made him do it, I—"
"Shut it," she says. "He made his own decision. You didn't do anything."
"I'll hunt—" Thor begins, and stops. "I'll hunt the monsters down and slay them all."
He falls asleep not long after. Sif closes her eyes and tries to forget—gibberish, all of it. Thor is an emotional fool when he drinks.)
Months after Loki's fall, after Loki's jump, the universe stirs. Word arrives.
Sif holds her breath. Somehow she knows—she had known, before the messenger opens his mouth, before the words are even thought of, before, before, before, she knew him as her friend once, knew him as a boy and not a shade, she knew him—
("Mage-craft is about faith," Loki had said once. "It's about willing things into existence, about willing things into being. If you don't believe, you'll never make it true. You have to believe whole heartedly in the truth you're selling, in the world you spin—"
He pauses, his brows furrowing, and his fingers curve and bend.
A breath, a hush, and in between them, a bloom of silver stems, curling along the floor, shooting stems and leaves and tiny petals, curving up the walls in a spread of light—
"See," he says, breathless. "See, Sif?")
Do you believe, Sif?
"He's in Midgard," the messenger from Vanaheimr pants, breathless. "My Lord, Prince Loki is in Midgard."
The court hushes, and starts whispering as a whole. The nobles and noblewomen of the realm begin talking amongst themselves, and Sif watches the Frigga's breath hitch.
Thor stands. For the first time in so many months, there is life in him. "My brother?" He calls, and his voice is hoarse. "You have word of my brother? You are sure it is him?"
A beat, a pause in which the world waits with bated breath, until the messenger produces something wrapped in a scrap of cloth.
A worn, bronze piece of metal, scraped and bloodied, retrieved from the other end of Yggdrasil, but still, Sif knows, but still, Sif sees where it was once honed to a point, where it was once polished with the care assigned to the helm of a prince—
"He means to make Midgard his." The messenger says.
Sif looks at Thor. She feels the sudden flare in his eyes reflected in hers. She has to sweep her lashes across her eyes to hide it.
Odin turns to his first-born son. "Bring him back."
It is hope.
She accompanies him to the broken bridge.
The dark energy swirls around him, and she says, "Bring him back."
("In death, the great become common," he says, smiling. "And the common become great.")