That pain in your heart dulls when you later see Se’risa dressed in trousers and a tunic, her servant’s smock folded neatly on your bed.
“Mistress Aleene says I don't have to work for her anymore and that Queen Frigga granted me permission to go to school with the noble kids.”
She's unhappy, obvious in the way her bottom lip pouts. She fights her tears and loses when you nod, hiding your bare wrist from her behind your back.
“Princess! Please don't get in trouble for me!”
Your heart breaks when she bows, hand over her heart mimicking what you did for Loki. She’s too young for such things, you think, swearing loyalty or fealty. “Please! Don't trouble yourself for me. I'm just a dirty servant!”
“Oh ‘Risa please don't do that.”
If you had the strength you would have lifted her from the floor into your arms, but after a day’s worth of business and errands you can barely keep upright.
Still, you try. Kneeling and putting her back on her feet so the two of you are face to face.
“You aren't a servant anymore, you hear me? You’re not a servant. You’re a princess just like me.”
“I am not! You are the princess and princesses shouldn’t waste their time or their…”
Se’risa squirms in your embrace to pull at your arm. She holds it between you, staring at your naked wrist like a murder weapon, eyes welling with tears. “Princesses shouldn’t waste their precious things on dirty servants!”
You laugh, it’s your first reaction. Nothing’s funny, you’re just amused she found out so quickly. Or Aleene purposefully told the girl to inflict unnecessary damage. But Se’risa’s face breaks when you laugh, possibly mistaking it as directed at her. Damage control.
“That’s what you’re worried about? A silly bracelet? Do you know how many of these I have?”
One. Only one.
“One for every day of the week. Two for holidays. Three for feast days.”
Se’Risa sniffs. “You’re lying.”
You are, Loki thinks, secreted behind the semi-closed door to your room. And a poor one at that.
He came here after his meeting with his mother. He hadn’t settled on what exactly his intentions were, unable to choose between kissing or annoying you senseless, both scratching the same (well not exactly the same) primal itch in his brain.
He hesitates when he hears the child's blubbering, stopping long enough to go from hesitation to eavesdropping.
He's seen the sum total of the jewels you escaped with. You’re no where close to having something different for every day of the week. And aside from your crown, that bracelet was your finest piece.
“No it's true.” You're too deep in this hole so you keep digging, hoping to find another escape. “One for every day. So it's nothing, especially when compared to you. I have so many bracelets, they mean nothing, and I have only one you, so you mean everything.”
You dab her eyes with your sleeve. “Chin up. Princesses don't stare at the floor, okay?”
Se’risa perks instantly, beads clinking softly with the movement.
“Before I go to lessons tomorrow will you help me with my hair? And I can pick out your bracelet for the day?”
Your heart drops, she just won’t let it go. So you double down, hoping the hole you’re digging won’t cave in on top of you. “Of course.”
You don't hear Loki’s soft chuckle from outside your door, nor hear him tell a servant to bring you to his chambers in hour. You're still focused on what tale you're going to tell this girl in the morning, torn between admitting the truth and faking illness as an excuse to avoid getting dressed for the day. Before you have the chance to decide, Loki’s servant knocks.
“My Lady, Lord Loki requests your presence.”
Se’risa makes a face. “I don't like him. He says mean things.”
“He does, but they don't hurt when he says them.”
“Is it because you like him?”
You clear your throat hoping to avoid answering but the girl did witness you kissing him so…
“No, it's because when he says them he doesn't make the words hurt. If he ever does, trust me I'll let him know.”
“But you do like him?”
Oh Hel. You don't even know exactly why, how are you going to explain that to a child?
“I'll tell you when I return.”
Se’risa sneers, makes a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. “Fine.”
If your room is palatial by your admittedly narrow standards, then Loki’s rooms span the length and breadth of the world. You could quarter your Cavalry here with their horses and half the palace guard alongside.
The servant leads you down corridors of marble and stone into a sitting room set with dinner for two.
A small round table, lit with crystal candelabras. The plates are gold, covered with domes to keep the food under them warm. A decanter of wine sits ready to pour, two cut crystal glasses ready to receive.
The silverware is actual silver, not that you could tell but it's a damn good contextual guess. You count the knives again wondering why there's a need for more than one before you…
Your hand strikes without thinking.
Your father's dagger! He must have left it out in a moments inattentiveness and forgotten it. You snatch for it, ready to claim victory but your hand slides right through it.
“Shame on you. I'm not sure if I'm amused at your gullibility or offended that you think I'm that stupid.”
He appears in smoke as the dagger disappears into it. His magic smells like the threat of rain on a summer night, when lighting strikes but no water falls. Thor is the Thunder Prince, he sounds the noise that makes the Heavens shake. But Loki is the flash that comes just before, the one you don’t expect, the one that strikes you dead before you even hear thunder’s boom.
You're reminded, you really never forgot, how frightening he could be. But you've never been afraid of him. And you aren't now. He is deadly fearsome but has never once made you feel afraid.
He's dressed well. Black and green sleeveless tunic, long enough to touch the floor draped over a linen shirt with simple black trousers.
You look extremely pathetic by comparison. Leather trousers and a modest linen shirt. You’re dressed for riding not a dinner with a prince.
“Had I known you were inviting me to dinner, I would have dressed better.”
“Next time then, Princess.”
“Next time how about you ask first?”
You’re quick. He loves it. You don’t have to think, you respond. You two trade wit seamlessly.
“Ahh, shall I present myself to your guardian and beg her permission?” He clasps his hands in mock supplication. “Please will you let your mistress come out and play?”
“She'd only tell you no.”
“So the foal doesn't like me hmm?”
“It's precisely because you call her that, that she doesn't. You know her name”
“I prefer yours, Princess.”
He wins this round, but only because you let him, desiring to let the sound of your name like that sink into your ears, uninterrupted by your witty retort.
“Well I’m here, my Lord.”
He escorts you to your table for two, pulls out your chair, pours your wine.
“I half expected this plate to be full of hay you know,” It’s not. It’s some delicious roast boar.
“If this is not to your liking I’m sure we can find you sweetgrass in the stables.”
He’s surprised when your eyes light up, wide and wonder-filled. “You’re people don’t really eat--?”
“No! Half-wit. The stables. Walking is overrated anyway. Put me on a horse and I’ll be just fine. Four pairs of legs are better than two.”
“You aren’t strong enough for it.”
It’s not a question, he knows. He can tell by looking at you.
“I know. But, I will be.”
After dinner, he leads you from the sitting room, past overstuffed chairs and overstuffed bookshelves and into his inner chambers. There’s an armor stand against a far wall, a great gold and horned helm sitting atop it. Staves and scepters lean against the walls. Weapons of very type and shape lay strewn about the floor. He’s carved a very narrow empty space, pushed back the creeping horde of his things to make space enough to navigate through.
His trinkets are fascinating, he’s like a magpie, travelling out among the lands and bringing back the best treasures of the realm.
This is Loki’s heart, you realize. This place. You’re here in his heart and it beats with all the magic in room.
Something snags at you, a burr or thistle pulling at your consciousness. Why are you here?
You ignore the feeling, choosing to run your fingers over his collection of ceremonial knives.
In the middle of the display, your dagger sits in a place of honor. You purposefully ignore it, shooting at your host a glare that makes him laugh.
“That one is actually yours, go on, take it.”
You cluck your tongue. “Fool me once.”
He isn’t lying. That one is the genuine article. He reaches around you, bringing him close enough to kiss and picks up the knife with his hand, it doesn’t pass through him.
You grumble a string of curses in your tongue and the common one, so foul even Loki’s scandalized.
But he laughs, it's light, birdlike. It doesn’t rumble the belly or throb in your blood the way your father’s laughs did. His sits high, on unreachable branches, ready to fly away if disturbed. He doesn’t truly laugh often, so when he does, it doesn’t linger, like snatches of birdsong. There is no ice in him when he laughs unguardedly.
You’re quiet for a long time as you explore his things. You ask him questions and he answers. Where this came from, what does that do. As he answers your questions, he tries to figure the answer to his own. Why did he bring you here? There’s the superficial answer, better put, the lie for why you’re here. But the question remains.
And you ask it.
“Why did you bring me here? Really?”
You turn to him, you want to touch him but you don’t, unsure if you’ve earned that privilege yet. “Dinner was lovely and this place is, it’s magic. And as wonderful as all this is, I don’t think you brought me here to show me your toys.”
“Close your eyes.”
That wasn’t the answer you were looking for.
“What do you want from me?” You persist.
“For you to close your eyes, horse girl.”
“Loki. Tell me.”
“Princess, trust me.”
He hasn’t given you a reason to. He doesn’t expect you to. But you take a deep breath and close your eyes anyway, gifting it to him, making him question everything all over again.
She deserves better.His mother echoes in his head.
The spell is quick, over and done in a few heartbeats.
There is a collection of jewelry in front of you. Bracelets. Several velvet cushions full. One for every birthstone. One for every precious gem.
“What? What are these.”
He takes your hand, the one missing the braided loop and guides it to the piece in the top most, farthest left corner. “This is for Firstday.” He moves it over to the right. “And Secondday.” He moves you again. “And Thirdday.” Down the line marking the days of the week. In the second row there’s two bracelets piled on top of each other. A row below that, there are three.
“You heard me.” You gasp.
“I did. ‘One for every day.’ And so forth and so on.”
You draw your hand away from his, pull it back like he burns you. “I can’t take these.” You’re answer is quick and finite. Immutable. You will not take any of these with you. You stutter and amend yourself, trying to salvage your manners. “I mean, thank you. Thank you. This is...I’m in your debt again assuredly but I can’t.”
“Why?” No accusation or hurt in his question. It is just a question.
“This is too rich a gift Loki. I can’t take it.”
You’ll be in his debt, you’re already in his debt. This is too much kindness, and too much kindness is never offered freely.
“These kinds of things, you should give them to…”
You are the Princess of a small kingdom. Your wealth and prestige can't match that of Asgard but being royalty and a woman besides, certain universal truths will out.
Nothing is given to a Princess for free. There's always a motive, something to gain.
Back home, men and women vied for your affection. They wanted the throne next to yours or your favor which would assure them rich rewards. True friends were rare beyond the obligation of Captain and soldier. Fa’Rey--before her dagger proved you wrong--was the only one of them you really trusted.
You left no lovers behind, you're pretty sure you don't even know what that kind of love feels like. So why all this?
“You should give them to someone special. Someone who means something to you. Not me.”
One kiss ago, Loki was a stranger. He saved your life twice over, he restored Se’risa to you. He was an infuriating bastard who you couldn't stop thinking about. But he was still a stranger.
One kiss later, he still is. And you still can't stop thinking about him.
But he's still a stranger.
“You’re a stranger Loki, I don’t know anything about you and you don’t know anything about me. All I know is...that kiss was really good and I’d like more. That’s all I know. And I have no idea what’s going on in your head, if you even feel...What do you want from me, Loki?”
Everything. He wants you, to kiss you again like he did yesterday, but he’s greedy. He wants more. Loki is selfish and gluttonous, he’s had a taste and now he wants you whole. He could ask, or offer, or imply his wishes, leave his door open for you to walk through at any time and for you, his door would always be open.
But with the way you look at him, the way you trust him so earnestly, he knows it would never just stop at his bed. He’s greedy, he knows the depths of his faults. He wouldn’t stop until he’s got your heart in his jaws. And you can’t know that, you can never know that.
“She deserves better.”
“You misunderstand me, none of this is for you.”
Your heart drops, makes a new home around your ankles. “Oh.” You try to put it back in place, salvage some of your pride. “Then why?”
“You’re a poor liar. The worst in fact.”
“I don’t under--”
He interrupts you. “So here’s a bracelet. One for every day of the week. Two for holidays. Three for feast days, so you don’t have to lie to the poor little filly anymore and my reputation remains intact.”
He’s satisfied when the smile returns to your face, he’s held off the truth for a little while yet. He’ll tow the line for now as best he can, keep the beast at bay.
Your heart lifts, somewhere in the clouds now. “Why didn’t you say so.”
He forgets himself, his turmoil, the moment your lips are on his again. He simply forgets.
There’s no doubt this time as to who kisses whom. You wrap your arms around his neck, close your eyes, and it’s magic again. Magic that sparks between you like lightning. You smell rain and leather, you hear thunder in the low groan that rumbles either in his chest or yours, you can’t tell anymore.
Yes! This is what he’s craved all day. This. Just like this. You close and soft and yielding in his arms. Not too much, he warns himself. Savor this, make it last as long as you can. Maybe it will be different this time. Maybe you’ll be different this time.
He keeps you close when you part, won’t let you get too far away so that he can’t kiss you again.
“You saved my ass again.”
“And what would you have done princess, had I not?”
“I considered faking sick.”
“Keep your boasts more modest next time, or you will drain my treasury.”
You laugh and kiss the corner of his mouth.
“Why didn’t you just get me my bracelet back?”
You watch him select one, thick gold leaves studded with smaller emeralds. You give him your wrist and he slides it on, fitting as though made for you.
“It’d be easy to return your bracelet to you. So I didn’t. Besides, I suspect your pride is so damned prickly you'd figure out a way to pay Aleene with another one of your jewels and I’ve got better things to do than retrieve family treasures from petty creatures like her. This is will do.”
“Yes, it will.” You echo, and you aren’t talking about the jewelry.