Happy New Year everyone! Let this be your first bit of fan fiction in the New Year! And it's finally something not so awful… Enjoy ma lovelies!

Loki, it doesn't have to be this way. We can fix it! He'd never heard his brother sink to a place of such desperation – that he would bargain. Even if his decision had already been made. Loki stop! This is madness! You can't do this! And his choice would never be swain. I have to do this. I have to do something. I have to save her! And in all his life he'd never known such panic. The pain was rivaled by incidents in the past, but together it was a scarring combination. He felt himself drowned, the agony ebbing away until he felt nothing at all, every sensation survived only by his singular drive to save this woman who had utterly stolen his heart. He knew nothing else as he reached a point of no return. And like a tether snapping, his mind finally made its escape.

It had become a habitual action, honed with years of mischief and magic. His form re-collected as it had so many times before, but this time with nowhere to return. And so the whole of him staggered in a form barely fitting of a projection. And he clung to her in the only way he thought he'd ever know. A hollow touch and, for a time, only what he had imagined it to be. And in a way this was worse – to know her soft skin beneath his fingertips – to know the reassurance of her hand in his – and then to have it reduced once more to this. This empty existence – for one last, desperate attempt to make amends. To do what was right. To save her. I have done what I had to, in order to keep at least one promise I've made to you. Please, Naomi. Don't wait. We don't have the time anymore. Not anymore.

And before his eyes she was gone as his presence, real or not, was erased – as he abandoned her again. But she'd be safe this time. She could make it. I know she can. She could go home. She would be safe. Free. It was a moment he had imagined for so long now, but he'd never thought it would end like this. Not until the moment it struck him that he had no other choice. And in that moment he had known the Hel he'd accepted.

As her touch disappeared, as he was dragged from her grasp, he was hurtling through darkness – an endless void of existence he had for so long feared to return to. The branches of Yggdrasil had burned every nerve raw once before, and then left him torn apart, shredded within an inch of his sanity. But this was not the Void he remembered, this – no, this redefined even that horror.

He had foolishly hoped for a moment that he would return to his body, to find himself awake and recaptured, left once more to rot in that norn-forsaken cell. Even death would have been an acceptable alternative. Anything but this. Pulled at the seams by the vacuum of space was a tortuous end, but in this tumultuous whirlwind of emptiness, left only with himself – it was torment with no foreseeable end. There was no logic. There was no reason. There was no bargain that could be made. There were only the mind numbing, blood curdling thoughts that he had bottled and shelved in his subconscious. They were malicious whispers that festered, once calm and collected – and quiet. Now singing. Screaming. Chanting. Imagined spells that tore at his flesh. Very audible derision that brought a sick turn to his gut.

Monster. Only a quiet hiss at first. Monster. Then a laugh when the sounds grew louder. The monster parents tell their children about at night. The monster even you had come to fear. Frost giant. The words echoed around him with distaste. But you were the monster even the Jotuns despised. A runt. Pathetic! My birthright – Your birthright was to die – cast out onto a frozen rock. Abandoned. Unwanted. Forgotten. Adopted. But into a life whose expectations he could never amount to. Doomed for eternity to never belong. If you could have told me what I was from the beginning – but what difference would that have made? You are but a shadow. A blemish. A disgrace. A disappointment. Have I made you proud? An entire lifetime of taunts and jests rung in his ears, the sound – their words – piercing. Even now.

Loki, it doesn't have to be this way. Brother, please!

I'm not your brother! I never was.

He told you my true parentage did he not? Born of a race of monsters. Raised among warriors. But you were weak. You've always been weak. All you had was magic. And in the end even that failed you. His wrists – erased from his field of vision within this vague existence – burned even now. His mind still registered a pain that wasn't there. And the sear only burned brighter while the noise compounded, the voices multiplying. His own voice, self-loathing and hateful, prodded and stabbed until his very mind bled. Wounds reopened. Scars unhealed.

You lack conviction.

You give up this poisonous dream! You come home.

But you have no home.

You will spend the rest of your days in the dungeons.

Abandoned. Alone. Forgotten.

But not alone.

Poor, naïve, little mortal. Thinks herself so immensely important. But she was. If only he'd known. You didn't do anything – you just stood there! And that moment superseded the rest. He heard her scream. Heard her cry. Saw her struggle. Heard her call his name. A scene only his mind had concocted. An awful symphony he had only imagined. But he watched – saw her wounded and starved and raped. Only this time she didn't survive. She was to be a martyr for a worthy cause – to teach you a lesson.

Within a hallucination so vivid, he saw her dragged away. True to the Allfather's ruthless intent. He clawed at the glass until his fingers bled. Attacked it until his knuckles broke. Until she was gone. Gone. His hands braced his head in the darkness, his nails boring holes in his skin. And he screamed, the sound smothered by this void – drowned out by his own debilitating thoughts. But he screamed until his lungs profusely ached. Until his completely imagined body gave out. As dead as the original that was more than likely still bleeding out in the throne room.

He shook, his mind still pulsating in the stillness of an endless space. Every fault, every pain, every torment he'd ever endured dragged forth repeatedly until his entire existence was reduced to a single agonizing thrum. And he was hopeless to do anything but lay there and – Loki. At first he was certain it was simply another ploy by his self-loathing hallucinations, but it wasn't his voice. Nor was it the Allfather's patronizing tone. Or Thor's.

Loki, you promised me. You promised you wouldn't do this again. I know you're still there – I know it. I know it.

The voices were slowly silenced. All but hers. Naomi. Her tone, sad but insistent was nearly audible, echoing louder than the others had. Closer. In the darkness – in the void – in this limbo, there was nothing. But she was there. She'd come back, as he should have assumed. She was far too stubborn – too strong – to run. Even if it would have saved her damn life. He stilled when he felt a hand brush his wrist. The feather light touch moved through him in waves of nauseating sensation, the result of a feeling drawn without reference by a mind without a body. But he waited, mind open, to see if it might happen again. He felt the touch gravitate for only a moment before it disappeared, but replaced with a sudden clarity.

The sting in his wrists became little more than an itch. While he still drifted blindly through space, there were pockets of light, other sounds drifting past, quite voices – the ambience of the place he'd left behind. He was knocked sideways by a sudden pressure against his chest. Over and over, but with gradually lessened intensity. She's trying to save me. And I can feel this – I can hear her. Not dead, he thought. Never dead. But trapped.

"I'm sorry that this is the way things had to be." The Allfather's voice broke the silence, his voice still foggy. Like he was speaking underwater. The pain in his chest stopped but Naomi's touch remained, her hands firm against his flesh as the Allfather continued. "Loki owed a debt, but I never thought he would give his own life to pay it. You're free to go."

And then he heard her scream. Felt her cry; warm tears a tangible sting against his face. "This is what he wanted."

"You didn't give him a choice! This – this is the ultimatum you left him with! It didn't have to be this way! You made it this way! How could you be so cruel? And to your own son, no less! Discipline I can understand. Justice I can understand. But not this! No one deserves this!"

The air further cleared when she spoke and he could almost place himself among them, not observe, but visualize. And he had all too clear an image of the woman that valiantly – foolishly – defended him. "I saw him down there. I saw the side of him that you don't want to see – because you've abandoned it and to even think to accept it again isn't worth the effort. He's not a monster. He's a man – a god – whatever! And he hurts and he feels – he regrets. He's sorry. I'm not going home – not without him."

She tried. She tried to resuscitate him. She tried until he could almost feel the ache in her arms – in her heart. Naomi, I'm sorry. He wanted to reach out to her. To work the knots from her shoulders. Wipe the tears from her eyes. Anything. Anything but this. He had to get back. And then she stilled.

"It's not his heart, dear. It's his mind."

Mother. Loki felt her fingers twirl in his hair, such a familiar sensation. And then he found his hand tangled in Naomi's hair, her curls dusting his fingers before they met the damp skin of her cheek. "You said you wouldn't do this again. You promised."

I promised you so much, darling.

"Loki, we're together now – you have to wake up." Loki found that panic again. Something more along the lines of desperation. "Please – you have to wake up." He knew she was there. Here? Somewhere. But how do I find you? He fumbled in the darkness, gravitating blindly toward her, the comforting aura she exuded. He might have imagined it, but it was all he had. Until she kissed him.

The entire world brightened. Had he been standing, or in a state of reality to accommodate it, he would have been brought to his knees when his whole mind numbed. But like a flare – a bright light in a dark room, he found her and in turn his own body, an empty shell heaped into her lap. He felt her legs beneath his back, her hands bracing his shoulders while she kissed him everywhere. Her lips pressed against his neck, his cheek, his lips again. "Come on, Loki, wake up." And for a moment he was floating, his vision an ache like the moment before you black out. But in this instance, as the weight returned with a vengeance, it was an array of blinding white he met instead.

"You promised you would protect me! You promised you'd be there for me! Loki, you promised! Now wake up you fucking liar!" She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, and just before his head met the stone, the waking world found him again.

Loki clung to her now, hands held with bruising force, putting as much distance between them and the throne room as possible. She was quiet. More than likely exhausted. But he couldn't see past this simple contact he had almost lost. To even see her again was a miracle made real by her determination alone. She had put aside everything for him. For me. A feat he still failed to understand. He recalled their kiss. One of several desperate attempts to wake him. And in his hallucinatory bliss to even know it wasn't the end, he returned every single one. And paying no mind whatever fear or discomfort remained.

Two months of torment had finally brought them here. So long this comfort and contact had invaded his dreams, another lacking reality. But it was real now. His grip loosened, but only enough to run his thumb across the burn on the back of her hand. His fingertips traced the unobscured flesh of her palm. He couldn't meet her gaze, though he felt it. No matter how much he wanted to smile, to laugh, to hold her and wonder how it was possible, this cruel reality was always there gnawing at the back of his mind. For now, she was his. But only for one more night.

Loki led her through the winding halls, down a seemingly unending path. But Naomi's mind had reached a place where it was only dragged along without complaint. Her thoughts lingered elsewhere, until they finally stopped. Naomi looked up at the door Loki had brought them too. In finally observing her surroundings, this pair of double doors was no different than the others around the hall, but she could see in his expression that there was more to it than its intricate knot work engravings. She hadn't been sure what to expect. She had only ever seen him confined within a stark white cell adorned with very misplaced furniture. But when he finally pushed aside his musings and opened the doors, they were greeted with a state of disrepair reminiscent of the grimy dungeon they'd only just escaped.

This was only a foyer; an entryway modestly furnished that led to a much larger suite. But the whole of it was left dark by sconces long unlit. Even in the dim light, she could see every surface had accumulated a thick film of dust, several years' worth of neglect and abandonment. It was sad to think that in his absence no one had maintained it. Instead it was left to nature's devices. But Loki's hand took on a green light as it swept over the space. Moving like a wave or a flame on a gunpowder trail, the dust evaporated, clotting in embers lifted away by the vibrant green smoke, the desaturation undone. Naomi followed it, watched as the room came to life again. Through the small entryway, it opened up into a sitting area cocooned with shelves well stocked with books. She scanned the titles all in his runic language, while their pages were freed from the cling of unfiltered air.

His spell spread, restoring his chambers to what they had been, a symbol of a status he no longer held. Beautifully polished wood surfaces. Ornate décor lost in the dim light. Dark green drapery lined the entire back wall, bathing the entire space in darkness that was illuminated only where the afternoon sun snuck through. But as the green smoke escaped into the farthest contours, the light was last; the sconces finally dotted with flame until she saw an interior fitting of the person she'd thought him to be. Her eyes traveled the space. Following from where they entered, she could see where it tapered into a bathroom and further along she found more shelves and books – a study – a place to get lost.

Her feet brushed through a large area rug, an animal pelt that carpeted this main sitting space. It was dotted with large armchairs, some still with books left upon their cushions as though he'd been called away very suddenly. And never returned to see them back to their shelves. Her eyes scanned a desk, a heavy wood furnishing with a scattering of unorganized notes upon it. It was almost painful as she pieced together this man. A scholar, someone brilliant but quiet. Someone who could coop themselves up in here with only books for company until perhaps a mother had been forced to retrieve him. Someone who did well when left to his own devices, but not anymore. Comparing such observations to the shattered soul she'd met down there brought a sad swell to her chest.

Her gaze lifted, panning across the rest of the room. Her eyes followed the deep emerald curtains, spying a balcony through a tiny crack. At the far end of the room was an ornate wooden four-post bed surrounded by a paper-thin, gossamer curtain in a similar hue of green. She stared at it for the longest time, taking in the unmade sheets and the heavy evergreen duvet without much thought. Only half imagined scenes replaying in her mind – dreams never realized – ruminations that bore panic in the past. Loki suddenly appeared at her side, startling her toward safer thoughts. His hand, his feather light touch, slipped into hers, the pad of his thumb brushing the burn that branded the back of her hand.

"May I heal you?" She could hear the fatigue in his voice, but with a comforting determination she remembered all too well. She nodded and he led her to the upholstered bench at the foot of his bed. Loki settled to the floor between her feet when she sat down, but before she could question, he took her bare foot into his hand, his fingers sliding methodically across her toes. He remembered. It was so long ago. It was the first of so many injuries sustained down there, a silly outburst that brought a gimp to her step, one she'd done so well to hide from him. But he remembered. The pain was long gone, but she felt a tingly sensation invade her skin, surrounding the bones of her tiniest toe, correcting where it had healed slightly crooked.

When he was done, he set her foot down before his slightly shaking hands traveled up her legs and across her bare thighs, tracing bruises long gone. She felt his magic invade her muscles in passing, repairing the slightest atrophy from her time spent unconscious and starved. She shivered when his hands came to her waist, moving slowly up her sides, his fingertips tracing her ribs a pair at a time.

She remembered another man's hands with a grip so tight it had broken at least two. Loki healed three, the small fractures finally sealing and relieving a constriction on her chest she'd since adjusted to. It had been only a tiny throb amongst a mess of horrors. Forgotten like the others – wounds endured and ignored for so long. But to move, to even breathe, unimpaired after so long – it was a relief she hadn't known she needed.

His hand took hers and he moved to sit beside her. The burn she'd sustained still stung, having already been ripped open twice since receiving it. But she watched as the red faded, the cracked flesh smoothed until the whole of it was enveloped and replaced, old freckles still intact. She flexed her fingers painlessly while his touch moved up her arm, pausing at her elbow where it had been sprained in the infamous attack. The muscles mended until the minute restriction disappeared.

Then his fingers trailed over her shoulder and slowly up her neck where his hand finally reached her cheek. His eyes, brooding with anguish, followed as his thumb found the bump in the bone where it had fractured. It had been a big black eye for a while, then only a bulge and an ache – a slight break in the skin. All had healed, but she'd noted after waking up after a week asleep that her cheek had lost feeling as a result. Nevertheless, she felt the slightest pressure when he set the bone correctly, smoothing the small lump and finally repairing the nerve. And she felt the cool press of his fingers again. She heard him sigh, his grip shifting so he could tuck his fingers into the hair at the back of her neck.

"I wish I could heal what's been done to your mind – your memories," he breathed, his lips barely brushing her cheek. Her thoughts struggled to find some way to silence his regret, the fault he wouldn't let go of, but before she could respond he was helping her to her feet again. "Come with me."

She followed him into the bathroom around the corner, a slightly smaller space with floors of more polished stone. The light in here was low even with the flickering glow of candles on the walls. She settled against a countertop while Loki disappeared into one of the deeper shadows, but after a moment a few more candles lit, illuminating a bathtub set in the stone of the floor. In size it was more akin to a large hot tub or a small pool. She watched when the water suddenly ran, pouring from a faucet cut from the stone of the wall beside the tub. It fell like a waterfall, pumped from somewhere by means she couldn't quite figure out. But as the warmth and steam quickly permeated the room, it was one of the last things on her mind.

Loki added mildly fragrant salt-like stuff until the water was clouded. And as the tub finally filled, the water stopped and the room was bathed in a stirring silence. She watched him move uncertainly, avoiding eye contact like he hadn't done since they were locked in a torturous standstill between separate cells. She moved cautiously forward, her gaze drifting between Loki and the warm bath he had run. She dipped a foot into the water, the perfect temperature sending shivers up her spine. "I'll leave you alone then."

She hurriedly snagged Loki's hand before he could slip away. "Stay. Please?" He didn't fight her. Not even slightly. He turned back with a defeated sigh before he twined his fingers further with hers. She could see in his tired eyes how much that simple touch still affected him. She brought him back to the edge of the bath and he sat down without argument. He watched her with a barely focused gaze when she began to undress, slipping his torn shirt over her head. She shed her dingy, tattered shorts and soon after her underwear. She tugged the tie out of her hair, which was by now so matted and tangled from so much abuse it didn't seem worth the efforts of repair.

Looking herself over, she and Loki almost shared a skin tone now. Several months without sunlight and she was sickly pale, although the warm light afforded her the slightest bronze. In healing her, Loki had put a little weight back on her – enough that she felt a tad more than skin and bones. She felt his gaze, softer than she remembered it. His eyes traveled over her but not as they had before. The hunger in his stare was gone, though the obvious longing remained. She saw almost adoration or appreciation. But it might have been grief. Grief that this time tomorrow all of this would be over. After tonight, nothing would be the same. The very thought made her feel sick. But she hurriedly silenced that thought and stepped into the water.

She breathed a long sigh of relief, settling onto the seat that lined the bath. There were hundreds of stupid things she'd missed since being imprisoned here. On her list of things to do when she finally got home, a hot bath was right up there with eat a whole pizza and sleep for a week. For a moment she simply laid there, slumped in the seat so her shoulders sunk under the water, her head resting on the tiny step just barely submerged. She imagined just sinking under the water, surrounded by its warm embrace. It almost made drowning seem pleasant, but when she remembered the grime and the grit and the useless dungeon shower, she sat up again and found the soap.

In a tiny box beside the bath she found all sorts of stuff she couldn't identify but it all smelled good. Certain scents she recognized from where they lingered on Loki's clothes or in his hair. Whatever the case, she sought to surround herself with it. Lathering up a washrag with what she knew to be soap, she scrubbed. Starting with her feet that had grown filthy and callused without shoes for so long. After that she proceeded to scrub herself down until her skin was raw but at last clean.

And now for the hair. She had attempted to untangle it several times over the course of her captivity, each time with minimal results. Eventually she gave up, concocting the rather aggressive plan to simply shave it all off when she got home. Simply running her fingers through it now, they stuck and already she wanted to have at it with the scissors. Up until then, she had almost forgotten Loki was there, until his hands met hers where they stuck against her scalp. He worked her fingers free before he began untangling it himself.

She sat up when he moved in behind her, his now bootless feet sitting in the water on either side of her. He worked some sort of conditioner into her hair and combed it out one section at a time. Before long she felt the knots loosen until he found her long lost curls again. She sighed softly as he dragged his fingers against her scalp. The tender pull of his long fingers through her hair had her drifting, her mind melting into the water, until her world was once more reduced to his touch.

"Thank you," Loki said, "for the things you said."

"You heard all of that?" she asked quietly.

He nodded. "Every word. What you did for me – I didn't deserve it."

She grabbed his hand, until he stilled. "Don't say that. Please, don't say that." She turned and met his gaze, her wet hands bracing his thighs. "Is saving my life worth so little? Whether you think yourself deserving or not, I will never regret returning that favor." Her thumb rubbed at a tiny patch of dried blood on his cheek that had been missed in his mother's impromptu cleanup. And when the red finally faded, he leaned into her touch, kissing her hand when he could reach it. But after that he was quiet. Lost in his thoughts. Lost in tomorrow. But this wasn't the end. I won't let it end like this.

After a time, Loki helped her out, quickly wrapping a towel around her while the tub drained. He brought her back into his bedroom and began rummaging through his drawers while she dried herself off. He returned with another towel and she hung her head forward as he gently wrung out her hair until a small puddle had accumulated on the rug beneath her feet. And in her periphery she watched him, as he sunk further into that depressing funk she had thought gone forever. The pain filled persona she hardly missed.

"Loki?" He set the other towel aside and began absently arranging her wet hair around her face, still without meeting her gaze. "Loki." She snagged his hands, drawing him closer until she finally met his deep green eyes. For the longest time she searched for words – something to say. Something that might relieve the obvious ache in his heart. Or in his mind. "How do you feel about me?" she asked, her voice quietly demanding.

His thumbs drew aimless figure eights across her knuckles before he finally spoke. "It's not something I've been able to put into words thus far," he said, his voice painfully distant. "But it's as close to love as I may ever get." And suddenly it was no longer a question of doubt – of fear or panic. To hear that word – that one word – made her stomach flop uncomfortably – to even come close. But she no longer ignored the warmth born beneath her skin. She braced him by the shoulders, commanding his slipping attention before she completely lost him. And then she wrapped her arms around his neck, her lips brushing his jaw. Loki seemed almost startled when she was suddenly pressed against him, all hesitance gone, his grip around her back the only thing holding her towel up.

"Naomi-" She could feel her heart already pounding in her chest, but for the first time since this horror story began she urged it to run even faster. She leaned up, brushing her lips to his. "Naomi, please-" Her grip tightened on his shoulder and now the back of his neck while she parted his lips, kissing him softly until she felt him relax – felt his guard drop – felt him slowly relinquish his restraint. "After everything I've put you through," he began quietly. "Everything you've suffered at my expense-"

"After everything that's happened – we deserve tonight. For us."

Loki stilled, his green eyes opening again. And she watched as the doubt, which he clung to so fiercely, finally faded away. "For us?" His voice, the tone she'd become so irrevocably attached to, shook against her skin. She kissed him again, pulling from him a long relief filled sigh. We need this.

"For us."

And we all know where this is going…