Hey there! My senior voice recital is officially a week away, and when I should be memorizing my songs, I got a random burst of inspiration to finish the last bit of this chapter. I couldn't ignore it, ya know? SO YAY NEW CHAPTER.

Things are really starting to heat up as we quickly approach The Dark World plot, and I can't wait for you to see what is in store! Also by the next update I imagine we all will have seen Infinity War and will know Loki's fate...*bites nails* Are you guys as nervous as I am? Yikes.

Big thanks to Team Damon and her constant and irreplaceable help! This particular chapter (especially the final scene) has been planned and anticipated for years now, I believe, so it's insane that I finally was able to write it! It took a hell of a long time to get here, but...slow and (kinda somewhat) steady wins the race, amIright?

Anyway, hope you enjoy the chapter! Maybe drop a review if you do, and/or hit me up on tumblr as take-me-tom-hiddleston. :)


After a furious, whirlwind race to prepare for the Vanaheim premiere of Helena in the land's finest theatre, Aemilia and the rest of the cast finally found themselves at the conclusion of the first of several weeks. All had gone according to plan, and the turnout was as successful as they all hoped it would be. Now that they were all officially acquainted to the foreign space and facilities, they actually had some time on their hands to roam about and do as they wished. Perhaps they could all finally explore the land and get to know the culture now, rather than observe it in harried passing.

Aemilia retired to her dressing room after receiving a wonderfully appreciated standing ovation at curtain call. All but plopping into her chair, she heaved a large sigh as her adrenaline began to fall. It had been a very long, tedious week, and she was thankful for the two fully free days she had ahead of her.

She had just begun to take the aching pins out of her hair when a familiar voice unexpectedly sounded behind her.

"Exquisite performance, as always."

A rather startled Aemilia sucked in a slight gasp at the sudden appearance of Loki grinning in her mirror, casually leaning up against the wall behind her. "Loki!" she exclaimed, bringing a hand to her rising chest and glaring at him through the mirror with wide eyes. Aemilia had been ecstatic that he was now capable of visiting her (his cell wasn't exactly the warmest environment), but it was certainly taking some getting used to, as Loki seemed to show up at the most opportune time to scare her. She was entirely certain he did it on purpose, too.

His grin widened. "My apologies. I simply wanted to express my compliments to the leading lady."

Now that her heart beat was evening, she turned around to look at him face to face. "You were watching?"

He looked at her as if that were obvious. "Well, yes. I found my evening schedule entirely open, as per usual, and could think of no better way to spend it. I was sure to make myself scarce to avoid distracting you. Your transition from the Asgardian to Vanir stage has been utterly seamless, my dear."

She sent him a simultaneously bashful and prideful smile, to which he quickly returned. "Thank you."

She then turned back to the mirror to continue letting her hair down and pretended not to notice Loki intently watching her long locks fall. Eventually, he pushed off the wall and walked a bit closer, his right hand fidgeting with his left. "I have a professional question for you," he began.

She waved him on, "By all means."

He seemed to gather his thoughts for a moment before asking, "How is it that you manage to deliver the same level of emotion every performance? It's staggering, not to mention that it seems like it would be exhausting."

Aemilia paused, slowly setting down the last stray pin. She never expected him to ask her that. "Well," she began, not entirely sure how to voice her thoughts, "I was never really like this before Helena. I've certainly always put a lot of energy into my performances, but…obviously, this is different. I suppose because the plot hits so close to home." Her eyes flashed to Loki's for a split second. "On the first opening night, as you know, you had just returned, and I was…rather emotionally distressed on top of the nerves and stage fright. Elida came to wish me luck before the house lights went down. She told me to not stifle anything I felt to embody Helena, but to let myself shine through the character instead. To use the character as a way to expel all the negative, lingering feelings I was personally holding within. She was right, of course, and I continue to approach the show with that mindset. I daresay I don't do much acting in it at all; it's really just…me."

She couldn't entirely tell what Loki was feeling beyond his pensive expression and furrowed brow. "You still feel that intensity months later?"

"Not really. Everything I was feeling then has faded a bit with time. It sparsely intrudes on my daily life anymore, but I do know that...darkness is still there, lurking deep within, and after everything? It likely always will be, but I'm fine with that. With Helena, I know how to manage it, even though the process is rather exhausting. If I give my all on the stage, I am more likely to feel lighter in my everyday life."

Aemilia was met with silence. She turned around in her seat and looked up at him. "What's wrong, Loki?" she asked.

He fractionally shook his head, glancing down at his palm. Not meeting her eyes he murmured, "Nothing. I'm just…I'm sorry for being such a burden, for having caused you so much pain." He grit his jaw. "If it weren't for me arrogantly seeking you out at that banquet, you'd probably be married and living an easy, comfortable life, void of all this…drama and scandal and grief."

This regret she was seeing play out on his face was not an expression she was unfamiliar seeing him with, but she had not been expecting it to manifest like this, right now. She knew how hard it was to let go – especially for him – but she didn't want him to wallow in the past anymore. "Loki," she said softly. When he still kept his gaze down on his palm, she more firmly repeated, "Loki. Look at me."

There was a slight pause before he sighed and let his conflicted gaze fall on hers. "Yes, if it weren't for you, I would probably be married, maybe even be a mother, and have an intact name of nobility free of scandal. It would surely be a comfortable life, indeed."

Loki's eyes threatened to flood with even more guilt, but Aemilia's voice dropped and she quickly added, "But comfort does not equate happiness." She stood from her chair and looked up at him. "And while we have experienced unspeakable tragedies and heartbreak, I have also felt joy, excitement, love. I've had adventures. I've learned more about myself than I thought possible." She smiled brightly. "I stand before you an independent, successful, working woman in a society that frowns upon ideals such as that. All of these things…those were made possible because of knowing you, Loki. And if I had a chance to go back and change everything, I wouldn't even entertain the thought. In the end, it's all been worth it and more."

Loki's eyes widened and face softened at her heartfelt words. In that moment, Aemilia thought he looked almost like a young boy, so vulnerable and open. The man still battled with such bitterness, isolation, self-hatred, hearing someone express so clearly their devotion and need for him…it shook him to his core. She knew he didn't believe he deserved it, and she was sure there were many, many others who felt the same. Aemilia, however, did believe it, and she wouldn't rest until he saw himself the way she did, every day.

He swallowed and composed himself a bit, steadying his features. "A…Aemilia, I—"

A light knock on her door cut him off. Aemilia sent him a quick look before throwing up a cloaking spell around him with a wave of her hand. "Come in!" she called.

The door creaked open and in popped the head of one of her castmates. "Sorry to bother you! I just wanted to let you know that a good bit of us are wanting to go to that nearby tavern in the square and celebrate the week with a few drinks! We're leaving in about 20 minutes if you want to join!"

Aemilia smiled, the idea of putting her feet up and enjoying a drink with friends sounded lovely and very much needed. "I'd love to! I'll be ready in a moment, thank you!"

The girl then left and shut the door back behind her. Aemilia doused the cloaking spell and Loki appeared once more. That time had evidently been enough for him to neutralize his expression, because he looked as cool and calm as ever. That was fine. She didn't want to overwhelm him. "It seems you have an exciting night before you," he commented.

Aemilia grinned and walked over to her nearby closet. She was at the theatre so often, she always tried to keep a few different garments in her dressing room for any situation that may present itself. "I don't know how 'exciting' a bit of ale with friends is, but it will certainly be refreshing to get out."

"It sounds terribly exciting to me," he quipped, "Granted, given my current state, a spin around the garden sounds like an absolute thrill." She laughed lightly at that, and he followed right along with her. He moved to stand next to her as she pulled a dress out and threw it over her arm. "I was never particularly fond of ale, but I daresay it sounds delicious right about now. Do partake in some for me, if you feel so inclined."

Aemilia shot him a grin. "I think I could manage that." Holding up two dresses, she then expectantly asked, "Now, which one?"

He smirked at her, amused, but looked at the two garments. "Let me see them on."

Aemilia's grin held strong. With a glowing green light briefly engulfing her form, she stood before him in the first one: a comfortable, sea-green linen dress with a high lace neck. After a moment, she put on the second: a deep rose-colored dress with long sleeves and a slightly dipped neckline. The fabric also just clung to her form enough to be considered heavily distracting.

If his lingering eyes were any indication, the second was his clear preference. However, that didn't mean he wanted Aemilia walking into a foreign tavern and garnering the attention of every brute in sight. "The first one."

Amidst her slight flush at his wandering gaze, Aemilia raised an entertained brow at his choice. Of course, she saw straight through his reasoning, but she only nodded with a smile and put the green one back on. She then quickly rummaged through her bag for a few things.

Loki watched as she pulled out a silk coin purse, but he nearly choked on absolutely nothing when she pulled out an ornate, gleaming dagger nestled in a leather holster.

"Where did you get that?" he ground out, eyes wide as she adjusted the straps.

Her cheeks turned rosy and eyes rather playful. "Your mother," she casually replied, propping her right leg onto a nearby chair. Loki's gaze immediately fell to her exposed leg as she began fastening the holster to her upper thigh like she had hundreds of times before. "I figured…foreign land, strangers…it's probably best to ere on the side of caution."

Loki's heart began to thump somewhat erratically as he lingered on the rare sight of her smooth, long leg. Her musculature was more defined than he remembered. She looked strong, and then with that dagger strapped on…

Loki swallowed. He knew she had been training a bit, per his mother's recommendation. He had yet to hear a thing about her studying the art of a weapon he held particularly close to his heart. "You've been holding out on me," he murmured, voice a bit gravelly. The sound immediately threatened to set Aemilia's skin ablaze, but she tried to reign it in as much as possible. She threw her skirts back over her leg and set her foot back down.

"I wouldn't say that. We were just extraordinarily busy when she gave it to me, so I forgot to mention it."

Another knock and a muffled voice came from the other side of the door. "Aemilia! Are you still coming? The carriage is waiting!"

"Coming!" she exclaimed quickly and looked back to Loki. He was still staring at her with those piercing eyes, and they were making all sorts of old memories flood her mind. He only ever looked at her like that when he wanted to— "How about I tell you all about it tomorrow?"

His gaze didn't waver. In fact, it only intensified as he looked her up and down from her hair down to her toes before flashing back up to lock eyes with her. A momentary electrified silence permeated the room before he finally said with a smirk, "I look forward to it. Enjoy your evening. You deserve it."

Then, the two parted ways, Loki in a swirl of light and Aemilia out the door with a lingering blush and pounding heart.

She needed that drink more than ever.

It turns out, taverns in Vanaheim were not all that different from those in Asgard. The building was all heavy architecture in dark wood with freely flowing ale, mead, and wine, raucous laughter and smashing glasses and earth-shaking dance steps reverberating through the walls.

The very first thing Aemilia saw when she and her fellow castmates entered the establishment was a large, hulking group of muscular men in all long braided hair, leather, fur, and metal at the very center table, pounding on the wooden surface and yelling at two men engaging in a frighteningly competitive drinking contest. Aemilia's eyes widened. If comparing by size and capacity for an overwhelming amount of masculinity alone, all of them could potentially compete with the likes of Thor.

Perhaps Vanaheim was a touch more boisterous.

The larger of the two competing men finished knocking back his final mug of ale and slammed it down on the table, signaling his evident win. Everyone erupted in a cacophony of noise and cheers, and the man stood up and practically howled at the moon in triumph before erupting into a wild, half-yelled drinking song. His friends quickly joined in, throwing their arms around each other and swaying with bright smiles on their faces. Despite it being considerably intimidating, it was actually quite infectious and exciting. It made her miss going out with Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three.

Ingrid, the mezzo-soprano that plays her mother, leaned into her ear with her gaze transfixed on the sight before them. "I think I may have underestimated the rumors of the Vanir's capacity to engage in recreational activities."

Aemilia spared a look to all of her castmates. Wide eyes all around. "I'm fairly certain you aren't the only one." She grinned, "Lucky for you, I have a good bit of practice navigating wild tavern nights."

They all found the last open table, nestled in the corner and close to a small, but impressive music ensemble playing lively folk music with a heavy beat. Laughs and drinking games were to be had all around as everyone enjoyed each other's company outside of the rehearsal for the first time in a very long time. Aemilia tried to take it easy, she wasn't trying to be rip-roaringly drunk in public, but the overall rambunctious aura in the room was incredibly infectious.

Eventually she found herself with a slight buzz and squeezed between two very large men up at the bar for another round. Once the bartender caught notice of her buried amidst the masses and handed her another tall glass mug of ale, she turned around to rejoin her friends. Instead, however, she immediately crashed into a chest so broad and unyielding that it felt like a stone wall. The ale splashed everywhere over Aemilia and the giant she bumped into and fell to the floor, thick glass loudly shattering. Wonderful.

"I'm so sorry!" Aemilia exclaimed, not looking up but immediately stooping down to try and gather the glass shards.

She heard a gruff, booming voice above her. "Don't apologize, woman. T'was I who stood too close! Here, allow me to help you." Then the man crouched down with her. She looked up at him just as he looked at her.

He was the man who won the drinking contest she had seen upon entering the tavern, and up close, he was startlingly handsome. His sun-kissed tan radiated warmth amidst an impressive beard and long, dark brown hair that flowed down just past his shoulders in waves. A severe scar slashed through one of his eyebrows, but did nothing to hinder his looks. He was dressed in nearly all weathered brown leather from his long coat to his pants to his frighteningly large boots except for an off white, flowing shirt that cut into a deep V shape down a chest easily twice as broad as Aemilia. She'd never quite seen a man exude such brutish masculinity in all her life. And she was close friends with the god of thunder. With wide, doe eyes, she slowly looked up and was met with dazzling hazel eyes.

Despite his stunningly intimidating form, she was surprised to see such a gentle and non-threatening gaze.

He looked at her just as she had him, and his own eyes widened fractionally. Aemilia didn't notice.

After a beat of silence, they mutually picked up the glass shards and stood up. Aemilia then found herself craning her neck back to make eye contact with him again. She wagered he easily stood at Thor's height, perhaps more. Attempting to shake herself out of her stupor, she smiled and said, "Thank you. My apologies again."

He looked down at her and smiled warmly, "Again, no need for your apologies," and set the broken mug on the countertop. "I didn't like this shirt anyway. I'm sorry for your dress, though."

Indeed, ale had entirely soaked through the front of her dress and her slip underneath. "Oh, it's really not a prob—"

"Here, allow me," he stated. She looked up at him quizzically and immediately tried to hold back a gasp when he waved a large, glowing green hand in her direction that made the ale evaporate to nothing. He then quickly did the same for his own shirt.

As Aemilia gaped like a fish out of water, not one person in the heavily packed bar paid them any mind at all. If Loki ever used magic that publically in Asgard, all passersby would at least stare with untrusting, wary gazes. Of course, she knew magic was a more common practice within the Vanir's people – Queen Frigga, while a master of the craft above anyone else, had freely and publically learned from her family during her youth. However, actually seeing it so casually used without stigma was...odd, but entirely refreshing.

"Oh! Uh, thank you," she stammered. He looked at her in amusement and nodded.

"I'm Calder, by the way," he added, extending a hand.

She shook it while noting how Calder's hand utterly engulfedhers. His grip was gentle, though, and for that she was thankful. "Aemilia. It's a pleasure."

"Same to you," he smiled. "How about we replace that fallen drink of yours, hm?"

She was about to tell him that was unnecessary, but before she could get a word out, he slammed a few coins on the bar and caught the bartender's attention. "A whiskey and another ale for the lady." As the man went to round up their drinks, Calder took a seat and motioned to the neighboring empty one for her to take it.

As she joined him, Calder stated, "So, you're not from around here. Asgardian, right?"

She looked at him curiously. "What gave you that idea?"

He laughed a little harder than she expected, but it was so genuine it made her smile, too. "I could name a few reasons. For one, that fancy little dress of yours."

Aemilia furrowed her brows as their drinks were placed in front of them. "What? Fancy? This is the most casual dress I—"

"You're only solidifying my point," he chuckled, taking a hearty sip. Aemilia stared at him incredulously with a bewildered smile on her face as he continued, "Second, you got all flustered when I used magic. Only Asgardians are stuffy enough to act that way, since they only ever see it from the Queen and that one skinny Prince of theirs." Aemilia could've found it in her to be slightly insulted, but the man was entirely correct. And while she knew first hand that Loki was certainly not skinny under all that leather and metal, she couldn't help but giggle a bit. "And finally, the drink you ordered is as weak as I would expect an Asgardian to order."

She couldn't seem to wipe the growing grin off her face as he continued to talk. This man was unlike anyone she had ever met. "You seem to know a lot about Asgard's people."

He shook his head. "Nah. Just a few here and there. They were all pussies."

Aemilia almost choked on nothing. The Vanir were truly a more…crude people, she supposed she could say. She had actually never heard another being so casually utter a word such as that, and it visibly startled her. Calder saw her reaction and immediately burst out in a hearty, gruff laugh, even slapping his knee for good measure. "My case in point. So I'm assuming I'm right? Asgardian?"

Aemilia's mouth opened and shut a few times in her bewilderment before a slight streak of defiance flared up and she ground out, "You may be…slightly correct." Calder only laughed harder.

"I hope you aren't offended, I have no problem with your people. They have a great many admirable qualities. I simply find them highly amusing, as well, with all their large statues and fancy armor and holier-than-thou attitudes"

Aemilia took another sip of her drink, beginning to replenish her slight tipsiness. "I wish I could tell you all of those things are entirely inaccurate, but…I cannot."

"So, why are you here in Vanaheim? It is a rare day when we see civilian Asgardians in our midst. Are you here to simply see the sights or to spread the pomp and grandeur to us barbaric Vanir?" As if to punctuate his question, he knocked back the rest of his whiskey in a large gulp and slammed it back on the bar with a wolfish grin.

"Well," Aemilia began, shifting in her seat as she really started to feel the warmth from her drink set in. "I'm here with my castmates touring our opera."

Calder's eyebrows raised to his hairline. "Spreading the pomp and grandeur, indeed. I'm assuming that table full of all those frilly people drinking sweet wine are your castmates?" he asked, jabbing a thumb behind him towards the very table. Aemilia cast a glance to them as well. They did look…out of place.

Aemilia fought back another smile and failed. "Right again." She took another sip, ever closer to the bottom of her glass. "So, what is it that you do, Calder of Vanaheim?"

He shrugged as he hailed for another whiskey. "I've been a fighter my whole life, so I've done some soldiering when the land needed it, but in times of peace, I settle for hunting wanted criminals. Vanaheim is a large realm with a lot of areas to hang your head low; many criminals come to seek shelter here."

Aemilia raised an eyebrow in intrigue. "You're a bounty hunter?"

"More or less. The job suits me. It keeps me in fighting shape, and I can come and go as I please. The family and I like that part a lot."

"You're married?"

He scoffed. "Not even a little bit. I live with my aunt and young cousins when I'm in town, though. She practically raised me, so I try to help support them as best I can now that she's widowed." He paused in thought before looking at Aemilia strangely. "You should come back here next week. My aunt is a singer and is scheduled all next weekend. She'll probably coerce me to play for her as well."

Now she was really intrigued. "You're a musician, as well?"

Aemilia wasn't entirely sure, but the way Calder smiled seemed almost bashful. "I suppose you could call it that. I've become pretty proficient at the pan flute while on the road, so…"

She smiled brightly. The idea of this man playing a pan flute was utterly delightful. "I would love to come back! I've been wanting to learn more of Vanir music during my visit but I haven't had the chance to, yet. I'd love to speak to your Aunt, as well, if she wouldn't mind?"

There was that slightly odd look from him again. The warm hum of alcohol kept Aemilia from really paying much mind to it, though. "I think she would love to talk to you," he said. He then took notice of her now empty glass. "How about another drink? My treat."

Aemilia shook her head and giggled – yep, she was definitely starting to feel it. "No, no, I'm fine, thank you. I told myself I wasn't going to drink much tonight."

"Oh, come on," Calder chuckled. "Don't tap out this early, Asgardian. You're in Vanaheim now! Enjoy all that it has to offer." He grandly gestured towards the shelves behind the bar full of amber liquid.

…That was certainly tempting. It had been so long since Aemilia had just let loose and had some real fun with a night of drinking. In fact, she…actually couldn't remember when it had been. She had a couple of casual, drunken nights with Fandral and Elida, but…they were just lazy nights in. Another glance to her friends on the other side of the room confirmed that they weren't trying to hold back. Why should she?

With a spark of determination in her eyes she said, "You know what? You're right. I'd love another drink."

Calder laughed and clapped his hands. "That's what I like to hear! Pick your poison!"

She grinned excitedly as she weighed her options. "Hmm…" Her eyes landed on Calder's drink. "I'll have what you're having."

That was clearly the right answer, given his exuberant smile and exclamation of, "You mean this fine, smoky whiskey, aged for five millennia? Right away, my lady!"

Aemilia had only consumed whiskey once during her rebellious youth. It seemed a fitting drink for the uniqueness of occasion.

When the bartender set the glass in front of her, the strong smell of alcohol wafted in her face and she almost immediately regretted her decision. After a couple centuries of just wine and the occasional ale, this was...

"Don't pussy out on me now, Asgardian! I was just starting to think you were a step above the rest!"

Aemilia's jaw dropped fractionally at the sound of that word yet again before she looked over to him stubbornly and said, "Hey, I am not a…" She paused. "A…"

Calder's knowing grin was infuriating. "A…?"

Aemilia looked around awkwardly before half-whispering, "A…you know."

Calder leaned in, acting utterly scandalized, and whispered back in mock horror, "You mean a…a 'pussy'?"

Maybe it was the liquor she had consumed thus far, but Aemilia burst into giggles and momentarily covered her face in embarrassment before exclaiming, "Yes, that! I'm not that!"

Calder then picked up her glass, held it out for her to take, and wagged his eyebrows. "Then prove it, Asgardian."

A fire lit behind her eyes. Her stubbornness fully flared up as she stared at him and grabbed the glass. Refusing to break eye contact with him, she knocked the whiskey back and took a large gulp of the dark liquid.

And it burned like the very fires of Hel raging down her throat. She held it together as much as she could, but eventually she couldn't help but cough in her misery. It actually did have a wonderful flavor, but gods was it strong.

Calder heartily laughed at her struggles, but did indeed looked rather impressed at the small – well, in comparison to him – Asgardian woman. "Ha ha! I like you, Aemilia of Asgard. I know many men who couldn't take a drink such as that with half as much grace."

As soon as she could stop sputtering, she gave a small mock bow. "Thank you, thank you."

Calder looked as if he were about to say something else, but before he could, another gravelly voice sounded from behind them. "Calder! Long time, no see! Are you back from the hunt already? Or was it that much of a failure?"

As intimidating as Calder's physique was, there was nothing in his demeanor that had seemed threatening to Aemilia in the slightest, but the moment he heard that voice, his warm expression morphed into something brutal and frightening. "Magnus," he droned, voice significantly deeper than it had been just a moment ago.

Both of them turned towards this so-called Magnus. Just one look at him told Aemilia everything she needed to know about him. She may have grown up rather isolated within her family, but having been living independently for a few years now, she had witnessed her fair share of scum.

He was a very large man, as well, and seemed to have a few years on Calder. Also, while Calder had exuded a sense of approachability and safety, this man most certainly did not. As soon as she turned, Magnus's eyes landed on her. Subtlety was certainly not his goal as he looked her up and down, obviously lingering on her breasts as a crooked smile curled at his lips. "Well, hello. Calder," he began without taking his eyes off Aemilia, "Where'd you find this one? I must say, she's a little more…elegant than your usual back alley whore. There's no way you can afford this broad. Is the bounty hunting business booming a bit more these days?"

Aemilia stared at him, appalled and sobering up quite quickly. "Excuse me?"

The man only smiled wider. She had simply managed to make him more interested. "Ooh, and feisty, too. Tell me, darling." He then saddled up next to her, putting his left arm behind her with his hand on the bar. Aemilia cringed. He smelled as if he hadn't washed his clothes in weeks, and his breath was even worse. Both she and Calder tensed up at his close proximity, and her hand rested on her concealed dagger, just in case. She wasn't extremely concerned, especially since her new muscular acquaintance seemed ready to pounce at any moment, but there was no harm in being prepared. "How much do you charge for the hour? I can tell you right now whatever he's paying you, I'll double it."

"Magnus!" Calder barked. "I suggest you shut your fucking mouth and step away from the lady before this gets ugly."

Magnus simply laughed and leaned in further, "Come on, darling, this little boy would take you like a hound takes a bitch. Me? You let me in between those pretty little legs and I'll have you screaming for—"

"Magnus. Back. Off." Calder growled a final warning and stood up, clearly not wanting to make a scene in such a crowded area but quickly losing what little patience he had. Aemilia, stone-cold sober at the moment with all the adrenaline coursing through her, slipped her hand through the slit of her dress and gripped the hilt of her dagger.

Magnus rolled his eyes. 'Come on, Calder, don't be such a little bitch. Besides," he placed a clammy hand on the small of Aemilia's back, "I'm sure this feisty little thing could handle us both, right, darling?"

Aemilia felt both an uneasy chill go down her spine and a flare of anger. "Don't touch me," she steadily demanded, not bothering to spare him another glance.

His hand didn't move. Calder, however, clapped a hand down on Magnus's shoulder and grit out, "It's time for you to get the fuck out."

Magnus's hand tightened on her waist as he bit back, "Don't you threaten me, boy! I will—"

Magnus never was able to finish that sentence, because Aemilia had decided she had had quite enough. Faster than either men could comprehend, she whipped out her dagger in a vise-like grip and stabbed Magnus's hand to the bar.

It was a truly satisfying sight to see such a large, disgusting brute howl in pain like a child.

Calder and all the surrounding patrons looked at her in shock and awe as she turned towards the man, grip still tight on the dagger. She knew a smaller wound like that would only cause him to retaliate upon release, so she decided to show her hand. "I suggest you leave before I char your good-for-nothing arse into oblivion." With a little terrifying smirk, she opened her free hand to let it burst into green-tinted flames. Magnus flinched from the heat licking at his face and yelped when Aemilia suddenly yanked the dagger free.

He cradled the injured hand to his chest before glaring at her and Calder. "You're going to regret this," he growled at them, but the damage had been done. The man had been publically torn down by a woman. It would take a while before he could effectively retaliate in any way, and she would be long gone by then.

Magnus left. The surrounding parties went back to their own business as if stabbings were a casual matter. Calder returned to his seat, still visibly impressed as he watched her wipe the blood away from the blade with a nearby napkin and returning it to its holster. Aemilia had actually never drawn blood before. She had always worried she would flinch when the time came, and perhaps if it were a matter of life and death she would, but in this instance, she only felt sheer satisfaction. To commemorate (and to calm any lingering anxiety), she drank what was left of her whiskey in one fell swoop. She didn't cough this time.

The resulting buzz was gratifying and immediate.

Calder looked heavily irritated as he gripped his own drink. "I'm sorry for that. Magnus is a fucking cunt."

A sudden loud, embarrassed giggle burst from her lips. She had heard more foul language in the past hour than she had in her entire life. While bizarre and somewhat shocking, Aemilia couldn't help but feel a bit…giddy at it. The constant sense of propriety that she had been so thoroughly trained to uphold all these years didn't have to apply here. She had just skewered a man's hand to the bar and threatened to magically engulf him in flamesfor the gods' sake and no one seemed to care at all.

You are a mysterious woman, Aemilia of Asgard," Calder commented, expression half amused at her boisterous giggle and half still impressed from her display of violence.

Aemilia giggled again. "I don't know about that."

"Where did you get that?" he asked, referring to the lethal – and clearly expensive – blade.

She momentarily thought if she should try to evade the subject, but she could think of no logical reason as to why. "Queen Frigga gave it to me."

He clearly hadn't expected that. He leaned in. "And…did Queen Frigga teach you a spell such as that? I've never heard of a civilian Asgardian using magic of that caliber."

Frigga had not been the one to show her that particular spell. "I had two particularly adept tutors in magic."

Calder's eyes widened fractionally before growing suspicious. "Are…are you some sort of royalty that I'm unaware of?"

She chuckled, gratefully accepting and paying for the new glass the bartender set in front of her. "No. Not royalty. I'm just a close family friend."

"Are you some sort of undercover agent?"

Aemilia really laughed at that idea. "No, not at all. I was just..." She paused, trying to form her words in an uncompromising light. "I was close with Prince Loki. He began teaching me the basics upon my request. I've been learning ever since."

"Wait. Were you courting the younger prince?" Calder asked, clearly trying to process such unexpected information. He surely hadn't expected to meet someone quite like Aemilia that night.

Aemilia smiled, a twinge of sadness in her expression upon thinking of such a simpler time in comparison to their current situation. "Yes, we were."

There was a beat of silence before Calder quietly said, "I heard about his tragic death while on a hunt a few years ago. I'm sorry for your loss."

She looked at him, touched by his genuineness. "Thank you. It was after his fall that Queen Frigga suggested I train in combat in addition to my magic studies. No one could wield a dagger quite like Loki, so I chose it as my weapon in a way to sort of honor him, I suppose." Her mind drifted to the few times she saw Loki sparring. It truly was a sight. Fast as Thor's lightning, stealthy, brutal, and sometimes downright bloodthirsty. She could even recall lazily lying in his bed in the evening or early morning, intently watching him at his study absentmindedly flipping a knife backwards and forwards with his long, nimble, talented fingers.

Aemilia felt a bit of extra heat rise up in her already liquor-flushed cheeks as she got swept up in thoughts that were continually frustrating her more and more each day. Realizing she had stopped talking however, she quickly tried to finish her statement. "N-not to mention it's easy to conceal. I am no warrior, but I like to think I can handle myself with dogs like Magnus."

He smiled and held up his glass. "I daresay you can. I think your skinny prince would have been very proud." Aemilia laughed and did the same, not sure if she needed todrink anymore whiskey but sure she damn well deserved it.

"I hope so. And he wasn't actually skinny. I would know," she smirked.

Calder cackled. "I bet you did!"

With a clink of their glasses, the rest of Aemilia's evening commenced. She and Calder talked and laughed for easily another hour about anything and everything. Aemilia loved each moment of it, not expecting in the slightest to find such an unexpected, immediate friend on foreign soil. She was in the best, most carefree mood she had been in a very long time, and she was relishing every second.

Not to mention she quickly became drunker than she had been since…well, potentially ever. She was managing to keep her wits about her, but it was becoming increasingly more difficult to speak in clear sentences. Meanwhile, Calder seemed to be a never-ending pit for liquor, and aside from slightly rosy cheeks and a bit more boisterous laughter, he seemed as sober as he did hours ago.

At some point, Calder stopped mid-sentence and craned his head towards the band. His face lit up in excitement as recognition dawned on him. "I love this song!" he exclaimed and hopped off the stool. It took Aemilia's drunken mind a few seconds too long to realize that he had extended a hand to her. "Would you like to dance?" Aemilia looked over to the band, and indeed, various couples had congregated to dance.

Aemilia stammered. "I…B-but I don't know any Vanir dances."

Calder snorted at her weak excuse. "Oh, come on, Asgardian. All those fancy banquets and balls? You'll pick up these steps in no time!"

She looked at the couples, then looked at Calder again before giggling slightly with a near childish, "Okay!" She then excitedly hopped off her stool, and almost immediately fell to the floor as all the alcohol rushed to her head.

Calder quickly steadied her by her arms and laughed. "Woah, woah there. Easy." Aemilia held onto his tree trunks for arms as if her life depended on it as she steadied herself, giggling like a maniac. "Are you sure you can dance?"

That was debatable, but Aemilia certainly thought differently. "Of course, let's go!" she called, grabbing his hand and hauling him (or rather him letting her haul him) over to the dance floor. She clumsily weaved in and out of the crowd, but overall managed surprisingly well considering the extent of her inebriation. When they finally reached her intended destination, she spun around with a wide smile. "So, teach me!"

He chuckled heartily and counter-offered, "How about we just go for it and you just do as I do, hm?" He offered his large, rough hands to her. She took them and immediately giggled at how small they looked in comparison. "You ready?" he yelled over the energetic crowd and loud, drum-heavy music.

"Ready!" she confirmed, and off they went into the masses.

The only thing Aemilia could begin to compare dancing with Calder was dancing with a larger, hairier, and rougher Thor. She was more flung around than guided, but that may very well have been more to do with the drink than his partnering skills. The man wasn't particularly light on his feet, especially with those large, bone-crushing boots pounding away at the floor, but he was surprisingly skilled. She was beyond dizzy in seconds, but having so much unadulterated fun that her laughter was seemingly nonstop. Giggles turned to cackles and occasional yelps anytime she took a wrong step, which was a rather frequent occurrence. She vaguely remembered seeing some of her friends also dancing nearby and waving as they passed, but everything was such a blur and she was just so, so drunk that she wasn't entirely sure of anything.

Eventually the song did come to a close, and Aemilia felt drunker than ever, the room spinning on its heels even though she stood still. One good look at the swaying woman – she didn't look sick, thank the gods, but definitely ready to lie down – and Calder took it upon himself to call it a night. He found some of her friends, who were also drunk, but more coherent than Aemilia at the moment. They assured him that they would all get back to the inn safely.

Calder walked back up to Aemilia, who was sitting at a nearby table and smiling at seemingly nothing. He squat in front of her, and her smile immediately brightened tenfold. "Calder, hello! You're back!" she adorably slurred.

The man chuckled. "I am. I think your friends are going to take you home now, so I wanted to say goodbye." Aemilia immediately whined, clearly not ready for the night to end just yet. "I had a wonderful time meeting you tonight, Asgardian. If you remember this tomorrow, come back here next week, yes?"

She pouted a bit, but then nodded once and struggled through, "It was nice to meet you, too, Calder of Ba-Va-Vanaheim."

Calder grinned and stood up. "Good luck in the morning, my lady. I wager you're going to need it." Then, he was gone and Aemilia left with her friends.

The cooler night air did manage to sober her up to general coherency, and for that she was grateful. She didn't want to make a complete fool of herself. A short walk and a brief carriage ride later, she finally found herself back in her room. She stumbled through her dark room slightly, flailing a spell towards her lamps and clumsily igniting them.

Once she had her hair down and was in a night dress, she flung herself on her bed and laid there, the ceiling still slightly spinning. She expected to fall asleep immediately, but she couldn't. She was still much too excited from her evening.

Amidst her befuddled thoughts, Aemilia laid there aimlessly, wanting to do something but not sure what. Her hand then absent-mindedly found the ring around her neck and her thoughts wandered to Loki…probably sitting in that cell all alone and bored out of his mind.

Aemilia sat up with a devilish grin.

She knew exactly what she wanted to do.

Loki's eyes slowly fluttered open to the image of early morning sunshine peeking through his green curtains. He blinked sleepily and tightened his arms around his sweet, auburn-haired lover nestled against his bare chest. She shifted slightly, making an adorable, sleepy little noise. Her fingers threaded through his own.

Loki smiled and turned his face down to nuzzle into her neck. The subtle scent of roses tickled at his nose as he quietly inhaled. Pressing a feather-light kiss just behind her ear, he murmured, "Good morning, Little One."

Aemilia hummed with a little quirk to her full lips, the picture of contentedness. "Good morning." His smile widened and he kissed her neck again, and again, and again until she lightly giggled and turned her head to look at him. Warm hazel met striking green for a moment before their lips found each other in a gentle, lazy kiss.

When they pulled away, she quietly asked, "What would you like to do today?"

His eyes dropped to her lips again before mumbling, "I can think of what I want to do right now…"

She giggled again, turning in his arms to face him and feigning innocence. "Really? What would that be?"

He raised an eyebrow at her cheekiness. "Well," he began, one long, lithe finger trailing down her hip and leaving a line of goosebumps in its wake. "It would probably be best for me to show rather than tell, don't you agree?" His gaze lingered on the elegant curve of her collarbone and down to her bare breasts that were now deliciously pressed to his chest.

Her eyes ignited with lust and her lips turned up into a playful little smirk. Her free hand slid from his chest to his shoulders and down to his lower back. "And why even show when I can just feel?" she purred, pulling their bodies flush together. Loki hissed slightly at the unexpected contact and chuckled at her early morning fire.

Their lips found each other once again, not quite so lazy anymore. Loki felt Aemilia lightly push at his chest, so he rolled to his back as she rose to straddle his lap. He looked up at her in awe, captivated by the sight of her playfully smiling down at him, proudly naked and bathed in the warm morning light, hair down and falling in messy waves down to her waist. She was just so inexplicably beautiful inside and out, and she was all his. Loki's eyes softened as his blood pumped a little hotter, and he couldn't help but hum, "I love you."

The way her gaze melted and face immediately lit up washed over Loki and set his heart thumping. She leaned down, lightly holding his chin as she murmured a hair's breadth away from his lips, "I love you, too."

She pressed her soft lips to his, and Loki felt a calmness and serenity wash over him in a gentle wave. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer. After all that he had done…how was he able to wake up to this every morning.

He would never deserve it, but he didn't question it. He supposed he was selfish like that.

Pulling away just slightly, she lowly murmured, "Join me for a bath?" The unspoken promise of much more than just a bath was very clear.

"Mmm, definitely," he replied, placing another tiny kiss to her lips and down to her jaw before she sat up with a suggestive grin and left the bed. Loki watched her with heavy lids and heated eyes as she sauntered towards the washroom, not a stitch of self-consciousness so on display in the morning light.

Just before she disappeared through the door, she turned back and shot him a sultry grin. "I'll be waiting."

Loki grinned, his morning starting much better than he had anticipated. He threw the sheets off him just as he heard the water begin to run. He got up and momentarily put on a robe to double check his schedule and duties for the day before he joined Aemilia and surely soaked up at least a couple more hours together. Tying off the robe and approaching his desk, he flipped through his journal.

Loki furrowed his brows, the natural light cast on his desk randomly dimming. An unexpected chill ran up his spine. This wasn't like a cloud passing over, it was suddenly like night over taking the day, swallowing up the sun in a rush of unnaturally red-hued twilight.

The water kept running.

Loki's heart dropped into his stomach as he recognized the damning, powerful presence behind him. His entire body froze, erupting into a seize of debilitating panic.

His voice shook the floors and rattled deep into Loki's very bones. "I always told you I would find you."

Loki shut his eyes, listening to the faint sound of running water in the washroom, memorizing it. He knew in that moment he would never see her again, never hear her, never feel her… for he had a debt to pay, and nothing could stand in the Titan's way.

He always knew his luck would run out one day. He only hoped Aemilia could find it in her battered heart to forgive him. One last time.

"Well," he began, his voice steady despite his all-encompassing fear, "Here I am." He turned, his head raising to behold the terrifying might of Thanos head on. The giant looked down at him with a sneer of disgust, his eyes baring down on him.

Loki was the ant now.

Nevertheless, Loki would never allow himself to submit as he had once before, would never kneel to this creature again. Swallowing hard and setting his jaw, he looked at him dead in the eye and asked, "How can I be of service?"

Thanos then erupted into menacing laughter, as if he thought Loki to be amusing, like a hopelessly feisty pet. He took a step closer, his large boot rattling the very foundation on which they stood. "You are of no use to me anymore, you insignificant child."

Loki stared him down with all the strength he had left in him. "Then why are you here?"

The Titan scoffed, as if it were obvious. He took another step closer. Loki backed into the wall. "You didn't deliver on your promise, and I don't have a reputation of letting traitors walk. I want to crush all those you care about, and once you stand a broken shell upon a pile of their ashes, I will feel your bones turn to dust in my hand."

That got Loki to crack. In a rush of horror-ridden panic, Loki's hands ignited in green energy and he desperately yelled towards the washroom, "Aemilia, run!"

Thanos casually laughed. "Too late for that."

Loki's strained, tearful eyes widened. Dread stabbed at his body harder than any knife ever could as he felt his world begin to crumble around him. "Aemilia?" he desperately called, vaguely still hearing the flow of water from the faucet through his ringing ears.

No answer. He called again. Nothing.

Thanos smirked and stepped out of his way. Loki bolted for the washroom, horrific memories of the last time he had found Aemilia in there flashing behind his eyes.

When his eyes fell on the scene before him, Loki felt his very soul shatter. His vision narrowed, his ears painfully rang, his body threatened to practically collapse in on itself. His knees gave out, and only a weak hand pitifully grasping to the doorframe kept him upright.

There she lay in the tub, beautiful hazel eyes blindly staring up at him, lips ajar, skin deathly white.

The water ran a deep red.

Loki didn't feel himself screaming his throat raw, didn't feel himself hit the ground, didn't feel his robe begin to soak up the scarlet water that flooded the floor. All he'd been through, all the physical and emotional and mental torture he had endured…it was nothing compared to what he felt now.

He shut his eyes, Aemilia's blank stare eating away at him until he descended to madness.

Thanos watched him curl pitifully within himself, trying to pull away. He couldn't have that. "No," he commanded. "No, you don't get to run away from this." He grabbed Loki, his large hand nearly engulfing the expanse of the pathetic god's shoulders. Loki futilely fought back as Thanos threw him like a ragdoll towards the bathtub. He landed just at its feet, but Loki couldn't tear his eyes from the floor.

"Look at her," he demanded. Loki frantically shook his head, hot tears blinding him from the watered down blood swirling around his hands. Thanos sneered and grabbed him again, forcing his head up to face his pale, motionless lover. "Look at her!" he yelled, the walls quaking in response. Loki broke down into wretched sobs as his eyes slowly opened.

The shell of Aemilia lay mere inches from his face, expression frozen in perpetual horror.

Loki yelled and screamed for her, begged her to wake up, but she never moved an inch.

"You did this!" Thanos growled. "I told you if you failed me, I would make you wish for a pain as sweet as death, yet you did it anyway. This is your fault. You killed her." He leaned in towards his ear, tightening his grip on him and cutting off his air supply. He menacingly snarled, "So you take your guilt, and drown in it."

With a mere flick of his wrist, Thanos sent Loki flying into the bath, immediately engulfing him in a sea of blood-stained water, crashing over him in waves and pulling him deeper into its never ending depths until it turned to a death-like darkness.

Loki jolted awake with a throat-ripping gasp, his heart in his throat, his mind in a panic, and a heavy sheen of sweat coating his skin. His lungs gasped for air as he sat up and ran a hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose and attempting to banish the horrid events of his nightmares from floating around in his head.

This wasn't the first time he had dreamt that. That didn't mean it was ever any less horrifying.

With a frustrated growl, Loki threw his head back onto the wall behind him. Maybe he could jar the images out of his skull by force. He had made so much improvement lately during the day, and especially so when he was with Aemilia. She calmed and grounded him like no other. Despite that progress, however, when the day ended and left him alone with his demons, he still rarely could avoid the nightmares.

The only comfort he had was knowing that they were, in fact, just dreams. Even though he feared what the future could hold with Thanos and the repercussions of his failure on Midgard, he knew he was safe and out of reach here, especially since evidently Odin had let the common Asgardian people assume their youngest prince was still dead. That was probably the only good thing about being stuck in his current position, he supposed.

Thoroughly exhausted but certainly not ready to go back to sleep, he repositioned in a measly attempt to get more comfortable on his unforgiving cot and picked up a book he kept at his bedside. He had read it numerous times, but maybe it could still get his mind off of the horrific images still flashing behind his eyes.

After he had stared at the same page for nearly 15 minutes, reading but not comprehending, he slammed the book shut with a burdened sigh and haphazardly tossed it to the ground.

He sensed her incoming energy immediately, and while she was probably coming to regale him with tales of her evening Vanaheim adventure, he really wasn't in the proper mood for any sort of rambunctious story telling at the moment. He also really wasn't in the mood for Aemilia to sense his bad mood, ask why, and then it undoubtedly turn too emotional for Loki's nerves to handle.

He was improving, not perfect, after all.

Loki was thoroughly prepared to tiredly ask Aemilia about postponing this conversation until tomorrow, but her unexpected entrance stopped him in his tracks. As her visage manifested, he heard a jubilant, sing-song voice croon, "Looookkkiiiiii!"

Loki did a double take as Aemilia finally appeared, swaying slightly on bare feet and dressed in only a silk nightdress with hair messy and entirely free flowing down her back. An exuberant smile bloomed on her face as soon as she saw Loki sitting there with his mouth ajar. "What in all of Asgard," he muttered in confusion, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed to face her. "Aemilia?"

The normally put-together woman loudly giggled, visibly pleased with his shock, but the laughter was quickly followed by an unmistakable little inebriated hiccup. After she recovered, she looked Loki up and down, grinned, and adorably sang, "Hello!"

As she actually waved at him from no more than six feet away, Loki quickly realized that this was not at all how he imagined his night would become.

She tried to take a step closer, only to immediately trip on absolutely nothing. Loki jolted a bit in a knee-jerk reaction, as if he could have actually caught her, but she managed to steady herself. Under her breath, she grumbled an unmistakable, "Shit!" Loki's ears perked up and eyes widened at the word, very rarely having ever heard such vocabulary escape the Lady's pristine lips. He watched in borderline bewilderment as she clearly realized what she had said out loud, slapped her hands over mouth with a horrified gasp of "Oh!" Then, clearly finding her own blunder hysterical, she dissolved back into little giggles and a blush that surely originated from both inebriation and embarrassment.

Loki had wished for a distraction. He certainly had one, now. And a rather entertaining one, at that.

"Are you…drunk?" he asked, wanting to see her confirmation, rather than actually needing it. As she formulated intelligible sentences, he haphazardly remembered to cast a cloaking spell.

Aemilia yet again readjusted her stance and scrunched her face a bit as if the very concept was absurd. "…No. Well, yes." She hiccupped again. "F-fairly certain I've never been this drunk in my life."

The beginnings of a huge grin appeared on Loki's lips. "That seems like a likely assessment. Why aren't you sleeping it off?"

She looked at him as if it were obvious. "I'm not tired. And I missed you." Loki may have reacted to her random, affectionate admission, but she didn't give him a chance, plowing into her next phrase with palpable excitement and a clumsy clap of her hands. "Tonight was so amazing, Loki." She looked like she was about to start twirling in a dreamy dance, if she had been physically capable. "Drinks, dancing, and I stabbed some perverted de—degen—degenerate in the hand!"

Loki blinked. "You what?"

Aemilia nodded excitedly. "Yeah! This big, hulking man came up and started saying some really obscene things to me. Calder was about to kick him out—"

"Calder?" he interrupted.

"Yes, he's my new friend!"

Loki blinked. "…He?"

"Yes, Loki, keep up!"

He held up his hands and she immediately clamped her mouth shut with a slightly impatient huff. "Wait, wait, wait," he said, trying to concentrate before training his eyes back on her. "Slow down and start from the beginning."

With a giddy nod and a feeble attempt at a calming breath, Aemilia told him everything that had happened during her night out at the foreign Vanir tavern and spared no details. Loki leaned back on the wall behind his bed and listened intently as she animatedly walked back and forth before him, hands waving about. The tale was exciting indeed, even though he wasn't particularly fond of the idea of her making fast friends with a large, evidently handsome Vanir man. This "Calder" fellow seemed to have kept a somewhat acceptable physical distance, however, and he did appreciate this stranger defending Aemilia's honor in Loki's absence. Loki would wait to pass official judgement on the man for now.

Not to mention, the image she painted in his head of her punishing that disgusting oaf with that exquisite dagger…it certainly instigated a certain type of pride and…excitement within him.

Aemilia gradually gained a bit more coherence and grace as she finished her story. She was still veru drunk, to be sure, but at least she wasn't slurring her words anymore. With a wistful sigh, she happily hummed and declared, "Tonight was like…the fourth...no, fifth best night I've ever had."

Loki quirked an eyebrow. "Only the fifth? What are the first four?"

Aemilia's skin visibly heated up as she looked at him somewhat defensively, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

He chuckled, delighted to have caused her fluster. "Considering your current state of flush, I definitely would like to know." His eyes devilishly narrowed on her, and the woman struggled to find words.

She crossed her arms, "Well, one of them was my first opening night as a lead." She trailed off, awkwardly looking off to the side.

His grin grew wolfish. She was a more entertaining drunk than he ever thought possible. "And the other three?"

She shifted her weight and kept her eyes on the floor. "And the other three are all…withyou."

He cocked his head slightly to the side. "With me?" he asked, partly to frustrate her and partly to clarify.

She huffed a little and looked back to him from behind a few curls that had fallen in her face. "Yes, with you."

Her insinuation was impossible to miss. He couldn't help the small swelling of pride and satisfaction in his chest but made sure to keep it to himself. Lightly appraising her, he observed, "…I seem to have made a lasting impression in your fondest moments."

Even drunk, Aemilia saw through it. "Of course you have. You know this; don't act all naïve."

He smirked a little, but nodded and quietly confirmed, "Yes, I know."

He watched her lightly chew at her lip while she through her drunken haze, before ultimately taking the last few steps she needed to stand directly before him. When she looked at him with heavy lashes and an unexpected intensity in her eyes, his heart involuntarily panged against his ribs. Her voice deepened as she murmured, "I've been…thinking about you…a lot, lately." She swallowed. "I miss you."

Despite his increasing heart rate, he coolly raised a brow and smiled with a nonchalant hand gesture. "I'm right here."

Aemilia clearly had no time for his games tonight, because she quickly shot him a pointed look before pushing back. "Loki…I miss you." Those sparkling hazel depths grew darker as they dropped to his lips, her expression full of longing and need. "So much I ache." Loki and Aemilia's eyes both flashed as their gazes met once again, but it was different now. The tone in the room had changed exponentially and in a direction he didn't believed either of them had expected. They had been skirting around flirtation for so long now without ever taking it anywhere, probably more out of self-preservation considering their situation. Clearly Aemilia was not so concerned with that in her current state, and Loki simply couldn't quite muster up the willpower to change a thing.

Both of their breathing grew heavy, chests rising and falling in sync and filling the silence within the cell. They stared at each other, memories that felt so long ago yet so incredibly vivid flooding their minds. Aemilia moved closer, her gaze refusing to stray from his.

Loki's breath hitched in his throat when her visage climbed up on the bed and straddled him. His jaw clenched in an attempt to tamper his surprise and physical reaction at her unexpected move. Fiery need licked up his spine as he allowed himself to look down. Of course he couldn't feel her, and if she moved an inch closer his proximity would distort her image, but gods it really did look like she was there, hovering tantalizingly over his waiting lap. His fists clenched, desperately trying to stay at his sides rather than attempting to touch the thin, dainty silk that covered her thighs.

"Loki," she whispered. His heady eyes slowly slid back up her body until returning to her own heated gaze. Her features softened as she looked upon him with a staggering level of affection. "I look at you every day," she began, voice as soft and dreamy as velvet, "but I try not to really look, because it pains me to see how beautiful you are, yet so entirely out of reach." His eyes widened fractionally at her statement. She bashfully tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I don't tell you that enough. How devastatingly exquisite you are."

The last time she had complimented him like that, he had initially thought she was jesting with him, mocking the comments of his "lithe" build and "delicate" features that he had put up with for nearly a millennia. This time, he did not doubt her sincerity. He felt his gaze melt right along with hers. Still, he couldn't help but shoot her a little smirk and tease, "And you say I'm dramatic."

She rolled her eyes and shot back, "My moments of dramatics don't negate your own, darling." Then her little smile turned somewhat sheepish as she clarified, "I do mean it, though." Her eyes wandered to the long black waves that now fell freely past his shoulders. "I especially like this longer hair. You used to keep it so short and tamed, I never realized it's actually a bit curly. I approve."

He chuckled. "I'm glad you like it. It's not like I can do much with it stuck in here."

They each expected the other to say something else, but instead their eyes met again and paused all conversation for the time being. Just as Aemilia had said, neither of them had truly looked to simply look and admire each other in such a long time. They had set a sort of unspoken boundary for each other to keep their situation bearable. Their emotional intimacy was more open and free than it had ever been, but physically, sexually– the one thing they had always had from the very start – was nonexistent.

Well, not nonexistent. Rather, hidden deep in their private thoughts under lock and key. It was surely easier that way. But now…in their current position, it certainly didn't feel easier.

So they looked at each other. Really looked, as if carefully committing each syllable of a poem to memory. Every line, every curve, every angle. The sharp yet elegant cut of his taut jawline. The particularly disobedient curl that lay just to the left of her eye, the vibrant auburn tone contrasting with the glints of olive green in her eyes. His hands, so large they could engulf her own, yet so long and delicate and precise. The smooth, regal column of her neck that led down to the graceful curvature of her collarbone and the full swells of her breasts disappearing under that damned nightdress.

"Gods, don't look at me like that," she pleaded, the first to crack under his intense eye.

Loki lingered on her lace neckline for a moment longer before looking back up to her. That knowing, infuriating little smirk returned to his lips. "Like what?"

Aemilia's already alcohol-induced rosy cheeks flamed further and she hid behind her hands. "Like you…like you're seeing right through my slip. I can't handle it."

He quirked an eyebrow. "Why not?"

Her mouth formed to make words, but none came out. He watched her internal debate play out on her face. She was trying her best to make logical decisions throughout the strong lingering haze of alcohol, but it was so difficult. She could hold her tongue – she probably should – but she just didn't want to anymore. With a sigh, she gave in and admitted, "Because it...because I've been trying not to touch myself every night at the thought of you, and you're making it exponentially more difficult."

Loki froze. Whatever that unspoken line they had drawn, that certainly crossed it. His mind went wild, her words echoing over and over and inspiring so many vivid visions of her lying alone in bed and in the dark, hand slowly moving down to the hem of her nightdress and…

"What do you think about?" he exhaled, desperately trying to keep himself in check.

There was an elongated pause hanging in the air between them as he awaited her answer. With a wave of bravery, she looked up at him through long lashes and breathed, "Everything." She reached up with a shaky hand to almost touch him as she continued to admit such long buried thoughts."Your lips on my neck, your fingers traveling down," she swallowed, "your voice groaning in my ear when you feel how wet I am." Loki's breathing grew labored. "Your mouth, your tongue, your teeth…"

Aemilia stopped for a moment, clearly debating her next words. She looked at him somewhat awkwardly before saying, "You know I courted Fandral for a short time. I've always been upfront about that."

…That was not what he expected or wanted her to say. She immediately saw his eyes flash irritably and quickly added, "I have a point to this, don't get all moody yet." Loki looked at her apprehensively, but still nodded. She shifted slightly and began, "One night, we had the opportunity where he was going to…" She vaguely gestured and Loki held up a hand to make this particular part of her point move a bit faster. He knew what she meant. "I was lonely. I wanted it, wanted the connection, but...I couldn't do it. Not when I had had you. Not when I could still remember how your mouth felt on me."

Oh. Oh.

Loki eyes widened. "You really did ruin me, Loki, just like you said you would. And I don't think I can resist the thought of you anymore." She shakily exhaled, adrenaline running rampant through her veins as he continued to stare at her, watch her heavy breaths, her slightly open lips, her full breasts just barely covered under that flimsy silk. Loki had never wanted another person like he wanted Aemilia, and all this time later, all their obstacles, he needed her more than he ever had.

Yes, Loki may have ruined Aemilia for others, but she had ruined him, too.

"Why fight it?" he asked, voice rough.

She dug her nails into her thighs in a vice-like grip and gritted out, "Because…every time I give in, I only want it more, and I already need you so much it hurts."

He swallowed hard as he looked up at her. "…You have more self-control than I, my dear."

She stilled. "You've…thought about me since you've been back? Like that?"

His jaw so taut it was a wonder he didn't crack a tooth, he nodded and replied, "For months now."

The filthy images that subsequently assaulted Aemilia's mind were too much. Her eyes rolled shut as she desperately tried to hold herself back, keep a clear head, maintain some semblance of composure, but at this point? She was already past the point of no return. A low moan of sheer, unbridled need escaped her parted lips, "Fuck."

Gods. Her filthy vocabulary was entirely unfiltered this evening, and Loki loved it.

She looked him up and down, pupils completely blown wide. She lingered on his unmistakable arousal and muttered, "I can see you're as affected as I am, Loki. I know you need this like I do. And if…if you want me to—if you want to watch," she pulled the skirt of her dress up as far as possible without actually revealing herself to him, "just ask." Loki watched this goddess above him in rapt attention, hardly believing this was happening. He let out a desperate groan of surprise as her pretty little fingers suddenly disappeared under the slip and her hand began to move. Her mouth silently fell open to let out an unsteady breath before his very eyes.

He watched her writhe above her own fingers, eyes falling shut as she was caught up in herself.

Valhalla, Loki was barely hanging on to his self-control by a thread. His hand moved to provide some desperately needed relief through the straining fabric of his pants, and Aemilia's eyes immediately caught the movement. She gasped and plead, "Please, Loki, I want to see you. Please."

His hand stilled as he grit his teeth and lightly knocked his head back against the wall in frustration. "Gods, Aemilia, you're killing me."

Her face fell slightly and her hand slowed, "Do you want me to stop?"

"No I don't want you to stop!" he exclaimed, voice edgier than he intended. "But...I can't touch you, and if I watch you do this, if I actually see all of you again instead of just using my memories of you, it'll drive me mad, Aemilia." He ran a hand roughly through his hair. "I need you so much I'm in actual physical pain, but…I'm making progress. It's slow, but it's progress, and if we cross that line….I don't know if I could survive being stuck in here any longer."

Her eyes softened at the sight of his wild, nearly unhinged gaze. She paused before sighing heavily and nodding in disappointment. She then slowly pulled her hand away, grimacing at the loss of contact.

Loki tried his damnedest to not notice her glistening fingers.

The couple took a laborious moment to try and calm down. As Loki just attempted to keep his thoughts and his body in check, Aemilia's expression darkened, her loss of satisfaction turning into anger. With a threatening flash in her gaze, she was the first to cut the silence.

"You know whose fault this is?" That son of a bitch you call Father."

Aemilia stood back up with a scowl firmly crumpling her expression as Loki's eyebrows raised to his hairline. The drink truly made her startlingly loose-lipped. He doubted he ever would get used to it. He certainly wasn't complaining, however. "…That 'son of a bitch' is not my father. However, he is your King." He narrowed his eyes and grinned slyly, "What if such treasonous language were to be discovered by him?"

Aemilia scoffed in near disgust and stubbornly crossed her arms. "That useless, moronic, hypocritical, bleating old goat is not my King."

An unexpected laugh burst from Loki's lips. Never had he heard such outright disrespect and criticism of Odin before in his entire life, and to hear it come from the beautiful and inherently kind woman before him made him feel damn near giddy. It was pure music to his ears. "You have quite strong feelings towards the All-Father," he noted between chuckles.

She quirked a brow and smiled, clearly pleased that she had brought forth such rare genuine laughter from him. "And you don't?"

"Oh, I definitely do," he replied without hesitation, "but yours are much more entertaining to hear about than contemplating my own."

He could see her rant quickly bubbling up from within in her, so he sat back and watched the show. "Also," she quickly continued, "it truly is entirely his fault you're chained away underground. He can say it's because of your actions on Midgard all he wants, but you and I?" She pointed between them and lowered her voice, "We see right through him." She paused for a split second and clarified, "Don't think I'm disregarding what you did, because I'm not, but if it had been Thor, he would have received a measly slap on the wrist and then sent on his way!"

Aemilia was, of course, entirely right, but Loki decided to intentionally goad her on. "Odin banished Thor when he disobeyed him."

The woman then rolled her eyes so hard it was a wonder it didn't cause seismic tremors. "…For three days." She sighed in exasperation and began pacing. Loki watched with a perpetual smirk on his lips."I love Thor dearly; he's like the brother I never thought I'd have. And I'm happy that his little trip to Midgard without powers managed to change him for the better – Valhalla knows he desperately needed the ego check – but three days? How pathetic. And then Odin turns around and gives you a damned life sentence? When we all know of the genocide both he and his father before him have committed? The old man can say it was for the greater good of the Nine all he wants, but his actions remain the same. I refuse to be dazzled by his false heroism and shallow wisdom like the rest of Asgard." She stopped pacing for a moment to look back to Loki. The sheer aggravation on her face crinkled her nose in such an adorable way. "I would say this to his face, but he'd probably just conveniently take a century long nap as he always does."

What a fabulous tongue-lashing. If only the old man was here to witness it.

"Also, perhaps this is a little selfish to say, but—"

He cut her off there. "You deserve to be a little selfish sometimes, Aemilia. It's fine, I won't tell anyone."

She smirked right along with him, taking his encouragement and running with it. "Well, in that case…I'm angry with him because he took you from me. If it weren't for him, we could be curled up in bed together right now, sated five times over and sleeping through the morning." Both of their faces slowly fell as she continued. "I blame him. Because this path…these choices that we've all made…all the betrayal and heartache that has led us to where we are, it all started with him and his moronic and manipulative decisions." She set her jaw defiantly and stared Loki dead in the eye. "And I will never forgive him for what he has put you through. Put us through."

Well, the night took yet another unexpected turn.

Loki shifted slightly. He didn't want to say this, especially after he had already opened up earlier that morning in her dressing room, but he had to make sure she knew. "Aemilia, you're not the one in prison, and I hate knowing such a large portion of your life is spent in one. Yes, my sentence is much bleaker than I predicted it would be, but you still have a life. A career, friends, family. You…you could move on, if you wanted. I would take more comfort in knowing you're happy than keeping you isolated in here with me out of some sort of…I don't know, obligation."



She stood tall and her gaze didn't falter a fraction of a second. "No," she said again with further determination, "I couldn't move on. I tried once, and that was enough for me to know." Her voice softened as she approached him again with a gentle little smile, "What we have now, as limited as it is, makes me happier than anyone else could." She paused. "I—I know you've always struggled coming to terms with what you feel, so you don't have to say anything if you don't want to or if you don't reciprocate, but…" Soft hazel met wide eyed green. "You're it for me, Loki. So, whether you are eventually released, or our only time together can be exactly as it is right now, I'm with you. Always."

He stared at her for a moment, his eyes flicking back and forth between hers. Loki impeccably schooled his features as he quietly asked, "That's not just the liquor talking right now, is it?"

Aemilia's lips curled up into an affectionate smirk. "Not a drop."

Loki fractionally smirked back, the unmistakable glisten in his eyes completely betraying his neutrality.

"You're it for me, too, Little One."