AN: Sorry for the long wait! Last chapter here. Hope it was worth waiting for! Thanks for reading!

. . . . . .

In the morning things are different. With a good night's sleep between her and that conversation, and with the usual trappings of a normal morning to focus on, that conversation with Jane gets pushed out of its place as the most prominent thing on her mind, and the strangely surreal memory—of hearing someone say that she and Loki would be good together, and of that one particular statement (looks at me like what?)—fades until it's easy to ignore.

And once she's had some time to think about it, she knows what she would say if Jane brought it up again. She'd say that Jane was right: she and Loki go way back, and get on well, so she can see why someone might think that. But then she'd say that Loki is really not her type. She's an athlete; she likes other athletes. She likes a guy who can keep up with her on a run, who'd be happy to spend an evening watching a basketball game, with whom she can have long discussions about the Rams' questionable move from St. Louis to LA.

And Loki isn't that guy. He's not athletic and he doesn't like sports, is what she would tell Jane; don't you remember how bored he was at Thor's Super Bowl party? How he spent the whole time on his phone? And it's not like Sif is a great match for him, either; when he gets talking science or math with Jane, Sif understands about 25% of what's being said.

You see? she would tell Jane. We just don't have that much in common. He's a great guy, and of course I care about him, but we're not like that—we're not anything more than friends—because we're just so dissimilar.

(Although two days later, she finds herself feeling glad that Jane hadn't pressed the subject again, and that Sif had therefore never had to make that argument, because her Valentine's Day date is kind of disproving her point. According to her argument, Leir should be exactly her type of guy, but instead the date is kind of a dud. Leir is cute, and a track star at their school, and he has lots to say about the Rams moving to LA and the recent Super Bowl and how José Quintana is such an underrated pitcher, don't you think? Sif in fact does agree with that statement—with most of Leir's statements—but somehow that's not quite enough to make the evening very memorable, or make her want to ever go out with him again. So maybe having sports in common isn't actually that great an indicator of compatibility.)

. . . . . .

"Oh, I almost forgot! Check this out."

Loki examines the paper that Sif has just slapped on top of his calculus textbook, and then the sharp corner of his mouth turns up in a grin. "Eighty-nine percent," he says approvingly. "Well done."

"Well, I had a very good tutor," Sif says, leaning back in her chair. "Thank you for that, by the way. That test would have kicked my butt without your help."

"Always glad to help," he says magnanimously.

And okay, Loki is a lot of things, but a pattern shining beacon of charity is not one of them. "Are you?" she asks, fixing him with a skeptical look.

And he hesitates, and then he grins. "All right, occasionally glad to help."

"That's what I thought," she grins.

He looks back down at his text book, picks up his pencil, pauses, then puts it down again. "So," he says casually, glancing back up at her, "when's your next text? Are you . . . I mean, will you still want help?"

"Not until the end of March," she tells him. "And Dad should be able to help with that. I mean, he's home Thursday."

He blinks. "Oh, I didn't realize it was that soon. So I guess you won't be . . . over here all the time."

She raises an eyebrow at that. "Will you miss me?" she teases, and then immediately kicks herself for it because she usually does a good job of avoiding anything that even comes close to touching the fact that he maybe once had feelings for her (and maybe still does—she's not at all certain, but she wonders sometimes). So she blunders on before he has a chance to even react. "It'll be sad not to be hanging with you guys as much, but I'm really excited for my dad to be home. This is the longest I've gone without seeing him . . . almost ever. I miss him."

Out of the frying pan, into the fire, is the correct phrase to use here, Sif decides. Because in pulling the conversation away from something that could have made it uncomfortable, she's steered it directly into something else that makes Loki unsettled.

"It's nice you're so excited to see your father," he says, and he's a good enough liar that she imagines anyone else would not have read anything else into that statement.

But she knows him better than that; she hears the whisper of wistfulness and resignation in his tone. And she knows why. It's been two months, and still Thor tells her that things are bad between Loki and Odin. And she believes it; she hasn't seen father and son interact since Loki came home.

For a moment she hesitates; surely there's nothing she can do or say that Thor and Frigga haven't already done and said. And maybe he won't appreciate her rummaging through his unhappiness with her clumsy hands. But it only lasts a moment; they're friends, after all. And this is the perfect moment to ask; with Odin out of town for a few days and Thor and Jane at a movie and Frigga at a board meeting for some charity she works with, they are totally alone, and likely to remain so for the next little while. And maybe he'll appreciate being able to talk with someone outside the family, someone with a different perspective. And anyway, he can ignore her question if he likes.

"What about you? How are things with your dad?" she asks. She doesn't bother fiddling with her pencil, or looking down at her notebook, or anything she might have done to defuse the situation and pretend the question isn't actually quite a significant one. Instead she meets his gaze steadily.

He lies smoothly, but she can tell it's a lie. "We're fine."

The corner of her mouth lifts in a melancholy little smile. "No, you're not."

"Oh, and you think you know that?" he retorts, his immediate response defensiveness.

"Didn't you just point out that I've been 'over here all the time' lately?"

A pause, and then he smiles a little. "Good point."

"I've been around enough to see that you don't talk to him. You two don't speak at dinner. If you're alone in a room and he comes in, you leave."

Loki blinks, and then he looks away.

"Are you content to just keep doing that forever?"

He shrugs, still not meeting her eyes. "I didn't come back for him," he says flatly. "I came back for Mother. And Thor."

She sighs and looks at the side of his face a long moment. "It's your call, not mine. But . . . I'm worried about you. I want you to be happy. So if you want to talk about it . . ."

His gaze comes up to meet hers again. There's a moment where they just stare at each other, and then he shakes his head. "There's nothing to talk about," he insists. "Father is perfectly happy with the way things are. So what's the point in discussing it?"

Her brow furrows. "He told you that?"

"He didn't have to. You've seen the way he's been acting. Just . . . calm. Like everything's fine. He's never said a word to me about my coming back. I don't think he was even worried when I was gone. It feels like . . . he doesn't even care about the . . . everything. The adoption. The secrets. The reasons I left in the first place." His tone, his expression, his posture are all defiant, but his eyes betray him, with hurt lurking in their depths.

And Sif fights back a sigh. She remembers having this exact thought, when Loki returned: she'd hoped that Odin's usual even-keeled manner, his refusal to let his emotions get the best of him, wouldn't lead his son to believe that he didn't really care about what had happened. "Loki," she says softly, and then blinks in surprise because her hand very nearly just moved of its own accord to settle comfortingly over his. That's been happening a lot lately, actually.

She pushes the thought from her mind and continues. "We both know what your dad is like: he doesn't show a lot of emotions. You know, unless he's furious. But of course he was worried about you. When you were gone, he was so . . . it was like a weight on him. He didn't say it, at least not to me, but you could just tell by looking at him. He seemed so worn down all the time."

Loki looks at her a long moment. "Well, he's never told me that."

"When could he have?" she points out. "You've been avoiding him."

"He could have tried harder. He knows where my room is."

"Maybe he's trying to give you space. Maybe he's respecting the boundaries that you keep really clearly setting. You know, by refusing to be anywhere near him."

That one throws him, she can tell. "That's possible," he confesses finally.

Her expression softens at that. "And have you told him how you feel? About what you would need from him to repair the relationship?"

His expression makes the answer to that clear. "I mean," he says, "I think it's pretty obvious how I'm feeling," but his words aren't as smooth and self-assured as they usually are.

And knowing Loki, she can just see it: him skulking around the house, waiting for Odin to apologize for a host of offenses, real and imagined; refusing to tell his father what's on his mind, and then resenting his father for not knowing what he's thinking; avoiding conversations with his father whenever possible and then blaming his father for not talking to him. Loki usually comes across as very mature, but he certainly has the capacity for petulance and temper.

"Communication goes two ways," she points out. "I mean, yeah, it'd be cool if he could figure out what you need without your telling him, but clearly he can't. If you want him to know how you feel, and what you need from him, telling him is one way to be sure he knows."

He stares at her a long moment, and then he slumps forward, forearms propped up on the table; his posture is normally so good that he looks particularly inelegant by comparison. "I guess you might have a point," he says grudgingly, and they lapse into a companionable silence for a long few moments, Sif firmly resisting the sudden urge she has to rub his hunched shoulders comfortingly.

Finally Sif speaks. "Your dad is not perfect. For sure. But nobody's perfect or blameless—"

"Yeah, but I'm not the one to blame for our messed up relationship," he interrupts her to point out, sitting up straight. "I've been a good son and, you know, reasonable the whole time."

She fixes him with a skeptical look."Seriously? Don't you remember that at Homecoming you told me you're mad that Odin's always trying to tell you what you should major in, and then that night by the bridge you told me you're mad that he wasn't trying to tell you what to major in? Is that reasonable?"

He examines her a long moment, then smiles a little. "It's a slightly more complicated situation than that, but your point is taken. Carry on."

"All I was going to say is, your dad isn't perfect, but no one is, so now you just have to decide whether you're interested enough in saving this relationship that you're willing to overcome this feeling you have that he should be the one to come to you—that you deserve to not have to make the first move. And if you are, have a conversation with him. Tell him your concerns." She gives him a tiny smile. "That kind of stubbornness can ruin your life, if you let it."

He looks at her, and then huffs out a quiet laugh and hunches forward to rest his elbows on the table again. "And this coming from the queen of stubbornness."

"I'm something of an expert, yes," she agrees with a tiny smile, pleased that he's feeling good enough to tease. "But I try to make sure the thing I'm being stubborn about is worth it."

He returns that little smile, and who knows how long they would have sat there like that if Loki's phone hadn't beeped? But it does beep, shattering the mood, and he glances down and informs her, "Mother will be home in ten minutes."

Sif glances at her own phone to see that it's nearly eleven. "It's late," she grimaces. "I should head home."

She gathers up her things and Loki walks her to the front door in silence, and only when he's standing with one hand on the doorknob does he speak. "You make a lot of good points, Sif." He hesitates, and then a tiny smile brightens his face. "You often do, I'm finding."

She inclines her head in mock solemnity, acknowledging the compliment.

"And I will think about what you said," he promises, pulling the front door open.

He's matured so much lately, hasn't he? That's all Sif can think as she looks at him standing there by the open door, giving her that tiny smile. A rush of affection washes over her, from that thought and from his words and from the little smile on his face. Without even thinking she steps forward to hug him—then stops herself last minute. She's Sif Tyrsdottir, she doesn't hug people.

So she uses that forward momentum to reach up to clap him heartily on the shoulder instead. "I'm glad."

And maybe he knows what she was thinking, what she almost did, because for a moment he almost looks disappointed. But then his expression is calm again. "Good night, Sif."

. . . . . .

It's the next week when the situation with Loki and Odin comes to a head. It's an unseasonably warm Saturday morning, bright and dry out, and Sif, Thor and Odin are in the backyard of the Governor's Mansion, tossing a football around. If Loki had been available, Sif would have invited him out, but he's gone for the next few hours, over at a classmate's house to work on their group project for English class.

"Oh, this is nice weather, isn't it?" comes Frigga's voice from nearby, and Sif glances over to see her standing on the back patio, casually dressed (well, for her, anyway) and lifting her face up to the weak early March sun.

"Hey Mom," yells Thor, "catch!"

And she looks at her son in time to catch the football he's lobbed softly her way. With a chuckle she comes to join them, throwing the ball to Sif in a respectable spiral. Her sporting interests have always tended toward tennis and golf—both of which she still plays often—but she's been exposed to enough football by Thor and Odin to develop a bit of skill there.

Sif just marvels that Frigga can look so elegant and put together while tossing a pigskin around.

"I just got off the phone with Agneta," Frigga says as Odin tosses the ball to Thor. "You remember, from the children's hospital committee? Anyway, there's an emergency meeting tonight about the fundraiser next week. So I won't be home for dinner." She looks at Thor. "And you're gone tonight too, right?"

"It's Jane's grandfather's birthday party," he confirms. "I'm leaving around four."

"How'd you end up invited to that?" Sif asks.

Thor gives her a confident grin. "I don't know if you've heard, but I'm very likeable. And popular with the elderly, as it turns out. The old guy loves me."

Odin snorts. "That 'old guy' isn't much older than me," he reminds his son.

"And you love me, right?" Thor asks, still grinning. "See? Popular with the elderly."

Odin fixes him with a withering look.

Frigga shakes her head fondly. "Anyway, you'll be home tonight, won't you, darling?"

"I will," her husband confirms, and at that, she hesitates, almost imperceptibly, which catches Sif's attention; Frigga is rarely hesitant.

"I was thinking," she suggests after that brief pause. "Loki's home tonight as well. Maybe you two should go out for dinner. You've both mentioned to me that you want to try that new steakhouse."

But Odin is already shaking his head. "We've been over this, Frigga."

"You both need to eat," she says reasonably.

Her husband's next throw is perfunctory and sloppy, clearly more to get rid of the ball than anything. "The boy doesn't want to speak to me," he reminds her. "I'm trying to respect that."

This has effectively derailed the game; Thor stands there with the ball in his hands, glancing back and forth between his parents.

"And generally it's good to respect boundaries," she agrees. "But sometimes it's appropriate—it's important—not to let people push you away." Inexplicably, she looks at Sif then. "Don't you think that Loki would be open to that?"

Sif does think so—in fact, she knows Loki is basically waiting for his father to do just that—but Odin speaks before she can. "Loki needs respect," he insists. "He needs to know that I take him and his decisions seriously."

"He needs affection," Frigga encounters. "He needs to know that you love him as a son. Just as you do Thor."

At the mention of his other's son name, Odin looks over at Thor, and then at Sif. And then he crosses the yellowing grass to pull Frigga onto the patio and enter into a whispered discussion with her, clearly not wanting the two teenagers to overhear.

Thor and Sif exchange a look, and then Thor shrugs and throws her the football. She agrees with the unspoken sentiment: clearly Frigga and Odin want privacy, which means that going inside is out of the question as they're now blocking the way to the back door, so they might as well toss the football while they're stuck out here.

The hushed voices grow louder as the discussion—argument?—gets more heated, and Sif tries really hard not to listen. But she can't help hearing when suddenly Odin says, a little too loud for privacy, "I do not favor Thor!"

Thor's arms fall to his side, and he stares at Sif a moment, his brow furrowed. And then he drops the football to the ground and marches over to his parents. "Is that why Loki's mad at you?" he demands. "He thinks you play favorites?"

Odin's mouth is set in a tight line as he looks over at his son. "This doesn't involve you," he says, but Thor's not having it.

"Yeah, it does," he insists. "I live in this house too; I've had to deal with this constant weirdness the last two months, and with you two always avoiding each other, and no one will ever tell me what the problem is. You can't keep pretending that everything's fine around me forever. I'm not stupid."

Odin doesn't look pleased, but Frigga gives her son a small, sad smile. "Yes, favoritism is something your brother expressed concern about."

Sif can only see Thor in profile, still standing some ten feet away from the group as she is, but she can tell he's deep in thought.

"Anyway," Odin says, turning back to Frigga, but Thor interrupts him.

"He's right."

Odin frowns. "Excuse me?"

"Loki's right, you do kinda play favorites."

The governor looks rather affronted at that. "When have I ever—"

"Last semester," Thor says. "You rescheduled that reception so you could come watch us play in the semi-finals."

Odin blinks. "It was a big game. What's your point?"

"My point is that last spring, when you had that meeting at the same time as Loki's science fair, he asked if you could find a way to be there and you didn't. I remember because he was kind of bummed about it. Why would you reschedule for me and not him?"

"It was a regional science fair," says Odin dismissively. "I knew he'd make it to state. And he did, and I was there for that."

"What, so you're saying you didn't think the football team would make it to the finals? That's why you rescheduled for me and not him? Because if you did think we'd make it to the finals, then you'd be saying that you made an extra effort for me that you wouldn't make for him."

And for a moment Odin's calm facade wavers, as though Thor's words have finally penetrated.

Frigga's expression doesn't change, but somehow Sif still gets the impression that she's biting back a smile.

"And that's not the first time you've done that," Thor points out. "You're at every one of my games, unless you're out of town, but you don't make it to all of Loki's stuff. And he doesn't even have that much stuff going on!"

Odin's brow furrows—Sif isn't sure if that's a good sign or a bad one—but suddenly Thor seems to remember something, and he turns to his mother. "And what's the deal with the will?"

"The will?" Frigga repeats.

Thor glances at Odin, who just shrugs, looking as perplexed as his wife.

"Loki started to mention something once about your will, and then he stopped himself." He looks back at Sif. "Do you know what that means?"

Yeah, she's pretty sure she knows what that means, actually.

Frigga and Odin are looking at her now with matching expressions of confusion. "Do you know, Sif dear?" Frigga asks. "He never mentioned this to me."

"Come on," says Thor, "I know he tells you everything, for some reason."

Sif considers for a moment. Loki never told her to keep what he said that night a secret, and if Frigga and Odin are genuinely unaware of how their decision about the inheritance hurt their son, maybe it'd be good for them to know.

So she walks up to the group and says hesitantly, "He did mention to me once that . . . he feels hurt that you're leaving the house to Thor. Given that technically he's older and that Thor doesn't even want the house."

There's a moment of silence while Odin winces, just a little. And then:

"What?" Frigga and Thor demand in unison, and look at Odin.


"You never told me you'd made that decision!" Frigga says. "I assumed we were going to discuss it some time in the future!"

"And I don't want the house!" Thor insists. "I never did. But Loki loves this place. He never shuts up about the history and the gables and whatever. I always assumed you'd leave it to him!"

Well, crap. Apparently that was some sort of secret of Odin's that she's just dragged out into the open, and Sif suddenly wishes she could go hide somewhere until Odin's inevitable wrath with her finally wanes.

"Sorry," she says quietly, looking across the group at where the governor stands.

But in fearing Odin's wrath, she'd forgotten that his default mode is to keep emotions buttoned down. So instead of anger, she gets Odin saying very reasonably, "I didn't tell you, Frigga, because I didn't think there was anything to discuss. I thought it was obvious that we'd leave it to Thor."

"Because Thor's your real son?" Frigga retorts, her words like ice, and Sif stares; she's never heard Frigga's tone cut like that.

And with that sharp question ringing in the air, Sif isn't surprised to see Odin deflate a little.

Frigga seems to take a moment to collect herself, and then she says calmly, "I think we should continue this conversation inside, darling." She's never looked quite so dignified as she does as she turns and walks inside, and Odin has never looked less dignified as he follows after.

When the door shuts behind them, Sif finds herself falling into the nearest deck chair. "Crap," she says. "Crap crap crap. I didn't know your mom didn't know. I just—I thought they didn't realize how Loki felt about it, and—crap. Is your dad going to kill me?"

Thor chuckles a little and sits on the arm of her chair to wrap an arm around her shoulders. "He won't kill you," he assures her. "We won't let him. And—I mean, this is all kind of crazy, but I think it's good it's out in the open, you know? Like, if this is really causing a problem for Loki, it's good we're talking about it. You have to pull out a sliver before it can heal, right?"

She sighs. "I guess. But I might avoid your dad for a while, just in case."

Thor rubs her arm encouragingly as they lapse into silence. And then suddenly she feels him jump a little beside her.

"Wait," he demands, "Loki's older?"

. . . . . .

Sif frets so much for the rest of the day that finally Tyr sits her down and asks what's wrong. She's not about to tell him the whole story, though, given that blurting out other people's secrets is what got her so stressed out in the first place (and anyway, he's such good friends with Odin and Frigga that there's a good chance they'll tell him eventually).

So she tells him in the vaguest possible terms what happened, and he nods in all the right places, and when she's done he assures her that if what she did was done in good faith, and not maliciously, she shouldn't feel guilty about it. Of course this doesn't stop her from feeling guilty, but it does help.

And that night around 9, there's a knock on the door: Loki, coming over just to chat with her, which has almost never happened in the history of ever. She invites him in and they stand in the front entry and his posture is very carefully correct when he speaks.

"My father and I finally talked tonight. And I think I have you to thank for a lot of it. So, thank you."

It doesn't surprise her that he'd want to tell her in person what the rest of their friends would have sent over text; that's just the sort of thing he'd do. But it does surprise her that he and his dad had this conversation so quickly; that awkward discussion in the backyard was only this morning. And it also surprises her how pleased she feels.

"I'm so glad," she says. "What happened? Did you approach him or did he approach you?"

"Both, kind of," he says. "I'd been thinking about what you said and I'd decided to try to, you know, do better. So when Mother told me that me and him would be the only two home tonight so he wanted to take me out to dinner, I thought that it'd be a good time to work on communication. But it turned out I didn't even have to; before our appetizers had even arrived, he brought up the adoption thing."

"What did he say?" Nosy, maybe, but hey, he's the one who started this, by coming over to talk about it.

He gives her a rueful little smile. "He started by saying that he really had been doing what he thought was best, which kind of made me mad, so I snapped at him—something about him being ashamed that I was born to a criminal, and he snapped back that he hadn't wanted me to have to live with . . . with knowing that both of my birth parents had died because of me."

He gets kind of quiet at that, and she finds her hands tightening into fists as she reminds herself not to reach out to him.

"That shut both of us up fast," he continues after a moment. "And, I don't know, it was easier to talk after that. I admitted that maybe I'd been assuming the worst about him, and he admitted that he'd always kind of treated me differently from Thor. But he said it was never because I was adopted, just because he and Thor have so many similar interests, and he could never really connect with anything I'm interested in. But he sees now that doesn't excuse it, and he apologized. He said he'd been doing some hard thinking about things that Mother and Thor and you had said, and he'd realized that he had some things to work on."

"Yeah, sorry, I somehow keep getting involved in your personal life."

"I don't mind," he says with a funny sort of smile, but before she can think too much about it he moves on. "He apologized for not making as much of an effort to be involved in my stuff as he does with Thor's football, and he said he and Mother are going to discuss the whole inheritance thing. And then, we just . . . talked. You know, normal father-son stuff. We talked about my college plans and I know he still doesn't like what I want to study or where I want to go, but he's trying to be supportive about it anyway. I mean, it was still a little weird, but . . . better. And I think that in time . . ."

He trails off and shrugs, aiming for his usual air of calm disinterest, but she sees through that facade to the twitching of the corners of his mouth, the pleased warmth in his eyes, and she feels a growing warmth in her chest as though her heart's filling up like a hot air balloon.

"So you're happy?" she asks, and he stops fighting it and just smiles.

"Yes," he says, "I'm happy."

And the balloon's fit to burst if she doesn't do something to release this pressure in her chest, so she finally gives in the urge she's been fighting for several minutes (several weeks) to throw her arms around his neck and pull him into a hug.

He goes startle-still for a moment, and then his arms come up tentatively to wrap around her. He's long and lean, all angles and planes—something she's always known about him on an intellectual level but not really experienced for herself, as she can't remember the last time she was this close to him. There was that hug after Homecoming, but that was quick and polite, all arms and shoulders. This one is sort of . . . full body contact.

And she kind of likes it. She's not typically much of a hugger; she tolerates it when Thor does it because he's her best friend, but she really doesn't initiate hugs herself outside of actual romantic relationships. But this, this hug from Loki, is sort of nice. It's comfortable and comforting, like wrapping up in a heavy quilt, and it's sending a pleasant warm buzz up and down her spine.

And then Loki moves, just a little; he tips his head down so that his chin is tucked somewhere in the vicinity of her collarbone, so his mouth is near her shoulder right by the collar of her shirt, so his lips are really very close to her skin at that spot where her neck and shoulder meet, or maybe it's not that close at all but she finds herself really very shockingly aware of it anyway—

And the buzzing in her spine becomes something else entirely, something concentrated in her stomach, a pleasant swoop of nerves and anticipation and excitement that reminds her very much of the time she went bungee jumping in Costa Rica with her dad, and how she felt in that moment just before she jumped, only now the precipice she's looking over isn't a metal platform above a jungle, it's—

She steps back quickly, too quickly for it to look like a natural and normal end to the hug; Loki looks startled, and then something in his expression closes like shutters being pulled in front of a window, and suddenly his usual air of calm disinterest is back, much more convincing this time.

"I should go," he says evenly. "Just . . . thank you again. And I'll see you tomorrow for Sunday dinner."

He leaves and Sif stands silently in the entryway, looking at the closed door for a long, long time.

. . . . . .

Okay, here's the thing: it would be true to say that Sif isn't great with relationships; she's really only had the one that lasted longer than about a month, and even that one had more to do with him being a great kisser than anything else—not really an epic romance for the ages. And it would also be true to say that the softer, more sentimental feelings in life—the softer, more sentimental side of herself—are all sort of strangers to her.

But she's also not a total idiot, and she does know perfectly well that the fluttery sensation she got when Loki had his arms around her and his face so very, very close to her neck—that wasn't friendly or platonic. Like, at all.

Maybe it was just the surprising physical and emotional intimacy of the moment. Loki's no more comfortable with physical contact or emotional expression than she is, at least not when it makes him feel vulnerable, so for him to confide in her, embrace her that way—she knows what a big deal that is. Maybe she was just reacting to that.

Or maybe it's just that it's been a long time since her face was so close to a guy's face, and she's just missed being kissed, and she would have felt that way about absolutely any guy who had his face buried in her neck.

Because really her last proper kiss was back in September, from Haldor; the ones from Thor and Loki hardly count, because the one from Thor wasn't that enjoyable, really, because she knew he was thinking about Jane, and the one with Loki was so quick—

And there it is again, that pleasant butterfly tingle. Why? she wonders. Because she was thinking about the time Loki kissed her?

And there the feeling is again.

Oh, she thinks blankly, blinking a few times in surprise. Oh.

. . . . . .

Okay, so maybe she's developed a . . . a thing about being close to Loki? A thing where she likes having him near? Or is it something more than that? Sif's mind is whirling as she climbs the stairs to her bedroom, glad her father's already asleep and she won't need to talk to him; she suspects she'd be a little off her game right now.

Sleep might be a bit of a tall order just now, given how wound up she suddenly is, and she ponders going down to go a few rounds on the punching bag while she tries to put her thoughts in order. But thinking about that reminds her of going a few rounds on the punching bag last month, when Loki promised her he wasn't going to try anything with her and she'd been so unexpectedly disappointed.

And Sif finds herself sitting down hard on her window seat, eyes wide with surprise. Has this thing been going on since then? She'd convinced herself back then that it had just been curiosity that had made her disappointed that Loki wouldn't be kissing her again; but what if it was something else? What if deep down she'd wanted him to kiss her for, well, the usual reason people kiss people?

Across the darkened yard, she can see the Governor's Mansion glowing faintly in the moonlight. Neither Thor nor Loki's window is visible from where she sits at her own; the three of them used to talk about how cool it would be if they had windows facing each other, and could pass secret codes via flashlight or semaphore (the latter being Loki's suggestion, of course), but there are no bedrooms on that side of Odin's house. Tonight she's glad of it, though; her brain's kind of a mess at the moment and she's not sure that watching the light in Loki's window as he prepares for bed would really do her a lot of good.

The thing is, she's never thought of him this way before. Not ever, that she can remember. Not when they were kids, not when he got so tall and lost the baby fat and suddenly started looking so handsome, not even when he kissed her that night by the Rainbow Bridge. Although with that last one, the lack of response from her likely had a lot to do with her reeling from a revelation that made her reexamine her whole life as well as her admiration for Odin as a man who never made a mistake, and worrying about how her two best friends were dealing with all this, and feeling her heart break for Loki's obvious insecurity and sorrow. So who knows how she would have reacted if he'd kissed her at another time? Maybe it would have been . . . positive?

The real question is, has she never thought of him that way because there was no potential for anything there, or is it because she was always so hung up on Thor? Is it because he was so withdrawn from their friend group for so long so he was kind of off her radar? Is it because she was so convinced that she was only interested in dating other athletes?

She honestly doesn't know.

So, no, she's never thought of him that way before. But the thing is, people change. Look at the way she got over her lifelong crush on Thor. Look at the way Thor stopped serially dating hot cheerleaders and settled into a long-term (well, for him) relationship with the mousy valedictorian.

So it's not outside the realm of possibility that she would change her stance on Loki—stop seeing him as just a friend and start seeing him as something more.

But does she? Or does she just miss being kissed and he seems like a likely candidate?

All this while, the tension in her body and mind has been slowly draining, and suddenly she is tired enough to sleep, so she climbs into bed and turns out the light, telling herself she can resume this train of thought in the morning.

But as she drifts off, she experimentally imagines kissing Loki—properly kissing him, with his hands on her waist and her hands in his hair.

And there's that butterfly feeling again.


. . . . . .

When Sunday dinner rolls around the next evening, Sif has still not come to any kind of conclusion or decision. So she decides its best simply to observe for a while. There are two questions she has weighing on her mind:

Is she now interested in Loki?

Is he still interested in her?

The second one occurs to her on Sunday morning; she's been so fixated on this strange fixation she's developed that it takes an embarrassingly long time for it to occur to her that all of this matters a lot more if it's reciprocated.

And Sunday dinner makes her rather less certain about Loki's feelings for her, because the whole evening, he's . . . nice. He's cordial. He's pleasant. He doesn't single her out or pay her any special attention. He is distinctly not behaving in a way that would indicate he sees her as anything but a friend. And it's messing with Sif's head.

Has he always been this friendly-but-no-more-than-that, and it just seems more noticeable now because she's started thinking about him as a romantic prospect? Or has he very recently cooled down in his behavior toward her?

But the thing is, she's 60% certain that he did like her, back in the fall. After all, he came to Homecoming when she asked, even though it meant spending time with people that he didn't like much. During his self-imposed exile, he listened to her, when he wouldn't listen to his family, and came home. He confided in her about his insecurities; he gravitated toward her whenever she came over to the Governor's Mansion. And most of all, he kissed her, that night by the Rainbow Bridge, and when he apologized for it later, he referred to the fact that nothing came of it as "rejection." That sounds like interest, right?

But he's acting differently now, probably, which could be a sign that he's over her. Or maybe he's always been this way with her, and she was misreading all that stuff in the fall, and he's never been interested in her. Or maybe she's misreading him now, and he still has feelings for her.

Or maybe not. She genuinely can't tell.

And it's messing with her head.

So her Sunday dinner observations are kind of a bust.

. . . . . .

But she's not one to admit defeat that quickly, and over the next school week, she continues to watch Loki, and to watch herself watching Loki, and to do her best to make sure that no one sees that she's watching Loki.

Her findings are these:

She's developed sort of a radar where Loki is concerned, almost a sixth sense. Whenever they are anywhere near each other, even if she's turned the other direction and talking to someone else, she's always incredibly aware of where Loki is in relation to herself. That isn't the most unusual thing in the world—she's a fairly observant person and she usually has a sense of who is in the room with her—but Loki is the only person for whom the awareness is so . . . visceral. She doesn't know when this awareness developed, but she knows it's been at least since he started tutoring her in physics, and she suspects it may have been even longer than that.

Loki is super funny. She's always thought he was clever and amusing, with his quips and one-liners, but lately just everything he does is funny—he gives these very expressive looks that sometimes say even more than his witticisms, and then sometimes he'll say or do something and she'll know exactly what he's thinking and that'll make it even funnier, and she doesn't understand how the rest of their friends don't notice it and aren't laughing all the time, because she certainly is. Internally, anyway; she's trying to keep this observation low-key, so she's careful not to laugh when he's being amusing, or even to let a smile show. But she's definitely laughing inside.

Okay, has he always been this attractive? She's definitely always known he was a good-looking young man—her defense of him on the night of Homecoming was absolutely true—but she's never thought about it much, because compared to the obvious, bold beauty of Thor, Loki doesn't catch the eye much. But now that she's observing him more, his attractiveness is becoming increasingly apparent. If Thor is the sun—the obvious good looks that outshine most everyone else—then Loki is the moon: not as noticeable, much more delicate and subtle, but when you take the time to really look, you'll see a certain pale beauty that's all the more compelling for being far less obvious. In particular she's developed a sort of fascination with his hands—they're so long and fine, the bones under the pale skin so perfectly formed, and she finds herself staring when he moves them, and she kind of really wants to touch them. Is that weird? That might be weird.

So, yes, these are her observations. And she's still deciding what she wants to do with them. Because one question has still not been answered: how Loki feels about her. He continues to be perfectly friendly, and she continues to debate whether this cordial behavior is a small step back from how close they were just a few weeks ago, or whether she's seeing things that aren't there.

And, equally important: if she isn't just seeing things that aren't there, is his behavior now indicative of a loss of interest, or did she do something to make him feel like he needed to be more reserved around her? Is he, like her, just playing things really close to the vest?

Although it turns out she's not as good at playing things close to the vest as she thought, because on Friday after lunch, when she and Hildegund and Jane go to the bathroom before fifth period, Hildegund unexpectedly starts checking all the stalls to make sure they really are alone, then turns to Sif.

"Okay, what's the deal with you and Loki?"

Sif thinks she does an admirable job of not overreacting. "Loki?" she repeats evenly.

"You know, tall guy, dark hair, hangs out with us, you've been staring at him all week?"

And this time she can't stop the dismay that seeps into her expression and voice. "Have I?"

"Well, not staring," Hildegund amends. "More like . . . watching out of the corner of your eye. You're subtle—I don't think any of the guys have noticed—but I saw it."

"What?" Jane demands while Sif tries to keep her composure. "How did I miss that?"

Hildegund gives her a sympathetic look and a motherly pat on the shoulder. "You're usually staring at Thor or a textbook."

"Apparently," Jane sighs.

"So what's the story, morning glory?" Hildegund directs her attention back at Sif. "Have you finally succumbed to Loki's charms?"

"I'm sure I haven't been staring," Sif deflects, and turns away from Hildegund's knowing look.

"Nope," says her friend. "Look at me. Eye contact. I know you won't lie to my face. Sif Tyrsdottir, are you crushing on Loki Odinson?"

"You are merciless," Sif informs her.

"Yes I am," Hildegund agrees solemnly. "Now answer the question."

Sif looks at Hildegund, who's got amusement dancing in her green eyes, and then over at Jane, who looks like a kid on Christmas morning, all anticipation and glee. And then she figures, if there's anyone in the world with whom she could talk about her tumultuous emotions this week, it's these two.

"Fine," she says. "I have . . . considered the possibility."

Hildegund's face takes on an expression of supreme satisfaction, and Jane's eyes are like stars.

"I'm not saying anything for sure," Sif is quick to amend, and it's true—she still can't decide whether giving into this strange attraction is wise, given the fact that if she's wrong about his feelings for her, it could ruin her relationship with him, and by extension, her surrogate family.

"Don't worry," says Hildegund, slinging an arm over her shoulders, "we'll talk you into it."

"You want me to have a thing for Loki?" Sif asks, baffled.

Hildegund nods. "You two would be so perfect for each other, it's not even funny."

And Jane grins. "And I've been shipping this for ages. Like, since before I really knew you."

"Shipping?" Sif repeats, baffled. "What is that?"

"Don't worry," Jane says, "I'll explain it to you on the way to class."

. . . . . .

That night Tyr has tickets for him and Sif to see a musical—he loves musicals, and she tolerates them for his sake—so she doesn't see either of the Odinson boys that night. And she doesn't see them in the morning, either, even though she spends it over at the Governor's Mansion; some restaurant opened nearby that serves all-you-can-eat French toast on Saturday mornings, and Thor was keen to try it out and dragged Loki along with him. Sif suspects that after this restaurant sees just how much Thor can eat, they'll rethink their all-you-can-eat deal.

Odin's out of town, so Frigga invites Sif over for brunch—"Just us girls, to give us a chance to chat"—as she does every so often. They enjoy a lovely meal, talking about the lacrosse season that's just started and colleges that Sif's applied to, and this leads to how talking about how Frigga and Odin and Tyr are going to deal with being empty nesters in just a matter of months, and this leads to Frigga reminiscing about when Sif and her boys were still children, and this leads to the two of them ensconced in the living room, looking through old photo albums.

"Do you remember that Halloween?" Frigga laughs. "Thor told you that you couldn't wear the same Viking warrior costume that he was because the package clearly said 'Boys' on it, and you changed your mind and said Thor was being rude and you didn't want to wear the same costume as him anyway, so your father scoured every store in the city and found you a Viking warrior princess costume. And then Thor was jealous because your costume looked better than his."

Sif laughs at the memory, and at the photo of a much younger version of herself and Thor, decked out in armor, with Sif wielding a plastic sword and Thor a massive hammer. Fitting, she thinks, that they'd have such weapons; she always has preferred a bit more subtlety and precision, while Thor likes to fix problems by beating them into submission.

On Thor's other side stands a slight, baby-faced Loki, his hair shorter than he wears it now, in long dark robes. "And Loki was . . . a wizard?"

Frigga chuckles. "He went through a phase where he loved wizards, remember? You three would be having play battles in the backyard, and Loki would be casting spells instead of fighting. You were always very good about humoring him; he'd say he'd made himself invisible and you'd pretend you couldn't see him." She smiles a little. "Thor wasn't as good at that; my son has many fine qualities, but a fertile and active imagination is not one of them."

Sif chuckles at that too, and Frigga turns the page. "Oh look, do you remember playing city league soccer? That was the only sport we ever managed to convince Loki to participate in with you and Thor. I think he only agreed because it seemed safer than football."

On they go through the photo albums, passing pictures of the three of them in soccer uniforms, in Halloween costumes, in Sunday best, in a massive mud puddle, on camping trips and field trips and a hundred different outings. But as they move into albums from junior high and high school, the pictures change. They still show Thor and Loki together in family pictures. And they still show Sif and Thor together at social and sporting events. But rarely do they show all three of them together. And Sif grows increasingly somber until she voices the thought on her mind.

"I can't believe I just let my friendship with Loki slip away," she says quietly. "I mean, I noticed it happening, but I was so busy with my own stuff, and he seemed perfectly happy off with his friends, so . . ."

Frigga pats her hand maternally. "Darling, the sad truth of the matter is, friendships end. It's just life, so don't be too hard on yourself when it happens. There are people I thought I'd be close to until the day I died, who I haven't seen in years. People change, their interests and their circumstances change, they move to new cities. Even with you three—if Thor stays in town for college, and Loki goes to California, and you go . . . well, there are all sorts of places you could go—anyway, you can stay in touch online, and you can call and visit, but things will be a bit different. It's not always wrong, or a sign you've messed up somehow, when a friendship ends. And anyway, you and Thor are friends with Loki again now, and that's what matters."

As helpful as Frigga's words are, though, they leave Sif feeling a bit low at the reminder that come August, she and the Odinson boys could be living on opposite ends of the country. And she thinks, not for the first time, that if she gets accepted to USC, and Loki gets accepted to CalTech, at least they'd only be a half-hour away from each other . . .

And maybe that sudden feeling of vulnerability is why it hits Sif as hard as it does when Frigga opens the photo album for the current school year and there, 8x10 on the first page, is her and Loki's photo from Homecoming. She's never seen it before; she doesn't really care about dance photos, so she never asked her dad for a copy, and no one was really in a mood to reminisce about good times for those difficult few months in the winter. So this is new, and surprising, and hits her like a runaway truck.

It's that last picture that Tyr snapped, after all those cheesy posed ones Frigga insisted on. This is the one where Frigga had been making Loki lean his head against Sif's, and finally he had let fly an embarrassed "Mother!" and Sif had just cracked up. In the picture they have their arms around each other, his scarlet tie and boutonniere matching her dress, and she's looking up at him and laughing, and he's looking down at her with a surprised but pleased half-smile on his face. The composition is perfect, with the shallow depth of field bringing sharp focus to the two teenagers in the shot; the light is that perfect golden glow that comes before sunset. And the shot's adorable, candid instead of forced, the two of them clinging to each other and just so happy. She knows what her fake smile looks like, and that's not it: she is genuinely happy in that moment. And Loki is looking down at her like she's—like this is the most—like he just—

Holy cow.

How in the heck—

Holy cow.

The front door opens then and Sif jumps about a foot, both eager to see Loki and desperate not to; she can only imagine what's showing on her face right now: surprise and confusion and vulnerability and the sudden realization that she—that she actually does—

It's only Thor, though, and through the haze in her mind, Sif hears Frigga ask where Loki is. "Out back," Thor says, flopping down on the couch and leaning over to look at the open photo album. "I never saw that picture," he grins. "See? You two look good together. I should show Loki that picture. Then maybe he'd believe me."

Sif blinks. "Believe you about . . . ?"

Thor has been giving his mother a kiss on the cheek to say hello, but when he straightens back up he answers. "Prom. We got talking at breakfast about who he should ask—it's in less than a month, it's definitely time to start thinking about it—and I said he should take you, since he told me he had such a good time with you at Homecoming, and you two are just . . . I don't know, you're good together. Like in that picture. But he insisted you wouldn't want to go with him."

She has to fight to keep her voice even and casual. "Why would he think that?"

Thor shrugs again. "He said there were probably guys you were interested in who you'd want to take you—since it's the biggest dance of the year—and that he wasn't going to make you spend another school dance with a guy you only see as a friend."

"Oh," says Sif blankly. And then again, "Oh."

"I was almost going to argue with him that you'd be cool with him asking you, since you're not dating anyone, but then I remembered Jane telling me I shouldn't make assumptions about your plans so I didn't. So now he's out back going through the school directory, trying to decide who to ask."

Sif nods slowly. She looks over at Thor, who is digging in the candy dish on the end table and not really paying attention. Then she looks over at Frigga, who is watching her with a perfectly serene face that seems to be hiding a great deal that the woman could be saying, but isn't. And then she looks down again at that photo, where Loki is looking down at her like she's made of starlight, and she's looking up at him like there's nowhere else she'd rather be. And then she gets to her feet.

"Could you excuse me?" she says, getting to her feet, while one corner of Frigga's mouth lifts in a smile. "I need to talk to Loki about something."

. . . . . .

He's out back under his favorite tree—it's a warm day, despite it not quite being spring yet, and the ground is dry—and either she's quiet enough or he's absorbed in his task enough that he doesn't look up when she steps out on the back patio. She observes him for a moment, taking a breath to steady herself, planning her next step, and smoothing down her hair. And then she walks over and sits on the grass next to him.

He is indeed looking over the school directory, although he doesn't seem to have settled on any potential prom dates yet, and when she sits down he jumps in surprise and closes it quickly, almost guiltily. "I didn't see you climb the fence," he says by way of greeting.

"I didn't," she says. "I was inside with your mom. Saturday brunch."

"Sounds nice," he says. "Probably a bit more civilized than watching Thor down a dozen orders of French toast."

"Probably," she agrees with a smile. "I hope he didn't get himself banned for life like he did at that buffet downtown."

Loki chuckles at that. "So, is there something I can help you with?"

She sits up straighter. "I hope so," she says. "I wanted to ask: will you go to Prom with me?"

For several moments there is absolute silence, so complete that she can hear the clink of dishes inside as Frigga cleans up after their meal.

And then: "Sorry?"

"Will you go to Prom with me?" she repeats patiently, while he continues to give her a blank stare.

"Like, as your date?" he says finally.

"Yes, like, as my Prom date," she confirms. "If it helps, I could do one of those big ridiculous things people usually do—give you a whole bunch of balloons with my name in one of them, or ambush you in your English class with a bouquet of roses. But you'd have to give me a few days to plan it."

Loki looks around himself then, as though there will be some explanation for all of this hidden in the yellow grass somewhere. "Are you . . . worried that no one else will ask you?" he says finally. "Like, are you thinking, better me than nobody? Because you still have a month. I'm sure someone will ask you."

"Probably," she agrees. "But I don't want to go with whoever ends up asking. I want to go with you. 'Better you than anybody,' as it turns out."

His expression has been growing more baffled by the moment, and finally he can't seem to stand it any longer—finally he bursts out, "Why? Why do you want to go with me?"

And this is the question she's been waiting for but also dreading, a little, because it needs to be said but it leaves her vulnerable in a way she really dislikes. But she's Sif Tyrsdottir, and she doesn't back down from a challenge. So she forces herself not to fidget, forces her voice to stay even. "Because I like you," she says.

Loki's eyes are as wide as dinner plates.

"It's a recent development," she admits. "It kind of a took me a while to realize it, and then actually admit it to myself. And to be honest, I'm still half-convinced that you're going to tell me that you don't feel the same way, but I decided I'd rather try and get shot down than always wonder, you know? I can watch you take another girl to Prom if I have to, but I'd rather not spend the whole time wondering if things would have been different if I'd just told you. So . . ." And her words finally run out. "So I'm telling you."

And still Loki just stares. "You like me," he repeats, sounding skeptical.

"Yes!" she insists. "Is that so hard to believe?"

"Yes!" he echoes. "Because you're so . . . and I'm . . . and anyway you never acted like it!"

"Like I said, it's a recent development," she explains. "And I was doing my best to hide it while I figured out how I really felt and what I wanted to do about it." A smile touches her lips. "Although Hildegund figured it out. We can ask her for confirmation, if you want."

He's not convinced yet, though. "And when I hugged you last week, you . . . you got all weird after. I thought that was a pretty clear sign of how you felt."

"Because I was freaked out about my reaction to it," she explains. "Okay? It wasn't that I didn't like the hug. It was that I did. A lot." And then she finds herself adding, a little hesitantly, "I was trying to pretend nothing had changed. I was a little embarrassed to have you know at first, because I didn't know how you felt." And then she adds, hoping to prompt him into doing something , "Still don't know, actually."

At that last statement, his look softens from a baffled stare to something more like an earnest gaze. He hesitates, and then confesses quietly, "I have been in love with you since we were six years old," and a burden she's been carrying for days (weeks?) slips from her shoulders. "Always. Even when I thought I didn't like you, I was in love with you. But I never thought—especially after I kissed you and you acted so . . ."

"I was surprised!" she insists. "I wasn't disgusted or anything, I was just trying to process it, and you ran off before I could say anything."

This throws him for a loop, she can tell. "Oh," he says blankly. "So you . . . you like me."

"I like you," she confirms with a smile.

"Oh," he repeats, and then, "Wow," and then she can see the moment he starts to believe her—to hope it's true, at least—because one corner of his mouth turns up into a smile, uncertain but hopeful.

And in response she smiles encouragingly, and then finally decides to give in to this urge she's recently discovered (who is she kidding, she's been wanting to do this for ages) and picks up one of his hands, currently resting on the ground, to interlace her fingers with his. His hands are just as nice as advertised: fine-boned but strong, as she learns when he recovers from his surprise enough to squeeze her hand in return.

He stares down at their joined hands, and then up at her face, and then his gaze drops, just for a moment, to her mouth. And okay, she was definitely only planning on asking him to Prom when she came out here, but that look, and the feeling of his hand in hers, is doing really delightful things to her. So she leans forward a little. "You should kiss me," she informs him.

His whole face goes blank—not displeased, she thinks, but utterly shocked and uncertain of how to move forward.

"Or I could kiss you," she suggests.

"Oh," he says, and suddenly he's smiling, embarrassed and pleased and eager and awkward. "Yes. I'd be okay with—that'd be—great—"

So she does.

He doesn't do this much (ever?)—she can tell by the halting, start-and-stop way that he brings his hands up to cup her face, in the earnest but unpracticed way that he leans into the kiss. The kiss is like that smile he just gave her: embarrassed and pleased and eager and awkward. And it's perfect. It's perfect because it's Loki, and she'd rather have this awkward, heartfelt kiss from him than a technically proficient kiss from someone else.

It's not a very long kiss—which she doesn't much mind, given that they are currently in view of both his house and hers, and that could get a bit embarrassing—and when it ends they're both smiling. Loki hesitates a moment, then takes his hands away from her face. And that won't do; she was enjoying the contact. So she reaches out to catch his hands in hers before he gets very far away. And he gives her this look, this little smile—one-quarter surprised, one-quarter disbelieving, and one-half thoroughly smitten—and squeezes her hands gently.

"So is that a yes on the Prom thing?" she asks, keeping her voice perfectly serious, as though she's not sure of the answer (obviously she is; she sees perfectly well how that kiss bowled him over).

His smile grows. "Yeah, that's a yes on the Prom thing."

. . . . . .

They decide to go on a walk, to get away from prying eyes, and they walk and talk for nearly an hour, first about this new thing between them, and then about the little nothings that fill the conversations of the closely acquainted.

He tells her that every time he started to hope her feelings for him had changed, something would happen to ruin it: they seemed close at and after Homecoming, but then she pulled away after that kiss by the Rainbow Bridge; they got so close during their physics tutoring, but then there was her startled reaction to that hug. He also says that he once overheard her tell Frigga that he was like a brother to her, which Sif doesn't even remember saying, but it certainly had a discouraging effect on him.

She, in return, admits that dating him had never even crossed her mind until recently, although that kiss at the Rainbow Bridge had definitely lingered in her mind. "I think that was the first moment I'd ever considered it, but only subconsciously; there were so many other things I was worried about then. I didn't even realize that the fact that I kept thinking about that kiss might mean something."

"So what finally made you start considering it?"

"Oh, a hundred little things," she says. "But each time the thought would cross my mind, I'd find a way to explain away those feelings. And then when I eventually couldn't explain them away, I decided that you didn't feel the same way so it didn't matter."

"I've always felt the same way," he says, and there's a touch of self-deprecation in his tone. "I just . . . kept it hidden because I thought you'd never give me the time of day."

She's getting the sense that his inferiority complex, from a lifetime of being compared to Thor and coming up short, runs deeper than she'd thought at first. She'll need to keep an eye on that.

But at the moment, she's happy to reassure him with an arch "Well, it looks like you were wrong about that, weren't you?", and he grins and bumps her with his shoulder.

"So what now?" she asks.

"Can I take you on a date?" he asks. "Dinner? Or maybe a movie?"

"Depends," she says. "Are you just asking me to a movie so we can be alone in the back row of a darkened movie theater?"

He looks amused but pleased. "I mean, that's definitely a bonus."

She grins. "Good. That's what I wanted to hear."

They decide to keep things under wraps until a few days have passed and they're both sure that this is going somewhere, but when they return to the Governor's Mansion, it's clear from Frigga's face that she already knows exactly what's happened.

"Oh, my dear children, I am so happy," she says when Thor has left the room, leaving the three of them alone. She pulls Loki and Sif into a group hug. "I cannot tell you how much I've hoped that you two would find each other."

"Really?" Sif asks from inside the hug. "I kind of suspected that this morning, but before that I'd never noticed . . ."

"Well, I kept it to myself, of course," Frigga says. "I didn't want you to feel as though I were pressuring you into anything. I wanted to make sure you were doing it for the right reasons, if you did it. But I knew how much Loki cared for you, so . . ."

"Mother," Loki says, red-faced but fighting back a smile, as he extricates himself from the group embrace.

And Sif can only grin. "Did he tell you he had a crush on me?" she asks.

"Never a word," says Frigga as she sits in the nearest armchair. "You know my Loki: he says little about what he feels deeply. But a mother always knows."

"This is very embarrassing," says Loki as Sif sits down close to him, pressed up to his side, and takes his hand in hers.

"So we have your approval?" Sif asks jokingly, and at Frigga's warm smile, says "Good; Haldor's mom never liked me much. Not sure why. So it'll be nice to have my boyfriend's mom actually like me."

Loki jumps a little. "Am I your boyfriend?" he asks carefully.

"I mean, we should probably go on a date, like we talked about," says Sif. "But that's the goal here, right?"

And Loki just gives her this smile—it's tiny but it couldn't be more clear that his heart's just overflowing and pouring out all over the living room—and she has absolutely never seen him look like that and it prompts a similar look from her, and as they sit there with their hands entwined and Loki looking at her like she's the best thing that's ever happened to him, the enormity of what's just happened (she's fallen for her childhood friend and it kind of feels like somehow this has always been meant to be) comes rushing over her, and this is just the most perfect moment she's had in a long time.

"You two," Frigga says from where she sits, nearly forgotten, in the armchair nearby. "You are absolutely adorable."

. . . . . .

Tyr is pleased to death as well; he picks up on it from the looks Sif and Loki keep shooting each other at Sunday dinner, and when he and Sif go home that night, he asks, "Is something going on with you and Loki?"

Sif hesitates, but she never did believe in lying to her dad, and anyway the smile that's creeping across her face tells him everything. He's pleased as punch that she has, as he sees it, finally taken his advice from last fall. "Didn't I tell you that Loki is a great kid? Brilliant. So talented. He's going to do great things. And I've always wanted a son-in-law I can talk shop with."

"Holy crap, Dad, we've been dating for like a day and a half, and we're eighteen years old. It's a little early for all that."

"I'm just saying," he says with dignity, "that if you ever did marry him—"

She chucks a throw pillow at him and he laughs.

Frigga tells Odin, who calls Sif to solemnly tell her that he couldn't be happier that his son has found someone as wonderful as her, and who makes him so happy. And although Sif and Loki try to play it cool at school on Monday, Hildegund and Jane pick up on the changed vibe between them immediately, though to their credit, they don't say anything until the three girls are once again alone in the girl's bathroom.

"All right," says Hildegund, "what's the deal? And don't try to pretend there's nothing going on. Now instead of you watching him, it's you guys watching each other."

So Sif tells them the truth.

"Yes!" Jane exults, lifting one arm in triumph. "Finally!"

"Finally?" Sif asks.

"Well, like I said, I've shipped this for a long time."

But that makes no sense to Sif. "Why?"

Jane just grins. "Loki and I have had a lot of classes together over the years," she says. "And I always suspected he liked you. He'd sort of perk up any time your name was mentioned."

Sif covers her face. "Did everyone know how he felt except me?" she demands.

And Hildegund just pats her arm in a comforting way. "I've only known since Homecoming, if that makes you feel better."

Sif tells them that it's still a secret to most people, which causes Jane some discomfort. "You need to tell Thor," she insists. "I don't want to have to keep a secret this big from my boyfriend."

Sif agrees to talk to Loki. So that night, on their first official date—they decided watching a movie at the Governor's Mansion on Saturday night didn't count, because that's how they probably would have spent their Saturday night anyway—she tells him they should tell Thor.

"I mean, our parents and Jane and Hildegund know," she says reasonably. "And right now we're making them keep a secret for us, which isn't fair, especially to Jane."

Loki looks surprised. "I don't like keep secrets from my brother," he confesses. "Not anymore. But I thought . . . I thought you wanted to wait. Until we were sure."

And Sif casts her mind over the last two and a half days—that first kiss, spending the day together, cuddling on the couch to watch a film (interrupted by more kissing, let's be honest), texting all day Sunday, stolen glances at Sunday dinner and all day at school today, and now the best dinner date she's ever been on, because Loki can be so funny and clever and fun to talk to—and then she smiles. "I'm sure."

And there's that look that she's becoming so accustomed to, the tiny smile Loki gives her that looks so pleased and surprised and disbelieving, and then he leans over to press a kiss to her cheek. "Me too."

So they tell Thor that night after they're back from dinner, and he's . . . well, he takes a minute to wrap his head around it.

"You're dating," he repeats, skeptical and amused, looking back and forth between them with an expression that says he's waiting for the punchline.

Sif confirms that this is true.

"Seriously, you two are dating?"

"Is that so impossible to believe?" Loki asks, and he sounds mostly amused but also just a bit unhappy that his brother's dismissing the idea so thoroughly, and Sif squeezes his hand.

"Definitely," says Thor, then seems to realize how that sounded. "Not that I'm surprised at someone wanting to date you," he assures his twin. "But I know you two better than I know anyone. I'm pretty sure I would have noticed that there was something going on between you."

There's a wry, fond amusement in Loki's tone as he responds. "I love you, buddy, but you really, really wouldn't have."

"I have to agree with Loki," Sif says. "Because this has been building for a long time and you haven't noticed any of it."

"Oh," says Thor, blinking in surprise. And then he looks at Loki, and then he looks at Sif. "You guys are dating?" he says again.

"As of Saturday," Sif confirms.

"You like each other, and you want to date," Thor clarifies.

And Loki gives Sif a soft look, and she returns it. "Yeah," Loki says.

And Thor looks back and forth between them a few times, and suddenly there's a blinding grin on his face. "This is amazing!" he declares jubilantly.

Loki blinks in surprise. "Amazing?"

"Yeah!" Thor says. "I mean, I definitely never saw this coming, but you two, together?" And he reaches out and pulls them into a group hug. "My two best friends in the whole world—of course I'd want both of you to find someone awesome, so why not each other? It's perfect!"

Sif slips her free arm around Loki's waist, and he smiles at her. "It is kind of perfect, isn't it?"

"And you guys can go on double dates with me and Jane, and of course we'll all be in the same Prom group."

"Of course," Sif agrees.

And suddenly Thor releases them and steps back. "Oh man," he laughs, "I can't wait to see the look on everyone's faces when they find out!"

At that Loki's expression falls a little. "Yes, I imagine Fandral will have an even harder time believing it than you did."

And Sif, remembering Fandral at Homecoming and how he couldn't believe that someone would be interested in Loki, places a reassuring hand on Loki's arm. "Don't you worry about Fandral," she says. "I have a plan."

Which is simple, really: the next morning, when Sif and the Odinsons arrive at school and approach their friends, currently clustered around Volstagg and Hildegund's lockers, Sif waits until everyone's attention is on them, and then she pulls Loki into a very thorough kiss.

She hears her friends variously gasping and cheering and expressing surprise, and when they turn to face them, she sees a whole range of emotions on their faces: the ones who already knew are grinning, and Volstagg looks shocked and delighted, and Hogun looks pleased and smug, as though he'd suspected something was going on, and Fandral looks absolutely gobsmacked.

"I figured that was faster than explaining," Sif says to Loki with a shrug.

"And more fun," he says fervently.

Volstagg bombards them then with questions, and Fandral stares for a while longer but eventually recovers enough to join the conversation, and Sif revels in how nice it is to stand there and talk to their friends with Loki's arm around her waist, and hers around his—with Thor and Jane and everyone looking on and smiling.

"Man," Fandral says finally, "I mean, congrats to you two, but wow, I did not expect this. Like, the possibility never occurred to me. Given the way you two always were around each other."

"I can see that," Sif agrees. And then she looks up at Loki, who's looking down at her with the tiniest, happiest smile playing across his lips, and adds, "But this has actually been a really long time coming."

. . . . . .