"Mumma, wanna hear Waven," Nari lisped, clutching at her skirts, bright blue eyes peering up at her expectantly. Sigrid smiled, scooping him up into her arms, already having Vali tucked up against her. Both boys curled up on her, Vali with his thumb in his mouth, Nari with his chubby fingers twirling some of his mother's hair.
Nearly five years had come and gone. At least she had the twins. At least a part of him still lived.
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door."
Sigrid heard a faint tapping but ignored it, knowing one of the boys was no doubt trying to add some dramatic flair.
"'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door-
Only this and nothing more'".
She continued speaking, the boys enrapt with the poem, chirping out "Lenore!" which always made her laugh. She kept hearing that same tapping, but she paid it no heed, focused too much on entertaining the boys.
"Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more."
She heard strange fluttering and frowned, glancing over to see that the window had been left open, which she didn't recall doing. She used her seidr to shut it, and cuddled the boys closer as she continued.
"Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
'Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, 'art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the Raven-"
The boys shrieked at the sound of a male voice echoing around the room. Sigrid clutched them close, feeling their little hearts racing, glancing around edgily, wondering if they were maybe pulling an elaborate trick on her. But their fright seemed genuine, their absorption in the tale derailed, their tiny hands clutching at her clothes, and she realised why they were so frightened when she saw a raven, too large to be of Midgard, and yet not a raven she was familiar with. It rivalled the size of Odin's pet ravens (no doubt now lost to the ravages of time and Ragnarok). It was a beautiful bird, perched upon the mantlepiece staring at the three of them intently.
She slowly stood up, the boys latching onto her legs. She reached out towards the raven, and it vanished in a puff of smoke. Nari started crying, and Vali tried his best to comfort his brother. "Finish the poem?" Vali suggested. And so they got settled back down and Sigrid continued with the poem, slowly coaxing Nari out of his frightened state. Perhaps one of them had done an illusion involuntarily, she wasn't about to question them about it. She wanted them to settle down first.
"And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!"
Once she had finished with the poem, she took them both upstairs, carrying them because, if one was to go by Midgardian standards, they would be barely two or three, because of their Vanir and Jotun heritage. Age worked differently for the Vanir and Jotnar, they were much longer lived than the Midgardians. Still, her boys were clever, and they could walk and talk, and they liked playing outside and gardening with her, and listening to her read to them or sing to them. They were the lights of her life.
So she carried them up to bed and made sure they went to the toilet and cleaned their teeth before tucking them in. The boys had separate beds, but sometimes they liked sharing a bed, and so she tucked them into Vali's bed, kissed their foreheads, left a nightlight on (an orb of her golden light which would dim as the night progressed), before bidding them goodnight and closing the bedroom door.
A few hours later she retreated upstairs to bed, having grown weary from reading downstairs. She noticed the light spilling out from under the door of the twins' room and frowned. Usually the nightlight was depleted by now. Something wasn't right.
She silently walked up to the door and listened, but couldn't hear anything. She could sense some sort of enchantment, however, and that set her on edge. Slowly, she eased the door open and peered inside, letting the door swing wide open when she saw her two boys cuddled up with a dark haired, pale faced man who appeared to be reading them a bedtime story, despite the fact it was coming up to eleven at night and they had been tucked in hours ago.
Apparently, the story was coming to an end, his voice sonorous and so achingly nostalgic it nearly made her cry. "In time, the littlest knight and the princess had seven children who loved taking rides on the dragon's back. Of course, they lived happily ever after. The End." He closed the book and set it back on the bedside table where it had originally been placed. "What a lovely little story that was. Did you enjoy it, boys?"
"Yes, daddy," Vali whispered sleepily, while Nari merely mumbled his response, already drooling in his barely awake state. "Did you like mummy telling us about the Raven? She knows it off by heart."
"Iss my favourite..." Nari slurred, face squashed against the man's broad chest.
"I enjoyed her rendition very much," he said, letting his gaze linger on the blonde woman, who was standing in the doorway staring at him in dazed shock and disbelief. "I'm sorry for scaring you, boys," he said, turning first to Nari and then to Vali, who smiled at him.
"We forgot that you were coming today. We were just really into the story."
"Nearly wet my pants," Nari whispered, making his brother giggle. "You staying now?"
"I wouldn't be anywhere else, little one." He looked at Sigrid again, and then whispered something to the boys, who both got up, Nari nearly falling over, Vali dragging his large stuffed toy lion with him as they paraded past their mother and into her bedroom.
Loki got up and quickly grabbed her, letting her fall into his arms as she started crying and shaking, kissing the top of her head, stroking her hair, rubbing her back, holding her as close as he possibly could without suffocating her. "You've been so brave," he cooed, holding her head in his hands and giving her a soft smile which she hesitantly returned albeit a sight more tremulous than his. "I'm so proud of you. You've done such a wonderful job with the boys. I'm so sorry I wasn't here to help. It pains me to think that I missed out on bonding with them right from the start of their precious lives. Just know that I am here now, you are not alone anymore, I am here."
"I thought you were dead," she whispered out, tears rolling down her face in torrents.
"I was." Loki kissed some of her tears away. "I will explain everything in the morning. You need sleep, my little dove. Come, let's get you ready for bed."
He took her to the bathroom and prepared a bath for her, fetching some clean nightclothes for her to wear, smiling at the innocent image of the twins curled up on the big bed together, the large lion toy abandoned at the end of the bed. He tucked them both in and kissed their little faces, and then returned to his beloved, who was silently crying on the bathroom floor.
"They- they said - you - were that raven?" she managed to stammer out.
"Yes." Loki turned the bath taps off and proceeded to start undressing her, taking his time to ease her out of her clothes. "I have been visiting the boys for a few weeks as a raven. It was the only form I could take while I regained enough strength to find my way here. Tonight was the night we had decided to bring... to bring me home."
"Is that why... Nari wanted the... poem..."
"No. I think they forgot, actually. I didn't mean to frighten them." Loki confessed. He finished removing her clothes and lifted her up, setting her down gently into the warm soothing water. He stripped his own clothes off and slipped in behind her, nearly crying himself when his bare skin touched hers for the first time in far too long.
"Oh my darling," he whispered in her ear, listening to her sniffling as she tried to stop herself from crying again, "I have missed this. I have missed you. And the boys... they are... wonderful boys."
They stayed in the bath together for a while, and once the water began to grow cold, Loki eased her out of the tub and dried her with a large, fluffy, warm towel. He pulled the plug out lest he wake up in the morning to find a dead boy in the bath (he shuddered at the thought), and then helped her get dressed, getting dressed into soft silken trousers he had once worn back during his princely days on Asgard while she cleaned her teeth and brushed her hair. She braided her hair as he finished sorting himself out for bed, and then took his hand and let him lead her to the master bedroom.
The twins were awake, sitting up waiting for them, with Nari latching onto Sigrid and Vali latching onto Loki. They climbed into bed, the twins nestled between them. Loki gazed at his beloved, at her exhausted features, and leaned over and kissed her on the lips. "I love you," he said softly.
He laughed when Vali mumbled, "Love you too."
"I love you all very much," Loki amended, letting his eyes drift shut, more at peace than he had been in his entire life.