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18 November 2014 @ 11:38 am
A Crocus in the Snow, part 15  

Sif was not surprised that Loki did not call for her overnight, especially once she heard that Frigga had stayed with him instead.

The appointed hour was swift to arrive though. Sif dressed carefully in her armor and the scarlet of her house, brushing her hair and pinning the sides formally. But when she looked at her reflection, there was something missing.

Her fingers touched the bare skin of her chest below her collar bones, and she knew what belonged there. She opened her jewelry chest, searching; it was in here somewhere. Once she'd tucked it under her bodice and then, for a long time she'd not worn it at all, but now she would wear it openly and proudly. She fished it out, stringing the delicate gold chain around her neck to support the pendant of the stylized golden horns of Loki's helm embracing the perfect emerald. She smiled to see it there. There was nothing else she owned that would so boldly proclaim her allegiance.

She set her dagger in its sheath at her back, as the chime at her door announced a visitor. She called enter, hoping it would be Loki. But Thor entered instead, gleaming in his formal armor and carrying Mjolnir. They exchanged half-hearted pleasantries, focused on the duel to come, and his eyes dropped to the pendant and he frowned. "That looks like something Loki would have. Did he give it to you last night?"

"At winterfest, years ago, when I was still golden haired." She hesitated and then thought it was stupid to keep this secret now. There was no point, especially when Thor knew her feelings for Loki already. So she added, "When we were lovers."

"Then?" he blinked in shock then he grinned. "So Volstagg wins the wager after all! He always believed you two were sneaking off together."

"There was a wager on my relationship with Loki?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at Thor dangerously.

Thor said quickly, "It was just between us. For fun, Sif. But why did you keep it a secret? From your friends? Did he insist on the secrecy?"

"I did." In hindsight she wished she'd done differently, now knowing the results, but the impulse had been right. She answered, "I thought people would believe that was how I earned my place."

"But no one would believe that, with your prowess," he said, frowning.

She wanted to laugh, and had a moment's sympathy for Loki's impatience with Thor, because Thor had no idea. People had accused her - not to her face, but plenty behind her back - of sleeping with either or both of the brothers anyway. Eventually she had proved them all wrong, but the whispers had taken a long time to fade. "I was angry that he didn't try to understand why I wanted it kept private, and of course, I never understood why such a secret made him so resentful. That's what what we fought over until it ended." She clasped the stone between her fingers, thinking of what had followed that ending: he had retaliated by cursing her hair, he'd apologized with the flowers, and she'd scattered the broken stems in front of his door to reject his apology. After that, he'd made his hurt and anger clear by seducing everyone who took his fancy, so she would know he didn't need her. She had thrown this jewel into the bottom of her jewelry casket, thinking she would one day find the perfectly cruel way to give it back to him. Luckily she hadn't, so now it could be a symbol of their return together.

"Oh," Thor said, nodding in greater understanding of what had truly happened. And his blue eyes, usually so guileless and bright, looked at her and read more deeply than she expected. "Yet you loved him."

She nodded, her heart aching at the memory of how she'd pretended she didn't. "We were both young and stupid," she said. "I told myself it was better, because he was becoming a sorcerer, and sorcerers had no honor. Because… Tyr said so." Her fingers went cold and numb. Tyr had been the one who had always suggested that true warriors had no use for magic, despite the fact that both king and queen were themselves skilled practitioners. "Oh, ancestors, he poisoned me against Loki, and I never realized…. All these years, Thor. How could someone be so hateful?"

"It surpasses my understanding," Thor agreed. His expression took on a grimmer case, as he gave oath. "But today he will die, Sif. Rules and honor be damned. I will give up the throne, I will give up Asgard, before I let that dog hurt my brother again."

She gripped his arm. "I know, and I agree. But we need to let Loki fight him, Thor."

He nodded, reluctantly, but she was glad he agreed at all. "Yes. I know. My mother is helping him arm, and we will meet them at the northern side."

"Then, shall we?" she invited.

They headed for the arena.

Loki felt calm as he waited. He wasn't wearing anything special, just his ordinary combat gear, and four daggers on him. Frigga had wanted him to have more but he saw no point of that - the daggers weren't going to disappear from the ground if he dropped them so he could pick them up again, if necessary. And if he couldn't kill Tyr with four, he doubted six would help. But they were all sharp and strong, and they were all his, perfectly balanced to his hand.

He stood in the northern waiting area, able to see the top of Tyr's head and that of whatever fool he'd gotten to be his second on the opposite end of the oval arena. The arena itself was walled all around, except for the two entrances, and the king's box was on the western side, but still empty.

The rest of it was surrounded by spectator benches. In theory they were for the witnesses to the duel, but in the old days, duels had been for entertainment and included pageantry, even if it was deadly serious for the combatants. Spectators filed in slowly, but seemd unsure what to do, or how to react to the idea of a duel to the death between a prince of the Realm and the great warrior who had done disgusting things to that prince as a child.

The reminder turned his stomach and he pushed it away. He shouldn't have revealed it. He should have kept his mouth shut and kept the secret, and burnt Tyr to ash with magic from afar. Honor was a stupid concept, and he was a stupid fool for thinking this duel would prove anything. But he was here and he would do it, and maybe he could finally sleep well once Tyr was dead.

Thor and Sif arrived, resplendent in their armor, and Loki noted the pendant with a sudden warmth in his chest. "You… still have it?" he asked, cursing the little hitch in his voice. He'd been sure she'd thrown it in the river.

She nodded once then made herself smile. "You owe me matching earrings for it."

"Is that my incentive? I can't get killed, because I owe you matching earrings?" he teased.

"No, your incentive is that I'll give you something you like, very much," she leaned into him and feathered her lips across his. "The sooner you kill him and the less hurt you are, the quicker I'll give it to you."

"Ah, well, I was planning on dying until you came up with that vague promise," he retorted dryly, and she elbowed him in the ribs hard.

"Don't you dare jest about that."

"Do you have a plan, Loki?" Thor asked.

The answer to that was no. There was no plan to be made, other than kill Tyr and not get killed himself. He didn't intend to use seiðr; this would happen properly or it had no meaning at all. "Of course. Step one: kill him."

"That's it?" Thor asked. "Your plans are usually more elaborate than that."

Loki rolled his eyes. "I did consider going to Niflheim and waking Ymir to kill him for me, but that seemed a bit much."

He saw Sif exchange a look with Frigga, both dismayed by his levity, and his mother stepped forward, "I must go to the box, Loki, before we begin. Remember what we spoke of last night."

"Of course." He tapped the hilt of his dagger which was visible at his side. He intended to take her advice.

"Be careful," she told him. "Beware of treachery."

"His second is no doubt telling him exactly the same thing. He is facing me, after all, and we all know my reputation," Loki said dryly, but repented of his jest when he saw Frigga look pained. He seized Frigga's hand in his. "It will be well, Mother. Please do not worry for me."

"How can I not, sweetheart?" she told him, and kissed his cheek. Then looked into his eyes, and in the voice of the queen, not his mother, she commanded, "Destroy him."

Watching her go, all the light went with her, as the truth hit him that this was going to happen and there was nothing he could do to change it. But cursing his impetuous decision wasn't going to help. Dreading the fight wasn't going to help. He just had to do it.

Thor's hand closed on his shoulder. "He will be slower than Malekith was but stronger. He will keep the shield unless you can detach it from his stump."

"Knife him in the arm or shoulder," Sif advised. "The shield won't matter if he can't wield it."

Thankfully, the great horns blew announcing the king's arrival and ended the tide of advice. Loki's insides tightened up with anxiety and anticipation, and his eyes lifted to the royal box, now lit by the bright rays of the rising sun.

Odin, escorting Frigga, entered as the entire gathering rose to their feet. He handed Frigga to her chair and gestured the audience to be seated, which they did with a rustle of clothing and a few whispers.

Once quiet had fallen again, he gripped Gungnir tightly and announced, "The combatants are bound only by three rules: One, once the doors close, only one may leave alive. Two, no one may interfere. Interference, by giving a combatant aid, will be punished severely. Three, neither may use seiðr."

His head turned to look at Loki, his face stern and unreadable, but he hesitated long enough to make his dislike for this plain, before he raised his other hand. "It begins."

Suddenly aware that this might be his last chance, Loki grabbed Sif's arms to confess urgently, "I have always loved you." He bent his head to press a kiss to her lips, to take that with him, and then spun around, as the door to the arena swung open.

"Loki!" Sif exclaimed behind him, and the shock in her voice made him smile as he walked forward through the opening.

On the far side, Tyr likewise was revealed as his door opened, too. His longer hair was bound back, and he was wearing his gold-chased armor. As expected he carried his sword in one hand and his shield attached to his other arm.

As soon as Loki stood in the bare dirt of the arena floor, the door closed with a resounding boom behind him.

There was now only one path, as he'd always known there would be. Only one ending.

As he moved toward the center, time seemed to melt away. Nothing else existed but that hated face before him. He felt cold, but resolute: he would not be drawn into a long fight, he would not listen to anything Tyr said, and he would not remember the past or drown in his memories.

He drew his dagger and held it in his right hand. He was ready.

As soon as the door shut behind Loki, Sif took off for the steps to climb into the viewing area. Thor followed her, his heavier tread striding to join her at the wall.

Loki held one of his daggers, while Tyr held his sword in his hand and had his shield arm with the other. The fight seemed unbalanced already, with Tyr more heavily armed and armored than Loki. Not throwing his dagger, since Tyr could easily deflect it with his shield, Loki started to circle him to look for an opening.

Tyr laughed. "One little knife? Are you here to fight or chop your meat for dinner?"

Sif started, surprised that his voice reached her ears so easily. There must be amplification of the sounds of the fight. She exchanged a glance with Thor, uneasy. It was bad enough to contemplate what terrible things Tyr might say to Loki, but to be able to hear them?

"I'm not here to fight," Loki countered. "I'm here to kill you."

"You sure, creature? You'll end up on your knees like you did before," Tyr taunted.

Temper provoked, Loki rushed in. At first, Tyr could only give ground to escape as Loki got inside his reach, and then he counter-attacked, sword swinging in sharp precise arcs, with his shield now catching Loki's dagger and forcing him back.

Sif clenched her hands to tight fists, reminding herself that she couldn't help. Loki disengaged and pulled a second dagger from beneath his coat for his other hand, and wasted no words this time as he resumed his attack.

For a moment, Sif forgot that he was fighting for his life, and watched in appreciation of the artistry. They fought in different styles, but both with an urgent grace. This fight was beautiful and savage in its glory, especially when Loki's reverse strike grazed ribs and Tyr was thrown in a rage by Loki taking first blood.

They parted again, Tyr taunting, "You fight like a woman."

But Loki returned his gaze and smiled slightly. "Thank you."

"You think that a compliment?" Tyr feinted left, with a quick jab, but Loki wasn't fooled, slipping underneath the strike and dancing back.

"Have you seen Lady Sif fight? Or my mother?" Loki returned.

"The monstrous thing that spawned you, could fight? I doubt that, when it was so easy to split them open. We should have exterminated them all."

Loki froze, daggers stilled. "I am not you," Loki spat at him, infuriated. "I will not be you." He hurled one of his daggers at Tyr's eye, and when Tyr ducked to avoid it, Loki's next blade was darting for his throat. Their blades clashed with ringing metal.

Loki was slippery and fast, his style something completely different from what Sif practiced. He kept in motion, hard for Tyr to pin down, daggers always moving and feet used as much as the daggers, to free himself from getting caught with his shorter reach.

Sif's hand clenched into fists with excitement as Tyr's sword went flying from his hand into the dirt, and Loki's left arm bound Tyr's shield arm. Loki reached for another dagger, but Tyr slammed his hand into Loki's side.

She thought Tyr had hit him with his hand only, to shove him off, and they spun apart from each other. There was something pinning Loki's coat, pinching it inward on his side. Tyr had stabbed him with some sort of small knife.

"Something bothering you, creature?" Tyr taunted.

"This?" Loki pulled the blade out of his side and dropped it to the ground with a sneer. "You think this is going to do anything?"

"You are weak," Tyr returned, hopping backward out of Loki's reach and reacquiring his sword. "You were weak then, you are now."

"I am not the child I was, Tyr. You have no power over me now."

"No?" Tyr rushed in, sword moving swiftly, catching Loki's counter blows on his shield and sending another of his daggers flying. Loki's strikes seemed slowed, especially as Tyr's sword was like lightning. Her worry increased when Tyr used his strength to power through when Loki caught the sword blade on his own smaller one, forcing Loki to have to add his other dagger and arm to halt the strike.

"Watch the shield, watch the shield," she murmured under her breath, because Tyr didn't have another hand, but he did have a shield strapped to his other arm and he was using it both as shield and as bludgeon.

As he did this time, striking a solid blow with it, right into Loki's chest throwing him onto his back in the dirt.

"No!" the scream escaped her lips. "Loki!"

He rolled and was coiled to flip back to his feet, but Tyr leaped the intervening distance to slam both boots against his chest, sending him back into the dirt again. Then he kicked Loki in the head, pulling a cry from the audience, and then his boot landed on Loki's hand. Tyr ground his foot down until Loki cried out. "Let go, beast. Let go of the dagger. Now get up."

Slowly Loki pushed himself up. Something was wrong with him, Sif realized, he was moving as if it was a struggle.

"Ah yes, on your knees, where you belong, creature," Tyr snarled, and his sword blade rested against the side of Loki's neck.

"LOKI!" Thor yelled and started a step towards them, intending to jump the wall and go to his aid. But Sif clutched his bicep in both hands and held him.

"No, don't."

"Sif- I have to-"

"Wait," She urged him, not taking her eyes from Loki down below. She was sick was worry, but still something in her said they couldn't interfere. Not just because of the rules, but because Loki would never forgive them if they didn't give him a chance to finish it. "He's not done, Thor."

It certainly seemed that he was. Loki was on his knees, his right hand hanging limp, two fingers noticeably bent the wrong way. Tyr threw his sword down behind him in the dirt, to grab Loki's hair and pull it back harshly. "Did you forget all your training?" He leaned close and his whisper was barely audible, "Did you crawl into Thor's bed after me? Is that why he defends you? Are you his whore?"

Thor yelled in offended rage, fist tight on Mjolnir's handle. He probably would have thrown the hammer and killed Tyr right there, except… the air grew suddenly chill as if they stood in Jotunheim, not Asgard. Thor's gaze met hers in sudden confusion but also hope.

Tyr didn't notice, kept up his taunting on his helpless prisoner. "How much of your reputation for fucking anything that moves is true? How much is just a … rumor?" His grin widened. "You made it so easy, creature. I barely had to do more than whisper in a few places, to suggest that you were whoring yourself in the taverns." He chuckled once, lowly. "Hell, they even bought the horse story and that one was just a rude jest… "

Sif's mouth dropped open. She'd always thought it was exaggerated but mostly true, that Loki had gone trawling around the city after they'd broken up. She had never thought it could be a malicious rumor spread by his enemy.

Loki's eyes were pale, but vacant, as if all the words had pushed him somewhere deep inside himself. She wasn't sure he heard anything.

Tyr was too pleased with his victory, having Loki kneeling before him, weaponless and his throat bared.

Tyr let go of his hair and wrapped his hand around Loki's throat, shield hand held at his side. Loki didn't seem to be breathing and his eyes closed, as he let Tyr prepare to strangle him or break his neck. Sif held her own breath, wondering what he was waiting for.

"I remember how this throat felt," Tyr murmured with a strange, sick wistful tone. "I'd like to feel it again…"

Loki's eyes flicked open, suddenly scarlet, and he hissed in rage, "Never."

He lunged upward, left hand thrusting upward. Something glinted briefly in the light, as he slammed his hand against Tyr's upper abdomen.

The blade emerged through the middle of his back - shining and clear as pure crystal. She gasped -- it was ice. Loki had grabbed his Jotunn power and used it to form a Frost Giant weapon.

Tyr tried to bring around his shield, but the move was too uncoordinated, and Loki blocked it on his shoulder. Loki climbed to his feet, levering himself on the blade he had through Tyr. His face and hands now showed the blue-grey of Jotunn skin, for all to see, and he grinned viciously, showing his teeth when Tyr shrieked in terror.

"You wanted to see, Tyr. Now you do," Loki whispered. "I am done with you and what you made me do."

He left the blade there, impaling Tyr, whiel he stepped back a pace, as Tyr staggered. "Magic," Tyr accused him hoarsely. "You cheated."

"This isn't seiðr. This is an innate power of creatures." Loki flung the word back in Tyr's face and formed another blade in his hand. "See you in Hel."

So fast Tyr couldn't try to stop him, Loki swept the ice blade in his hand around, clenching his jaw as he mustered all the strength he had left. Sif would never have believed ice would be sharp or hard enough to work, but it did, cleaving Tyr's head from his neck.

The body dropped to the ground, blood spattering, and Loki watched, his face blank, not the gloating Sif might have expected.

The ice halberd dropped from his hand and shattered and Frost Giant skin tone faded back into his usual appearance. Loki blinked the red from his eyes, but otherwise seemed stunned by what he'd done, unmoving.

Thor let out a cheer, joined by the rest of the audience into a thunderous roar. Sif didn't join in, and her eyes met Frigga's across the space between, both feeling the same unease that Loki was so still.

But when she saw him sway, Sif vaulted the railing to drop down to the arena level and rushed to him. "Loki?"

His face was too pale, and his voice was soft, even as he didn't look away from the corpse, "I thought I would feel… something. Pleasure. Relief. Satisfaction. Something. I don't-- I don't feel anything."

"You can feel it later," Sif reassured him and took his unhurt hand in hers. His skin was still cold, even though the air had warmed. "You're in shock. Come away from this place. We need to tend your hand."

He tried to follow her, but his knees folded on the first step and he collapsed. "Loki!" she exclaimed and was too late to catch him as he slammed face-first into the dirt. "Loki!"

She helped him roll over and lifted his torso and head up awkwardly onto her knees. His good hand went to his ribs where he'd been stabbed by the little knife, gasping. "Burns. But clever," he murmured and slumped against her. "Poison. That was why he waited…"

"Oh, ancestors!" She raised her head to shout to Frigga and the king. "He's been poisoned!"

Loki pawed at her with his bloodied hand gracelessly, as if his fingers were numb. "No, Sif… let it... better to let go," he whispered and his eyelids sank shut.

"No! Don't you dare!" She slapped his cheek so his eyes opened again. "Stay with me."

"Why?" he asked.

She knew in that moment only the truth would do, not something to be held back and kept secret. Hadn't they suffered for secrets long enough? She leaned close, her eyes holding his and filling with tears at the thought that Tyr might take him away after all. "Because… because I love you, too. Don't leave me."

His icy fingers trembled against the skin of the back of her hand and his chest was already straining for breath. "But… I always make you cry…"

She grabbed his hand as it fell away from her. "Then make me cry for joy… not sorrow… Don't leave me again."

She didn't know if he heard her, as his eyes closed again and slapping his cheek didn't open them this time. The panting breaths faltered into pained wheezes.

"Loki!" Thor threw himself to Loki's other side, arm sliding beneath his shoulders to lift Loki against his chest. "No, no, little brother, you must not let go this time… I have you, don't let go," he pleaded in a whisper, against Loki's hair.

"Thor, pick him up. He needs to go to Eir right away," Frigga ordered and Sif's tear-blurred eyes looked up to find the queen, pale but controlled, standing above them.

Sif reflexively paused for Loki's complaint about being carried by his brother - something he despised, and would rather walk with his innards spilling out if he possibly could. But there was no objection, and little sound at all.

Thor scooped Loki in both arms and Sif helped steady him as he rose to his feet. Loki's head hung backward over one arm, his skin translucent as ice and tightening, so his cheeks turned gaunt. Sif moved his head to rest against Thor's shoulder and held her hand above his face to confirm her fear that he'd stopped breathing.

"Hurry, children," Frigga coaxed. She rested a hand on Loki's forehead, twining some spell about him. "There is little time."

Sif swooped down to pick up the small knife between two fingers, careful not to touch the blade.

They all hurried, Thor nearly running, rushing through the corridors to reach the healer's. Word had already gone ahead of them, and Eir came to meet them with a patient bed.

"Place him here," the healer ordered, and as Thor laid Loki down on it. "Do we know what poison it was?"

"A paralytic," Frigga said.

"With this," Sif held up the knife. "It was on the blade."

"Set it there," Eir told her, indicating a small dish held by an assistant. "We will analyze it. Wait here."

Then, the healing staff and the floating bed passed through the double doors and were gone.

Sif watched the doors a moment longer, hoping Eir would come back and report that it had been a bad jest of Loki's and he was sitting up, perfectly fine after all. But when that didn't happen, she turned her eyes reluctantly away.

Both Frigga and Thor's faces held the same shocked expression, matching what she felt. Loki had won; it was unfair and wrong that Tyr had turned that against him.

"He will be well," Thor declared, his voice sounding too loud in the empty hall.

"Of course," Frigga said hollowly. Her hands were clasped before her, fingers sliding together in a restless anxious gesture. "We will hold onto hope."

Sif had little use for empty hope, though, preferring to face problems head-on. "He wasn't breathing."

"I put him deeply unconscious, to slow the toxin's spread," Frigga told her. She inhaled a shaky breath. "It should give him more time for Eir to identify the poison and administer the antidote."

Which sounded promising, except he had stopped breathing before the queen had touched him. They were hardy people, capable of surviving much, but they could still die.

"He holds his Aesir shape with his innate power," Frigga murmured. "I believe he will shift back at death. So he still lives, Sif. He will return to us."

Since Sif had believed the queen foolishly clinging to hope when Loki had fallen off the Bifrost before and Frigga had been proved right, Sif tried to believe her this time as well. If Loki could cling to life - if he wanted to cling to life -- she would cling to hope.

It was quiet here and beautiful. The grass was waist-high, perfect for his hand to smooth along the top as he walked, and the sky was indigo with a few white puffs of clouds that drifted in the light breeze. Loki turned but saw the land continued to be this same field as far as he could see. There were no trees or distant mountains, only fields of golden grass and blue sky above. That discovery was interesting, but not alarming. It seemed he had to walk, so he did.

He turned to look behind, with the fleeting idea that he had left something there. But there was nothing there, only the trail he had left through the grass. He should walk forward again. The grass felt pleasant brushing along his palm, and he was content to walk.

The field changed, and he arrived where he knew he was supposed to go. It should have been sudden, since he hadn't noticed it before, but he wasn't surprised. Somehow it had always been there. He didn't question it.

A vast hall towered ahead of him, with windows taller than he was and a peaked roof of gold. Within, he could hear the sounds of a feast - music and the roar of laughter drifting out of the hall.

There were three shallow steps leading up to the massive golden doors that stood open. He climbed them and found a black wolf at the top. The wolf was huge, or Loki was smaller. Was he a boy again?

The wolf was Fenrir, muzzle open with tongue lolling out in a grin.

"Fenrir!" He threw his arms around Fenrir's neck and hugged him tightly, while Fenrir squirmed and wriggled, huge paws on his chest trying to knock him down. "Oh, Fenrir, I missed you," he whispered.

Fenrir got in a good lick of the entire left side of his face, and his tail beat at Loki's legs with excitement.

Loki sank his fingers into the thick black fur to scratch Fenrir's chest vigorously. "Have you come to take me inside, Fenrir? I think that's where I'm supposed to go."

Hand on the scruff of Fenrir's neck, he started for the doors to enter the hall. But Fenrir jumped around and got in front of Loki. Stopping, Loki tried to go around, but Fenrir moved in front of him to block the way as if this was some sort of game.

"Fenrir, I'm supposed to go in there! We can play later, boy." He scratched Fenrir's ears though his gaze lifted to look inside the doors. Strangely, although the doors were right there, only steps away and stood open, he could barely see what lay on the other side. A golden haze blocked the view, leaving an impression of laughter and song drifting on the air.

Loki realized that he didn't remember what had brought him here, but the gap didn't alarm him. It was… expected. He felt that he should be more frightened, but he wasn't, not with Fenrir here. "I know what this place is, Fenrir. We have all the time in the universe. It'll be you and me for always."

He glanced down at Fenrir. "Do you suppose Laufey's in there? This doesn't seem like a place the Frost Giants would like, but maybe everyone sees something different. Maybe I'm dreaming… Well, I might as well find out. Come on."

He tried to go to the doors but Fenrir got in his way again. He barked and his jaws snapped in front of Loki's face, to make the point that Loki was not to go closer.

Loki stepped back. "You don't want me to go in. You want me to wait."

Fenrir sat down in front of the open door, his eyes alert and determined for any attempt by Loki to try to pass him. It meant something, and Loki was not about to argue with his protector.

Loki smiled and held up his hands, sinking to his knees. "Fine, Fenrir. I'll wait. You let me know when it's time, all right?"

Fenrir licked his face again and lay down across the threshold. Loki scooted back to lean against Fenrir's side. It was comfortable there, feeling Fenrir's chest rise with each breath beneath him. Loki looked out at the golden fields that stretched out to the horizon, and the sight should have felt lonely, but with Fenrir beside him, he felt content.

He smoothed the fur at the top of Fenrir's head and ears, soothing himself. His eyes drifted closed, and he slumped down to curl up against Fenrir's warm, furry bulk.

He was safe. He could sleep.