Well, my lovelies, I'm back! By popular demand, here is the follow up chapter. And it was so much fun, and took on such a life of its own that guess what? There will be a chapter three to wrap up this whole fiasco! Dedicated to everyone who was kind enough to review. Enjoy!
And there he was, sitting with his back against the massive oak tree, an old leather notebook clasped firmly in one hand while those long pale fingers thoughtfully scribbled a quill over the loose pages. His face was the epitome of serenity. She shook her head and sighed. This should have been the first place she looked.
"You missed training again," she stated in what he called her "General Sif" voice.
He just barely lifted his eyes from the journal, pulling it closer to hide whatever expression had taken over his mouth.
"I was busy."
She unceremoniously threw the tip of her sword into the soft dirt and walked over to sit next to him. He kept his arm poised over the paper, carefully using the feather end of his quill to obscure whatever he was working on. She teasingly elbowed him in the ribs.
"Come on, Loki, let me see!" she demanded, yanking the whole book out of his hands.
"Sif, it's not finished," he started, but she flipped the notebook open anyway. She did not regret it.
Her face was lined in ink over the entire page, masterfully shaded and detailed. Single words and polished couplets floated around in immaculate calligraphy, creating a dark halo of poetry. It was the most beautiful sketch she had ever seen in person. Blushing, she handed it back.
He smiled and cupped her chin in his hand, sending a wave of warmth over her whole face.
"Not nearly as beautiful as the subject."
Sif immediately shot out of sleep, gasping for air. It was as if the dream had ripped every last breath out of her lungs, leaving her sputtering like a fish thrown upon the shore. She frantically tore at her nightgown and rushed to throw open the nearest window, sighing in relief as the cold night quickly cloaked her in a bracing breeze. It was the third time that night she had been woken up from a dead sleep by a hurtling new memory resurfacing from gods knew where in the depths of her consciousness. She hadn't managed a good night's rest in almost a week, and it was starting to take its toll. The chalky white powder she usually reserved for special events no longer hid the dark circles forming under her eyes, no matter how heavily she layered it, and all the oils in the apothecary's stores could not reshape the haggard lines forming around her cheeks. Her current job training new recruits for the military was suffering even more than her appearance. The lack of sleep was eating away her awareness on the training field, and Thor nearly gave her a concussion during a demonstrative sparring match. He apologized profusely of course, even though it was a swing she should have been easily able to block. She caught herself dozing off when she was supposed to be making correction in marches. Even worse, everyone around her was noticing her decline. In fact, Thor had sent her back from training early to get extra rest. If only he knew…
Sif finally closed the window when the cold became too intense. She never liked cold weather. Just the chill in the autumn evening made her grimace at the thought of the imminent change in the seasons. Hot summers that demanded bare arms, sweaty tunics, and evening dips in the lake made her feel invigoratingly alive, while bundled winters were too stifling. Fall was leaving far too quickly.
She sat by the fire, carefully sipping hot cider from a ceramic mug. It scalded her lips and tongue, but she drank it anyway for the much welcomed heat it kindled inside her body. It was too damn cold and the blizzard prevented anyone from leaving their homes. Asgard had not seen such a storm in two thousand years. Even her thickest coat could not keep away the chill that gnawed at her ribs.
But then the cold abated, giving way to a familiar warmth. Soft hands pulled the heavy wool coat from her shoulders and replaced it with strong arms encasing her in a cocoon of skin. Despite the freezing temperatures, he was somehow shirtless and raging hot as if with a fever. She sighed in pleasure, nuzzling into the curve of his neck, delicately planting a trail of light kisses along his exposed throat.
Skull-splitting pain ripped a shriek from Sif's mouth. She doubled over at the sudden excruciating onslaught, jamming her thumbs against her temples in a feeble attempt to relieve the building pressure that threatened to blow a hole in her head. Black orbs flashed around her vision, making the world hazy and shifty beneath her feet. Before she could even reach the bath chamber, Sif dropped to her knees and wretched what little of her last meal she had been able to stomach. The darkness continued to seize her line of sight and she vomited again.
She almost did not hear her door flying open between the agonizing pain in her head and stomach. Thick arms hoisted her up by her shoulders, firmly half-leading half- carrying her into the adjacent bath chamber. Her fingers found a hold in a chink of armor.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," she moaned, feeling herself lowered into a chair while the sound of running water boomed in her ears.
"Obviously you are not," a voice said sternly.
A wet cloth rested on her forehead, saturated enough to send cool droplets across her face.
"Your skin is on fire."
"I'm fine, I'm fine," she repeated even weaker than before.
Sif winced at a shout for a healer as it shocked her sensitive eardrums. Another round of vertigo hit, but with a completely empty stomach it brought only dry heaving. Oh gods, she felt like death. At that moment she would have been perfectly happy to fall on her sword or have an axe sever her head from her neck rather than continue on. She would have given everything to completely erase the past week.
A large hand brushed the slick hair plastered to her skin out of her face and switched out the now warm cloth for a fresh one. Thor. It had to be Thor. The only other person who would come is incarcerated. She groaned at the thought surfacing without permission. Damn that man! And damn her for visiting him in the first place! If only that damn spell would have stayed in its damn place!
"What spell?" Thor asked quizzically
Sif silently cursed. Now she was too delusional to even tell what was in her mind and what was in her mouth. She started to form an answer, but it died on her lips as fatigue suddenly swept over her whole body. She shivered, grabbed Thor's shoulder, and then fell into a void-like sleep.
Loki's head shot up from his book when Frigga stormed into the hall, still in her night robes with the light fabric billowing behind with the force of her determined step. He recognized the stern and controlled anger in her face. It was the same look she had whenever he or Thor did something particularly destructive or dangerous as children and were in for a severe punishment. He raised an eyebrow.
"Am I in even more trouble, mother?" he asked flippantly.
"Your brother informed me that Lady Sif is quite ill, and has been since speaking to you," she stated in that low tone reserved for his misadventures. "What did you do to her?"
"I did nothing!" he snapped, slamming his book shut. "Her own childish curiosity undid the spell, not me."
"Because of your indiscretion," she corrected.
Loki scowled to hide the grimace that wanted to take over. She was right, of course, but he was not about to let it show. When Sif ran off, he spent the whole night that followed right where she left him, standing with his hands pressed against the glass in a desperate hope that she might come back. It was unbelievably selfish and more than a little cruel, but yes, he was glad the enchantment on her memory was broken. It was the most painful precaution he had to take when deciding to stage his takeover. He planned on reversing it when he was king, wooing her again if needed, but it wasn't a precaution, it was a gamble. A gamble he lost.
Some part of his mask must have dropped, because Frigga's face softened from scolding disapproval to melancholy concern.
"I know how much you loved her," she started, but before she could say anything else he hurled the book against the glass.
"I still love her!" he shouted furiously, swiftly rising from his chair. "You all can paint me the heartless villain as much as you please, turn me into the monster you need to preserve your precious reputations, but do not think for a moment that you can take her away from me!"
His chest was heaving with the weight of livid breathing, the mix of anguish and bitterness settling in his lungs like a heavy stone. He had lost too much between then and now: his throne, his sanity, his family, his trust. Loki thought he had lost Sif too, but now there was hope that their relationship could be salvaged from the collapse, even if she fought all they had been with every fiber of her being. That hope was the one thing keeping him alive as he languished. Frigga presuming that he stopped caring hurt almost more than when Sif did. Seeing the step she took back, he inhaled deeply to center himself.
"I did what had to be done to keep her safe," he continued more collectedly.
Frigga was the only other person who knew about his secret relationship with Sif. Until recently, it was impossible for him to keep anything from her, and when she riddled it out he could not deny it with a straight face. He could lie to anyone, even Sif, but not to her.
"I know," she answered calmly. "And I believe that she could be a great remedy for you should her mind be restored, but she is not reacting well to the shock and neither is her body."
"A side effect," he muttered.
Frigga's brow furrowed.
"You are correct, but it is not a trifling affliction, Loki. She might never emotionally recover. When you tampered with those memories you went far deeper inside her mind than I think you realized. Love is not something easily destroyed. To play with a force that strong is dangerous."
It was not a threat, but a warning. Loki clenched his fists until he felt his fingernails begin to break skin on his palms. He understood the risks when he made the spell, but everything changes from theory to practice. What if you failed? What if she hates you for the rest of your pathetic life? What if you permanently broke her mind? What if she ceases to be Sif and it's all your fault?
"Let me see her," he finally demanded, the anxiety clawing at the inside of his chest. "I can help."
"You might also do more harm than good," Frigga pointed out. "And your father will never allow it."
He bit his lip to keep from screaming "He's not my father!" As much as it ached to hold his tongue, escalating into another fit would not get him closer to Sif. He would suffer another thousand years trapped in the abyss if it meant having the chance to have her back as she was.
"I'm the one who built the spell, I have the best potential to finish tearing it down. If he will not allow it for me, allow it for Thor and for Asgard. Where would they fall if anything happened to Sif?"
She pursed her lips together, pondering his argument. Loki knew better than anyone that Thor was all the leverage he needed to make his case. As far as anyone but Frigga knew, Sif was the most likely candidate to be queen when Thor ascended to the throne of Asgard (assuming his mortal pet had died of old age), Odin included. More than once he had implied that he looked forward to having the greatest shieldmaiden in his army as a daughter-in-law, ironically unspecific as to by whom.
"I still doubt the Allfather will approve, however, this may be a proper time to beg forgiveness than permission."
"Just trust me," he said, peeling off her sweat soaked tunic, leaving her in only her leggings and chest wrap.
She eyed him hesitantly, but eventually settled, removing the wrap and lying on her stomach. She moaned as the heels of hands pressed into the muscles on her back, kneading the ache out of the battle sore knots. He chuckled at the sound.
"When will finally learn to trust me?" he teased and trailed his fingertips over the line of her shoulder blades.
"When my hair grows in blond," she sniggered.
Sif let out a groan as she opened her eyes, the dim candle light burning like the torch of the sun. She shut them again, waiting to feel more awake before giving it another try. She was wearing a new nightgown, one made of much finer material than her own, and wrapped in the soft sheets she recognized as belonging to the infirmary. Though most of her body was encased in fabric, her right arm was free, and the protective grip on her hand was undoubtedly Thor's.
"She is awake," he announced to whoever else was in the room.
That voice immediately drained all traces of weariness from her body. She shot out of the bed before even fully processing her surroundings, tripping over the loose sheets and stumbling into Thor's arms. There he was, standing on the other side of where she had been sleeping, his sleeves rolled up and his hair combed back. His face was cool, collected, plastered with the same blank visage he put on while spinning a particularly detailed lie. There was no trace of their last encounter to be found in his countenance, nor his demeanor. Simply seeing his relaxed posture made her knees feel weak.
"What is he doing here?!" she yelped, her voice sticking on her cotton tongue.
"Mother has promised me that Loki is here to help you recover from your illness," Thor assured.
That was only half the truth. Whether he realized it or not, she wasn't sure. She knew why Loki was really there, but how he had managed it was beyond her. His eyes lit up as he caught the fear beginning to rise in hers.
"Go get those book from mother, will you? I need to make a few references," he ordered without moving his gaze from Sif.
Thor nodded begrudgingly, giving them both a look of warning before leaving the room. Sif felt her heart skip a beat when he exited completely. She was too weak to make a solid punch, but with all the strength she could muster, Sif grabbed the closest water cup and threw it at Loki's head. He nonchalantly sidestepped, letting it shatter against the wall. She made a weak attempt to tackle him, only to get her foot caught on the edge of the cot and fall right into his arms.
"My dear Sif, is that any way to thank me?" he asked with feigned offense as she struggled to get escape his embrace and get back to her feet.
"Thank you for what?" she spat. "Taking me as your lover for a few thousand years, erasing it from my memory while you try to take over the world, and then upending my entire life?"
He rolled his eyes exhaustedly.
"I very well might be saving your life. A little preemptive gratitude would make the whole process more painless."
"At this point I would rather have you let me die!"
Despite the honest venom she drilled into the words, the disjointed fragments of her memories pricked her skull to remind her that they were not entirely true. Oh gods, something was so right about being wrapped in those long arms. Fighting against them felt more like sacrilege than self defense. He winced a little at the shot, but never dropped his snide half-smile.
"You can hurl all the hatred you want at me later, but right now you are not well and I can help you."
He held her out at arm's length, perusing every marking on her face that betrayed how horrible she really felt. It took every ounce of resistance not clutch his arms for extra support. It did not take a keen eye to see how much her health had deteriorated.
"By no means will it be comfortable, but I suspect anything will be better than your present state."
"And if you succeed, what happens to my brain?" she asked doubtfully. "Do I go back to being madly in love?'
He sighed and eased her back down onto her cot.
"If all goes well, yes."
Sif clenched her jaw. Yes, anything would be better than her present state, but neither was she fond of the idea of having Loki prodding around in her head for a second time, stripping away resentments she believed to be her own and replacing them with affections she did not know she had. After all he had done, all he had put them through, it was so hard to believe that she could have any other feelings…
She grabbed the edges of his vest and through him into the door, crushing her mouth to his. He only froze for a moment to process her attack before clamping down one hand in her hair and the other on her thigh, hiking her leg up around his hip. She smiled against the kiss as he roughly switched their positions, slamming her into the wood with enough force to send a jolt up her spine. His tongue trailed along her bottom lip, teasing at her teeth to let him in. Loki Silvertongue indeed.
"Fine!" Sif shrieked, batting his hands away so she could grasp her burning head. "Please just make it stop!"
Loki considered making a sarcastic comment. "As my lady commands" or "If that is what the mighty Sif wishes," but the agony in her contorted face stitched his lips shut. He was relieved that she had closed her eyes; the careless façade was beginning to be more than he could bear. So that is what it took for her to accept their past? Torture? Torture that at its roots was his fault. He bit the inside of his cheek to slow the building force of his guilt. No, his focus would help Sif, not his self inflicted punishment.
"You will probably experience some hallucinations," he warned.
"I don't care! Just fix it!" she shouted, her whole body curling in on itself to fight.
Taking a deep breath, Loki gently pulled her hands away from her head and rested the tips of his index fingers on her temples. She squirmed under the touch, clutching the sides of the cot with a death grip that could snap bone. With a twitch of his eyebrow, he sent a quick charm to lock the door. He had read every book on memory spells twice over, he did not need them again, nor Thor to charge in a break his concentration with those catalogues of magic he almost certainly believed Loki really wanted. He needed absolute attention to Sif, and that was hard enough with her whimpering.
"Do not be frightened, but this is going to hurt very much…"
With that, he muttered the initiative line to the spell and Sif let out a blood-curdling scream the whole of Asgard probably heard. He gritted his teeth as what felt like lightening shot up through his arms to his eyes. It burned as if someone was digging into his corneas with a hot knife, but it also meant the spell was working. A harsh banging came through the door, accompanied by commanding shouts, but they began to fade out as the torturous shocks continued. As the pain intensified, so did his mind's link with Sif's.
Complete silence fell and the infirmary whisked away into an arena of darkness.