Capes, Cups, and Glittery Things @potionmistress95
All the Bright Pieces

14

All the Bright Pieces

I am all the promises of my youth fulfilled, all the bright pieces regained, born anew from fire and sorrow.~ Loki

Belle's feet pattered across the flagstones in Loki's magical workroom, a place only she and he could enter. She knew upon receiving the spirit message from her dying father that he needed her to perform the Ritual of Renewal, and thus she had come to gather what she needed to do so. Her feet froze upon the stones, and as soon as she spotted Loki's Seven League boots sitting beside his table, she stepped into them. They shrank to fit her small feet and then she bounded across the workroom to the secret compartment hidden in the wall.

She made a circular motion with a hand, drew the rune for revealing in the air, then spoke the command word in Old Norse, "Open!"

A glowing section of the wall slid away to reveal a simple ashwood box. The box was carved from some branches of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and they contained what she needed to perform the ritual. Belle set her hand upon the box, which was keyed to recognize her magical aura and Loki's and would open for no one else.

The box's lid clicked and she opened it to reveal nine crystals blazing with lambent starfire. She carefully removed a crystal from its velvet bed, slipping it inside a special bag which was also inside the box. It would prevent the crystal's emanations from being seen by other magic practitioners. This she put around her neck. Then she closed the box and restored the wall. Next she ran to another shelf and removed two vials of potions which she shoved into a potion satchel that hung upon the wall. The satchel had small padded niches to cradle the bottles so they didn't break during transport. It also contained a pair of dragonhide gloves. The satchel went over her shoulder. That done she snatched an athame from a rack and stuck it into the satchel's side pocket.

Hurry, Belle! Hurry! She urged herself, sensing that more time was passing than she liked. She bolted up the stairs, through the wardrobe, and then paused to slide the back panel into place. There was no telling what could happen if she forgot to shut the workroom door. The whole house might have blown up if any of her younger siblings had gone down there and played with the magical apparatus inside.

She brushed against one of Loki's green and black coats as she exited the wardrobe and on impulse she put it on, tears blinding her for a moment as she smelled his familiar scent of peppermint and aftershave. She buttoned the coat about her, muttering a spell to keep it from dragging on the floor.

I'm coming, Dad! Fast as I can! Wait for me!

Then she ran to the window and opened it. She glanced back once to make sure the door was shut and the only light came from the fire spark spell in her hand. Then she threw her leg over the sill and with the aid of the Seven League boots walked down the side of the house.

Once on the ground the boots allowed her to leap in huge bounds, like a giant would walk, and she raced down the street towards the Avengers mansion, knowing without being told that was where her father was.

All the lights in the mansion were on as Belle sprang up the drive. She threw open the door on the side which she and her siblings usually used to come and go in the house, and then she cocked her head and concentrated. She could feel her father's aura, flickering and fading, but still strong enough to enable her to track him.

Not that she wouldn't have been able to figure out where he was by simple deduction. Her uncle would have brought him to Dr. Banner in the medical bay.

No sooner had she thought of her destination than the boots pulled her right down the corridor and in two strides she was outside the door. Inside she could hear Bruce's measured tones and Thor's stricken one, pleading with the doctor to save Loki's life.

"He wanted me to bring him home, I don't know why when we have healers on Asgard who could have helped him," Thor said, totally puzzled.

"Thor, buddy, he may have wanted to come home to . . . well . . ." he trailed off meaningfully.

Belle turned the knob and came in, a slight figure in her borrowed coat, boots, and nightie, her hair frizzing wildly from her magical transportation.

"He's not going to die, Uncle Bruce," she said with as much authority as she could muster. "Not while I can save him."

The two men turned from where Bruce had Loki lying upon a stainless steel operating table to gape at the Lorekeeper.

"Belle! What are you doing here?" Bruce sputtered, trying to draw a sheet over Loki.

"Little raven, you shouldn't be here," Thor began, his face ravaged with grief. "Your father wouldn't want you to see him this way."

Belle gave him a sad smile. "Uncle Thor, he called me and told me to come to him." She gave Bruce a searching look. "Have you taken the dagger out, Uncle Bruce?"

"How the blazes do you know about that?" Bruce gasped.

Belle shrugged. "A Lorekeeper knows many things. Did you?"

"No. Not yet. It's close to an artery and I—"

"Good," she interrupted. "Because that's not for you to do. That's my task."

"What?" Thor cried. "Belle, you ought to be home in bed! You're not a healer, you're a little girl!"

His niece just gave him a single glance from her cocoa brown eyes, then said serenely, "Tonight I'm not just a little girl, uncle. Tonight I am more." Then she lifted her hands and said, "I'm sorry, but you need to leave now. No one who isn't a mage may see the ritual."

"Now wait just a cotton-picking minute, young lady!" Bruce began.

"Sorry, Uncle Bruce. I don't have a minute. I'll explain later." She put the tips of her thumbs together and spread her hands out in a fan like pattern.

Magical energy exploded from her hands and propelled both men out the door of the med bay and into the hallway. Then the door closed and locked, and a glowing magical ward sprang up around it, preventing anyone from entering.

Belle approached the table where Loki lay, gently pulling back the sheet to reveal her father's still form. She could see he barely breathed. His skin was waxy pale and blood stained his entire torso. Swallowing hard, she peered at the dagger sticking up obscenely from his chest, its handle a cold black metal twist, shoved into her father almost up to the tang. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her.

Stop it, Belle! You can throw up later! Now you need to do what you came here for.

Taking a deep breath, Belle removed the gloves from the satchel and pulled them on, Loki's warning about handling vorpal blades echoing in her head.

Never ever EVER touch a vorpal blade with your bare hands. Or else it will drain your magic and your life force.

Vorpal blades were sometimes called vampire blades among the magical community, and were one of the ways a non-mage used to kill a mage. A vorpal blade did tremendous damage not just physically, but to a mage's magical core. Which was why she needed to remove it as soon as possible.

Taking a deep breath she leaned over and grasped the hilt of the blade with her gloved hands. The dragonhide protected her from coming into direct contact but also gave her a sturdy grip. Gritting her teeth, she tugged hard on the blade, praying it wasn't one of those horrible serrated ones which would do more damage coming out than going in.

Loki didn't stir, but Belle had tears streaming down her cheeks as she pulled the horrible weapon free and threw it on the floor. Blood pumped sluggishly from the gaping hole in Loki's chest. I'm sorry, Dad! I'm sorry!

Behind her she heard her uncles outside the door yelling, "Belle! Belle Laufeyson, let us in there right now!"

"What in Hel is she doing in there?"

"How should I know? All I know is whatever she did is preventing us from getting in there."

"I could try and smash it with Mjolnir," Thor said.

"I could become the Hulk and do the same, but . . . somehow I don't think that would be a good idea,' Bruce said.

"My brother is dying in there!" Thor shouted.

"I know, buddy, but that's her dad in there. If she can save him we ought to let her try."

Like you can stop me, Uncle Bruce, Belle thought matter-of-factly. She grabbed some towels and put pressure on the wound for a minute, then she removed them and began using the sorcerer's sand in the first vial in the satchel to draw a circle about the table and herself.

A circle to contain the magic within, she recited. Once the circle was closed with the rune for eternity, she began to draw the four other runes she needed—runes for fire, ice, rebirth, and magical healing. Each rune she drew with the sand glowed with a steady blue light. Then she capped the vial of sand and withdrew the crystal from the pouch about her neck.

Holding it carefully, she placed it upon Loki's chest, near the wound.

She took several deep breaths, centering herself, then she doused her hand with yarrow wash in the second vial and poured some into the wound. Taking the athame from the satchel, she clenched her jaw and quickly cut the center of her palm.

Then she went and placed her bloody hand over the crystal and chanted in the language of magic, "Blood of my blood, bone of my bone, flesh that was rended, now mend whole. True heart to true heart, mind speaks to mind, may the bond that was broken, now be restored!"

The crystal soaked up the sacrifice she had offered, then began to glow stridently, like a star gone nova.

Belle felt it heat between her hands, almost too hot to hold, it healed the cut on her palm in a searing flash, but she recalled her father's instructions and didn't let go. The magic of the crystal exploded outward, healing the gaping wound in Loki's chest, seamlessly without a scar. But then it went deeper, the light flowing through his injured magical core and renewing and restoring it as well as his life energy in one great pulse.

As it did so, Belle experienced what Loki had during the last few moments he had been conscious before using his amulet to teleport back to the mansion. She felt all of his terror and pain, and his last whispered command, which he sent to her through the link.

She screamed soundlessly as waves of emotion battered her fragile psyche. Tears spilled from her eyes in an endless stream of salt water to fall upon Loki's upturned face. Hold on, hold on, hold on. This will be over soon. This is the price required—blood calls to blood, spirit to spirit, all the bright pieces rejoined anew.

She felt the magic of the crystal drawing on her own, using it to help restore her father's magic and energy. Now it was gentle, soothing, lapping at her like a cat's tongue, renewing her even though she gave herself away. Warmth pooled beneath her fingers, spreading outward until it was if she stood directly in a stream of sunlight.

Last was her task to call back his dying spirit, and this she did by drawing upon the link that bound the pieces of her spirit and his together. Come home, Loki Laufeyson. Come home to me. Follow my light and come back to me.

Her spirit was a brief flicker in the ocean of darkness of the Void between and betwixt all realities, yet like a beacon it summoned the bright pieces of Loki's spirit, shining unmistakably for the lost to find their way home.

I'm coming!

She heard the whisper in the deep and her soul sang with joy as their spirits rejoined, weaving seamlessly back together.

Then it was finished and the light flickered and died, the crystal ceased to glow, its magic spent. Belle carefully picked it up and placed it back in its pouch. As she did so, her hand brushed against the newly healed skin of Loki's chest.

His hand came up and slender fingers wrapped about her wrist. Then he was sitting up, his brilliant emerald eyes staring at her. "Belle," he whispered, his voice soft as midnight. "I'm back."

"It worked," she said, incredulous despite the proof before her eyes. Then she threw her arms about her father and hugged him so tightly he feared she would break open his newly healed wound. "I thought . . . I almost wasn't in time . . . but . . ." She pressed her face into his shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent, feeling the warmth of his living flesh beneath her fingers, his heartbeat thundering in her ears. Alive. Alive. Death has no hold upon him anymore. Born anew from sorrow and fire.

"It's okay, little raven. I'm here," he murmured, carding her flyaway hair.

"You almost died!" she sobbed. "I felt it . . .!" Abruptly she was crying all over him, harsh wracking sobs that shook her slender frame like a rowan in a windstorm.

"Shh . . . shhh . . . alskling . . ." he crooned, holding her against him. He rocked her back and forth, his own eyes wet. The spirit link that bound them was always there, but now, given the great magic which had been worked between them, it was active and he could feel her emotions just as she had his. "Poor baby, I'm so sorry, I wish I could take this from you . . ."

He hated the fact that the magic required this from her, but the ritual always carried a high price, for the magic to be effective you had to go to the gates of death to bring back the soul of the dying, and that was never without a cost. And she was the only mage he trusted to perform this spell for him, since they were spirit linked, and her innate magic lent itself to such spells.

"Magic's price . . ." she whispered, struggling to stop crying. " . . . not your fault . . ."

"I know . . . but when you hurt so do I, little Spirit Keeper," he said hoarsely, calling her by the secret name only the two of them knew. He wept into her hair, her pain like a raw throbbing wound between them.

For it had been no coincidence that when her magic awakened it had drawn him to her. His rebirth had not been a seamless one, and some of the bright pieces of his soul had been scattered before the Powers That Be had brought him back. They had for some unknown reason latched onto her nascent aura and she had absorbed them when her magic awakened. They were now a part of her, like blood and bone, never to be separated. It created an unbreakable link between them, and an uncanny understanding that no one else in the universe shared with him.

Since part of his spirit resided in her, she became his Spirit Keeper, as close as an identical twin, who knew him like no other could. She alone of his children knew about his rebirth and the price of his redemption. She alone was his trusted apprentice, advocate, and the one able to perform the ritual that would bring him back from Hel's cold embrace. But even with all that responsibility on her shoulders, she was also still his little girl, and his heart shattered into a million pieces for the pain he had caused her.

For long moments they clung to each other, lost in a world of shared grief and pain, until the repeated bashing of the door by Bruce and Thor intruded and brought them back to reality.

"Something's happening in there!" Thor yelled frantically. "Belle! Belle, please, let me in! What's happened to your father?"

"Darling, did you lock them out?" Loki queried gently.

His daughter nodded against his shoulder, still leaking tears. " . . . had to . . . couldn't let them see . . ."

"I know. But now it's time to let them back in, little raven," he murmured. He lifted a hand and removed the spell over the door.

Thor was just about to beat on the door again when the glowing shield vanished and the door swung open. The god bounded into the room. "Belle? Is—is he—?" he choked up, unable to finish his sentence.

So Loki did it for him.

"I'm not dead yet. I don't want to go on the cart," he said in a flawless British accent.

"Loki!" Thor roared in delight and then he nearly smothered both father and daughter in a bear hug.

"Umm . . . Thor? It would be nice if you'd let me breathe . . .!" Loki squeaked. "And you're squishing Belle."

Thor slowly loosened his hold, saying softly, "Sorry . . . it's just . . . I thought you were dead, you were bleeding all over in my arms . . ."

"That was chicken blood," Loki joked, his eyes sparkling.

"How can you joke about this?" his brother demanded.

"Because I've already spent the past ten minutes crying my eyes out and I've had enough of being sad. I'm here, I'm healed, and it's time to be happy." His hand rubbed Belle's back. "You okay, alskling?"

Belle nodded against his shoulder, then slowly raised her head and gave her uncle a tremulous smile. "I'm sorry I had to lock you out, Uncle Thor. But the ritual requires me to cast it alone, no distractions."

Thor gently patted her shoulder. "I understand, little raven. As your father used to tell me—magic is mage's business and that's all you need to know. But when I heard you crying, I feared that . . ."

"I know. I was just upset."

Loki snorted. "Upset? You were shell shocked, little raven. She felt what I did when I was stabbed."

Thor gaped at them like a half-wit. "Name of Yggdrasil, Loki! How could you let her feel that?"

"It's not like he had a choice, Uncle Thor," Belle put in. "The magic chooses the price required. In order to restore someone you need to feel exactly what they are feeling so you can fix it. It's okay. I'll be fine after awhile."

"And if you aren't, you come tell me," her father ordered.

"Always," she promised, squeezing his hand. "Uh, I borrowed your coat and your Seven League boots, Dad."

"I thought I recognized that outfit," he chuckled. He eyed her thoughtfully. "Looks good on you, darling. Maybe you ought to keep the coat. But I do need my boots back."

Shifting slightly, he looked around. "Where's my shirt?"

"Bruce had to cut it off you," Thor said. He glanced down and saw the dagger beside his foot. "Is this what Karnilla stabbed you with?"

"Yes. Don't touch it. It's evidence." Loki explained. "It's also deadly for most people to touch." He removed the gloves from Belle and then picked up the dagger and put it in the satchel.

"Well, look who's rejoined the land of the living," Bruce remarked with a wide smile as he entered the room, having lingered in the hallway to give the siblings some privacy for their reunion. "You look amazing for having been half dead just a few hours ago." He eyed Belle speculatively. "What did you do, young lady?"

"Magic, Uncle Bruce. A spell Dad taught me," she told him. It was true, but there was so much more to it than that.

Bruce's eyebrow climbed into his hair. "You know spells to bring back the dead now, Loki?"

"I wasn't dead yet, Bruce. Belle brought me back using a restorative crystal," Loki explained glibly. For the uninitiated that was enough. The ritual was only part of the process, the other half was the fact that Belle was his Spirit Keeper. He placed a kiss on his daughter's forehead, their eyes meeting in a shared understanding. Between me and thee, little raven, forever and always. "Got a shirt I can borrow, Thor? We really ought to be getting home, Belle is exhausted and I've been mostly dead all day."

Despite her still raw emotions, his daughter immediately giggled at the reference.

Bruce too grinned, saying, "If you're cracking jokes already, Master Mischief, you're fine."

Thor's brow wrinkled. "What joke?" he asked totally missing it. "What he said was true."

"Uncle Thor, you need to watch The Princess Bride," Belle told him.

"Is that another of those pop movies?"

Belle and Loki both giggled at that, their laughter blending harmoniously with each other in a glorious symphony of joy.

"We'll have movie night on Friday," Loki said. "Now, about that shirt, brother?"

Thor departed to fetch it, and Loki said to Bruce, "I don't think I need to tell you, Dr. Banner, to keep my miraculous revival confidential, do I?"

"No, Loki. Mages and their secrets," he just shook his head. "I'm not entirely sure what you did but I know I'll never make rational sense out of it."

"Actually, the laws of magic are pretty rational," the master mage argued. "But we can debate that another time. Just don't mention this to anyone else—not my kids or the rest of the team."

"I won't. But what about Thor?"

"My brother knows to keep quiet," Loki replied. "He's not quite as thick as a castle wall as he seems."

Thor returned with the shirt, Loki pulled it on, it was too big but better than going through the streets of New York half naked and causing a riot, the Jotun thought wryly.

Belle pulled off the Seven League boots and handed them to Loki.

They enlarged and he put them on over his other ones, picked up the satchel, then clucked at his daughter standing there in her bare feet. "Forgot to wear your sleep socks again, didn't you?"

He snatched the blanket off a cot, wrapped it around her, then scooped her into his arms. "Goodnight. Thor, I'll see you tomorrow. I'm sure you'll be receiving a message from Father soon."

Then he took three great strides and was outside the mansion and down the street in the flicker of an instant.

He used the Seven League boots to climb back into his bedroom window, first putting Belle inside and then following. After closing and locking the window, he turned on the lights and said, "Since it's so late-or early in the morning-" a glance at his clock radio revealed it to be one in the morning-"you can sleep with me tonight, okay? That way if you have nightmares or are sick I can take care of you."

Belle simply nodded from within the wrapped blanket, exhaustion suddenly sapping her energy. Abruptly she was freezing and she went and crawled into Loki's king sized bed with the velvet green comforter. She felt cold to the marrow of her bones, yet at the same time strangely hot. "Dad, I don't feel good."

He took one look at her and knew instantly what was the matter. "Fever, chills, exhaustion, muscle aches," he recited while summoning two dark red potions and honey with two spoons. "Magical drain. The second price of magic, sweetie."

He handed her one vial.

"Dad, why are there two?"

"One for each of us," he replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. " The crystal restored the magic that was drained from me, but it costs me too. It's not hit me quite yet, because I'm older and stronger but when it does it'll knock me on my butt." He clinked their vials together. "Ready? Down the hatch!"

They both drank the potion down together and then made the same identical grimace.

"Ugh! Darn aftertaste! Feels like I've been drinking water out of an old boot," Loki coughed, then swallowed a spoonful of honey.

Belle did the same, then yawned sleepily. She placed the empty vial and spoon on the nightstand and snuggled beneath the ultra soft comforter. She felt her eyes shut, but as soon as they closed. she recalled the way she had first seen her father bleeding on that metal table and they popped open again. Shivering, she forced herself to remain awake, counting the stars drawn on the ceiling while Loki undressed in the bathroom.

Emerging in a green T-shirt and his plaid pajama bottoms, he climbed into bed and noticed his daughter was wide awake, her brown eyes wide and frightened. He didn't need to ask why, he simply cuddled close to her. "Listen to my voice and it'll chase the nightmares away," he whispered, and then began to sing his lullaby, the soothing melody and words combined with his velvety voice ensuring that she would sleep without dreams.

Only when he was assured she was truly asleep did he allow himself to succumb as well, falling into a deep healing sleep, where he dreamed the following vivid dream.

Asgard, Odin's throne room:

In the chaos that followed Thor's departure with the critically injured Loki, Jorunne would have tried to escape but Balder grabbed both her and her mother by the arms, his face a mask of anger and horror, holding them fast. "Don't try anything!" he snarled.

"Papa, you're hurting me!" Jorunne whimpered, frightened of the terrible anger emanating from her normally calm and easygoing parent.

"Be silent!" he ordered. "This is your doing, all of it! You used your persuasion to incite your mother into stabbing my brother. Did you really think killing Loki was going to somehow mitigate your sentence, you idiotic child? All you've done is brought the Allfather's wrath down upon you ten times worse! And right now I cannot even begin to care because you have shamed me past bearing."

"No! Papa, it was Loki-"

Balder shook her hard. "Loki may be dead because of you! He did nothing wrong. It was you who broke every law of kinship I ever taught you." He shook his head. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth is a thankless disobedient child!"

"Balder, husband, I . . .I only wished to protect our daughter," Karnilla stammered, slowly emerging from the fog of persuasive magic Jorunne had spun in her mind.

"Protect her from what?" Balder demanded harshly. "Odin's rightful punishment? The consequences of her actions? No, Karnilla, I'm done with covering her misdeeds and excusing them. This isn't some childish prank. She turned you into her personal assassin, Karnilla! Doesn't that bother you?"

His wife shrugged. "My daughter means more to me than your adopted Jotun kin. It's just Loki, the worst lying troublemaker in all the Nine. You ought to thank me for ridding your house of the wretched black sheep."

"Thank you?" Balder repeated incredulously. 'You hypocritical she-wolf! It was not so long ago that you were the enemy of Asgard yourself, O Queen of Nornheim! On trial for crimes against this realm! Your sentence was mitigated because of me, wife! Because I asked out of love for you. Yet you presume to judge my brother? You disgust me! You and your daughter-both venomous harpies I've cast my shield over, who have betrayed me and harmed my family."

"What-what are you saying?" Karnilla squeaked in alarm.

"I'm saying that I'm done with protecting you and Jorunne. You shall face the wrath of my father on your own, I'll not intercede for either of you. I've been played for a fool for the last time," Balder said, his jaw hard as stone.

Terrified, Karnilla clung to his arm, whimpering, "Please husband! I have ever been faithful to you! Don't abandon me!"

Balder curled his lip. "Still thinking of yourself, when my brother could be dead and in the ground! Yet not one apology falls from your lips. Or hers!"

The door to the audience chamber opened and Odin strode out, power crackling about him that shook the rafters. "YOU!" he bellowed, pointing at Karnilla, who tried to hide behind Balder.

Balder shoved her in front of him. "Father, she-"

"I know, my son. Release them, they shall not escape my wrath!"

Balder let go and backed away, watching impassively, his blue eyes bleak.

Odin stalked up to the two miscreants, his face thunderous. Power haloed him like a miniature sun. "You dare to bring a weapon into MY hall and harm my son, Karnilla of Nornheim?"

Karnilla opened her mouth but no sound came out.

"You have broken my peace and inflicted grievous harm upon my child, who did naught to deserve it save bring the misdeeds of my granddaughter to my attention. Who do you think you are to try and avenge a deed that was lawful to begin with? This is MY realm, Norn Queen, and I will decide who gets punished here!"

Karnilla fell face down on the floor. "Mercy, Allfather! I beg of thee!"

Odin glowered down at her. "Mercy? When you cared naught for anyone but your selfish daughter and yourself? Now you cry me mercy? The one reason you are not a smear under my boot is because your attack failed. Loki lives-I know not how, only that he does. That is the only mercy you shall have of me! Oathbreaker, outcast, I name you and your child!" he boomed, his voice shaking the throne room. "You are to leave Asgard and never return upon pain of death. Furthermore, your magic I shall take, and your immortality. But you shall wander the Nine, compelled to tell your wretched misdeeds to any you meet, that all may know of your wickedness, until your life's thread is cut. This is my judgment upon you, Karnilla, former Queen of Nornkeep and wife of Balder."

His hand outstretched and a bolt of red fire encased the cowering Karnilla. She screamed in agony as her powers and her immortality were stripped from her. When the light faded, crouched upon the marble floor was a middle-aged woman with lank hair and sagging skin, no longer beautiful for she had aged.

"Get thee hence, oathbreaker!"

Karnilla scurried out of the room, sneers and catcalls in her wake.

Then Odin turned to Jorunne and said, "Jorunne Baldersdottir, you are also outcast and oathbreaker, your magic is forfeit, but you shall live the rest of your days as a monster, your outward form reflecting your inner one, in the Prison at the Edge of Forever! Thus I have spoken and thus shall it be!"

Another bolt of transforming fire struck Jorunne and her body began to writhe and change into a hideous creature with the face of a troll, the body of a serpent, paws of a wolf and the tail of a scorpion. Its voice was the shriek of a thousand cats in heat, no longer able to persuade anyone, and then she vanished, sent to dwell in the Prison on the Edge of Forever, where she would spend the rest of her life trapped in that form behind a forcefield being gawked at by the scum of the galaxy.

His temper dying, Odin turned to Balder and gave him a sad smile. "Balder-"

"Father, it was just. I am only sorry I couldn't prevent it."

"You cannot prevent the sun from rising. Any more than you could this."

Balder nodded heavily. "I'm glad that Loki is alive. Yet you don't know how?"

Odin shook his grizzled head. "Even I am not omniscient, my son. Loki has many tricks up his sleeve and some of his magics are unknown to me. Perhaps he will tell me next time we see him. That is his choice. Come, walk with me," he put his arm around Balder, and together they left the hall, having given the gossip mill of Asgard plenty of fodder for the next year or two.

New York

Laufeyson townhouse:

Loki opened his eyes and squinted at the morning sunshine pouring in the window. He made an irritated gesture and the drapes shut, blocking the light and he put his head down on the pillow. Last night I had the strangest dream, he thought, recalling it vividly. Then he smiled. Thank you, Father.

His eyes closed again and he slept, renewing the energy he had lost, both he and Belle sleeping until well past breakfast until Max and Aleta woke them by jumping on the bed, then yelling to wake the neighborhood that "Dad's home!"

Loki opened one eye, groaned and buried his head beneath his pillow. By the Nine, did I really miss this? he wondered grumpily. Then he smiled in spite of himself. You know the answer to that, Laufeyson.

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