"rest upon our battlefields"
Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance
Time Frame: Post-Canon AU, My Steel!verse
Characters: Loki/Sif, Thor/Jane Foster, Odin/Frigg, Tony Stark, Clint Barton/Darcy Lewis, Bruce Banner/Natasha Romanov, Steve Rogers, Sigyn, Hel/Garmr, The Morrigan, and too many others to mention
Summary: "And yet, I fear how far you would go to prove yourself worthy of the forgiveness you seek. I fear what you would give to protect that which you feel you do not deserve." When an ancient enemy rises from where it had been buried long ago, the sons of Odin must once again band together with friends both old and new to fight for the fate of the realms . . . and the chance to rewrite fate and prophesy itself.
Author's Notes: Oh my goodness, but it's actually here, I know! This story is a year later than was promised, BUT, we are up and running with the next chapter of my steel!verse. Namely - the one where Loki mends his fences, plays the matchmaker, finds redemption, and sorta saves the Nine Realms in the process. This story is novel length, and looking to be long at that . . . very long. To add to the word count, this is also the largest cast I have ever worked with in a story - so, this was quite the exercise from a creative standpoint, and I am enjoying the experience. I have a good chunk of this story written already, and the entire plot outlined down to the dialogue I want to use, and we are in for a ride. Seriously, this is what the whole series has been leading up to, folks!
That said, I have to stop for a moment and thank each and every one of you for your continued support and readership. I have gained some amazing fans while writing this series, and I do not have the words to tell you all how much your encouragement and kind words have meant to me. What started as a rather large oneshot is now a sprawling world of could of been and what if, and I have to thank all of you for making that possible! In short, this one is for you, my dear readers! I hope you enjoy the next chapter of this story as much as I have enjoyed penning it. :)
To any new readers, I would highly recommend you reading both "steel in your hand" and "bid the soldiers shoot" (at the very least), before attempting to read this. I have a 'cheat sheet' in my profile to accompany this arch of stories if you wish to make yourself familiar with this timeline - which is now AU thanks to the advent of the Avengers film. Very AU. ;)
To everyone else familiar with this 'verse, we now pick up directly at the end of "bid the soldiers shoot" . . .
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words . . .
"rest upon our battlefields"
Prologue || "until we both stand still"
The First Realm echoed with the sound of rejoicing.
At first, there had been only silence as the elite of Asgard stood in their livery and fine helms upon the bridge of the byway. Heimdall, tall and ever-vigil, had stepped aside, his unblinking eyes reflecting the gold of the cosmos as he walked forward with the honored guest of the night – a mortal woman, small even by the standards of Midgard, awkward within the draping silks of the Aesir, but with bright, eager eyes as the guardian of the byway offered her a hand up the hallowed step. Her hand, tiny and white, was swallowed within his darker grip as the shadows and light from above played upon them both.
Gathered to observe, the crowd was hushed. The heavens rolled in their canopy and the sea sloshed in its cradle. All assembled could feel the touch of the Mother's branches upon their skin, even though a race of steel and flame they were. All waited, all anticipated.
The girl-child, so young in the eyes of those ancient, stepped forward, and with her hands over Heimdall's own, they sank the sword of the byway into its sheath. Moments passed, silence and stillness was all that greeted them before the spherical chamber awakened, crackling with the tell-tale pulse of seiðr and rumbling with the mechanical gears of that which was built by hands - the magicks of Heimdall's blood and the ingenuity of the woman who would mend the path between the stars . . .
All was hushed. Not one soul took in a breath.
And finally, he exhaled. In his hand, concealed by the long, draping sleeves of his best robes, a violet stone took on the brilliance of the power in the air. Seiðr and warmth flared all around them . . . light and life. Life like the beating of blood and the stretch of lungs. Life like warmth. Life like being whole; whole as was promised, but was denied to those created but to make war and die.
His breath ached in his throat, as if it had not the right to be there.
It is time, his Master's voice whispered in his mind. It is time, it is time, it is time . . .
He had not drawn in a breath again. He had no need to. Instead he clenched his fist, feeling as the facets of the crystal in his hand flattened, feeling as its burden was relieved. He felt as his shades raced about, unnoticed with so much of the elemental and the uncanny in the air around them. They clambered with their voiceless throats, they clawed with their nailless hands. They reached . . .
. . . and were swallowed, lost to the byway and its path.
Finally, the mad swirl of power on the air faltered; it gave, collapsing in on itself like a lung free of breath. The massive circles of the bifröst stilled as the last glimmers of golden light touched the gilded planes with fond fingers before falling to nothingness too.
The mortal woman stepped back. She could not keep the smile from her eyes. From the front of the crowd, the Thunderer made to step forward, but stopped himself. Her eyes found his and held, and at the gaze, his smile turned wide and all encompassing.
Heartbeats passed. Heimdall inclined his head. He looked, and saw what no other could see.
"The bridge made contact," he announced. "The bifröst has been restored."
His words were simple, spoken without inflection or feeling, but the response was immediate as those gathered gave up a cheer. Amongst the sounds of rejoicing, Odin's first son stepped forward to gather the human woman in his arms. He spun her in joyous circles as if she were a child, her feet scarcely touching the ground as her laughter rose to join his.
And he himself stepped back, turning away from the living pulse of the crowd. In his hand, the violet amulet was empty, but sated. He felt the touch of a lazy smile against his mind. His Master was pleased.
Well done, the voice whispered, the syllables like a brush of fond fingers against his mind. Now, we need only time . . .
For centuries, they had waited, slowly and surely plotting their return. Slowly and surely planning how they would claim that which had been denied to them. Time meant nothing, not when their goal was so nearly at hand . . .
And so he walked away, the gem a pulsing light in the hidden pocket of his robes, and told himself that he did not have much longer to wait.
Outside, the last rains of the year tapped at the window with their cold fingers. The land rumbled, contented and soft as the sky whispered above them. In their cabin in the woods, the fire had long dwindled down to embers in the hearth. In its absence, an orb of cold green fire hung in the air above them, giving them just enough of a glow to see by as they filled the night with their words.
Sif, daughter of Týr, was not tired in the faintest. She had been sleeping for too long, she felt, and now her body sang with movement and light and life. Her blood was a sweet song in her veins; the skin at the tips of her fingers hummed as she burrowed in close to him, sharing an embrace that had not been hers to take in years . . . too many years, even for the agelessness of their race.
And yet, where her lungs could not seem to get in air enough with her joy, Loki laid quiet and weary in her arms. He rested his head against her chest as if it were too much of a weight for him to keep upright. The newly shorn length of his hair tickled the skin above her breasts as she drew her hand in soothing passes through the now short strands. He leaned into the touch without thinking, and she wondered what affection or companionship had been given to him in the years he had been away. The thought was an ache to her heart, and so she curved in closer to him, wanting to share her warmth and let him take it as his own.
Her cut on his hair had been sloppy, she reflected. Some strands were longer than the others, peeking from the shorter layers like the quills of a porcupine. She compared the lengths with her fingertips, feeling the sharp edges against those soft.
She mush have spoken her thoughts aloud, for his voice was a low whisper against her skin in reply. "You will learn."
"Until then, you would wear my ineptitude with pride?" she teased before grimacing at the thoughtless cast of her words. She had told herself that she would keep the conversation light. She had told herself that she would not give in to words laden with meaning. Perhaps, that was too high a goal for such a night, she reflected.
"I shall wear your ineptitudes, as you dub them, as long as you count me worthy enough to receive them," Loki returned. She felt a smile touch the corners of his mouth. Her fingers curved with the wish to touch it. "With pride I shall them bear."
"Silver-tongue," the old name fell as an affection from her tongue.
"I speak the truth." She heard where the word finally had been bitten from his tongue. "And you would accuse me of using charm?"
She felt as he drew the side of his fingers down her arm, an absent caress that woke up old senses and made them new. She had held memory enough in her mind – enough so that, at one time, she had thought memory alone enough to sustain herself on - but memory was now proven to be paltry in comparison to sensation returned real and tangible to her. With her hands, she discovered where a rib was too prominent there, where she could feel the places between his spine there. His skin was thin, she thought, too thin. She wondered how it managed to hold all of him inside. The calluses on his fingers were more pronounced than they had been, catching on the fall of her hair, the light linen of her sleeping shift. He had held a weapon often in their time apart. Enough so that they had scared his hands in a way centuries of war had not before.
She felt a fist clasp around her throat. She forced herself to breathe around it. Past, she reminded herself. He shall move forward only as you do . . .
She exhaled, forcing her lungs to breathe again.
If Loki noticed anything of her momentary stiffness, he said naught of it. She drew in another breath, forcing her heart to stillness. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the sound of the rain beyond them. The lull had taken her for some minutes, she knew not how many, when Loki's touch turned curious against her skin. He had found a long gash on the underside of her arm, a wound that had long since healed over, raised as a white path down the length of her arm. In a year's time, there would not even be a scar to show, but the wound had been deep, and some things took time to heal.
"This one is new," Loki said, his voice a low rumble in his throat as he searched out the unfamiliar shape. His touch tickled, and she pushed at his hand with a smile.
"A token from Hrodgæir," she revealed after a moment's hesitation. For little did wounds heal by ignoring them. ". . . after your fall. He insulted your name in the training ring, and it filled me with such a fury . . . A rage that I could not justly refute, for his words were not then untrue."
"Ah," Loki's reply was an exhale.
She huffed out a laugh against the top of his head. She let him feel her smile, how the corner turned up – wicked in shape. "And so, where I could not use my words against him, I broke his nose with my shield. I gave up my defensive position to do so, and paid the price for attacking in anger."
She felt him smile. She hoped that the expression was true.
Her hand fell from his hair to trace the long line of his spine, curving around each of his ribs as she went. She found a mark there she did not remember, a bump in the skin from the bone underneath. "And this?" she asked. "This is new."
"The captain's shield packs quite the blow when thrown with his true strength," Loki regretted ruefully, "I was clumsy, and paid the price."
She had not known of that, she thought as she bit her lip. Underneath her fingers, she felt a dozen more marks, mementos of battle from centuries of war and her ways. Most, she knew. Some she had prevented from being more serious wounds while fighting at his side. Some, even, had been born for her sake.
She touched a long series of lines on his lower stomach, from where she had ungracefully stitched a wound centuries ago. The marks had yet to fade. She felt his mouth turn, and wished to press her fingers there in order to feel the low ridges left frown Dwarvish twine. She bit her own lip, and tasted blood as he had tasted blood then.
She shifted, and found where he bore a thick rise of scar tissue beneath his elbow. He answered before she asked. "The Beast's handiwork," he said without elaborating. "Although, in the doctor's defense, I did deserve that one. My arm was not the same for near a month."
She felt her stomach sicken, remembering that particular battle. Remember feeling the white look of pain on his face as her pain before he had disappeared into the shadows, retreating to lick his wounds in private. How she had hated feeling so then. How she had hated that he could still have such an effect on her . . .
Now she rubbed soothing fingers against the old injury, offering a too late solace. There was a comfort to be found there, nonetheless.
"And this?" he asked, finding a rough patch of skin high on the back of her shoulder. In the daylight, it would be the colour of a bruise, birthed from flame. "This too is new."
"Old," she corrected, hating how thick her tongue was in her mouth as she was forced to answer. "Scared from the Destroyer's flames."
She counted out only a heartbeat before she felt him turn taut and uncomfortable in her arms. She felt the moment when he would draw away from her, lost in the shadow his deeds had cast. But she tightened her hold on him, not allowing him to leave her embrace. His strength was still wan, his skin still too pale, and she had spent years with nothing but her strength and steel to keep herself distant from her thoughts, to keep herself focused from her heart.
"And that too is past," she said firmly. Her voice was as a ram against a fortified wall. "And it shall be forgotten."
"But you," his voice croaked from his lips. "I -" he spoke as if he did not recognize himself. As if the weight of what he had done – all he had done – finally sank in, and the enormity of his actions was too much for him to bear. She felt his shoulders sink, felt where he turned his face away from her skin as if not worthy of the touch she offered.
"I," she corrected. "I healed. I healed then . . . and shall heal now, but only if you offer your own efforts to that end. Please, Loki."
His body was still drawn too tight for too long. And then he exhaled. When he touched the scar again, it was with all of the reverence of a priest to a diety above, and she leaned into the touch, finding some peace in the sacrifice he offered.
She let the silence grow between them, listening as the thunder beyond them rumbled, sleepy in the sky above. She waited for the heavens to silence before shaping her next question, her voice unsure upon her tongue. "What did . . . what did Odin Allfather say to you?"
"What is my penance to be, you mean?" Loki rephrased her query. Where years ago - even before his fall - his voice would have been bitter and derisive, now it was just tired. "We . . . we both agreed that we have done the other wrong. He offered his apologies, after much insistence from Thor," and then she heard a note of wonder flicker into his words, as if he were unable to understand Thor and his heart. Thor and his love. "And I . . . I too admitted the error in so many things. I . . . I know so much regret now, and I do not even know where to start in making amends."
She was silent, her fingers returning to his hair as she let him speak. She felt his voice bob in his throat as he swallowed. The next words were difficult for him to shape.
"I . . . I am banished from Asgard for my crimes committed against a sovereign realm. The peace with Jötunnheimr is contingent upon my absence from the First Realm until Odin deems me worthy enough to return. And, for my crimes against Midgard . . . I have wronged this world greatly, and I would pay a bone-price, if they would accept it of me."
He sounded thoughtful, at long last, and Sif raised a brow, wondering what plan he already had working through his mind. It had been over four seasons since his fall, and a near year since Jane Foster had reopened the bridge between worlds once more – thanks, in large part, to the research she had done at Loki's side, when he wore his mortal guise. While he had spent his time since Thor's return to Earth being a thorn in the side of the Avengers, Thor had devoted himself to the Heart-realm's protection - as much as a way to bind himself to the world he had grown to love as it was a way to keep an eye on his lost brother. She wondered at the shape of future events, then, seeing many possibilities before her, but unsure of which path would be hers to walk.
And so, until then . . .
She settled against her pillow, shifting so that she could bury her face in his hair, molding herself around his body as if she could crawl inside of his skin and settle herself alongside his bones. He sighed against her heartbeat, his breath slow and steady as it tickled her skin. After a long moment, he whispered, "I am finding that it is . . . difficult, coming home. There is a relative ease to be found in running."
"Shall you run again?" she whispered, fearing his answer.
A silence. A too long pause. "No," he finally exhaled. "I am . . . I am tired. So very tired, my lady." His voice was small when he spoke. . . so very small.
"Rest then," she murmured as she held him closer. The rain outside continued to fall, resolute as it fed the ground below. " . . . rest."