I owe this one to my friend, GoodForBad. This story would never have come about if not for a conversation we were having a couple weeks ago.
Without further ado, GoodForBad, this one's for you ;)
The Queen is dead.
The words did not make sense to Sif as they rippled through the palace. They ricocheted as though the broken stones themselves spoke their secrets.
She died defending the Prince's mortal.
A light breeze from off the water came over the broken stones and lifted the damp hair on her neck. It smelled of the sea.
Malekith was a name from mothers' tales – spoken to keep children close at night. The Kursed were monsters almost un-told of in the annals, their time was so distant. The Dark Elves were dead. How had they come?
Her knuckles were raw with contact during the fight. She was hot and her sword was heavy on her hip. Her armor weighed her down.
The Queen is dead.
Frigga was a strong and skilled warrior. She was kind and full of life. She'd been mother-of-sorts to Sif as to all the playfellows of her sons. She'd understood Sif's troubles as a young girl better than any, and Sif had gone to her when she would have died rather than gone to her own mother.
She couldn't be...
Sif could hear the sound of the water-birds. Ever-present about in the city during fair weather, only strange because it was here that she heard them. In the throne room.
Dead was a state for monsters. For old men and for heroes of old. For those who raised their hands in war. Not for those who did not deserve to die, those who had not asked it of the Norns.
The Queen could not be slain.
The people spoke the words lowly, and almost without moving their mouths. As if by saying them the more quietly they could render them the less true.
The throne room was a wreck. Hlidskjalf was gone.
The clatter of arms and the low moans of the wounded reached Sif distantly through the hazed shock.
First Asgard, impregnable Asgard, had been breached. And now this.
And in this awful world where she found herself, paused between one step and the next by a sentence she had never once braced herself to receive, Sif had to believe it. The AllFather would not lie. Thor, would not lie and Thor stood stony-faced behind his father with his tiny mortal woman hanging bewildered on his arm. And neither of them had moved to counter its truth.
The AllFather stood resolute in the rubble. He faced a guardsman and leaned heavily on Gungnir. Sif noticed as though from far away that the hand with which he grasped the spear-shaft shook.
Men and women walked among the wreckage. Seeing to the bodies of the dead, ministering to the wounded. Some stood frozen, and they only looked about them like they couldn't understand what had befallen them. Far away she saw Fandril and Volstagg helping a man out from under debris that had pinned his leg.
This room was so much to them. It was symbol of all their power as a people. This, their very sanctuary. That it should be home to such a defeat as this was grief enough.
But to have lost the Queen, their very heart…
"Tell him," Odin AllFather spoke to the guard and his voice cut through the haze as the voice she had learned to hear through anything. Through the rage of battle, through this… "that the Queen…" the old man paused, and he looked at his hand on the spear. He lacked much of the strength he had once had. He was becoming frail. Sif had not seen it before as she did now.
All things died. All things ended. And she felt smaller than she ever had before.
The AllFather raised his one eye to the guardsman again, "Tell him that his mother has died."
The man put fist to heart, bowing his head in assent when Sif's feet chose to move forward, "AllFather," she said. She cut the guardsman off as he turned and stopped him.
Odin looked at her, spent beyond telling. "Lady Sif,"
"Let me tell him," she said.
Thor looked at her, "You?" he frowned.
"It should come from one who knew him," she said.
Odin said nothing. He looked out at the remains of the hall. He blinked his one eye slowly. Then, without looking at her, "Do as you see fit, Lady Sif."
Fist to shoulder, she bowed.
As she went, Thor touched her shoulder.
When she looked at him she thought that it was as though he was numb. None of his heart found expression in his eyes. They were like flashing blue stones in his face.
"Thank you," he said.
Her hand closed on the smooth pommel of her sword. Tight lipped, she nodded her head.
The halls stretched endlessly before her. The tile of the floor was cold and unforgiving under her boots, the windows high. The light that shone through them was thin and remorseless.
Everyone who passed her on the way moved with a quickened step and strained face.
Nothing like this had been known in Asgard in generations.
The figures rushed past her like figments from a dream. Words were hushed and movements silent.
They'd lost their heart when they'd lost their Queen. And even those who did not know it yet, felt it. They felt her loss as one on a balcony felt a blow to the foundation beneath. It shook them and they were frightened in their grief.
If Malekith could take so much from them, what had they left?
Asgard was a Realm of warriors, trained for the protection of the Worlds.
If Malekith could take their soul with such ease…
The corridors never seemed to end as Sif went, though as she neared the dungeons she passed fewer and fewer people. She came by chance upon the guard as he went and with a murmur from her of 'AllFather's business' she got from him the key before he was gone like all the others. A chittering filament from a dream.
There was fear in all their eyes. What she wouldn't give to see only one without it.
Frigga would have been undaunted.
She would have waded where the damage was the greatest and she would have carried hope with her like a burning star. She would have spoken to the people and kindled the fire again in their hearts that they might believe.
But Frigga was gone.
The Queen is dead.
Tell him his mother has died.
She didn't know what she was doing. Why she had cut in front of that guardsman and taken his place. There had never been love lost between herself and the younger prince.
And she turned and went down and then she was where it all had begun. In that world without the world.
The doors were wide because the dungeons were empty.
She looked at the key in her hand and then tucked it away. She ought to have known she would not need it. The prisoners had fled when the Kursed – a creature from fairy-stories she'd heard as a child – had freed them.
All but one.
Blood stained the stone of the floor and there was rubble, and against the wall there were several bodies. Torches flickered fitfully and made the shadows leap from the corners. The stale air smelt of blood and ashes and death. She stepped around the crumbled remains of a pillar. Her footsteps echoed amid the ruins.
She did not stay to dwell on any of it. The sooner this was over the better. She did not know rightly why she had come.
It would be the one cell left undamaged. The only one in which there remained light.
Tell him his mother has died.
He was sitting in a chair in one corner of the furnished cell, with a book opened on his hand, and her heart almost failed her. It crawled up in her throat and for all the Worlds she wanted to say nothing. She wanted to turn and go back the way she'd come.
He glanced up from his book, "You."
Surprise flickered behind his eyes before it was crushed and he looked back to his page. He had not expected to see her.
She hadn't seen him this closely since before it all began. His voice was as she remembered it.
"If you've come all this way to be sure of my security you've come for naught. The wards are tight," his mouth was sarcastic, "I checked them myself."
"Loki," she said. The hand that rested on the pommel of her sword was no comfort. "Your," words failed her and her eyes stung. She raised her head, shaking herself, forcing her eyes to meet his.
"Give the blow like a warrior."
"Your mother is dead," she said.
Tears slid liquid hot down her face.
And he did nothing. For a moment, he did not look away from her.
Then, very simply, he said, "Oh," and, nodding his head, he went back to his book.
Sif watched him. Dread turned surprise turned horror turned rage churned her stomach. It stopped her voice and slipped silvery cold into her blood and she locked her teeth, waiting to recover her tongue.
Seeming to have forgotten her entirely, Loki turned a page. Then he frowned and turned it back, as though it were to recover his place.
That was too much for her.
"Your mother is dead," she spat. Her nails dug into the palm of her hand. "Was she so little to you that you cannot spare even a moment of your precious time? You'll have the rest of your life to, read!"
He looked at her one moment. Then shut the book and, laying it aside, he stood, and he turned his back to her.
His voice was so low and so quiet that she barely heard the two, clipped words.
"No," she said. Shoving away her tears. "No. She loved you. She loved all of us. How can you just stand there?"
"Get. OUT!" he roared, turning on her. A wave of energy washed out from him. It collided with the barriers and rose up them in a rush like a wave.
Sif fell back a pace, gripping the hilt of her sword and Loki laughed at her. A jagged, broken sound. His eyes were like shards of poison-green glass.
"You accuse me of apathy?" he hissed, laughter quashed. "I love her more dearly than you can –" some of the madness faded from his eyes and he shook his head, drawing back within himself, back from the barrier, "You know nothing," he decided.
She remembered him the last time they had spoken at any length. After Thor's banishment. "I loved him more dearly than any of you." That had been before he'd sent the Destroyer to kill his brother. To kill all of them.
He turned his back on her, stopping in the center of the room with his hands clasped behind him.
He took an audible breath. Then.
"How?" he asked, conversationally. "So little reliable news works its way down to my current station."
Her face was flushed and her heartbeat pounded in her head. He ought to know that much, at least, she decided. She set her anger aside. Frigga was his mother, whether he deserved her or not.
None of them had deserved her.
Frigga would have had him know.
Sif stepped nearer again, holding the pommel of her sword. "I know little," she allowed. "I know that the mortal Thor brought has found something. Something Malekith wants. It…infected her. The –" her voice failed and she dragged it back, "The Queen was protecting her, when she…when the Kursed found them."
A long pause.
"And where were you?" The tone was light, bent to wound, just barely betraying a breathless quality underneath it. The line of his shoulders was taught.
"I bode not in a cell beneath the palace," she flashed. Her chin jerked up, "Malekith did not come alone. I was defending the city."
A longer pause this time. Then he gave a short laugh. "And how fares the city, Lady Sif? All must be well, surely, since it was under your esteemed protection."
She recalled the love showered on all of them by the Queen, and her throat closed helplessly.
"Can you do nothing but wound?"
The words slipped out before she could remember what he'd become and to show him nothing of her heart. Before she could remember and retract them. But if Loki scented blood he did not follow it.
"No," he snapped. Behind his back his knuckles were white. "That's why I'm here."
Sif ignored him, laying caution aside, "I came here," she said, "thinking I might see the man I knew. The Prince I was willing to serve –"
"Don't mock me," Loki growled. He did not turn, but the hand on his wrist tightened perceptibly. "You hated me from the start."
"I knew you were better than you had become –"
"You've gone above and beyond your duty, Lady," he snapped. "You're dismissed."
"And I know that still." She stood levelly on her feet.
Frigga had seen something. Something worth her love. And Sif had to trust her.
His laughter choked in his throat and, abruptly, he whirled. The barrier would allow nothing past and she'd expected it this time, so she did not draw back. But he did not reach for her. He shot out one hand and sent some solid thing he'd caught up from the table into the surface of the reflective glass standing by the far wall. The glass burst and cracked and fragmented across the floor.
The sound of it splintered the air and it startled her.
"Knew I was better than what, Sif?" His eyes flashed too green in his twisted face and she moved inadvertently away, "Better than this?" he gestured to the room around him. "No," he spat. "I am a monster," clawed hands raked his hair, which was not like him and Sif knew it was wrong. "I am a murderer," he panted, "A traitor and a liar from my birth and it was only a matter of time before my true nature became known. No wonder," he faltered, then. Looked away from her, at the shards still clinging to the frame of the glass. His voice went velvet-soft, "No wonder I fooled you all." He swallowed thickly.
He wasn't looking at her anymore. He was looking at the glass and the splinters of it and all the madness had gone out of his eyes. In its place, there was a transfixed kind of desperation, and Sif found that she felt it quite a bit more dangerous.
It hit her all of a sudden that – if she left him now, he might not be alive to be found by any who came after her. Another life was too much to gamble, even his.
But he didn't seem to be able to hear her.
Catching back an oath she hurriedly worked open the cell and slammed it shut behind her. Her heart beat high and fast in her chest.
She'd faced Loki before, but never like this. He was taller than she and heavier, easily her match if not her superior in speed and agility. She had only her sword. He had anything he chose to lift to hand. She was weary with battle. He was fresh, and he was angry.
And, in this new world, she was burdened with no desire to cause harm to him.
From far away, it occurred to her that she'd always known that Loki was close with his mother. Closer than Thor. It was never something that had been spoken about. It was something Loki had kept hidden.
And she remembered things she herself had kept hidden. Precious things.
He looked at her like he couldn't see her. His eyes were too green and as fractured as the glass he'd broken. His breath heaved in and out of his chest.
She removed her sword and cast it to the wall behind her.
It was over faster than she'd expected. A desperate hit on her part and Loki swayed on his feet. He dropped to his hands and knees on the floor before her, panting for breath.
Sif stayed standing where she was, breathing heavily, warily watching him, balanced on her feet, ready for him to spring again to his full height and attack her. Her ribs ached anew, and her hands, and a place on her cheekbone which would no doubt bruise.
She tensed marginally when he moved, but he only went back onto his knees to ball his fists and slam them into the floor with all the force the limited range allowed.
The only sound was the slight crunch of impact. Sif winced. The only sign Loki gave that it had hurt him was that his breath shuddered. He didn't make any other sound.
He ought to have made a noise.
Shouting, she understood. Rage, she had expected. This silence unnerved her. She watched him. Slowly, his hands opened, always pressed against the floor, and she saw that he was shaking. His head hung down between his shoulders, hiding his face. She could only hear him breathing, thickly, like there wasn't enough oxygen for him to find in the air.
She drew nearer him and, slowly, she went to her knees. It wasn't like him to stay down when he'd been hit. And to breathe like that… She'd seen him walk away from blows that would crush a lesser opponent with a smirk on his face, wounded or no. It was always a thing in him she had admired.
A tremor ran through every inch of him. His hands pressed into the ground and all the blood was pressed out of his nails so that they were white against the floor. He was bleeding from a scrap of glass that had crushed itself into his knuckles. She feared she had wounded him far more grievously than intended.
His breathing was regular like some low and awful bellows.
Her blow had been meant to catch him off balance and buy her a moment to recover herself. Never had it been meant to bring him down. Tentatively, she put out one hand. It hovered just above his shoulder. She was afraid to set him off again, unsure of what that might do to him if he truly was wounded.
Unless it was only some trick to catch her off guard.
His breath grated in his throat and it roared in the quiet of the cell and it raised the hair on the back of her neck.
She put her hand down for balance and it rested on the floor between both of his. She was about to speak, certain that he would bite back with some cruel retort at which she would leave him, certain that the man she'd known and Frigga had loved was long-dead – when something gave her pause.
It was a little thing. An obvious thing.
It was the realization, first, of a subtle touch on the back of her hand. And it drew all of her startled, spent attention as she gaped at it. Several moments longer than it probably deserved ticked past, before she finally likened the feeling to summer raindrops on a paved road.
The second realization was faster, and it was that the tears were not her own.
That recognition jarred her so fiercely that it left her own grief unguarded and it leapt into her throat. Clapping a hand to her mouth she sobbed, and tears poured immediate and un-checked from her eyes. She gripped his shoulder with her hand but she didn't know anymore if it was for his sake or for hers, or just to know that someone else was there.
For a long time there was no sound in the cell besides her own sobbing and the rhythmic rasp of his terrible breathing.
A long time later, all was quiet. They'd moved farther apart. Loki was sitting with his shoulders against one wall of the cell and his long legs extended before him. His arms were folded across his chest, loosely, as though he didn't know it. Like he was cold. He starred at nothing and his eyes were dark hollows in his face. The madness was gone. Sif sat on one foot and hugged her up-drawn knee with her arms, gradually coming back to herself and watching him from her place on the floor a pace or two away. She felt empty and quiet, dull beyond telling, utterly spent.
She inhaled until her chest ached. Then, slowly, she got to her feet.
"I should go," she said. She didn't think he would hear her. Wasn't sure that he could, just now. Only knowing that she ought to say something, before she went, and not knowing anything else to say.
He made absolutely no sound at all. He might have been dead, save for one hand that hovered by his mouth, then dropped again to his lap. It was an absent gesture.
He wasn't the proud creature she'd found when she'd arrived. And she didn't know what to do with him, like this. His anger, his mockery, those she understood. This was an arena she felt better suited to another.
To whom, she didn't know. And it was too much for her aching mind to comprehend, just yet.
She went across the room and took up her sword. Then she opened the barrier and shut it behind her. It occurred to her that – all the time, she and Loki had been so near one another, and she had had no mind for where she was or what was happening about her, only her grief. And yet, the key remained in her possession. He had made no move to take it from her.
And that did not surprise her as she felt it should have.
When she turned back he wasn't looking at her.
"Why did you come?" he asked. His voice was raw, barely more than a whisper. "Not for love shared between us. There was scarcely ever any of that," he gestured loosely with one hand, "Surely no more now than in the old days. And the AllFather would never have chosen you,"
He turned his head and Sif couldn't hold his gaze. She settled her sword in its place and felt the familiar weight of it at her side.
There was a Realm above that needed the strength of its warriors, not their mourning. She took a long breath.
"The Queen would not have wanted you to hear it from any but a friend," she decided.
Loki did not answer but his expression flickered in a way that made her think that something about that had hurt. He turned his head away.
Quietly, she turned, and she was about to make her way back to the wreckage above when his voice stopped her again.
"You didn't have to come," he said, "and for that I…I thank you, Sif."
Nothing barbed, nothing that cut. And that in itself was so inexplicable that she turned and, for one moment, she forgot the place and the past and she was inclined to put fist to heart in promise of service, as to one who was above her. But then she recovered herself and she only inclined her head, as to a friend.
Then she turned about and she squared her shoulders.
The Queen's sacrifice must be made worth its price.
Malekith would pay for what he had done.
So, yeah. Basically just an alternate scene for TDW. Pretty sure it doesn't change anything major in the movie. Kinda always upset me that Loki had to hear that from some anonymous guard. It ought to have come from someone he loved. But he kinda lacks those...considering...and I feel like the scene would have been totally different if it was Thor or Odin who had come. Probably wouldn't have gone over too well. Highly proud and emotional males discussing delicate and painful news in an enclosed space...and they all have super powers...
But yeah. Those thoughts, coupled with a conversation (started by GoodForBad's AMAZING fic, What the Woods did Bring - WAY darker than the description lets on - I highly recommend it. It's a hellova good ride) about whether Sif ever really hated Loki. I think she never hated him, she just never really liked him. Maybe he had a little puppy crush on her and did stupid attention-seeking ten-year-old-boy things. Maybe he played one too many tricks on her and she just never trusted him and he took that personally. Either way, we pretty much agreed that she never hated him, he just assumed she hated him, and acted thusly. They both have major issues in the people skills department.
In our conversation, I said something along the lines of 'they have a really interesting relationship, if only either one of them would be honest enough that they could both see it. Which would have to be Loki, since he's the one hiding things and jumping to conclusions. She'd just have to find him when he was really vulnerable and had no choice but to trust her, and she would have to not make him pay for it." Then I remembered Hiddleston saying something about Loki having to hit rock bottom in order to complete the character arch and that Frigga's death was that 'rock bottom' and that was that. I started getting dialogue and this happened and I had to set aside the prequel-Odin-fic I'm working on to get this one out of my system.
The first draft was a lot more choppy. But then Loki reminded me that he thinks Sif hates him and will take any shot she sees (why not? He would), so that draft was scrapped and this one took it's place, where he's very slowly crumbling at the fault-lines and never quite gives in. But she sees the truth, even if he only shows it grudgingly, and she allows that her perception of him as 'enemy' is a new thing and not one she really wants to believe. And I think he might actually believe her. Pretty sure it changes nothing, but who knows. Had the story gone differently, maybe they could have been friends.
Anyways, let me know if you liked/hated, agreed/disagreed. Don't mean to bore anybody to death with the long AN, but more people vocalized enjoyment of them than hatred after my last fic, so here it be. Hope it wasn't tedious, or that - if it was - you skipped it.