"Jane?" the deep voice rumbled behind her back, the single word holding both pain and anger.
Her breath hitched in her throat. Without turning around, Jane looked up and into Loki's eyes. The prince had stopped, mere inches from his intended kiss, and his face remained blank and impassive. Suddenly, he smiled and laughed softly, standing up to his full height.
"It seems my brother is unhappy, my lady," Loki said. "Perhaps you should explain your actions to your betrothed."
His slight smirk, which Thor might have missed, did not escape Jane. Her eyes glazed over with tears, the beauty of the night dissolving into swirls of black and pale blue that threatened to run down her face. But she didn't want to cry in front of these two men; she could not show weakness.
A sharp crack broke through the chirping crickets, and a flash of steel grey darted into the grove, leaving Loki holding his reddening face and Thor standing mere feet away from his brother, torn between chasing after Jane and confronting Loki. He chose the latter. Closing his eyes and turning to face the pool, Thor slowly lowered himself to the ground and sat cross-legged upon his flowing golden cape. Without turning to face his brother, Thor spoke softly, in a voice that seemed out of place for the God of Thunder.
"I…I had noticed Jane was gone for quite some time," he began, "and I had hoped to dance with her…it was getting quieter in the Great Hall…I thought she would like that…"
Thor's voice trailed off, and he turned to face Loki, who stood staring over the pool's surface.
"Brother…why?" he asked the pale-skinned man, his voice cracking with emotion as he forced the last question out of a tight throat.
Jane's tears flowed freely now. Away from Thor and Loki and dashing through the garden, she sobbed as she gasped for breath, stopping to lean against a pale tree and clutching its low-hanging branches for support. She cried for Thor's pain, for Loki's betrayal, for her own weakness, for the lie she was living – but primarily, she cried for a reason that she could not identify. Jane was never one to depend on a man; if marriage happened, she thought, so be it. But here she was, betrothed to Thor but potentially pining after Loki.
Loki, she chastised herself sharply, the demigod who had ignored her and insulted her and broke her down and embarrassed her in front of Thor. He was no Thor. Thor was kind and gentle and, although not necessarily the most perceptive, he meant well. Loki – well, he was unpredictable, erratic, arrogant, her list went on. But still, what was it?
Jane looked up into the night sky, observing the stars and nebulae that had recently become more visible. Swirls of red and gold contrasted with bursts of green that faded into the dark void. She slowed her breath and she identified the constellations, naming the star formations and clusters that dotted the canvas. To the east, Asgard's second moon was rising, following the trajectory of its larger sister. The nightly dance of the stars and planets both calmed and excited Jane, giving her a respite from the stressors of the previous week and of that evening. Sinking to the ground, she rested against the smooth bark of the tree, staring up at the glowing sky.
Loki sighed deeply. He hadn't meant to hurt Jane or Thor, but somehow he came out looking terrible. Not unlike most situations in his life, Loki thought bitterly. Every attempt to help govern the kingdoms or advance the Asgardian cause had been met with disdain or negative reactions from his brother or father. Now, even as he tried to help Jane and Thor, his intentions came across as selfish and mean-spirited – he understood this. He had been purposefully cruel toward the mortal in an attempt to break apart their bond, but to no avail. And he couldn't explain it to Thor, his brother would not understand…
"Brother." Thor's voice broke into his thoughts. "You know I love you, but this…I do not understand. Please…please try to explain…"
Loki stood abruptly, his eyes flashing with the reflecting stars off the surface of the pool. Had the night been slightly brighter, Thor would have noticed the clear tears running down his brother's face. But the night was dark, and Loki turned quickly away from his golden brother.
"Thor," Loki began, his eyes darting from the grove to the pool's surface to the glowing night sky, "it is…complicated. I…you know I have…you know what I am," he stuttered, his voice constricted by approaching tears and becoming grating and harsh, as happened when discussing his hated ancestry.
"You are my brother," Thor responded softly. "Beyond that, it does not matter."
Loki whipped around, his eyes blazing with pain and hatred, his voice seething in the midnight air.
"It matters to me!" he hissed. "It matters because, although I appear Asgardian, my blood is Jotun. The blood that runs through my veins determines how I act, how I speak, who I connect with…and who I love," he finished, the anger in his voice shifting into pain and despair.
"And who I love," he repeatedly slowly.