I'm sorry for the delay! I won't bore you guys with the details of my final exams, but, well, I'm sure you can imagine the frustrating lack of time. The next chapter will be delayed as well – sorry :(

I know a lot of you were looking forward to the inevitable kiss last chapter, but I'm borderline paranoid when it comes to timing. I promise that when it happens (which will be very soon) I'll make magic. Thanks for the lovely reviews and words of encouragement. Your perpetual patience will be rewarded by a damn good first kiss :)

21: Reconciliation and Retaliation

Loki woke up with a start when a violent and possibly hostile object smacked him bluntly in the chest. He spluttered, coughing, and dazedly forced his heavy eyelids open as he was rudely jarred from his remarkably peaceful sleep. He was momentarily disoriented as he stared up at the ceiling above his bed, blinking back the haze that was clouding his mind, cobwebbed with sleep. Groggily he tried to determine what had assaulted him.

Just as he made to sit up he was struck again on the chest, harder than the last. Fully roused from sleep and alert, he jerked upright in bed. He registered that it was an arm, and with gradual realization he remembered that his mother, meddling woman that she was, had forced him to offer Miss McPherson his bed – in which he had, despite the impropriety of it, joined her without her knowledge or consent.

The sound of her strangled whimpers roused him from his thoughts and he turned to the woman who was lying on her backside, her body convulsing with tremors. She had rolled away from him during the night, and was a foot and a half away from the dip in the bed where he had just risen from. Her head turned right, left, then right again, as her soft panting cries grew more desperate.

His eyes widened when her arm flew out to the side, once again making to strike him. He nimbly caught her wrist and applied pressure, holding back her unconscious assault.

"No!" she suddenly shrieked, thrashing against the sheets that clung to her damp body.

Loki's heart thudded anxiously in his chest as he beheld her unsettling distress. He squeezed her wrist tighter in his fist and pushed himself towards her, across the creased bed sheets. Her limbs were flailing dangerously, and twice her free arm nearly clipped him in the jaw. He made a grab for the threatening appendage, holding her arms down at her sides as her body continued to flail and convulse beneath him.

"Miss McPherson," he said, his voice deep with authority. "Wake up."

She was kicking with her legs, adamantly fighting against him in her state of fitful unconsciousness. She made no sign of stirring from the clutches of her nightmare, so he released her wrists and promptly grabbed her shoulders, shaking her with rattling force. His jarring vigour was perhaps undue and unnecessarily merciless, but desperation to rouse her spurred him to throw such cautions to the wind.

The shaking seemed to do the trick and her dark eyes flew open with a gasp, her body slackening below him. She stared up at him with terrified doe-eyes, a light sheen of sweat shining on her pale forehead. He didn't dare release her shoulders, holding onto her as he anchored her back to reality.

"Loki?" she breathed shakily, staring up at him, palpable traces of fear in her eyes.

"You had a nightmare," he said, releasing her shoulders with evident reluctance. "You're safe now. There's nothing to be afraid of."

He drew away from her and sat back against the headboard, an advisable two feet of space between them. It was difficult for him to put distance between them when all his body wanted was to hold her in his arms, but he wouldn't take advantage of her when she was vulnerable, as he had foolishly done the previous day.

From his peripherals he saw her slowly pull herself up against the headboard as well. He removed her spectacles from the nightstand and handed them to her, being careful not to touch her.

"Why am I in your room? I can't remember…"

"You fell asleep yesterday evening. My mother convinced me to let you stay here for the night," he interjected.

She frowned at him. "You needed convincing? I'm sorry to be such a burden," she said shortly.

Loki scowled as he turned to look at her. Perhaps it was due to having just woken from a seemingly terrifying nightmare, or because she was currently carrying a suffocating amount of guilt and stress on her shoulders, whatever the reason, he chose not to comment on her short temper. He had no right to, really, considering how many times she'd been the recipient of his unwarranted temper.

"That's not what I meant," he said sternly, fixing her with a neutral look. Slowly her gaze lost its edge and she bowed her head, ashamed. "All I meant was that considering the hell we've been through because of the last time you stayed the night in my cell, I figured I'd save us the headache and have Thor come to get you."

"Sorry," she said quietly.

"There's no need," was his low reply. His emerald eyes softened as they scrutinized her disheveled appearance. Her eyes were underlined with dark circles, her long, brown hair askew. "What did you dream of?"

She gazed up him, silent for a moment, her eyes chillingly empty. "Alberic."

He nodded slowly, expecting as much. "You're safe from him, Miss McPherson."

Slowly the young woman shook her head. "We're only safe for as long as he chooses us to be," was her emotionless response.

Loki's face contorted into a troubled frown, perturbed by her uncharacteristically glum outlook. "You know that's not true, don't you?" he pressed, turning his upper body towards her.

She stared straight ahead. "Isn't it, though? Look how easily he – he possessed me. He tampered with the perimeter that you created, and now he's set his sights on Earth." She turned her dark eyes towards him, her expression desolate and frightened. "What's stopping him? Who's stopping him?"

Loki clenched his fists. "I'll stop him."

The wide-eyed brunette stared deeply into his eyes, their entrancing depths flickering with an unidentifiable emotion. "But you're confined in here," she said quietly, as if it proved her point.

"You forget, Miss McPherson, that you never knew me when I was at the prime of my power," he said darkly, his eyes burning with a hunger for battle. "It will take more than a magically barred door to stop me when my powers are returned in less than three weeks."

She fixed him with a dubious look, one that was almost disapproving. It was just a flash of doubt, of apprehension, but it was enough to irk Loki. For some reason he could not stand the notion of her doubting him.

"You know I will not resume my old ways," he said, more softly now. He tried to convey his honesty through his eyes. "You may not remember, but Alberic and I exchanged words. Do you recall what they were?"

The weary-looking woman shook her head, leaning against the headboard with a wince, as if she were in pain – which she undoubtedly was, considering her foot was still far from being in top form. "How did you convince him to let us free?" she asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. "You didn't promise him anything you'd regret, did you?"

Loki shook his head. "I only promised him that the next time we met he could try to defeat me as an equal. I appealed to his sense of glory. He and I used to be quite similar. I knew exactly which stings to pull. Rest assured, the next time he intends to cause harm I will be restored my magic and my strength," he said.

She only nodded, closing her eyes and quietly leaning back against the head board. Loki couldn't help but watch her for a moment, admiring the way the summer sun's glow bathed her in its light, emphasizing the natural burgundy tones in her dark hair. The warmth of the yellow rays seemed to evaporate the sickly hue from her drawn cheeks, restoring a healthy colouring to her face.

Slowly her eyes opened and he swiftly averted his gaze, abashed, not wanting to be caught staring. "We should continue our sessions," she suggested. "Would you fetch me my crutches?"

Loki gaped at her, disbelieving. "You're jesting," he intoned disbelievingly.

Miss McPherson turned her dark eyes on him, calculating. "Why would I jest about our sessions? It's my job. We have less than three weeks to go," she insisted, turning her body with effort in order to swing her legs over the edge of the bed.

Indignant, Loki agilely eased off the eiderdown and swept around the four poster bed, planting himself in front of her. "I don't think my sessions take precedence at the moment," he asserted, chiding her.

She glared up at him, struggling to hoist herself onto her foot. But Loki was having none of it. He was little inclined to indulge her act of defiance. Just when she managed to balance on her good foot, he pushed firmly on her shoulder sending her toppling back onto his bed. "Hey!" she exclaimed. His gaze glittered with amusement as she huffed crossly at him.

He looked down his aristocratic nose at her, a smirk playing on his lips. "I don't think I'm the one who needs therapy at the moment," he breathed, his tone lilting teasingly.

Miss McPherson, in a proper state now, was fuming. "Don't mock me. I may be messed up because of what Alberic did, I may bear broken bones and bruises, but I'm still capable of performing my job," she cried fiercely, her eyes brimming with tears.

Loki's smug expression immediately faded when he took in the telltale glassy quality of her eyes. He hadn't meant to taunt her and he internally berated his foolishness. Of course she wasn't in any humour to indulge his playful teasing. At the back of his mind he heard the echo of his mother's voice: "... remember compassion."

"I don't deserve to be belittled or – or condescended, just because people might think I'm fragile and damaged," she snapped, wiping furiously at the unwanted tears. "Especially not by you."

Loki clenched his hands into fists. "I was not belittling you. I know that you aren't weak, and nor are you damaged. Distressed and laden with guilt, perhaps. But not damaged," he insisted. On instinct, his hand extended as if of its own mind, gently holding her chin and brushing her cheek with the cold, calloused pad of his thumb.

She stared into his eyes and he could read her torment as easily as if it were his own. He was perfectly familiar with the grief she was experiencing, having experienced it himself countless times in the past few months. Her shoulders heaved with effort as she took a deep, shaky breath. His hand reluctantly fell away.

"I don't know how to cope with what I'm feeling," she said, voice quivering. "I don't know how to forgive myself."

Loki licked his lips and carefully sat beside her, this time close enough for his thigh to just barely brush her own. He remained silent for a moment, carefully considering her words. "I cannot stress it enough," he began, watching her stare at her hands, clasped in her lap, "as I said yesterday, that you are not at fault. You are a victim. There was no possible way for you to contest Alberic's influence."

She didn't look away from her lap, clasping her hands ever tighter together until her knuckles burned white. "I'm afraid he's still inside my head." This time she met his gaze, her brown eyes disconcertingly void of warmth, instead radiating cold fear. "He talks to me, in my nightmares. Sometimes – sometimes I think he hasn't really left me."

Loki's brow furrowed into a concerned frown. "What does he say?" he asked, his tone deepening with displeasure.

She shrugged, lowering her gaze. "He reminds me of them – of the fathers, sons, and nephews – all dead. Because of me. He won't let me forget the blood on my hands. Sometimes I can still see it – the horrifically vivid crimson staining my arms and hands." She released a breath of anguish; digging her fists into her eye sockets with such force that Loki winced. "I can't bear to see it anymore."

When she pressed her fists harder into her eyes, he snapped. "Stop that," he chided, and forcefully pried her fists away from her face.

Her body slackened, drooping forward with a terrible weight. "I want it to stop. How do I make it stop?" she pleaded, looking up at him with beseeching, chocolate-brown eyes.

Loki felt his heart thud loudly in his chest. If possible his body went colder than it ever had before. He didn't know what to say or what to do. Advice was her expertise, not his. The tables had suddenly turned on him, their dynamic as companions shifting entirely – the roles reversed – and he wasn't sure he knew what to do. She was depending on him, he realized, with equal parts fear and delight. He was terrified to disappoint her. But he wouldn't let her down.

"I can't forget what I've done, and it's eating me alive," she whispered, her voice strained with torment.

Loki took her hand in his, holding the warm appendage tightly between his fingers. "You cannot let this consume you. This isn't you," he said sternly. "You're stronger than this. Don't let him win. Don't let him be the cause of your undoing."

Her head bobbed gently as she absorbed his words. They weren't so much advice, but a plea.

"I need you to stay strong," he continued, squeezing her hand tighter as his own voice creaked with emotion. "I won't lose you to Alberic," he vowed, his voice a low rumble of protectiveness mingling with resolve.

She turned to look at him, her lips slightly parted. "I'm scared, Loki. I don't know what to do."

Loki reflexively reached out to grasp her face in his hands, physically holding her gaze to his. He gently brushed her cheekbones with his thumbs. "I won't let him hurt you again. I swear to you."

Her dark-lashes nearly brushed her cheekbones as her eyelids fluttered wearily closed. He felt her body lean towards him, sagging under the abysmal guilt and fear that clung to her like a hostile shadow. His chest swelled with a desire to protect her.

He released her face, and wrapped a strong, sure arm around her back as she collapsed into his side, curling against him, one warm hand absently clutching his shirt as she pressed her damp cheek into his shoulder.

"I won't let him hurt you," Loki repeated determinedly, holding fast to her, his grip tightening around her frame. She said nothing, but her shallow breathing gradually evened out and her grip on his shirt tightened infinitesimally more. He held her for what may as well have been hours, but was mere minutes. Loki's sensitive ears detected the sound of lumbering footsteps beyond his door. He recognized it was his brother's less than subtle gait. He was, undoubtedly, come to fetch Miss McPherson.

Gently, he released her. She made a small sound of protest that caused Loki's heart to constrict with a ridiculous amount of satisfaction, before he rose in time to greet his brother.

"Thor," he said rigidly as the burly, blonde giant entered the room.

"Brother," he nodded in return, his translucent blue eyes drifting to where Miss McPherson sat upon his bed. "How was your rest, Miss McPherson?" he inquired with a warm smile, retrieving her crutches from where they leaned against an armchair.

The brunette offered gentle, sheepish smile. "The best I've had in a week, to be honest," she said quietly, her eyes briefly meeting Loki's. A strange sensation passed through him then. "Loki kept the demons away," she said softly, her smile suddenly fading as a look of awareness seemed to dawn across her features.

Loki watched her expression change and wondered what was going on behind those roiling brown eyes. She swallowed thickly, before gesturing for her crutches. Thor handed them to her, and Loki forced himself, with no small amount of difficulty, to remain at a distance from her as she struggled to her feet. When she teetered precariously, his brother was swift to straighten her out.

She turned, her eyes searching him out. When they settled on him, they looked shamefully apologetic. "I'm afraid I'm still a bit out of sorts. Our session—

Loki waved his hand dismissively, cutting off her words. His eyes conveyed his sincerity. "Tomorrow."

She held his gaze a moment longer before nodding stiffly and severing their connection. She permitted Thor to escort her from the room. His older brother met his gaze briefly, fixing him with an inquiring gaze. Loki, for all his perceptive adeptness, could not decipher the underlying question in the man's uncommonly stony gaze, but whatever it so happened to be, Loki knew that before long he'd be posed the question. Thor had never been one to have tact when it came to his musings.

As he watched Thor aid the limping girl through the doorway, he managed to catch one last look at his companion. Her head turned at the last moment, peering curiously over her shoulder. Her eyes fixed on him with an expression that unsettled him. There was clarity in those dark brown eyes – a clarity so sharp that he could scarcely conceive what was going on in her mind. The door promptly shut, severing their contact with palpable force.

OOOOO

Loki anxiously awaited Miss McPherson's arrival the following day. He wanted to know about the guilt and the fears that were pervading her mind. He was determined to help her overcome the grief that was now haunting her. After she had left the previous morning, he had been restless for the remainder of the day, reminiscing on her perturbingly empty, hollow eyes. He would not rest until those brown eyes were restored to their former state of expressing her all-encompassing warm personality.

It was past lunchtime when he heard a set of unfamiliar footsteps approaching his cell. It was not his mother, nor was it Thor or Miss McPherson. He felt his body turn rigid as he rose defensively from his seat at his desk, carefully tucking away the tome he had been reading into the nearest drawer.

The door cautiously swung open. Loki could not prevent the cold jolt of shock the seized him when his adopted father entered his room. It was the first time in five and a half months that he had come to visit him in his cell. Loki wasn't sure whether he was more enraged or slighted to be graced by his unwilling presence now. He did not attempt to mask the grimace of disdain on his face as his sharp green eyes bored unforgivingly into the shorter, wizened man.

Odin closed the door softly behind him, his posture tall and regal as he entered further into the room. His single eye never strayed from his son's. "You were not expecting me."

"No," Loki ground out, his emotions suddenly conflicting as he abruptly recalled the handful of favours his father had bestowed upon he and Miss McPherson in the past few months, in particular how he had stood up against Judge Voglrsson to attest to, on both his and Miss McPherson's behalves, their honourable characters.

"I was expecting Miss McPherson. We have a session this afternoon. I admit your presence is wholly unexpected and, if I'm to be blunt, not entirely welcomed," Loki ground out, flexing his jaw.

His father nodded, his glacial blue eye taking a moment to study the Spartan cell, lingering on the excessively opulent bed. A flicker of wry amusement crossed his features. "No doubt the special touch of your mother's influence," he mused softly.

Loki snorted ungraciously. "Once her mind is set…"

"She cannot be deterred," Odin finished with a nod, his gaze levelling with his son's.

The taller god clasped his cool, slender hands behind his back. He regarded his estranged father for several brief moments before gesturing to the arm chair normally occupied by Miss McPherson.

Odin nodded, grunting in thanks, as he lowered himself into the plush seat. After a slight hesitation, Loki took the seat opposite, extending his legs and crossing his ankles. He watched Odin shift somewhat with discomfort. Loki smirked satisfactorily. This was his territory; let the old codger feel disdvantaged.

"Miss McPherson sought me out yesterday afternoon," Odin began, folding his hands neatly in his lap as he fixed Loki with a perturbingly sharp eye. "She seems to think that you and I are ready to properly embark on the route of reconciliation."

Loki scoffed, glaring at the white-haired man. He looked impossibly weary. The two or three times that he had briefly encountered his adopted father in the past year had not been sufficient in conveying the obvious strain that the Allfather was under, Loki realized, as he studied his father. The Frost Giant siege, Alberic's presence and the prison fiasco had clearly grated on his unflappable nature. There was unconcealed exhaustion written into in every intricate crease lining his aged, weathered face. For a brief moment, he felt an uncomfortable pang of sympathy for the man – a subtle, nostalgic ache for a great man now succumbing to the terrible weight of his reign. The sentiment was fleeting; gone in the next instant he took breath.

"She asked that I come to see you today to replace her usual session with you," Odin continued.

Loki bristled somewhat. His intuitive mind rapidly analyzed those words and he found himself offended by his speculations that she might be avoiding him for some reason or other. He mentally berated his foolishness. Tomorrow their sessions would resume, surely he could handle another day without seeing her. The dull ache in his chest suggested otherwise, but he quickly pushed it aside, disregarding the throb of disappointment.

"What do you want me to say to you?" Loki asked, suddenly weary.

Odin narrowed his eye. "I think you set the record straight all those weeks ago when I spoke with you during the trial. You were," he paused, "painfully clear." He continued in a lighter tone. "Once I managed to overcome my own indignation and pride over your slights, I was able to appreciate your blunt honesty."

Loki scowled, remembering the cruel words he had directed at the man sitting before him. Miss McPherson had chastised him for being overly harsh, but in that moment he had felt such anger towards his father. He held him, in part, responsible for his fall from grace. If his companion would have been present now, she wouldn't have described his words as honest, so much as tactless.

"I remember," was all Loki said, his tone cutting.

Odin nodded slowly. "I have long thought over your words," he said with a frown. "I am regretful to say that you were not entirely wrong."

Loki swallowed with some manner of difficulty as an unexpected wave of guilt pervaded him. "I wasn't entirely correct either," he said, his tone uncommonly soft, as he discarded the sharp edge to his words.

He met his father's eye and saw a flicker of hope. It made his gut wrench uneasily as he realized just how far they had fallen apart over the years. As a young child he had extolled his father, he had admired him for the great and powerful man that he was. But as he grew, it became more and more obvious that his father was paying more attention to honing Thor for leadership than he was to being a father to his youngest son, the forgotten son. If not for his mother's constant doting, he would have felt entirely neglected.

"I know that my apology is long overdue, and I am under no illusions that an apology of any degree of eloquence will atone for the way I have neglected and failed you as a father, but I wish to say it all the same." Odin's crystal blue eye shone with unshed tears, a rare moment of vulnerability that thoroughly jarred Loki. "I am so incredibly sorry, my son. I have always loved you, despite having failed to convey it. I lament that there is such distance between us now, such resentment."

Loki said nothing, his emerald gaze diverting to the expanse of wall beyond Odin's shoulder. He licked his lips, rubbing his jaw with a cold hand. "I hated you," he said darkly. "I despised your very name, your face, your presence, when I learned that you had taken me from Jotunheim as an infant."

He directed his now fiercely burning emerald gaze back at his father. "I want to resent you still today. I want to continue to hate you and your deceptions," he paused, "but in the past few months I have come to realize that nothing is ever as simple as black and white."

Odin's lips stretched into a thin line. "I have done wrong by you. I only wish you would not hate me for it."

Loki shook his head vehemently, rising abruptly to his feet. "That's just the point of it," he exclaimed breathlessly. "I don't hate you anymore. I can't. I can't delude myself into blaming you for my actions last year. What I did was unforgiveable. My anger was spurred by your negligence and my resentment for the lie I had been living, but that still does not condone what I did to Midgard," he said tersely. "No one is responsible for my actions but me. I have come to accept this – with some help," he finished, thinking briefly of Miss McPherson.

Odin rose as well, slowly, with enviable poise. "I am responsible for failing to guide you. I failed you."

Loki ran his tongue along his teeth. "I cannot keep blaming you. Miss McPherson is right. It consumes me, this resentment. I need to let go." He met his father's gaze. "We both need to accept our past failings and move past them. Those who hold onto the past will only be met by perpetual and unnecessary despair."

The Allfather took a cautious step forward. Loki's spine straightened defensively, unprepared for a display of affection from his father. He was willing to test the waters of reconciliation, but he wasn't about to go on a father-son fishing trip. When Odin silently extended a solid hand towards him, Loki felt minute relief. They would take this journey of reconciliation together, slowly and gradually. With a curt nod, Loki grasped his father's hand firmly in his own.

"A new beginning," Odin murmured quietly.

Loki said nothing, releasing his father's hand. Odin did not move for a moment, levelling his blue eye with his son. "Your companion is quite the woman, Loki. She has all the makings of a remarkable individual."

He only nodded, distracted as his thoughts drifted to his companion. "She's struggling to deal with the possession. She's still haunted by Alberic, by the blood on her hands."

Odin looked grave. "I have noticed. Your mother is very distressed by it."

Loki could only imagine that she would be. Frigga had been verging on tears two days ago when Miss McPherson had fallen asleep in his cell, lamenting over her ashen skin, her sickly pallor and obvious loss of appetite. "It worries me," he admitted. He didn't want to appear vulnerable in front of his father, but it was evident that Odin also cared greatly for the girl.

"I only wish I knew what could be done to help her. Not even the presence of her Midgardian companions eases her fears," Odin said.

A thought, a rather ingenious one in Loki's opinion, suddenly came to mind. He recalled her mentioning it to him. With any luck, if it could be arranged, it might prove to be the key to helping her overcome the grief and self-loathing. "There might be something," he mused. He fixed his father with a hesitant look. "Would you be willing to do me a favour?"

Odin's lips upturned at the corners into a sardonically amused half smile. It was the first time Loki had seen the man direct a genuine smile at him in years. His whole face changed and he felt like a child again. It unsettled him. Normally he would never degrade himself by asking another for a favour, but considering his plight of confinement and consequently his inability to have influence over the outside world, he would have to steel himself against his retaliating pride. It was for Miss McPherson's sake, in any case. Which made it somewhat more tolerable, he thought. Only marginally.

"It pleases me to know that there are some things you still need me for. I would be happy to be of use," Odin said.

Loki grimaced, but swallowed the sensation of a wounded pride. "I was hoping that you could arrange a rather exceptional meeting."

OOOOO

The next several days passed and Evelyn went each day to visit Loki for their sessions. She was thoroughly impressed with his dramatic progress. The day after she had sent Odin to visit Loki, they had engaged in some discussion over how, despite the gradual nature of beginning the process of reconciliation, he could not deny the lightness that permeated him.

Evelyn was extremely proud; her well-hidden professional ego was bursting with satisfaction. Their sessions had gone well. Loki's temper had never flared and he had shown incredible patience and compassion when sporatic waves of emotion would strike her. They never spoke of Alberic – Evelyn refused to, even when Loki offered to listen. She tried her utmost to circumvent all conversation concerning her role as unwilling murderer, the defilement of possession and Alberic's cruelties against her. Loki wasn't pleased by her avoidance. But avoidance was her defense mechanism, protecting her from having to deal with the reality of what had happened to her. Everything was better when left unsaid.

She stumbled up the stairs in her crutches – she had narrowly escaped Natasha and Clint who had insisted on helping her up the foreboding spiral staircase for the past couple days. They wouldn't be pleased to know that she had evaded their assistance, but Evelyn was tired of being so dependent on them. The swell of pleasure that filled her chest upon reaching the top of the stairs without a human crutch made the exhaustion in her trembling legs entirely worth it.

She quickly greeted Haward who exchanged a good-humoured word of chastisement for having climbed the stairs on her own. Eager to share her small victory with Loki, she hobbled into his room. He was flipping through a book and didn't bother looking up. Undeterred, she staggered over to her usual seat and plopped down without and regard for gracefulness, leaning her crutches just beside her.

He was still immersed in his book, but she knew that he was entirely aware of her arrival. A small frown downturned her lips as she remembered waking up in his bed just five days ago. She had slept a pleasantly dreamless sleep for the most part, which was a welcome relief. But then Alberic's obsidian, depthless eyes had abruptly filled her head, taunting her and vowing to destroy her beloved Earth. His blunt nails had run down the length of her arms, drawing vivid red blood, and then the faces of the Asgardian guards, the victims of her possession, had swelled beyond his bloodthirsty, sadistic face, cursing her and bemoaning their unjust deaths.

It had been a particularly disturbing variation of her nightmare, but thankfully short-lived. She had awoken to find Loki's body suspended above her own, shaking her to consciousness. His dark green eyes had been narrow with trepidation, his hands gripping her shoulders firmly with underlying desperation. The warmth and relief that had flooded her upon seeing him and feeling him so close to her had instantly expended all her anxieties, all the lingering traces of the horrors of her night terror.

Lost in thought, she began to detect a particularly stern gaze burning into her face. She met Loki's intent gaze with a small smile.

"You look positively spent," he observed.

Evelyn just shrugged, her brows knitting.

"Trouble sleeping?" he inquired.

The young woman rubbed her lips together, not liking that he was breaking their silent agreement to not broach issues concerning the prison debacle.

She shrugged nonchalantly. "A little. Last time I slept a whole night through was," she paused, averting her gaze to the barren mantle of the fireplace, "well, the night I stayed in your cell," she finished lamely.

Loki nodded gently, his eyes refusing to stray from her. "Are you having nightmares again?"

Evelyn scowled at him. He had asked her the same question a few days back. She had lied, of course. "No."

It was Loki's turn to scowl. "Don't lie to me, Miss McPherson. Your lack of adeptness for it is embarrassing."

Evelyn resisted the childish urge to roll her eyes. "These sessions aren't meant to be about me."

"Well I think we can suffer the loss of one session to talk about you instead. I've been remarkably well-behaved this past week; I even surprised myself. I think one less session is manageable, don't you?" he asked, his tone a low purr as he leaned his elbows against his desk, fixing her with a challenging gaze.

Evelyn's mood, which had previously been uplifted, quickly deflated. "I'm not here to talk about myself," she insisted.

"Tell me if you're still having nightmares," he reiterated, ignoring her statement entirely.

A brief pause, and then she lowered her gaze, relenting. "They never stopped," she said softly, rubbing her eyes wearily. She was vaguely aware of the sound of him pushing back his chair, the soft tap of his light steps carrying him across the small room towards her.

"Why did you lie to me?" he asked, his tone strained.

Evelyn jumped, lifting her head. He was standing in front of his armchair, arms crossed, staring down at her. She squirmed uncomfortably. "It wasn't important," she replied defensively, trying and failing to regulate her suddenly erratic heartbeat as he loomed above her.

"That's the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard you say," he ground out, his tone clearly displeased. "If you think that your despair isn't important to me than you are sadly mistaken"

His voice conveyed genuine hurt, which jarred Evelyn. She knew that their strange friendship had developed out of mutual sentiments of care for each other, but at the moment she was in no mood to entertain his curiosities about her own problems. She glared up at him, refusing to lessen the force of her anger.

"I said that I didn't want to talk about this. Why can't you leave well enough alone?" she snapped.

Loki's eyes seemed to widen in surprise before narrowing into a heated glare that put hers to shame. "I know that what happened has been traumatic for you. You need to talk about it. You can't just internalize your guilt," he said sternly.

Evelyn clenched her fists. "Just drop it."

"No," he intoned deeply.

A wave of rage rushed through her. She refused to let him order her around. He had no right. She would not let him twist their meeting into a therapy session for her problems. They were her problems, and she didn't have to share them if she didn't damn well want to.

"Fine," she snapped acerbically. "Have it your way."

Tearing her eyes from his, she grabbed her crutches and fumbled to her feet. Loki seemed taken aback by her clear intent to depart as he reached out to steady her swaying form. Her lips pursed with barely concealed indignation and she roughly pushed his hand away. "Don't touch me," she snarled. If she hadn't been so consumed by her own frustrations with how their meeting was turning out, she might have noticed the dangerous look in Loki's suddenly frosty green eyes. As it were, she was distracted by her own anger as she hobbled towards the cell door.

Her fingertips barely had a chance to brush the cool surface of the decorative brass knob, when his hand shot out and grabbed her by the shoulder, roughly halting her escape and spinning her to face him. The movement was so rapid that her crutches twisted out from beneath her arms, falling with dull thuds to the ground. She only managed to maintain her balance by clinging onto each of his black shirt sleeves with her hands. Her eyes were wide with shock as he intense green eyes burned into her skull.

"I only want to help you," he asserted, clearly frustrated by her lack cooperation. His large hands were firmly gripping her shoulders, squeezing them with painfully strong fingers.

She winced. "I don't need your help." She tried to ignore the traitorous tears that were suddenly obscuring her vision.

His fingers tightened around her shoulders. "Why won't you let me help you?" he demanded, his voice lowering.

"Because my problems are none of your damn concern!" she shouted, her frustrations finally manifesting themselves vocally as her fingers instinctively tightened around his shirt sleeves.

"Like hell it isn't my concern," he countered angrily. "The only reason you got dragged into this damn conflict is because of your involvement with me. I am entirely responsible for what happened to you. I won't let this man consume you!" he avowed, his voice rising with fury.

"It's too bloody late for that!" she cried, furiously wiping away her tears. "He's in my head! It's constant. I can't have a private thought without hearing him goad me and torment me and I can't make it stop!"

"He's not in your head," Loki growled, his eyes aflame with anger.

"He is! You don't know what it's like. Every time I think I can start to forgive myself I hear his words from that day in the cell echoing in my head. He'll never let me forgive myself, and I'd rather die than go through the rest of my life carrying this all-consuming guilt of having their blood on my hands!" she cried, her face flushed with tears of defeat.

Loki's body went rigid. "Enough! Listen to yourself!"

She glared at him through her tears. "Don't tell me what to do. Don't pretend to know what I'm going through," she cried miserably.

Loki's nostrils flared. In a fit of blind rage he shook her violently by the shoulders. Evelyn gaped mutely at the brutal force behind his actions. His fingers burned into her skin. His icy ire seemed to permeate her flesh, chilling the very blood in her veins. Her head snapped violently back and forth, and an agonized gasp fled from her lips. Her eyes were wide and she made no attempt at concealing her shock and fear.

The steel edge that had filled his cold emerald eyes seemed to recede upon the realization of his actions. A look of self-loathing and disgust contorted his previously enraged expression. He abruptly released her shoulders, and she staggered back into the wall, unable to remove the look of disbelief and agony on her face. She hardly recognized him. She had never witness him so utterly… undone with anger.

The imposing demigod ran a shaking hand through his hair, his breaths coming out in ragged pants. He turned his back on her, his shoulder rigid, mumbling incoherent curses under his breath. When he faced her again his expression was a careful mask of disdainful unaffectedness. He would not meet her eyes as he gracefully, albeit rigidly, bent at the waist to retrieve her crutches, thrusting them under her nose.

"You should go," he said gruffly, his voice lower than she had ever known it to be.

She stared at the towering man before her for only a moment longer before taking up her crutches and leaving the room without a backward glance. By the time she reached the bottom of the tall stairwell several minutes later, her heart was beating at an erratic pace, her limbs shook beneath her weight, and her body was coated in a cold sheen of sweat. She would be a liar if she insisted that it was due to the physical exertion.

Again, sorry for the delay. I hope it was worth it. Don't freak out about the ending. There is always method to my madness. All shall be justified in the next chapter. Never fear. Drop a review (you know I love those). Cheers!