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Worthy

Chapter Text

You find yourself staring into an unfamiliar face – one that could be anyone's, really. It's generic, yes, but...handsome at the same time. Something pulls on your heart. You're sure you've seen that handsomeness somewhere before. It's very unique.

Unearthly, even.

You rack your brain, but come up empty. Instead, you sink down into the nearest chair, trembling slightly. You can hear your heart roaring in your ears.

“Who...are you?” You breathe, your voice quivering.

“You...don't remember me.” The voice is deep and soothing. It's fullbodied and rich – like a chocolate you've eaten before. You're about to respond to the words, but as you lock your orbs onto the man's blue ones, you realize he's not asking you a question. The man blows out a breath, raking one thick hand through a blond mane of hair as he turns away from you. He walks a couple paces, his muscular frame slightly slumped. “I'm Thor. This is Asgard. This is...was...your home.” He can't face you as he says the words, and something in your heart jolts again.

“Thor,” you murmur, turning the word over on your tongue. It's short and sweet, appropriate for the man in front of you, somehow. The Norse god of lightning? No. Thunder, yes, thunder, that was it. “Thor.” The name draws up no more memories than it had the first time.

“Nothing?” He asks you, turning again. His eyes are desperate, pleading, his mouth parted in anticipation. You don't know why, but it hurts you to shake your head no.

“The prodigal child returns.”

A second voice resounds, this one a bit like Thor's, but older, wiser, aged, like a fine wine. You can't take your eyes off of the god of thunder's desperate expression in favor of looking upon this visitor. It's only once he strides into your line of sight, with regal, measured steps, that you notice how alike the two men look.

Father and son, perhaps?

“Please, don't call her that.” Thor's voice breaks as he says the words, and you wonder how a man you don't even know could possibly care so much about you. He sounds, for all the world, as if he loves you.

“Then what shall I call her?” The gray-haired man booms, his voice echoing across the golden rafters of the vaulted ceiling. “She is what she is, my son. She made that choice long ago.”

“Please, Allfather,” Thor intercedes. “A second chance. If you are to grant Loki one, then surely -”

“Loki's fate has not yet been decided.” The words are clipped, harsh, and curt, and though you aren't thrilled at your own situation, you're also very glad you aren't this Loki fellow.

“All the same!” The blond deity roars, his eyes alight. “A second chance! Surely, you cannot believe it is by accident alone that she returns to us?”

Something in the Allfather's face softens at his son's pleas. You aren't sure why, nor do you understand why you let out a breath you hadn't been aware you'd been holding.

Very well,” the Allfather murmurs. “Your intercessions, beloved son, have earned her a month among us, to prove her worth. If, by the next full moon, she fails to do so, I will cast her down to Midgard again, never to return.” In a few swift, measured strides, the gray-haired man is standing in front of you, pressing three fingers to your forehead. Barely suppressing a scowl, he tells you to concentrate.

Your eyelids flutter closed, and your eyebrows knit into a frown.

Concentrate on what?

But then you understand, and when you open your eyes, the first thing out of your mouth is,

“Where's Loki?”

Chapter Text

A bad idea. That's what Thor had said. He'd told you to stay away, at least for a couple more weeks. He'd told you that it would upset you.

But you hadn't expected this.

Your hands grasp the metal bars, cool and thick in your hands – too thick for you to break, even with your newly-restored Aesir strength. You try to break them anyway. If you could just move them enough to get an arm in, Hel be damned –

“Loki!” You roar, pressing harder. Nothing budges, and you are no closer to the thin man chained to the far wall of the cell. “Loki!”

He raises his head just enough for you to make out a muzzle strapped over his mouth. He's a limp rag doll, not even struggling against the heavy manacles; he seems too disconnected, unable to summon enough energy to look away from the floor.

“Loki!” You shout again, wanting him to just turn his head, to look at you, damn it all!

His head snaps up, a jack-in-the-box on a tight coil, and his eyes are hard – so much harder than you remember them. They glitter dangerously for a moment, dark diamonds in a pale, pale face. You suck in a gasp, shocked. Not afraid. It's absurd to be afraid of Loki.

Right?

For the briefest of moments, something softens in his eyes, and then they are firm once more, malevolent, a maelstrom brewing in the depths of blue. His head drops again, as if his knees are the most interesting thing in the Nine Dimensions. You stare, dumbfounded, choking down the urge to scream. Instead, you turn to Thor, who steps toward you and places one hand, big as a bear paw, on your shoulder.

“I tried to warn you,” he says hoarsely. His voice is clogged, thick with sorrow.

“What have you done to him?” You moan. Your eyes prickle with an unfamiliar heat, and you give in to the screams caught in your throat. “What have you done?! He's your brother, Thor!” Thor pulls his hand away, and his expression crumples, and for a moment, you consider stopping. “Your brother!” A tremulous breath pours into your lungs, and you know you can't stop. Not while Loki is a prisoner, a man broken by his own family. “We were raised together, we played together, we learned together, and we fought together! All three of us! How has it come to – to this? What could have happened - ”

“Many things have happened,” Thor intones, recapturing that deep regality he possesses. “Do not judge until you understand -”

“I understand he's your family, Thor,” you raise your voice over his, feeling your eyes grow hotter. “You loved him.” Thor's mouth drifts shut and his eyes fall to the ground. Nothing makes sense anymore. You don't know the gentle man in front of you. You don't know the broken man at your back. Where is the Thor who was arrogant, feisty, so overconfident it was often his undoing? And where is the Loki who was all smiles and gentle words, mischief and games? “What's happened, Thor? You're not the person I knew.”

“We were children then,” he responds, sounding so weary, so much older than he is. “We are men now. Many things have changed. Many people have been wronged.”

A few stray tears roll down your cheeks, and you brush them away impatiently. Whatever is going on, none of it is right.

“Let me into his cell, Thor, and free his mouth,” you plead, desperate. “If things are wrong, let me at least try to make them right. For Loki. For you. You two have always been my brothers, if not in blood. And you have always loved both of us – unless that has changed, too.”

Hesitations upon hesitations are written across Thor's face as he regards you, lips parted thoughtfully. Perhaps he mistrusts you. You've obviously wronged someone yourself, judging by the Allfather's words. But you're earnest, this time at least, and you can only hope that Thor sees it.

“Very well,” he sighs, giving in. As he leaves to get the key to the cell, you turn back to Loki, fingers closing around the bars once more.

Your childhood best friend has apparently decided his knees are not so interesting after all. The hard, black diamonds of his eyes glitter, jewels lit up with some unfathomable emotion. You shiver as you stare directly into them, willing yourself not to flinch away.

Chapter Text

Loki gasps as Thor removes the muzzle from around his mouth. He opens and closes his jaw a couple times, purses his lips, licks them, and only then does he dare to raise his eyes to yours.

They're curious, inquisitive, soft, the way you remember them.

But you're no fool. There's something in the hardness of his jaw that tells you to be careful, tells you that this may be an act. What has Loki become?

“Loki,” you say, kneeling and trying to keep all eagerness or emotion out of your voice. But when the dark-haired man sprawled in front of you says your name, a shiver graces your spine. Blue eyes dart down, sweeping over your quivering frame, then flicker back up again, all practiced curiosity and gentleness.

For a moment, your thoughts stumble. There are a thousand things you want to tell him, all pressing at your mind, tripping over your tongue, but none of them quite make it past your lips.

“You've returned,” he says simply, breaking the momentary silence. There's no emotion in the words, no love like Thor's voice had carried. Again, you want to say a thousand things to him, but this time, you select one out of many.

“I've come home,” you agree, purposefully threading a hint of warmth through your voice. Loki stiffens at your words, one lip curling up into a sneer.

“So that is what this is,” he spits, recoiling from you. His body is taut, his head lowered dangerously, like a venomous snake. He strikes again quickly. “Odin has brought you here to lure me back to my rightful place as one of his pawns. How could I resist my long-lost childhood friend? How could I think that my home is anywhere but by the side of you and my brother?” He's breathing heavily, dark diamond eyes flickering across the room, over anything but you and Thor. “So transparent,” he laughs bitterly, sneering again. “So transparent and foolish. And you...playing your hand without a second thought.” He raises his head above yours, a king cobra, until he is looking down on you. His eyes are haughty, his voice condescending, but in the blink of an eye, they turn to piercingly sharp steel. “Leave,” he hisses. You stare at him blankly, your mouth lolling open. “Leave!” He shouts, his voice echoing, rebounding off the barren walls.

For a moment, you remain where you are kneeling before the restrained man. Your mind is numb. You can't even think.

The next instant, Thor steps in front of you, affixing the muzzle over Loki's mouth once again. As it is strapped into place, you can still see the hatred, the poison, roiling just under the surface of Loki's blue orbs. His lips may be hidden now, but you know he's still snarling at you.

You rise to your feet, finally recomposing your own face as you leave the cell. What in the Nine Dimensions just happened? You glance backwards at Loki, out of disbelief, out of curiosity, but nothing has changed. His eyes still seethe, his brow furiously contorted. Swallowing a thick lump, you walk away quickly, leaving Thor to finish locking the cell door.

Had you stayed just a moment longer, you might have seen Loki's facade cracking. But you don't see the pain, the hurt, that comes to surface.

Chapter Text

Frigga's courtyard is much as you remember it: a sanctuary, lavish with ponds and weeping willows and the soft sounds of evening insects. The only thing that you'd immediately noticed being different is the centerpiece ash tree, which had grown much larger and stronger than you'd remembered. Rather like the two boys you'd grown up with.

A breeze of fresh air blows across your face, and Thor calls your name, startling you out of your thoughts.

“Loki...really did all of that?” You ask, plucking a single gladiolus from a tall, colorful stalk. You twirl the stem in your fingers as you walk.

“He did,” Thor agrees, and you notice the undercurrents of sorrow he struggles to hide. Silence waxes between you, leaving only the summer cicadas to drone in the distance.

“The Chitauri?”

“We presume them all dead. At the least, they won't threaten Midgard again.”

“And the...the Avengers?” That most elite team of warriors. That most elite team that your eldest and fastest friend, that Thor, is a member of. For a moment, you think you'd like to meet the rest of these warriors. But no – you are here to prove your worth, not to be sidetracked into frivolous tangents. And, if you really want to be honest with yourself, the two Odinsons alone have proven to be a handful already. The last thing you need is four or five other superhumans around the place, mucking up your plans to be a good, normal Aesir citizen. “What of these warriors, now that the battle has been won?”

“We're...dispersed for now,” Thor explains, a bit uncertainly.

You grow silent once more by the great bear of a man, and the world falls out of focus. You can't imagine Loki – who, in your mind's eye, is still a small, pale young boy with huge blue-green eyes – commanding a formidable army of alien destroyers. But the man in the cell, who is all loathing and sharp words and malevolence – him you can imagine at the vanguard of the Chitauri host.

“And what of me?” You finally ask, drawing yourself back into the world around you. Your eyes fall on the colorful gladiolus in your fingers. “What have I done?”

“Pardon?” Thor turns to look at you, clearly confused.

“What have I done, Thor? I have no memory of my own exile to Midgard,” you admit. “Please, tell me what I did.”

The man stops walking. You pause by his side, noticing the way he shifts uncomfortably, and for a moment, you think you have asked the wrong thing.

“If I am to be honest, I know little of the tale myself,” he confesses. “You confided nothing of this to either Loki or I. I can only tell you what little I've managed to piece together myself.” Thor pauses, waiting for a cue from you. A quick nod sets him speaking again. “Your betrayal came at a time when tensions were high in the Nine Realms. Do you recall the Aesir-Vanir War?”

A short laugh escapes you despite the seriousness of the situation. “I could not forget the battles that marked much of our youth together, Thor,” you reply. The Aesir-Vanir War began long eons ago, a power struggle between the warrior Asgardians and the sorcerorous inhabitants of Vanaheim. Over the millennia, it had been blown to epic proportions; for an Aesir to not know of the War seems absurd to you.

“Then you recall the temporary peace treaty that began with my mother's arrival in Asgard,” Thor adds. You nod. Frigga, along with her twin brother Frey and their father Njord, had been offered unto Asgard as a sign of peace. In return, your people had given Hoenir and Mimir to the Vanir.

“And ended some years later with Mimir's beheading,” you finish for the blond.

“Yes,” he agrees, gesturing toward a gilded bench. You both take a seat, clearly preparing for a long story. Gently, you lay the gladiolus you'd picked earlier in your lap. “Although the war never again escalated to the raging ferocity it held in the days of the Allfather, both the Aesir and Vanir saw more death than necessary. It took centuries for both sides to decide they were evenly matched; it took decades more for tense negotiations toward a second peace treaty to begin. It was under the banner of diplomacy that Father sent you, Loki, and I to Jotunnheim.”

You feel a cold shiver pass over you involuntarily. Jotunnheim – home of the barbaric, back-handed, nightmarish Frost Giants. The Jotunns. The Aesir's antithesis – savage cowards, only living in pursuit of their own self-interest. The monster under your bed at night as a child. Had you really gone to make peace with those...those beasts?!

“I remember nothing of this,” you tell Thor. His blue eyes catch the golden sun, and he peers at you a bit sadly.

“Loki and I were captured and imprisoned by the Frost Giants. We – we thought you dead.” His rich-as-wine voice breaks for a moment. “Ere the same day was over, I was brought out to you, both of us alive and well. I do not know what you did to make it so,” he says sadly. “But I wish you did not do it.”

A long pause lingers, and you regard the way the setting rays of the sun illuminate Thor's fair hair and skin. The cicadas drone on in the distance, even as the light breeze becomes cooler. Thor blinks in long, slow measures before dropping his head, staring at his hands.

“You and I called upon Heimdall to return us to Asgard over the Bifrost,” Thor resumes, his voice once again even and full. “When we returned, you were celebrated by Odin – a hero, for returning me. You asked only that you be returned to Jotunnheim to be given the chance to save Loki, as well. You asked to go alone, said that only you knew how to bring him to safety the quickest. You said you never wanted to endanger anyone else. That you had to go – you had to try to save Loki. And you did bring Loki back to us.” Thor purses his lips, looking up at you directly. You wish he wouldn't. “But the Casket of Ancient Winters was stolen, and it was not long before Laufey proved he had it as a result of your betrayal. The whole thing – you'd set the whole thing up.”

You feel, very suddenly, that you are about to pass out. Everything spins and your head feels abnormally light.

“How – how did I?” You stammer, hardly believing it. “And – but – I did this? I planned all this? M-me?”

“You,” Thor says solemnly, though his voice holds no condemnation. “I wish you remembered why, though,” he murmurs as an afterthought. You nod, dizzy.

“I'm so...so sorry,” you say, still reeling. You had betrayed Asgard, your home, in its moment of need, to the Jotunns? How could you choose those beasts – those monsters – over peace? Over the Allfather? How could you have endangered Loki and Thor so? You want to feel guilt for your actions, want to feel miserable, but your stomach doesn't even clench up. You feel like you're hearing the story of another person. All you can do is try to recollect yourself as your head continues to spin.

The cicadas drone on. A small mosquito buzzes near your ear; you don't even swat it away. The wind blows chill now, and the world is limned in the purple glow of dusk.

“I must attend my court for a time,” Thor says, a bit apologetically, as he rises slowly from his seat. “Please excuse me, if you will.”

“Of course,” you murmur, still a bit distracted. With a deep breath, you make a concerted effort to pull yourself together. “Thor?” You call after the blond. He glances over one large shoulder at you. “Why can't I remember the full story of what happened to me? I can remember my whole life – up until the point we go to Jotunnheim...”

Thor is quiet for a moment, and his brows knit together in concentration.

“I'm not very familiar with magic,” he admits, and you know he's not lying. Sure, he has Mjolnir by his side – possibly the most powerful magical artifact in the universe – but he is a warrior, not a magician. “I can't explain that to you. I'm sorry.”

You wave your hand in dismissal, and Thor strides behind a hedge and out of sight.

It is only much later, in the wee hours of the morning, that you begin to toss and turn, mind churning through some great idea. Thor is no magician, perhaps, but you know someone who is. Someone who you can see first thing in the morning, should you so desire.

Is it a bad idea to return to him, alone and so soon? Of course it is. But do you care? No. You want – you need – answers.

Chapter Text

Loki doesn't even look up as you slide the key into the lock of his cell, turning it and jiggling it until the barred door swings open to you. As you stride into the space, you are overcome by the powerful suspicion that you had been expected.

All the same, you cross the barren floor to Loki's side, kneeling beside him. He still won't look at you. Instead, his blue eyes are affixed in a seething glare at some unspecified point straight ahead of him. You try to ignore this fact as you fight with the smaller lock on the back of Loki's muzzle, being careful to sweep his long, dark locks out of the way. You don't want to accidentally pull his hair and hurt him. He's grown his hair out since last I remember, you realize, remembering the shorter cut he'd usually sported. This is a handsome look on him.

Gently, you slide the muzzle off Loki's face, crossing to sit in front of the man. You place the metal contraption on the floor beside you. Loki opens and closes his jaw a few times, and you can hear the joint crackle in protest.

“I knew you'd come,” he says simply. For a long moment, you're silent. Something tells you it's best not to speak to this man yet. “By returning alone, without Thor, you'll seem less threatening. You'll be proffered up as a friend, working independent of my father -” He spits the word, snarling, and suddenly, you don't want to hear any more of his lunacies.

“I betrayed Odin in ages past,” you interject, and it's not a question, it's a statement. Loki falls silent, and for the first time, his blue eyes drift to yours.

“You did,” he agrees quietly. “Which makes you the perfect candidate to reach out a hand of peace to me.”

“What do you remember of what I did?” You're tired of his folly; you are not here to manipulate him on Odin's orders! You only want things to be blunt and straightforward for once. To your distaste, though, Loki smiles a sickly sweet smile.

“Oh, I like this,” he grins, and a shiver runs up your spine. The word monster is forcibly pulled to mind. “Odin cannot restore to you what he himself does not understand, is that right? And now you want to understand yourself, understand your motives.”

“If there's anything you can tell me...” you begin, but this time, it is Loki who interrupts.

“There are plenty of things I can tell you,” he purrs, his keen eyes searching yours. “But secrets come at a price. Can you afford that price? Can you really pay any more for your transgressions? No, the cost is too high, and it will drain you, it will destroy you and everything you are. You cannot be worthy. You were never meant to be worthy; you were born for something else, and there is no offering large enough that can change that simple fact.” He's whispering quickly now, malevolence running through his voice, but you don't hear it anymore.

All that you can hear is Loki describing himself to you.

Suddenly, you're not afraid of the dark-haired man in front of you. Neither does he seem a monster any longer. He's every bit the child you knew, only now in a cloak of hatred and anger and pain and enormous power. You want to take this burden off him, but how do you do that if he's not even aware he bears it? What if, by sliding it off his shoulders, you cause him suffering by the mere act of making him acknowledge the onus? How do you heal him without his own noticing how broken he is?

You don't know. You can't begin to know.

But you pity the man who is trembling before you now, hatred in his blue eyes, his teeth gritted. You pity him, and you love the youth he was, and you believe that somewhere in him, that young boy lives on, and as you wrap your arms around his shoulders, you hope he can feel all of that in your one embrace.

He stiffens in your arms, and doesn't move an inch as you bury your nose in his shoulder. At the same time, he doesn't flinch away from you.

It's not much, but it's a start.

You pull away from him, straightening your clothes and working up the courage to look into Loki's eyes. When you do, they are unreadable, studying you with intense emotion. You can't bear to look into them any longer, and you stand up, re-affixing the muzzle over him. You don't apologize – can't bring yourself to – instead only saying,

“I have a month here. One month to prove my worth to the Allfather. If I don't, I'm exiled to Midgard forever, with...” your voice catches. You clear it brusquely. “With no memory of you or your brother.” You draw in a shaky breath, turning away from Loki. “Speak of my visit to no one,” you add, knowing full well that he would speak of it, just to test you. He expected you to be a tool of manipulation for Odin; he expected that mentioning your visit would play out their hand. What he wouldn't expect was for you to pass the test with flying colors. “No one, save perhaps Heimdall, knows I came here. Not even Odin or Thor.”

The Allfather and his favored son would be furious at first, true, but surely they would understand your need for answers. Surely, Odin would appreciate your desire to right your wrongs. Surely your earnestness would help prove you worthy. And besides – with any luck, you would outsmart the God of Mischief himself and earn back a piece of his trust.

Chapter Text

As you stride down the hallway, you shake your head to try to clear it. You have a goal here, and you need to remember that you cannot allow yourself to be sidetracked. Odin has granted you a month to prove yourself worthy, not to play therapist to his psychotic son, no matter how much pity and hope you hold for the man. A sinking feeling in your gut tells you that you have, perhaps, taken a few too many risks today already. While the guards had recognized you and let you in to Loki's cell easily enough, you can already hear Thor scolding you for putting yourself – and all of the realms – in such danger. You can hear Odin rebuking you, voice like thunder, as he denounces you as unworthy.

Was gaining back the trust of your rather deranged childhood friend really worth it? Butterflies churn in your stomach in the most nauseating way. Hel be damned, you think, of course it's worth it. I learned that I cannot recall any memories that are misunderstood by the one who restores them magically. It's not much, but it's a start. Surely, Odin must notice how hard I'm trying to set right my past wrongs.

Still, the butterflies don't stop entirely. You feel far too on edge for your own liking. You hurry down the hallway, legs pumping, electrified with a nervous energy you can hardly contain.

The rhythmic click-click-click of high heels on the stunningly polished marble tiles draws you out of your thoughts, just in time for a woman with long blonde hair to shoulder-check you as she passes.

“Oh!” You exclaim, thoroughly startled. “Excuse me...” The woman throws you a leer over her shoulder, her lips in a perfect little pout, and continues walking haughtily in the direction you'd came from. You frown, lowering your eyes to your feet, and continue ambling along. There was plenty of room in the corridor for the two of you! Why had she felt the need to be so rude? Moreover, why had you apologized? Damn Midgardian habits.

Thoughts flustered and stewing, you return to the courtyard garden, telling yourself you'll take just a moment for yourself before you head in for dinner. You're sure you have some time before you're expected at the table.

The fresh air, scented heavily with the blooming flowers and greenery, does you much good, and already, you feel more lighthearted. You stride past the gilded bench you and Thor had sat on earlier. It's tempting, but you have your sights set a little...higher.

The great ash tree – planted by Frigga as an homage to the mighty World Tree Yggdrasil – towers above your head, bigger than ever before. You wonder, for a moment, if Yggdrasil Herself grows, the spaces between the Nine Realms ever increasing, just like the spaces between you and the two royal brothers. That's silly, though. Yggdrasil is eternal. She cannot die, nor grow.

Right?

Your fingers dig into the bark, and you find easy purchase in the unique, gnarled bark of the ash, just as you had when you were small. Even the toes of your shoes catch on the pitted bark, and you pull yourself up the tree easily. Eventually, your hand reaches a plateau, and you raise yourself into a huge fork between three great branches, sprawling out languidly.

How many years has it been since you've been here? Far too many, you decide.

You try to put your racing mind at ease, but you keep replaying that moment with the blond woman over and over. You hate to admit it, but her unnecessary rudeness has really irritated you. What was her problem, anyway? It's not like you'd ever done anything to her!

Then again, you realize with a jolt, you have. After all, haven't you sort of betrayed Odin – and therefore, all Aesir – to Laufey, King of the Jotunns? Yeah. That's likely to make you fairly unpopular, actually.

With this depressing thought, you sigh and slump down, feeling suddenly exhausted. Could the odds stack themselves against you in any more ways?

Chapter Text

Loki shifts uncomfortably next to you, and you glance at the skinny, gangly teen uncertainly.

“I...appreciate the compliment,” the dark-haired boy says a bit stiffly, staring at Amora like she's suddenly switched races to become a Vanir. By the Allfather, is he really that clueless? You wait a beat, staring at the boy expectantly, and when he doesn't say anything else, you come to his – and Amora's – aid.

“You look lovely today too, Amora,” you tell your friend. She smiles gently at you, twirling a blonde lock of short hair around her fingers idly. “Is that a new dress?” You don't actually remember if it is or not, but it's worth a try.

“Yes,” she agrees quietly, batting her eyes in that oh-so-feminine way of hers. Couldn't you, for once, be as attractive and girlish as your friend? Or, if not that, then perhaps as powerful and determined as Sif? No, you were the compromise between your two best girl friends, the one without any outstanding traits. “It's for the ball next week. I'm so excited, aren't you? I'm so nervous about who I'll go with, though...” She trails off, looking at Loki expectantly. The boy fiddles with his hands, looking expectantly up at you.

You suppress a groan. These two are hopeless. If Loki would get his mind off the plans for a surprise from him and Thor that you'd reluctantly agreed to, maybe he'd see that Amora is angling for his affections. And maybe if Amora had a better sense of timing and could learn to take a social cue -

“Brother! There you are!” A thunderous voice calls out. “Ah! And we have some company! Though, in truth, I was expecting to see you here, dearest.” Thor kisses your cheek dramatically, and you roll your eyes. As grateful as you are to him for saving you from this awkward situation with his notorious lack of an indoor voice, you sometimes wonder if he sees you as a pet these days. “Amora, Lorelei. It's lovely to see the both of you again, as well. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Amora scowls, a bit taken aback. It's clear that she wanted Loki alone, and has no great affection for his raucous older brother. Lorelei, meanwhile, lights up at her older sister's side.

“Oh, my prince,” Lorelei smiles, taking a step towards Thor. “You see, Amora and I were...well, we actually have a request of you, if it is not too great.” You try not to groan. Where has little Lorelei learned such wiles?!

“Nothing is too great for the sons of Odin, my darling,” Thor replies, folding his arms over his chest and standing just a bit straighter. You somehow doubt the actual validity of his sentence.

“Well...could Amora and I entreatise you to allow us to accompany you on your excursion today?” Lorelei is breathless.

“No,” Loki says curtly by your side, his shoulder brushing yours. You don't flinch away from the contact, and Amora quirks an eyebrow at you. Secretly, you seethe. She has nothing to be jealous of, and she should damn well know that by now! As much as you adore the sisters, the brothers are your oldest and fiercest friends, nothing more.

“I have to agree with my brother,” Thor agrees loudly, trying – and failing – to sound sage. “Now is not the best time for you to join our company.”

“Why not?” Lorelei pleads childishly, and you are reminded of the fact that really, she – and Amora – are just young girls in puppy love. Thor turns to Loki, and a look passes between the two of them. To the sisters, it's unreadable, but you know that it says, quite clearly, brother, help me. Put that silver tongue of yours to good use. Loki smiles the tiniest bit, stepping forward and moving in front of you, as if to shield you. He keeps his head lowered slightly, his hands still playing with one another behind his back.

“You must understand, ladies,” Loki says, and you can hear the charming smile plastered on his face. By the gods, I must really re-think the company I keep, you think, fighting to suppress an amused laugh. “Thor and I could not bear to place such maidens as yourselves in danger by foolishly, selfishly allowing you to accompany us today. Besides that, how would your parents – or my parents, for that matter – react to such reckless behavior? Surely, you must understand that we cannot dare offend the guardians of two such lovely women. And besides, I'm sure neither your parents – nor Thor or I – could stand to see you get hurt.”

Amora is about to say something, which you strongly suspect would come out sounding a lot like “but what about her?” The words never leave her mouth, though, as Thor announces that both parties really must get going. Amora cannot refuse – or interrupt - the loud prince.

As you lead Thor and Loki away from the awkward scene, you wait until you are out of earshot of the sisters, only then daring to ask what in the Realms they had planned for the day, anyway.

“We're taking you to Midgard, to see something called the ocean,” Loki announces proudly, taking your hand in his. You smile faintly, grasping Thor's big palm in your other hand.

You can only pray that oceans are nothing at all like the huge, scaly, big-antlered bilgesnipe, which Thor had insisted on hunting last time you agreed to a surprise trip at their hands. You shudder at the thought of the beasts as you awake from your dream, stretching out lazily in the tree. You sit up slowly, deciding that right about now would probably be a good time to start heading to the dinner table.

As you climb down the ash tree's bark, you groan inwardly. You'd all but forgotten of the existence of bilgesnipe until just now, and you try in vain to banish the mental images of the Asgardian monsters. They are, indeed, repulsive.

Chapter Text

As soon as you walk into the dining hall, a rather motley group of friends stands up and waves you down. You grin, making your way over to them. There are only a handful of people left in Asgard who would still welcome you so enthusiastically, and while it's been ages since you last saw them, you know who they are immediately.

Sif – by the World Tree, is that Sif? She's grown up, and she is so beautiful – rushes out of her seat to slam into you in a strong embrace. You laugh, squeezing her back as enthusiastically as she's hugging you.

“I thought -” She begins, then pauses a moment, pulling back to look at you. “Well, you know.”

“I'm sorry,” you say. It's all you can think of saying. But the words win Sif back over, and she gives you a small half-smile.

“Thor spoke to us, and bade we trust you. I will follow his counsel,” she decides, her smile growing into the genuine grin of two friends meeting after a long time apart. “By the Allfather, I have missed you, my best friend. Come sit down,” she insists, sliding out of your arm's reach and moving elegantly, yet powerfully, back to her seat. You give a wave to Volstagg the Valiant, taking a seat beside the huge man who fashions himself the Lion of Asgard. He grins, though barely visible behind his beard, and waves a leg of meat back at you before delving back into the food. You cannot suppress your laughter.

“Volstagg, you haven't changed a bit,” you chortle, shaking your head.

“Grown a bit fatter, perhaps,” a deep voice intones. You turn, finding a very grown-up blond man standing behind your seat and smiling down at you. “Recognize me?”

“Fandral,” you gasp, rising from your seat like a jack-in-the-box. The handsome man's eyes light up.

“Fandral the Dashing, I think you mean,” he corrects playfully, enfolding you into his surprisingly built arms. Across the room, you can see a small herd of women leering at you, and you linger in his embrace just to see them get more agitated and flustered. It seems Fandral has grown into quite the lady's man.

“I like the beard, by the way,” you say approvingly, pulling away from him and taking your seat again. Fandral flashes you a brilliant smile, returning to his own seat with a wink.

“I told you she wouldn't notice me,” a glum voice is murmuring to Sif. You almost miss the words, but the fact that you're staring impatiently at the last of the Warriors Three ensures that you hear them.

Sif opens her mouth to protest, but before she can say anything, you speak up loudly.

“Hogun,” you call cheerily. “Pessimistic as ever, I see. I've missed you,” you add a bit more gently. Sif nods at you approvingly, and Hogun ducks his head. You suspect he's blushing as he mutters something unintelligible.

“We call him Hogun the Grim now, actually,” Sif stage-whispers. Every single one of the Warriors Three hear it, and soon, even Hogun is roaring in laughter. As you delve into the feast laid out before you, trading stories of Midgard and Asgard with your friends, you can't help but feel a sense of belonging – regardless of how many years you'd been out of each others' lives.

This was your home. You'd never found a place of such contentment in all the years you'd spent on Midgard. Good food, good wine, good friends. Who could want more? Yes, you're certainly content. There's something about being in the place of your true origins that resonates deeply with your being. This feast could go on forever for all you care, and you would be perfectly happy.

But the universe is not so kind.

Odin – who you hadn't even noticed was missing – storms into the feast hall, slamming and knocking over anything within his arm's reach. Thor is hot on his heels, his face hard.

For a moment, you imagine that the two royal Aesir are staring at you and moving toward your seat, and something clenches up in your stomach. The next instant, you realize you're just nervous about your visit with Loki. Odin is definitely not marching to your seat.

And then he bellows your name, loud and echoing unmistakably in the high-ceilinged hall.

You spring to your feet, horrified. You'd expected him to be mad, but not this mad! The next instant, Odin knocks the chair out from under you; it goes soaring in the air, clattering and breaking some distance away. You flinch, preparing for a strike across your face. The blow never comes.

“Do you deny,” he seethes, his voice low and dangerous yet somehow loud enough for the whole hall to hear. Everyone has fallen dead silent, save for Volstagg's incessant chewing. “Do you deny that you've visited the traitor Loki without my consent?”

You hesitate a moment, glancing back at Thor. His visage is set, unfriendly, and you can't stand the sight of it. It's easier to look back at Odin than see your friend looking so angry with you.

“I don't deny it,” you whisper.

“Do you deny that you removed his muzzle, and attempted to refasten it properly?”

“I don't deny it.”

“LOKI HAS ESCAPED,” Odin booms, and you feel your legs grow weak underneath you. The only sensations you register in the next moment are those of an unbearable nausea in your stomach, which subsides only when your knees hit the marbled floor. You are unable to take your eyes off Odin, even as he continues to shout. “We found that same muzzle on the ground. You were careless and foolish and you have no place in my realm!”

“A month, Father,” Thor states from over Odin's shoulder. You glance to him, hoping for reassurance, perhaps a softness in his eyes, but his face remains unchanged. It is clear he, too, is furious with you, and it is only his love for your shared youth together that holds any hope for you.

Odin's face contorts in frustration, and you know he wants to banish you back to Midgard, but knows he can't. He is bound by his word.

“As you say, my son. You are to escort her back to her old quarters. She is not to leave,” the Allfather announces instead, fury still shining in his one good eye. “I want all capable hands searching for Loki. Heimdall,” he calls, turning away from you. You blow out a breath, glancing at Sif. She and the Warriors Three are standing up to join the search effort, fervently avoiding eye contact with you. Sif moves past you to Thor, placing a hand on his big shoulder.

“Go easy on her,” she murmurs, before walking off, Volstagg, Fandal, and Hogun in tow.

Chapter Text

“I'm s-so...so s-sorry,” you say again, stumbling over your words out of sheer nervousness. It's the fifth time you've apologized, and Thor still isn't looking any more approachable. “I...I had no idea Loki...that h-he had such a command of sorcery.” How could you have known that even leaving his mouth unsecured would be dangerous? If you had, you would have double-checked the fastening on that muzzle...or never gone in the first place, you think to yourself.

“That isn't the point!” Thor booms, his words echoing off the eerily empty halls you had once roamed as a child. Dust swirls about his looming form. “You went behind my back. You knew it was wrong to visit Loki alone, even though I had set no limits on your behavior. I wanted you to be free. I wanted to trust you.” His voice cracks, and he holds open a familiar door to you.

“Thor,” you say his name softly, stepping into yet another clearly-unused wing of the palace. He doesn't look up to you, instead staring stubbornly straight ahead and walking on. You bustle to keep up with him, keenly aware that you've never felt more ashamed of yourself than at this moment in time.

“He escaped from right under our noses, do you know?” The Thunder God asks, voice wallowing in misery. “He asked if we'd sent you, and when we said we hadn't, the form in the cell vanished. An illusion. I heard him run away, but I...I couldn't catch him. I failed. I failed myself, my father, and Loki, and now I fear what my brother will do.”

You hang your head as you walk, wishing you could apologize a thousand times over at once and show Thor how abysmal you feel. But the functioning part of your mind is near-numb, only capable of the dull realization that Thor is leading you on the route to your childhood bedroom. Entire wings and hallways are just as you remember them, down to every last painting and vase and bookcase, although it seems by the thick layers of dust and mold that nobody has been in this area in centuries.

“God, Thor, I'm so sorry,” you sob, a sudden outburst of tears pouring down your cheeks. “Please, if I'm exiled back to Midgard, or killed, or what have you, just know I never meant this to happen. If I forget you, please do try to remember me fondly.”

Thor grimaces, one hand on the door to your old bedroom. You can still see the silly little “Keep Out” signs plastered on the wood. You and Thor and Loki had made the one with a bilgesnipe on it; Amora and Sif and Lorelei had helped you with the one depicting a fairy-warrior-princess. Thor's fingers brush against the edges of the signs, which only come up to his hips now. When you were small, you had stretched on tiptoe to hang it that high...

“I must ask: why did you do it? Why visit him, when you know...” Thor trails off, his voice heavy with sorrow.

“There were answers I could only get from Loki,” you sniffle, wiping away tears. “I needed to know more about why I did...w-what I did. I just wanted to set things right if I co-could...” You gasp, breaking down in silent sobs again.

Thor merely nods, opening the door to your childhood room with a stony expression. A firm hand on your upper back guides you in; you don't protest, but just before the big man closes the door, you call to him.

“Th-thank you for standing up for me before. To Odin, I mean.”

Thor's face is still troubled and inaccessible, but he nods all the same, shutting the door firmly. You hear something extremely large and heavy slide in front of the door – probably an entire bookcase; knowing Thor, he'd use whatever was readily available – and then you are alone.

The circular room is dusty with the years, but the furnishings - a canopy bed, a small child's vanity and an innumerable amount of strategy, magic, and weaponry books piled into a bookshelf - bring back many memories for you.

The room is stuffier than you'd remembered it, though. You cross to the window, undoing the latch and swinging the glass pane open. You are high up enough to negate any thought of escape; besides that, there is a screen bolted firmly into place behind the glass. Fingers running over the metal mesh, you realize you would probably need wire cutters to make a hole in this screen. At best, you have a pair of dull, kid scissors in your room, somewhere in an arts and craft bin. Yes, you are effectively locked into your little ivory tower.

The warm afternoon Asgardian air blows into your room, stirring up dust aplenty, but alleviating some of the oppressive stagnation. Settling on the bed, wondering how you'll fit your larger and taller frame on the mattress, you bury your hands into your pockets, hanging your head and trying not to cry. Your fingers find the dried gladiolus you'd picked just yesterday, in the shady courtyard with Thor. You pull it out of your pocket, turning the stem over and over in your fingers, wishing you were the same person that had plucked the flower only last evening.

Outside, you can hear a cacophony of voices, some giving orders from several stories below you. Odin's voice, louder even than his eldest son's, is easy to pick out. Crossing to the window again, you stare out at grounds, finding the Allfather with ease. He'll never find you worthy now. It doesn't matter what – if anything – Thor says in your favor anymore. You try to blink back tears, wishing you hadn't managed to mess things up so badly. If only you could be down there, trying to recapture Loki. What you wouldn't give for the chance to prove yourself worthy...

After a time, you find the search party has largely moved on to other grounds, and there is nothing at the window to occupy you any longer. Laying the dried gladiolus at the windowsill, you move to the bookcase, where you proceed to devour vaguely-familiar texts for the next several hours.

When evening, and eventually night, settles across the land outside your window pane, you move to your too-small bed, willing sleep to find you. When it finally does, the night is leaking into the wee hours of the morning, and there are thick tear stains down your cheeks.

Chapter Text

In your dreams, you're the size you were when you fit into the tiny canopy bed.

Loki and Thor, both a hand's width taller than you, are grinning at you playfully. Thor's small face is open, eager, while Loki's is cocked a bit, watching you carefully.

“Well?” Thor asks impatiently.

You smile back at him, suddenly lunging forward and tapping him on the shoulder.

“You're it!” Giggling, you grab Loki's hand and run off. His small fingers curl around yours, and he easily matches your pace. You spare a glance back toward him, and see his blue eyes shining. Behind you, Thor has covered his eyes and is beginning to count.

“Where are we gonna go?” You ask breathlessly, pulling Loki behind a corner. “The library's always good.”

“Maybe we should split up,” Loki offers, watching you intently as you process his words.

“No way,” you retort, pulling a face. “We're always better off together.” Loki smiles earnestly now, and you're aware that he's still holding your hand.

“Okay,” he agrees with a quick nod. “I know just where to go. Shh, c'mon.”

Loki leads you through the Asgardian castle, even stopping to deposit both of your pairs of shoes under the first set of curtains in the library. The toes peek out, and you know it'll be the perfect red herring to throw Thor off. He always checks the library first.

As Loki leads you in a barefoot run down a staircase in a wing you're sure you've never even heard of before, you can't help but feel admiration for the boy's cleverness. A massive double-door greets you at the bottom of the staircase, flanked by two guards on duty. Loki approaches them boldly, and you shy behind him, though he continues to hold your hand.

“I am Loki Odinson, and I would have you open these doors and allow me into this room, with my guest,” he declares. The guards exchange glances with one another, but nonetheless nod.

“As you wish, my prince,” the one on the right says as both of them grab one intricately carved door handle, unlocking the door with an ancient skeleton key. It takes all their combined body weight to heave open the door, which rumbles as it moves.

“Where is this?” You breathe, walking slowly, side-by-side with Loki, through the doors. They shut behind you with a resounding clang. Thor doesn't appear to be anywhere in sight, and you know that if he has not seen you yet, he probably will never find you here. Loki lets go of your hand, moving in front of you. His steps are confident, his smile prideful. It's a startling look on him.

“This is my father's treasure room,” he explains, in a voice that falls just short of boasting.

“Wow,” you grin, admiring the vastness of the room. Far down a stretch of hall, you can see what looks like a blue, glowing...thing, but Loki seems intent on showing you other wonders. All of them seem to be rather extravagantly named. The Warlock's Eye looks impressive, and the Tablet of Time and Life sounds impressive but looks rather boring. Your favorite is the Infinity Gauntlet, which both looks and sounds cool.

“The Infinity Gauntlet is pretty neat,” Loki agrees, his face illuminated in a golden glow. “My favorite is the Eternal Flame, though. Father stole it from Surtur at the beginning of time, so that Surtur cannot bring about Ragnarok.” Loki grins into the blaze, pride at his father's actions written across his features.

“That's amazing,” you say. “I didn't even know that any of this stuff existed...” Loki beams at you, taking your hand again and showing you more of Odin's trophies.

Your dream-memory turns to a panicked blur as Thor and Odin storm into the room. Odin is shouting, sweeping Loki up sternly, and Thor takes your hand, leading you after them. Loki is crying and Thor is pale; Odin is furious; he yells at you for a time. You escape as soon as possible, feeling guilty for leaving the two brothers alone with their father's wrath.

Whatever was wrong, though, it wasn't your fault. You'd just followed Loki there. Admittedly, you'd be certain to avoid the treasure room forevermore, but still...

You perch yourself in the great ash tree of the courtyard, nestling in a fork between three mighty branches. The crook is large enough for three or four small children to sit comfortably with their legs extended, and you sprawl out, staring at the leaves above you and trying to forget Odin's anger.

“Hey, gimme a hand up,” Thor's voice calls, and a small hand stretches into your view. Scrambling to your knees, you reach over, and with a groan and a heave, help the blond boy pull himself into the fork.

Loki's pale hand is next, and you find him lighter and slightly more agile. He sits next to you, folding his arms around his knees. His eyes are red and bloodshot, his very fair cheeks ruddy with tear stains.

“Loki,” you sigh, wrapping an arm around his slender shoulders. He leans against you, burying his nose in the crook of your neck. You hold him tight, and become so lost in thought that you startle when Thor's arms wrap around the two of you from behind. He rests his chin on the top of your head, and for a long moment, no one moves. The only sound is that of Loki's quiet sniffling as it subsides. Finally, you speak. “I'm sorry I left you both.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Thor allows. “I would've left if I could have.”

“Bilgesnipe,” Loki mutters, but you know he doesn't truly mean it. You stroke his dark hair gently, noticing that his sniffling has stopped.

“She is not,” Thor protests quickly. “She's always there for us when it counts most. What happened today wasn't her fault, so there's no reason she should have been punished for it.” Loki bristles slightly at the implication in Thor's words, and you know that Loki is wondering if Thor means to say that his punishment was deserved. You're sure the blond boy doesn't mean anything by it, though. He just doesn't always think through his words the same way Loki does.

“It doesn't matter if it's my fault or not, I shouldn't have left,” you sigh, squirming. Thor squeezes you just a bit tighter, offering you reassurance. He, at least, is not mad at you. “Your dad just really scares me when he yells.” Loki sighs, finally straightening up and giving you a very understanding look.

“I know what you mean,” he agrees softly, and Thor gives a hearty laugh, nodding his agreement. Loki continues, pressing on in that quiet way of his. “And my brother is right. You really are always there for us when we truly need you to be.”

“As you two are there for me,” you agree, wriggling your shoulder until you manage to wrap an arm around Thor. You squeeze both brothers tighter to you for a moment, and watch as Loki drops his doe-eyes, raising them to you after a moment while offering a tentative smile. You beam back at him, knowing you are forgiven.

“Of course we are,” Thor agrees loudly, his voice jolly. “You two are my oldest and fastest friends. I will never abandon either of you, so long as you continue breathing. This, I promise you.”

“I promise, too,” you agree readily, and soon, all eyes are on Loki, who is no longer smiling. Instead, he has his grown-up face on, his lips set in a firm line, his eyebrows frowning just the tiniest bit. You know he considers this a very serious moment, not one to be taken lightly.

“Yes,” he agrees finally, his voice calm, as if he's come to some momentous decision. “You two will always be my friends.”

Chapter Text

You awake in a cold sweat, shivering and gasping. It had been forever since you'd remembered that day. Even during your time on Asgard, you tried not to think about it often. Odin had scared your younger self witless.

Oh, who are you kidding? Odin still scares you witless.

You roll over, listening closely. Your ears don't catch even the occasional sound of the search for Loki continuing in the distance. Either Odin's men had proceeded further away from your locked tower, or perhaps Loki had been caught. You pray it is the latter.

You roll over again, struggling to get comfortable on the teeny mattress. You pull the blankets up to your chin, feeling just as miserable as earlier in the night. You spare a glance toward the window, wishing, yet again, that there was some way to time travel and prevent your mistakes from ever happening.

You scream.

In the frame of your window is a crouched figure. You clutch and tear at the blankets fiercely now, legs scrambling until you are huddled in a ball by the headboard of the bed.

“Have I startled you?” The voice that speaks is familiar, but it takes you a moment to put your finger on it. You've only heard it in its deeper form a couple times, after all.

Loki?” you breathe, now trembling. Thor had said he was dangerous, not to be trifled with, and by the Allfather, that look in his eyes in the jail cell had reaffirmed that a thousand times over.

“May I enter?” He asks, voice flat. It's not a question, really. He knows he can enter, whether or not you want him to – which you most certainly don't. You know better than to reply to him by now, though. To say yes or no could get you into even more trouble than you were already in.

Loki's form drops to the ground, unfolding itself. The screen in the window appears to be perfectly intact, as if he'd phased through it with magic. Silhouetted by the moonlight outside, you notice how the God of Mischief and Lies moves powerfully, confidently, to your side, his tall frame taking long strides.

It's so unlike the Loki you remember.

“What are you doing here?” You hiss, still curled up tightly. You try not to notice the way your arms are trembling.

“Why shouldn't I be here?” He replies with an unnerving smile, taking a seat on the edge of your bed. He makes a show of lounging, stretching his legs out languidly. “I don't much fancy more dimension-traveling at the moment, and you're the only Aesir I know who will not attempt to kill me on sight. Whether that's out of the bonds of friendship, or if only because you know you stand little chance...” He shrugs, still smiling that frightening grin.

But still – the way the moonlight illuminates his face...you notice all the ways he still looks like his younger self. As you regard him closely, with ever-widening eyes, you drop your blanket slowly, letting it pool around your ankles.

He stares right back at you, but his eyes are much more intense, swirling with some unfathomable emotion. You can't stand it, and you break contact with him, dropping your eyes to where your hands are clasped around your tucked-in knees.

Something brushes your knuckles, and you look up again.

“You've grown very beautiful,” Loki murmurs, the gladiolus you'd left on the windowsill in his hand. He's offering the flower, restored to its former vibrancy, to you. Slowly, you turn your palm over, taking the gladiolus from him.

“Magic?” You gasp, turning the beautiful gift over in your fingers. Loki makes a small hum of agreement. When you raise your eyes back up to the man, he is eyeing you with a guarded expression. You see some sincerity in his gaze – but you also see much of the glance of a predator who wants their prey alive, too. Your stomach and throat clench as you realize you are trapped.

Nonetheless, you can't take your eyes away from his face. It's impossibly pale, made even paler by the moonlight. There is such an undeniable beauty to him.

“Thank you,” you murmur back, deciding to be polite to the predator in the cage. “You've grown very handsome.”

It seems that Loki is constantly determined to destroy your expectations of him. He scoffs, finally looking away from you.

“You are not obligated to compliment me back,” he states tersely, his thin lips pursing and frowning. Against your better judgment, you touch his shoulder lightly. He jumps at the contact, turning back to you.

“I meant it,” you insist. Loki's upper lip curls up in a snarl as he shakes his head.

“No Asgardian in their right mind would dare call a Frost Giant handsome,” he growls, a familiar malevolence entering his voice.

“A...Fro- wait, what?!” You gape up at the man. Loki breathes heavily for a moment, still snarling, before his mouth curls into a sly smile, a mischievous light in his eyes. This time, you don't miss the flash of pain that surfaces in them.

“It seems Thor has not told you everything about his beloved brother,” Loki spits. “Perhaps I ought to enlighten you as to the truth of my parentage and the plan Odin had for me. We will see what you think once you have heard my side of the story, friend.”

Chapter Text

“I am no man's puppet, and when I reign, I will not be controlled by another man!” Loki is fuming, pacing the floor. He stops abruptly, pulling himself to his full height and quirking an eyebrow at you. “So tell me, friend.” The word is laced with venom. “Am I still handsome now that you know what I truly am?”

You wish you knew what to say. Everything in you loves your memories of Loki, fears the man before you, and hates the Jotunns. How could you not hate them? You'd heard the horror stories of the Frost Giants' savagery just as everyone else had. You'd known, since childhood, how ruinous and barbaric Jotunnheim is. By Hel, if it weren't for Frost Giants, you would never have been exiled, and you wouldn't be in any of this trouble to begin with. The Jotunns are inferior and backwards, your worst nightmare, your natural – born enemy, lesser than animals - !

“Yes,” you manage in a small voice.

Don't LIE to me!” Loki shouts, his face contorting. He is towering over you, breathing heavily, his teeth bared.

“I-it can't be true,” you breathe. Loki cannot be a Frost Giant, a savage. Not sweet Loki, the gentle, playful boy of your memories. And Odin - Odin cannot be so cold and manipulative. None of it can be true! “You can't be a Jotunn...” Loki must be lying to you. He must be trying to manipulate you, trying to win your sympathy to his twisted cause. He is the God of Mischief and Lies, after all. If anyone would be able to piece together such an intricate falsehood, it would be him.

“Does it scare you to think I might be a beast?” he snarls, dark hair blowing in the light breeze. Your eyes search his blue orbs for a long moment. There must be a way to sort out his lies from the truth....

“Show me,” you decide, standing up. You are chest-to-chest with the much taller and stronger man, but you can show no sign of backing down. “If you are a Jotunn, then show me your true form, Loki.”

The snarl fades from his face until his expression is a near-perfectly controlled mask. Searching his features you can just barely make out the confusion and reluctance hidden in his eyes. You can just barely make out the young boy he was, trapped within, screaming for you to notice his pain; you wonder if perhaps he isn't lying after all.

“Show me,” you insist again, trying to stay measured and calm, the way you might with a wild animal. A dull horror alights in his eyes, and he steps back from you a ways, nodding.

“Don't scream,” he says, a bitter smile flickering over his features. You watch, entranced, as his blue eyes turn horrifically red, sclera and all. His pale skin waxes blue, ice-blue, and his flesh develops the unique tribal markings and ridges of the Jotunns. Soon, the man standing before you is undeniably a Frost Giant, and you struggle to remember that Loki is Asgardian, that you'd been raised with him. His red eyes seem to glow in the dark as they watch you unblinkingly. You don't know what emotion they're expressing – all you can see is the sheer redness of them – so instead you circle Loki, your eyes sweeping over his entire body.

You feel suddenly silly. He hasn't grown twenty feet, or turned into a blue version of that man, the Hulk, that Thor had told you about. He isn't snarling and savage and stupid – well, okay, he is snarling, but he's been doing that for your past couple meetings anyway. He's just Loki, but blue. The moonlight on his skin, you realize, is beautiful, and for a moment, you want your skin to be blue, too.

Slowly, your hand quivering, you reach out to touch his cheek, just to feel that ethereal, otherworldly skin beneath your palms. It looks so smooth...

“Don't,” Loki gasps. Your fingers just brush his skin, and a penetrating cold sinks into them. He pulls away quickly, and you flinch back, holding your hand protectively.

A pale but very Aesir hand reaches for yours, and when Loki's fingers curl around your frostbitten ones, you dare to glance back up at him. He's returned to his Asgardian form – the form you are most familiar, most comfortable with him in.

“I'm sorry,” you both say at the same time, stumbling over words as each reassures the other. Soon, you're laughing aloud, allowing Loki to continue to rewarm your fingers.

“I fail to see what is so funny,” he says testily, a hint of malevolence sinking back into his now-blue eyes. You smile up into them, shaking your head.

“Oh, I'm sorry, I don't mean to upset you. But I feel so...so foolish!” You let out a girlish giggle, and Loki eyes you angrily. “Don't you remember the summer that I insisted you play outside with Thor and I more often, and you kept burning? Then I decided our new mission was to get you to have a healthy tan, but no matter what, you went from bright red back to being pale over and over.” You laugh again, giving him your most apologetic smile. “If I'd known you were a Frost Giant, I would never have subjected you to that particular torture. I'm so sorry!”

To your surprise, Loki's eyes soften, and he gives you the tiniest of smiles back.

Chapter Text

“What are you going to do now?” You ask Loki quietly, twirling the gladiolus he'd revived for you in your fingers.

“Stay here, for a time,” he replies, leaning against the windowsill and looking out. The moon has nearly set; you can barely make out his smooth features in the dark.

You drop your eyes to the gladiolus, stroking the velvety petals with your fingertips. Secretly, you wish Loki would give himself up to Odin and Thor. Loki could clear your name, even praise you for helping him come to his senses again. You could be a hero. He could make amends with his family again, on his own terms.

But Loki has grown prideful, you remind yourself, and he is not the only one who has transgressed here. You know it's not fair to ask the man to be the only one to admit his wrongs. No, you must allow Loki to do what he will, and you must endeavor to avoid his wrath in the meanwhile. You cannot risk angering him with your wishes. He is still the predator in this cage, and you, the prey.

You take a deep breath and pull yourself out of your thoughts, raising your eyes to the man at the window. He has been watching you in silence, and when your eyes meet, the corners of his lips twitch upward in a ghost of a smile. A fleeting, but gentle, smile crosses your features in return.

“What are you thinking?” Loki asks, leaning his back against the window and regarding you curiously. You shift closer to the edge of your bed, letting your knees hang over the mattress.

“That it's not safe for you here,” you reply, trying to choose your words with care. Nonetheless, the man's eyes narrow dangerously at your words. “It's only a matter of time until Thor or Odin or someone else comes back to check on me. You shouldn't stay too long.”

“I will stay as long as I like,” Loki snaps, fingers curling tightly around the lip of the windowsill. “I fear no one.”

You drop your eyes back to the gladiolus, unsure what to say. The slightest comment seems to set Loki ablaze; dealing with him is not unlike walking on eggshells.

“But...if I had not drained myself so from traveling across many realms, I would, perhaps, be elsewhere right now,” Loki admits, his voice quiescent. “As it is, I am tired, and this is the safest place for me.”

“You can come sit down if you're tired,” you suggest in a quiet voice. Loki blinks, perhaps startled by your offer, and moves slowly toward you. He sits not an arm's length from you at the edge of the tiny bed, regarding you closely. Yes, he is tired. You hadn't noticed it earlier, in your initial fear of him, but his eyes have dark circles under them, and he blinks in long, sleepy measures. “Traveling between realms seems exhausting.”

“It...requires a great deal of magic,” he answers.

“Why do it, then?”

“There are important matters I must attend to.” His voice carries a tone of finality, and you decide not to press the matter further. He is still guarded, yes, but he's much less wrathful than earlier.

Another long moment of silence passes between the two of you, and you alternate between studying the magnificent flower in your fingers and the magnificent man at your side. In his exhaustion, his temper mellowed, he reminds you evermore of the young boy you'd shared your childhood with. Smiling as a memory strikes you, you again break the silence.

“Loki.”

He hums softly in response.

“Do you remember, when we were very young, how the older children used to tell us stories of the Frost Giants at night, to try to scare us? Or how Odin would do that when we were acting out?”

Despite being at a distance, you can feel every muscle in Loki's body tense up.

“I do,” he breathes lowly, angrily.

“Do you remember how I used to have nightmares about the Frost Giants coming to get me?” You continue, trying to ignore his reaction. “And how I used to run into your room, since Thor always locked his door, the big baby?”

“You would sneak in, late at night, and tell me about your bad dreams,” Loki murmurs pensively, though you can still hear the tension in his voice.

“And then I'd always end up crawling into bed beside you?” You finish for him, grinning. “Now there's some irony. I ran away from my bad dreams of imaginary Jotunns, straight into the arms of a real one.”

To your delight, Loki actually gives a chuckle, his lips curved into a small smile. You beam up at him, loving every moment that his handsome face is lit up in amusement. You know it cannot last forever, though, and indeed, it is not long before even the last echo of his mirth is gone. Your wide grin fades quickly after his, until you are staring at the gladiolus again and yawning.

“You should go get your rest. I've kept you up long enough.” Loki rises from your bedside, and you don't even put up a fight, settling in under your blankets.

“Will you be here in the morning?” It's a silly question, made sillier by the fact that you don't know if you want him to leave or not. You cannot decide if you want him recaptured, put back under Odin's thumb.

Loki hesitates.

“Go to sleep,” he says, kneeling by your bedside. You draw your knees up and turn to face him, nearly eye-to-eye with the man. He reaches a pale palm toward you, placing it gently on the side of your face. His touch is cool and surprisingly tender. You almost think you feel his thumb brushing your cheek fondly – but a haze of overwhelming exhaustion overtakes you, and in your magic-induced slumber, you know not whether that is a dream or reality.

Chapter Text

Your sleep is dreamless, a narcotic, deep slumber. You cannot recall the last time you've slept this well.

Your awakening, however, is rude and painful. A deep voice is roaring so loudly it hurts your eardrums; the next thing you feel is a terrible pain through your back. You are knocked out of the bed entirely, and you scramble among the blankets on the ground, struggling to orient yourself.

“IF YOU HAVE HURT HER, I WILL SEE TO IT THAT TWICE AS MUCH IS DONE UNTO YOU!” Thor's voice is unmistakable. The massive thunder god is pinning Loki to the bed – more likely than not, it had been the pair that had slammed into you so hard as to send you flying. As Thor shouts, the bed groans in protest under an amount of weight it was never meant to deal with.

“And what if I have, brother?” Loki says deviously, his sly, quiet voice a stark contrast to his brother's. “What if I've shouted at her? What if she has felt the sting of my palms? The ire of my magic? Oh yes,” Loki grins, prying at Thor's massive hands and trying to keep them away from his neck. “You failed to protect her from me, Thor, and you know I'm a monster -”

Stop!” You shout, slamming your fists by your side. “Thor! Loki! Both of you, stop it right now!” Neither of the men seem to hear you.

“YOU WILL REGRET THE MOMENT YOU SO MUCH AS TOUCHED HER,” Thor booms, and the walls begin vibrating with the power of his voice.

“I don't think I will,” Loki purrs as the bed gives another crack. It seems extremely likely that the furnishing will snap completely under the two men.

Thor makes an unintelligible, strangled cry, drawing away and preparing to slam down into Loki with all the brute force he can summon. Without so much as thinking you launch yourself between the two brothers.

“NO! Both of you! STOP this!”

You've taken Thor off guard, and he has halfway rolled off of Loki by the sheer force of your intercession. Thankfully, the blond stops himself before smashing into either you or Loki. Instead, he grabs your lapels roughly, pushing you away with no small amount of force.

“Stay out of this!” He rages, struggling to contain Loki with just one hand. You tumble off the bed again, wasting no time in standing back up and launching yourself into the fray once more.

“No! Thor, listen to me!”

Using the thunder god's name clearly draws him out of his blind rage. Breathing heavily, the man regards you with confused blue eyes. Loki, still pinned to the bed, is gasping for breath, but still able to maintain a mischievous smirk. You want to smack that expression right off his face.

“But he -” Thor protests, his mouth slightly agape.

“No, he's lying,” you insist quickly. “He hasn't hurt me or done anything to me.” You don't know why, exactly, Loki wants to lie about any of that, but besides shooting him a very confused look which he answers with a raise of his eyebrows, you say nothing else about it. “I'm truly all right, Thor.”

For a moment, you think things have calmed down.

And then Odin storms into your room.

Chapter Text

The Allfather is as furious as you have ever seen him.

“SHE IS A TRAITOR TWICE OVER,” he roars, voice so loud that it hurts your eardrums. “SHE IS A WHORE, NO BETTER THAN THE SCUM ON MY SHOES. SHE IS UNWORTHY – UNFIT TO EVEN BE IN THE SAME ROOM AS MY ELDEST SON -”

Immediately, Thor raises his voice in protest.

“SHE IS NO WHORE,” he booms, nearly as loud as his father, pressing down on Loki's throat with a force that must rival his voice. “I WILL NOT HAVE YOU SAYING SUCH THINGS ABOUT HER -”

The two royal Aesir are so loud that you slide off the edge of the bed, curling up in a ball on the floor and covering your ears in a feeble attempt to protect your hearing. Regardless, you can still perceive every single word of what's being said.

Odin is fuming about your betrayal; he's insisting that he will not keep you around for the complete month. Thor stands up from the bed, leaving a gasping Loki behind to clutch at his throat as the thunder god insists that none of this is your fault, that it's Loki's. Loki raises his smaller voice in protest, only to get two wordless shouts of disgust and fury from the people that are supposed to be his family. You raise your head, abhorred as you realize you have seen this exact same scene hundreds of times – Loki's opinion dismissed as inferior, unwanted, by the people who were supposed to love him. As you watch through eyes welling up with tears – from how painful all this shouting is, or from how suddenly sorry for Loki you feel, you don't know, maybe both – a hint of pain flashes across Loki's face. He drops his own eyes to his hands, which are now fumbling uncertainly with each other.

For a moment, you see the Loki you knew.

Then his face hardens, and neither Thor nor Odin see the moment he snaps, because they are too busy yelling. He sweeps past father and son with sudden speed and grace, and swings past you, pulling you to your feet as he moves. He wraps one large, yet slender, hand around your face, covering your mouth effectively. Your back is pinned to him, and you are helpless, and Odin is still shouting.

“Shh,” Loki whispers in your ear. It's almost soothing, but he is still handling you roughly as he drags you across the floor, still the predator keeping you caged. You struggle against him to no avail, sudden clarity dawning upon you. You want to remain safe on Asgard. You want Loki caged again. You don't want to be kidnapped by this psychopath!

FATHER! LOOK! LOKI!” Thor roars, springing to his feet and charging Loki down. The God of Mischief laughs hollowly, and you are dragged out the window. You fear you're going to fall, and you cling tightly to the arm that's around you, but to your shock, you are standing on thin air.

“Come back here, sorcerer!” Odin spits the last word as he barrels to the window, unable to go further. “Come back here, you craven!”

“Craven?” Loki laughs bitterly behind you. “Oh, I think not. I am no coward, Odin. I have grown powerful. I have been to dimensions that you have never even heard of. I have learned magics and pathways that the great masters forbade. I am much more than the man you remember! I am worthy!

The hand around your mouth has been steadily tightening in Loki's anger. You tug on it, trying to free yourself enough to draw a breath in through your nose. Loki actually does soften his grip on you, holding you more gently, and you suck in air greedily.

“You say you are more a man than I remember, yet you act not even half so commendably as the son I knew!” Odin thunders back, but his voice is not hard with fury. You hear thick undertones of sorrow in his words, and you know that even in his most furious temper, he still bears a fatherly love toward Loki, even as he mourns for the loss of the child he knew.

“I do not need to be your son to be worthy,” Loki seethes, only hearing the accusation in Odin's voice, and you feel his body twitch in fury behind you. “I will prove myself, mark my words.”

You blink, and suddenly, you find yourself surrounded by the scenery of a rebuilding Manhattan. Loki looses his grip on your mouth, instead winding his arm around your shoulders. His hold on you is still firm enough to keep you from daring to think of escape.

“What -” You begin, but Loki shushes you.

“Tell me, darling,” he purrs, flashing a disarmingly bright smile at you as he sets a quick pace through a crowd of people. You are terrified. “You lived on Midgard for a not-inconsiderable amount of time, yes? You have a place of residence nearby?” You nod meekly. “Take us there, won't you?” You know he's only using you, but all the same, you nod again. What choice do you really have?

“Might I ask a question?” You just can't figure one thing out, and you need to know.

“What is it?” Loki asks, a bit testily.

“Won't Heimdall's gaze find us here?”

Loki laughs.

“Oh, no. No, no, no. I have magics that can hide us from him, you see,” he coos, all gentleness and pride again. “I have real power now, dear.” A shiver runs down your spine. Loki does, indeed, possess mighty power – more than he should, by all indicators. To be able to hide from Heimdall's gaze...well, you'd thought it impossible.

Your heart plummets. There is nearly no hope of any Aesir finding you here now. Oh, how you would rather be back in Asgard, to live out and enjoy the duration of the month you had there! To be free from this twisted, hurt man's clutches!

But then, a small voice reminds you – even if you were back in Asgard now, would Odin not exile you again immediately? He had said as much just moments before. Perhaps your options are now exile in Midgard or a life as an Aesir with a possibly psychopathic god.

“Over here, to the curb,” you say, steering Loki out of the throng of humans moving on the sidewalk. He hums a 'yes, darling,' and you find yourself bristling. You are not his darling, and you are already sick of the belittling pet names. You are sick of his twisted games; you are sick of allowing yourself to feel afraid of him; you are sick of the way you are complying with him without so much as a fight. “One more question before I take us to my home,” you hiss in the man's ear, unable to keep the anger out of your voice any longer. “Why in Hel's name did you bring me with you?”

Loki glances down at you, his expression impossible to read.

“Because you are my only friend,” he answers simply, and you don't know if he is lying or not.

Stepping forward to the curb of the road, you raise an arm and hail down a taxi.

Chapter Text

“I've told you, Loki,” you murmur over the rumbling of the subway. “I don't actually live in New York City. The rent for the apartments is astronomical.” Loki quirks an eyebrow at you. “I don't have the money,” you clarify the Midgardian expression. “So I live in a cheaper, more distant suburb.”

“Well, how long will it take for us to reach your abode?” He snaps, patience clearly waning thin. You grimace and shrug.

“I can't say. Perhaps two, three hours more,” you offer. In truth, you've been riding circles around the New York City subway with Loki, taking advantage of his magic to pay each fee. You are, honestly, still furious with him, and you think this small torture is well-deserved. Yes, Loki infuriates you - for the way he'd dragged you across the floor, for not turning himself in, for becoming what he had and treating you like prey.

If watching Loki squirm on Midgardian machines of mass-transit in the very city he'd half-destroyed is your only insignificant act of defiance, it is more than enough to bring some small joy to your heart. The dark-haired man appears to abhor the way mere mortals stand so close to him, hanging on to railings and sharing his oxygen.

“But we have been on three carriages already.” Is Loki whining? You turn your full attention to the man, surprised; he does, in fact, look a bit uncomfortable when you examine him closely. Pale fingers are fumbling slowly with one another, and his keen eyes dart around the subway car. You almost feel guilty. Almost.

“And we'll be on two more ere we reach my home. Midgardian transport is imperfect and time-consuming,” you reply. Loki purses his lips; you're not sure if he is angry or uncomfortable, or, perhaps most likely, both. He leans back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest and giving you a look that is halfway between exasperated and cross.

“I have important matters to attend to,” he murmurs, leaning in toward you until your shoulders bump.

“The subway does not speed up even for a busy god,” you mutter back through clenched teeth. Perhaps your small revenge scheme is not perfectly cooked; Loki is becoming grating, like a small child who cannot help asking if you are there yet. “Which makes me wonder: why should someone like you need my little apartment?”

Loki blinks, his eyebrows knitting together.

“Isn't it obvious?” He breathes. “We need someplace where you will be safe for a time.” Your lips part slightly in surprise, and you breathe back the only question in your mind.

“And after a time is up?”

Loki grins smugly, pulling away and settling back in his own seat more fully. “You'll see.”

Chapter Text

“Well, this is it,” you announce, pushing the door open and stepping into your flat. “My home.” Loki is hot on your heels, closing the door gently behind himself. He moves past you in elegant strides, running his fingers over your couch as he walks by. He gives the refrigerator a strange look, but moves on through your small kitchenette, eventually coming upon your sleeping quarters. He picks up a photo of you with some of your friends from your nightstand, holding it with both hands as he takes more interest in it.

“Who are these people?” Loki asks without looking away from the image. You cross to his side, plucking the photo from his hands and placing it back on the nightstand.

“They're my Midgard friends,” you reply curtly.

“You look very happy with them,” Loki muses solemnly. He is now regarding your face closely; you struggle not to shy away from the intense gaze. After a moment of steeling yourself, you stare right back at him, a bit defiantly. “Just as you looked happy with Thor and I, once.” The words cut you to the core, and you drop your eyes to stare at your shoes.

“Thor will never forgive me,” you murmur sadly. “I was supposed to prove my worth, and I failed him and his people. If it were not for you, I would be back here, alone, with no recollection of my true identity...” A gentle hand on your cheek startles you, and you look up at Loki, shocked. His eyes soften under your gaze.

“We will prove our worth to all Nine Realms, together,” he assures you, cupping your cheek tenderly.

“I don't understand what you are doing, Loki,” you say, feeling your eyes beginning to prickle with angry heat. “You destroy Manhattan, you become a prisoner to your own family, and when I try to speak to you, you hate me -”

“No -”

“ - and then you escape, putting both of us in more trouble than we were in!” You keep talking over the God of Mischief, too upset to listen to his ramblings. “And you kidnap me and bring me here so you can supposedly keep me safe, and along the way you start acting like you care about me again? You aren't making any sense!”

“I promise, all will add up soon enough,” he insists, the hand on your cheek drifting down to squeeze your shoulder. “But I could never hate you. You, my only friend. You, who has never betrayed me, never hated me for what I am.” His free hand comes up to rest on your other shoulder. “Will you trust me? Will you trust me to do this for us both?”

Your head is swimming. Could it be? Does Loki truly see you as his friend? Yes...now that you think about it, when you'd first visited him, he had been sure you'd been acting on Odin's orders, trying to manipulate him back to his family. Once he'd been sure you were your own independent agent, his attitude toward you had begun changing.

And besides – without Loki, what would you be? An outcast, thrown out at Odin's hands yet again? Hesitantly, you reach out to the man in front of you, putting your hands on his shoulders. You marvel at their breadth for a moment before speaking, certain of your choice.

“Yes, Loki. I will.”

A genuine smile breaks across Loki's face; the look is so startlingly handsome on him that you find yourself unable to look away, only smiling wholeheartedly back. Strong arms pull you in to his lithe body, and he crushes you against his chest, squeezing perhaps a bit too tightly for comfort. You are released quickly, though, and he holds you again at arm's length. Blue-green eyes sparkle with a renewed light.

“I need you to stay here, for now,” he insists, speaking with more energy and fervor than you have heard in his voice in centuries. “This is the safest place for you; I've used magic to conceal our travels here. For now, I have important matters to attend to. When it is safe for you, I'll bring you with me again.”

“There is nothing I can do for you in the meanwhile?” You ask quickly, pulling away from Loki. As he walks away, he pauses and gives you a soft smile over his shoulder.

“You have already done much. The most I can ask of you now is that you keep out of harm's way and await my return. It will be soon,” he promises. You only nod again and return that gentle smile. Gods, but he looks so like the young boy you had grown up with! So innocent, so loving!

In the blink of an eye, Loki vanishes, leaving only thin air in his place. In his sudden absence, your studio flat seems emptier than ever. You flop down on your bed with a heavy sigh, deciding that perhaps you will change into some clean clothes for once – maybe a comfy pair of sweats – and take a lazy day for yourself. Everything has been too hectic, too unpredictable...

A moment later, you bolt upright.

The last time Loki had tried proving himself worthy, he'd decimated most of Manhattan and single-handedly threatened the entire world.

Oh gods, what have you done?!

Chapter Text

To your surprise, Manhattan is not a pile of ash yet, nor is any other major city. Loki isn't even making headlines. You aren't sure if you should be worried that he is flying so low under the radar or relieved that he has done nothing absurd yet.

Though, if you are to be honest with yourself, you find Loki in your thoughts less and less with each day. You are actually enjoying getting back in contact with a few friends who had wondered where you'd vanished to for a few days; life on Midgard seems much more leisurely than you remember it. By the time you have woken up to your third disaster-free morning, the most exciting thing in your life is the Dunkin Donuts you bought last night for breakfast today.

Which is why, as you munch on a Boston Creme, you are a bit startled by a sharp rap on your door. You hadn't been expecting anyone – not until around lunch, at least. Had one of your friends decided to pop in for an impromptu visit?

“Who is it?” You call in a sing-song voice. As you wait for a reply, a dull terror awakes in your stomach as you remember that your life is most decidedly not that of an average Midgardian anymore, and you have no idea what Loki may have dragged to your doorstep.

“This is an agent of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Espionage, and Logistics Division, also known as S.H.I.E.L.D. If you fail to open up within the following minute -”

You don't wait to hear what the rest of the female voice was saying. Leaving your doughnut on the plate, you rush to the door. No way are you going to wait for an agent of one of the most elite organizations to decimate your little studio apartment. The rent is too expensive, and you doubt you have insurance to cover this sort of disaster.

Oh, well..there was that and the fact that you like staying alive. Sure, you are Aesir, but that doesn't mean that you fancy finding out what guns or explosives at close range feel like.

“I'm coming!” You announce as you run to the door, sliding on your socks a bit. You swing open the door, breathless.

The woman standing before you is, quite frankly, stunning. She's fitted in a tight black catsuit, her lips are a perfect pout, and her wavy red hair stops above her shoulders, looking like it's never seen a bad day in its life. All this is, however, completely dwarfed by the fact that she has a gun aimed straight at your head.

“You have been deemed a dangerous operative by S.H.I.E.L.D, and I have been given orders to find and infiltrate your premises and bring you into custody,” the woman says, but your ears are ringing, and you're not paying that much attention to her. You're considered a danger?! “Please put your hands in the air...put your hands in the air now. Thank you. Your efficient cooperation is the easiest route for you. You have the right to remain silent,” the woman continues as she begins patting you down. You flinch and shift, feeling violated as her hands roam over your body. Hadn't Loki said you would be safe here? “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights that I have read to you?”

“Y-yes,” you stammer out, trembling from head to toe as the woman handcuffs you. Where were you going to be taken, exactly?

“Stupid American legal technicalities,” she murmurs a bit grumpily. “Take up too much time.” She then says a couple sentences in a foreign language, the words coming too fast for you to even be able to roughly identify their origin. “You know, for a supervillain and war criminal's accomplice, you really aren't much,” she muses, eyeballing you.

Finally, a bit slow on the uptake, you realize that was Russian she had been speaking.

“You're Natasha,” you realize, eyeballing her right back. “Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. I'm right, aren't I?” You add, seeing the mild expression of surprise light up her eyes. She hides it well, but you're getting used to having to fish around to understand expressions. That seems to be the story of your life these days with Loki, at the least.

“How do you know my real name?” She says, a bit shakily. You smile brightly at her, hoping it won't come off as too creepy.

“I'm friends with Thor,” you explain, beaming. You are still trembling, but if this woman is Thor's friend, too, then maybe there's a chance that you can make things go a little easier on yourself...both here and on Asgard. “We've known each other since childhood.” Briefly, you wonder if Thor still considers you his friend at all. After the events of the past couple days, you aren't entirely sure. “Thousands of years ago,” you add with a shrug.

“You're Asgardian, too,” Natasha murmurs, still eyeballing you.

“Yes,” you agree. “And you're one of the Avengers. Thor told me all about you guys. I'd been hoping to meet the team someday.” Natasha frowns at you, clearly a bit puzzled, and you blink, shaking your head. “N-not like this, though. Obviously. No one would - well, no one in their right mind...” you blabber on for a moment, before Natasha grabs your shoulder, all business again, and begins to march you off.

Chapter Text

Oh. Oh. You hadn't even been aware that technology like this existed.

And yet here you are, standing on an airplane carrier that apparently operates like a giant helicopter as it lifts off the ground and maneuvers through the air with relative ease. And, evidently, it also has a camouflage cloaking device – the sort straight out of Star Trek.

Well, then.

Natasha guides – well, if you are to be honest with yourself, she's really dragging you, but you'd like to think of it as guiding – you to a large set of automatic doors. She flashes an ID card before a scanner, which also takes in her retina. She stares stonily at the laser scanner, and for a moment, you wish you could be like her.

She'd be worthy. She'd be the sort that could kick some serious ass and prove herself to Odin. But you aren't her. You're just...well, you.

The automatic doors slide open with a quiet hiss, and Natasha steps forward, pulling you along firmly, but not painfully. You step into a large circular room – rather like a meeting room, really, but with a few more high-tech computer panels and projections and much cushier red seats – and find five pairs of eyes staring at you. The room is eerily quiet, and you get the feeling that they may have been talking of something you weren't meant to hear.

Maybe they had been talking about you. Or Loki.

“Natasha,” a man with sandy-brown hair gasps, standing up just as a familiar, deep voice calls for you. You turn to your right, unable to repress a wide grin as the sight of a smiling Thor graces your eyes.

“Agent Barton,” Natasha responds to the man who'd addressed her, keeping her tone even.

“Thor!” You call, your own voice anything but. A man with a goatee nudges a well-built man with impeccable blond hair, snorting derisively and muttering something that sounds like “two pairs of lovebirds.” You don't notice, though, and are only vaguely aware of Natasha informing the sandy-haired man known as Agent Barton that she was going to go report to fury. What did that mean, anyway?

“You are unharmed?” Thor asks, moving forward and taking you in his bulky arms. You smile and nod, feeling tears push at your eyes. You're so glad to see him, and so tired, and so afraid of what is going to happen. All the emotions well up in you at once, threatening to overflow.

“I'm fine,” you agree, leaning your cheek on your childhood friend's chest. He lets out a breath.

“I must admit, I feared...what my brother would do to you.”

“Loki has been surprisingly harmless,” you confess, and it's true. “He has not laid so much as one finger on me.” You carefully leave out any mention of your rekindled, yet still turbulent, friendship with the God of Mischief, not wanting to plunge yourself into trouble yet again.

“When he pulled you out the window, I...” Thor pauses. “I'm sorry I didn't protect you. Bringing you to SHIELD was the only thing I could think of to keep you safe until we return to my father. These are my friends, and I trust them.” One of his big hands comes up to cup the back of your head.

“No, don't be sorry,” you insist. “A-are you...still mad at me?” There is no sign of anger in your old friend, but you want to be sure.

“No,” Thor sighs. “When I thought I'd lost you, I realized how foolishly I'd been acting. You will always be my friend.” You smile broadly, squeezing Thor just a bit tighter. Perhaps he has not changed much since childhood after all. “Besides – other news concerning Loki's escape has come to light over the past couple of days. I will tell you of all this and more,” he promises. “But first, allow me to introduce you to my friends.” Thor pulls away from you, gesturing at the four other men in the room.

“Yes,” the man with the goatee smirks. “Please, do introduce us to another loose-cannon Asgardian. I just cannot get enough of your kind, Thor."

Chapter Text

“Okay, let's see if I got this right,” you smile nervously, glancing around the room. You feel sheepish, with five out of the six Avengers watching you, but it's important that you be able to associate their faces with their names. Thor had told you about his group earlier, but you had yet to see any pictures of the superheroes.

“Tony Stark, the Iron Man,” you begin, pointing to the snarky goateed man. He smirks.

“Off to a good start, sweetheart.” You try not to roll your eyes. Stark has missed no opportunity to make his quick wit more than apparent. You try to remember all the good things Thor has said about the man, including his willingness to sacrifice himself to divert the nuke in their last battle with Loki.

“Steve Rogers, the Captain America,” you continue, pointing to the blond with immaculate hair. He blushes, ducking his head. Him, you'd known about long before Thor had spoken with you. During your time on Midgard, Captain America had been an icon of the past, an idol from your nation's most challenging years.

“Doctor Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk.” Banner ducks his head, too, playing with his hands, before he looks up at you sheepishly.

“If it's not too much to ask, I try to leave the...Other Guy out of regular life as much as possible,” he murmurs shyly. You nod, making a mental note to just call him Doctor Banner. Stark probably eats up being called Iron Man, but apparently, not all heroes are of the same mold.

“And Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye,” you finish with the sandy-haired man who had greeted Natasha a bit enthusiastically. He nods at you solemnly – rather stony, like Natasha, you think. “It's an honor to meet all of you,” you add sincerely.

“The honor is ours, ma'am,” Captain America responds politely before Stark has the opportunity to open his mouth.

“Right now, Nick Fury, our leader, has decided that our primary objective should be the containment of both you and Loki,” Thor announces, startling you a bit. For all his time on Midgard, he still has no sense of what an indoor voice is. On the other hand, Natasha's statement of “going to see Fury” suddenly makes more sense. “He has assigned you to remain here, on the Helicarrier, with Bruce, while the rest of us attempt to bring in my brother.”

“I have to stay here, doing nothing?” You protest before thinking.

“Why, is there something you can do, sweetheart?” Stark asks sarcastically, raising his eyebrows and blinking at you rather innocently. He was willing to sacrifice himself, you repeat to yourself over and over.

“...not really,” you finally admit. You've spent too much time as a Midgardian; you have lost the chance to develop your sorcery, as Loki had, or your inner warrior, as Thor had. You may have an extraordinary life span, be difficult to kill, and have superhuman strength, but that isn't saying much compared to what these men can do. In a battle, you'd only be a liability.

“This leads us to the news that Thor had mentioned earlier,” Dr. Banner interjects, deflecting the conversation from its rather unpleasant course. He stands, pacing back and forth while making gestures with his hands. “As you know, the Aesir named Heimdall has a gaze that is said to be omnipresent. There are very few instances in which magic can be used to conceal an individual from his line of sight. He has reported that Loki's muzzle may not have been displaced due to a lack of care on your behalf. Supposedly, a blonde woman was seen by Heimdall around the place of Loki's holding, and, for approximately ten minutes, she was completely concealed from him.”

“I-I saw her!” You gasp, feeling a tenuous thread of relief in your heart. “On my way back from my...er, second visit with Loki, a blond woman bumped into me in the hallways. She was very rude, and was headed in the direction I'd come from.”

Dr. Banner nods sagely.

“Not surprising,” he agrees. “Thor?” He turns to the big blond god with a small polite nod, taking his seat and placing his restless hands back in his lap.

“Given Heimdall's description,” Thor begins, gripping your shoulder tightly, as if to steady you. “The Allfather and I have reason to believe that this woman is responsible for freeing Loki while she was magically concealed, and that you were not involved in this matter.”

“Think she got that already, Pikachu,” Stark interjects with an eyeroll and a sidelong smile at Captain America. The polite Captain does not react.

Moreover,” Thor continues loudly. “We have reason to believe that this woman is also known as the Enchantress, Amora.”

Chapter Text

Your knees are still weak, but at the least, you haven't managed to pass out in front of Midgard's mightiest warriors.

“You don't mean, Amora – as in, Lorelei and Amora?” Your mind is reeling. Enchantress? She'd mastered magic, the same way Loki had, then? You supposed that made sense; the small girl was never keen on physical fights, and of course she would elect to study the same arts that her unrequited love pursued. “E-enchantress?” You stutter.

“Yes,” Thor says solemnly. “Amora has learned to command an impressive array of sorcery, from what Asgardian intelligence tells me. Her sister, Lorelei, has followed in her footsteps. I know this must be difficult for you,” the God of Thunder adds gently. “You three were good friends...”

“Wow, looks like you really know how to pick 'em,” Tony Stark laughs. You frown at the man, finally having had enough of his jibes.

“This is not the time to jest,” you snap, striding to him and putting an indignant finger in his face. “We could be facing a crisis situation here! And besides that, Amora was a sweet girl! There was nothing that indicated that she would betray Asgard like this, and even if there had been, it's not my fault that it happened. I suggest,” you seethe, “that you stay out of this unless you want to contribute.”

The Iron Man pulls himself to his feet, staring down at you. He's a few inches taller, but those few inches are enough to intimidate you nonetheless.

“Firstly, I'm not sure why you say 'we' could be facing a crisis. Loki appears intent on acting on Earth time and again, following his track record beautifully, and...let's see. Of the people in this room, how many are Asgardian, and therefore not directly endangered by him?” He quirks an eyebrow at you.

“Stark, play nice,” Captain America warns.

“And secondly, maybe you haven't noticed,” Stark continues, “but you seem to be the one least capable of contributing. Unless you'd like to tell us about some secret powers, you need to stay out of this. Besides that, your lack of power and knowledge could very well have contributed to this situation. I guess it's not your fault you were played like a pawn, though. Finally...” he blew out a breath, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Stark!” The Captain scolds, pulling himself to his full height and looming over the Iron Man threateningly, but to no avail.

“I suggest, in the future, you keep your misdirected anger to yourself.” The Iron Man sits back down, and you are left standing, shaking from head to toe.

“Stark, what is going on in here?” An unfamiliar voice calls from the door. You turn your head, becoming aware of how tight your throat is, as if you are choking on a sob.

“Fury!” Stark greets the one-eyed man with a smile. Behind him is a very unimpressed Black Widow. “Just me, exhibiting some of my typical character flaws. You know, the ones that nearly kept me out of your super-secret boy band in the first place.”

“Keep those character flaws to yourself in the future,” Fury snaps, moving to you. “We need our new operative ready and willing to cooperate. Agent Romanoff tells me that you're Thor's friend from Asgard.”

“Yes, sir,” you agree readily. “Though I've spent a significant portion of my life on Midgard. Earth.” You say this with a sidelong glare at Tony Stark, who frowns slightly and shrugs his shoulders.

“I know what you people mean when you say Midgard,” Fury says, a bit testily. “Thor, since you know our new little friend here best, perhaps I'd better ask you to escort her to her new quarters. They're attached to Dr. Banner's lab, so you should find them easily.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Thor agrees, clapping you a bit too hard on the shoulder. Your knees buckle slightly.

“Mr. Fury, uh, sir?” You ask nervously, before Thor escorts you out of the circular meeting room.

“What is it?”

“You called me a new operative. What does that mean?” You ask carefully, keeping your expression blank.

“It means,” Fury begins patiently. “That you'll be working hand-in-hand with Dr. Banner, right here on base. He's an expert in gamma radiation, and should be able to help us locate Loki and the Enchantress both.” You frown. You don't know a thing about gamma radiation beyond a high-school chemistry level, nor do you have a particularly intimate understanding of enchantments or magic. All the same, you nod your agreement, knowing better than to protest. It's important to keep up a facade of cooperation...even if you aren't yet sure that you really want to cooperate at all.

Chapter Text

The automatic doors slide shut behind you with a quiet hss. Thor, however, is not so subtle.

“I do believe that you and Dr. Banner will get on well,” he announces loudly, standing with you just outside the doors. He's looking into your eyes, trying to be sage and understanding and gentle. You have to admit, he's better at showing these emotions than he was in his youth. His adventures have helped him settle down. “Bruce is a good man, gentle and intelligent. You'll have nothing to fear from him.”

You're not listening to Thor entirely, though. Inside the circular room, the Avengers are talking among themselves. While the automatic doors would have kept your human ears from hearing their words, your senses have been improved since your promotion back to your Aesir birthright. If you strain to listen just so, you can pick up their words as a quiet whisper.

“New operative?” Stark is saying, his voice now very familiar to you. “What, Fury, you've got to be joking. You're going to make her an Avenger? Just...just adopt this useless kid into the family?”

“Not quite, Stark,” Fury replies evenly. There's a pause, and you're aware that Thor is still speaking.

“I know you and Stark have gotten off on the wrong foot -”

“Care to explain to us what your plan actually is?” Stark asks, an edge in his voice. “In case you haven't noticed, we have no idea whose side Thor's little friend is actually on. Sure, she knows Thor, but she also has a history with Loki, this Enchantress, and pretty much every other crazy on Asgard. Am I the only one who sees the danger here?”

“I suggest, Stark, that you curb that attitude immediately,” Fury begins, his voice louder than Tony's. “But no, you are not the only one who sees the potential for danger. Have you ever heard the saying, 'keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?'”

So that was it, then. Thor wanted you here to protect you until you returned to Odin; Fury wanted you here to keep you out of the way, yet still compliant; Stark didn't want you here at all.

“If you could give Tony a chance, that's all I ask,” Thor finishes, looking at you expectantly. You have no idea what, exactly, he's been saying, but you only hesitate a moment before nodding. Thor grins. “I thank you,” he says affectionately, taking you by the shoulders and directing you away from the circular meeting room. You don't try to listen for the Avengers anymore. You're not sure you want to hear anything else that they – or Stark, at least – have to say.

Chapter Text

You sit on the edge of your bed, noticing that, for a supposed military base, it's fairly comfortable. You can't help but wonder if everyone's beds are this nice, or if some of SHIELD's employees have to sleep on cots.

“This card should grant you access to both Bruce's labs and to your quarters,” Thor explains, handing you a blank with a long magnetic strip down one end. “I must warn you, though – should you find you need to venture outside this domain, you'll need a SHIELD member to accompany you. Fury has not yet developed an...'identity card' specific to you.” Thor makes air-quotes as he speaks, and you giggle. “I have not been jesting,” he adds, a bit confused.

“I know,” you laugh quietly. “It's just amusing, seeing you, of all people, here on Midgard.”

“I have taken it upon myself to protect this realm,” Thor announces with a shrug. “The humans here are good, and I believe their culture offers much.” You nod, patting the space next to you on the bed. Thor sits down, his hands on his knees.

“You don't have to defend the humans to me,” you say. “I spent much of my life among them. I ...share the same affinity for them that you do.”

“Perhaps stronger,” Thor muses. “And yet, you wish to return to Asgard.”

“Asgard is my home,” you nod. “I love Midgard, but without my earliest memories, and without the Bifrost, I would never be able to settle for being Midgardian. I could never visit Asgard...or remember you. At least, as an Aesir, I'll be by my oldest friends' sides, and I can still visit Midgard now and again.” You blow out a breath, putting your hands on your knees in mimicry of Thor. “I want to remember who I truly am.”

Thor gives a hum of understanding, nodding sagely by your side as a silence settles between you both. It's not awkward, per se – you have known Thor for millennia, after all – but it is heavy, as if bogged down with the words that should be traded between you both but are left unspoken. There is so much you want to talk to Thor about – your mixed feelings and strange friendship with Loki; your anger towards the Allfather; your hope that you may discover what you have done, that you may prove yourself worthy; yes, even your offense at being confined here, to work with a scientist on a thinly-veiled project to occupy your time. But now does not seem the right time to confide in your friend, somehow.

“So,” Thor says, blowing out a breath. A beat of silence passes again.

“So,” you say, fumbling for a more friendly, conversational way to break the ice. “The last time I was with Loki, a few days ago, he said that you've fallen in love.” Loki hadn't sounded happy about it in the cab, but you don't mention that part. You don't want to put a damper on this particular piece of good news. Indeed, at your words, Thor smiles, a rare blush coloring his cheeks.

“I have,” he confirms. “You...you would like her. She's a scientist. She's clever, like you. And gentle. And she has much faith.” His smile broadens as he glances away, as if thinking on something private to him. “I will have to introduce the two of you sometime. I think you will find it easier to make friends with Jane than Sif did. Our Shield-Maiden found my Midgardian love...rather different.”

Now it's your turn to smile privately. It sounded, to you, like Sif was jealous; you'd always known she had her eye on Thor. The cultural differences between the two realms were the perfect excuse to cover up her behavior.

“It'd be my honor to meet her, Thor,” you agree, putting one hand on his big shoulder. He turns his smile back on you, his eyes warm, and he pulls you closer to his side.

“I worry about her,” he confesses. “I try so hard to keep her safe. So many people I have to protect...” He sighs, and you suddenly feel bad for what you're planning to do. Thor really does have the best intentions, for both Jane and you. You know that, should you choose to not cooperate, to refuse to be confined and escape from SHIELD, you'll only hurt Thor – make him worry. How does that make you more worthy of being an Asgardian?

But then, you remember that Loki is out there somewhere, possibly with Amora, the Enchantress, and you feel a sudden clench in your stomach. Loki is a grown man – a powerful man, at that – and he's become a twisted, psychotic version of what he once was. But you know there's good in him still, and that he considers you his only friend. He's shown you glimpses of the child that lives on in his heart. More than anything else, you need to protect that innocence. This is your mission, not SHIELD's.

“Have you considered seeing if you can get your father to accept her into Asgard?” You suggest to Thor quietly. “He gave me the chance to prove myself worthy. Perhaps he'll offer the same opportunity to your Jane.”

Thor considers this for a long moment, stroking his beard pensively with his free hand.

“Perhaps,” he agrees. “But that is a matter for another meeting. I have busied your time long enough. Get some rest, my friend.” Thor squeezes your shoulders gently before standing and, with one last smile at you, he takes his leave. You smile feebly back at him until his large frame is hidden behind the automatic doors.

A pair of pajamas is set out for you, and you change into them, happy to put some comfortable clothes on. As you shimmy out of your pants, dropping them to the ground, you notice something fall out of your front pocket. Bending down to pick it up, you find it is the gladiolus Loki had given you, still alive and vibrant.

Holding the beautiful work of magic to your chest, you settle down in your assigned bed. As comfortable as it is, it's still not yours, the one that's somewhere miles away in your little suburban studio apartment. Thoughts and guilt circle over and over in your head, and you toss and turn, unable to get comfortable.

How on Earth are you going to escape from this helicarrier? Do they have security cameras watching you even now? You have no security clearance, Thor's made as much perfectly clear. Besides that, the helicarrier is literally in the middle of the ocean, flying on thin air. You have no mastery of magic; Loki may be able to float and disappear at will, but you have no such luck. Simple party tricks are the most you can produce – well, if you can still remember how, that is. Even if you are to escape, how are you to know where Loki and the Enchantress will be? And what if they hurt you? And when, by Yggdrasil, had you shifted from desiring only to prove yourself worthy to needing to protect Loki from himself?

As you drift off to sleep, you begin formulating a plan in your mind. Yes...yes, now that you think about it, if you can just be patient and clever, all the pieces can very well fall into place. You just hope you won't hurt Thor too badly...or get anyone else in trouble, for that matter. Including yourself.

Chapter Text

Your dreams tonight are a whisper of what could have been.

“Could court today have been any more interesting?” Loki sighs, but his voice is measured and even; he is the calm, loving man he might have grown into. “I honestly think I ought to...spice things up a bit tomorrow. Can't have my beloved brother dying of boredom, now, can I, dear?” The tall man sends a sly smile your way, and you squeeze his big hand gently, laughing with an ease you think you had all but forgotten.

“Oh, my prince,” you tease, shoulder-checking him affectionately. His smile stretches into one of mirth, and he slides his hand from yours, pressing it to the small of your back. “Do be kind to poor Thor.”

“Have I ever been anything but?” Loki grins, the mischief back in his eyes, and you ogle this gorgeous creature that you may never get the chance to know. His face is open, easy, and joyful, his stride long, but measured enough that you do not struggle to keep up. Even his eyes are different, the lines on his face not as deep or worrisome; the very sound of his voice seems to be lighter to your ears. “Come, love, let's go for a stroll.” You hum your assent, sliding close to Loki and following his lead.

You pass Fandral in the halls; the blond warrior has a small troupe of women following and gushing over him. He stops to kiss your hand nonetheless, even turning and embracing Loki.

“My beloved prince,” Fandral grins, thumping him on the back.

“Please, Fandral, such courtesies embarrass me. You are like a brother to me, as are all of the Warriors Three,” Loki sighs, extracting himself from the ladies' man's arms and moving to reclaim you quickly. “But if you would excuse me...”

Fandral winks at you and turns his attentions back to a rather lovely brunette.

“Fandral could help us stir up some trouble tomorrow,” Loki muses as he guides you along. You realize, vaguely, that you are headed for the courtyard. “Not too sinister a scheme, of course,” he adds quickly at the sight of the look you are giving him.

“Loki, you are to be a king one day,” you laugh, shaking your head. “When will you behave like one?” The man grows solemn, staring down at you intently.

“Surely you, of all people, know there is a difference between my mischief and my maturity,” Loki says with a small frown. “Do not confuse the two. I was born to be a ruler, and I will rule. And I will do so more fairly, wisely, and certainly more calmly than even my own brother. Do you not believe this?” You step into the courtyard with Loki, reveling in the fresh air. The Helicarrier had such stuffy, recycled air; the replacement of its staleness with a light, warm breeze comes a relief.

Wait, the Helicarrier? No, no, you want to be here, now, in this alternate world. You focus for a moment, struggling to pull your dream back to you.

“...it's not that I doubt that,” you are saying as Loki guides you to the great ash tree. “You should know that I am your greatest supporter, Loki. You are my prince and my closest friend.” You almost add “lover” to that list, which surprises even you. “I have always, and will always, believe in you.”

You scramble up the ash tree after Loki, moving agilely over the pits of the gnarled bark. As you approach the giant fork between the three mighty branches, Loki reaches one pale, slender-fingered hand to you. You take it, and he pulls you up, leaving you wondering when it was that you stopped having to help him and he took it upon himself to aid you.

Loki does not let go of your hand as soon as you are up, though. Instead, he uses it to pull you into his lap as he leans backward against one of the ash's thick arms.

“I fear what I would have become without your constant presence in my life,” Loki sighs, toying with your hair tenderly.

“You are a good man, Loki,” you tell him earnestly. “You would have been no different for my absence.” Loki shakes his head.

“You know not what you have done for me over the years,” he murmurs. “In a place like Asgard, where we live for many millennia, I think it might be easier than one would expect to go a little mad.” You give a low chuckle at this.

“I must confess, I thought I was certainly exiled when Laufey stormed in, wielding that monstrous weapon and declaring that I had given it to him,” you sigh. “If Odin hadn't understood that I'd done so for the greater good -”

“Greater good is a subjective term, dearest,” Loki smirks.

“For your good, then,” you reply smoothly.

“You always have been my protector,” Loki says. His lips brush against the crown of your head, and you gasp softly. “And that is why, when I rule, you will have nothing denied you. I will treat you as my queen, spoil you for all I'm worth, and never let a finger of harm come to you.” You smile, touched at his proclamations. You hesitate a moment, genuinely unsure of how to respond, but the next thing that comes out of your mouth is a giggle.

“Honest, that sounds a bit boring,” you laugh, leaning backward until you are settled against his chest. He chuckles in response.

“I think so too,” he admits softly. “We'll stir things up now and again. How could I not?” You nod, suddenly comfortable beyond belief. This is how your life was supposed to turn out – like a dream... You blink drowsily, taking in the stunning views afforded you from the heights of the ash tree.

“Sometimes, Loki,” you murmur quietly. “I fear what I would have become without you. If I had been exiled, what would I be? No great queen, for certain. I would be average.” Loki makes a sound of protest, shifting you and leaning forward until his lips are not far from your own.

“Who you are,” he breathes, his words falling hotly on your slightly-parted mouth, “is in here.” He taps your chest lightly with one long finger. “You are a queen, no matter what does or does not come your way. I will always believe in you, and I will always rely on you.”

Just then, your alarm goes off, and you smack it with one fist angrily, watching through bleary eyes as the machine crumples under your unchecked Aesir strength. But when you finally swing your legs out of bed, you do so with purpose, holding your gladiolus tight and your chin high. You may not be extraordinary in the way that you would have become had you lived in Asgard your whole life, but at your core, you are the same person that Loki believed in as a child. Maybe all you need to do is believe in yourself, too.

Chapter Text

As you step into Bruce Banner's laboratory, chugging down the last remains of the pint of milk you'd gotten at breakfast, you can't help but reflect that you feel much better than you have in a couple days. Your belly is full, you aren't worried about unpredictable friends, and – quite possibly best of all – your conscience is light. Sure, you'd betrayed Odin ages ago, but if your dream is to be any indicator, you'd done it because you somehow wanted to protect Loki. Of course, a tiny, nagging doubt makes you wonder if your dream truly is magic-repressed memories resurfacing in your subconscious or just what you hope to be true, and you are more than a bit curious as to how, exactly, the incident played out – but for now, you're happy to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

“Good morning, Dr. Banner,” you greet cheerily, noticing the curly-haired man hard at work. He's peering intently through his glasses, fingers dancing over a holographic touch-receptive screen, adjusting and modulating levels of Allfather-only-knows-what. He turns toward a second screen, raising his eyes to yours.

“G-good morning,” he greets in return, looking a bit startled. “Sleep well?”

“Better than I have in a while,” you admit with a nod, putting the milk carton in a recycling bin near the door and moving closer to the scientist. “How about you?” You return the polite formality.

“Oh...fine, fine,” he agrees, a bit distracted. You cock your head, getting a better look at him. Judging by the bags under his eyes, you think it's a safe bet that he's lying to you. For a long moment, you watch him work, fingers flying, eyes darting from papers to screens to another screen to tiny knobs. With the speed and fervor with which he is tackling...whatever this problem is, you can't help but wonder whether the space between his ears is occupied by a brain or a computer. With SHIELD's level of technology, you really do wonder for a moment...

But soon, your thoughts turn to other things. How are you, of all people, supposed to help this man who is light-years ahead of your understanding?

“Whatcha doing?” You ask with a smile. Banner starts, as if he'd forgotten you were there.

“Well...it's a bit complicated,” he says, taking off his glasses and rubbing at a spot just below his eye. He smiles at the ground as he does so.

“Try me,” you declare, boldly taking a seat by the man and pursing your lips into a determined line. You may not be good for much, but you had a plan to carry out, damn it, and you had to try to focus as hard as possible right now to see it through.

“All right,” he agrees, placing his glasses back on his nose and leaning back in his chair. He makes eye contact with you – my, but he does have extraordinarily pretty eyes – and sighs, clearly trying to decide how to explain. “Last time Loki escaped, we found him primarily due to the scepter he'd been wielding. All radiation – gamma radiation included – is like...a signature, but written in a very specific frequency of electromagnetic rays. This signature is then broadcast into the entire atmosphere, and, due to the nature of gamma rays, can be extraordinarily long-lasting. That scepter of Loki's gave off very minute levels of gamma radiation similar to that exhibited by the previously-studied Tesseract, and, in the end, it led us straight to him. This time around, he doesn't have his scepter, but he's still using Asgardian magic, from what Director Fury says. Our best bet is to try to find similar patterns to the waves I'd used to triangulate him earlier. Does that make sense?”

You frown, sinking back into your chair and resting your chin in your hand. Sure, it seemed potentially logical enough. If it worked once, why not twice?

“It makes sense,” you agree, nodding slowly. “But...Dr. Banner -”

“Call me Bruce,” the man says with a wave of his hand. You smile.

“All right, Bruce,” you say. “I have a question. You guys have probably addressed this already, but I guess I just have to know.”

“Ask away,” Bruce says, nodding.

“Okay,” you sigh, taking in a deep breath. “When I was young, living on Asgard, I'd begun studying magic. One of the first things we learned was that there's a difference between the pathways sorcery takes in enchanted objects versus in living organisms. Due to our nature of being alive, we channel the energy and process it differently than a magical artifact, like the scepter or the Tesseract or Mjolnir might.” You pause.

“There wasn't really a question in there,” Bruce observes, quirking his head slightly and peering at you.

“Right, um,” you fumble for a moment. “I...Loki told me once that it was because enchanted objects don't have to process it at all, so their magic is stronger than a living being's, but that's also why they can usually do only one thing. Like Mjolnir can make stronger lightning magic than Loki ever could, but the hammer could also never manipulate its own energy to create fire. But if we living beings were ever to try dealing with unprocessed magical energy, like that inside Mjolnir, it would be really harmful for us. So I guess...my question is, how can you be sure that the same gamma radiation patterns will apply to Loki's Asgardian magic as last time, with the scepter? They're different classes of magic.”

Bruce is frowning, his fingers steepled, and he's not looking at you. For a moment, you panic. Have you said something really that dumb? You must have. This was probably SHIELD's first concern. They've probably discussed this a thousand times. Banner is probably trying to figure out how to explain some complicated algorithm to your simpleton mind without insulting you or offending you and -

When Bruce finally speaks, it's only two words. Two words that make your heart sink and soar at the same time. Leaning back in his chair, he stares up at the ceiling, blowing air out of puffed-out cheeks and sighing,

“Oh, shit.”

Chapter Text

“I-I honestly don't know how I could have overlooked this,” Bruce frets, pacing back and forth through the room and wringing his hands. “It makes perfect sense -”

“It's really not your fault,” you murmur, not sure how to soothe a genius. You hadn't meant to one-up him, and you didn't want to sound anymore condescending; by Yggdrasil, you certainly would never have the right to dare think of yourself as smarter than him. He just didn't know the nuances of Aesir sorcery. “I mean, I think everyone assumes that Asgardian magic is Asgardian magic until they're told differently...”

“No no no no, it's not just that,” Bruce insists, raking both hands through his curls. “You see, gamma radiation is the most harmful sort of nuclear irradiation for humans and other biological entities. Put simply, alpha and beta radiation are the least penetrating forms of these waves, meaning the worst they can do to you is to leave you with burns on your skin. But gamma radiation – it, well, it penetrates biological tissues deeply. Gamma radiation is what's responsible for radiation sickness, for – for increased risk of cancer, even for creating mutations in DNA. I don't know how I believed it logical that the Aesir should have adapted to the rays, even being able to harness them...” Banner continues talking, but he's mumbling, talking to himself. Finally, he speaks up again. “If I could get a reading, record the breakdown of isotopes as an Aesir uses magic, I can gain an idea of what range of alpha and beta particles – as well as what pockets of accelerated isomer destruction I should be checking for – c-could you find Thor for me?”

You shake your head, trying to clear it. You hadn't heard those terms since high-school chemistry – and even then, you aren't certain you'd heard half of them in the first place.

“Thor...doesn't use magic,” you inform him regretfully. “Odin didn't want him to sacrifice any time that could be devoted to learning the way of the warrior. Besides,” you add, with a small chuckle. “He really was no good at it. He's better off with Mjolnir.” The one time Thor had decided to summon fire to fight Loki's frost, he'd burned himself bald.

“You said you studied magic,” Banner says, eyeballing you carefully.

“I don't know how to do anything, either,” you say with a shake of your head.

“Nothing?” The man sounds exasperated.

“Well...I can do little party tricks, I guess. Create a flame without a lighter. Um, but I don't think that compares to the scale Loki or Amora can operate on...” Your mind is churning. Maybe if you could get Sif or someone else from Asgard, they could help you out. Lorelei, perhaps? You just need the clearance from SHIELD...

“No, no, scale doesn't matter,” Banner insists. “I don't care if you're converting one mole of americium or ten or a tenth of one, I just need to record how you do it, and how many coulombs you put out relative to kilograms, as well as adjusting for the doppler and photoelectric effects...I need Tony in here.”

Your heart sinks. Stark?! No, not him! Anything but him! His snarky attitude is the last thing you want to deal with now. You have a mission, and you had hoped to pull the wool over Banner's eyes, but the Iron Man will be watching you, too, and you can't hope to escape the notice of two Avengers. All the same, Banner is looking at you a bit expectantly.

“I'll go get him,” you mumble miserably.

Chapter Text

“I thought Bruce was supposed to be the expert on radiation here, Snark,” you snap, scanning your blank ID card and granting the two of you access to Banner's workroom.

“Snark? Well, aren't you clever. Brucie over here,” Stark announces, pointing in a frat-boy fashion at the meek scientist, “is an expert in gamma radiation, which apparently, he does not expect to be dealing with any longer. And since I have, oh, nine doctorates, it seems he thinks I'll be of use.”

“Everything all right?” An unfamiliar voice calls from behind you. You turn around, standing in the sensor of the automatic lab doors, finding yourself face to face with a female you don't know and an in-costume Captain America.

“Fine,” you grumble, trying not to throw an inconsiderate glance in the Iron Man's direction. You nod your head at Captain America politely, trying not to grimace at the thought of this upcoming experiment. You're positive you're going to make a fool of yourself in front of Bruce, which is bad enough in itself; having Tony in the room is only going to add insult to injury here!

You are pulled out of your thoughts by the sound of your name.

“I'd like you to meet Director Fury's right hand, er, woman,” Captain says, gesturing at the lady by his side. “This is Agent Maria Hill.” Agent Hill extends a smooth-skinned, manicured hand in your direction, and you take it, shaking it firmly.

“Pleasure to meet you, Agent,” you say, making your best effort at sounding more cheerful.

“The pleasure is mine,” she responds amicably, releasing your hand and fishing in her pockets for something. “I've actually come to give you your official SHIELD ID card. You have Class D clearance, which...I know it sounds low,” she admits, seeing how your face falls. “But really, it's only a step below most full-time operatives'. You'll find that you have entrance to most rooms on the helicarrier, barring the control room, weapons room, and, of course, any rooms marked otherwise. And others' personal quarters. You will be able to access supply rooms, all of Doctor Banner's labs, and the majority of the helicarrier's meeting rooms.”

“Thank you,” you nod, accepting the card from her and giving her your old blank one.

“If you'll excuse me, I have to rendezvous with Intel at eleven-hundred,” Maria Hill informs you, walking away in clipped strides.

“Class D? That's not so bad,” Captain America says, smiling at you. You think, for a moment, you might melt and die right on the spot. How is it possible for a man to be so conventionally handsome?! Aren't faces like his supposed to only exist in fairy tales or Photoshop? “Hey, so, what's going on in there, anyway?” He raises his eyebrows, gazing into Banner's laboratory.

“Um...they're doing radiation science,” you say, not really sure what else to call it. To your surprise, Captain America laughs.

“Sounds like you get about as much of this as I do,” he grins. “Mind if I keep you company for a moment?” You shake your head mutely, stepping into the lab and motioning for the man to follow. He looks around a moment in quiet awe, and you take the opportunity to reflect quickly. Class D clearance, huh? Well, it was better than what you'd had a moment ago. It seemed like your plan would be easier to pull off, with this new development...and harder, with Stark and the Captain around now.

“Is she even listening? C'mon, Brucie, do we really have to use her?” Stark's abrasive voice cuts through your thoughts.

“I thought, last night, you were complaining that I was impossible to put to use. Now the opportunity comes along, and you're still not happy?” You retort quickly, not quite aware of what is going on. All the same, it appears to be a good comeback. Stark's face goes blank for a moment, and Captain America chuckles by your side. Bruce ducks his head. “My question is, do we really have to use him?” You point rudely toward Stark. “He contributes to a rather negative work atmosphere. I'm not sure I can get my mojo on with him around.”

“Point taken, little lady,” Stark scoffs, wrapping one arm around Banner's shoulders. “But I'm afraid I'm here to stay. Doctor Banner and I are science bros, you see.”

“Right, then,” you respond, not really seeing at all. “Just tell me when you need me to get to work.”

Banner nods, ducking his head and moving away from Stark as he promptly begins fiddling with some more controls. Captain America steps back, taking a seat at the edge of the room. He crosses one leg over the other in a figure four, watching intently.

“All right, whenever you're ready,” Bruce calls. You nod, pursing your lips and chewing on the bottom one. It's been a while since you'd done this...

Focusing hard, you snap your fingers and try to remember what it is to summon flame. Nothing happens, not even a spark. Damn.

“Yeah, whenever you're ready,” Stark calls. Captain America gives him a death glare, and the Iron Man grins, shrugging. You frown harder, snapping your fingers again. “Anytime, sweetheart.” By the gods, your words have come true. He really is making it impossible to concentrate. You snap again. And again. And again. And nothing happens, at all. “What is it with you Asgardians and performance issues?” He jabs, and you can hear the smirk in his voice.

“If you would just stop judging me and appreciate that I'm trying, maybe this wouldn't even be a problem!” You shout, slamming your fists down by your sides and stomping your feet. A quiet woosh rises from the ground, and you glance down, just in time to see the last tongues of flame curl around your foot, rising up to your knee. Well. That was...unexpected. At least it had worked.

When you raise your eyes to Stark's, he has his hands up in the air in mock-surrender, a cocky grin on his face.

“That was excellent!” Banner announces, sounding very much like an excited child. “Absolutely excellent. Good work. Tony, come help me write an algorithm that will help me separate particles from background radiation – I want to rule out anything with a frequency greater than ten exahertz -”

You tune out the scientific babble, heading over to Captain America's side.

“I hope everybody saw that, because I am not doing that again,” you laugh, taking a seat. Captain smiles, stretching back comfortably.

“That was pretty good,” he grins. “Next thing Stark knows, they'll be making you a regular Avenger.”

“I hope not,” you laugh, shaking your head. You have enough on your plate already.

Chapter Text

Your stomach is growling – actually, you are famished, damn that Aesir appetite of yours – but all the same, when Captain America asks if you'll join him at lunch, you turn down the offer.

“I'll catch up to you later,” you announce, giving him a warm smile. “I think the 'science bros' are close to a breakthrough.” You air-sign the quotes, glancing at a very focused Iron Man and Bruce Banner as you do so.

“If you're sure,” the man smiles, and you try not to melt again. “It's been a pleasure talking with you, ma'am. I do hope I'll see you soon.” He pats your shoulder as he leaves, and you wave to his back, only then turning back to watching Banner and Stark. Come to think of it, when Stark is thoroughly absorbed in his work like this, he actually looks innocent and handsome. Maybe he's not so bad after all, you tell yourself.

Not that you can get attached. You're going to betray these people, escape, and it's only going to go harder on you if you find yourself bonding to them. Loki is your first priority now.

You daydream for a while, playing with your gladiolus in your pocket and forcing yourself not to think about the near-constant rumble of your stomach, when Banner and Stark suddenly start screaming, shouting at each other incoherently, and high-fiving each other so hard you wonder if their skin will go raw. You jump out of your seat, running over to their side.

“We have him down to one of four possible locations,” Bruce announces, sounding proud and sure of himself for the first time. He is so like Loki in his youth! You grin up at him, caught up in their intoxicating joy. “Only four! Everything's been a success!”

“In record time, too!” Stark cheers, squeezing your shoulders with one arm while pumping his other fist into the air. “Just think, Bruce. Soon enough, we'll have this down to an exact art. We'll set world records, patent it, sell it -”

“Don't you have enough money?” You ask with a laugh. Stark shrugs, and you laugh harder. His abrasive attitude and cockiness is so like Thor in his younger years -

No. You must stop thinking like that. You cannot get attached.

“Anyway, check this out,” Stark grins, zooming in with his fingers. “We have near-exact matches for Asgardian magic signatures in, well, technically four places, but we're ruling out one because the decay indicates that nobody's used magic there for a while.”

“Where is that?” You ask, curious.

“Fishkill, New York. Not far north of Manhattan, actually,” Bruce informs you, tapping the screen. It switches to an aerial view of what looks like a very familiar block. You frown at the satellite image, only taking a moment to recognize it as the block your little studio apartment is located on.

“Right, that's my apartment,” you tell the two men, pointing. “Loki used magic there about three days ago, when he disappeared and left me on Midgard.”

“Guess that means we know we're on the right trail,” Bruce grins, and Stark punches him in the shoulder with an amicable smile. You fight down a smile of your own; their attitudes are infectious.

“Any thoughts on the next three locations?” Stark asks, pulling them up on one screen each. “This is Tromsø, Norway, most notably home of the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory.” He moves to the next one easily. “Decay here also appears to be older and more dispersed. We can't pinpoint an exact location yet, for various reasons I won't addle your brain with, but this is New Mexico, roughly about where we believe the epicenter to be.” You nod slowly, pieces beginning to come together in your mind. “Lastly, we have this place, out in the, er...suburbs of what appears to be Nowhereland, Alaska.”

“I think you mean Galena, Alaska,” Banner corrects. “It's not entirely Nowhereland, either. Recently, the people of the Yukon Valley approved an offer from Toshiba to construct a “Super Safe, Small, and Simple” nuclear battery. I've been following the case closely,” he admits with a sheepish grin when you and Tony both throw bewildered stares his way. “The 4S is the first of its kind. It's important to remember, though, that the battery gives off enough radiation that it could be entirely coincidence that we've found a match for these signatures. With all the reactors in the world, at least one was bound to look like Asgardian magic, statistically speaking.”

You frown at the map; the little red dot marking the epicenter of activity appears to be over a small gas station with a large sign, proclaiming it to be “Oak Synfuel Oil.” Alaskans. Didn't they have Mobile or Exxon or something up there?

“So, basically, it's not that one,” you offer, frowning. “I...don't really know anything about the other two. But I do know that Loki is clever, and he's bound to give you a red herring. One of those is definitely right, but the other is meant to throw you off track. That's the best I can say.” The two men look crestfallen at your words, exchanging a glance, and you realize the idea of a false trail is something they'd probably been expecting. You've told them nothing new, really, besides explaining away the Fishkill signature. At least that was something, right? “Do you want me to bring in Thor?”

“That'd be good,” Bruce agrees quietly, putting one hand on your shoulder and giving it a friendly squeeze. “Thank you for your help.”

“It was my pleasure, Bruce,” you agree with a smile. Tony steps behind the scientist with raised eyebrows.

“Guess you aren't so bad after all, sweetheart,” Stark admits, his palms up in the air in a shrug. “Personally, I always knew you had it in you.” He gives you a wink, and for a moment, you wonder if he really was teasing you to get you to step up your game. But no – you'd heard him behind the automatic doors last night. He had honestly disliked you, wanted you gone.

“I try,” you say, forcing yourself to smile. Either you're a good actor, or else Stark still expects you to dislike him somewhat, because he grins down at you. “I'll send Thor in as soon as possible. Let me know if you guys need anything else. I'll be at lunch,” you call, heading out the automatic doors. Yes, one of those is a red herring – you just have to figure out which one before the Asgardian prince or the two genius scientists do.

Chapter Text

You sit at the far corner of the mess hall, trying to stay as isolated as possible – though it's not like the place is particularly packed at this hour. Too late for lunch, too early for dinner, the only people in the hall are the occasional stragglers, aiming to pick up a quick afternoon snack. You can only hope that there are no security cameras focused on you right now.

Staying in your room hadn't been an option. It's connected to the laboratory in such a manner that if you needed to go anywhere, you had to first start by walking through said laboratory. With the workplace full of Banner and Stark, you wouldn't mind this terribly. But there would be no way Thor would let you leave the room without him – or at least a lengthy conversation - first. You can't risk that distraction, as much as your heart aches to see your friend one last time.

Instead, you busy yourself by shoveling literal platefuls of food into your mouth. Asgardian metabolism is awesome. As you eat, though, you focus hard, trying to think the way Loki would. He is mischievous. He is your friend. He wants to play games. And lately, he appears to love being the exact opposite of what everyone seemed to expect from him.

The opposite...no, it didn't make sense. Banner's explanation for the reading in Alaska had been spot-on. You'd be wasting your time trying to refute it; you need to decide whether you should be heading to Norway or to New Mexico. Then again, why had the epicenter of alpha and beta radiation appeared directly over that gas station? It had unexpectedly caught your eye.

Unexpectedly...hm.

You fish around in your pocket, pulling out a small smartphone that SHIELD has supplied you with. You'd found the little treasure in the pocket of some standard-looking clothes that you'd guess probably get issued to all of Director Fury's little “operatives”. Pulling up the screen, you go straight to settings. There is likely an internet connection in this Helicarrier, sure, but it's probably also tightly monitored. You turn the wi-fi on the device off with the touch of a finger, immediately switching over to 4G. Silently, you bless Stark Industries for developing the technology that had made the over-the-air network available literally everywhere on earth. Oh, if Tony only knew!

You pull up the internet browser hastily, leaning over your phone in a way that allows your body to obscure the screen from any prying eyes. You haven't yet noticed any cameras in the helicarrier, so they're obviously very well hidden. You'll take no chances.

What had that gas station been called? Oak Synergy – no, Synfuel Oil. Yes, that had been it. You type in the peculiar name into the search bar, hitting go. Quickly, you scan over the first result, learning that “synfuel” is actually short for “synthetic fuel”, and is obtained from nearly anything on Earth, including coal and plastic. Well, that's a nice little factoid, you think, but not much help.

Idly, you stare at the screen, wondering how you'd ever hoped to outsmart Thor and the two genius scientists. You weren't even an Avenger. In your trance-like state, you noticed that “oil” had three out of the four letters of Loki in it. You give a quiet chuckle; how fitting! Your childhood friend has certainly grown into a slippery little bastard.

Wait a second.

Hastily, you peck in the words to the search bar, hitting go and biting your lip. The Google results page cannot load fast enough. You go immediately to the first hit, pulling up the Internet Anagram Server, smiling slightly at its alternate name, “I, Rearrangement Servant”. Yes. This is exactly the sort of clever thing that Loki would play at. You type in “Oak Synfuel Oil” into the “Get Anagrams” field, hitting the button and biting your lip. Oh, my. That is a lot of results. Over twelve thousand, to be exact. You scroll through them quickly, past “A Loonies Fluky” and “Unsafely I Look,” feeling your heartbeat quicken slightly at that one. Yes, you are looking unsafely; your keystrokes are probably monitored by SHIELD, regardless of whether or not you're on their network. Had Loki been sending you a message on that one? You swallow hard, turning the phone off completely and leaving it on the table. It probably has some tracking device on it, with your luck. This thought had been the same reason that you'd refused to wear the standard-issue SHIELD clothes left in your room, preferring to repeat an outfit instead, and now, you're beginning to appreciate your decision.

Well, if “oil” has most of Loki in it, is there also a “k” in that gas station's name? Oak. Yes, yes there is. So Loki's name is in the title. All right.

While you pace down the halls to you-know-not-where, your mind begins churning harder than ever before, giving you a slight headache. Is it just coincidence, that you've found Loki's name in the station name and a warning in the Anagram Finder? You have a hard time believing so.

With a gasp, you freeze. The rest of the station name – it's an anagram too!

Oak Synfuel Oil.

Loki Laufeyson.

Chapter Text

Thor starts shouting, and you swear that the entire Helicarrier can hear it.

HE HAS GONE AFTER JANE! AND ERIK AND DARCY!”

There is a pause, and you move closer to the sound of the voices. Unsurprisingly, they're coming from the lab; you can barely make out what sounds like Banner and Stark trying to calm Thor down.

MY BROTHER HAS BETRAYED ME AND MY LOVE! I CANNOT REMAIN CALM!” You wonder what Thor is going on about. “DO YOU NOT RECALL? FURY SENT JANE TO THAT VERY OBSERVATORY IN NORWAY TO KEEP HER SAFE WHILE LOKI RAVAGED MANHATTAN! AND MY FRIENDS ERIK AND DARCY RESIDE IN NEW MEXICO!”

Oh, shit. Are you wrong? Loki would most certainly love going after revenge on his brother -

With a frown, you realize that's not right. Loki doesn't want revenge. He never has. He wants to prove himself worthy, just as you do. The God of Mischief is clever, though, and he's thrown not one, but two red herrings at SHIELD, leaving you the only one who has picked up on the anagram – for now, at least. By the Allfather, he is a clever bastard.

A stream of agents, all clad uniformly, come pouring out a door down the hallway, heading in your direction. Your heart flutters. This is your chance. Carefully, you pretend to move out of the way a bit nonchalantly, but when you're certain nobody in particular is watching, you slide into the middle of the throng, being carried down the hallway by the tide of humans all around you.

“I MUST PROTECT JANE,” Thor's voice booms. “I MUST PROTECT EVERYONE.” Your stomach clenches. You've never wanted to not do something more in your life, but you must follow through. Loki is not beyond saving. He's shown you that. He's reached out to you, not just once now, but twice. Most of all, Loki is your ticket to keeping your memories of who you really are. He won't struggle to keep you confined in a Midgardian Helicarrier, the way Thor has. He won't denounce you as unworthy, the way you know Odin will.

Your clothes are dull and inconspicuous, and apparently, Class D clearance is enough to get you into whatever room you are headed to with a flash of your ID card at an overtired security guard. Either Fury trusts you too much, or this guard isn't doing his job right. If it's the latter, you hope he doesn't get in too much trouble for it.

As soon as you step into the room, you realize just what you've gotten yourself into. The area is high-ceilinged and extremely vast...and it explains perfectly why this machine is called a Helicarrier. You are in the aircraft carrier portion of this floating SHIELD base – and every cadet is splitting up, filing in an orderly fashion to their own small aircraft, with a sense of purpose that you cannot replicate. Thankfully, you don't have to; a distraction is supplied for you in the form of a very angry and distraught Thor.

“AGENT HILL, IT IS FOOLERY TO TRY TO STOP ME,” he is roaring. You've probably never heard him more furious in your life; his voice even outdoes Odin's. “LOKI IS MY BROTHER AND MY RESPONSIBILITY. I WILL NOT SIT IDLY -”

You can't listen to Thor's shouts all day, though; you have a job to do. You fall into step casually behind a cadet, trying to move in the man's shadow, where he won't see you. Everyone in the room has lost their rhythm slightly, fidgeting and glancing around, at a bit of a loss. An upset thunder god was not in their plans. They do their best to continue operations, though, moving with purpose mingled with curiosity. Good. At least this way, the man you've chosen to stalk won't be as on top of his game as he normally would be.

You stomp your foot a little harder than usual, trying to summon fire the same way you had before. At least Banner and Stark shouldn't be able to identify your location too easily. You've already used Aesir magic once on the Helicarrier, and recently, so they should be expecting their devices to register a signature.

Unfortunately, no fire happens. You try snapping quietly, stomping your foot, focusing on fire. Nothing, and the cadet is getting closer and closer to his plane. You're in a battle against time now, and you stomp again, snap again, focus again, and nothing.

“IF YOU WILL NOT LET ME LEAVE, AGENT MARIA HILL -” Thor is still thundering on, and the cadet in front of you turns to look at the ruckus. You stomp your foot and snap your fingers one last time, panicking. The airplane is not even twenty paces away at this distance, and Thor is fast approaching you!

Unfortunately, you forget to focus.

The plane directly behind Thor goes up in flames, its cockpit engulfed by tongues of heat. It's not a particularly big fire, but it's big enough that Thor turns around, Mjolnir in hand. You panic for a moment – had there been a man inside that cockpit?

“My plane is on fire!” A voice is shrieking, and you see a man waving his hands outside the plane. Oh, thank heavens. You don't want to hurt anyone...

Thor and Agent Hill rush over to the man, and so does the cadet in front of you. You swallow hard, feeling your pulse thundering in your ears. This is the moment. Everyone is focused on themselves or the burning plane.

You close the distance between you and the distracted cadet's plane in a brisk walk, scrambling into the cockpit with your legs flailing behind you. Surely, there had to be a more graceful way to do this. Either way, you swing into the seat at last, sitting down.

Had Stark Industries not completely revamped nearly all weapons-based technology, you would never have been able to get this plane off the ground. As it is, the LCD screen in front of you is impossibly complex. Before you begin to tinker with it, though, you pull on a helmet with a mask intended to make it easier for you to breathe. A HUD display comes up around your right eye, prompting you to press your right hand into the LCD screen for verification as a SHIELD operative.

Shaking from head to toe in your seat, you follow the directions. You want to cry. You want to run away. But instead, you press your palm into the touch screen, a bit too firmly. Nonetheless, a red bar descends across the interface, then ascends. A green light appears in your HUD display, and the glass roof of the cockpit closes above you with a quiet hiss.

Was Class D Clearance really high enough to allow you to fly planes? Apparently so – that or Stark has yet to work out some kinks.

You turn around in your seat, noticing that Thor is still yelling, and Maria Hill is radioing someone while a squad of emergency responders are rushing in, spraying a foamy fire retardant all over the plane. The cadet whose plane you've taken is turning around aimlessly, clearly lost. He spots you, yelling and pointing, but no one hears.

What happens next in the hangar of the Helicarrier, you'll never know. Your plane's engines roar to life, propelling you forward hard enough that you slam backward into the seat. The sheer force demands that you face forward again. You grip the arm rests tightly, deciding that from now on, you'll pay more attention to the HUD display and the LCD touch screen. They probably tell you important things.

Chapter Text

Your plane exits the hangar smoothly, accelerating as if you're a skilled pilot with years of experience. When you take to the air, there's a few bumps and shudders, but otherwise, you don't have to lift a finger. You frown. What are pilots even needed for, these days?

With a sinking feeling, you realize that pilots are probably necessary for dog fights and taking in hostages. Drones are likely best for surveillance, but only humans can react efficiently to their environment in a fight – unless huge amounts of money are involved, at least.

Your HUD display currently reads the following:


69 40'47.94” N
18 58'31.22” E
Elev 139 feet


Beneath this is a constantly shifting set of numbers, in the same degree pattern as the first two. It's a bit hard for you to concentrate, with some g-force pressure forcing you back into the seat, but your recently restored Aesir constitution makes it much easier to handle than if you'd been in this situation as a human. You search your mind, recognizing the degree-numbers as coordinates. The shifting ones must be yours, then, and the static ones your destination.

Hesitantly, you reach out in the air, tapping the spot where it appears the static coordinates are. They light up a moment, reacting to you, and you notice the large LCD touch screen on the dashboard in front of you change suddenly. The motion startles you, and you jump. How does Stark handle these HUD displays, anyway? Being Iron Man must be more difficult than you've imagined.

It's pulling up an image of a city in Norway, giving you a map complete with a beeping dot over your destination. Text on the screen announces that you're headed to University of Tromsø, N-9037 Tromsø, Norway. Norway...that had been the location of the observatory that registered Aesir magic. That won't do. Your fingers hesitate a moment over the map before you delve right in, pulling up a menu to change your destination. Soon, you're searching through the Stark Industries equivalent of Google Earth, trying to find Oak Synfuel Oil, Galena, Alaska. When it returns with only one hit, you don't even bother checking the coordinates. That is definitely your destination, and you select it with a tap of your finger. A prompt menu comes up, asking if you're sure; you press yes.

Automatically, your plane begins to bank hard to the left. You squeal and grip your armrests tightly, chewing your lip and trying to keep your eyes open. It's not long before you've broken away from the pack of SHIELD planes. You swear you see a couple pilots eyeballing you curiously as you nearly cut them off, but they don't do anything. They must assume you have new orders from Fury. Good. At least that means that nobody's decided to do anything about your escape yet.

You can't help but wonder if Stark's technology will report back to Fury, telling him your new destination. It's likely that it will. If you stood any chance of flying this plane yourself, without Stark's gadgets, you would have. That way, nobody would catch on as to your destination. But the LCD screen full of information about your engine, ailerons, lift pressure, torque, altitude, barometric pressure, and more technical mumbo-jumbo tells you that you really, really should not try to wing it yourself. At the least, you hope to gain a big enough head start that you'll outrun any planes following you – or any superheroes. Can Stark or Thor travel as fast as a plane? By the Allfather, you hope not.

At the thought of Stark, you feel a pang of sympathy. You really hadn't meant to pervert the man's technology so far away from its original purpose. He may be a pain in the ass, sure, but he is also a hard worker, judging by all of...well, this. He'll probably never forgive you, especially considering he doesn't like you in the first place, but you make a mental note to do something for Tony that will make up for your sleights against him. Bruce and Thor both consider him a good man. You will at least try to make amends, when all this is over, if only for the meek scientist and your oldest friend.

Speaking of childhood friends...you swallow hard. What will Loki be like when you met him up in Alaska? You can only guess. Guess and hope.

Chapter Text

Galena, Alaska, it turns out, is not so far from wherever the Helicarrier had been hovering. You haven't even passed over any land masses – apparently, you'd already been in the Pacific Ocean. Good. At least you won't be spending hours in the air, vulnerable to attacks from any of the Avengers or any SHIELD members. The sooner you get to Loki, the better...and, strangely, the safer you'll feel.

As your plane begins losing altitude, you panic, wondering where on earth you're going to land. Are there any designated landing strips in Galena?! Or any long stretches of plain fields, or even maybe straight road?!

You're going to die. You are going to crash and die and it is going to be awful and no one will be able to save you. Maybe now Thor will show up, flying with Mjolnir in tow, and he'll crash through the cockpit and pull you out -

But no. Your childhood friend, the superhero, is nowhere in sight, and you can now make out the individual tips of the evergreen trees below. You close your eyes, tipping your face upward, toward the heavens. You've gotten yourself in too deep, and you've forgotten that you can't always count on someone coming to save you.

Maybe, just maybe, your Aesir constitution will be enough to let you live through a plane crash. Maybe if it's a particularly non-spectacular crash, you'll even walk away.

Your plane shudders, metal groaning, and you are rocked back and forth in your seat. Every breath feels like it could be your last, and you savor each one, finally opening your eyes to see your end. Are there flames? Or trees? Is it all bright?

It's very...blue.

Water washes over the glass cockpit, and your plane bobs up and down a couple times, until finally, the water comes off the windshield in streams. When you can see again, you realize your plane has had the sensibility to land in the nearby Yukon River.

You are going to kiss Stark when you see him next. It doesn't matter if it's on his lips or on his ass – he deserves either.

Your cockpit pops open, and a trickle of water runs off the glass, landing on you.

“Ahh!” You shriek, hands flying up. You undo your helmet and mask quickly, planning to get out of the cockpit as fast as possible. That northern river water is cold. It probably comes from a glacier or something, with your luck.

You scramble up to the side of your cockpit, glancing around. As you do, your heart falls. The Yukon is...well, really wide. The current is slow and ambling, but the prospect of having to swim in this freezing river for many times the length of a pool to the shore is not all that appealing. All the same, you'll do what you have to do and thank Odin for making you Aesir again later.

Galena is clearly visible from your perch. It's the only town for miles; it's incredibly small, probably housing only a few hundred people, but it's still a dramatic contrast against the vast wilderness. Somewhere out there, at a gas station called Oak Synfuel Oil, Loki is waiting for you.

You steel your nerves, standing up on your seat. The plane rocks beneath you, and you bend your knees, preparing to dive in.

Suddenly, the river ices clean over, creating a very thick path straight to the shore. You stumble, nearly diving head-first into the solid water. Instead, you lose your balance, managing to save your fumble by swinging out of the cockpit and sliding down the plane's side until your feet are on the solid ice.

Mouth slightly open, you turn around, glancing toward the shore. What you see makes you smile wider than you have in a good, long time and break out in a sprint clear across the ice.

Chapter Text

“Loki!” You shout, slamming into the man in a fierce hug. You wrap your arms around his chest tightly, still grinning broadly. You immediately move to pull away, remembering that this is not the Loki you knew. No, this Loki may be your friend, but he is all anger and madness these days, and even now, his body is stiff, like hard ice.

Before you are separated from him, though, you feel one of his wiry arms wrap around your upper back, pressing you into him just the slightest amount. He whispers your name softly.

“I...wasn't sure you'd come back to me.” His voice is full of doubt, fear, and hesitation. You pull back from him, your own smile softening.

“It wasn't an easy choice,” you admit. “And I was confused and scared, Loki. But you're my friend. There will never come a day that I am not here for you.”

“You really chose me over Thor?” Loki asks, still doubtful. “He's...he's the obvious choice over me,” he adds, and he cannot look into your eyes as he says this.

“Because you're a Frost Giant? Or because your father has always favored him over you? Or maybe, just maybe, because he always fit the Asgardian ideal of princely, and you did not?” You're tired of games. It's time to bring the tough love, the brutal honesty.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS,” Loki roars, pulling away from you. He is not as loud as Thor can be, but the ferocity in his voice, in his face, is terrifying nonetheless. “YOU KNOW IT. Don't...don't make me -”

“You are my best friend, Loki,” you interrupt, reaching one hand up to cup the back of his head. “None of those things matter to me. You know this. You have always known this.” You want him to relax, but instead, his eyes are wide, suddenly looking terrified, confused, and a bit bloodshot. Is he about to cry? His lower teeth are bared, his jaw gritted, and he is shaking from head to toe under your palms.

“If you ever betray me -” he begins, but you cut him off.

“I will not.” Loki's the contradiction of contradictions; he just cannot react the way you expect. He's so volatile. “We don't have much time, Loki. SHIELD or the Avengers are probably hot on my tail. What did you want me here for? You left a message that you knew I would be the only one to catch on to, if I was looking.” Loki nods, glancing away from you for a moment. He squares his shoulders, straightens up, and sets his jaw. When he looks back at you, it's with determination.

“I have much to tell you,” he says, his deep voice laced with authority and purpose. “I think much of it you'll be interested in.” He smirks. You cock your head, curious, and his smirk grows. “Oh, yes. I've managed to piece together the story of your betrayal of Odin – with Amora's help.”

You grin, your eyes lighting up. Finally! You can learn the truth of this waking nightmare! As eager as you are, you're also quite terrified. What if you hadn't been as noble as you'd imagined in your dreams? What if you really are just a traitor, plain and simple? You need to know, need to understand yourself better. This mystery is such a deep part of your being, it cannot remain unsolved.

“Really?!” Is all you manage to say. Loki laughs, but there is no mirth in the sound.

“Really,” he coos, turning away from you and striding away. Your eyes widen, and it's not long before you're running after him, every inch of wet skin that is not covered by your clothing suddenly cold in the chilly air. “But secrets come at a price, you know. Can you afford to pay that price?” He asks darkly, still walking away. You freeze, a sinking feeling settling in your stomach. These words echo those he'd said to you on the day you'd visited him alone. “Or is the price too high? Will it destroy you? Is it worth it?” You hesitate.

“What's the price?” You ask nervously. Loki has stopped walking, and he is smirking over his shoulder at you, one eyebrow raised.

“Ah, see, that's part of the game,” he purrs. “I don't tell you the price until after you've...oh, what's the Midgardian phrase? Made the purchase.”

“L-loki,” you gasp, staring at his backside in shock. “That's not fair.”

“No, it's not, is it?” He asks malevolently. Suddenly, his temper flares. “Nothing is fair!” He shouts, fists balling at his side.

“I-I don't know what to do,” you confess, pressing your fingers into your temples, mind reeling. You'd come all this way, for what? A game? A man who is as cold and psychotic as ever? “I can't decide -”

“Sooner or later, we must all decide,” he says flatly, turning away from you and staring straight ahead. “Am – is it worth it? That's up to you.” You frown. What had he been about to say? Mind reeling, you stare up at the sky. Out in the Alaskan wilderness, you can see every last star as twilight sets in. Even in the purply haze of dusk, the Milky Way looks stunning, the brilliance of the galaxy not dampened by any clouds or light pollution.

“A shooting star,” you whisper, pointing up. Loki hears you, and glances up just in time to see the rare sight. “Make a wish,” you add, more to yourself than anything. You know what you'd wish for, if wishes really did come true.

You'd wish for everything to be the way it used to be, when Loki was whole, when you were trusted, not a traitor, and when your family had never been broken.

Chapter Text

“I don't have all day,” Loki intones flatly, and you wonder if you've ever heard such a lack of emotion in his voice.

“I-I'm -” you fumble, trying to decide. How can you decide something that you cannot fathom the consequences of?! You want to weigh out your decisions. Is it really the best idea to go with this madman, to hear him tell you some tale of unverifiable truth, possibly drop you into Amora's lap, and do Allfather-only-knows-what while you remain powerless? Maybe you should have stayed at SHIELD. What had ever made you feel like you could fix Loki in the first place? You're still staring up at the sky, unable to face the man who is staring at you. You sneak a glance at him, watching as his face contorts in pain and anger. You are breathing heavily, searching the heavens for some answer or another.

And it comes, but not in the form you're expecting.

“Another shooting star,” you murmur, quiet enough that Loki probably won't hear. Wow. That is a big, big shooting star, you notice. Was Earth scheduled for a meteor shower at this time of year? You aren't sure. A third one streaks by, this time in the opposite direction, and you realize it's moving a bit erratically, up and down, as if it's riding air drafts – as if it's flying -

Oh, shit.

The shooting star draws closer, getting bigger and bigger by the moment. You don't hesitate, running straight to Loki and slamming hard into his side.

“I'll pay the price!” You shout, clutching at the fabric covering Loki's chest. “Whatever it is, I'll pay! It's worth it! Just – let's get out of here!” You point to the fast-approaching Iron Man, pushing into Loki hard, as if you can outrun Tony Stark in his Mark VII suit. You shiver, wondering exactly how angry the billionaire is with you.

Loki lets out a sound of disbelief, grabbing you tightly. You look up to him, watching his blue eyes widen further; a look of actual fear sets in on his face, and he begins running alongside you, no longer resisting your pushes.

The next instant, the world around you ripples and distorts, and you realize that Loki's used his magic to transport you far out of Tony Stark's reach. As the wormhole swallows you, you wonder what you should be feeling. Regret? Fear? No. You had been afraid of Stark's anger, but that hadn't been the real reason behind your decision. If you had to, you could have played off your escape as an attempt to scout out the third location on behalf of SHIELD, based on a hunch you'd had in the Helicarrier. You could probably even turn Loki in, play the role of teacher's – or Fury's – pet, and get away unscathed, maybe even adored by SHIELD. No, Stark's anger would have been avoidable.

You know the truth, deep inside. You've accepted Loki's offer because whatever the price is, it's worth it. Understanding what you've done – yes, you want to understand. But that's not what has compelled you to make this decision. Knowing something about your past, you now know, is not a worthy reason.

Loki – fixing him, creating a better future for him, proving to him how much you care about him – now that – that was a promise worthy of any cost.

Chapter Text

“Where -” you turn around, taking in the sights. It seems as if you have gone nowhere; you still stand on a tundra, the bite of ice on the wind that blows across your deeply chilled skin.

“Jotunnheim,” Loki responds immediately, loosening his grip on you slightly. His long arm drapes more comfortably over your shoulders, even as you feel your knees nearly buckling beneath you. Jotunnheim?! The God of Mischief and Lies is guiding you toward a massive building, which appears to be possibly constructed entirely of ice. In the distance, you notice monolithic spires of frozen water, climbing high into the sky and creating a terrible, starkly dramatic landscape.

What?!” You panic, heart pounding in your ears. Even here, in the open, you feel caged, like an animal that wants to run in fear but cannot.

“Don't fear,” Loki reassures you, a genuine gentleness in his voice. “Did I not tell you earlier I would only bring you with me when it is safe for you?”

“You did,” you agree, trembling slightly. “Loki, I – I have so many questions.” It's true; there are a thousand unspoken, confused thoughts waiting to burst out. You don't even know where to start.

“You have only to ask me, my dearest friend.”

“Why are we here?” You're positive the first Frost Giant to spot your very Aesir self will want to tear you to pieces.

“Ah,” Loki chuckles softly. “That's the one question I would like to show you, not tell you.” You grimace slightly, shivering fervently of cold now.

“Okay,” you concede, trying to keep your wits about you. The more information you can get out of Loki before you are too far in, the better. “Then what of my betrayal? You said you had the story sorted out.”

Loki pauses by your side, withdrawing his arm from you. You shiver more fiercely and stare at your toes, wondering if you had asked the wrong thing somehow. As you wait on your erratic friend, you are surprised to feel a soft fabric draped over your shoulders. Elegant hands smooth a green velvet around you, rubbing your arms up and down for warmth before tucking the cloth in to your smaller palms. When Loki steps into view again, he is lacking his green cape.

“Thank you,” you murmur, a bit surprised by his kindness. His arm reclaims your shoulders, and he gives a small hum in response.

“We will get you warm as soon as we reach the castle,” Loki says, gesturing with his free hand to the building that looms in the distance. So that's what that is. “But now to answer your question, and indeed, it's a surprisingly simple answer. When Thor and I were captured, you managed to elude the Frost Giants. Lost, you found your way to Laufey's throne room, where you observed my father as he spoke to his advisers of a means to deflect the impending truce between the Aesir and Vanir. It was not long before you were discovered and brought before the king.”

A sudden vision rises up before your eyes: a massive blue hand grasps your hair, dragging you across the floor. A penetrating coldness sinks into your very scalp, even as you choke on warm blood welling up in your mouth. Pain assaults your senses as you are tossed, like a mere rag doll, before a set of feet, landing on the floor with a crunch of your ribs.

“Laufey made a deal with you for our freedom: you would return to Odin with Thor, paint yourself as a savior, and ask to return alone, to save me, your other long-standing friend. You were to return to Jotunnheim with the Casket of Ancient Winters, and restore that most powerful artifact to its original owners, that they may wage full war with its might. In return, I would be released to you, and together, we would return to Asgard.”

More memories come flooding back to you. You remember arguing with Odin, pleading for the right to return alone, to not endanger any more Aesir than necessary, for you alone knew the best ways through Jotunnheim. He had raised his voice in fury, and you had matched him, knowing you could not back down for Loki. You remember Loki, a bit shorter and slenderer, being freed from heavy, glowing chains; he'd stumbled to your side and slumped against you, drained of all energy. You recall limping with Loki past towering Jotunns, who merely eyed you with disdain, until you were outside and able to call upon Heimdall once again.

Most of all, you remember Laufey storming Odin's throneroom, wielding the Casket of Ancient Winters and calling you out as the one who had given him the artifact.

“Gods, Loki, I remember it all now,” you gasp, looking up into the man's eyes. He glances down at you, quickly raising his eyes to the approaching castle.

“You were never a traitor to Odin. He punished you for your bravery, for your loyalty to me,” Loki says, his lips setting in a firm line. “He will never do so again. We are here.”

You raise your eyes, taking in the towering metal doors, surrounded by what seems to be ephemeral, blue-gray ice. Loki steps away from you, and you clutch tighter at the cape about your shoulders as Loki raises one hand, sending the massive doors flying open.

“Come,” Loki bids you, gesturing inside the castle. When he turns back to look upon you, his eyes gleam an otherworldly red, his skin reflecting the eerie blue of the ice surrounding you. You almost gasp at the sight of him as a Jotunn, but you remind yourself that this is Loki's truest form, and not a reason to fear him more.

With a quick nod, you rush into the castle, Loki following hot on your heels. The doors slam shut behind you with a resounding thud, blocking the frigid wind from biting at you any longer.

“Fafnir!” Loki shouts, his voice echoing eerily down a long hallway. Loki walks more briskly now, strides lengthening, and you find you must nearly jog to keep up with him. In a room down the hall, a massive giant, easily about ten feet tall, raises his head in your direction. This time, you do gasp. “Bring me Amora.” You step into the room behind Loki, immediately recognizing it as the throne room that had once belonged to Laufey. Yes, this is the very throne room you had been beaten and bloodied and dragged through. “And set all available hands to making a hearth, both here and in my quarters.”

Mesmerized, you watch as Loki brushes past five other giants, all standing in the tremendously spacious room. They are not even looking at him; all eyes are on you, watching you watch Loki. The God of Mischief and Lies strides confidently up the massive steps to the throne, no doubt using magic to clear the enormous heights. Before he sits, he extends both his arms, palms up, and turns to face you, staring the long distance down into your eyes with a smug smile on his face. He lowers himself onto the throne slowly, knees spread wide, fingers curling over the edge of the armrests. “I will not suffer my most beloved friend to be cold – or harmed. Is that understood?”

Every giant in the room nods, still regarding you closely. The giant named Fafnir speaks, his voice resounding in the spacious room in a most unearthly way.

“Yes, my king.”

Chapter Text

It's some time later before you find yourself wrapped in thick, roughspun blankets that smell of Loki, huddled up next to a roaring hearth in the god's private quarters. You cannot get enough of the fire; it seems that this realm chills you straight to the bone. Such a penetrating cold...you'd never experienced anything like it before.

Your name catches your attention, though the voice that calls for you is unfamiliar, and clearly not Jotunn. You glance up toward the twelve-foot door of this massive room, locking eyes with a beautiful blond woman. A flash of recognition hits you as you realize she is the one who had shoulder-checked you earlier – on her way to Loki's cell – which made her -

“Amora?!” You gasp, a broad grin spreading across your face. This feels just like reuniting with Sif!

“It has been too long,” Amora announces, stepping into the room. A blue form – Loki's, you realize - moves in just behind her, crossing to your side immediately.

“Truly, it has,” you beam, bouncing up and moving away from the hearth to embrace your old friend. To your surprise, Amora folds her arms across her chest, regarding you with a haughty expression. “I – I missed you,” you offer, not sure what else to say. An awkward silence passes, and you realize this is nothing like your reunion with Sif. “Have you been well?”

“Well enough,” Amora concedes. “Constantly busy, what with the stresses of orchestrating all of this.” She gestures towards Loki and to the rest of the room, and you understand her meaning immediately. “And you? Have you been doing well these past years on Midgard?”

“Splendid, thank you,” you reply, moving back to the hearth. Loki holds the blankets up for you, and you let him wrap them around your shoulders again before settling down by the fire on the floor. “Been busy, too, of course, with the stresses of finding out I'm Aesir, risking banishment and Odin's wrath, escaping SHIELD under the Avenger's noses, and then...all of this,” you finish, waving your hand at the whole room, much as Amora had. You are not afraid of her, damn it all, and you will not allow anyone to belittle you or your accomplishments anymore!

“Sounds tiring,” Amora quips, only half-interested in what you are saying. “But you must excuse me if I seem rude; I am, in truth, here to speak with Loki about matters that concern his rule.” She saunters toward Loki as she speaks, swinging her hips just so; you glance up at the man standing by you, noticing the way his gaze roves over her body. A sickening feeling roils up in your stomach, taking even yourself by surprise. Are you jealous?!

“Anything you have to say to Loki, you can say in front of me,” you blurt, hardly thinking your words through. Amora pauses, narrowing her eyes at you, but you resist the urge to look up to Loki for reassurance. Instead, you raise your chin, your gaze unfaltering. Loki gives a small chuckle.

“She has spoken, Amora,” he intones, and the Enchantress glances at Loki in apparent shock. “Now your king bids you speak.” Amora's eyes steel over quickly, and she nods, her lips quirking up in a tense smile.

“Very well, my lord,” she purrs. “Farbauti, the Giantess, has made it known throughout the land that your coronation is to take place on the morrow, at dawn.”

“Good,” Loki hums.

“She bids me to take this advice to you: that you should name a queen, and with all haste, that your rule be accepted as more legitimate by the tribal peoples,” Amora continues, drawing one finger lazily through the air. “Fafnir disagrees, and urges you to solidify your own rule, in your own name, but even I am bound to disagree with the warrior. Naming a queen will do you well.” She pushes her full lips into a coy smile, batting her eyes innocently at Loki. Oh, Hel, no! You think, mind racing.

“For me to lay claim over a land of peoples full of barbarians alone would be possible, but I shall command more respect in the eyes of the Jotunns should a queen be at my hand,” Loki agrees, crimson eyes blinking, mouth turning up into a mischievous smile. “Luckily enough for me, my queen has already agreed to rule by my side.”

A cold chill presses into your cheek, and you gasp, drawing away from the painful, freezing feeling. You whirl to look at Loki, and find him smiling smugly, face just inches from yours.

“Very well then,” Amora breathes, fury underscoring her voice. “I bid you good night, my king.” She spins on her heel and nearly flies out of Loki's quarters.

Your head is spinning, and Loki is still smiling at you, the mischief apparent even in his strange red eyes. When had you agreed to -

And then it hits you. You'd agreed to pay the price, whatever it was...and Loki had made you his queen.

Chapter Text

“You cannot, in all honesty, be mad with me -” Loki laughs, his eyes sparkling the blue-green hue you are most used to.

Yes, I can!” You reply, pacing around the small hearth. “You cannot expect to trick your friends in such a way -”

“I am the god of tricks,” Loki emphasizes, his lip curling up in a snarl.

“You are infuriating sometimes!” You shout back, hands clenching into fists at your side. “You tricked me into agreeing to rule with you! Being queen is a big decision, one I should have been allowed to make for myself! I...I feel cheated by you, Loki,” you admit, dropping your head into both your hands. You sink onto the edge of the enormous bed that occupies a corner of the room in sheer misery. What has your life become?

“It was not just a cruel jest,” Loki insists, coming to stand in front of you. Even as you stare at his feet, he combs long fingers through your hair gently. “There is no one else I would have wanted as my queen. Were I to crown Amora, she would grow power-hungry and endeavor to usurp me. You are my friend. You are the one I choose to trust.”

You mumble something incoherent into your hands, and Loki bends down in front of you, placing slender hands on your knees.

“I will spoil you, give you anything you could need or want,” he promises, eyes earnest. His words echo your earlier dream in a most haunting fashion. “I will protect you from even the slightest finger of harm. We will grow to love each other, as we did in childhood, given time. Perhaps we will even grow to love each other as more than just old friends. We will build a great Jotunnheim, become renowned as wise, powerful rulers throughout the Nine Realms. What more could you want?” He asks. You raise your eyes to the blue-green ones before you, fighting back tears.

“I don't know what I want anymore, Loki,” you groan. “I wanted to be here, by your side, but nothing goes the way I expect, and everything is so difficult. I don't know what I want, and I don't know what to believe.”

Loki sighs, placing his pale arms under you and lifting you with remarkable ease. He slides one knee onto the bed, catching his balance with you in his arms, and finally hoists himself fully onto the mattress. He places you down gently, supporting the back of your head with one warm, Aesir hand, his other strong arm wrapped about your lower back. Even when you are pillowed by the soft down under you, he remains poised above you, only removing his arms out from beneath you and placing his palms on either side of your head.

“If you know not what to believe in, then believe that I love you,” he breathes. “I may confuse your mind, I may hurt your heart, but I will never stop loving you. Shh,” he whispers, pressing one long finger to your lips. “I'm not done yet, darling. See, I know you love me, too; you may tell me you are upset, but your actions betray your heart's true feelings. You could have left me a thousand times over; you could have rejected me when first I showed you the monster I am; you could have decided that I was not worth the gamble of paying an unknown price. But you are here, by my side.” Gently, he presses a kiss into your lips, lingering for a long moment. You do not protest, and find yourself actually pressing up into the chaste, yet infinitely tender, touch. When he pulls away, you open your eyes slowly, not even aware you had closed them.

Both of you are breathing slightly heavier than usual; Loki shifts his weight, and for a moment, you think he is about to roll off you. Instead, he moves down to nip and kiss at your neck, teasing the sensitive skin down to your shoulder. You gasp, eyes wide.

“Loki -” you breathe, utterly shocked. Is what you think to be happening truly happening? Is this man, who is a bit deranged yet unbelievably beautiful, interested in you?

“I can stop,” he breathes back, pulling away from you and refusing to meet your gaze. “Such a vile creature should not touch you in this way.”

“Vile creature?” You echo blankly. Loki's body trembles above you for a moment, and then he rounds on you, exploding.

MEI am a monster! A beast! I am a Jotunn, not even Aesir! WHAT MUST I DO TO MAKE YOU REALIZE THIS? I was abandoned by my birth father, and the man who adopted me treated me as a tool my whole life! I will never be good enough, not for them, or for you – what choice did I have but to trick you into being my queen?”

So this is it, you realize. This is everything that has been brewing inside Loki, driving him to hate himself, to act as a villain, an unpredictable trickster, a liar, a son desperate to prove his worth.

“Loki, I do love you. And I always have,” you tell the man honestly, cupping his face in both your hands. “You are no beast – you are my best friend.” Loki opens his mouth to protest, but this time it is you who shushes him. “I'm not done yet, darling,” you say coyly, using his own words against him. He gapes at this twist. “I could have left you a thousand times over,” you continue, emboldened by his silence. “I stayed when I saw your true form. It meant nothing to me. You are still my Loki, and I am still here by your side because you are worth anything to me, do you understand that? And I want you tonight, if you will overlook your own self-hatred long enough to see that I speak the truth...and if you will have me, of course.”

The man blinks, shocked, before a mischievous grin spreads over his handsome, pale face.

“Oh, I will have you,” he purrs, and with a wave of his hand, you find yourself naked under an equally-nude Loki. “Gods, but you are beautiful.” He is breathless, his slender fingertips trailing over your collarbone, brushing over your breasts, then down your ribs and over your stomach. You gasp, feeling goosebumps at the tender contact.

“Nonsense,” you sigh, beginning to explore his torso in a similar manner. His smooth, toned chest gives way to the plains of his stomach and the sharp bones of his hips; you relish it all. “You are the beautiful one here, Loki.” Your fingers trail further down, until you brush the underside of his half-erect cock. You tease that most sensitive flesh with feather-light touches, watching as Loki's hands still over you and he gives a small gasp, eyes fluttering shut. He grows under your hand, and you find yourself impressed at the man's girth – and growing wet at his evident desire.

Loki looks at you through hazy eyes as you continue stroking him, refusing to give him the firm grasp you know he longs for. When his hips buck into your hold involuntarily, though, he pulls away from your reach, pushing one knee between your legs to spread them apart.

You almost feel embarrassed, being bared to this gorgeous creature so fully, but he leans down, lips pressing to yours in a gentle, yet passionate, kiss. His raven hair cascades loosely around his shoulders, tickling your face and neck. You reach up, carding your hands through the soft locks and holding the back of his head lovingly – and then you are gasping as Loki slips one finger between your wet folds, giving a few heavy flicks of your clit before he pushes into your heat, moving in and out languidly.

His rhythm is steady, though not overly-stimulating, and you realize through a haze of pleasure and lust that the man is making love to you, not just fucking you. He crooks his finger tentatively inside you, pressing against your front wall as he moves – just hard enough to make you moan.

“Right there?” Loki asks, curling his long, slender fingers against a spot so deep inside you, yet so delicious -

“Yes,” you breathe, back arching as he sets about stimulating that spot in any way he can. “Definitely right there,” you groan, eyes rolling back as you feel a pool of heat beginning to build in your core. Loki must feel your growing arousal, for he adds a second finger, stretching you and filling you more pleasurably than before. He increases his pace, and you grasp the bedsheets beside you, feeling that pleasurable tension build ever more -

And then his fingers are gone, and you are empty, and when you look to see why, you are met only with the sight of Loki pulling you into his lap. He allows you to straddle him, one hand on your ass gently encouraging you to hold yourself up. You use his shoulders as leverage, positioning yourself over his cock, and when you lower yourself, his girth is everything you had imagined. He fills you just to the point of discomfort, but as he rocks himself upwards inside of you with a small hiss, the sensation of him pressing on all your walls is so pleasurable, it outweighs any pain.

Loki moves in small thrusts at first, allowing you to set the pace for the most part. He wraps one arm around your shoulders, holding you close so he can kiss you deeply, tongue flicking over your own; his other arm remains around your hips, helping you move over him. His blue-green eyes watch you with interest, as if they are enjoying every last expression that slides over your enraptured face.

You kiss him hard, a smile spreading over your lips; you know he can feel it, too, for his lips quirk up in a smile, until you are both laughing softly, watching the other.

“This is really nice,” you breathe, and he grins back, humming his assent.

“I've imagined this for quite some time, now,” he admits, almost sheepishly. “Ever since I sought refuge in your room, just after my escape.”

“Really?” You murmur, increasing your pace slightly. “I'm flattered. I had quite a crush on you before my exile, you know. I used to daydream about you embarrassingly often.” Loki laughs, thrusting up into you with alarming force.

“I know,” he says, his eyes burning with fierce intensity as he begins to drill up into you, rocking your body with his. Seeing confusion written across your face, he adds, “I'm sure the memories will come back to you in due time. They've been repressed for so long, after all.” The next moment, it doesn't even matter. A slight angle change has you throwing back your head and moaning aloud; Loki nips and kisses at your throat, your collarbone, your nipples.

You smooth Loki's hair away from his face as he returns to your lips; one of his hands moves to your clit, the other rolling a nipple between thumb and forefinger lazily. You can only hold to his shoulders desperately, feeling your orgasm creep up on you as he continues thrusting hard and fast.

“Loki,” you pant, moving your hips as well as you can to meet his movements. “I'm – I'm going to -”

“Yes,” he purrs into your ear, his own breathing growing heavy and ragged. “Come for me, love, and say my name when you do.”

Ecstasy washes over you in waves as you feel your walls clenching and spasming at his words, and you obey the man, moaning his name in a long, drawn-out cry. Throb after throb of pleasure racks your body, and you feel Loki shudder and groan, cock twitching inside you. He calls for you as he comes, holding you so tightly you're sure you will have bruises the next day.

You rest in each other's arms for a long moment before Loki maneuvers you both to the head of the bed, pulling out of you as he moves. He settles down by your side, watching you watch him through heavy eyelids.

“That was nice,” you sigh, cheeks reddening with each passing second.

“It was,” Loki agrees. A moment of silence passes before you speak again.

“I'm sorry if it took me a while to realize that I do love you,” you say. “It's just...difficult, choosing between what I know to be easy and what I know to be right for me.” Loki smiles, smoothing your hair back and taking your hand in his; even he understands that it would have been so much easier for you to have forsaken him, settling down as a normal Asgardian citizen, or even returning to your mundane Midgardian life.

“I know.”

Chapter Text

You don't know if it is possible to feel any more nervous than you already do. You are pacing inside Loki's quarters, occasionally tugging at the ridiculously fancy dress you have been made to wear. Unsurprisingly, it's mostly green and gold, and while it's extremely beautiful, you are too on-edge to really appreciate it.

In the distance, you can hear the dull roar of the Jotunns gathered for the coronation. You can only pray that they are cheering for Loki, not raising their voices in protest. No matter how many times you remind yourself that Loki says the Jotunns have aided him, and are not all barbaric, you still feel terror every time you think of being in such close proximity to any of them besides Loki.

The door to Loki's bedchambers creaks open, and Fafnir, the giant who seems to be working at Loki's right hand, looms just behind the threshold.

“It is time,” he says simply, his voice resounding eerily in the room. You swallow and nod, moving closer to the Frost Giant and trying to quell your fears. Fafnir is an imposing man; if his ten-foot stature and muscular build isn't enough to alarm you, then surely the furs he wears, dripping with chains of skulls and scales and bones from his finer kills, are. As if that weren't enough, the man is covered in scar-formed tattoos that swirl in intricate tribal patterns, giving way to a thick, two-fold trail of ridges on his face. The bridge of his nose is pierced with a massive chunk of polished gold, but, most terrifyingly, this is flanked by the ridges over his brow growing so thick as to appear as horns.

Fafnir moves toward you, startling you, and you jump, drawing away from the Frost Giant. Fafnir only grins, showing his pointed teeth.

“Were it not for Loki, I would tell you it is right to be afraid of me,” he growls in that unearthly voice. “But for now, you must fear not and take my hand. It is the custom of our people to have the greatest warrior name the king and queen.” You swallow hard, putting your tiny hand in Fafnir's massive, sinewy one. Loki has temporarily enchanted your very skin as a precaution against the chill of the Jotunns, but even so, Fafnir's hand feels cold.

“A-and the greatest warrior...that's you, isn't it?” You ask, nerves tripping your tongue. Fafnir's grin widens.

“Yes,” he chuckles, though the laugh fails to put you at ease as his fingers close around yours. He begins to walk, and you find you must run to keep up with his pace. “I forget just how small you Aesir are,” he mutters, almost as if in apology, before he begins to slow down. You find yourself staring up at the Frost Giant with interest; now that you think about it, he is holding your hand with a surprising gentleness...

“Thank you,” you breathe, feeling your nerves settle some. “You're much kinder than I expected.” Fafnir snorts.

“A true warrior must be kind as well as strong,” he asserts. “Do they not teach such things in Asgard, or are your people truly all consumed by the thirst for battle and blood?”

“What? No,” you answer, taken aback. “We Aesir learn that kindness is as important as strength, too. I thought your people were the ones always bent on violence!”

“No race could survive as long as we Jotunns have if all that was dear to them was the destruction of their brethren,” Fafnir answers, an edge in his voice but surprising wisdom in his words. You nod slowly.

“Nor could the Aesir last that way. I have much to learn about your people,” you admit, feeling a bit foolish. Fafnir does not poke fun at you, instead merely nodding solemnly.

“As we have much to learn about you,” he agrees before falling silent. As he leads you wordlessly through the many maze-like hallways, you find yourself staring up at him more than anything, watching the way the fire casts bizarre shadows over his strange features. Fafnir undoubtedly feels your eyes on him, for his crimson orbs flicker down to you, amused. “I can assure you, you look as bizarre to me as I do to you.”

You blush fiercely, embarrassed that you've been caught ogling the Jotunn. In the distance, you can hear Loki's voice, probably magically amplified.

“Wait, Fafnir, what am I supposed to do?” You hiss up at the man, suddenly panicking again. The Frost Giant at your side turns his blood-red eyes to you.

“I am to walk you up to the throne, where you will stand at Loki's right hand. I will stand behind the throne and crown the king,” he says, sounding a bit amused.

“That's all I have to do?” You ask, feeling somehow put out. “I just...stand there and look pretty?”

“I wouldn't go so far as to say pretty,” Fafnir laughs, provoking a grunt of anger from you. “But yes, that's all. Were you expecting more?”

“Yeah. I don't know what, but I thought I would be doing something,” you admit before shrugging it off. Fafnir eyes you curiously.

“You are an odd one,” he murmurs, and you aren't sure if it's a compliment or not. You don't have time to think about it, however; Fafnir holds your hand tighter and pushes through a set of double doors that swing open with a wave of his hand. Even as you remind yourself that of course Jotunns have magic, and it's nothing to be surprised about, you find yourself nearly stumbling over yourself in utter shock at the sight that greets you over the threshold.

At least a hundred different pairs of red eyes, all subtly varying in hue and in height, are watching you intently. Fafnir half-drags you along the floor, refusing to allow you to balk at the intimidating crowd of Frost Giants. You feel rather like a discombobulated spider as your legs flail under you, sliding on the glassy ice beneath you as Fafnir continues to pull you along.

Only when you reach the steps that encircle the throne, approaching it from the side, do you feel one more pair of red eyes settle upon you. Loki is swathed in green fabrics and silks around his lower half; his upper body is bare, displaying his very Jotunn form, with all his blue skin and tribal ridges. Strange amulets and carvings hang in thick ropes about his neck, and they clink together, sparkling golden and green, as he turns to you, opening his arms wide.

“And now,” he practically purrs, smooth voice most definitely magically amplified. “Let us welcome our queen.”

Thankfully enough, you get your feet underneath you as Fafnir practically lifts you up every step. The thunderous voices of the Jotunns is nearly defeaning as they echo, reverberating in deep, unearthly bassos throughout the massive throne room. You don't know if they are all cheering for you; some of their cries sound outraged. It all fades to a dull rush of blood in your ears, though, as you reach out and take Loki's right hand. Your best friend smiles broadly, pointed teeth exposed, as his cool fingers enclose around your free hand. Fafnir lets go of you, moving behind the huge, jagged throne of ice Loki stands before.

“My brethren,” Fafnir booms, and every Frost Giant silences themselves to listen to him. The sudden silence is more deafening than the din had been. “I present to you the new King of Jotunnheim, our most ancient realm, first among Yggdrasil's branches after Niflheim and Muspelheim. Our prince Loki inherits the throne through birthright and battle; he claims true heritage from Laufey, our last great King, who united the tribes as one. I, Fafnir, son of Fraenir, attest to his battle worthiness, and do claim that he has won our loyalty in the ways of our ancestors. Is there anyone here who would challenge my claim?”

You watch as the Jotunns glance among themselves, as if expecting some outcry, but none so much as make a sound. The sight sends shivers down your spine.

“Then by my blood and by my sword, I declare Loki Laufeyson King of Jotunnheim,” Fafnir pronounces, lowering a horned crown onto Loki's head. Loki sits on the throne amongst a cacophony of cheers, howls, and stomping feet, smiling a most mischievous and prideful grin. His right hand tightens in yours as Fafnir tries to shout your name above the din.

“ - named his Queen -” Fafnir is saying, but it's useless. The pandemonium is impossible for even the mightiest warrior on Jotunnheim to roar above. Instead, he lowers a beautiful circlet, made of filigreed gold and emeralds and real flowers, probably suspended forever in life by magic, onto your brow.

Fafnir's cold fingers leave your flesh, and you smile at Loki, who is beaming at the crowd. Your free hand goes to adjust your circlet, but only a moment later, you realize there is no need. It fits you perfectly.

Chapter Text

All seems to be going well enough, you think. If the Jotunns are somewhat divided on your position as queen, they are mercifully devoted to Loki – or so it seems.

“My King.”

“Farbauti,” Loki intones, eying the Frost Giantess regally. You stand by his side, still holding his hand, and wonder at how quickly he has acclimated to ruling.

“I humbly present these tokens to you on behalf of my tribe,” the Frost Giantess says, her eyes lowering humbly as she kneels. Two women by her side kneel also, extending their arms and profferng two massive boxes, made of opaque ice, to the throne. Loki waves his free hand, a lazy smirk upon his face, and the gifts float up the steps to the throne. One rests before his feet; the other stops before yours.

Loki flicks his fingers, and his box springs open, revealing a set of most ancient texts. The smell of ages past rises from their leaves and scrolls, and you watch Loki's face show the briefest flicker of wonderment. He touches the pages with slender fingers withdrawn from your hand, carding through them tenderly. Red eyes rove over the runes with an unprecedented hunger. It seems to take Loki a significant amount of effort to pull his eyes away from the gift, finally raising them again to Farbauti, the giantess with four massive horns and pierced septum and cheeks. She is beautiful, you think, and so familiar. But you are sure you have not seen her before; surely, all the Jotunns are merely blurring together in your mind. Many have come forth thus far, professing their loyalty and offering lovely gifts to prove it.

“Your tribe's generosity shall not go unnoticed,” Loki pledges, and Farbauti nods modestly, still on bended knee. Her eyes flicker to you, waiting for you to open your gift. It is the first one that has been addressed specifically to you.

You step forward, having no great magics to open the box with as Loki had, and bend down carefully in your dress. The ice is cool, but not painful, to the touch, and yields easily, opening its maw wide.

“It's beautiful,” you breathe, lifting a simple necklace from within. Its chain is silver, and it bears only one stone set in a metal bezel, though this gem alone is more beautiful than any you have ever seen before; it shines like the sunset, like a rainbow, like ice and like rain. It is possibly the most awe-inspiring opal you have seen before; as you turn it in your hands, it reminds you of both Asgard and Jotunnheim and Midgard all at once.

“What a lovely enchantment,” Loki murmurs by your side, just loud enough for Farbauti to hear. The Giantess nods.

“My greatest craftsmen and sorcerers poured many hours into enchanting this for our queen,” she says, speaking directly to you. “This opal has passed through many royal hands, but never with such strength of magic attached. So long as you wear this jewel, your skin will resist the cold of Jotunnheim and never need to be re-enchanted by a magician. Your hands will learn the magics of ice and elements faster, as a true Jotunn might, though you will still need to work hard at mastering these pursuits. Should you choose to follow the path of sorcery far enough, you will find that this opal possesses magics strong enough to allow you to take on the form of a Jotunn as though you were born one, and switch between it and your Aesir appearance at will.” You turn the opal in your palms, feeling a strange tingling dust over your skin. The feeling is almost pleasurable, but foreign. Still...what power. You drape the necklace over your head and around your neck, feeling it hum with magical energy where it rests over your heart. “The bezel it rests in is crafted of Uru, the same metal Mjolnir is forged of. It is particularly fond of magic, and can strengthen the wearer's powers. It is formed of an amulet you owned in your childhood, given to me by Loki for this use. The opal it contains has been called the Soul of the Jotunns for aeons, and now it shall lay upon your heart, and give you the strength of this land.”

“I shall forever be grateful,” you say honestly, and Farbauti smiles, knowing your words ring true. Her handmaidens recollect the boxes of ice, and bow as they back away. You find yourself unable to stop touching the massive, beautiful opal and its Uru bezel, enjoying the smooth sheen and the prickle of magic it seeps into your hands.

The next Jotunns to approach the throne are two males, swathed heavily in skulls and bones that clink over the bare, tattooed expanses of their chests. Their tall, muscular and scarred bodies have obviously been through many battles – and many vicious ones, at that. One of the men kneels, but the other catches sight of the way your fingers dance over the opal around your neck.

His lips curl up into a snarl, baring his pointed teeth, and he hisses in displeasure, displaying a split tongue. A draft of air rises up behind you as Fafnir moves, clearly on guard.

“No Aesir should wear the Soul of the Jotunns,” the angered Frost Giant says, spitting at your feet as his massive fingers approach your neck, lightning-fast. You swat away at the blue skin, stepping back defensively, but his fingers close about the opal regardless. You whimper in fear, even as the Jotunn before you gives a howl of pain, his fingers withdrawing from you – all but one, which falls to the floor at your feet.

“My thumb!” The Frost Giant shouts, clutching at his hand and stumbling back in horror. Behind you, Fafnir gives a dry chuckle, placing one huge hand on your back in a reassuring manner. When the great warrior speaks, his voice oozes with a sarcastic pleasure.

“We shall consider that your gift to our new queen.”

Chapter Text

You have been spending the days since Loki's coronation getting to know the Jotunn peoples. You'd met with Farbauti's handmaidens outside the throne room by chance, and found the two young women to be quite amicable. In the morns since, they have often traveled to visit you and entertain you, both inside and outside the castle; you'd expected to be doing a bit more ruling, but that is evidently Loki's job. You're a tad bitter, but mentally remind yourself that he is the Jotunn and the heir to the throne by birthright, not you.

“No, no, like this, m'lady,” Skadi chuckles; her friend, Gerdr, smiles behind her. The two giantesses are no more than eight feet, and still only adolescents, but their magical ability far surpasses yours – a fact that is made plainly evident by the spike of ice Skadi summons from the ground with a mere wave of her hand. “See? Try again.”

You grin.

“All right, here goes,” you laugh, raising your hand in the same fashion Skadi had.

“Focus,” Gerdr implores you, her red eyes dancing with mirth.

You tune the two giantesses out, repeating the movement and trying to summon all the magic inside your body. The opal and Uru against your chest seems to spring to life, sending sparks of energy through your skin. When a spike of ice shoots out of the ground, you are actually so startled you fall over backwards.

“That's it, m'lady!” Skadi roars in laughter, as Gerdr gives you applause. Behind you, Fafnir lifts you to your feet effortlessly, only using one hand.

“Thanks,” you grin up at the giant, who gives a stoic grunt in response. Ever since he'd 'given' you that thumb, he'd insisted on staying by your side to protect you at all times. Loki endorsed Fafnir's new role as your bodyguard wholeheartedly, and you've grown glad for his constant companionship and protection over the past few days. His attention to even your smallest needs belies his brutish appearance. “Did you all see, though? I really did it! I did ice magic!”

“Aye, you're learning fast!” Skadi praises you, clapping her huge hands together and smiling widely. She is the more playful of the two; Gerdr's nature is friendly enough, to be sure, but more serious than the other handmaiden's.

“Sun's going down,” Gerdr observes, turning her eyes toward the sky. “Would you care to join our village for dinner, m'lady?” You glance up at Fafnir, almost expecting the Giant to insist you return to the castle, but he gives no such word. Instead, you turn back to the two young women, grinning.

“That would be wonderful!” You blurt, feeling joy and anticipation well up in your stomach. How had you imagined the Jotnar to be barbaric, atrocious monsters? They are a whole culture of people, rich and varied and full of both the good and the bad. Getting to know some of the friendlier, more accepting Jotunns has been among the most rewarding experiences of your life. Gerdr and Skadi set off in the direction of their village, and you are forced to run to keep up. “Wait – does your entire town eat together? Like, a big feast?”

“Yes,” Gerdr confirms. “It is a left-over practice from days when we used to be entirely nomadic hunter-gatherers. Our tribes are more settled now, but we still eat together, as a whole community should.” The wind blows, bitingly cold, but it is not nearly as painful as it was when you first arrived in Jotunnheim. You are immeasurably grateful for the magic Farbauti had imbued the Soul of the Jotunns with – although you are still looking forward to curling up by the hearth in the castle tonight.

Your breath is coming in heavier pants now; running to keep up with even young Jotunn's long legs is an exhausting feat. Luckily for you, Fafnir scoops you up kindly, setting you in place on one of his giant shoulders. You cling to the man's beautiful blue skin tightly, terrified of falling, yet grateful nonetheless.

When the four of you arrive in Skadi and Gerdr's village, there is a huge market set up in the village center, with ice-hewn tables a-plenty, and peddlers of wares surrounding the great open space. High above, intricate arches of ice and pale winter ivy curve over your head, lending a dramatic, fantastic feel to the feast.

Fafnir greets some Jotunns he knows well, introducing you to them, though you find it hard to distinguish between most of the Frost Giants. Everyone is polite enough to your face, though you still get plenty of odd looks when nobody thinks you are watching. You're too excited to care.

Fafnir sets you down at a massive table; you have to stand on the bench just to reach the tabletop.

“Stay here, m'lady,” Fafnir grunts. “We will go fetch some food.” Taking Skadi and Gerdr, he heads off, disappearing into the crowd. You lean against the ice of the table-top, more grateful than ever for the opal's enchantment. You'd be a popsicle by now otherwise. From your perch some four or five feet off the ground, you watch the mingling Jotnar, eager to pick out your friends in the crowd – and equally eager to begin learning how to better tell the giants apart from one another. When you look closely, you realize there is actually a great variation in their height; though the average appears to be around ten feet, many are as tall as twelve or more, and there are plenty still who are the height of the average Aesir while full-grown. You've mistaken them for children until now. Similarly, the shade of their skin and eyes varies wildly; no two Jotnar seem to possess the same exact ridges in their skin; some even have tattoos of ink and burns and scars. Fascinating.

The soft sound of your name startles you out of your thoughts, and you look up to find a Jotunn's face, familiar yet foreign, regarding you curiously.

“Might I join you for a moment, m'lady?” The woman asks.

“Oh! Of course,” you agree, gesturing at the enormous table. She sits down, extending one massive hand in your direction. She is clearly versed in more common Aesir gestures, you note; very few of the Jotunns you have met in the past few days have known what to do with your hand when offered.

“I am Farbauti,” she introduces herself. You shake her hand, glad her grip is gentle.

“You gave me the Soul of the Jotunns!” You gasp, your free hand clutching at the massive opal that hangs over your heart. Of course! How could you forget the four-horned woman with the septum and cheek piercings?

“Aye, that was me,” Farbauti agrees, her eyes sparkling with a kind warmth. “But listen closely, m'lady. There are important things I must tell you.” Her voice lowers, and she taps a finger ever-so-subtly. A barely-visible, ephemeral veil of light floats into being, like a bubble surrounding the two of you. “I cannot be overheard. There are those who would kill us both for speaking of such things.”

“What is it you must tell me?” You ask, trying your hardest to stay calm. Farbauti's eyes, almost more pink than red, dart over your face carefully.

“The King takes a dangerous consort in that Enchantress, Amora. Even now, she schemes against him,” Farbauti reveals, her lips pursing together in a way that seems so familiar to you somehow. “Amora would have the King's rule be a failure; she desires Jotunnheim to fall to its knees. This Aesir cannot be trusted; she plots with the most barbaric tribes, who oppose our new ruler, and with the Svartalfar. I even fear she may have made contact with the Dokkalfar.”

Your mind is reeling, though you are beginning to grow accustomed to the sensation that accompanies unexpected surprises. It seems everything in all the Realms is set on throwing you off-kilter. Well, no matter. You will adapt and become stronger for it.

But if Amora truly is plotting against Loki with the most barbaric tribes, in addition to the Dwarves, and perhaps even the Dark Elves...

“How can I be sure that what you say is true?” You ask. Farbauti's eyes drop; by the Allfather, you could swear you've seen her expressions mirrored somewhere before!

“I can offer you no concrete proof, save to say that I am the chief giantess of my village, and Amora reached out to me first of all Jotnar. I refused her immediately, and now have made true on my promise to myself to reveal it to someone with power I know I can trust.”

“Why refuse Amora?” You ask, probing deeper. “And how do you know I am trustworthy? I'm Aesir, too, just like the Enchantress.”

“All of these things are answered by the one piece that Amora did not know,” Farbauti responds, reddish-pink eyes softening considerably. She gives a small smile, her lips twitching upwards in a mix of melancholy and mischief. “I could never betray Loki, for he is my long-lost son, returned to claim his birthright.”

You gasp – all of the vaguely-familiar expressions make perfect sense now! Of course you should have been able to recognize that mischievous smile, even tempered by the burden of many ages and much strife!

“And I know that if you did not truly care for my son, you would not be here, now, ruling beside him and making peace with even the young giantesses of my tribe. You have reached out to a people hostile to you for Loki's sake. I can only hope you will believe that we are not the true villains here, and do your best as our queen to protect us from our common enemy.” With that, Farbauti stands up, the thin bubble of light surrounding you both vanishing. “It was a pleasure, my lady,” the giantess, once Queen of Jotunnheim herself, says, bowing slightly. “May the wind guide you.” Two tremendous steps lead her away from you before you can say another word, and Fafnir, Skadi, and Gerdr rejoin you at the table, setting down some extremely bizarre plates.

“Is all well, Queen?” Gerdr asks, noticing your distant expression.

“All is excellent, Skadi,” you reply, flashing your new friends a bright smile, though in truth, your heart is heavy. You know not how long Amora has been plotting for, nor do you know how you are to resist the Enchantress' attempt at a coup. Can Skadi, Gerdr, and Fafnir be trusted? You barely know them! But who else are you to turn to? You dare not suppose to handle this on your own. “Wow,” you gasp, noticing the vast plates your friends had brought back to the table. “This is a lot of food to a little Aesir like me.” You laugh nervously.

“I should imagine so,” Skadi laughs, already digging in to big flank of greenish meat. The skin is still attached to the hindquarter, which is nearly as big as you are; half of the thing is covered in scales. What in Niflheim is that?

“Here, my Queen,” Fafnir offers, cutting you a choice filet of the stuff and putting it in front of you ceremoniously, scales and all. “This is quite a delicacy among our people. I believe the Aesir call this beast a bilgesnipe.”

Chapter Text

The feast at Skadi and Gerdr's village turns into a celebration when the sun sinks below the horizon; Skadi tells you it is because Farbauti wishes to welcome you properly. Indeed, the celebration goes late into the night, and you find yourself entranced. Storytellers sit in the middle of the village center, backs to each other as they chant the oral history of their people. The Jotunns themselves raise their voice in eerie songs to underscore the tales; it reminds you of the Greek choir in a tragedy. Even the sorcerers find their place, dancing between the seated Jotnar and the storytellers and constructing fantastical, ever-changing shapes and silhouettes of ice and fire to illustrate the tales.

It is many hours later, probably the wee hours of the morning, you think, when you find the party beginning to wind down. Many of the townsfolk have gone home; some have passed out right where they sat.

“Only the drunkards party at this hour, m'lady,” Fafnir whispers to you, one huge hand on your back. You nod drowsily, understanding his subtle cue for you to take your leave. Gerdr has long since passed out, her head in Fafnir's lap; Skadi is watching the remaining celebrants through long, sleepy blinks. Yes, it is time for you to return to Loki.

But then, when will you ever get Skadi, Gerdr, and Fafnir alone in the same place again? You have been debating with yourself all night, and have come to the conclusion that you simply must take some risks. If you try to handle this on your own, it will be for naught. If you confide in Loki, Amora will most likely know.

“Gerdr, wake up,” you say, shaking the sleeping Giantess with all the force you can muster. She lets out a quiet groan, but straightens herself up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “I know not when I shall have the three of you together in such relative peace again. There is something dire that I feel I must tell you, though I have known you all but for five days. May I confide in you, and expect your utmost loyalty and trust?”

“I am sworn to you and your king,” Fafnir replies without hesitation. “I am nothing if not loyal.”

Skadi and Gerdr exchange a look, their eyes lighting up with a soft curiosity. Mischievous smiles grow over their beautiful faces; they look almost frightening, with the sorcerer's light playing on their features and ridges.

“You are our friend, and our Queen,” Gerdr confirms. “You have our loyalty.”

“Whatever this is about, we are at your command,” Skadi agrees. The giantess' eyes glisten with a lust for adventure and an innocent earnestness. You cannot be sure, but you do believe they speak the truth when they pledge themselves to you.

“Very well,” you smile tentatively. “Repeat this to no one. I have heard from a reliable source that Amora, the Enchantress, is planning on double-crossing our King. She has supposedly made contact with the barbarian tribes, and with the Svartalfar and mayhaps the Dokkalfar. I am new to this realm, and there is only so much I can do,” you confess. “And so it is that I come to you saying, I trust you, and I need your help. I cannot allow Loki to fall, but we must protect our realm in such a way that we do not arouse suspicion before the time comes.”

Fafnir regards you closely, leaning in until his face is inches from yours. You stand tall and unflinching, peering into his broad scarlet eyes.

“You are sure this is true?” He breathes. Positive that Farbauti has not deceived you, you nod.

“There is more,” you admit. “Loki forgets that he has incited the anger of Odin and Thor against him, as well as the ire of a Midgardian team of elite warriors named SHIELD. We may have more than just Amora to deal with.” Fafnir narrows his eyes at you closely, sizing you up.

“You cannot expect us to handle all these threats,” he rumbles, sounding a great deal angrier than you've ever heard him.

“I will handle the Aesir and Midgardians,” you answer almost immediately. “Them, I have dealt with before.”

“Good,” Fafnir replies, his anger quelled. “And sorcerers, conquerors, Svartalfar, and Dokkalfar – them, I have dealt with before. Fear not, my queen. I will handle them. Lasses,” he addresses Gerdr and Skadi. “Come. It is late, and we have yet much to do. Let us return to the castle.”

The two giantesses arise to their feet as Fafnir plucks you from the ground, placing you on his broad shoulder again. In the chill night air, you can sense the anticipation and excitement brimming off of Skadi and Gerdr; the friendly pair seem more than eager to be engaging with all this intrigue. You can only hope that neither of the young Jotunns will get hurt in the process.

Chapter Text

“Loki is gone?!” You gasp, staring intently up at Fafnir. The Frost Giant nods solemnly, waving his hand in a bid to get you to keep your voice down.

“He will return in two days' time,” Fafnir confirms, trying to remain tactfully calm. He leans in toward you. “He is on a diplomatic mission to reach out to some of the outlying tribes. I have been assured he is well-guarded; the Enchantress herself goes with our King.” Fafnir gives you a knowing look, and your eyes steel.

“You are all dismissed for now,” you announce, standing in front of the hearth, allowing the fire to silhouette you from behind. “Except you, Fafnir, and Skadi and Gerdr.” The rest of the host of Jotunn soldiers file out from the throne room, leaving you alone. Your mind is not spinning in shock, as you'd thought it might; instead, it is churning away at a plan.

As the great metal doors slam shut behind you, you cross to the throne, staring up at it. Each step is so high, at least four feet each...

You pull yourself up the first step. That had been for the time you'd saved Loki and Thor from Laufey's clutches, even risking your own life and banishment.

Arms extended as far up as they can go, you grab a hold of the second stop and pull yourself up. That had been for the time you'd wound up in Asgard through some destiny or other, even becoming Aesir again.

The third step is cracked and rugged; you struggle to gain a handhold on the stone. Nonetheless, you scramble to the top, breathing heavily. That had been for the time you'd seen Loki as a Jotunn for the first time – and you hadn't shied away from him.

“My queen...” Skadi whispers. “Is what you are doing wise?”

“My King is gone,” you reply, grabbing the fourth step. “I am Queen. This throne is mine in his absence, and I intend to use it to defend all that I love.” This step is considerably smaller than the others, you note; it is for the way you had first stood up to Loki, forcing him on the subway for hours. It is for the way you had enjoyed your first small victory, even while you had realized you still cared for the man, possibly more than anything else in the Nine Realms.

“I can help you,” Fafnir offers, his heavy footsteps resounding in the vast throne room as he moves toward you.

“I do not need help,” you announce. “I have claimed this throne already.” Standing atop the fifth step, you decide that had been for your outwitting the Avengers and escaping from SHIELD.

All eyes are on you as you climb the sixth and final step. You ascend it with confidence, knowing that this last step had been your decision to do what you knew was right, regardless of cost to yourself.

With that, you turn and sit in the throne unceremoniously.

“I have a plan,” you say, and three pairs of red eyes raise to meet your very Aesir ones, all glimmering with hope. “Skadi and Gerdr, I need you two to be brave.” Gerdr steps forward, a confident grin upon her lips.

“We would never dream of being anything but.”

“You two shall be the beacons of truth. I need you to tell every Jotnar of every friendly tribe, every friendly village, the truth of what is happening. Start with your friends; ask for their help. Turn to Farbauti, the chief Giantess of your village. Yes, Farbauti knows the truth. She is the one who informed me of this scheme,” you confess, seeing the surprise upon the women's faces. “She was queen once, and is still well-loved by her people – a rare feat. She will be the figurehead to your movement, as you are the spear. She will rally the people under the cry of a fair rule, freedom from the oppression of the dwarves and dark-elves. Many of your folk will remember days when they lived under the very same oppression, and they will fight it with all they have.”

“How do we know who to tell?” Skadi asks. “What if we tell someone who is on Amora's side?”

“It is too late to fear,” you reply. “Amora will make her move ere two days have ended, and she is far away from the contact of many of these tribes – even by magic. Tell everyone. Fafnir.” You turn to the man, who steps toward you confidently, his head held high.

“What shall I do, my queen?”

“You shall do as you see fit to protect our people,” you answer. “You have dealt with these matters before, by your own word, and I trust your decisions.” Fafnir bows his head gratefully. “I ask only two things of you: firstly, that you avoid inflicting death as well as possible, and do not harm any Aesir. Secondly, I ask that you try to freeze as many of the existing magical portals between the Realms as possible, but leave the portal to Asgard untouched. I will deal with them and try to preserve the peace between our realms.”

“All shall be as you say,” Fafnir agrees. “Save for one problem: the magic of a portal cannot be frozen, m'lady.”

You smile, revealing your greatest plan yet.

“The magic cannot be frozen, no, but magic is entwined with matter, and matter can very much be frozen.” Fafnir lowers his head in slight confusion, but you continue regardless. “On Midgard, we have learned that such a thing as absolute zero exists. Absolute zero is the point at which matter ceases to have any energy at all. Atoms and molecules – the particles that compose all that is – stop their very vibrations at absolute zero. Without any energy in the matter, no magic will pass through, and the portals will stop existing.”

“You are sure of this absolute zero?” Fafnir inquires, lips parted in surprise.

“Yes,” you answer. “We on Midgard achieved absolute zero only once, and the matter did, indeed, have no energy, and the rules governing it began to warp. Matter began floating from bottom to top, as if gravity had been reversed. I can assure you, between no energy and bent rules, the magic that creates the portals will cease to function, and no legions shall assault us. It will not be easy,” you warn Fafnir.

“I would be worried if it were,” he replies with a wide grin.

“Good,” you breathe, relieved. You shift forward on the throne. “Then let's all get to work.”

Chapter Text

It is two days later, and you can hear the clash of battle outside the castle. Metal on metal, ice on ice, flesh splitting, voices crying in battle and in death – none of it is allowed to break your confidence. You stand before the portal to Asgard, watching the swirling maelstrom of green and blue energy crackle as it ripples and bends the very space it occupies. Fafnir had reported to you earlier; most of the portals to the other realms had been successfully frozen. Absolute zero did, in fact, have exactly the effect on magic you'd predicted.

You allow yourself to feel some small amount of pride at that. You had not been raised a sorcerer, and yet your Midgardian high school chemistry classes had been enough to show you how to halt even the most astounding of magics.

You swallow hard and straighten up, clasping your hands behind your back. You are alone in this room. You can only hope that Skadi and Gerdr are safe, wherever they are, and that Fafnir is victorious in the battle that rages across the land today. The portal again crackles, rippling space, and the increased activity of the maelstrom tells you that the Aesir are on their way.

Only a few heartbeats later, Thor materializes in front of you, Mjolnir clasped tightly in his hand. He glances around, taking in the empty room, eyes settling on you in shock.

Amora steps out of the portal next, with Sif, Hogun and Volstagg hot on her heels. You are afraid of Thor, saddened by the looks of horror you receive from your long-time friends, and furious at Amora – yet you stand tall, not moving a muscle.

“Thor -” Sif murmurs, moving toward the Thunder God.

“Stay back,” he replies, staring at you as his face contorts into a furious snarl. “This is my battle. She is a TRAITOR!” Thor bellows, charging you with Mjolnir. You gasp and take a step back, raising your hand in a high arc over your head. The Soul of the Jotunns sends fingers of energy into your chest, even as a spike of ice arises from the ground, curving in a protective half circle over you. Thor's raging charge leads him straight up the thick arch of ice, depositing him firmly on the other side of you.

“I am NOT!” You shout back, your words resounding off the ice, reverberating in the huge room. “All is not as it seems! You must listen to me -”

Thor slams Mjolnir upon the ground, and fingers of electricity reach out to you at blinding speed. You act as soon as you see Mjolnir moving, waving your hand down; the ice curves the rest of the way in front of you, to complete the circle.

“The time for listening is OVER! You are HERE, ON JOTUNNHEIM, AND -”

“I am here to protect these people!” You cry, watching as the ice around you crackles with the power of Mjolnir's electricity. The light that reflects and refracts around you is brighter than staring at the sun, and you raise your arm, shielding your eyes. A low crack echoes, then another. “PLEASE!” You scream, now desperate. “Don't harm the Jotnar! They are innocent!” A high pitched, omnipresent screech resounds all around you as the ice shield you had created shatters, turned to fine powder by the sheer power of Mjolnir's electric magic.

Thor crosses toward you in two self-assured strides; you raise your hand to block the heavy punch you are sure is coming. Instead, a thick hand closes around your wrist, immobilizing that entire arm.

“Come with me willingly,” he orders. Your jaw sets firmly as you stare up at Thor defiantly.

“Only if you send your people to repel the invaders,” you answer without a second thought. Thor's blue eyes are stormy as he clenches his own jaw, matching your own defiance. You do not look away. “Please, Thor, the Jotunns – they don't deserve to die -”

“Lady Sif!” He booms, never looking away from you. You find it somewhat amusing that he considers you a threat, when really, your only skills are party tricks with fire and manipulation of ice, as taught to you by the Jotunns. Even with the massive opal about your chest, you are sure you have no more magical strength left within you. You are glad your bluff is going well, though. “You are to lead the Warriors Three against the invading Svartalfar and Dokkalfar; raise no weapons against the Jotnar. Am I clear?”

“Perfectly,” Sif answers; you hear her quick footsteps on the floor as she begins to follow Thor's orders immediately.

“Then I am yours,” you surrender, feeling the tension drain out of your body. It is done.

“M'lady?” An uncertain voice calls, trying again a bit louder when Sif does not turn around. “M'lady Sif?” You recognize Fandral the Dashing's voice, though you have never heard the man sound so unsure of himself. “Where has Amora gone?”

Sif's footsteps halt abruptly, and Thor finally looks away from you. You turn around yourself, twisting uncomfortably with your wrist still firmly in the Thunder God's grasp.

“She's gone,” Hogun the Grim announces. “Figures.”

“She disappeared!” Sif gasps, glancing back at Thor for direction.

“We must FIND HER,” Thor booms, his grip on your arm tightening even further than you'd thought possible; you can feel your hand beginning to tingle with lack of blood. “I do not trust that Enchantress yet! She may paint herself a savior, but the last time an Aesir did so -”

“I know where she'd be,” you shout over Thor – no easy task. A sickening feeling has roiled up in your gut abruptly. “I know where she has gone. Thor – take me back to Asgard, to where you are holding Loki captive.”

“How do you -” Thor asks, anger in his face and voice. You regret ordering the prince to do anything, just as you regret playing out your hand too early, but it has been done.

“WE DON'T HAVE MUCH TIME!” You scream, trying your hardest to move in the direction of the portal. “Send the Warriors Three to search for her here if you must! But you and I must go stop her before she kills your brother to take his throne!”

Something in Thor's brain must register the truth of your words, for he suddenly sprints in the direction of the slowly-humming portal to Asgard, holding you in tow.

“Do as she says, Sif!” Thor shouts before plunging the both of you into the swirling maelstrom of magic. You can only hope you are not too late.

Chapter Text

You are gasping for breath as you endeavor to pace yourself to Thor's headlong sprint, knowing that should you fall behind, he will likely be just as content to drag you along by your aching wrist. He cuts a familiar path through the castle, through Frigga's beautiful courtyard, down the long gilded hallway where you had first encountered the Enchantress, and through a series of twists and turns that leads to the same area Loki had been imprisoned barely a couple weeks earlier.

“LOKI!” Thor thunders, bursting past two very surprised Aesir guards and nearly knocking the doors down in the process. As you two stumble into the jailroom, a woman's voice purrs elegantly.

“You two are just in time for the party.”

“AMORA!” You shout, the fury in your voice rivaling Thor's. The Enchantress grins up at you, twirling a dagger just above a Jotunn's head. With a start, you realize that the blue-skinned giant, chained in heavy, constricting manacles and muzzled, is actually Loki. How had he grown larger?!

“Leave my brother be,” Thor rumbles, “And I will ensure your punishment is less severe than it -”

A girlish giggle escapes Amora, but it is enough to silence Thor. The man drops your wrist, moving closer to the firmly locked cell that contains his brother and his potential murderer

“Ah-ah-ah,” Amora tuts, wiggling the dagger between Loki's red eyes. “No closer if you want this beast to keep his eyes.” Thor freezes, and you watch, struggling not to scream in horror as Loki thrashes in his chains, clearly panicked. His ruby-red eyes almost seem as though they are glistening with wetness; you stare deep into them, frozen in fear. “I must admit – I had rather hoped not to have things end this way. It would have been nice if you hadn't found me here – then we could all get along as friends, and I would still be a hero in your princely eyes, Thor. We'd only be short one monster and his lover.”

“HE'S NOT A MONSTER,” you shout in sheer fury, your fists balled at your sides, trembling.

Amora laughs and begins to speak to you, but you don't even hear her anymore. Instead, you only hear the sound of your name in your head, perfectly formed, as if Loki himself had spoken it.

Can you hear me, love?

You startle slightly; Thor draws in a breath by your side as well, and you are sure that Loki is using some telepathy magic to communicate to the both of you.

I can, you think back, unsure of how else to commune with the man. It seems to do the trick, though.

Thor is going to attack suddenly, using Mjolnir's lightning to paralyze Amora completely. I need you to get in here however you can and free me from these chains. Loki must sense the way you hesitate slightly to agree to free him, as he soon begs, Please, you must help me! I promise, Thor will be safe!

As Loki's thought ends in your mind, you refocus on the world around you to see Amora mid-sentence. It seems almost no time has passed.

Thor gives no warning, merely raising Mjolnir and sending out blinding bolts of lightning, white-hot and furious. A few wrap around the metal of the cell, traveling in arcs up and down the bars, but plenty of fingers reach in, wrapping around Amora. Her body lights up, and she convulses, completely motionless. Even her hand is constricted tightly around the hilt of the knife as her muscles' impulses are overridden by the sheer power coming from Thor.

You act immediately, glancing toward the wall to see that there are no keys available on the jailor's rack. Amora had probably taken them. Shit. What are you supposed to do now?!

Amora is fighting the lightning of Mjolnir, probably casting her own enchantments to ward off the electricity. You panic further; you have so little time! But wait – the lightning arcing up and down the metal bars. It would heat the metal, would it not? The bars would become more malleable, though you yourself cannot separate them.

You rush into the lightning storm, doing the only thing you can think of to do. Raising both your hands, you call upon the last of your magical powers. You've depleted much of your untrained magical ability already today, but you must try.

Even as a stray lightning bolt sends shivers and spasms up and down your right leg, the pendant above your heart begins to shudder with energy. A thick wedge of ice emerges from your hands, and you drive it between the bars. The metal, soft with the heat of the lightning, gives much more than you had expected; you have created a gaping hole in the cell, probably about the width of a man and just as high.

It's enough for you, and you rush into the cell, thinking only that you must be near Loki to free him. But Gods, how are you going to get him out of these thick chains?! You cannot summon any more magic; you are too exhausted to form even a snowflake.

No, not the manacles! Loki's voice interjects in your mind. The muzzle! Free me of the muzzle and I can take care of myself!

You panic, fingers fumbling with the sturdy device, but it refuses to budge without the tiny key to unlock it. Beside you, a blinding flash of light tells you that Amora has completed her enchantment, and that Thor's lightning magic no longer effects her. Nonetheless, she slumps to the ground, her body unresponsive for the moment. You rush over to the blonde, stealing the dagger out of her now-limp hand, and flipping her onto her back. There! The keys are there, attached to her belt.

The Enchantress makes a small moan, stirring a bit, and your fingers hasten to detach the keyring from her body. She gives a shudder as you find yourself successful, rushing back to Loki's side. The key for the muzzle is so small, it takes you no time at all to ascertain which one it must be. It is, by far, the tiniest one on the ring. Your fingers fumble out of nerves as you click it into place on the back of Loki's head, twisting it just so -

Loki gives a small cry of satisfaction as the painful device falls off him. You grin. You had done it!

Thor claws his way through the hole you had ripped open in the bars, fitting through a bit less easily than you had. Once the Thunder God is in the cell, he rushes to the shackles that hold Loki, smashing at them mercilessly with Mjolnir. You watch, a mere bystander, as Thor shatters the manacles binding Loki's legs, and Loki himself uses his own magic to free his own arms. The Jotunn scrambles to his feet, a bit awkwardly; he is clearly not used to being somewhere between seven and eight feet tall.

“Are you all right?” Thor asks, arms shining with sweat, chest heaving. “My brother?”

“I am well,” Loki responds, offering one hand to the Thunder God. “My brother.” Thor clasps it fiercely, pulling Loki against his chest for a moment. The two brothers grin at each other for a moment before turning to smile at you. You beam back, relishing the love and pride in both of their eyes.

The next moment, a hand closes over your mouth, and your eyes are blinded by a white-hot light.

Chapter Text

You cry out, twisting away from the hand that has grabbed you and covering your eyes. Gods, but did that burn! You blink away the reflexive tears your eyes have produced, regaining your balance and finally looking around you.

“NO!” Thor thunders. “Loki, don't! Any one of them could be really her!”

You gasp, horrified. You are surrounded by about fifty identical copies of yourself, each of them chatting and walking and talking and acting like you. Amora is nowhere to be seen; she must have disguised herself under an illusion, as well.

Thor and Loki look back and forth among the crowd, searching for the real you.

“It's me!” A copy shouts, noticing the two men's eyes scanning over her.

“No, me!” Another one cries, putting her hands on Thor's arm. The illusions are solid, you notice. Great.

“Loki, don't believe either of them, please! You must know -”

“Thor, I am the real -”

For the first time, you do not panic. Your head does not swirl. You don't even have to think hard about what to do – this time, you know what must be done. Raising your head high, you push through the crowd, ignoring the shouts and promises of authenticity all around you.

You stop only when you are directly in front of Loki, touching his skin gently in hopes of capturing his attention. The Jotunn is snarling at the crowd in front of him, clearly running out of patience.

“I can prove I am your Queen,” you say firmly, loudly, in a voice that you know will carry over the crowd. You know your words will stand out – none of the copies have yet claimed to prove that they are truly who they say you are. Indeed, Loki glances at you, eyes affixing on your form. The room falls suddenly hush; you are sure you have startled Amora with your bold, self-confident statement. Only a second later, the clamor of the clones starts again, louder and more cacophonous than ever before.

Loki drops one knee, lowering himself until he is even with your face.

“Then prove yourself, and quickly,” he snaps. “And no tricks, or you will die by my hand.”

You nod, fishing in your pockets and pulling out the gladiolus he had given to you days earlier. It is still vibrant and perfumed, suspended forever in the state you had plucked it in. Loki holds one palm out expectantly, and you drop the flower in his huge, yet still slender, hand. His fingers hold it gently, inspecting it; after a mere moment, he hands it back to you, laughing most mischievously.

“My Queen,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss into your forehead and wrapping one arm around your body. He pulls you tight to his chest, straightening up, and you hold to his shoulders tightly as your feet lift off the ground.

“NO!” Amora cries, and suddenly the fifty-something copies in the room vanish, leaving only a maddened Enchantress. “You MONSTROSITY! AND HIS IMBECILE! How could you both see through my magics? It cannot be -”

Loki grins mischievously, and you speak.

“We have our ways,” you smirk, no longer fearing the woman. You know that she shall do no more harm to your loved ones. Indeed, she sends a terrible fire spell toward you, Thor, and Loki, but the wave of a great blue hand is enough to deflect it. Amora does not give up, instead shooting spell after spell at the three of you, but Loki blocks them effortlessly.

“You cannot believe that I am not stronger than you,” Loki sneers, giving a light flick of his wrist. All the metal in the bars of the jail cell suddenly liquidizes, flying toward Amora. The Enchantress shrieks, sending lightning and air and frost at the metal, but it encloses around her, forming a hollow ball with Amora at the center. Loki steps over it, wiggling his fingers and casting a few enchantments almost lazily. “That will hold the witch for a while longer,” Loki announces over his shoulder. “Though I suggest your father move her to a more secure facility ere the day is done.”

“Our father,” Thor says, looking unflinchingly into the red eyes of the tall Jotunn before him. Loki's lip snarls for a moment, but he must see the earnestness in Thor's face, for his expression softens some.

Our father, then,” Loki concedes. You let out a breath you did not know you had been holding, feeling your whole body relax. Tensions might still run between the two royal brothers, but you can see that they are both on the path to forgiveness. Loki turns to you, stroking the side of your face gently with his free hand. “And you, love? Are you all right?”

“I am,” you agree, holding his face between both your palms. You press a swift kiss to his lips, allowing yourself a girlish giggle at the startled look upon his face. You know he did not expect you to kiss a man so clearly Jotunn. “But we must not celebrate just yet. This battle may be won, but the war in Jotunnheim is not yet over. We must return to protect our people.”

Loki glances at Thor, who nods slowly.

“Go,” he agrees. “I will bring my warriors to assist you, but you must go. We will discuss matters later.”

Chapter Text

It's nearly impossible to discern the tide of battle, even from your perch on Loki's shoulder some eight feet off the ground. The King of the Jotunns is breathing heavily, teeth bared. You know he will not stand for this.

“Stay in the castle,” he orders, placing you on the ground gently. In the blink of an eye, he is vanished, charging as recklessly into battle as Thor. Something tightens in your throat, and you want to panic, to be afraid – but you know he is a warrior now, too. He has survived many fights before – and you have to believe he will survive this one, too.

You also know that he is foolish for telling you to stay put. Maybe a week ago, you would have sat down in your room like an obedient little girl, but you are now queen of these peoples, and you are no longer one for doing nothing.

Fingers steady, you reach into the breast of your shirt, drawing out the dagger you'd won from Amora. It's not much, you know, but it's something. And something is always enough.

The battle around you is loud, filthy, and appears disorganized, but you know what is happening; this is, after all, your battle. You have orchestrated the defenses. The bodies of a few stray Svartalfar and Dokkalfar lie strewn near the castle; relief washes through you as you run between their limbs, feet dancing over blood and gore. These invaders, at least, had shown little presence. Clearly, your portal-freezing scheme had been an overwhelming success.

The only thing left for your Jotunns to fight would be the barbaric tribes of the far reaches. This is a civil war now - a battle for your king's right to reign. On the far horizon, you can see the faint silhouettes of Frost Giants immersed in battle; you know that this front is where Loki has ran to. Still – something doesn't feel quite right.

Perhaps it is your Midgard tendencies – time in a city had left you prone to always being aware of your surroundings. Perhaps it is just that the Jotunn homeworld still unsettles you; the howl of the wind at your back is enough to make your skin crawl, if you are to be wholly honest with yourself. But either way, you glance over your shoulder, looking all ways round yourself, like a frightened animal.

And, indeed, like a frightened animal, you spot the predator.

Far over your left shoulder – in the perfect blind spot to flank the King's forces – charges a horde of about twenty Jotunns. They are great, hulking beasts, probably greater than twelve foot each, and you can see the lazy swing of the crude, yet massive, weapons at their side.

Even as nerves clench in your stomach – even as you know you are probably moving toward your own death – you begin to run toward the encroaching fleet. The wind blows fiercely against your face, and the sharp sting causes your eyes to water in pain. You must only hold them off, buy Loki time. If anyone can win all of Jotunnheim, it is your sorcerer king, whose wiles outdo even the most fiendish of double-crossers.

The figures on the horizon grow larger; by the Allfather, they are truly the most beast-like Jotunns you have ever seen! The slap of their feet on the ground in unison creates a dull rumbling sound, a small earthquake that only electrifies the already-tense nerves in your legs.

The leader, sharp red scars running in thick tribal patterns over his largely-exposed body, draws a thick club, raising it overhead. He roars, showing his pointed teeth and closing the space between you both in a matter of a few footsteps. The men behind him shout and bellow war-cries in response to their leader, and still you run forward, even as the barbarian shouts.

“Puny Queen! You will die by my hand!”

Chapter Text

The next few moments are all a blur.

The thud of the club on the ground is tremendous; it seems as if the very earth itself has been shattered. You are deafened by the blow; ice shards rise up all around you, some stinging your face as they shatter. Blood hazes your vision, and your legs can scarcely find purchase – but you have not been directly struck.

You continue to run, thinking only of stabbing the Jotunn with the dagger. A dull voice in the back of your mind tells you to cut his Achilles; you had heard once that if those are severed, a man cannot stand or run. The barbarian leader is a large enough target, yes, but he moves swiftly, and your body is already hurt, your mind clouded by adrenaline. Instead of the neat slicing motion you intend to do, you plunge the dagger straight into the Frost Giant's ankle.

You only hear the loudest, highest tones of the man's howl of pain; your ears are ringing too strongly. Some small satisfaction pulses through you at the tones, though, even as you try to pull the dagger out, only to find -

You are not strong enough. It is stuck in the flesh and sinew of the Jotunn's ankle, and as he limps back from you, you stare at the ground, knowing only that you are now defenseless. You are, to use a Midgardian expression, roadkill.

You gasp heavily, chest heaving, and only when you hear the dull echo of a furious roar do you raise your eyes again to your soon-to-be killer. The Jotunn towers over you, spit flying from his opened mouth; his face is contorted in rage; his eyes are set only on you. The tribe behind him moves slowly, circling you.

There is nowhere for you to go, and everyone knows it. The Jotunn leader's expression slowly changes from horror and agony to a perverted mirth. Even as he begins to laugh, lips spread wide, you feel a strange peace washing over you.

This is it. A noble death, in battle. This is what any Aesir would want. To die defending her king – that is what any Jotunn would want. You raise your chin boldly, knowing that Loki will secure a better future for himself and for the Frost Giants. Yes, even these monsters who would slay you.

You have nothing to fear.

You do not even attempt to summon magic as the Jotunn takes a step toward you, raising his club for the second time. He is moving slowly, deliberately, enjoying every last second of his greatest kill yet.

Even as his club lifts above his head, his eyes roll back in his skull, and you see his mouth open in a silent scream. You watch, perplexed, as black tendrils roll over the flesh of his stomach, climbing, like ivy, toward his chest. When you follow these bizarre markings to their root source, you find that the most intricate of swirls converges at the man's ankle – right where you had lodged the dagger.

Amora's dagger must have been enchanted, you realize. Perhaps to kill Jotunns specifically? Or perhaps to provide a miserable, magical death from even the slightest wound? You cannot know, even as the black fingers of death creep over the barbarian's neck, emerging even on the man's face. They seem to burrow into his very eyes, which are now shut in misery.

With a shudder and a long death rattle, the man sinks to his knees, then slumps sideways, very much dead.

You feel every pair of red eyes on you, yet no move is made. You walk toward the leader's corpse, feeling sorry that you had to kill him. You had hoped for as few deaths as possible...but then, isn't that naivety? You ask yourself, planting one foot on the man's ankle and grabbing the hilt of the dagger with both your hands. You pull with all your weight, rolling backwards when the dagger is finally released to you. Yes. There is always death in war, and for me to hope to have no blood on my hands is a fallacy. All blood shed today is on my hands; I am queen, and I have given my men orders, and I must claim responsibility for my own actions.

You turn back toward the now-broken circle of Jotnar, standing in front of the tribe leader's corpse, dagger clasped in hand. You know not what to expect from the towering savages who have been watching you silently, great weapons still at their sides.

All the same, when each of them drops to one knee, bowing their heads, you know that you had most certainly not expected this.

“My Queen,” one speaks, acting as spokesperson for the group. “You have defeated our leader in battle, and so proven yourself as our new chief. Tell us what we must do.”

Chapter Text

You know you're probably being childish. You know that this is absolutely ridiculous.

But nobody is stopping you, and the giant named Utgard is willing to obey you, and so it is that you ride into the conflict on Utgard's shoulders, brandishing your magical dagger and shouting.

Utgard and his barbarians are fresh, and they push to the forefront of the lines, engaging in conflict immediately. Utgard himself slams into another Jotunn with such force that you are nearly thrown from your perch; you manage to keep your footing just barely.

Utgard grabs his opponent, engaging in a sort of upright-wrestling, which the opponent is losing by sheer virtue of being smaller. You raise your eyes, noting that the numbers of the barbarian tribes attacking have gone down significantly; this is promising, and -

A wall of fire erupts not twenty feet to both sides of you, and you can see Loki, moving confidently, brandishing all forms of magic at the would-be invaders. They retreat in masses, only the few most foolhardy staying to try to fight through the blazing inferno. Even then, most realize that the fire sears their skin, and there is no way around the King's magical defense.

Loki approaches the masses, who are now largely huddled together, like small children being scolded. You cannot hear what Loki is saying; the ringing in your ears is still too fierce, and you fear that your hearing may have been seriously damaged in battle. You can only assume that he is declaring victory as he slowly raises his arms in a most regal matter; the exchange of looks among the barbarians suggests an ultimatum, perhaps, or a request of surrender.

Your eyes your only source of information, you scan the field, only barely noticing the last, most foolhardy Jotunn, flailing in the fire. He is getting nowhere, but even as his skin blazes, even as his mouth opens in a cry toward the heavens, he begins to charge in Loki's direction. For a moment, you hesitate – surely Loki will flick his wrist and dispatch the assailant!

But no – Loki appears too invested in controlling the fire, his other magics, and addressing the crowd. He seems to take no note of the man charging him.

“Utgard!” You shout, only barely able to hear your own voice. You point toward the man who will be at Loki in no less than six strides. “Go!”

The twelve-foot giant covers ground with remarkable ease, obeying your orders mercilessly. This time, you are ready.

As Utgard and the man on fire collide, you spring off your perch on Utgard's shoulder, knowing you would surely be unable to withstand such impact. In a daring move, you launch yourself at the enemy barbarian, sinking your dagger into his upper arm as you fall the tremendous twelve feet to the ground. You feel your leg give a sickening snap beneath you, but it matters not. You have hit your target.

Pain in your ears, in your legs, in your very skin from the cold washes over your body, and your vision fades, even as you hold yourself upright. The world refocuses, and fades out again, over and over, until you have caught the wind that had been knocked out of you from your tumble. When you again see clearly, the man on fire is falling to the ground, the black tendrils of death having consumed his body. Utgard kneels by your side, lifting you with surprisingly tender fingers. A scream tears from your throat when he tries to put you on your feet; something is broken and dislocated.

Instead, the Jotunn replaces you on his shoulder, allowing you to sit and spare your mangled leg. He walks toward his fallen brother, plucking the dagger from the corpse and returning it to you. You think he says something, but cannot hear his words well enough beyond “queen”. All you can do is not protest as he turns back toward Loki and the outnumbered masses of invaders – all of whom are watching you with fear, horror and surprise in their eyes.

Loki recovers quickly, his expression smoothing over. You are sure he says something clever, turning around your victory into all the more reason to surrender. Who wants to be on the wrong end of that Jotunn-killing dagger, after all? It appears to work, too, as every Jotunn he addresses bends knee.

Loki cannot resist grinning at you over his shoulder, and, despite all your pain, you grin back. Even as a blue-skinned, red-eyed, eight foot tall Jotunn, you think, he has never looked more like the happy child he once was than at this moment.

Chapter Text

To your mild amusement, you have been set in a makeshift hospital bed in the castle halls next to none other than Fafnir and Skadi. Aesir healers move back and forth among you and the Jotunns, doing what they can to aid recovery with magic and bandages alike. To your utter relief, your hearing has been restored, and your bone reset in a most painful, cringe-worthy spell. You would be up and about again if the healers had not requested you stay put, just for a while longer, to be safe.

After all, you think, glancing toward Skadi's eight foot, unconscious form, it's not like you were taking up much space, relatively speaking.

“And Gerdr?” You ask Fafnir, who is nursing innumerable scrapes and bruises, as well as a deep wound from an ice spear through the chest. “Is she well?”

“Lass came out of this with less wounds than I,” he confirms, wincing as he speaks. You smile, relieved. Skadi has taken a club-strike to the head, and had been thought dead on the field; further investigation had merely proven her to be unconscious, probably concussed, but very much alive and savable. It is relieving to hear that Gerdr is unscathed, and that both young giantesses will be all right.

“Good,” you sigh, collapsing back onto the bed. You feel exhausted and drained, even though you are no longer in any pain. You can only imagine how Fafnir must feel; his skin is mottled and bruised, laced with hasty stitches done without anesthesia. The Jotunn is surely in immeasurable agony; the healers had only been able to stabilize him, but not reconstruct the damaged tissues in his chest – at least, not until more skilled hands were available. “And you, Fafnir? Will they be able to close your wound completely?” Genuine worry laces your voice. He could live with one lung working – he was doing it even now – but it would be a hard life. He has been so kind to me, you think, and so unquestionably loyal, despite my heritage. If I must beg Thor on bended knee to send his best healers, so be it. You roll over in your bed, reaching out toward the man, and manage to slip your small hand into his large, battle-calloused one.

“They've already closed most of it,” he breathes, a small, bitter smile coming to his lips.

“Gods,” you reply, trying to imagine the sheer size of the hole that must have split the man open. You are glad you hadn't been there to see it – or to see the undoubtedly mangled mess the great warrior likely beat his foe into.

“At least...I'm not bleeding anymore,” he manages, though his voice sounds thready and strained, and his eyelids flutter with the pain of speaking.

“No more words,” you order, squeezing his hand. He gives you a gentle squeeze back, and you cannot help but feel an immense affection for both him and Skadi and Gerdr. The Jotunns had chosen to put their lives on the line, to put their trust in an Aesir queen they barely knew...how could you ever repay them? “Just rest for now. For as long as it takes until you're back up and on your feet. I will do everything in my power to ensure you are healed properly, and as best as any magic in the Nine Realms allow. I'm just so glad you're okay.” Fafnir's eyes drift open again, and he glances at you, giving you a genuine smile now, pointed teeth and all. You beam back at him, drawing your hand away slowly as he drifts into a much-needed sleep.

You settle back into your own bed fully, wiggling your foot to test it. It feels a bit more tender than you'd like if you move it just so, and you're sure it may hurt to walk on for a while yet, but it's better than the mangled mess it had been.

Slipping into your own thoughts, you muse on the one question that had been brought to the forefront of your mind: how could you ever repay Skadi, Gerdr, and Fafnir? The three Jotnar had acted with immense bravery, deserving of the highest reward. Those three Jotnar – wait, you realize, a slow light growing in your eyes. Three. That's it. They shall be my very own Warriors Three! You turn your gaze to Skadi, smiling to yourself at the thought. Skadi shall be so pleased! And to think of all the adventures we shall all get into! To think of these three Jotunns as someday becoming as close as family, watching my back and -

“How are your legs doing?” A quiet voice asks, and you start, surprised to see Loki at the foot of your bed. He is regarding you carefully, the blue-green eyes of his Aesir form probing into your own orbs. Thor stands beside him, oddly silent.

“They've been healed. The pain was unbearable before, but it's only a bit tender now,” you answer, watching as relief smooths over Loki's features. Even Thor breathes easier at your words. You smile to yourself. Even in youth, the two brothers had spoiled and babied you a bit; neither had been able to bear seeing you in pain. “Come here and help me stand, would you both? I'd like to know what it is to put weight on it...” Both Loki and Thor oblige happily, slinging your arms over their shoulders to support you. “It's not bad,” you confirm, putting more of your body weight on the appendage.

“Be careful,” Loki bids you, and Thor nods. You make a hum of agreement, even as you lower yourself onto your foot fully.

“A bit sore,” you observe. “But I can stand.” You withdraw your arms from the men at your sides, feeling a twinge of pain more as you set all of your weight on the recovering injury. It fades quickly. “You're shorter now,” you observe bluntly, surprised to notice that Loki has seemingly shrunk down a couple feet to his normal, Aesir size. “Magic?”

“Jotunns actually grow when exposed to the cold climate of our natural realm,” Loki says, a bit tersely; you notice the way he glances back at Thor, as if reluctant to speak about this in front of his brother. He murmurs his next few words. “Even the brief exposure to the hot weather of Asgard caused me to shrink back to the height you are familiar with. If I allow myself my natural form in this realm, I will return to that increased height again.” You nod; that certainly explains much.

“That's fascinating,” you say with a smile, taking poor Loki's hand. You hadn't meant to embarrass him by making him talk about his heritage so blatantly in front of Thor, though it still surprises you that the King of the Jotunns can be embarrassed about, well, being a Jotunn. “But come. We are not gathered together to speak of my foot and Loki's height. My friends are sleeping,” you gesture at poor, concussed Skadi and Fafnir's torn chest. “And I do not wish to wake them. Shall we walk and talk?”

Chapter Text

“Then you were scheming with Amora while Father held you imprisoned,” Thor booms, his voice resounding in the empty ice hallways. The blond stops, turning to Loki directly, confusion and fury in his eyes.

“And you still cannot bear to admit that you were complicit in my imprisonment,” Loki returns easily. “Yet you are so willing to say I schemed!” His voice fills with malice, and you remember that Loki is still unpredictable, a wildfire among the frost. “You know I only ever wanted to be your equal, but even when it is clear I bear only the best intentions -”

“If this is your idea of best intentions, brother, then -”

“ - I will always be the scapegoat, no matter that there is a greater villain than I -”

“ - I cannot treat you with such extra favor as to overlook this, just for being my brother -”

“ - you view your own role so highly as to think I request favor from -”

- you think that if there was a proper scapegoat, I would not seize upon -”

You watch the squabbling brothers, baffled. These children are the rulers of Asgard and Jotunnheim?

“Stop,” you say lowly, pushing your way between the two of them and giving them both equally disapproving stares. Loki looks positively murderous, his lower teeth bared and his body trembling; Thor is puffed up with misplaced indignant rage. Perhaps it is the authority with which you speak, the quietness of your voice more threatening than a shout, but they both silence themselves, staring daggers through you. “You have all wronged, but in equal amounts, perhaps, and none should be blamed. Except, probably, Amora,” you amend a bit sourly. “Thor,” you turn to the blond. He eyes you haughtily, as if daring you to speak against him. You take the challenge. “You took part in the cruel imprisonment of your own brother. It may have been a deserved punishment, but did you give him justice? Did you tell him his crimes, and offer him to fair trial? No, you let him rot, uncertain what to do with him. It is understandable, but so, too, is it understandable that Loki should feel no great love toward you for this.” You turn to the dark-haired God of Mischief. “And Loki, you did break your family's trust by acting as a guilty man might. You escaped your punishment through deceit and trickery, and though you may have united and saved an entire realm, this was still an unjust act that you must know only divides you from Thor more. Now,” you say, turning to the both of them. “You must both do something very difficult.”

Thor and Loki both make sounds of mixed curiosity and bitterness. You roll your eyes.

“You must both stop being five-year-olds and get over it.” Loki and Thor both raise their voices in protest, shouting obscenities and blaming the other. “YOU ARE BOTH BROTHERS,” you thunder over them. They round on you, but you continue shouting over them. “AND IN YOUR HASTE TO HATE THE OTHER, YOU FORGET THE REAL ENEMY HERE.” Both the men fall into a loathing silence. “Now,” you say, jaw tight. “Loki, tell us what Amora's scheme was.” You choose your words deliberately.

“Very well,” Loki seethes, his eyes dangerously dark. “She came to me, confessing her love for me and begging for the chance to free me and to help me reclaim my birthright. At first, I had no interest in Jotunnheim, but Amora...convinced me of the virtues of ruling even this realm. The Enchantress had drooled over me for centuries,” Loki observes. You quirk an eyebrow; so he had caught on to her advances eventually. “I underestimated her; believed her to be a woman in love, prone to folly for her affections. I thought I could use her, but she grew power-hungry.”

“And she double-crossed you,” Thor murmurs, finally putting together the full picture. “She wanted to secure the throne of this realm for herself, unjustly, and present herself to Asgard as a hero for fighting off the very invaders she invited to Jotunnheim.”

“Yes,” Loki agrees, and you nod your agreement. A moment of silence passes before Loki speaks again, a dark envy coloring his voice. “When she thought she had the upper hand, she seemed awfully eager to please you, brother. A predictable change in affections.”

Thor's eyes soften as he understands Loki's words.

“A conniving usurper, eager to betray and scheme her way to the top...I would not place much value on the affections of such a person,” Thor says. “But someone who has loved you for a lifetime and more – who has stood by your side despite easier paths beckoning...” Thor gives you a gentle nudge on your shoulder in Loki's direction, and you take his cue, stepping closer to the dark-haired man. “Even just one such friend is more than most men can hope for.” Loki's expression crumbles as he reaches for you, and you slip into a one-armed embrace with the man. He buries his face in your hair, holding you tightly to his chest. Another arm, thick with muscle, winds about your shoulders, and you glance up to see Thor embracing the both of you in his wide arms. “Loki, my brother, you are fortunate enough to have two, at the least.”

“And you always will,” you confirm, wiggling a little to wrap your free arm around Thor's back in a return of his embrace. The two men in your arms are much bigger now; once, in the great ash tree, your head had rested amongst theirs, and your arms had wrapped around both Loki and Thor's shoulders with ease. Today, your forehead meets their shoulders, and your arms cannot span both of their backs.

“Aye, friends forever,” Thor murmurs, echoing the promise you three had made some ages past. You nod, staring up into Thor's blue eyes.

“No matter how rough the seas become,” you agree. “Forever.” You turn your eyes to the raven-haired man, who swallows hard, glancing at the floor, and raises his doe-eyes to the pair of you. He allows the tiniest of smiles to soften his features.

“Forever,” he says.

Chapter Text

When finally the three of you part, Loki's face is guarded as he eyes Thor.

“We will disagree in the future,” he warns his brother. “You will not always understand me or my actions, and I will not always approve of your own rule, either.”

Thor's face grows serious, and he nods, eyebrows furrowing.

“I know,” he acknowledges. “The bridges between us may decay, but they will never burn. You are my brother forevermore, and I will always bear love toward you, Loki.” Thor takes a deep breath, mouth set in a firm line. “Perhaps I am being foolish,” he murmurs, almost half to himself. “But I see no other way.”

“No other way for what?” You ask, on edge. Everything is going so well – you will not allow any foolish decisions by either brother to ruin this progress. Does Thor mean to reclaim Loki as his captive? You cannot allow that, either...

“For me to prove my trust in my brother,” Thor answers, his eyes locked with Loki's in an intense gaze. “Loki Odinson -”

“Laufeyson,” he growls, his eyes brewing that old malevolence again.

“You are an Odinson to me,” Thor insists, using his thunderous voice to speak over his brother. “I cannot speak for what the Allfather will choose to do. He may yet insist on your recapture...but, as heir to the throne of Asgard, I recognize your rule of Jotunnheim as legitimate.”

Loki's lips part in surprise for a moment as his beautiful blue-green eyes soften.

“Oh, I like this,” he purrs, his lips quirking up into one of his signature mischievous smiles. “My Queen,” he turns to you, smoothing a strand of hair out of your eyes. “Do you agree to act as witness in this matter?”

Queen?” Thor asks; apparently nobody has informed him of this development.

“I do,” you agree, ignoring Thor's befuddlement for the time being. He will catch on fast enough, and there is plenty of time for questions later.

“Well, then,” Loki says, extending his hand toward Thor, that mischievous smirk still gracing his handsome features. Thor's scowl deepens.

“What, exactly, am I agreeing upon?” He rumbles, and you feel a sense of pride in him. He has finally developed some cautious tendencies.

“You are both agreeing that, while neither of you shall speak for Odin, the day Thor inherits the throne of Asgard, Loki's rule of Jotunnheim shall be unequivocally considered legitimate, and he shall be left to his own rule,” you say, speaking before Loki has the chance to abuse his silver tongue and get Thor to agree to more than he has offered. Thor is good-natured, you know, and likely to do anything possible to preserve this temporary, fragile peace; it is your place to protect his interests as well as Loki's. “And, similarly, Loki agrees to recognize Thor's eventual rule of Asgard as legitimate, under Thor's birthright as the eldest son of Odin Allfather.” You consider your words, and, when you are certain you have left no loopholes, look to the brothers expectantly. Loki is still smiling mischievously, and Thor sizes the man up, clearly thinking on your words. “Do both parties agree to this covenant?”

“I do,” Loki agrees, raising his eyebrows at Thor. The blonde takes a deep breath, stepping forward and extending his hand.

“As do I,” Thor pledges, clasping his brother's hand tightly. You nod.

“As witness to this covenant,” you announce, trying to remember how it was typically done in the Aesir courts you'd witnessed in your youth. “I declare that both parties have found themselves in agreement, and their words are as binding as blood.” Both brothers nod, Thor very serious, Loki giving a small chuckle. They release each other, and Thor takes a very deep breath, a solemn look upon his face. You are surprised by just how serious and mature he has truly become.

“Do not make me live to regret this, brother,” he says. Loki chuckles and claps Thor on the shoulder, and even Thor cannot help cracking a smile at his almost self-deprecating humor.

“Come now, Thor,” Loki grins. “I think we all know that at some point, I will.”

Chapter Text

The moment of seriousness has passed, and Thor guides both you and Loki down the corridors of ice in the direction you came from, one arm slung around each of your shoulders.

“Did I miss the wedding?!” Thor asks, laughing heartily and giving your cheek a playful pinch. “And what a lucky man!” Thor turns to Loki, but a withering glance from the dark-haired man keeps any prying hands in check. “Taking our best friend for his queen!”

“N-no,” you stutter, blanching a bit at the thought of a wedding. “You misunderstand -”

“You are his queen, are you not?” Thor asks, a preciously confused look written upon his face.

“She is,” Loki confirms, shooting the blond a look of pandering condescension. “But you have only missed the coronation, Thor. The Jotnar are a tribal folk, mostly, and allow a king and queen to rule together outside of wedlock. In fact, the Jotnar have a very rough definition of marriage...did you pay no attention to our studies in our youth?”

“Less than you, I suppose,” Thor admits, a devilish look crossing his face. “I was too busy learning how to kick your ass.” Loki stiffens for a moment before his face alights with an equally devilish glow.

“Is that what you think?” Loki jests, eyes dancing. “Because I can assure you -”

You give a shriek as a hand clamps over your mouth; a muffled cry tells you the same has happened to Thor.

“You still fall for the same old tricks,” Loki purrs, his mouth blowing hot breath on your ear. The illusion at Thor's side fades, and Loki releases the both of you.

“We'll see if you still have the mettle to manage an illusion in a proper sparring match,” Thor laughs, releasing your shoulder and turning back to face his brother. “You must all come back to Asgard sometime,” Thor continues, clearly enraptured by the camaraderie of the moment and forgetting the threat of Odin and his likely disapproval of Loki's escapades. “We shall fight and feast like old days! And you,” he says, grinning broadly and jabbing a thick finger in your direction. “You had best invite me back here for the wedding!”

You blanch again, glaring daggers at Loki as he begins to laugh.

“I-I'm not -” you stutter, before the infectious joy of the moment spreads to you, washing out any nervousness. You grin back at Thor and Loki. “Should we get married, I promise you will be the first one invited, Thor.” The God of Thunder roars in delight, slinging his arms around both you and Loki's necks in an embrace. You laugh, allowing yourself to be swept up in this second group hug; you have not seen Thor this happy in many, many years. The blond man kisses your cheek, even managing to land a peck on Loki's pale skin before the man wriggles free, pulling a face.

“You'd be good for him, you know,” Thor tells you, a giant goofy grin on his face as he continues walking. You and Loki fall into step on either side of him. “I've thought as much for ages. Even when we were young children, I noticed that you always wanted to play as Loki's princess when we played Kings, or Loki's wife when we played House -”

“I'd forgotten about that,” Loki says, a genuine smile alighting upon his lips. “And remember, brother? If we were outside, she always wanted a piggyback from me -”

“Always wanted to practice magic with you -”

“Or be my partner for hide – and – seek,” Loki continues, his eyes now sparkling with mischief. Your face is burning with a pleasant embarrassment; you hadn't realized you'd been so overt with your favor towards Loki! Nor had you realized the Odinsons had remembered so much of it!

“I trust it won't be long until I get that wedding invitation, then,” Thor chuckles heartily, slapping you on the back. You glance Loki up and down as you walk, your eyes now undoubtedly revealing your own mischievous intent.

“Well,” you say, teasingly. “I'll consider him as a suitor. He's a bit tough to handle at times, but he's handsome...and he's a damn good lover, too,” you add, watching Loki's mouth fall open. His expression smooths over quickly and masterfully, but he cannot help the slightest tinge of pink that flushes his cheeks. You know you have gotten him good.

Lover?!” Thor exclaims, rounding on Loki. You laugh, tuning the brother's banter out as you notice the signs of the makeshift hospital coming back into view. The reality of the battle that had been fought today encroaches back in on you, and you feel your mood grow more somber. It takes a long moment for you to register the silence at your side.

In unison, wordlessly, the three of you slow your pace until you are standing together again, looking down the ice corridor at the hustle and bustle of busy Aesir healers treating the massive Jotunns. Thor finally speaks.

“It seems it is time for me to depart from your presence,” he says, thoroughly solemn and sorrowful. “I must return to Asgard and deal with...certain matters there.”

“Like Amora,” you offer; Thor nods.

“I shall tell Odin of the bravery and ingenuity both of you displayed,” he promises.

“Please do,” Loki says, a thousand emotions behind those two words. You can hear the long-past desperation of a son who wanted to please his father, once; you can hear the crazed freedom of a madman who has learned he has power and that his life is a lie; you can hear the strength and detachment of a ruler who knows he is more than worthy, but will always have his insecurities. Thor hears it all too, turning to Loki and exchanging a long look with his brother.

“I shall. I promise,” Thor pledges. He looks away from Loki, clearing his throat and glancing at the floor. The God of Mischief does the same, and when Thor speaks again, the moment has passed. A handsome smile curves Thor's lips as he speaks again. “You both are welcome in Asgard at any time. So long as you cause no trouble,” he adds quickly, earning grins from both you and Loki.

“I would like that,” you agree. “Perhaps I could introduce you and Sif and company to my own Warriors Three. They're the most trustworthy, brave, and valiant fighters I have found on all of Jotunnheim. You would like them.”

“I should quite enjoy that,” Thor confirms.

“I'm sure you'll be hearing from us soon,” Loki promises, an unusual gentleness in his words. Thor smiles, clasping his brother on the shoulder.

“May your rule together be blessed, my friends. Until next time.” Thor gives a small bow, and both you and Loki return the gesture before Thor turns around, disappearing in the hubbub of the hospital and heading in the direction of the portal back to Asgard.

You watch Thor's red cape swish out of sight, only becoming aware of Loki's eyes on you when the thunder god is gone from your view. You meet the God of Mischief's intense gaze, now his natural Jotunn red, the tension and uncertainty and sheer eagerness you feel echoed there.

“Are you ready to do this?” Loki asks, offering his hand to you, and you understand his meaning immediately. But you made your decision long ago. You already know that you are ready to stand by this man until the end of time, through the days you are the pair who united and saved Jotunnheim by finding strength in the others' love, and through the long nights you are the pair of exiles from Asgard who find comfort only in each others' arms. You square your jaw, raising your chin and drawing a deep breath. Your hand takes his, and everything is terrifying, but you know deep in your heart of hearts that this is what both you and Loki were born for.

“I am.”

Chapter Text

“You stole my stuff. And then you broke it.”

You groan aloud, sinking down into the red chair of the meeting room. You'd entirely forgotten about SHIELD; the team had never made it to the battle in Jotunnheim, and honestly, you'd had a lot of more imminent things to deal with than wondering when and where a bunch of superheroes stuck in the realm of Midgard planned on meeting up with you.

The answer, it turned out, had been when you returned to Midgard to deal with the very human matters of your apartment and employment.

You were the one that wrote some crappy script that allowed a Class D operative to pilot a plane,” you retort. If Stark is going to act like a five-year-old, then, well, so are you. After dealing with the sometimes-petty dynamics of Loki and Thor, you've earned the right to be a little childish if you want.

“Actually, I didn't write that script specifically,” Stark mumbles, waving his hand and rolling his eyes. “In Midgard, we pay people to do things for us so that we don't have to do all the nitty-gritty work -”

“I know how employment works,” you interject, taking the opportunity to roll your eyes. “I lived here for years.”

“Right, well, that script was left the way it was to allow anyone to use it in case of emergency,” Stark counters. “The general idea is that if we don't want someone flying a plane, we've got security to ensure they won't be flying a plane, so why risk stranding innocents on a potentially burning and crashing Helicarrier?”

“And how'd that work out for you?” You ask, feeling more fed up than ever.

“Not so great,” Stark answers. “You stole my stuff. And then you broke it.” You stare straight into Stark's eyes, noticing a distinct lack of anger there. He's got a quick, scathing wit, to be sure, but there is no fury in his words. Interesting.

In fact, it's even more interesting that all the Avengers – save Thor, who is likely still busy with matters on Asgard – are in the room with you. Nick Fury stands in a corner, a looming presence; Agent Maria Hill and another man you haven't met yet flank him. Captain America sits in the chair beside the Iron Man, his physique and hair flawless. You try not to ogle him, instead turning to Bruce Banner, who occupies the space on the other side of Tony. Bruce is fiddling with his glasses, wiping them on his shirt, and you feel a pang of guilt; you had genuinely liked Bruce, and hadn't meant to betray him. Natasha and Hawkeye – Clint, his name was Clint Barton, you remember – are perched toward the back of the room, leaving Thor's seat to separate them from Banner. Natasha gives you a stony glare, and you chew your lip, finally feeling nervous.

“Okay,” you concede. “I broke some of your stuff.” Stark leans forward, giving you a withering stare. “Okay! I broke a lot of your stuff! A whole plane! Or two! What do you want me to do?”

“I'm assuming you don't have the money laying around to buy two planes,” the Iron Man says flippantly. You shrug, gesturing your hands upward in a “not really” motion. Unless Jotunnheim has some secret treasury of gold for you to access, you're kind of screwed on the financial front. “So...you'll work for us to pay it off.”

“I'm Agent Phil Coulson,” the man you don't know who had been flanking Fury introduces himself, stepping forward. He offers you a hand; you stand, trying to be polite, and shake it firmly. He's got kind eyes, you notice; you think you like him already. “I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”

Your mouth drops open.

“Wait,” you interject. “I don't have time for this. I'm Queen of Jotunnheim now – I've got a whole realm to rule! How am I supposed to fit work on a separate realm in?”

Coulson seems speechless. You glance to the other Avengers, noticing that suddenly, every eye is very much boring figurative holes into you.

“They made you a queen?” Stark asks, obvious confusion in his voice.

“Wait, what's Jotunnheim?” Steve Rogers mumbles in the direction of Tony and Stark. Your Aesir hearing catches his words; so, too, do your heightened senses notice the way Banner mumbles back.

“I think Thor said it was one of the Eight Realms or something. Maybe Nine?”

“Let me get this correct,” Nick Fury states, breaking the murmurs that have swept through the room. “You and Loki are currently ruling an entire Realm together? You are in charge of a world, and you are married to Loki?”

“We're not married,” you grumble, explaining it for probably the tenth time already. “In Jotunnheim, you can be King and Queen without being wed. They're mostly a tribal folk, and don't share all of our customs.”

“But you're in charge of a world,” Fury says again, one eyebrow raising. You nod.

“Yeah, I mean, at least partially.”

“Forgive me for my language,” Banner says, standing up and moving toward you. He speaks meekly, but the whole room quiets to listen to him. You timidly smile at the scientist, hoping he doesn't really have any hard feelings after the whole stealing-info-from-his-research-and-escaping-thing. “But what the fuck have you been up to? One minute, you're in the lab with me and Tony, then next thing I know, you've cracked Loki's code before we have, set a plane on fire, and made your escape from a goddamn Helicarrier belonging to SHIELD. You come back a week later queen of an entire planet?” He concludes weakly, one hand on the round table in the middle of the room and a preciously bewildered expression on his face.

“Not a planet, a realm. And it's a long story,” you say lamely. The man named Coulson steps forward, shoving some papers emblazoned with Avengers logos into your hands.

“Well, we wanna hear it,” he says, moving to take one of the free seats in the room. You stare after the man, shuffling the papers so that they line up evenly in your palms.

“I mean, it's a really long story, and you probably don't want me on your team anyway – I mean, I'm a danger, consorting with Loki, or something, right?” You plead. It's not that you don't want to be on the Avengers – okay, maybe it is. Two superhumans had really been enough for you to handle; six, plus being Loki's Queen, seems downright ludicrous.

“She thinks she's a danger,” Tony Stark chuckles, elbowing Captain America playfully.

“And she also thinks we don't have time to hear about how Loki was somehow contained and turned into a peaceful entity, even if only temporarily,” Nick Fury intones, very seriously. Your eyes widen. “Get talking.”