"I have to explore," Loki said resolutely.

Astrid lifted her eyes from her laptop. It had been several days since his speech, and so far most of their attention had been on the recovery efforts while they planned meetings with world leaders. It had been another long day of world-changing decision making and high-society schmoozing. She was sitting on the bed preparing for her meeting with the National Science Foundation when Loki spoke to her from the bathroom. He was standing very still, looking in the mirror, towel wrapped around his waist. Astrid looked concerned and put the laptop to the side, walking over to him.

"Explore? What do you mean?"

He turned to her, and then she saw the anxiety across his face. "This has been on my mind for some time now. I have promised to improve the lives of these people, but...I know not where to start. I know nothing about them, and little about this world. I thought I knew, I thought it would be easy. But humans are...complicated. Nothing like Asgard. There is nuance and variety in this world that I did not expect, and I feel...unprepared to lead without understanding these more thoroughly."

She would have laughed if he didn't seem so nervous. She leaned her head on his arm and gazed at him through the reflection.

"Yes, my king. This planet is full of surprises." Astrid was having a lot of fun dropping royal titles into her conversations with him lately. Partly because it was true, and partly because he wasn't used to it yet and would hesitate slightly every time she mentioned it. She thought it was adorable.

"It is overwhelming." Loki continued after a brief pause, giving Astrid no small amount of satisfaction. "I do not believe I could come to know all the unique parts of this planet within a century, much less in time to rule it."

"Why don't you start with the internet?"

"The what?"

Astrid almost choked. "You don't know about the internet?!"

Loki looked almost as surprised as she did. "I've heard of it in passing...something Valkyrie would say, mostly just 'internet security,' but she never elaborated. I assumed it had something to do with your technology, like that primitive thing you call television."

Astrid's eyes lit up. "I can't BELIEVE- wait, no, this is happening right now. Loki, come here." She dragged him over to the bed where her laptop was, and clicked open the Google browser. "There."

Loki looked very confused. "There...what?"

"Type something in the search bar, that little box in the middle of the screen."

"Like what?"

"Literally. Anything."

Loki paused briefly, then typed Astrid Skarsgard. Nothing happened. "Now what?" he asked.

"You have to hit 'Enter'." she said.

"What's that?"

Astrid reached over his shoulder and pushed the button for him. His eyes went wide when he saw the next screen. "Eighteen MILLION records of your name?!" he balked. He did NOT feel less overwhelmed.

"Yea, but only the ones on the first page are important."

"Then why would they make so many records?" he continued to stare, baffled.

"Because they CAN. That's part of humanity. We don't only do things because they're necessary. We do things because we CAN. That's how we got on the moon."

Loki scoffed. "Getting to the moon is hardly an accomplishment," he said, scrolling down the page awkwardly with the touch pad.

"Well, I'm sorry, your highness, but we didn't have portal technology until YOU showed up. We had to shoot people into space on a highly explosive rocket."

"That sounds absurd and dangerous." he said, but his eyes never left the screen. He skimmed through article after article about Astrid and her accomplishments, mostly from the last few days. then he stopped. "What is 'roller derby'?"

Astrid looked at the link he was referring to, and smiled. "Oh, yea...I went through a phase in high school. I'll show you." She clicked the link, and a video came up. The footage was somewhat grainy, but there was no mistaking her shock of blond hair under the black helmet as she flew around the hard wooden floor on her skates. And she had to really hold back a laugh when she saw his face after he watched her land her first hit.

"What is the point of this?!"

"It was fun. A good way to let out some adolescent aggression."

"Like sparring?"

"Yes...but without the expectation of using this on a battlefield. It's just a sport."

"This also looks absurd and dangerous," he said, trying to sound disinterested but unable to pull his eyes away from the much-younger Astrid violently shoving her adversaries down to the floor at unsafe speeds. A hint of a smile pulled at the corner of his mouth.

"Welcome to humans." Astrid smiled and gave him a pat on the back. She went to take a shower and left him to browse. By the time she was done, he hadn't moved an inch.

"What are you looking at now?"

"Manatees."

"What?!" Astrid looked over his shoulder, watching him scroll through the Wikipedia article, looking at the images. "How the hell did you go from 'Astrid doing roller derby' to 'manatees'?"

"I looked for other sports, and I found something called 'water skiing,' then I looked at boats, then I looked at sea life, and that's how I found manatees."

"Wow, you're really going down the rabbit hole, aren't you?"

"What's a-" then he stopped, wrote "rabbit hole" in the search bar, and hit enter. Some businesses popped up first, as well as a movie, but then a few phrases came up underneath that, first of which said "What does it mean to go down a rabbit hole?" Loki clicked it and read the short description.

"Yes...I believe that is what I'm doing."

He was completely engrossed. This man who had spent centuries reading every book he could get his hands on now had access to the entire knowledge and culture of the human race, instantly at his fingertips. Astrid didn't want to take it away from him, but she needed to finish her planning.

"Hey, Loki…" she reached for the laptop and slowly started to pull it away from him. His eyes stayed locked to the screen until the last possible second, then he looked at her, almost pleadingly. Astrid held back a giggle. "I need this thing for my meeting tomorrow," she said.

"How can I get more of the internet?"

"It is literally everywhere. Here, use my phone. Oh, that reminds me...I need to get you a phone. I'll do it tomorrow. You can also access it from a computer, and there are plenty of those around here."

As Astrid handed him her phone, she remembered something from before the battle. Right as he was about to take it from her, she pulled it back. "Also...how and why are you blocking my incoming calls and messages?"

That he understood. With just the briefest hesitation, he looked up at her, with every intention of lying. But the glare he gave her instantly shut that down. He resigned to confessing.

"The 'how' is not difficult. It's a simple spell, really. It works with all forms of communication with which I am familiar. It prevents contact from those who are not authorized to speak with you."

"But I'm guessing it only works when you're in the same...realm, is it?" Astrid narrowed her eyes at him. "My mom called me while you were back on Asgard. She was worried sick that I hadn't called her since Stuttgart, and rightfully so. Why wouldn't my mom be authorized to speak with me, Loki? In fact, who IS authorized to speak with me? Also, why do you get to decide who speaks with me?"

The barrage of questioning got worse and worse.

"I was...protecting you."

"Protecting me? From what?"

"I was...protecting myself. When you chose to join me, I thought I needed to keep you away from your old life so you wouldn't change your mind. It was my own insecurity. I'm sorry."

Astrid stopped, remembering the call from her mother, how it ALMOST convinced her to leave, how the dark fire was the only thing that brought her back. He wasn't wrong, but he had gone about it in the wrong way.

She sighed. "I forgive you; of course I forgive you. But this can't continue. I need to know that the people I care about can get in touch with me...at least the ones that are left." Astrid sighed. "Remove your spell, now."

Loki hesitated.

"Remove it, or I'll have Valkyrie prevent you from accessing the internet ever again."

Loki's breath stopped. He couldn't tell if she was bluffing, but he needed to see more of this internet, it was of utmost importance. With a roll of his eyes, he waved his hand. Astrid's phone shimmered for a moment, then returned to normal.

"Thank you."

Astrid handed him the phone and showed him how to browse, then sat down next to him on the bed and continued her work. Eventually, she closed the laptop and fell asleep, and when she awoke...he was still sitting there, staring at her phone.

"Loki…" she grumbled sleepily. "Were you up all night looking at the internet?"

"Is it morning already?" he said, still glued to the screen.

"God damnit, Loki...you've got a world to rule. Put that thing down."

"I had no idea humans had so much pornographic variety…"

"LOKI!" Astrid grabbed her phone from him, shutting down the PornHub page and giving him a dirty look. "Did you spend ALL night looking at porn?!"

His eyes were sunken and glassy when he looked up at her, very deliberately NOT answering the question.

"Oh my god…" Astrid mumbled.

"Yes?" Loki quipped, smirking when she turned to give him a death stare.

"You are incorrigible," she moaned as she plugged in her phone on the nightstand. "You better watch yourself. Internet addiction is a real thing. It wouldn't do to have the King of Midgard playing World of Warcraft and watching YouTube all day."

"Ah, I remember YouTube. What is World of Warcraft? That sounds delightful."

"NO! You've had enough for now, junkie. We've got things to do today. Inspiring the people, leading the planet...eating breakfast." Astrid stood and walked to the entrance of the bathroom.

Loki flopped back down on the bed with a mockingly disappointed groan. Astrid giggled softly - yet another side of Loki that she'd never gotten the chance to see before. Given the circumstances of the last week or so, one couldn't blame him for taking himself seriously. But he was the God of Mischief, after all...anything for a good laugh. With a sidelong grin, Astrid began to cough.

"Well, actually, Loki. I haven't been feeling well. I'm not sure I'll be able to attend my meetings today. It might have been something I ate, hopefully I'll be better within 24 hours." Then she fake-coughed again.

His head popped up off the bed. "Darling, what's wrong?" She didn't know if he had figured out if she was kidding yet, so she went with it.

"My stomach is in knots, and I have this *cough cough* tickle in my throat. I would hate to get anyone else sick. Maybe I should stay home today."

"My god, Astrid," Loki walked over to her, faking genuine concern, placing his hand gently on her back. "Should I call a healer? Or a doctor?"

"No, I think I'll be alright with some rest. Besides, you should be able to take care of me just fine...or...are you feeling ok? You look a little under the weather yourself…"

"Well...I was up all night looking at porn..."

Astrid instantly broke out laughing in the most authentic laugh she'd had in as long as she could remember, and was overjoyed to see that Loki had succumbed at the same time she did. They both collapsed to the ground in a fit of laughter, and for minutes, neither of them could talk - as soon as one would start calming down, the laughter of the other would start them up again. Finally, tears rolling down their faces and stomach muscles sore, they breathed heavily, smiling.

"Wooow, I needed that," sighed Astrid, laying on her back and wiping the tears from her cheeks, staring at the ceiling. "That felt great."

"Indeed," Loki said. "I haven't laughed like that in far too long. This entire endeavor has been very stressful," he chuckled, winning the prize for Understatement of the Year in just one sentence.

"Well, if it was easy, everyone would do it."

Loki turned to her and gave her the most perfect, beautiful, incredible smile she'd ever seen. It spread across his face in a way that made every part of him look happy. Astrid was in awe for just a moment before coming back to reality. "Do you have any idea how gorgeous you are?" she blurted.

Now the happiness mixed with surprise at the compliment. His lips moved but nothing came out.

Astrid's eyebrows went to her hairline. "Did I just leave the silvertongue speechless?! Oh, you're never living that one down, buddy." She laughed again as she stood up from the floor and walked back to the bed. "So, King of Mischief. What do you say we play hookie?"

"Do WHAT?" Loki asked.

"Play hookie. It means lie to everyone and tell them we're too sick to work, then stay here all day and hang out with each other."

He laughed again and came up on the bed, sitting next to her and putting his hand on her leg. "My dear, I would like nothing more than to play hookie with you. But the world is literally depending on us. Best we not let them down."

"You're right," Astrid sighed with a mock eye roll. "Back to adulting." She stood and went back to the bathroom to brush her teeth, leaving Loki repeating "adulting?" on the bed.

She started brushing, but was soon far too distracted by the man standing behind her sliding his hands all over her body.

"Ret ree srit is ott," Astrid garbled with the toothbrush in her mouth, and though he let her bend over to the sink, he did indecent things to her backside the whole time. Wiping her mouth off, Astrid turned, doe-eyed, and wrapped her arms loosely around Loki's neck. "You know...we haven't christened our new bed yet," she mused, before leaning forward and pressing her lips to his.

Loki pulled her in tightly, returning it fervently and biting her lower lip. Astrid's breath caught, and she broke the kiss gently, looking him seductively in the eye, then slowly walked toward the bed, dragging his hand in hers. He followed. They were naked by the time they got there.

She pulled him up to the bed and sat him down on the edge, then lowered herself...and kneeled before him, bowing her head. The sight stole Loki's breath away. He instantly went hard, his posture stiffening, muscles tight, adrenaline pumping. She stayed there for just a few seconds, then raised herself onto her knees and took him in her mouth.

Loki's eyes rolled upward, and he caught himself on his elbows, letting his head fall back and his hair drape down to the blankets. She moved slowly, feeling out every inch of him with her tongue, taking him further down her throat with each dip and pull. The moans and growls he made as Astrid worked got her dripping wet in no time, and with one last push, she took him as deep as she could and felt him stiffen, then released him, licking him clean. She could tell he was close, but this was just the appetizer.

She crawled up over him, caging him with her body, and then touched her forehead to his. "May I kiss you, my king?" she whispered.

"Yes," he breathed, and she brought her lips to his once again. Her nipples brushed his chest as he pulled their bodies further up on the bed. Astrid climbed on top of him, straddling his waist, and wasted no time in filling herself with him. She was rewarded with another delicious groan of pleasure.

Astrid's body rocked gently on his, moving him smoothly along her walls, tensing to add sensation at just the right time. Loki held her hips, his face contorted with desire and need, eyebrows peaked. Astrid pushed a hand into her hair to hold it away from her face. This was not a view she wanted to miss. With her other hand, she held his wrist, and moved to his rhythm.

He stayed erect for an impressive amount of time, taking her through two orgasms before she felt him become rigid with inevitability. She squeezed him tightly within her, sending herself into a third orgasm as he finally came. With a hitched moan, Loki turned his head to the side and grabbed the sheets beneath him, breathing jagged, lightning shooting through him from where he and Astrid connected. Astrid shuddered on top of him, closing her eyes and reveling in the joy of having him inside of her. Finally, the waves of pleasure subsided from them both, and Astrid fairly flopped off of him, breath haggard. The only thing Loki could do was chuckle softly. For some time, they laid there in silence, feeling their hearts pound and trying to fill their lungs, until Astrid broke the silence with a peal of laughter.

"I think that's the gentlest sex we've ever had," she panted as she rolled over and laid her head on his bare chest. "Have fun?"

"Immensely," he smiled, taking in the scent of her hair - no matter how often he did it, the sensation never dulled; it was so uniquely her.

"Well, I suppose we should get a start on our day. Like you said, the world is depending on us."

Loki sighed contentedly and wrapped his arm around her more tightly. "The world can wait a few more moments."

Neither Astrid nor Loki had ever felt this happy. They both understood it wouldn't last forever, but in the moment, they revelled in the simplicity of it - just silly, comfortable companionship. There was something so special about how common and easy having a moment like this was, given the pain and turmoil they had experienced since meeting, and prior to that as well. But now, right now, in this room, in this bubble of perfection, Astrid and Loki were really, truly happy.

Then Astrid's phone rang, and the caller ID read "Mom." Astrid sighed, kissed her king once more, and answered the call.

"Hi mom," she smiled as she spoke. After their last conversation, she knew her mother needed some of the good vibes she was feeling.

"You picked up? Miracle of miracles. And here I thought you might be too busy running the world to talk to your own mother."

"Well, I've had some really terrible reception problems," - she glared at Loki, earning herself a faux-apologetic puppy dog stare as he pulled her laptop over to himself and opened it - "but they seem to have figured it out. I shouldn't miss any more of your calls or messages. So...lots of changes, huh?"

She heard the hesitation on the other end of the line, and imagined her mom was having a hard time keeping it together, either because she wanted to scream at Astrid or break down crying. She had to give her credit - this would be hard under normal circumstances, but now her daughter was one of the leaders of the world, and she was doing a good job maintaining her composure.

"That's one way to put it," her mom sighed, but Astrid could hear the smile in her voice. "How are you? Are you doing ok?"

There were a million other questions underneath those, but Astrid was glad to keep this conversation simple for now...just like the rest of her morning. "Good, busy. REALLY busy. I've been meeting with tons of people, and it's just going to get worse. But it's a productive busy, you know? It's an important busy. I like that."

"Wow, you're just taking this all in stride, aren't you? As usual, little miss overachiever." And her mother laughed just a bit.

The sound filled Astrid's heart. She has been so wracked by their call a few days ago, right after the battle, thinking she had lost family forever, knowing her mother would see everything she'd done, but now it seemed as if things might work out. Maybe her old life and her new could still have some connections. "Yea, just like always, I guess." Astrid smiled.

"So," her mom said, "Tell me about this Loki fellow. That was quite a speech. He seems to think you're pretty impressive."

Astrid laughed. Just a casual conversation between her mom and her about the King of Midgard. "He's…" Astrid looked over at him - he tried to appear occupied by what was on the screen, but it was so obvious he was listening in. "...really incredible, mom. I've never met anyone like him. I mean, obviously...he's not human, but still, he's a classy dude."

Loki snorted behind her, giving away his eavesdropping. Astrid just smiled and continued her conversation. "I'm glad I'm able to help him."

"By giving him super soldiers with your nanobots. Huh. Sounds normal."

"Right, so NOT normal, I get it. But big changes only happen with big moves. I don't regret it, not for a second."

"That's great, dear. How's Karine?"

Astrid choked a little. "We...ah...had a bit of a falling out. Over this." The sugar coating happening in this conversation was masterful, but this topic was still very touchy. Astrid still felt the pangs of guilt and pain. "She didn't want anything to do with this, and she's really pissed that I gave the tech to Loki. She's in Heidelberg...we're not speaking…"

"Oh, honey, I'm sorry…" her mom sympathized.

"Yea, me too." Astrid decided to change the subject ASAP. "But hey, how's Dad? How's the lab?"

"He's doing well. The team is fine. They're just struggling with this most recent study - apparently the grant funding hasn't been coming in as promised and they're trying to make it work with what they've got."

Suddenly, a warm fire burned in her belly. "Having issues with grants, huh? I remember those days. But I don't think he's going to have to worry about that anymore. Ever."

Astrid's mom got silent on the other end of the line. "Astrid, what are you-"

"As head of the Global Science Research and Development Initiative, I hereby grant the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Dr. Edward Skarsgard priority access to funding for stem cell research and development of new technologies to improve the quality and duration of life for the human race. I'll have the lawyers work out the details when I meet with them on Thursday."

Astrid beamed at the excited noises that came through the speaker of her phone, and she threw a happy glance over to Loki. "What do you think about that, honey?" She said quietly with a twinkle in her eye. He smiled back at her and turned his attention back to the laptop...then he stopped cold and looked up at her, serious.

"'Honey?'" her mother stopped. "Who's honey?"

Astrid's breath caught in her throat, and her mind started whirling. That was a MISTAKE.

"Aaahhh...I….should get going…"

"What? No, you can't do that! You're with someone? You're calling someone 'honey'? How on Earth are you managing to help guide the new king of the world and start a new rela-"

Silence. Breathing. Understanding.

"Astrid...are you and Loki-"

"I gotta go! Something just came up! Love you talk to you soon bye!" Astrid panicked and hung up the phone before her mother could say anything else, then turned to look at the naked Loki sitting on the bed, with a very oh-shit-what-did-I-just-do expression.

"Well," he cleared his throat and pretended to nonchalantly look back at the screen, "you handled THAT beautifully."

Astrid groaned. "Shit," she muttered under her breath, and she walked back to him, sitting heavily on the bed and resting her forehead on his shoulder. "Shit shit shit."

There was a knock at the door, and Loki immediately clothed them both - very few people were allowed to disturb the king in his quarters, and this was the first time anyone had knocked on the door. Loki boomed, "Enter."

Steven walked in, looking serious. "Sir, we have a situation in Chicago. A rebel group has formed and has started a riot. It's not a threat to global stability, but it is all over the news, and if we don't handle it the right way, it's very likely more riots like this will start around the world. We've attempted to manage it, but I think an all-out suppression using the Chitauri would hurt more than it would help. An appearance by the king would go a long way in calming this down before it gets any worse. We have supporters there, but I wouldn't come out if I were them…"

Loki sighed and looked at Astrid, who returned his gaze, then looked back to Steven. And just like that, her simple moment was over.

The three of them stayed silent for just a moment - the compass, the soldier, and the king. This was on them now. And they were as ready to lead humanity as they would ever be.

"Ok," said Astrid, feeling determination, focus, and something akin to pride rise within her. And just by looking at them, she could swear the two other people in the room felt the same.

"Let's do this."

END OF PART I

Thank you ALL so much for reading my story! This has been one hell of an experience...I can't believe it's finally done! There's more story to be told, and I'm working on that now. But you know, this is a milestone - my first fanfic is complete! I'm going to go celebrate, then dive back into this sucker. Please follow/favorite me so you're the first to know when Part II begins. Happy 2019, you fabulous readers! See you soon!\

-Rose