lizardbeth (lizardbeth_j) wrote,

A Seed in Barren Lands 2/2

Sif realized she was naked and wriggled free of him to grab her clothes, hurrying to put herself back into something resembling respectable. She stomped her feet into her ankle boots and straightened her tunic's hem at the sound of the doors opening. She drew herself up, ready to confront whoever was coming in.

She glanced at Loki to find him still bare to the waist and his breeches up, but not re-laced. It would have been very attractive at any other moment than this, when she could hear boots descending the steps, coming their way. "Do not embarrass me before the All-father or your brother," she hissed.

He narrowed his eyes at her. "So humiliating, is it?" But despite the sarcastic words, he grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head. She hoped he hurried, as the sound of footsteps came nearer.

The dark melted away from the barrier, revealing that the king had come. One keen eye looked from Sif, standing at the front of the cell with her sword on the floor outside, to Loki sitting on his bed with his back to the wall. He was decently covered, but she felt her cheeks heat, since his hair was a riotous ebony mess, his shirt was untucked and open at the throat, and one of his cuffs had torn. She expected a smirk, but his gaze was fixed on the far wall, and his expression seemed closed and sullen.

"Lady Sif, Loki," Odin greeted.

"All-father," she said with a bow of her head.

Loki said nothing, and after waiting a moment, Odin addressed her, "You stepped within."

"It was quite foolish of her," Loki said coldly, not looking at either of them. "But she is only a little worse for the experience."

She frowned at him, wondering what his sudden problem was. But maybe he was pretending to coldness, for appearance's sake with Odin.

"Are you well, Sif?" Odin asked her, eyeing her closely.

Only biting her inner lip kept her from lifting a hand to check her hair. The king probably knew what they had been doing in here, but there was no need to confirm it with guilty actions. She answered steadily, "I am well, my king. Loki was… ah, excellent company." She wanted to snicker at her words, barely holding it back.

"I am pleased to hear it." He turned his gaze to Loki and asked, "And you, Loki? Are you well?"

Loki curled a lip at the question and gave a sour chuckle. "As if you care."

"You know that is not true, my son."

Loki flinched as if the quiet words were a blow and struck back, finally looking at the king. "I know speaking empty words makes nothing true, and I know you did precious little my entire life to make it true." His eyes flicked to Sif and back to Odin, giving a humorless little laugh. "It almost worked, All-father, but now I see your strategy with her. You are doomed to disappointment, as the only secret she pulled from me is the one you've known all along."

That was meant to hurt. Sif turned to him in dismay. "Loki! Why - why are you saying this? I was not interrogating you--"

He straightened, put his feet on the floor, and glowered at her. "You got what you wanted, did you not?" he accused her. "You bravely confronted the monster, entertained yourself, and now you can pretend nothing happened. Just as you always did, except now I'm in a cage, making it that much more humiliating to be seen with me." He turned hateful, glittering eyes back to Odin. "Is this part of my punishment then? You let anyone inside and I cannot resist lest I prove myself worse?"

"What? No," she objected, confused by what he was saying, then horrified. Had he really felt that he couldn't refuse?

"No, it is not," Odin answered. His voice was calm, but when she darted a look at him, he was watching Loki warily, his hand gripping Gungnir.

"Take her from here," Loki demanded. "Take her and go. Never let her return."


He ignored her, to look at Odin in rising fury, "I am done with you. With her. With all of you. Do you think I do not see the lies? Me? God of lies surrounded by liars. None of you ever willing to give up a single shred of your precious dignity, while I give up everything. No more."

Loki stood and his clothes abruptly shifted to his black and green fighting leathers, making her realize he could have changed them whenever he liked. His expression twisted, teeth bared and eyes wild, as he warned Odin, breathing heavily, "I will kill the next person to enter this cell, I swear. Her, or Thor, or you or Tyr," he listed in such a venomous tone she reached for her sword reflexively. "I will not stay my hand against all those I hate. You made sure I have nothing else left to me."

She jerked back into the barrier, feeling it hum against her skin, as her heartbeat seemed to grow louder in her ears in reaction to his unexpected attack. He hated her? How could that be, after all he'd said before?

She stared at him. Madness. This had to be madness. None of it made sense. Tyr? That had been so long ago, when Tyr had been their weapons instructor. Loki's wolf had bitten off Tyr's hand, and she remembered Loki had been very upset when Fenrir had been put down. But Loki had ignored Tyr since. "Tyr?" she asked in confusion. "You resent him for Fenrir's death? After all this time?"

"Take your ignorance and get out," Loki spat back at her but without turning his burning gaze from Odin.

Odin frowned at Loki in concern and shook his head once. "That has never been more than misunderstandings in training, and a penchant for complaint and resentment, grown all out of proportion and twisted over time."

As Loki listened, a mocking smile curled his lips. "A 'penchant for complaint,'" he repeated in a silky tone. "Yes, how dare the little frost giant foundling bother you with his tiresome complaints? Great Tyr was teaching him to be an Aesir. But a monkey in Asgardian clothes will never be aught but a monkey, will he?"

Odin hesitated and frowned at him sadly. "No, Loki, that was never how I thought of you. Not being Aesir you were slower to grow into your strength, but it was your attitude, not your blood, that was the problem. You would not have trained at all without being pushed to it."

Loki barked a humorless laugh. "Do you lie to yourself most of all? Or just to me? Had Thor come to you with those same words, you would have done something. Even against Tyr, who could do no wrong against me."

"He was teaching you--"

"Teaching me I only mattered when it was convenient!" Loki spat back at him. "Teaching me that even when I hurt, no one would lift a hand to stop him."

Sif, who had been listening with a growing unease, heard the last and felt suddenly chilled. Hurt? She'd been jealous he'd had private lessons with Tyr, even though he'd needed them so much more than she had. It had never occurred to her that he might have been hurt during them. But he was implying that Tyr had hurt him on purpose which was… unfathomable. She'd dismiss it as another lie except she remembered Thor's complaints that Loki was going off alone, to bury himself in the archives or running with Fenrir. "What happened?"

Odin answered her, "Nothing unusual. Tyr over-estimated Loki's strength to block and struck him too hard. But he explained his mistake. And the rest were--"

"It was not a mistake. It was never a mistake," Loki hissed at him. "He only got better at leaving nothing to prove what he'd done."

Odin thundered, finally losing his temper at Loki's accusations, "Silence! You will not spread your poisonous lies about an honorable warrior!"

Those were exactly the wrong words. Loki's eyes lit with rage.

"Honor?" Loki was at the barrier in an instant, fingertips pressing into it and making it flare with golden fire. "And you wonder why I know you care nothing for me? Always, always you defend him, and never me."

"He could never--" Odin protested.

Loki let out an ugly laugh, silencing the king. "No? He never forced me to kneel before him, his hand pulling my hair while he fucked my mouth?" Loki hurled the words at him, sharper than knives. Sif recoiled, gasping, staring at Loki in horror.

The vicious torrent continued, merciless in his rage. "Because he did. Every day as part of my lessons for months. First he hurt me, and he broke my arm in three places, but when you refused to intervene, when you told me I should toughen up and take it, he knew he could do whatever he wanted. He could hurt me, he could make me touch him and put his prick down my throat, and no one would care. Because he knew. He called me a creature, fit only for serving his betters. I thought he must be right, that there was something wrong with me, for why else would he do that?" His voice cracked, harsh calm deserting him to reveal the anguish beneath.

Odin stumbled back a pace, his face drawn and lips parted in wordless shock. "No… This is… This is a lie," he whispered.

But even in her shock, Sif had no doubt it was true. The truth - the pain - was too real, like cracks appearing in a vase she'd always believed whole, yet she knew now the lie had been its wholeness, not the picture on it. But how could Tyr have ever done something so reprehensible? She eyed her sword on the floor, fingers tightening in a desire to hold the hilt as she drove it straight in his heart.

"You still refuse to see!" His expression ravaged, Loki smashed both hands into the barrier, causing it to flare golden and bright. "Let me put a hand on Gungnir. And I will show it all to you."

There was a frozen moment of silence, with no one able to speak. Sif doubted they remembered she stood there. The king looked ill and wan, leaning heavily on Gungnir with both hands, as it settled on him that what he had denied and ignored all these years was, in fact, true. He had failed his child in the most fundamental way possible, allowing him to be tormented and brutalized, never believing his complaints.

Yet the failure did not end there, Sif realized. For instead of punishing the vile monster who had done such things, he had punished Loki for the only vengeance Loki had achieved in Fenrir's attack. Loki had cried and pleaded clemency for Fenrir, earning himself a punishment for defending a wolf instead of his teacher.

She looked at Odin, and the crystal of her faith in his wisdom and omniscience exploded to shards. He was just a tired old man, shaken to the foundation by this revelation of something he should have known and fixed centuries ago.

But Loki saw none of it as his rage evaporated. His shoulders slumped with abrupt exhaustion, and he muttered to himself, "No. It changes nothing, does it? Proves nothing. You will never believe me." His hands fell from the barrier, to hang limply at his sides as his clothes shimmered and became the simple tunic and breeches again. "Just another lie you will ignore. Return to your real son, and leave me be."

He turned away from the barrier, eyes dull as they slid across her as if she weren't there. He sought the cot and pulled up his bare feet, tucking into a small, defeated ball. She had never seen him in such an extremity of loss that not only was his clever tongue silenced, but his entire spirit quenched.

Her heart hurt, each beat aching within her chest, and catching her breath. "Loki…" He didn't move or seem to hear her.

No wonder he had been so hurt by her insistence on keeping their relationship a secret. Bad enough she had treated being together as something shameful, but it must also have reminded him of what Tyr had done.

She knelt on the floor before him, hoping he saw it as a gesture of her sympathy and respect. "Loki. No. I will not ignore this. I … I am horrified by this revelation. I … cannot --"

"--cannot believe it?" he finished for her, bitterly.

"No, I cannot imagine how much you suffered," she corrected. "I believe you."

He lifted his head enough to see her face, his hair hanging in his eyes, and he asked with a painful doubt, "You believe me?"

"I do," she confirmed. "I saw something change in you; I know Thor saw it, too, but we… we had no notion of anything like this."

"I did not intend to speak of it," he murmured, head drooping again as his fingers wiped and tugged his clothes restlessly. "You should not have heard such… filth. I… " He hesitated and swallowed hard, then tried to grin, a sickly baring of teeth that did nothing to mask the broken devastation in his eyes. "You should know better than believe what I say. It was a lie. A poor jest… I was …" He couldn't even finish the attempted pretense, voice trailing off. "You need to forget you heard anything," he requested finally, barely audible.

The shame in his face was the worst thing she had ever seen, and she wanted desperately to rub it out and then stab Tyr repeatedly. "No, Loki, stop. I will not forget," she told him. "I am glad to know. Well, not 'glad' because how can one be glad to learn of such things? But I would rather know the truth, and not let it fester amid lies and silence." She put her hands gingerly on his knees, fearful he would pull away, but when he didn't, she rested her head, rubbing her cheek against his legs to keep back the tears that were a threatening heat in her eyes. "I am so sorry. I … I should have been there for you."

His hand touched her head. "It was no fault of yours. Sif, please."

"But I made you hide when we were together," she whispered. "More secrets, more lies. And again, just now." It had been her attempt to hide their relationship again that had roused the old memory of someone else making him feel wrong and used. "But no more, Loki. I understand now," she declared, rising up to sit close beside him on the cot. He shied back when she reached out for his face, but after a moment, he let her lay her hand on his cheek to encourage him to look into her eyes. "I am not ashamed of being with you," she reassured him. "Not before I knew this. And not now."

She knew Odin could see, but found she did not care, as she pressed a kiss to Loki's lips. He didn't return it, too stunned yet by the violence of his emotions and shaken by old memories. After they parted, he let his head rest on her shoulder. He was trembling as she circled his body in her arms and embraced him tightly. He felt fragile under her hands, all slender bones, like the boy he had been before one of their own had stolen his innocence. "I … thought," he whispered. "I thought…"

"I know what you thought, but this is not then. I am not that Sif, who was afraid that loving made her weak. Or the Sif who refused to see that the bright lights of our Realm hide terrible shadows. I know better now. And now we face what is to come together," she promised. "We shall find a way, Loki. You may have all my strength to mend what was broken, and we will find salvation if we must fight all who would deny it."

He shook his head against her shoulder in stubborn, hopeless denial. Her hand caressed his hair, combing her fingers through the tangled strands. "We will, Loki. Believe in me, if you will not believe in yourself."

The abrupt lack of a noise drew her attention, as the soft hum of the barrier died away to silence. She turned her head to see Odin enter the cell. He moved slowly, leaning on Gungnir.


Against her, Loki twitched at Odin's voice but stayed where he was, and she kept on smoothing his hair.

"My king," she said, clearing her throat, "I would request to stay here, not leave so soon…"

He shook his head once, raising his hand in a quelling gesture that he had not come inside to take her away. He stayed there, watching them both, and his expression was graven in deep sorrow.

"Did you offer truly?" Odin asked. "If you wish to hold Gungnir and show me all that happened, I will give you the opportunity. Be aware you cannot pick and choose what you show-- your mind and mine will be entwined, and no falsehoods and no secrets will endure in such a joining. But I offer in the hope that not only you show me the truth of what you endured, but also so you may see the truth of my thoughts and feelings for you, Loki."

In a motion that surprised her, Odin went to one knee and held Gungnir across one leg stretching the length of the bed and shining like brilliant silver.

Loki lifted his head a little and asked, without looking at Odin, "And when you see the truth, what will you do?"

"I will require him to do the same," Odin promised. "And when I see the truth of him, I will determine his sentence. I will not stay my hand, Loki, this I swear to you. He is no friend, no companion, of mine or of Asgard, if he would prey upon any child in this way, and not my son. Please, Loki," he murmured, "I can do nothing without more than your word. I believe you, I do, but I need to be absolutely certain and I think you need me to know and to share it with you."

Loki hesitated and Sif wrapped his hand in hers and squeezed. "I think you should," she urged. "I will be here. Go ahead."

He glanced toward the open side of the cell and his jaw clenched as he considered, then his eyes met hers and she smiled encouragingly.

Inhaling a deep breath, he reached his free hand, trembling. Odin raised the spear higher, toward him, so Loki could wrap his fingers around the haft.

Odin's other hand gripped it, bracketing Loki's hand with both of his, and the entire spear blazed with power, shining so brightly it threw their shadows in stark contrast against the walls.

Both stiffened, and the same shining power shone from their eyes, so bright it was hard to look at. She held Loki's hand, letting him squeeze it painfully tight, trying to remind him she was there.

Odin let out a distressed moan, and tears rolled down his cheek from his eye.

The power faded from Gungnir, returning the cell to the normal overhead lights, and Loki gasped for breath as if he'd been underwater those minutes. His hand dropped away from the spear and he slumped backward in utter exhaustion.

She caught him against her, letting his head rest against her breasts. His eyes were so bright, so full to overflowing with the truth of what he'd seen in his father's mind, as he looked up at her. It was as if he was drowning in it. "Sif…" he murmured, seizing her wrists as if that would help him find words. "Sif…"

"Hush." She smoothed back his hair from his face. "Take a moment, Loki."

On the floor, Odin's head was bowed over Gungnir, as he too sorted through what he'd seen.

"What will you do, All-father?" Sif asked. "Now that you know it's true?"

"True and worse," he said hoarsely. "I … was so very wrong."

For a moment, she feared he would collapse. He leaned heavily on the spear, now grounded into the floor, and swayed into it, as though the truth had been a burden too heavy to bear for him. She felt pity for him only exactly as long as it took her to remember that Loki had been carrying it alone all this time.

But the king found his strength and straightened, still kneeling, to put him more at eye-level with Loki, if Loki were looking in his direction. "There will be a reckoning and sentence, I swear," he told Loki. "He shall not escape, now that I know."

Sif asked, "How is it no one knew? Why did you not accuse him? I understand why you would not tell the All-father, but the queen? You know she would do anything for you, Loki. She would have stopped it."

Loki could only shake his head. Sif looked to Odin, who must have known the answer, but he waited, watching Loki patiently. Loki pushed himself upright and he hitched aside, to sit away from her. He bent his knees and stared at them blankly. Sif thought he was ignoring the question or had forgotten it, but when she opened her mouth, Odin lifted a hand to encourage her patience. Eventually, Loki's throat worked and he pressed his lips together before finding his voice, so painfully hesitant, "How could I tell her? That I was this … shameful, base creature? She would reject me, and I would have… no one..."

"No, no," Sif protested, shaking her head in denial and confusion that he could have ever believed that. "She would never--"

"Of course she would not," Odin agreed. "Frigga loves you, Loki, and learning this will break her heart. But you were young and fearful, and the fault is mine that you felt alone." His eye touched Sif, and he explained to her, "Tyr threatened to kill Fenrir, if Loki revealed what more there was."

That had been akin to threatening to kill family. Loki had raised Fenrir from a cub himself, and the two had been inseparable for decades, after the queen had given longevity to the wolf when she saw their friendship. The two had been something out of a saga, matching black hair and black fur, as they'd run through the city and played pranks of startling people with the wolf's immense size and intelligence. She remembered Loki's laughter, a sound back then that had carried no bitterness, only delight.

But she had seen when that had changed. She'd caught Loki crying into Fenrir's fur. He'd pretended nothing was amiss and she'd let him keep his pride and his secret. She wished she'd not relented until she'd learned the truth. Maybe she could have saved that delight from twisting to false cheer, and the laughter from darkening with malice. But she had done nothing, ignoring something clearly wrong, because she'd been blinded by the belief that no evil could happen in Asgard.

"Fenrir was my friend. He wanted to protect me and you killed him…" His voice was bitter but faded into a heartsick weariness that was worse to hear, as if he could muster too little energy to be angry. "But at least it was over."

"It will be over when I accuse him," Odin declared grimly. "When he must hold Gungnir and he must face his judgment. As should have happened so long ago."

The king rose to his feet, still leaning on Gungnir, and looked down at Loki. "Now the question becomes, what happens with you?" Odin asked.

Loki's eyes flicked up to Odin's face and then back down, to stare at his fingers, clasped loosely above his knees. "Nothing. This undoes nothing. I caught those thoughts, too," Loki said tonelessly. "All I have done remains."

"That… is not exactly true, Loki," Odin corrected gently. "There are deeds you might yet undo."

That attracted Loki's attention and he straightened to frown at Odin curiously.

"You made a choice," Odin told him. "You knew when you put your hand on Gungnir that everything would be dragged in to the light - not only the truth of these horrors of your youth, and not only the truth that we have been wrong about each other for half of your life. But also the truth of your rage and your secrets and those plans which you laid and are yet to come to fruition. You knew I would see them. And you still chose the truth. You chose justice, over terror; light over darkness. This speaks well of your heart."

Loki dropped his gaze, as Sif frowned. What plans had he seen in Loki's mind?

"You wanted us to suffer for our ignorance and neglect, and we shall, my son." Odin's deep voice hoarsened, "Knowing how deeply I failed you, it pierces more sharply than any blade. But innocents should not be made to suffer, not as you suffered, Loki. You see that, I know you do, even if you try to tell yourself they deserve it."

"What do you want of me? To say I am sorry? I am!" Loki flared, upset, as his hands gripped the covers of the bed in tight fists. "But Malekith has already begun. It's too late."

She gasped. Malekith of Svartalfheim? Dark Elves out of ancient legend? "Oh ancestors, Loki, what did you do?" He flinched from the dismay in her voice. They'd reconciled and she'd bedded him, and all the while, he'd known there was a malicious plan with the dark elves underway that he had not revealed.

"It is not too late," Odin reassured him. "You know the plan. You know him. You can stop it. If you will."

Loki drew a ragged breath, pulling his strength back together, and retorted, "My will has nothing to do with it. I am here forever, or have you forgotten the sentence you yourself imposed?"

Odin glanced away, frowning, and admitted, "You and I have both made poor decisions when in a rage, Loki. Mine was to not look more deeply into your reasons, and yours was to attack people who had done you no harm. But I may undo my wrathful decision, by offering a second chance if I wish."

Sif gaped at that. Was he offering to let Loki go?

Odin moved closer, looked down at Loki. Strange how he could sit so close to her and yet seem so distant. "It seems to me, my son, that though we have a better understanding of each other now, we both must learn to trust. You must trust that I believe in you, and I must trust that your anger has diminished and you will choose rightly. The way to do that is by offering you a chance to prove yourself -- I will trust you will leave confinement and unmake this terrible plan with Malekith."

Thirty minutes ago, he would have leaped at the chance to escape, she was certain of that. No matter the strings they had tried to tie to him, and no matter what lies he had to tell to get it, he would have taken the chance and betrayed them all. But now, he looked at his hands and then lifted his gaze to her face then Odin's, uncertainty in every flicker of his eyelashes and twitch of his lips.

"You would do this?" he asked finally. "Release me? Knowing the darkness that even now is a shadow on my heart?"

Odin nodded once. "You are not half as lost as you believe, Loki, or even that you wish you were. But you do not have to be. There was pain and there were misunderstandings and terrible mistakes, but there is love as well. You are still my son, and I wish to make amends. You know that for truth. But… it must be reciprocal; you must want to make amends for your mistakes as well. If you reject this chance and you allow this war to happen when you could stop it, then truly you are lost. It will not be your blood that makes you a monster, it will not be what your family or Tyr did or did not do, it will be you."

Loki understood; his eyes went hooded and thoughtful, and when he glanced at the open front wall, he wanted his freedom. He wanted to take the offer, but he hesitated.

"Loki," she coaxed. "You want to do this. You were not born to be a villain. You have a choice."

"Do I?" he laughed bitterly. "Those stories on Midgard would say otherwise."

"And do you intend to believe stories told by ignorant mortals as if they are a script for you to follow?" she challenged. "If they are all true, then there is a stallion out there somewhere, longing for you."

His eyes snapped to her, as he straightened, offended and incensed, knowing exactly which tale she referenced. Then he remembered that he had once found the story amusing and his lips turned up in a reluctant smile. She folded her hand around his. "We write our own stories, Loki. You can still change the end of yours."

He looked down at their joined hands and lifted her fingers to his lips. "I suppose if this is possible, anything is."

"You're the magician - you do impossible things all the time."

"Malekith is a magician, too, and we are matched in strength," he murmured. "He is a dark spirit, and he sees his chance. He will not turn from this course easily. But," he pulled his hand from hers and lifted his eyes to Odin, saying, "I will do this. To undo what I can."

Odin nodded once. "You have your cleverness and courage, Loki. You will prevail."

She didn't much like the uncertainty that lingered in him as he rose to his feet, fighting leathers re-forming again with a familiar ease. "I should go."

"You will speak to your mother?" Odin asked.

Loki hesitated then gave a shake of his head negative. "There is a letter for her in there." He gestured to the small table, eyes settling on a small golden-covered book, and he added in a softer, more regretful voice, "And … tell her those words I spoke to her last, were false."

"She knows, Loki," Odin reassured him. "But I will give her your letter."

Sif frowned. "How could you have known to write her a letter?"

"I knew I would leave this cell and possibly not ever see her again. You did not expect me to spend forever in here, did you?" he asked with a flash of the old mischievous grin, before it faded away again. "Time is short."

"And Thor?" Odin asked.

"Tell him… He was right. He'll like that. But I need to do this alone." Loki headed for the front but paused at the threshold, as if expecting the barrier to activate against him, and then stepped out to the floor.

She and Odin followed, and Loki faced her again, keeping a careful distance from her as he swallowed hard and murmured to her, "You have always held my heart, Sif, even when I believed it was dead. I would ask you to hold it still, when I must go places where it will not thrive."

"Ah, there's my Loki Silvertongue," she teased but her voice got caught in her throat. She did not like how all his words sounded like farewell. "But how could you think I would not go with you?"

His shock made her smile. "Sif-- I --"

"I do so enjoy surprising you." She glanced at the king, who nodded once in approval. She retrieved her baldric and buckled it again, saying, "I cannot make you promise to return, for I know you will lie. So to make certain you come back, I needs must go with you."

He shook his head in denial. "No, I --"

She checked her sword and thrust it firmly back into the sheath. "You are not going without me."

"Sif, this is my quest to unravel what I have woven, not yours," he objected, but she put a finger across his lips to silence him.

"Did I not promise we would find salvation together?" she asked, more quietly. "You need my sword and my strength, Loki."

He shook his head. "It will be quite dull, I am certain," he said, trying to argue her out of it half-heartedly with such a blatant lie. "Nothing fitting for you to do."

She laughed. "At least you know better than to attempt to dissuade me with danger. Come, you said time was short."

He sighed but gave in, as she knew he would. "Very well."

"Loki. My son," the king said and deliberately moved close enough to clasp Loki's shoulder in a brief squeeze while meeting his gaze. "Heed her. Let her keep you on brighter paths. When you return we shall all of us gather as a family. As it was once so it can be again."

Loki nodded once, but his face held doubt as he turned away, smoothly dislodging the hand. Nor did he say aught to Odin, but he spoke only to her, "If you truly wish to come, hold tight to me and I will take us away."

"Hold you tight? I see this plan." Despite her tease, she stepped close and wrapped her arms around his back beneath his arms and clasped her opposite wrists. Putting her head down, she smelled the leather of his armor at his chest as he murmured under his breath and a frigid cold washed over her skin. She closed her eyes as the pressure increased, a fierce wind blew her hair, and then she felt a sharp, strange pull within as energies seized her and hurled her through the void, to some new place.

They arrived, somewhere. She had to let go of him to balance on uneven footing of chipped obsidian and dark granite. The sky was hidden by storm clouds, and there was only one bare twisted tree in view, clinging to a crack in the broken stones. It felt too warm to be Jotunheim or Niflheim, but other than that, it could be some bleak corner anywhere. It didn't look like the dread home of the ancient, near-mythical Dark Elves.

"So, Svartalfheim?" she said, hand on her hilt as she looked around warily. But it seemed deserted.

"Yes. I thought it best not to arrive in Malekith's throne room. That tends not to be received well," Loki said drily. "We will need to walk. Unless you want me to send you--"

"If you say 'home' I will stab you," she interrupted.

He was resistant, eyes meeting hers and his jaw tight with annoyance and stubborn refusal of what she was offering. "You do not want to be here."

"You should know that unlike some people, I tell the truth. I am with you beause I want to be."

He turned away, folding his arms. "I do not want you here."

By his sharp tone, he was trying to provoke her into an argument, so she gave a sigh. "At least that was honest. Now stop being a petulant child, and let us get on with the quest."

He ignored the insult, maybe did not hear her at all. "You do not understand how dangerous this place is," he murmured. "I barely survived it once before."

"You worry for me?" she asked, curling a hand around his arm to keep him in place as she moved in front of him. "If they attack us, they will find their error soon enough at challenging gods."

A reluctant smile teased at his lips. "Ever fierce Sif…"

"I like how you say my name," she murmured, and she tucked a hand around the back of his neck to bring him down for a kiss.

After, his hand caressed her cheek lightly, as if he needed confirmation she was flesh. "Why did you come? You don't want to see this. How… far I've fallen…" he whispered.

"I know the darkness and rage and desperate unhappiness inside you," she reassured him. "It's driven you to do terrible things. But I know you intend to make it right."

He looked away, gaze seeking the far, broken horizon. "I can't. It's too late."

"We start with what you can. If anyone can keep you on your path out of darkness, I will. You need me."

In tacit admission of that truth, his hands slipped around her body and he held her tightly, his face against her hair. "This will cause so much ruin, laid again at my feet, if I fail to stop it."

"You will not-- we will not," she said. "It will not come to pass, Loki."

"If you had not confronted me, it would," he murmured and glanced at her sidelong, and shook his head at her in rueful appreciation. "And here you are again. Always so brave."

She thought of the secret he'd let slip. It was easy to be brave when she had known the people around her believed in her. How much harder had it been for Loki, when everyone had failed him so profoundly.

Squeezing his hand, she told him, "Whatever comes, I made my choice."

He returned a smile still tinged by uncertainty. "I hope you never regret it." He pulled free of her hand and straightened his posture in determination. "Come, there is no time for sentiment. My ledger drips blood enough already."

He scanned the horizon to get his bearings and set off at a quick pace, heading for a low ridge. She kept watch to the side and their rear guard, knowing the dark elves would have sentries or patrols to find them.

There was much to do: a war to stop, dark deeds to make right, and a heart to renew. But she was there to help him stay strong, and now she understood him so much better than she ever had before.

They had a second chance, and she was determined to make the best of it.

Crossposted from DW There are comment count unavailable comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.
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