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02 January 2013 @ 09:18 am
Fic: haven't forgotten my way home (Thor/Avengers - R - Loki/Sif) 2/2  
Back To Part One





a white light still and moving

“We came as asked,” Loki spoke, through he knew not to whom. “What reason was there to call us?”

Sif was by his side, tense and weary, through he couldn’t see her some part of him knew she was there. There was whiteness and light all around. No shadows fell in this place. There were no places to hide or be hidden.

“You must play your parts,” a woman’s voice whispered through the white.

“What parts do you speak of?”

“In the end as in the beginning. Death will mirror birth. You must play your parts.”

“You speak to us in riddles,” Loki said. “How are we to play the parts given to us if we know not what they are?”

“As the worlds were born from your blood and bone, so shall they end washed in hers. Just as she wove and stitched the universe into being, so must you take it apart. In the end as in the beginning. This circle can only end in the violence that gave it life.”

“Ragnarok,” Sif whispered. “You speak of our ending, the Great Twilight.”

“No. No. No. We speak of the circle ending.”

“Circles do not end,” Loki pointed out. “They have no beginning and no ending. A single unbroken connected like.”

“All circles begin where they end and end where they began.”

“You say the worlds will be washed in my blood at the end,” Sif cut in. “Who spilt the first blood if the end is to mirror the beginning?”

“Your hand, his blood. From a torn throat and a still beating heart was Yggdrasil given life, and from blood and bone were the first worlds created.”

“You say then, that Loki’s hand will be the one to end my life,” Sif replied.

There was a pause after her words. A stillness in all the whiteness as though the light were holding its breath. Loki held his own waiting for an answer. They demanded that they play their parts, but in this he would not. He would step into the heart of a star to keep from taking her life.

“No. No. No,” was the answer that came. “Too many threads have been twisted across the loom to wind your strands together. It matters not who will cut your thread only that the end mirror the beginning.”

“And if it does not?” Loki asked.

“Then the circle will not end. You must play your parts.”

“What parts?” Sif demanded. “You speak as though we have fallen from our path or forgotten our lines.”

“Sif,” Loki called softly. He could hear her anger and frustration and longed to reach out and touch her - to caution and comfort.

“No,” she snapped. “They have taken us from our home to scold us as one would scold a child. But they tell us not how we did wrong. We cannot be expected to do right when they will not explain.”

“You began this circle with fire and blood and violence. The circle will only end as it began, and you have warped the fabric of the universe with the gentle hooks of your love and twisted the weave with the slender threads of your affections. You change the story you began to write in the beginning. You forget your parts.”

“Our fates are decided at birth,” Sif countered. Loki could hear how she believed this, believed with all of her herself that what she said was truth. But Loki was listening to the deeper meaning of the Norns’ words. Their coming together as they were had not been part of the plan, their falling in love had not been part of the design. A part of him danced at causing a moment of chaos for such beings as they.

“The beginning dictates the end. You seek to change the pattern with these bodies.”

“This is not the first cycle,” Loki stated.

“No, this is not the first cycle.”

“But this is the first we have not retained the pattern we set at the start,” he added.

“Yes. Your deviation threatens the pattern of the cycles. If you do not keep to your roles then the Great Twilight will fall upon us and Ragnarok will begin.”

He wished, how he wished, that he could see Sif’s face. He wanted to smile, wanted to let her know that it would be alright, that he understood what was happening and she need not worry. But he couldn’t even reach out to touch her, lacking a physical body in all the whiteness.

“You say that the worlds will end with my Lady’s blood, but it will not be my hand to take her life. You worry not that the Lady will fail to live up to what is expected of her, but that I will fail to do what is needful,” Loki said.

“Yes.”

“You should not fear,” Loki told them. “If I am to survive the Lady Sif’s death there will be nothing to stop me from allowing my grief to rip reality apart to have it undone.”

“In the end as in the beginning.”

“Yes,” Loki answered.

There was another pause in the whiteness, through all the stillness Loki could almost feel the callused grip of Sif’s hand about his wrist. “You will go back and remember none of what has passed here until the end,” they were suddenly told. “You seek to change the story of the weave. Perhaps you will get it right for the next circle.”


***


crossing the fine lines

After the feast the whispers didn't stop. If anything there were more. But Loki had learned long ago that court life was built around gossip. The spectacle they had made simply provided more fodder.

He had used Sif as a shield against ambitious mothers with their daughters in tow. Sif had wielded him like a blade against her prospective suitors. The arrangement had allowed Loki to converse with his mother about the skald's recitations and given the chance for Sif to laugh with Volstagg about something his eldest daughter had done. There had been an easy feel about him that night.

And when the music had started Loki had claimed the first dance. It had been a long time since he had danced with Sif, moving smoothly across the floor, her hand light on his shoulder and comfortable in his grip. They had always danced well together -- their movements complementary and easy, flowing through the steps with little thought.

He'd stepped aside when Thor and Volstagg had come to claim Sif for partner. But when one of her prospective suitors had come sniffing Loki had stepped in and swept her away under their noses. Trailing her laughter behind them as they disappeared into the moving crowd.

After that night it was rare to find Loki out in public without the Lady Sif near his side. He often escorted her to feasts and court functions. They were often seen walking through the gardens together or through the markets. The gossips said the Lady Sif had tamed the wild second prince, others said she had ensnared him, and some few jealous lordlings whispered about social ambitions.

There were whispers about his designs on the Lady Sif as well. How he sought to woo her loyalties away from the House of Odin. Some said he meant to trick her into freeing him from his bonds. For the most part he ignored the whispers and rumors. He found Sif's company more than tolerable when compared to others at court.

And when he learned that Heimdallr had fought in a holmgang over Sif's honor, he thought he had taken the news of her relation to the Golden Gatekeeper fairly well. He had only emptied his stomach the once into a potted plant on realizing Sif's mother was one of the Nine who had given rise to Heimdallr. What man wouldn't have paled and been sick to learn his former lover's brother was a man possessed of Sight? It certainly explained much of the hostility that had first begun to build between them when Sif and he had begun their ill fated relationship.

When her name day arrived in the spring Loki gave her a delicate bracelet fashioned from spun strands of yellow, white, and rose gold with a single charm engraved with a stylized design of Yggdrasil upon it. All she had to do was pull the charm and she would have a garrote at her disposal.

"Why is it that many of your gifts have a double function of beautiful design and deadly intent?" she had asked.

"Because you are both beautiful and deadly," he answered simply. "You should have possessions that reflect your nature -- form defying function. Your mother would have you convinced that your beauty was a commodity you had me spoil when I cut off your hair when in truth you became more lovely when you settled into your skin.”

As spring turned to summer, Loki found himself seeking out her company more and more. With no demands for training, she read more and Loki would find himself reading the same books as she. He was never sure how Thor managed it, but when Loki asked if he could bring some texts back from Midgard he had been given a bundle of translated books upon his brother's return. Loki had clutched the books tightly when he first realized he had begun to think of Thor as brother again. He hadn't known what to do with himself. For so long he had denied all but his mother, but somewhere along the way Thor had slipped back into the mold of elder brother.

Sif had found him on the terrace overlooking the private gardens with those books. Whatever lost expression he had worn had brought her close. And when she had touched the back of his hand with the tips of her fingers Loki had felt the words tumble from his lips in a hazardly mess. He had always known that Thor had never seen him as anything less than his brother. He had never needed to do anything to prove himself to Thor. Being Loki had always been more than enough. But realizing that he was accepted as he was -- that Thor had never loved him any less -- had made something thick and constricting wrap around his chest.

“He noticed,” Loki finally said. And he had known that Thor hadn’t spoken to Sif about the books. She had left several days before Thor had departed for Midgard to try and talk Hogun into returning to the city if not the palace. She had returned to the palace the day after Thor had left.

Loki collected books the way some children collected rocks and Sif collected knives. And while he had technical volumes on seidr and tactical manuals of warfare and collections of poetry, some of his most prized books were childrens tales. Thor had brought back the expected technical manuals about how Midgard’s science worked, and several books on the realms history. He had also included selections of poetry as well with an epic called Beowulf and another called Odyssey. Loki had expected those kind of books, everyone in court knew he enjoyed poetry and that he could often be found with some book of research or other. It was the titles set to one side -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Hobbit, Bridge to Terrabithia, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Peter Pan -- that had caught Loki’s attention.

Midgard childrens tales.

Sif had known. When Brokkr had Loki’s lips sewn shut, she had found a dvergr childrens tale that had shown the act as a proper form of punishment for a child who tricked, cheated, or lied. She had read the story to him while they waited for the golden stitches to be removed from his lips.

She took one of the books from him and sat down with her back against the terrace wall. When she began to read the story of four children separated from their parents by a war, Loki settled down next to her to listen. Her voice washed over him in gentle waves, soothing away the tightness in his chest and easing him into the tale of four children escaping into a magical world with an entrance at the back of an old wardrobe.


***


A Weapon in the Right Hands

When Sif’s hair finally began to grow back no one was more surprised than Loki when it returned black. Black like the deeper shadows, black like the night sky, black like his own. It did not grow quickly, but it certainly returned faster than it would have unaided. The court whispered about it, spreading vicious rumours that Loki’s charm had failed, or that he had tricked her. Sif’s mother had a pinched look about her face each time Loki saw her.

It was only after Sif confessed that she had bent her will on his charm to force her hair to return as black as it had been gold that Loki began to understand. Sif had meant to set herself apart from what she had been, she meant to be stronger than others thought she was, and she had focused on the one person she knew believed in her. It was another mark of her trust in him that she would subject herself to the hushed whispers and vicious gossip of court by simply refusing the bow under their pressure.

He had accompanied his father to Alfheimr and wandered through the markets. It had taken a bit of searching, but eventually he had come across a metalworker who had been happy to take Loki’s design and business. They discussed and made adjustments to the design until both the metalworker and Loki were satisfied with the final result. The changes hadn’t been that great in nature, but Loki had held firm on the designs intended simplicity.

So when his commission had arrived just days before the Yule celebrations were to begin, Loki had hastily excused himself to examine his purchase. No one had thought it strange to see him walking quickly from one place to another with a box tucked under his arm. He was studying seidr and had whispers of his own following him through the palace halls. Though to keep the gossip and talks to a minimum, Loki had turned a corner and folded the shadows around himself so that he could step in one shadow and out another. He left the box on Sif’s vanity with a note nestled inside.

Loki had unintentionally overheard an argument between Sif and her mother. Where her mother had declared Sif’s beauty ruined by her sable locks. Sif had countered that she would rather be deadly than beautiful. And the idea had been born from that. Her hair was growing quickly enough that by the time Yule came around she would just be able to pin it up for the more courtly celebrations. And so he had found a design for hairpins that could be used as sheaths for thin blades. They would not make for great weapons, but in the hands of a properly trained warrior, they could be just as deadly as a sword.

Beauty can be a deadly weapon in the right hands, his note said. And when he saw her that night dressed in the a gown of the deep burgundy she favoured Loki felt his mouth go dry. The cut and design of the material flattered her budding figure and complimented the strength of her form. But it was when she turned her head to say something to Hogun -- a recent arrival in Asgard -- that Loki felt a smug smile stretch across his face. Her hair had been savagely pulled and twisted to be pinned back with one of the hairpins he had given her. The white gold of the pin and it’s face were simple but elegant, engraved with a simple rendering of Yggdrasil. The silvered colour complimented the darkness of her hair, catching the light with cool flashes.

No one was permitted to bear arms at the Yule celebrations or in the presence of the royal family. But so long as Sif wore one of the hairpins he had given to her, she would always be armed, would always be deadly even when she was dressed to be nothing but beautiful.

***

how old is your soul

Loki watched from one of the balconies as the Hunt departed. Long lines of horses and riders surrounded by the baying dogs. Nearly every able bodied individual in court was in the milling group below. Only the infirm, pregnant, and very young were left behind. Volstagg would be staying home with his wife and children, safe in their home. While Fandral had left two days before to see if he would have better luck convincing Hogun to return to the city. And then there was Loki and Sif.

Bound as his magic was it would have been near suicidal for him to join the Hunt. When the deeper tides of seidr broke through the veil anyone out on the land and able to make the connection would be swept up. Most years it was just a hunt, and the hunters would return with game or sometimes nothing at all. But other years it was a true Wild Hunt and anyone unable to make the connection to the seidr that bathed the land could become prey to the Hunt.

Loki remembered the year the Hunt had claimed Baldr. The seidr had made Hodr Head Huntsman for the Wild Hunt while Baldr hadn’t been touched by the magic. Loki had been caught up in the current, riding hard behind Hodr while Baldr made a mad attempt to escape the Hunt. If it had not been for Loki being claimed by the same seidr that had taken Hodr, he might have lived. The sky had begun to lighten with the returning sun, the spell of the Hunt drawing to a close. Hodr had let loose his last arrow and missed when Baldr had flung himself from his horse and into a bush.

But Loki had been there and most of the Hunt had been in close pursuit. And under the command of the Wild Hunt Loki had given up his last weapon to the Head Huntsman to make the kill. The Mistletoe Spear was more ceremonial in design than an actual hunting weapon, but the head of the spear was still sharp enough to do the job it had been designed for.

Loki would never forget the expression in Baldr’s eyes when Hodr came for him with that spear. The knowledge of his of death - that he had been chosen to be the Wild Hunt’s White Stag - was clear in his eyes. And as Hodr had drew back his arm to make the kill, Loki clearly remembered how Baldr had spread his arms to bare his chest and heart. Something like peace smoothing out the features of his face.

Hodr had cast the spear just heartbeats before the Hunt’s spell was broken by the dawn. It had been a terrible moment -- to know it was too late to stop the spear, to prevent the coming death. Hodr had gone blind with his grief. The last sight he was cursed to see was his beloved brother’s death. A death brought by his own hand.

“It is still strange to not be a part of the Hunt,” Sif said as she came up beside him.

“You could still join them,” Loki said. “Not every hunt requires a weapon.”

He was careful to keep his comment causal and his gaze firmly on the departing hunters. There had been plenty of years when the only prey they had stalked was one another. Those years, when hunters returned with their game, Loki and Sif would stumble out of the forests empty handed and flushed. They were not the only couple to return in such a state, either.

“It would be foolish to be out there tonight without a weapon of some kind,” Sif replied. “Besides, I have no desire to be some lustful dandy’s tumble for the night.” With that she retreated back inside. Loki lingered a moment longer on the balcony before he rejoined her.

She had arranged for them to share a simple meal while the palace was near empty. Fish with vegetables, flakey bread and wine, his favourites arranged neatly on the table. With the Hunt having near emptied the palace they had elected to share their meal in one of the smaller dining halls. Looking at the small bounty laid before them, Loki wasn’t certain how he should interpret Sif’s plans. She had asked him to share their evening meal, arranging for his favourites to be served.

Loki had never felt slighted for having his name day fall around the time of the Hunt. It wasn’t every year that his name day and the Hunt occurred at the same time. When the winds began to hint at the coming snow and Yggdrasil’s branches hung thick and heavy in the sky, the Hunt would be called. And one year, Odin had returned from war with him in tow.

It had been a favourite story in his childhood. Listening to how he had been born during a Wild Hunt. How Frigga had led the Hunt while Odin was off at war and when the light had returned and broken the spell of the Hunt, she had returned to the palace and court having birthed him in the forests. He had been presented and named before the court nine days later. It had always been a popular explanation for his talent and preference for seidr and magic over combat and weapons training.

Loki supposed even the date of his birth was another fabrication of the Allfather. He hadn’t been born in the forests of Asgard during a Wild Hunt. He had likely been born some days before and only been discovered by Odin while the Hunt was happening on Asgard. It was the multitude of little lies that made it so much more difficult for him to even begin to let go of the anger and feelings of betrayal he associated with Odin Allfather.

Had he been named and presented to Laufey on Jotunheimr before he had been put in that temple? And what of his other half? Had he been birthed by Laufey’s hidden queen a legitimate child, or had Laufey lain with some other to make him?

There were so many things about himself that Loki simply did not know because of all the well meaning lies he had grown up with. The more he grasped for those answers the further from himself he felt.

Sitting across the table from the Lady Sif, enjoying his favourite foods and drink in the company of a woman who made him feel comfortable in his own skin, Loki was nearly content. Their conversation was casual, but Loki could feel an underlying tension. As light as the words they exchanged were Loki had the impression that Sif was searching for a break in their discussion to say something else. And while topics such as their day and the harvest from Idunn’s orchard carried them through dinner, speculation on who might find themselves expecting come Yule got them through a dessert of brandied pears.

Sif had collected a small cloth wrapped bundle before they left the small dining hall. With her hand resting on his arm, Loki had led them away through the quiet halls. When they stopped on another balcony over looking the public gardens Loki glanced up into the night sky. It was the first time he could remember seeing a Hunter’s Sky since his childhood. Once he had been old enough to participate in the Hunt he had never looked up, only forward. The seidr would burn up through the soles of his feet and rush through his blood like a fire. Once he had felt that connection to the underbelly of the universe he had never had a reason to look up to feel small. Magic had made him small and powerful, insignificant and connected, achingly familiar and completely unknown, all at the same time.

“Do you miss it?” Sif asked gently, her voice drawing him from his memories.

Tearing his gaze away from the sky Loki looked back to Sif. The heavy fall of the skirts of her dress brushed against his leg, she was standing so close to him. “Yes,” he admitted. “That greater connection the Æsir have to Yggdrasil during the Hunt is what I felt all of the time.” There were moments when Loki would close his eyes and reach for the part of him connected to seidr. Bound as it was behind the silver bracelets and the commands Odin had placed upon them, he could almost trace the shape of that part of himself.

Even falling through the void he had felt that connection. Sometimes weaker, sometimes stronger, but it had always been there. And there had been a moment, a small expanse of time when Loki would have let go, when he had been too weak in the deeper nothingness to continue. He had felt that greater connection rip through his mind, much like it had when he had ridden second to the Head Huntsman on a Wild Hunt.

“The Volvur were very vocally displeased with the Allfather’s choice,” Sif told him.

Loki watched as she stepped away from him towards the rail circling the balcony they were on. “I had heard,” he answered. “They are some of the few who would understand what it meant to have such a constant connection be cut away from your awareness. But then the Allfather is also a magician and so he was aware of what he was doing.”

He wasn’t certain why they were discussing his bound magic. It was not the type of topic he was likely to encourage with anyone. Sif seemed to understand that because she glanced over to him and offered a small smile. “Many things have changed in this last year,” she said. “We have come to know one another again, would you agree?”

“Yes,” Loki agreed, still uncertain about the direction of their conversation. Where he had always prided himself on the quicksilver of his mind, Sif’s mind always seemed to flit from thought to thought as though she were putting a puzzle together and simply getting the missing pieces from him. “I would say that we have always known one another. It is just that we stopped trying to understand the other. And when a rift formed we were neither of us willing to chance that we could have been the one in the wrong instead of the other.”

“And looking back, who would you say was in the wrong?” she asked.

"The two of us," Loki answered and came to stand next to her. It was a subject he had thought on often as they had begun the gradual rebuilding of their broken relationship. "Between our arrogance and our pride, we are neither of us blameless."

When she reached up to his face Loki leaned a little into her hand. He had always craved her touch -- the way she would grasp his wrist, how she would hold his fingers, how her fingers would trace the lines of his face. Sif was like seidr, she could make him feel powerful and protected, mighty and weak, as though he could reach up to grab all of the stars and yet like he were scattered in the night sky. She was the compass he was learning to follow, the blade to which he had affixed his heart.

When her lips touched his in a soft, hesitant kiss, Loki didn’t respond. Not at first. The feel of her lips against his, the press of her body as she stretched up the distance, it was unexpected. But when he felt her begin to draw away, both physically and emotionally, he kissed her back. His hands coming to rest on her hips, leaning down to meet her part way. The kiss, while still chaste, was less no longer tentative.

"Why?" he asked when they parted. His life seemed to be an endless series of why questions. Why me, why now, why this, why that. Sif was one of the very few people who would answer his need to know, to understand.

For an answer she drew further away and handed him the cloth wrapped bundle she had been carrying. The familiar shape of a book greeted Loki's hands before he had even begun to fold back the edges of cloth.

When the first corner of the book came into the light he knew which it was. He would know that brown leather cover anywhere. The distressed corner that had been folded back and bent out of shape when it had been carelessly tossed aside. The small stain on the back cover nearly teardrop in shape. It was his volume of dökkálfr poetry.

"You found it?" he asked.

"After you fell," she answered. "You had left it in our common gathering room."

He had searched the palace over for it but had never thought to ask Sif if she had it in her rooms. With how they had parted ways, she would have been the last person he would have expected to keep it. "But why?" he asked again. He felt more confused and less certain of his own steps now. The endless circles of why, why, why continued to ring through his mind.

"It brought some comfort to me when we thought you dead," Sif admitted. "It made it easier to remember the times we were happy and content. Those were the memories I wished to hold onto."

"You all mourned," he said softly. He hadn't believed Thor when he had said those words. And even after he had been brought back to Asgard he still hadn't believed. Why would they mourn for a monster? What grief could a lost tool cause? And so he had dismissed the sentiment.

Now he was confronted with the error of his beliefs. Frigga had mourned for a son, Thor had grieved for a brother, and the Lady Sif had felt the loss of a lover and a friend. Where Loki had felt only betrayal and rage thinking he had not been loved, had not been wanted, been only a pawn in some greater game they had been grappling with the loss of him. Knowing he was Jotun Sif had still kept the book of poetry. She had still cherished the memories of when they had been lovers.

And now. Looking up from the book clutched in his hands Loki didn't know what to say. He knew that his every thought was sketched upon his face for her to see. The confusion, the uncertainty, the horrible twist of hope that knotted his stomach and constricted his heart. To have the chance to rebuild more than their friendship, to perhaps rediscover that sense of belonging he had once felt in the shelter of her embrace -- it was something he had forbidden himself to think upon.

"I wish to make a trip to Vanaheimr to see the cottage my father gave to me," Sif told him. She stepped forward and wrapped her hand around his wrist, fingers resting over his wildly beating pulse. "It is time I see the gift for the bridge he meant it to be and not the wall I thought it was. And I thought, perhaps, we might begin to fortify the bridges we had made between us. If you would care to travel with me to the Vanaheimr countryside."

Loki’s gaze dropped to the hand she had wrapped around his wrist, the familiar warmth of her fingers pressed into his skin, resting now just under one of the silver bands. Hope was a vicious creature to fill him with such vulnerability as this, but under her touch and the swollen branches in the Hunter’s Sky Loki gave into it.

“I would be glad to accompany you,” he told her glancing back up. “It may take some time, however, to convince the Allfather to forgo the armed guards.”

“We have time,” Sif responded with an amused gleam in her eyes. “The Longest Night celebrations will be underway shortly on Vanaheimr. Though, I do not think the Allfather will agree to letting you travel without at least one armed escort.”

Loki brought the wrist she held up to his face, pressing the callused heel of her hand to his mouth, an action that was not quite a kiss. “I will be traveling with the Lady Sif,” he said, breath ghosting over her palm. The gold glint of the charm from the bracelet he had given her in the spring catching the light.

“And I have been forbidden to bear arms,” she reminded him.

His gaze flicked to her hair, bound back with one of the hairpins he had given to her in their youth. A dangerous smile crept across his face when he told her, “The Allfather’s commands of this natures reach only to the borders of Asgard and no further. Besides, my lady, dressed exactly as you are I would bet this entire realm on you in a fight.”


***


right into the aftershocks

When Loki opened his eyes the next morning it was to the distinct feeling that something was different. Faint sunlight was filtering through the glass window, snow falling steadily outside. Sif was sprawled half across him and most of the bed sound asleep. And while her weight and warmth were a comfort he thought never to experience again it wasn't what had woken him.

Loathed to wake Sif from her peaceful rest, Loki tried to push the feeling from his mind. Concentrating on the steady rise and fall of Sif's ribs against his chest and the soothing rhythm of her heart to lull himself back to sleep. It worked to calm him, easing the tension that had crept into his muscles. But it did not bring him back into sleep’s gentle embrace.

Reaching up to brush Sif's hair from her face Loki felt the silver bracelet slide from his wrist to part way up his forearm. And sleep addled as his brain was it took him a moment to understand. Those silver bracelets had been placed on him to bind his magic. They had sat snugly on his wrists since the Allfather had placed them there. There had never been enough space or give in the metal for them to do more than rotate in place. And yet... and yet, if he were to but turn him hand the other way the engraved band of metal would easily slip over his palm and fingers and fall from his hand to land on the bundle of furs Sif had stolen while they slept.

Because he had once -- or twice or several hundred times -- dreamed his magic returned, Loki was careful to slide his hand free of the bracelet. With the thin band resting in the dark furs, his fingers twitched and the shape of a word caught on his lips. It was the first, simplest spell he had learned, to cast a small ball of witchlight. And as the light took shape above the bed, blue-white light flickering around the room Loki felt a bubble of laughter spill from his lips. A short, sharp sound that had a slightly hysterical edge to it.

Sif murmured and stretched against him, rousing slowly from her sleep. Loki stared up at the witchlight for a moment longer, a smile stretching across his face. It had been so long since he had been able to feel the world through his magic. Like an underlayer of reality that he could touch and navigate with his knowledge and understanding of seidr. But it was more than that, it felt like a true connection, as though that underlayer, that foundation that reality rested upon were a piece of himself.

Lacing his fingers through Sif’s hair, he brought his mouth down upon hers in a hungry kiss. Using the force of the kiss to roll her on her back, Loki slid a leg between her thighs and felt the other bracelet come free of his wrist trapped somewhere in the furs and pillows. She hummed into his mouth when he pressed his growing arousal into the crease of her hip. Her body shifting just slight under him in an attempt to draw him into the cradle of her body. But Loki had other plans.

Breaking their kiss, he began to work his way down her body. Leaving open mouth kisses against her throat, scraping his teeth lightly over her shoulder, using the flat of his tongue when he reached her breast and took a nipple into his mouth. With the return of his magic he could cast the contraceptive spell they had always used to keep from getting her with child. She had told him before they had lain together that she was not close to her fertile time, and he knew she would not lie to him about this, but he didn’t want to take the chance. For all that he would claim any child she named his, he wouldn’t have her be the subject of more vicious gossip if his seed took root and her body began to ripen with his child.

He knew when she opened her eyes and saw the witchlight hovering above their bed. Her fingers tightened in his hair, nails scratching against his scalp before she let loose her own delighted laughter. Loki looked up when she tugged on his hair and gave her a wicked grin when he caught her gaze. He licked a line from her ribs to her belly button and bit softly into the taut flesh below her navel.

It wasn’t necessary for him to speak the words of the spell over her belly. He only needed to be touching her to cast the spell correctly, but with the effect the spell could have on her body, they had often used it as part of their love play.

He had pulled one of her legs over his arm and had hardly begun to shape the first word of the spell when she stopped him. Using her hands in his hair she pressed his mouth into her stomach to stop the sound. “Don’t,” she said, her voice a command.

Loki relaxed under her hands, muscles going loose and easy to show his compliance. He rolled his eyes up to catch her gaze, waiting for Sif to let him up. He wasn’t sure what his misstep had been, but when she released him, Loki pressed a soft kiss to her stomach before pulling away. “I meant only to cast the spell to prevent pregnancy,” he explained.

“I know,” she answered and propped herself up on an elbow. “I told you that we need not worry. I am not close to my fertile time.”

“Caution is still called for,” Loki countered gently. “Now that I am able to use magic again, I would not see you subject to further gossip for my carelessness.” It wouldn’t matter that Sif held no political ambitions beyond becoming a warrior, if he were to get a child on her the gossips would feast. The would spin tales and whisper accusations of social climbing. He would save her from that.

She reached down and ran her fingers through his hair. “We have always been cautious, haven’t we?” she asked. Smiling softly, she added, “Let us be reckless while we are here. If a child were to come of what we shared last night I would welcome it with the whole of my heart.”

Loki closed his eyes and pressed his face into the taut flesh of her stomach. Most magic was an exercise in will. The spell they used as contraception was doubly so since it’s sole purpose was counter to the way of nature. Knowing that Sif would welcome a child of his and wanting that child at the sametime would strain the strength of his will.

“You hide from me,” she said.

“No,” he answered and looked up to her again. “No, I would not hide from you. But knowing you would welcome a child and wanting that child will make the spell a far greater challenge in future.”

Sif hummed contemplatively above him. “One day,” she told him. “But I think knowing that Heimdallr challenged Lord Iuli to holmgang for reciting poetry of me would sharpen the strength of your will.”

“Or have me begin convincing the Allfather that an alliance through marriage between us would serve the realm,” he added offhandedly. When his mind caught up with his tongue, Loki stilled against Sif, body tensing and waiting for her to reject his words out of hand, or chasten him for implying that she would ever consent.

Instead of pulling away from him or scolding him, Sif threw herself back into the pillows laughing. “I would pay a small ransom to be a speck of dust on the wall for those negotiations,” she said with delight. “The Allfather and Heimdallr attempting to come to accords for our nuptials would certainly give the gossips something to talk about.”

“And in the meantime?” Loki asked. Tension leaving him at her acceptance of his words. He would have little say in who he eventually took to wife, but there was always the chance that he would be able to sway Odin to the favour of this arrangement. A greater chance once the Allfather realized it had been the Lady Sif who had given Loki a home of sorts.

“In the meantime, I would have you put that silvertongue to uses other than talking,” Sif told him with a slow, dark smile.


***


that thorn, thistle, or key

The cottage was neat and tidy, likely newly built with its clean wooden floors. Two levels of smooth grey stone, clear glass windows, and dark wood shutters. Even under the layers of snow, Loki could see that the lawns and gardens had been carefully laid out. The stables, the barn, the caretakers house, everything had been arranged with care.

Even the rooms inside of the cottage had been carefully arranged. The comfortable kitchen with it’s ample space and a nook with a small table set near a window. A more formal dining room with it’s family sized table just off the kitchen. A large den in the back of the cottage with windows that overlooked the snow filled gardens, comfortable couches and shelves meant to hold mementos and books, and a large fireplace with a heavy mantle. A small study was tucked up next to the den and under the main stairs. There was even a sitting room near the front of the cottage with windows that would open over flower beds.

The second level had three modestly sized bedrooms with comfortable beds, wooden chests filled with blankets and fresh linens and empty wardrobes. There was even a small bathing room at one end of the hall. The master bedchamber was larger, with closet space and a vanity, and it’s own private bathing room attached. There was another chest at the end of the bed, different than the others with a key lock on the front, and a fireplace in one corner.

The cottage, Loki imagined, was not the modest affair Sif had first believed. The way she walked from one room to another, as though revisiting a childhood memory, her fingers trailing along the edges of a mantle, over the back of a chair, along a window ledge, had Loki wondering. He knew that the cottage in no way resembled the home Sif had grown up in on Vanaheimr before her mother brought her to Asgard. But the cottage was nearly a mansion of it’s kind, more a home than a countryside dwelling.

Though it was the first time Sif was visiting, the cottage still felt like a home. As though it were simply waiting for a family to fill its rooms. He wondered if Sif had once described living in a residence like this to her father for it to have been built in such detail as to amaze the lady without surprising her. He wondered if she still thought about living in a dwelling like this, if she would choose to live on Vanaheimr now that she had the option. He wondered if she thought about raising a family in this cottage, if she imagined children and their cluttered belongings filling the empty bedrooms, children’s treasures lining the shelves and ledges in the den.

Loki wondered where in those possible imaginings he would fit.

Their exploration of the cottage ended in the kitchen, much as it had begun. The caretaker’s wife had left a rich stew on for them, and after a day of traveling they were both hungry. They fussed about the kitchen, looking for bowls and spoons and fresh bread. They were both more accustomed to living in the palace where such things were provided, or else camping during hunts and adventures where food was served from the main fire pit.

Sitting at the small nook in the kitchen to eat their stew was a new experience for both of them. It was comfortable, Loki decided. To sit across from Sif at a small table set for two, in a warm kitchen that smelt of hearty foods, where neither of them were fending off suitors or nosy nobles. Knowing they were alone together, that no one would walk in and disrupt them, that the gossips weren’t listening to their every word. It was pleasant to simply relax.

As they finished off the pot of stew and a loaf of bread, they laughed. Laughed at the fact it had taken Sif an hour to pack for the trip and Loki had spent three days reducing his typical traveling gear down to a single pack. They shared knowing smiles and chuckles over the way Volstagg had frowned unhappily at Hogun upon his return with Fandral when Flosi, Volstagg’s eldest daughter, had blushed and stammered a greeting to Hogun.

Loki had finally gotten the wood to catch in the fireplace when Sif came in with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He moved off the hearth to accept the glass she held out to him and watched as Sif took a seat at the end the short couch facing the fireplace. Loki claimed the other corner.

“Your father builds lovely bridges,” Loki said taking a sip from his glass of wine.

“He does, doesn’t he?” Sif turned to face him, tossing her feet on his lap. “It is very nearly how I used to describe it to him when I was a child.”

Loki let his free hand fall to her ankle, closing his fingers gently around the delicate bones. “And what is different or missing to make it exactly as you described it?” he asked her. He let his hand rub over the arch of her foot and back a hand span and half up her shin.

“I always imagined this home set in a forest glade,” she confessed. “Near a brook or a stream. A place where I could hunt and tramp through the woods.”

He could see the appeal in the home she had imagined. To be so far removed from the underside of her mother’s thumb. To be able to come and go as she pleased, enjoying the world and nature as she wished, hunting and trapping and fishing, living off the land much as she did when they had quested and gone on adventures. But he could also see how her father’s practicality shone through with the addition of pasture lands and herds, wheat fields and harvests.

“So this is the home you would choose to live in?” he inquired as casually as he could. Stripped as she had been of her rank among the Einherjer and forbidden to bear arms in Asgard, Loki wouldn’t fault her for wanting to find a home where she could be who she was always meant to be. The Allfather’s verdict and commands could reach far, but he could not prevent her from being a warrior in another realm, he couldn’t prevent her from taking up a sword or spear in any realm but Asgard. Vanaheimr might not have had a warrior caste as prestigious as the Einherjer, but they would still clamour to give Sif a place among them.

When he met her knowing gaze, Loki knew she understood what he was asking. That he wondered if she would leave Asgard, leave him. That he would neither blame nor fight her if it was her choice.

“Asgard is still my home,” she told him.

She pulled her feet from his lap and sat up to put her glass of wine on the table before them. When she reached and took his from his hand, Loki frowned slightly but didn’t protest. He certainly didn’t protest when Sif turned and pulled him closer to the middle of the couch and straddled him. Her knees landing on either side of his thighs, her weight resting comfortably on his lap, her fingers running up the back of his neck and into his hair. Loki’s hands came to rest on the outer curve of her thighs, slowly inching up to her hips and waist when she leaned forward to kiss him.

He was easy under her strength, lips parting when she deepened the kiss. With his hands on her hips Loki dragged her closer, bringing her groin to rest over his so her breasts would be pressed to his chest. The desire that had been slowly building in him since his name day came roaring to the surface. To be so close to her after so long apart. To be under her hands and body, to feel her weight pressing him down into the couch, her warmth seeping through the cloth of his shirt and the leathers of his pants. It was heady and familiar and distracting.

She caught his bottom lip between her teeth and gently bit down enough to make him sigh.

“You worry that I will leave you,” she spoke against his mouth. Her fingers tightened in his hair, keeping his head tilted back so he would have to meet her gaze when she drew back and spoke. “You wonder if I will come to my senses and make a different choice. You think that I will find better.”

“There are men who would be more worthy,” Loki countered. It bit at his heart to admit it aloud, but there would always be better choices for her to make. “Why settle for a half mad prince?”

“I decided who is worthy of me,” she told him. Her voice as firm as her kiss when her mouth met his. “I fell in love with the boy and man you used to be,” she added. “I have come to love the man you have become since, Loki. I would make no other choice.”

“Thor--” he began but was once more cut off with a kiss. A frustratingly effective tactic that stilled his words long enough for her to counter the arguments before he could make them.

“--would still be a very poor and very undesirable alternative to you,” she breathed against his lips. “To love your brother is to love the sun. But to love you is to love the air I breathe I can live without the one, I cannot live without the other.”

“What words would you have me say?” he asked. He could tell her that he loved her, three words that could mean something and nothing and everything all at the same time, but would always be suspect from the lips of a liar. It had taken him a full turn of the seasons to gather enough courage to say them the first time. “My heart is caught, shredding and bleeding while it beats and breaks around the blade of your affections. It’s yours, Sif,” he told her. Words as gentle and soft as he had ever spoken. “It always has been.”

***

hold infinity in the palm of your hand

Water rushed along the barren sands of a shore that was neither land nor real, just as the water was not truly water. Everything was as real as they wished it to be, shaped by the force of their will. She had arrived first and fashioned them an island of sorts under an empty sky. Walking along the water’s edge, he continued to follow the sound of his name upon the wind.

When he came upon her staring out over the water and the black empty sky he took a moment to admire her from afar. The grace in the hard lines of her body, the strength in the gentle curves of her figure. The sway of long hair down her naked back. She was as she had always been -- beautiful and deadly. She called to him still, just as she always had, right back to the very beginning. He would follow her anywhere, even unto his own death - as often had been the case. Except for the once when he had eaten her heart to birth the worlds from his own body. That had been a short and brutal circle that had ended nearly as it had begun. He had carved open his own chest that she might have his heart offered by his own hand.

This last circle had been different. Reality may have been built with his blood and bone, but he had offered himself freely to her violence. Perhaps that had made the difference. For the first time one of them had given freely to the other as they took. They might even get it right this time if he offered his life to her first so that she might accept. She could build the worlds from the body of a willing sacrifice. By offering his life as a gift there may even be less need for the circle to end with violence.

“What do you think so hard about?” she asked, turning to face him.

“How we nearly got it right this last circle,” he answered. “How we can get it right this time with what we know.”

Stepping forward, he dropped to his knees in the sands and tipped his head back to bare his throat and chest to her. “I freely offer myself to you,” he said. “A willing sacrifice for you to shape the worlds with.” He watched understanding fill her eyes as she closed the distance between them.

When she reached out he never flinched, relaxing into her touch. Even as her fingers curled around his throat, he only leaned into her grip. His heart beat calmly in his chest as he felt a small smile tug at the corners of his lips. This last circle he had learned what it was to be made and unmade under her hands as only a woman could do to a man. He had learned what it was to submit to her will and dominate her with his. He had experienced what it meant to stand at her side as an equal - belonging and belonged. Any circle that began when he took from her to create were short and brutal, filled with destruction and darkness the likes of which he never wished to see again.

This would be his submission to her. She would tear out his throat and then they would use his body - breaking it apart - to fashion the worlds. Scatter his crushed bones into the empty sky to make the stars, and when she planted his still beating heart the tree would begin to grow. She would use what was left of him to form the first peoples. And then she would stretch herself out among the branches of his heart tree and link the worlds together with her touch, shelter them under her gaze, and cradle them in the hollows of her heart.

That was how they had done it before, they could do such again. This time with less greed, less violence and envy. Perhaps this time he might know a life filled with peace instead of turmoil and uncertainty.

But her fingers did not close tight around his throat. Her nails did not part his flesh to wash the shore and her feet in his blood. Instead she leaned down, fingers sliding up into his hair and tilting his head to meet her in a gentle kiss. “There are many ways to beget new life,” she said against his lips. “Let us try a path that does not begin with blood.”








End Notes:
Terms & Clarifications:


Volstagg’s daughter (Flosi): I will state here and now -- I have never read the comics. I was reading up about Volstagg and ran across a short article about his wife and children which listed some names. I have no idea who was oldest and who is youngest. Flosi’s name stuck with me and so it was the one I used. Which probably means I have screwed with the proper birth order of his kids. For which, I’m sorry if it draws anyone out of the story.

Cycles: I am playing very fast and very loose with this concept. In Comic-verse, I am given to understand that there are a number of cycles of life, death and rebirth, which eventually get stopped (I haven’t read the comics, so this goes on hear-say). Since Movie-verse hasn’t chimed in yet on this idea, and Norse mythology says the cosmos were created, will be destroyed in Ragnarok, and will be made again - perfect this time - after, I exercised some serious creative liberties.

Holmgang: This is the Viking version of the duel. Two opponents would face off against each other -- each given three shields and one sword. There was a very intricate system of laws regarding Holmgang (when and how one could challenge, what would happen if one of the opponents didn’t show up, etc).

Poetry: It was considered vulgar and indecent for a man to recite poetry about a woman, it called into question her character, honour, and her morality. This is just a very general overview of the idea, but it was one I really kind of liked while I was researching what might make Heimdallr kind of lose his cool.

Volvur: This is the Icelandic plural form of volva (völvur / völva). The term represents the shamanic seeress in Norse mythology. I needed a term/title for the magic using community is this version of reality that differed from seidr.

White Stag: As a symbol of sacrifice the White Stag is more commonly seen in Celtic belief systems. Because Norse mythology didn’t have this kind of striking symbol of sacrifice, I borrowed it.


Titles:
“haven’t forgotten my way home”
-Broken by Lifehouse

“all the world to ashes turning”
-Abraham Coles

“in some sacred place”
-Delicate by Damian Rice

“a white light still and moving”
-T. S. Eliot

“crossing the fine lines”
-Between the Raindrops by Lifehouse

“how old is your soul”
-I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz

“that thorn, thistle, or key”
-in Our Blood by Horse Feathers

“hold infinity in the palm of your hand”
-William Blake