The coronation for Thor was set to take place shortly. Loki entered the great hall of gods before his brother, who had opted to stay behind in order to make his grand entrance alone. Underneath the smile of pride he feigned for his brother, Loki scowled inwardly as he strode up the gold and marble floor leading to Father's throne. He could see what was to come, and already tired of the ridicule it would bring. Of course Thor would desire to make a spectacle out of this solemn occasion; of course he would not present himself with the honor and dignity befitting a proper ruler.
What a mockery, he thought. How appropriately he would have behaved had he been given the chance to rule Asgard instead, one who could express the modesty and humbleness that ought to accompany the highest of statuses.
But Odin had made his decision, and there was no objection or argument to contradict it. To do so was the equivalent of treason. No. Despite how ready he felt to ascend to the throne, Loki would abide by his father's wishes.
Although, he was never without an array of tricks up his sleeve. Lips twitched as he thought of the events he had secretly set in place. Everything was ready to be executed as planned, which should make for a memorable day for the arrogant thunder god. Besides, what was wrong with a little harmless fun at his brother's expense? Nothing was revealed as he walked onward, the acknowledging applause of fellow Asgardians echoing in his ears.
The denizens of Asgard lined both sides of the gilded walkway, gods and goddesses in attendance to honor their new king and his family. Gods of old, many mighty in stature; those who were still in their youth and had years of learning ahead of them; goddesses of great beauty and prowess adorned with the finest garments; all had come on this day. Allfather's family knew every one of them by face and name without hesitation.
As Loki walked along with his royal head held high, a flash of memory slowed his thoughts entirely. It was only brief, and he would shut it out of his thoughts as soon as it happened…but it was more than enough time to remember. He knew exactly what had affected his mind. Someone was missing from the legions of Asgard citizens. In years past, there was a face he always sought out when he made an entrance such as this, one that could ease internal stresses with a single glance.
Loki did not bother looking for her, though. He knew she was not there, and would never be there for him to find again.
The memory took him back several years and started out almost identically, with Odin Allfather and his family entering the great hall and welcoming those who had gathered. While this congregation was not nearly as large, it was no less significant. The intimacy of the atmosphere made for a warmer experience. This evening's festivities were to acknowledge and celebrate the immortals who would be embarking on quests of importance. This was a banquet honoring them and, ultimately, their services to Odin.
Upon the golden dais, Odin and Frigga stood as the focal point of the room, pleased to have their guests join them.
On the steps leading to the dais stood Thor, mighty firstborn son of Odin, and his closest warrior friends, all stunning examples of strength and bravery.
Standing with them—though apart from them in a subtle way—was a younger version of Loki. He was thankful for the chance to simply don his ceremonial robes as opposed to his royal armor. He glanced at his brother, who, despite the less formal affair, wore his armor anyway. It was a personal choice, and showed the fact that Thor considered himself the strong, dedicated and muscled fighter he had always been.
Loki was not like Thor and knew he would not be. He never fancied himself much of a fighter at heart. Of course, he was skilled enough in his own ways during battle, but he was not the glory seeker that the others were. He preferred the sly use of trickery and illusion, powers that stemmed from self-awareness of his own strengths to vanquish his enemies, as opposed to full-fledged combat. Cunning and agility were certainly not traits possessed by everyone, and he used that knowledge to his advantage. It was where he excelled. No, he was not like Thor in this regard; over time, he was becoming more accepting of this.
He also found immense satisfaction in scholarly endeavors, preferring to broaden his mind when he did not have to fight. Knowledge had a power all its own, and he would seek as much of it as he could. Power that none could simply take away by force. Yes, knowledge gave advantages in more ways than one could see. This he preferred over possessing the strength to battle thousands of armies.
Thankfully, Brinn was of a similar mindset.
As Odin spoke aloud to those gathered, Loki sought out her eyes, the eyes of the one he always searched for during ceremonies. He did not have to search long.
Brinn, young goddess of serenity, was already watching him, a smile touching her deep blue eyes. As usual, Loki smiled back at his beloved friend. Daughter of the moon god, Máni, she was another who had grown up with Odin's princes. While her status was not of royalty, her father was a trusted general in Odin's army, and the great king had no objection to interactions between his offspring and the girl. All children of the gods were worthy companions, but it was Brinn his boys took a particular shine in.
That fact did not change for Loki as time passed. Over the years, she became close to both he and Thor in many ways. Thor found it entertaining to impress her with demonstrations of strength and various rough-and-tumble antics with his troupe. So gracious was her heart that she smiled and allowed him to be himself around her. But unlike Thor, and unlike their warrior friends, Brinn was different. She did not view herself as a warrior and knew hers was not the path of one. Much like Loki, she sought alternatives to war and displays of brute strength, sought something more…meaningful.
And Loki…Loki shared a connection with her that was unsurpassed by any other relationship he had, be it friend or family.
Father was still speaking, and while Loki did listen out of respect, part of the speech was drowned out as he and Brinn continued their silent communication across the room. Even from a distance, he felt the sweet, calming aura she perpetually emitted. The goddess of serenity was aptly named, for this was the kind of impact she had on everyone. One might, at first, find her a contradiction of sorts, due a nature that could be surprisingly energetic. It was not that she was overly animated; rather, she harbored an infinite appreciation and interest for all her experiences. But it was how she conducted and carried herself that truly displayed her title. There was such calmness about her, a calmness in her laugh; and the sound of her low alto voice; the way she captivated a person with a glance of her eyes; the quiet and fluid grace of her movements; the warm touch of her skin; the small smile that played on her lips as she gazed into the distance; all of it exuding a peace that could be denied by none. Her presence was soothing to anyone and everyone she came in contact with, which Loki could attest to. It was a rare and welcome gift in the Realm Eternal.
Seeing her now, though, made his heart heavy. It was also this gift that caused her to be away from home on a regular basis. Just as she had an effect on Asgardians, the same was true for all other races. Odin was well aware of this since her birth and ordained it her duty to bring serenity to the Realms in times of greatest need. Brinn was preparing yet again to depart the world of Asgard for Midgard—Earth in modern times—a world that was frequently plagued with conflict. Over the years, she visited the world numerous times, and she discovered how much they needed her, needed as much serenity as she could possibly provide. This time, it was rumored to have a second world-wide war taking place, and it was hard to say when it would end.
Her gifts would be quite necessary now, and Loki knew it. This banquet was partially a celebration for her, but he felt little joy at the thought of her leaving. Again. Perhaps for months. Maybe even years this time. However, he gave no indication that such troubled feelings existed beneath his carefully controlled countenance.
The congregation eventually made their way to the dining hall. Loki navigated through the crowd, pausing to speak briefly with some of the guests, all the while searching for Brinn. He finally spotted her in her delicate pink gown conversing with Lady Sif. He smiled at the mismatched pair. Sif drank from a large tankard of what must have been good ale; Brinn sipped gingerly from her goblet of mead. Despite being women of very different passions, there was mutual respect radiating between them.
Loki was content to stand back a while longer to allow them to speak. All the while, he admired how she had coiled her golden hair to drape over one shoulder, and how the glow of skin pale as the moon contrasted sweetly with her outfit. Her head held high and a smile almost permanently on her lips, she was the epitome of a lady. Always.
Odin's younger son was not the only one to notice. There was then a great bellow of greeting from Thor as he entered the dining hall, followed closely by the Warriors Three. "Hail, to one of the fairest beauties in all of Asgard!" Brinn almost choked on her sip of mead when he snatched her from behind and spun her about in his typical form of a salutation. She let out a surprised cry as her goblet fell to the floor with a clatter, but could not restrain the laughter that suddenly bubbled forth from her throat. Her contagious happiness made them all smile and hoot along with her. "Sweet serenity," Thor's voice filled the entire room, "do not leave us in the dark forever!"
"Put me down, Thor!" She tried to yell, but was caught up in a fit of giggles.
"Not possible, Moonchild! Not until you have passed the trial of Thor's embrace are you allowed to depart from Asgard's realm!"
"An embrace you have given me many a time!" She squealed as he spun faster.
"And I shall never tire of bestowing such a gift upon you!"
Many others in the room chortled at and cheered on the prince's antics, knowing he would bring her no harm. This was simply two friends sharing a moment. "Do not break her!" "What a waste of good wine." "That's right, Thor, remind her of what she will be missing!" "If you make her ill, it is your fault!"
Loki, too, laughed as he watched them. It never occurred to him to be jealous of Brinn's friendship with Thor. He knew the connection he shared with her was not the same with his brother. How did he know? Brinn had subtle ways to demonstrate that which only he could detect. It was in the way she was able to communicate with him using nothing more than their eyes, and in the gentle manner in which she playfully pushed at his shoulder. It was in the way she sought him out for companionship before turning to anyone else. It was even there when they took long walks together, sometimes in simple silence, enjoying the security of having a close friend at their side. One of the most notable pieces of evidence was a gift he had given her years ago: the silver crescent moon pendant gracing her neck, which she never was without. He knew how to resonate with her on a much deeper level.
The boisterous nature of Thor could be a bit overwhelming for her. Even now, his rough twirling sent the flowers adorning her fair hair tumbling to the floor, and her face was slightly pale with uncertainty.
"Thor!" She gasped, then found the firm, low tone of her voice. "Thor." He stopped, and Loki smirked. "Put me down." Automatically, he obeyed, not questioning her but still looking at her with a playful smile. At least one good aspect came out of exposing Thor to Brinn: her abilities forced him to calm down.
Neither saw the approving look on Loki's face as her feet touched the floor.
They talked for a time, and when Brinn bent to retrieve the fallen flowers, Thor offered his apologies. With a patient shake of her head, she assured him it was unwarranted. Moments later, the hem of a familiar black and green garment came into her view, and she was already smiling when she looked up at Loki.
"You've come to my rescue again," she exhaled.
He instantly he felt the comforting effect of her voice on every nerve in his body. Kneeling, he took a hold of both her wrists with the gentlest of touches. She looked at him, a questioning look in her eyes. "Any and every time you are in need of me." A flicking gesture turned the flowers in her palm to crystalized versions of their former selves.
She smiled brightly. "How lovely," she breathed.
"A temporary transformation, unfortunately. But this way, they will not wither and fade before the evening has ended," he said, pulling her to stand.
"Remarkable is the gift bestowed upon you, Loki, and I shall never cease to be amazed by it."
How pleasantly that struck him. "May I?"
With her soft smile, she gave a nod of assent, and Loki arranged the crystal flowers within her golden tresses. Silently, he reveled in the silken texture beneath his fingertips. When he had finished, he was pleased with the outcome. "It suits you."
She touched them lightly, and then threw her arms around him in a sudden hug. He concealed the breath that caught in his throat as he returned the embrace, feeling the full effect of her serene aura completely consume him. The unforgettable reactions resurfaced without restraint. His heartbeat slowed, his mind relaxed, and the air around them was filled with more enchantment than he could have dreamed of conjuring. She was sweetly fitted against him, and part of him wanted to stop time in order to prolong this moment. He heard the slow sigh passing through her lips. "Hello, my friend."
Suppressing his smile was impossible. "I shall never tire of a greeting from you."
She pulled back with a look of pure light in her face. "I must always greet you properly. Besides, you appeared to be in need of it."
"Did I?" His head tilted. "You did not simply want to say hello for yourself?"
There was a sly twinkle in her eyes. "Perhaps I shall let you wonder for a while."
He chuckled warm and low, linking her arm with his. "Aren't you apprehensive about whether my thoughts might astonish you?"
"Not in the slightest. I know you would choose to protect me from any sort of wicked intention."
She was right. Since they were children, Loki's protective stance toward her was obvious, and deep down he knew she cherished his concern.
"My prince," came the rich voice of Máni who approached. Brinn's father was taller than most, with skin equally pale and flawless as hers. He acknowledged Loki with a bow. "I trust the evening finds you well?"
"Indeed, good general."
"Pleased to hear it." He gave Brinn a quick look, then jutted a thumb at her. "Keep an eye on this one. Mind yourself not to get swept into her mischief."
Her jaw dropped. "Me?" She feigned insult. "Of the two of us, you have the audacity to accuse me of mischief, Father?"
"Daughter," he grinned, "you are of beauty and intelligence that is a rare combination. But remember: the man who raised you knows you better than all others," he bent close, "and beauty is a perfect mask for a tongue as sharp as yours can be." He was teasing her, and they both knew it.
Those keen blue eyes narrowed, but only briefly, and Máni smiled down at his pride and joy. "But then again, a father could not ask for a finer child." The gaze shared between them radiated with incredible love, the elder god absolutely melting when it came to his daughter. She clearly brought much-needed peace to his spirit. Placing a kiss on her forehead, he finally dismissed himself with a nod.
Brinn was well aware of the twisted smile Loki was giving without even turning. "Not a word," she warned.
"I would think nothing of it," he proclaimed innocently, and paused for dramatic effect. "It would certainly take more than one word for me to support his claims—"
She playfully swatted him.
Loki proudly escorted her to the long dining table where—to the surprise of no one—Brinn was seated next to him. The two slipped easily into conversation during the entire banquet. It amazed Loki how much he enjoyed talking with her. To others, their discussions might have come across as simple. Mundane, even. But only they were aware of what took place between them. When he spoke to her, he knew she was not judging him for anything he had to say. Sure, she would tell him bluntly when she disagreed with a statement he made, but she was not vindictive about it. Instead, she would explain her stance in order to give him a glimpse into her perception. Her father had been correct when he called her intelligent, which was demonstrated in the thoughts she voiced aloud. Not talking at him or down to him, but talking to him. And when she listened, she truly listened. Her serene nature and mannerisms made him less self-conscious when it came to speaking his mind. Not to mention the enjoyable moments of sharp wit and banter she uncovered now and then.
Maybe his fondness for her was only due to what she represented; maybe not. Loki liked to think not. Instead, he deemed it a matter of the kind, good-hearted individual she was, regardless of her inborn abilities. She made him feel as though he mattered every moment of every day. It was no wonder he had her by his side whenever the occasion presented itself.
Down by Odin's end of the table, Thor and his companions told lively tales of adventure and danger, but Brinn and Loki remained lost in their own world. Every so often, a guest would come by to speak with either of them. Máni came by to discuss a few items with his daughter; Thor came to acquire Loki's opinion about a strategy he and Lady Sif were debating; at one point, Frigga called for Brinn, wanting to exchange a few private words with her; even Volstagg came over for a short chat, though his choice of topic left Brinn with a rising redness in her cheeks. Loki quickly deflected him, much to her relief. Despite how much the thought of tomorrow made his chest clench, Loki could not dampen the spirits of tonight. He could see Brinn shining as she spoke to all who approached, and he would be damned if he interrupted that.
In the middle of the festivities, Odin stood and summoned Brinn to his side, along with the elder goddess Eir. Eir, goddess of healing, was Brinn's mentor and companion on her many travels to Earth. Together, they did all in their powers to bring healing and serenity to the troubled world.
Speech died down as the two ladies approached their king and knelt before him with utmost reverence.
"We have gathered tonight," Odin's commanding voice reverberated throughout the dining hall, "to credit those who bring us great honor and pride. The Realm Eternal only exists when all work together to strengthen the foundations that were laid eons ago. Eir, Lady of Healing," he turned to the women, "and Brinn Moonchild, this is an evening honoring you. All you have done and all you continue to do for our people has gained the respect and admiration you deserve. I am proud to have both of you in my service."
"Hail to the Lady of Healing!" Shouted Thor. "Hail to the Moonchild!"
The entire room erupted with cheers and raised glasses for both.
Odin raised a hand for silence. "Since your births," he continued, "you were both destined to fulfill important roles, and I could not have asked for finer individuals to serve your purposes. Eir, you have served me well for countless years as a healer of many worlds and peoples. Brinn, under her guidance, you have grown into the wise and compassionate young lady I have always known you to be. Together, you have completed some of the most trying and perilous tasks I could assign. The tumultuous nature of Midgard has proven harsh for many, but you have succeeded in your many endeavors, despite the enormity of your responsibilities.
"One of the most dangerous aspects of your duties has been your visitations to the realm in mortal form. However, you did so without question and still managed to accomplish your goals to the best of your abilities. Once again, you will be completing a similar task as mortals, and I bestow upon you all the protection and strength our people have to offer you." He reached down to cup their cheeks with each of his hands. "As you prepare to depart tomorrow, know that my thoughts go with you, and I pray for your safe return home. May you both be very blessed."
"Hail to the Lady of Healing! Hail to the Moonchild!" Thor started again, followed by all who bore witness.
All, that was, except for Loki. From where he sat, he felt frozen, felt time around him slow until he thought the friction would cause his vision to crack. It was not a dream. As much as he wanted to deny it, he had heard quite plainly: Brinn was returning to Earth…in mortal form. Not a question, just plain fact. Going to Midgard in mortal form…She had done so on some previous trips, but the idea never set well with him. Going to Midgard in mortal form…going to Midgard in mortal form…It would continue to haunt him. This decision put her in such jeopardy. What if she was killed during her mission? Great Allfather, he did not want to think about it! But how could he not? On the table, his fingers curled in an attempt to claw the wooden surface. No such luck; no relief in sight.
After Odin's announcement, Eir and Brinn received their well-wishes from the congregation and they spoke quietly with Odin off to the side. From one of the doorways, Loki watched on, the sinking feeling in his heart growing stronger. He showed nothing, though. He would not let his troubles be seen. Thinking about his friend risking her life was not easy to accept. What made it even worse was the look of absolute trust she gave to Odin. How could she be so damned trusting? Arms crossed over his chest, he was better able to control the slight tremble in his hands. Brinn leaving was difficult enough to accept. The truth of what this assignment entailed made it worse. Why was it she, who was still so young and full of promise, who had to endure this hardship?
It pained him when Máni came to kiss his child again, the pale god beaming with pride. Why would her father not forbid the dangerous mission he knew she was being sent on? Why not let the difficult tasks be assigned to Thor, who loved any form of a challenge? Or to Father's generals and faithful soldiers? Or to him? All of them were more seasoned and ready to handle terrifying menaces.
Why don't we do more to protect my friend? He thought angrily. Why not let me take her place instead? Why not—
The feather-light touch of fingertips fell on his shoulder. With a slight start, Loki turned and immediately felt his worries interrupted as he looked into Brinn's eyes. Gone were the frantic thoughts plaguing his mind, the fears of tomorrow. The relief may be short-term, but he would cling to it. Ever the impact of her soul on his. Ire faded from his heart like fog in the morning sun, the trembling of his hands ceasing.
She was giving a calm smile, but he detected her weariness from the night's festivities. "May we go?"
His lips parted, hesitating a moment. In the smoothness of her voice was an underlying plea to her friend. He had not the heart to resist. Overcoming him was the familiar sense of protection for her, and he wanted nothing more than to wrap her in his arms and fly away. If only he had a capability similar to Thor's in that respect. Alas, he would have to rely on his own methods, but they would more than suffice. The corners of his mouth turned as he replied with, "Yes," and took her arm in his once more, leading her away from the crowd of the dining hall. They appeared to slip away unnoticed.
But not by everyone. From the long table, Frigga had observed their quiet departure. She watched her youngest son and his dearest friend slip past the pillars of the great hall with sad eyes.
Watchman's Point had an incredible view of Asgard's vast kingdom, and was a constant destination for Loki and Brinn when they needed an escape. From here, they could see everything. Golden towers of buildings reaching toward the heavens; countless waterfalls creating fine rising mists; endless rivers weaving beneath the cities and landmarks; the multi-colored stretch of the Rainbow Bridge leading to the spherical Bifrost; herds of wild horses roaming free in open meadows; the views were there for them to see. Leading to the gray cliffs of the point were miles and miles of trees and vegetation, which shielded the spot from unwanted eyes. It was an ideal location for watchmen to stand guard during times of battle, to spy on those who intended to bring chaos to the realm.
This was also a place for them to talk privately.
Their silent journey was pleasant, though not entirely. Loki's tumultuous thoughts were battling against Brinn's influence, and he was not sure who would be the victor this time. Near the edge of the cliff, Loki looked out at the shimmering sky. Asgradian nights were impressive. Dark, star-studded skies faded into brightness at the edges, making it appear as though daylight was in the distance surrounding the realm. Somewhere behind him, Brinn was examining the plant life around them.
For a long time, he said nothing, but could not let silence linger the rest of the night. It would be a waste. "Must you go?" He finally asked.
Brinn's fingers toyed with blades of tall grass, not looking up. "You're angry with me. You always ask questions you already know the answers to when you're angry."
"You should have told me."
"Are we to have this argument again?"
"I did not have to find out this way," he stated firmly, anger slightly dominating, "in a last-minute announcement from Father. I assumed it would be more important for you to inform me to my face."
"Don't you dare suggest that I care nothing for your feelings in this matter," he could feel her eyes boring into his backside. "If I had told you, your reaction would not have been any different and you'd still find reason to be upset with me."
He did not answer.
"Admit it," she dared.
He sighed quietly, visible only in a slight fall of his shoulders.
She took it as a yes. "You know I have duties to fulfill."
"I know," Loki said quietly, "but it doesn't make the conditions any easier to accept."
"I am aware," she gave a soft, slow sigh of her own, "but Allfather has ordained that Eir and I carry out this mission because he trusts us to do so. We are needed. You know I will not turn down a directive from him."
Yes, he knew. His head dropped at the barest angle. "And not just because of your allegiance to him." Brinn would have pursued it without a king's command. She felt a personal obligation to aid those who needed her help, even those who were not of their world. She would willingly risk her life for the mortals of Earth. Plain and simple. The purest of all hearts indeed.
She appeared next to him, gazing far out into the distance. "Not just because of my allegiance," she echoed.
A small, sinister voice whispered inside his mind, one he had heard before at times like these. It would be so easy to influence her, to make her stay indefinitely. The attribute of bending people to his will was downright useful, and this was certainly a circumstance he wanted to control. Brinn's influence was not of her making, but his power of persuasion could be directed at others. It would be so easy. He could plant the seed of doubt in her mind, make her refuse Odin's order and claim she had seen enough horrors of war to last several lifetimes. Oh yes, he could easily make her stay if he so desired.
But he would not do it. He would not manipulate Brinn. He could not bring himself to commit such an act on her. In truth, he did not want to use his powers on her. Ever. She was the one person he could not bring himself to do it to. It would be equivalent to betraying her trust, and he cared for her too much to be so unfair. Any decision she made, he wanted it to be of her own volition.
He hated admitting how much he secretly admired her dedication. He lifted his head to gaze at the stars, focusing on anything else. "If only Father would allow me to act in your stead."
"No," she answered quickly. Loki looked at her then, her blue eyes steadily holding his. They had a faraway appearance behind them and began to focus on nothing, an indication of buried thoughts resurfacing. He knew what was coming. "The things I have seen on Earth…it never gets any easier to see what the mortals do to one another."
"From what you've described in the past, humans are barbaric in their combative methods during war."
"They can be," she affirmed. "When we fight, the purpose is to defend our realm and our people. But these wars…they are fought amongst their own kind, usually due to disagreements or differences they perceive as irreconcilable. Where is the logic in that?"
Out of respect, Loki said nothing. He wanted her to get it out of her mind.
Her eyes grew more distant. "On one visit, I was in a region where the people clashed daily over political reasons. It was not limited to adults; even children and the very elderly joined in the disputes. It was all these people knew on a day-to-day basis.
"There was a morning when an explosion took place in the town squares. The tremors could be felt from several yards away. When Eir and I arrived to see what happened…" She paused, then continued, "There were twenty-three who had been killed, all strewn across the square like strange, contorted dolls. These poor people…some were missing hands…and s-some were missing faces…" Tears were flowing down her cheeks from eyes that had not blinked. Crying was not common for Brinn. This just proved how intense the memory was to invoke this reaction.
Loki gently wiped the tears away, but Brinn's gaze did not break. "But the worst came when I saw the little girl standing in the middle of the square. She was no more than nine-years-old. Somehow, she had survived, though her leg was bleeding heavily. Eir started running to her, but I felt rooted to the ground as I stared. She was looking at the bodies surrounding her…several of them her cousins…their blood staining the dress she had worn for worship that day. There were no tears from her. Her mind had shut down and could not comprehend what she was seeing." Her voice became hushed, "But when it dawned on her, she suddenly let out a scream," her head shook slowly, "and for the rest of my life, I will never forget the sound she made."
It made sense that this picture disturbed her. Brinn had an affinity for the children of Midgard, and felt particularly protective of them. The pouring tears were hot under his fingers, and she did not notice when Loki took her face in both hands and just held on. The serenity goddess was not without her moments of despair, and Brinn had many to unload before her journeys. It amazed him that these images had not driven her mad.
Snapping her eyes shut, she let the thoughts run their course, her shoulders and neck tensing as she relived the hideous events of Earth's wars. Her breaths were heavy and shuddering, every emotion showing on her features. He waited, holding onto her as long as necessary, willing her mind to stay with him. As the minutes passed, the tears began to slow, the shuddering breaths lessening in strength. In his hands, she drew deep breaths in through her nostrils, released them out through her mouth. The repetition of this pattern soothed her from the inside out. When it came to memories of war, Brinn's saving grace was her acceptance of what was meant to be. She recognized what was in her control, and that which was not. As a result, she managed to find her center of calmness sooner than all others.
Stay with me, he thought, stay with me. You are not in darkness, stay with me….
Eventually, the peace overpowered her anguish, and she softened in Loki's hands. Sighing calmly, she finally looked at him steadily. Loki's green eyes searched her intently.
She spoke first. "I would not want you to bear witness to the atrocities I have seen on Earth. I would protect you from enduring that."
He was taken aback. "Protect me? I have been in battles, Brinn, you have not."
"You have been in battles," she pulled his hands from her face, "but you haven't seen the same things as me. Not even Eir has an easy time exposing herself to them, and she has been to Earth more often than I. They only seem to get worse as the years pass. Midgardian wars are not what you are used to, Loki, and I will shield you from them if I can." She placed a hand on his shoulder, an insistent gesture. "You do so much to protect me. This is the least I can do in return."
It was difficult to process exactly what he felt. Conflicted, yes, but her hand on him caused a great calm to spread. It was what she wanted for him, and though his stubbornness tried to hold it at bay, the strength of her heart was going to prevail. His eyes glanced at the pendent on her necklace: a silver crescent moon etched with the Tiwaz rune, the symbol representing devotion. It was a trait she displayed in all her acts, duties and relationships. Oh, the way she had smiled when he gave it to her. As he stared at it, coolness suddenly passed through him. That same devotion was directed at him. Her friend. Someone she cared about.
"Why, then," he said, still concentrating on the pendent "would you devote yourself to protecting a people who would unthinkingly massacre one another? Why would you defend a race that is so far beneath you, Brinn?"
Her eyes flashed. "Mind your views, Loki Odinson. I hardly believe humans to be 'beneath' me, and my opinion won't change." It was a topic they continued to disagree on, but this time he let it go. "The little girl I mentioned? She is why I choose to protect them. Her recognition of the horrendous circumstances around her in gives me hope. I have faith in her ability to aid in preventing the perpetuation of these events in the future."
Undying faith was what it came to. He ran a hand through his raven hair. "It concerns me when you go to Earth in mortal form."
She gave a short nod. "There is reason for it, though. Doing so allows me to empathize with mortals. Humans can be incredibly complex when coping with emotions, and because of this, it can be challenging to give the assistance they require. Being mortal, I get the chance to be one of them, to experience those similar complexities and discover the root of them. It is not the most enjoyable of practices, I will admit, but I am better prepared to help them because of it. In addition, it cuts down on human suspicion of who we really are." A thought occurred to her. "Did you know it was not initially your father's idea to send me as a mortal?"
He blinked. "No."
"Eir made the suggestion, since she had done so many times before. At first, your father would not hear of it because I was so young. But when she explained the reasoning behind it, he saw the wisdom in her proposal."
Loki was amazed by this, but kept his stoic expression. All this time, he had believed it was his father's decree, but he had been wrong.
She went on. "I believed her explanation made perfect sense, so I volunteered to attend as a mortal from time to time. Though reluctant, he approved of it under one condition: I voluntarily take mortal form only when Eir does."
"Ultimately, he decides on the particulars of your assignments," Loki averted his gaze, pretending to look out over the kingdom.
"He does, and I trust his judgment. This way, we gain mortal experience as a team instead of individual units. You see? He wants to protect us just as you do. Don't worry yourself sick, my friend: there is a purpose to everything your father does."
He knew not that the ghosts of those words would haunt him several years from now. In the meantime, part of him was thankful for this information. "What about—"
"My father objected to it as well," she interrupted, anticipating the question. "However, he learned quickly that I am as tenacious as you when it comes to making my own decisions. But believe me, each time I leave without my immortality is like a knife through his heart. He has never gotten used to it."
"Nor I," he shook his head. "You endanger your life, and for all the wisdom that may go along with your motivations, I cannot banish the thought."
She crossed her arms over her chest. "When you go into battle in other realms, you put yourself in danger, and I am left behind to wonder whether or not my friend will return. If I asked it of you, would you renounce fighting forevermore?"
The unexpected inquiry left his mind reeling. Verification of how much she worried about his well-being was touching. More touching than he anticipated. Trying to answer her inquiry, though, was perplexing. In combat, his skills were useful, and through them he served Asgard and his father. Where Odin went, both his sons accompanied, for he knew how valuable they both were. Would he serve his father if asked? Without a second thought. Loki understood her point. He had obligations to his father, to his family, and to his world. So did she.
"I wouldn't ask it of you," her voice had found its soothing, low tone. "Part of me is sorry for what you go through in my absence, but—"
A wave of his hand cut her short. "Don't. I know you will not apologize for what you must do, and I'd rather you not lie just to appease me. You have no reason to be, and I can hardly be selfish enough to accept it. Or to expect you not to follow your heart."
That earned a soft smile of gratitude, and it warmed him. Comfortable silence resumed between them as they observed the beauty of the night sky.
"It's rather dull when you do leave," he said lightly, alleviating tension. "I have no one to talk to when you're gone."
"Nonsense. You always have Thor." As soon as she said it, she turned to Loki, whose bewildered expression matched hers, and they burst out laughing at the same time. It felt so good to laugh after the seriousness of their discussion. "I'm not a fan of his dinner conversation, either."
He smiled broadly. "I love my brother dearly, but I concur that stories of pummeling faces with one's fists are hardly appetizing."
"Oh, Loki," she shook her head, "joking aside, remember he is your brother. As such, love him for who he is, and guide him in the ways he is not. Besides," she reached out to touch his shoulder again, "someone will have to keep him in line during my absence."
With a smirk, he suddenly vanished before her eyes. Brinn did not even have time to gasp until after he playfully caught her from behind. "Not even the eldest gods before Allfather would have enough patience to take on such a task!"
Her initial shock became a peal of silvery laughter that vibrated straight to his core. She craned her head around to see his trademark mischievous expression. "Don't you ever tire of that trick?"
"Not so long as it still catches you off-guard, my dear. Your reaction makes it particularly fun."
Head shaking, she touched the encasing arms. "My clever friend."
He smiled contentedly. Whereas he was often the brunt of his friends' jokes, Brinn was different. She said sweeter things to him. In his arms, he detected the faint floral scent of her hair.
"Do you really get so lonely when I'm away?" She asked.
"Yes," came his straightforward reply.
"Then I have even more reason to complete my duties and promptly return home." Cocking her head, she said, "Hmm. Your hands are cold."
"They always are," he replied, brow furrowing slightly. Why did that bother him deep down?
Nevertheless, she smiled reassuringly. "Cold hands, warm heart."
He chuckled appreciatively.
"I wonder," Brinn said, "do you still question your father's love for you?"
This referred not to tonight's conversations, but to one they had shared many nights ago, when Loki confided in her his feelings of being an outsider in his family. Brinn had remarkable insights, and even though he still felt as though he walked in his brother's shadow, he chose to surrender his uncertainties. Just this once.
He smiled calmly at the sky. "No. I may be vastly different from Thor, but I do not doubt Father's love for me."
Her joy flourished in a faint wave through him. "He does love you, Loki. I see the way you make him smile when you don't know he's watching."
No matter how much he doubted, he would find stability so long as she was there to reassure him. He focused on the warmth of her fingers on his skin and released a contented sigh.
Lingering night eventually found them in a familiar position: lying perpendicular to one another on the forest floor, Brinn's head resting on Loki's torso as she slept serenely. The steady, rhythmic breathing indicated her dreamlike state, the barest of smiles crossing her lips. For Loki, the peace wafting through him was indescribably wonderful, and he could not help but beam as he felt Brinn resting in such close proximity. Tomorrow would bring sadness, but at least they had this very moment to themselves.
Loki did not sleep; he watched her all night.
Beautiful morning came sooner than he wanted, but euphoria was currently rushing through his veins as Loki's stallion pounded the ground beneath him. Seated behind him was Brinn, whose arms were wrapped tightly around his waist as they rode across the paths of the kingdom. Whenever Brinn prepared to depart for other realms, Loki gained permission from Máni to escort her to the Bifrost. Thankfully, the moon god was agreeable to this.
He could sense her throwing her head back slightly, loving the rush of wind across her face and through her hair. The firm feel of her arms holding him kept his elation high, and all he could do was enjoy himself as they rode on. A broad grin split his face when she called out for him to go faster. He urged the steed on, who managed to shift into a swifter gear. Gay laughter spilled from her as they flew together. And that was what it felt like they were doing: flying. Loki knew how freeing a feeling it was for Brinn. She wanted to soar above Asgard and see the world from new perspectives, to see everything she possibly could see in her existence.
Freedom, he thought. It was what she was feeling, and each time he glanced back at her, he saw her glowing as radiant as a moonbeam.
Across the Rainbow Bridge they ran, the long strip lighting beneath the horse's hooves. The length of it took them far out to the Bifrost, where Heimdall, mighty gatekeeper and watcher of the gods, was standing guard. His golden eyes hardly blinked as they approached.
Halting his stallion, Loki's previously high spirits began to slowly fall as growing sadness blossomed within, stemming from his chest and reaching up through his throat. It only worsened when her arms loosened from around him. Their freedom was at an end. Still, he did nothing to show his emotions, remaining strong for her sake.
He dismounted and assisted Brinn to solid ground. Fingers gripped into her sides momentarily, trying to prolong this last touch, and he saw a look pass through her eyes. He paused. What that look was, he was not entirely sure, but for some reason it made his heart skip a beat. They just waited. Gazing. Truly seeing each other…but it was not to be pursued at this time. Clearing his throat, he took her arm and guided her towards the Bifrost's entrance.
Heimdall said nothing, though he had witnessed everything.
"Greetings, Heimdall," Loki said.
"You have come to see the Moonchild off yet again," he responded without moving.
"Devotion is an admirable quality in a friend." That made the young immortals smile.
"What news from Midgard?" Brinn asked.
"Earth is in great turmoil, my lady. It will be a relief for the mortals to have your presence."
"So I understand."
"How treacherous is it?" Loki inquired, acute protection flaring in his mind.
Heimdall was only honest. "There are multitudes of mortals being slaughtered on a regular basis, merely because they do not meet standards approved of by a dictator."
Brinn's sobering expression pierced Loki's heart, and he covered her hand with his in support.
Digesting the information, she breathed in deeply and found her center, purging herself of apprehensions. Squeezing his hand in reply, she whispered, "I must go."
He led them into the massive golden globe. Inside, Eir was already standing before the door that would act as a portal to their destination. The elder goddess's silver hair had been pulled back in an elegant braid, and she was dressed in a manner similar to Brinn. It was best for her and Eir to appear on Earth in human-inspired clothing. Brinn was a bit self-conscious, but Loki approved of how the style cinched flatteringly close to the curves of her body.
"My Brinn," Eir came and cupped the young goddess's face in her hands. "I trust the morning finds you well?" Despite her age, her voice sounded quite young,
"Yes, and ready to go to Midgard."
She nodded. "Our duties await us, and there continues to be great need of our services." She looked to Odin's son. "Thank you for escorting her, Loki. I know her father is grateful to your services."
He looked to Brinn. "I know she would do the same for me."
Eir was gentle, yet insistent. "We have little time to waste, Brinn." She resumed her place in front of the door, awaiting her charge.
"Yes, Eir. What is the year on Earth?"
"According to their calendar, the year is 1942. They have been involved in their struggles for a prolonged period of time, and there have been many unnecessary casualties resulting in distress across several lands. You will certainly be kept busy during this venture."
As much as it pained him, Loki released her arm. "Promise me, Brinn," he said quietly, "that you will watch after yourself as well as others."
She smiled her small, calm smile. "I do promise this." Reaching into one of those crevices known as pockets, she took out one of the small sprigs of crystal lilac she had had in her hair the previous night. "It will morph back to its original form?" She asked, studying it.
"Eventually. I am limited to creating illusion, though I can make some things last longer than others if I so wish it."
She considered this, then pressed it into his palm. "Keep this one close to you. I shall want it back just the way it is."
The crystal was warm from her hand. He smiled faintly. "I will." He glanced at Heimdall. "Please make their journey a safe one."
"On my life, my prince."
"Come, Brinn, we must go," Eir's hand was outstretched to her.
The time had come to say goodbye, though he could not bring himself to say it. Instead, he brought her hand to his lips, savoring the warmth of her skin as he pressed a light, chaste kiss there. She was staring intently at him, even when he pulled back, releasing her hand. Turning with a grace characteristic of him, he made for the doorway leading back to the Rainbow Bridge.
His name on her lips caused him to stop dead in his tracks. Before he had a chance to completely turn around, Brinn had closed the distance between them and caught him in a powerful embrace. Her arms were tight around him as she pressed herself close. Instantly, his arms wrapped about her, holding her to him as extraordinary serenity penetrated his steely defenses. He closed his eyes and relished the sensations, one hand slowly rubbing down her back. This was her last gift to him before leaving. She wanted to fill him with the reassurance he needed…wanted...and did so in the manner she knew well. His heart beat was calm beneath his chest, the serenity binding them in a cocoon of pure warmth.
Sweeter still were her parting words. "I will miss you," she pulled back, stroking a hand down his cheek, "but you will see me again. Farewell."
Breaking the contact was akin to jarring his heart, Loki still feeling traces of her touch on his face. She finally took Eir's hand, ready to leave.
"May the Valkyries find great favor in you," Heimdall boomed through the Bifrost, inserting his massive sword into the transport mechanism. Flashes of lightning streaked throughout, and the forms of Eir and Brinn vanished abruptly, bound for Midgard.
Loki waited until the atmosphere was quiet again. Slipping the crystal lilac inside his robes, he rode his stallion back across the Rainbow Bridge, his mind repeatedly reliving the embrace Brinn had given him.
"He will not come down," Frigga shook her head, taking a seat beside her husband. "He is buried so deeply in his grief and refuses to speak to anyone."
"One can hardly blame him," Thor's voice cracked from across the table, not looking at either of his parents, "for reacting the way he is. He and Brinn were best of friends since we could walk, and now…she's been ripped away forever. From all of us, but Loki's devastation…" He wiped away another stray tear. "He may not openly mourn, but you can see it in his eyes."
Frigga placed a comforting hand on Odin, who held his stricken face in one hand. The news of Brinn's death on Earth had not been taken well in Asgard, and Odin's heart was heavy with sorrow.
"I sent her to her death," he lamented.
"No, my lord," Frigga soothed.
"She acted on my orders," he countered. "Why should I not accept the blame?"
"Because the circumstances were not in your control. She agreed to the task because she felt it was her duty, and she knew well that this was a potential outcome. Just as you did. To take responsibility for the plans of fate is an injustice unto you."
The knowledge that one of his devoted followers had been killed while serving him would linger in his mind for all time. It was never easy for him to lose one of his people. No matter how many battles he fought, no matter how many lives were lost in self-sacrifice, it was not something to be adjusted to.
Worse was the suffering of his sons. Upon hearing the news, Thor had howled and punched the nearest wall out of disbelief with a force that knocked it into complete shambles.
Loki said nothing. Absolutely nothing. He listened to what had occurred, let it register, turned on his heal and walked away. He never said a word.
Odin took a breath. "I fear Loki's heart is broken."
Thor and Frigga could not disagree with his statement.
Loki was not, as his family believed, confined to his chambers. He was not even within the palace. In silence, tortured silence, he made his way on foot to the Bifrost, needing to seek further answers to his myriad of questions.
He knew something was amiss when Odin had summoned him and Thor to the dining hall, where Máni was holding a grieving Eir in his arms. The moon god, too, had evidence of tears marking his face. Loki felt his stomach completely drop. Where was Brinn? Why was she not with her? Dread spread through him like a growing black cloud.
Cruelly, his worst fears came true when Eir revealed what had taken place on Earth: Brinn had been killed, struck from behind by a mortal weapon of war. Her life had ceased before Eir could dash to her side. It happened so fast…
Numb. It was what Loki felt all over. Completely numb. He could not feel, did not want to feel. No. In the back of his mind, he was unconsciously grateful, for if he could have felt the full extent of his emotions, he surely would have been driven to madness.
He had to seek Heimdall; he had to know what had become of her.
In his typical position of sentinel, he stood massive and vigilant. However, there was clearly an air of sorrow hidden beneath the impassive mask. Loki knew he was expecting him. Coming to stand before him, he could not bring himself to look into Heimdall's eyes. It would have resulted in displaying sentiments he did not want revealed.
"Did you see?" He wasted no time, paying no heed to the waver in his voice.
"Every painful fragment of a second," he sounded sincerely strained. Even he felt partial blame was his to take.
He pursed his lips into a thin line, but managed to softly say, "Tell me."
"They were stationed in a region called Sicily, serving with the armies from America, and were victims of an ambush. Eir was assigned to nursing duties, while Brinn counseled a traumatized child from a nearby village." There was the barest shake of his head. "When the attack happened, Brinn reacted by shielding the child from harm. The mortal weapon struck her from behind, and she was gone before hitting the ground."
Loki's hands clenched into fists at his side as he pictured this, envisioned her sprawled on the ground in a pool of blood.
"I saw it coming," Heimdall went on, "but the weapon they used moved too quickly for me to open the gateway to bring her home. Her mortal form was too frail to withstand the wound; Brinn Moonchild was lost ere I had time respond."
The fists were shaking now. "What of the child she was protecting?"
"She lived. Their captain intervened and managed to get her to safety. He meant to aid them both, but soon realized Brinn's functions had ceased."
An act of self-sacrifice had been her downfall. Protecting a child from danger…Brinn had fallen in a manner befitting of her. It was not a pleasant notion.
"In the aftermath, the mortals mourned her passing."
It was not unexpected. When Brinn had been killed, her aura of serenity had vanished. There must have been mass confusion as to why the atmosphere of the infantry suddenly felt so helpless.
"What of Brinn?" It came out a whisper.
"She was given a proper burial by the humans. They felt inclined to honor her as one of their soldiers."
More appropriate would have been to honor her as the goddess she was. He had heard all he needed to hear. Brinn was dead. Gone. Without another word, Loki began to retreat down the multi-colored bridge, still encased in his shell of numbness.
"Loki," Heimdall said as softly as his big voice allowed. Loki stopped, but did not look back. "As she fell, the last image in her heart was of you."
He said nothing. If that was meant to bring him comfort, it failed miserably. Keeping his mute stance, he walked away.
Loki walked away and did not stop, not until he arrived once again at Watchman's Point. He could not even remember the trek there. His vision had been so channeled and focused on this place that he had thought of nothing else. He needed to be here, where quiet would consume him.
A place he and Brinn used to frequent. His thoughts were solely on her. Images of her smile, her eyes, the sparkling sound of her laugh, the touch of her skin. Nothing more than memories to taunt him, to remind him about what he had lost.
Green eyes stared out into the distance, but did not see. As much as he tried to suppress it, the events of the horrifying day replayed themselves vividly in his mind.
Brinn was gone; she was never coming home.
His eyes darkened with fury and sorrow, the numbness beginning to wear off in his fingers. He would never see Brinn again, he realized. Not even her deceased form would be in Asgard to bid a proper farewell. Dying on Earth, Brinn was trapped within the realm.
He was starting to feel the full weight of the violent emotions. Would she even be granted access to Valhalla? Be allowed to walk amongst the gods and goddesses of old who had vanquished long ago? He did not know. Somehow, he doubted it.
He thought about why she had been sent to Earth, secretly cursing Father for making the decision to send her as a mortal. He could have prevented this. He could have simply required them to go as they were, and none of this would have happened.
Unpleasant heat began rising from the pit of his stomach, stretching out to his limbs. Brinn would have reprimanded him for questioning his father, but how could he not?
There is a purpose to everything your father does.
Oh, how he despised the memory of her statement! What purpose could there possibly be in sending his friend to die? What, ultimately, was the point of ripping away the one individual who redeemed him his entire life? What could he possibly learn from this? Why Brinn? Why not one of Thor's friends, who found glory in the idea of dying in battle?
Why was it up to him to suffer?
His breathing became rapid the more he dwelled on it. Brinn Moonchild was lost to them. Lost to him. There was no changing this fact.
Heaving several breaths, he finally released a scream powered by the volatile combination of fury, sorrow and heartache burning up his throat, caring not if it echoed from the cliffs for all of Asgard to hear: "BRINN!"
He had not moved. Loki remained at Watchman's Point into the wee hours of morning, letting his thoughts surface and ebb in solitude. Eyes closed, he only thought of his fallen friend. Anger remained and it would remain in the recesses of his heart. This could not be helped. Without Brinn to expound the wicked feelings from his life, there was no stopping it. No longer would she be there to confide in, to speak of the troubling times he experienced. No longer would she reassure him when he doubted his father's love. This caused an inkling of despair. Did his father punish him by sending Brinn as a mortal? Was this proof that he did not love his youngest son?
He could not bear the thought. In his heart, he wanted his father's love, needed it in order to feel as though he belonged. Nevermore could he rely on Brinn's wisdom to help him through his uncertainties. He would have to learn to trust his father when he said he loved both of his sons unconditionally.
Could he? Part of him prayed for the ability to trust.
Sighing miserably, he visualized Brinn's delighted expression as they rode his stallion together, her sense of freedom streaming through her veins. Freedom, he scoffed. One lesson he learned was how foolish a concept it was. Brinn had not been free in any denotation of the word. Hers was a life devoted to serving her ruler, serving others above herself. She did not seek to bring about change to this because…it made her happy. None of them knew freedom here. None questioned the appointments made to them, the gifts bestowed upon them at birth, nor revolt in protest. It was how it was meant to be.
Loki supposed this meant he was not free, either. As the son of a king, he had a responsibility to set an example to their subjects, to demonstrate the importance of being loyal to the Almighty Allfather. For all days, bound to unyielding service, and for this they would display only gratitude. Brinn had done this without being part of Odin's family. Yes, the illusion of freedom was just that: an illusion. Maybe it should remain that way.
A darkness had begun to settle within him as his thoughts lingered to ones who touted the importance of their freedom. Mortals. Here was a race he had little trust in. They were responsible for beginning the war that summoned Brinn to their world, and consequently were responsible for her death. Dimmed was his perspective on them. Their inane actions was proof of how primitive and unruly their societies had become. They lacked reverence and misunderstood the meaning of discipline, no doubt due to a lack of Asgardian presence in later centuries. Reputations as gods had been reduced to nothing more than myth and legend. Humans had killed Brinn, but they had also given her the recognition she deserved, even if they had no clue who she was. This tore Loki in two. Brinn had been a steadfast defender of humans, but how could he rid himself of the abhorrence he felt? How could he forgive them for the crime they had committed?
You will see me again...
Palms squeezed into fists. How he hated her for telling him such a blatant lie. And yet, he did not hate her. Not in the least. But how could she leave him behind like this?
Audible steps caught his ears from the woods behind him. Loki did not need to look back, since the tramping pattern was too familiar. His knowledge was verified when the intruder came to stand quietly beside him.
For a while, Thor said nothing. He simply looked out into the distance just as Loki did. Both were in mourning, having lost a mutual life-long friend. The lightning god's eyes were quite fatigued.
"I know how close you were to her, Loki, and for your loss I am truly sorry."
Eyes remained closed. You will always have fortune, Thor, he thought sullenly. You have your faithful friends and Father's fierce love. What have I? What is left for me?
"You may not believe me, but I could always tell how you felt about her. There are feelings that even I am not blind to," he ducked his head, trying to hold onto his strength.
Loki's nostrils flared briefly. It was not that he doubted Thor's honesty, but talking about Brinn was more burdensome than therapeutic. One of his fists unclenched, and pieces of broken purple crystal slipped to the ground with barely a sound. No purpose is saving Brinn's flower if she could not use it.
Thor had not noticed. "I am aware that I lack the ability to offer comfort, but I feel the void of her absence just as severely as all of Asgard. I will miss—"
He lifted a hand to cut him off. "Brother." Respectfully, Thor waited. Far inside Loki's soul, he knew what he had to do in order to keep his anguish harnessed. With Brinn gone, he had to take a drastic measure. "Hear me and hear me well," there was a bare tremble in his voice. "There are few requests I have ever made of you over the years, however I insist you take this one very seriously."
He knew what he had to do. Taking a breath, he continued. "Speak to me of her never again. I cannot take the impact of those memories on me, and it is best to put them out of my mind. Do not mention, do not reminisce, do nothing that forces me to dwell on her. Ever. The pain of her loss…I feel like I am burning alive in a fire with an insatiable hunger." He turned to Thor. "I do not want to relive this feeling by thinking about her beyond this moment. Swear to this."
Loki's eyes were not pleading; they were demanding. Absolute. He had to lock her away. Push her far down to the bottom of his heart with no chance of resurrection. In order to maintain his grasp on sanity, he could not let her invade his mind. If he had to learn to live without Brinn, then he would. Entirely. He had no one to rely on anymore except for himself. And Father. And Mother. And Thor. Despite how much of an outsider he was amongst them, he had no choice but to find a way to trust them. It was what she would have wanted for him.
There is a purpose to everything your father does.
He certainly hoped this statement would hold true.
Thor took in everything he had to say. Then, mouth set in a grim line, he nodded. "I swear."
Somewhere in his mind, Loki was bitterly pleased.
"Will you come home, then? We have been worried about you."
But Loki's thoughts wandered elsewhere. "You and the warriors are planning to journey to Nornheim, correct?"
Thor's eyebrows rose at the abrupt change in topic. "Yes, in a few days time, after we've had proper time to honor…well, once the time is right."
Perfect. "Good. I want you to allow me to accompany you in your quest."
"Oh? You have never gone into battle unless Father has requested you to fight alongside him."
He looked to the stars. "I believe it's time for change, don't you? Besides, one must venture from his father's side eventually and fend for himself."
"Loki," there was warning in his tone, "I understand where you are coming from. However, let not your emotions get the better of you and force you into making rash decisions."
But he then looked at Thor with such clarity. "I am hardly rash, brother. Let me go as part of your team. I have strategies and capabilities that would be tactically beneficial for you and your fighters, and could help secure our triumphs over our enemies."
Thor was watching him very carefully. He would always want to look after his younger brother and do what was in his best interests. On this matter, he was apprehensive. Was Loki speaking with a clear mind? Or was this clever mask concealing terrible pain that could emerge without notice? Who could say? In the end, though, he realized how good the distraction would be for him. "Tell me honestly, Loki: are you alright?"
Those green eyes were steady as he looked at him, and the voice was equal in its certainty. "I am, and I will be."
He gave a nod. "Very well. If you would prefer, I will relay your request to Mother and Father as well."
"Thank you," he said softly.
"Come," Thor placed an arm on his back, prompting them to begin their long trek home from Watchman's Point, "let us speak to Father about your decision, for he should be the first to know. On our way, perhaps you can inform me about these tactical advantages you speak of…"
Odin's sons, brothers in heart and spirit, traveled together on the paths of the realm as they discussed their strategies.
Loki did not look back. He left his memories of Brinn behind.
The loudest cheers erupted throughout the hall when Thor, as predicted, made his obnoxious entrance.
Beneath his gleaming horned helmet, Loki feigned a smile for his brother, one that averted attention from his downcast eyes. The memory had been shoved aside by an invisible hand. Had he loved her? Yes. It was a revelation he came to on the final morning he saw her. She had recognized it, too. He saw it in her eyes.
But it mattered not. None of it did. His serenity was gone and would not return. When he insisted on forgetting her, he had done just that. Shimmers of memory arose now and then, striving to gain recognition once more, but Loki forbade it. Surrounding him was a hardened shell, his barrier of protection against recollections that would invoke utter agony. He had to be strong. Strong for Father, strong for their people, strong to prove he was as capable as his elder brother. Father had to recognize this.
Thor reached the base of Odin's dais, spinning one last time with outstretched arms as he reveled in the acknowledgement of their people.
Our new king, Loki thought contemptuously. He waited with great patience while his undisclosed antics took place, soon to disrupt the joyful festivities meant for Thor.
Little did he know that his actions were about to set off a series of events that would plunge his heart into further turmoil.