title: the moon that breaks the night

summary: Sif, Loki, and the ruins of yesterday. "Can you not see," she said, "that had your positions been reversed – had it been you the All-Father sent to Midgard – I would have done the same for you."

dedication: Sara for encouraging this. I don't even know. I have too many headcanons for these three.

the moon that breaks the night

The lost prince – the dead prince, the fallen prince – returns to them in muzzle and chains, skin stretched taut over battered bones.

You look terrible, Sif thinks, watching at the head of the crowd, so silent now, when once they would have cheered for Loki's safe return. He moves with the same languid grace she remembers, but there is something in what little of his expression she can see which speaks of wounded pride, of loathing hiding in the shadows of his eyes.

Thor looks grimmer than usual, the hope that lit him up like a beacon when they learned of Loki's presence of Midgard thoroughly extinguished. There's several feet between them, but the distance is wider than that, wider than the reach of the Bifrost, but not nearly as easy to fix.

"He lives!" she remembered Thor gasping, joyful, hopeful – so, so young, because Sif – Sif knew them first, didn't she? Sif knew Thor when he was an energetic stripling chasing after his father, and she knew his shadow, too, knew Loki when he was small, and thin and his smiles were shy but always sincere.

"Loki," the All-father says, quiet, grave. In the hush she can hear the screams of that Midgard city, the resounding echo of it reverberating across the universe.

How could you do that? she wonders, not for the first time, still disbelieving, a little, and angry in the small spaces between her bones, because he knows, he knows better than death and destruction.

"Take him away," Odin continues, and she can see the tightening around his eyes, how Thor's hands clench into fists, and Loki's shoulders hunch as if he expected nothing else, expected nothing better from the man who called himself his Father.

"Why don't you practise with the others?" she asks, too blunt – not ladylike, her mother whispers at the back of her head – but curious, too. The boys are learning how to fight like proper princes and noblemen.

"I am not gifted with weapons," the dark-haired boy says, shrugging as if it is of no import, but his eyes are downcast. "Not like my brother."

She knows who he is – who his brother is – but the youngest prince of Asgard doesn't seem to mind her slip in propriety, her lack of courtesy in not introducing herself. They both watch Thor wielding the wooden practise sword as though he was meant to use it, as though the blade is merely an extension of his arm, with barely concealed jealousy.

"He will be a wonderful warrior," Sif murmurs, suffocating under the weight of her braided hair, her delicate silks.

Loki looks at her sharply, eyes shrewd and so knowing. Even then, there's a hint of mischief in the curl of his lips as he declares, "You want to learn."

"I wondered if you would come."

They've taken the muzzle off at last, and the chains, but Sif is still wary despite the enchantment weaved to suppress Loki's magic. He's slippery, manipulative – like water, she thinks, water cupped in ones hands – and he's already proven he has no trouble trying to kill her.

Sif says nothing for a moment, but takes in the blue shadows under his eyes, the way the bones of his face, his hands, almost protrude through the skin, made worse under the white light of his cell.

"The Chitauri have not been kind to you," she surmises at last, still too blunt but not so curious anymore. She is not sure she wants to know what exquisite tortures they unleashed on him, to break an already fracturing mind.

Loki smiles, all teeth and sharp edges. "Oh, is this concern now, from the woman who helped betray me? How tedious. I rather thought you would enjoy the results of your handiwork."

"Stop it."

"Does it turn your delicate stomach? I expected more from you, Lady Sif, for you're a hardened warrior now." The sarcasm is clearly intended to injure, and once it would have become a tense rift which only silent gestures of apology would rectify – a handful of flowers on her windowsill, perhaps, or a book she thought he'd like slid under the door to his quarters. Tokens of affection.

"Facing the Destroyer has that effect, my prince."

There's still hurt thrumming in her chest, rising up like a tide from where she's buried it all these months, but Sif has never been one to shout, to rage. She is tempered steel, controlled and contained, and she can cut with words as well as he.

"And how brave you were," Loki leans back against the wall of his gilded cage, watching her with still eyes, waiting for a crack of weakness to pounce on. "Intending to go out in a blaze of glory, a traitor to the rightful King of Asgard. Pathetic."

"We were your friends," she murmurs, "and you tried to kill us."

"Friends?" the word is spat out between clenched teeth. "I have no friends, only usurpers who betrayed me and cast me out."

And that – that is what makes the dull fury bubbling beneath the surface ebb, makes her miss the skinny, smiling boy of her childhood, because this bitter creature is not him, even if he thinks it is.

Even if he wants to believe it most desperately out of all of them.

"Loki," she tells him, sombre, quiet as the early mornings the three of them spent together, impatient for the sort of adventure day could only bring. "Nobody cast you out."

"He will not speak to me," Thor chokes, the expression on his face one of great distress. Sif knows it well, has seen it pasted beneath her eyelids these past months in Loki's absence – that crumbling look of horror and guilt. "Sif, I do not know how to help him. His mind is far afield, and I fear it will not return. Not here."

Her own grief is still, and quiet, and she hugs it close to her chest like the goblet of wine cradled in her hands. "He loves you, Thor. We must not give up hope that he will find his way back."

He looks at her, then, her golden prince, her best friend – her King – and she sees devastation bleeding to the surface. "You did not see him on Midgard. You did not see the horror he unleashed there."

The sun is almost gone, only the stars illuminating the sky and the many light years between Asgard and this other world which has ensnared him so. Midgard has a beauty of its own, she thinks, for nowhere else has she seen a sky so blue.

Midgard has a mortal with brown eyes and a big brain, all set in a perfect heart-shaped face, and Sif thinks that it is no accident the Chitauri set their sights there, so far from the splendour of Asgard (from home).

"Can you not see," she asks him, "that had your positions been reversed – had it been you the All-father banished to Midgard – I would have done the same for you, as I did for Thor?"

Loki bristles, all sharp edges and shuttered eyes, a ragged cat spitting at the gentle hand which come too close.

And he says nothing.

"It was never about the throne," she continues, as gentle as she is able. "It never mattered to me which of you would be King, but it mattered that one of you was banished."

"And did it matter," he speaks at last, snide and bitter and underneath she hears the undercurrent of something else, something he does not want her to hear, "that I was supposedly dead? Did you mourn me, Sif?"

She thinks of Thor's blue eyes, dimmed with grief. She thinks of the wreck of the Bifrost, of Frigga's slow burning anger, of Odin, implacable and unyielding. There is a hole in the centre of Asgard that nobody else can fill.

"I did," she says. "And I mourn for you, my prince. I mourn for all you have done."

He looks at her then, all angles and thin-bravado, covering up the self-loathing underneath. "I do not want your pity, Lady Sif," he replies, coolly, polite in that cutting way he long ago perfected when they disagreed.

"I know that you are better than you would have us believe."

"Sentiment," Loki interrupts her, an absent whisper which sounds more sad than amused. "You presume to know me, but you see not the monster beneath my skin, always there, always waiting. Don't you remember the stories your nurse told you at night? I am the thing that Aesir children fear."

"Then why," she said, "does Thor still claim you as his brother? Why does your mother still call you son?"

"I know not the reasoning behind a fool's false hope, but I am not Thor's brother. I am not his shadowto be called back like a recalcitrant dog, to stand by his side in order to make him shine all the brighter."

"Perhaps you are right. Perhaps you never were Odin's favourite."

It stings, how Loki looks at once betrayed and vindicated within the same breath, before all expression is wiped smoothly away. He is, and has forever been, so much more than a shadow and she will not let him forget it.

"Never his favourite," she repeats, "But you were always, always Thor's. And everyone could see it, but you."

The Bifrost explodes in a shower of rainbow coloured glass. Even from the Palace, she sees Loki fall over the edge of the world into darkness, and her heart is a lump in her throat, before it disappears with him.

The battle is over; Thor is returned, Odin has awoken, and a war has been averted.

The taste in her mouth does not feel like victory; it is sour, bitter as poison.

They teach each other to fight, much the amusement of the other children.

"She's a girl," Volstagg says, bemused. "Girls aren't supposed to fight."

"It's not much of a fight, if she's fighting Loki."

Sif grits her teeth, watches her prince's movements with keen eyes and sidesteps a strike to her right, breathless and exhilarated all at once. This – this is natural to her, this is yet another dance she can feel in her feet, thrumming through her blood and bones. Loki, too, is excited – she can see it in the shifting of his expressions, the careful way his eyes dart here and there as he considers each action. His gift lies in his intelligence – in his ability to strategize each and every movement in a matter of moments, so many courses of action considered and discarded in the time it takes for her to read them.

"Quiet," a new voice commands, silencing all sneers and quips with a single word. "You will not speak of my brother, or a lady in such a way."

They spin, parry, riposte – call a sweaty, satisfying draw and the other prince, the golden one, claps the loudest, smiles the brightest of all. Though she's only met him a handful of times – only ever in passing – at various feasts and celebrations, he grins at her as though they are old friends.

"You both fought well," Thor says, clapping Loki on the back, and bowing to Sif as he would a proper lady. "I hope you will allow me the pleasure of joining your practises."

"Only if you promise not to hold us back, brother," Loki drawls, nonchalantly. "And of course, if Lady Sif is not adverse to your presence."

Sif curtsies as best she can in her training leathers, smiles bright and pretty. "I would be honoured, my prince."

And Thor beams, golden, bright, happy to be included. "Please call me by my given name, Lady Sif."

She does.

Fandral, Volstagg, Hogan – they are all present among the young sons of Odin's court, but the Warriors Three is not even a ghost of a thought, then, not even a dream to be had.

For Sif, there is only Thor and Loki lighting up her world with their smiles, their easy laughter.

There is only the sun and the moon.


notes: what am i doing ohmygod.

notes2: this renewed obsession will not be satisfied until Thor 2 I can already tell. maybe not even then.

notes3: i have a terrible weakness for characters who make all the wrong choices.