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Betrothed to one brother, in love with the other... Everything was falling in place, till Thor had to leave and Miss Foster saw herself as the only company of Lady Frigga and her sarcastic and seemingly unfeeling son: Loki. She just didn't expect to see in the darkest depths of his soul someone desperate for recognition and… love. Can she get through the Lord of Ice? (Lokane x AU)


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#victorian-au #thor #jane-foster #loki #lokane
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Ice & Fire

"I dare not hope. I never was fainthearted before; but I cannot believe such a creature cares for me."

North and South Elizabeth Gaskell


Lord of Ice

Chapter I Ice & Fire


The ballroom was filled with good music, dim lights, mischievous whispers and rich, contagious laughter. Wine, brandy and fruit punch trickled out of the decanters into waiting cups, arousing, in the process, another wave of laughter and loud cheers as the guests congratulated the bride and groom for the special and joyous occasion.

A wedding was always a cause for celebration. Or so would Lord Thor Odinson would say, if he didn't have his mouth and attention completely occupied by his own lovely and fiery betrothed.

In the far corner of the ballroom, away from the spotlight, where the candles could barely cast enough lighting to see two entwined shadows in the sweet and sinful act of an improper kiss, Lady Foster tried shutting her mouth as her fiancé trailed a path down the column of her neck and lavished her sensible skin with kisses and love bites.

Eager hands held him by the shoulders, just to, a minute later, tangle in sun-kissed locks, bringing his mouth back to hers passionately. He, always the paragon of propriety and morality, kept his own on her waist, fingers rasping the silk of her pearly-peach dress, not daring to deviate any further… down or upwards.

Jane growled in frustration.

Fuck propriety!

He was to leave.

Leave and only God knows when he would come back. If he ever did, a part of her mind — the sensible and rational part; the aspiring scientist — screamed. His father, Odin, had just been commissioned as Governor-General of All Her Majesty's Australian possessions and Thor, being his firstborn, was expected to help him see through the power transition smoothly.

Her Royal Majesty had grand expectations for the colony beyond the sea. Thor couldn't simply say no — not when the future of his family lay on his and his father's shoulders.

And what a pair of broad shoulders, her friend and lady-in-waiting — who was so conveniently ignoring their whereabouts — Lady Darcy Lewis would say.

Even if it meant staying away from his bride-to-be for a couple of months — years even. His own father said it wasn't safe yet for her and his wife, Lady Frigga, join them in the Colony. There was unrest with the penal transportation still very much alive.

Perhaps in the near future, Thor promised when they discussed his impending departure. And while he was sure he could take care of her, he was his father's son. If Odin said it was best for Lady Jane and Lady Frigga stay in the heart of the Empire, he wasn't about to question him.

It was with a frustrated moan that they broke apart when hushed steps assaulted both their peripheral vision and attentive hearing. Placing her hand on the crook of his elbow, Thor brought her to the center of the ballroom, near his mother and a pair of her acquaintances. Lady Frigga flashed an understanding smile at them, even though they weren't in her earshot.

Better than anyone, she knew what it was to be young and in love.

Foolishly so.

Thor cast a sorrowful glance at Jane.

His imminent departure was marred in both of their features. There was sadness and something akin to unwillingness on his part. He has never been a sensitive man. Not like his mother or his little brother — he prayed to God for him to be safe and well wherever he was in the North — had always been.

Frigga and Loki — as twisted, mischievous and bad as he could be — knew how to discern when things were about to take a decisive turn — for better or for worse. That was, maybe, the only reason why he could break away from his family and start a profitable business in the North.

On the contrary road, Thor was a little too trusting and somewhat naïve. He knew nothing of betrayals — except for the fact he always snatched Loki's love interests from beneath his nose. What could he say? If a woman couldn't respect and cherish his brother without falling for him, she was an undeserving creature. And it wasn't like Loki was a saint either.

He wasn't.

If there was an adjective that could never be used to describe his little brother, it was surely this one. Saint… He smiled in spite of himself. Loki was more likely the devil incarnate.

Honestly, Thor wondered how he could forgive — and still hope otherwise, hope for the best — his brother after everything he did to destroy their happiness… to destroy his own family, who treasured him dearly.

If anything, the only who managed to escape his wrath was Lady Frigga herself, whom Loki loved more than life itself.

Loki Odinson — did he still call himself an Odinson? He doubted somehow — wasn't only a flawed man. He was a bad man. Or so Jane said. And she was right. He was a cunning, evil and malevolent little shit. However…

…However, Thor couldn't shake the feeling they'd their share of guilty in what he became.

Monsters aren't born from nothing.

In the past, he'd always been a mischievous creature, playing tricks on his big brother and their friends. How could one forget the time he dyed Lady Sif's hair? But it never got closer to… that…

Jane's fleeting touch on his forearm brought him back from his memories. He looked at her and the smile fell his face.

Yes. Unlike his mother and brother, he'd never been a sensitive man. Nevertheless…

…Nevertheless, this time there was this feeling… this wretched feeling that sunk in his gut and wasn't going away… He knew this travel was going to change his life — their lives — forever.

And he was somewhat sure it wasn't for the better.

"I must leave for the Colony, but I give you my word…" His eyes were so full of sincerity and love, Jane had to bite her bottom lip to control her own emotions. "I'll return for you."

Ever the gentleman, Thor brought her gloved hand to his mouth and graced her knuckles with a very proper kiss.

"Deal?"

If not for the expectant stares all over them, Jane would have kissed him. Instead, she settled for a small, shy and full of sweet affection, smile.

"Deal."

#

The first pale sunrays, still mixed with the dark blue mantle of a lazy night that didn't want to be dismissed just yet, entered the gigantic chambers of the still silent and eerie Saint Hall, casting light and shadows over the tangled limbs that rested on the canopy bed.

On the large corridors of the manor, rushed but silent steps approached the double-faced doors with hesitancy. No one dared to interrupt the young Lord, not at such hour of the day, at least.

But no one dared to leave him in the dark either.

There were terrible news coming from the South.

The most prestigious newspapers, from the South and also from the North, notified of a rebellion in the Australian Colony.

Several were dead; criminals were on the loose.

No one knew of the Commissioned-Governor. Presumably dead. No news concerning his eldest son were broadcast by the media — local or otherwise.

For all it was worth, Lord Thor Odinson could have drown in the Indian Ocean and no one would know.

For all it was worth, Frandall doubted Loki would care. And if he did, it was unlikely he'd go to great lengths to express his grief. There was a time in which Loki would kill for Thor. There was a time in which Loki would die for Thor.

With firm steps, he knocked on the majestic double doors leading to his private chambers. Heimdall was supposed to arrive shortly — where was he anyways? — for he didn't think himself capable of dealing such blow alone.

No answer.

If anything, there was a low groan and a chuckle coming from inside the chambers. But no one opened the door. Muffled voices — muffled moans, it is — gave him the perfect insight on why his Lord — there was a time in which he considered them to be good friends, now he knew himself to be no more than a servant — didn't answer his door.

Another laughter reached his ears and soon enough he was staring at a nude — gloriously so — Lady Sigyn. She had the brightest smile had had ever seen in a while, as if she was feeling very confident and happy herself.

Not a prude himself, Frandall cast a glance at the bedroom. From the anteroom, where he currently set his foot in, he couldn't see what was taking place, but he had a fair idea.

You see, Frandall has always been a man with imagination.

"Would you…" She surrounded him, placing a hand on his broad chest and running her snub nose along his jaw. A pretty hue coloring her cheeks. And to think she'd been a prude herself not long time ago. "…like to join us?"

If the occasion were any different, Frandall would certainly have not declined. However, the situation demanded otherwise.

"And pray tell who are 'we', Lady Sigyn?" He bit his bottom lip when she reached the point behind his ears. She was a tall woman, but even so she had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss him in such places. A man himself, he'd have preferred if she were on her knees, where he could see her bluish eyes better. They were of the color of the sea in the morning. "Where is your noble husband?"

His words made her break apart unceremoniously. He missed the warmth of her morning-breath on his sensitive spot.

However, she didn't seem displeased or angry. On the contrary, she smirked. It looked like he was seeing a female Loki in front of his very eyes. The blush returned to her cheeks.

"Inside… Enjoying himself in the company of my recently arrived cousin and Lord Loki."

Frandall had the audacity to look surprised himself. What could he say? It's not like Sigyn screamed at the top of her lungs she had a fling with Loki. Actually, he was sure her husband would've teared them both apart if he knew of her deviant inclination.

Or, should he say foolish inclination?

Sensing the unasked question, she smiled — and before him there wasn't the seductress she forced herself to be, but a lovely angel — and replied, "He's finally come to his senses."

There was a minute of silence between them as Frandall tried to reason with that amount of information. For a moment, he almost forgot what he came here to do.

Almost.

It's not like Sigyn and her nude body — her unashamed exhibitionism — helped either.

It didn't.

"I won't repeat myself, Lord Frandall…" She circled him, massaging his tense shoulders. Even if she didn't want to, she'd always be a temptress. "Would you care to join us? It's a lovely morning and you know how enthusiastic Loki is in the mornings."

He could've argued and stated he was enthusiastic at any time. There were three things he never saw Loki turn down: a good wine, a quick lie and a mind-blowing fuck.

"As much as I know it'll tear your heart to pieces, milady…" He removed her hand from his shoulders and brought it to his lips, lingering more than appropriate, or necessary, on the pulse point in her wrist. He then immediately let go of her hand and bowed mockingly. "I shall have to decline. Forgive me."

Sigyn frowned, not used to a Frandall who didn't turn everything down and tuned everyone out for good sex.

"We shall speak to Lord Loki."

Another voice. Deep and serious. All business-like cut the otherwise playful and seductive atmosphere.

Frandall took two steps backwards and gesticulated for Sigyn to get inside and cover herself. The time for games was over.

#

Loki was dressed in dark green breeches; a cream linen shirt lay half opened, showing his still sweaty chest as he checked a small gun and his precious daggers.

Contrary to expectation, considering he was a man given to the new technologies the world had to offer, he was quite averse to guns. Sure, they had their perks, useful indeed, but if he were to kill a man — and he suspected he was going through this course that very afternoon —, he would rather sink his daggers in his gut.

He all but ignored Frandall and Heimdall. Honestly, he did have a lot in mind and making small talk — as much as he was good at it — wasn't one of them.

In fact, he couldn't fathom the reason why they'd so insistently want to talk to him. Mainly because they knew what awaited them that very day after breakfast.

Their silence at first amused him, for Heimdall was usually a very forward man. Frandall, while a bit more recoiled since they came to live in the North, very frequently used to speak his mind as well.

So, their exchanged — and worried — glances were starting to get on his nerves.

He wondered if Coulson had killed himself. The little shit had reasons to fear him and anticipate his death, for he'd be spared no mercy.

If he did… Loki would make sure to kill him again. What wouldn't he give to have the power to resurrect people, so he could kill them again. And again. And again.

Loki faced them, his raven hair all messy and his brow furrowed in a not so pleased fashion.

"Out with it, shall we?" he snarled, out of patience.

His imagination running wild, he gripped the handle of his daggers until his tips ran out of blood.

Heimdall and Frandall exchanged another worried glance. It's true Loki didn't have any ties to his family in the South for quite a while now and that their relationship was strained at best. However… However, Loki was an unpredictable man; mad even — probably the reason why he rose to the top of the underworld in Bradford — and this unpredictability wasn't something either wanted to deal with right now.

Not when they were expanding business — and business in Bradford and Loki in the same sentence rarely meant something legal — and had a very important day ahead.

Not when Heimdall had just figured out how to turn legal all Loki's businesses. Even the darkest ones. It is, if the Lord was up to it.

What an amount of power and knowledge — and certain connections, of course — couldn't do for someone?

Ironic how a man who all but lived on the edge between worlds had a lawyer at his disposal. But Loki was nothing if not surprising. And logical.

As logical as madness could present itself.

A brilliant man nonetheless.

Heimdall rose from his seat, finally filling his cup with some whisky. He hated drinking so early in the morning, something neither Loki nor Frandall seemed to give a damn. In fact, he wondered if Frandall ever spent more than the hours in each he spent with Morpheus sober.

Contrary to him, they were men of vices. Sex, cigar and drink.

Not that a black man such as himself — heir to slaves and who only rose to the top thanks to a white man like Loki — could complain much about. Or give in luxuries such as honesty. As ironic as it may sound, considering his profession.

But he didn't dismiss a good whisky when needed. And he knew he needed it right now.

"There was a rebellion in one of the Colonies."

Loki furrowed his brow, unable to understand such frisson over something so small.

"Why would I care about such insignificant event in the uncivilized world?"

As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized the hidden message Heimdall was so subtly trying to convey.

His blue eyes hardened.

"Your father, Duke Odin, is believed to be dead."

There was no sharp intake of breath. There was no horrified reaction or even a tear cascading down his handsome face. He was emotionless. His very lines of expression sculpted in the finest marble.

All Loki felt was emptiness.

He realized he felt empty for a long while now.

A small smirk crossed his features as he considered his thoughts from earlier. The ability to play God and resurrect the dead so he could kill them again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

What wouldn't he do with such powers running through his veins?

The only visible reaction, and to his eyes only, was the fact his hands trembled slightly over the daggers. He forced them to stay still and when blatantly disobeyed, he flexed his fingers a few times and let his harm to fall loosely by his side.

He looked ahead, straight out at the window, his eyes as stormy as the day outside. Funny, because there wasn't a day in Bradford in which the sun shone brightly. Yet… Only now, in the sepulchral silence of his anteroom — the glass of whisky lying in his left hand; a golden ring with a capital L that scintillated more than the pale star above in the skies — he realized it… the void…

How was the last time he truly… honestly… felt something?

"Call my valet."

The words to leave his dried lips seemed to have shocked his companions. He himself felt a bit surprised — if not astonished — at his own lack of proper reaction.

Nevertheless… When did he ever do anything that was… proper? Or even expected of him?

Should he be happy?

Sad?

Mad even?

He looked at his trembling hand as if it was a foreign appendage. Was he even human? What were the current definitions the philosophy used to describe what was intrinsically human and its idiosyncrasies?

Were his very reactions classified as even human? Because Loki felt like an… alien — for the lack of better term. Not far from an animal, even though he felt above them.

"That's it?" Frandall interjected. He stepped closer, but Heimdall stopped him, a strong hand on his shoulder. That wasn't the best moment to confront Loki. Not when he had two daggers in his hand and the gun was at his reach. "Your father died and only God knows where Thor is right now and that's your only reaction?"

This time Loki's face contorted into one of a hurt animal. Eyes wild, he all but screamed for the whole manor to hear.

"He is NOT my father!"

There it was. The feeling he so long sought.

Anger.

If he were in full control of his faculties, he'd have smiled at the irony of his thoughts. In a moment he thought himself better than an animal and in the next he was behaving like one.

His chest heaved with exhaustion and something he wouldn't label as pain.

Emptiness, perhaps.

An unbearable sense of loss.

Over something he didn't think he still cared about. Something he forgot so many years ago in his youth.

Like a broken machine the new world was so fond of, he felt nothing inside.

Frandall stared at him and there was something Loki recognized as… pity.

He snarled.

And recovered from his illogical outburst. Any trace from the wounded animal — alien, he corrected himself — were gone. The man was back.

Odin wasn't his father. If he lived or died it wasn't his business.

"Call my valet," he demanded in a controlled voice. He was, once again, king of himself.

Nor Heimdall or Frandall moved an inch. Loki was frantically pacing the room, revising the next moves and talking to himself.

When he realized they were still in the same spot, as if frozen, he stared at them with crazy eyes, which basically attested his mental disability to deal with such news.

Which… in fact… only attested to the animal in him. And since when were man more human than animal?

"I'd have words abou—

"I believe," he stressed the word purposely, leaving Heimdall no room to speak, "we have unfinished business in the city, gentleman."

#

Dear Darcy,

We're moving to the North.

Jane pursed her lips and pressed her forehead against the glassy and cool surface. She had no one to talk to and no notebook to run through her equations and make some new appointments.

I didn't want to leave the South. I knew we had to — what else did we have left? — but I didn't want to.

It hurts Lady Frigga to stay in the same house her beloved husband — may God guard him wherever he is right now. You know I've never been a believer myself, but I think for her sake I should put into some effort.

She's an incredible woman, but to lose a husband and a son at the same time has mined her sprits. It was a huge blow after all; one I don't know she'll ever recover from.

Jane shifted her attention from the window and cast a glance at the older woman sitting in front of her. A small and sympathetic smile crossed over her features; her heart calling out to her… she didn't know how to call the Duchess anymore… but in the lack of better words, mother-in-law.

The word brought a bitter taste to her mouth.

Lady Frigga had her eyes closed. Jane didn't know if she were sleeping or not — it was something neither did very well in the last week. It probably wasn't a sleep devoid of any dreams — bad dreams, it is — but at least she managed to get some rest.

I, myself, don't want to talk about Thor. Or think about him. I spent the last week crying over him. At first, I was mad at him — he did promise to return to me — and then I cried myself every night to sleep.

Now I feel… Empty. And I hate this feeling with all my heart. To feel angry, to feel despair, to feel hopelessness, to feel hurt and destroyed is better than feeling nothing at all.

My logical mind is only stating the obvious… It's easier to deal with the pain right now if I… don't feel anything at all, but my heart refuses to go with it. Ironic, because my heart never had much trouble following my mind. It is another irony in itself I'm not keen on analyzing right now.

Thor… her dashing, beloved Thor was probably under the ocean, wrapped in a sweet lullaby that could only come from the most beautiful Sirens. Even though she didn't believe in mystical creatures. God, she didn't know the last time she believed God existed or prayed to him… But it was somehow poetic, considering last someone heard of him, he was still stuck in that ship towards the Colony.

And Lord Odin…

We've arrived at Bradford. A place known to be cold and gray and… just so dead. From the cabriolet carrying us to Lady Frigga's second son's house, I can see the horrible landscape. I mean… If it can be called a landscape at all.

I'll miss the morning walks and the night walks as well. I heard there — here — in the North the so called progress makes it impossible for someone to spot the stars. Well… with so much smoke coming from the fabrics I can't really fathom the reason why.

However, what I miss the most is your bright and improper comments. There — here, we're already here, sadly — in the North I shall have as company only Lady Frigga herself and her second son. And Erik, if I'm lucky enough to meet him.

The shrilling sounds all around them — the train leaving the station, vendors shouting in the streets, each louder than the other as they competed between themselves for the best selling, horses whinnying as carriages almost crashed in the chaotic and incomprehensive traffic — made Jane dismiss her earlier thoughts and realize they'd been standing in the middle of the street for some time now. A teenage boy knocked on her window; his dirty and battered face an indicative of someone asking for money.

Feeling sorry for so much misery — you see, in the South things were so very different —, Jane took a shilling and extended to him.

His angry expression didn't go unnoticed by her, who didn't understand him or his attitude at all. He waved her hand away in a very rude fashion.

"Excuse me, my lady," he spoke angrily. His voice showing signs of late adolescence, on the verge of childish undertones and manly raspiness. "I am no beggar."

Jane's mouth hung open, in a very unladylike gesture. She recoiled her hand, as if it had been severely burned. Or slapped, as was customary for tutors to do with their pupils. All of sudden, she felt very stupid — just like she did anytime someone reprimanded her for spending the majority of her time staring at the stars instead of looking at the ground, where commoners like her truly belonged.

"I just wanted to say it would be wise to leave the carriage, before it sinks completely down in the snow and mud."

"We can't just leave the carriage."

Translation: as perceptive she usually was, she didn't notice they were stuck. And only God knows for how long now.

Not to mention, there was still Lady Frigga to consider.

"Where is the coachman?" she asked instead, placing her head outside, but unable to see anything else.

It was just so… gray.

"Gone." And before her cryptic expression, he added, chewing what seemed like some kind of straw. "For a few minutes now. Looking for help, I guess."

By her side, Lady Frigga opened her eyes slowly. She was still very groggy from the medicine Jane made her drink every night before bed. At least one of them should be allowed to get some sleep.

She was sure her nightmares were nothing compared to those of her mother-in-law.

"What happened?" she asked, sitting properly on her seat. She smoothed her cream colored, velvety skirts. "Where's is Loki? Are we at my son's house already?"

"I am afraid not, Your Grace," Jane replied, exchanging a worried glance with the boy. He spat the straw, his eyebrows high on his head as he took in the name. It wasn't everyday someone claimed a close relationship to Lord Loki of Bradford. "We're…" She tried to choose the best words, but found herself looking frantically at the boy.

Lady Frigga moved Jane gently away from the window and cast a glance at the boy. Just like the lady before her, she produced money from her expensive purse and extended her gloved hand at him. This time, instead of one shilling, she gave him one guinea.

"Can you get us to my son?"

"To Lord Loki of Bradford?" he spoke slowly. He had a bewildered look in his black eyes.

One does not simply ask to see the Liesmith. Not even someone who claimed to be his mother. And a… A handsome lady he'd never seen around before. Was it his sister? Even though she bore no resemblance to him… He'd heard people from the South took a liking to keep their bastards around. A distant cousin… A fiancée, perhaps.

From the South… The young Lady's trusting looks indicated they could only come from the Southern lands. That and their polished accent, of course. Perhaps further down from London.

He never knew his Lord had any relatives. Not alive, at least. Wasn't the word out there that he had slaughtered his own blood and kin? If they were, indeed, his family, why did he never see them?

"Did you come for the Autumn Ball?"

Jane furrowed her brows.

"Is that even a thing here?"

Oh Gods. So, in spite of the depressive surroundings, it was no different from London. And Jane hated London as well.

The boy furrowed his brows. Why wouldn't that be a thing? Did people form the South forgot how to dance or the pleasures of a Ball? As for him, as he didn't do much dancing, he enjoyed it for the food — when he could snatch something away from the kitchens, of course — and the high-quality brandy.

Lady Frigga, however, wasn't even paying attention to them. She'd her lips pursed into a thin line. Loki of Bradford. The title sounded foreign to her ears. He was Loki Odinson. Like Thor before him. He was a son of Odin. He'd always be.

A most unwelcome sensation — painful beyond all measures — gripped her already sore and broken heart. He hated his family so much he chose to call himself Loki of some dirty and gray city instead of using his family name. The name given to him from the day Frigga first nursed him and welcomed him in the breast of her family.

Did it hurt to remember his days a member of her family? Did he hated being her son as he hated being Odin's son? Did he even know his father was presumably dead?

Did he, for fuck's sake, get any of her letters?

In her stupid and foolish heart, she still hoped for the best. The assumption was ridiculous in itself, for if he was indeed — if there was even the most remote chance of it being true — alive, why would she leave London and join her son in the cold and dull North?

Was it painful to remember he was an Odinson? Because he was. No matter how much he denied it. No matter how much Odin screamed at the top of his lungs Loki wasn't a son of his, he was an Odinson. He was as much his son as he was hers. Perhaps not by birth, not by blood, but by heart.

Fool were those who thought blood ties were stronger than the ones created by the heart.

And in her heart Loki would always be her son. No matter what happened. And no matter what he did.

Wisely, she chose not to comment on this, however.

A most disappointed smile crept on her mouth and she saw herself nodding.

"Do you work for him?" Frigga asked when there was no response from the boy.

He blinked again and closed his fingers around the coin. He could definitely find some use for that. His mother would be grateful he brought such a sum back home.

"Everyone works for him, milady," he replied and turned on his heels. Whomever those ladies were, he wasn't helping them hoop out of the carriage. "But sure, I can take you to him."

#

"Kneel."

From his standing position he seemed impossibly tall. And Phil Coulson wasn't a man one could call short. He couldn't even imagine how small he'd feel if he were to ever fall to his knees.

If…

You see. If it depended on him or his coworkers at S.H.I.E.L.D, he wouldn't suffer anymore at the hands of Loki of Bradford or the likes of him. It didn't mean someone thought he was a man to be taken lightly.

He wasn't.

Someone who rose to the top of the underworld in Bradford — no man's land — wasn't to be trifled with.

"Kneel."

Both his companions — one he knew to be Hawkeye and the other he wasn't very sure of his identity. And, of course, the watchful lawyer who protected a gangster — pulled the chains attached to his wrists and ankles, forcing him to an uncomfortable kneeling position.

"Isn't this much simpler?"

He gestured for Barton to pull the chains a little bit more roughly, pulling Coulson's legs apart in an odd angle.

The action was met with grinding teeth at first. But at Loki's gesture, the chains were pulled a bit more forcefully and finally — finally — an agonized scream — the sweetest symphony — reached Loki's ears.

That was some composition he took time and had pleasure listening to.

"I will tell you nothing."

There was a low and humorless laugh. At first at least. When the bloodied agent continued repeating the line nonstop, his amusement grew.

"But you see, Phil Coulson…" Loki touched his chin as if he were a benevolent shepherd looking over his sheep. "You have already told me enough."

And his fingers closed around his jaw, pressing it with enough force to break the bones. He let go a short while before and clasped his hands on his back, however.

Coulson spat blood.

He couldn't fathom what could've given him out.

Or who.

"If you don't release me now, people will start to wonder and, eventually, they will know."

His assertion brought a mad glint to Loki's eyes. He laughed. His head falling backwards with the spontaneous gesture.

"How naïve of you, Lord Coulson…" Loki rounded him like a mad dog, going back and forth so many times, he couldn't help but feel drowsy. "To think I'd have brought you here without notifying your peers."

His smile died on his stony face.

"They shall start looking for you tomorrow. Until there… I do hope you enjoy keeping Barton company. It's been a while since we've last had any illustrious visitor."

Coulson swallowed. Loki patted his bruised shoulder. A grimace took over his seemingly marred-by-pain-forever features.

"Think nothing of it, my friend. You aren't indebted to me. Not anymore."

#

A Ball…

A Ball…

For fuck's sake.

Even though Jane wasn't a woman inclined to curses — she let such predisposition for Darcy —, she felt like doing it.

She was tired. Lady Frigga was tired. Actually, she doubted the Duchess had any emotional condition whatsoever to engage in such social activity, but Lord Loki of Bradford — she couldn't begin to understand why he seemed so ashamed of bearing his family name, when, in truth, they should be the only ashamed to be related to him at all — couldn't simply dismiss them.

For all she knew, Lord Loki could burn in hell — if any of them believed in such fantasies. She, for one, didn't. And he probably didn't as well. She would keep in mind to ask him later — and by later, she meant another day. Hers was bad as it could get by having to attend to some nonsense Ball.

A man who behaved as a God himself certainly didn't believe in heaven and hell.

A man who (mis)behaved as the Devil incarnate couldn't believe in something greater than himself and his own (mis)deeds.

Truth be told, Jane Foster barely knew him, but what she'd heard from Thor, Duke Odin and Duchess Frigga gave her enough material to dislike him already.

That, and the fact that he didn't had the nerve to show up in his own Autumn Ball — whatever that meant, since she could hardly feel the change of seasons here in the stoic and dull North.

Lady Frigga, however, didn't judge him so harshly. Even after everything he did to Thor. Everything he did to destroy that lovely family who took her in their breast so unselfishly — apart from Lord Odin, but Jane didn't — or tried not to — harbor any hard feelings for him.

Motherly love, perhaps?

It didn't seem she couldn't find it in her to harbor any hard feelings for her son. And neither did Thor, if she were to be honest. Lord Odin — as little as she knew him, they'd hardly interacted in the months he came to visit his family — was the only one who couldn't forgive him for his misdeeds.

She turned her head slowly, focusing her attention back on the crowded Ballroom. The dim lights and loud, but softer music, echoed in the majestic space.

Wine and brandy — there was no fruit punch, she realized sadly, for she wouldn't engage in anything alcoholic given her terrible headache — trickled out of the decanters into eager cups. People here in the North appreciated a good drink, she'd to give them that.

Mischievous laughter and whispers sounded too loud and shrilling to her sensible hearing. That or the fact she seemed to be their hot and favorite new topic. She wondered how long till they found another far more exciting subject to gossip about.

It wasn't a wedding and people didn't seem happier here than back in London. Perhaps they were just as happy as they could be, and her own dark and depressed thoughts were the ones clouding the picture before her very eyes.

A few older ladies surrounded the Duchess, like bees attracted to the sweetest of honey. There were a few men as well. It wasn't everyday they could approach a Duchess as powerful and gracious as Lady Frigga.

Young couples danced to the slow waltz, steps matching perfectly as the profusion of soft, light colored dresses made of the most splendent silk and finest velvet blended with darker and somber colors from the men's attire.

From delicate and gloved wrists hung a small card with names of gentlemen for the next dances. Jane's was thankfully empty. It seemed the fact she was somewhat related to Lord Loki of Bradford — again what was it with this absence of family name? — made the illustrious gentleman invited to this Ball keep their distance.

It made her like him a bit more. But just a bit.

But it made her feel terribly lonely.

She'd never been a woman who'd die for a dance, but at the moment, she might just do it.

Feeling more depressed than when she arrived, Jane saw her chance to escape to the gardens as soon as Lady Frigga stared at her for the briefest of seconds before having her attention snatched away again.

A small smile curved her lips.

At least one of them was having some fun.

#

Shadows sculpted his handsome profile as he watched with sharp-like attention the crowded Ballroom from high above, in a dim-lighted balcony. Hands clasped behind his back, he observed every gesture and every move of lips in an attempt to decipher what he couldn't hear.

From his place, he could see his mother standing tall and proud among his guests. Even if almost a decade had gone by since he last saw her, he could see her beauty didn't diminish even a bit. Not even in the light of the difficult circumstances that brought her to him.

She looked up once or twice, as if expecting him to meet her eyes and acknowledge her presence.

He didn't.

As much as he loved her and wanted to circle his arms around her frame, crushing her in the tenderest of embraces, he knew it was best to keep his distance.

A few minutes and dances later, she gave up looking for him — even if she seemed to know exactly where he was.

She always did.

When he was but a brat playing hide and seek with Thor, he could hide for hours before someone could find him. The Duchess, however, was always one of the first to know where to look for.

He shifted his attention to the woman accompanying his mother.

Lady Jane Foster… Thor's woman.

A titleless, penniless teacher and nurse in the spare time.

A nobody.

He snorted.

And wondered why Thor fell in love with her. She was pleasing to the eye, sure — pretty — but not the classical beauty his oaf of a brother sought in the women he usually took to his bed.

More than that, he was engaged to her.

His thoughts were interrupted with a couple of soft and hurried steps approaching him. He thought it to be his mother, but Lady Frigga was never in a hurry.

"Lady Sigyn…" His voice was in its silkiest undertone when he took her gloved hand and brought it to his lips. "What do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

She blushed.

Loki chuckled.

For someone who could be so easily convinced to do what she did last night and that morning, the blush was so invigorating he couldn't help but smirk.

"I was asking around about our new guest… Miss Jane Foster."

He arched his eyebrows.

Ours…

"Do go on, my dear," he purred lightly, brushing a strand of silk blonde hair from her lovely face. His gloved hand drew the lightest of touches on her nude neck and the contour of her creamy clavicle.

She was so beautiful in her fairness, she could put to shame the most renowned Renaissance paint.

A marvelous piece of art indeed.

Her hands shot to his broad shoulders as his, positioned on the small of her back, brought her closer. She had the slimiest of waists that flared on the most gorgeous hips he'd had the pleasure of running his fingers over.

"Loki!" she breathed harshly through her nose when he skimmed her exposed skin with his eager lips.

"I am awaiting, my dear Lady Sigyn…" he purred; his blue eyes gleamed in the dark.

Fuck. He cared very little about Miss Foster. If he did want to know anything about her, he'd look for it himself. He didn't need Sigyn to do that kind of work.

And lastly, Heimdall did part of that work wondrously, bringing him all information he'd possibly need about Miss Foster as soon as they stepped inside his house — which was another surprise in itself.

"Nothing to concern ourselves about."

He could've said that was for him to decide, adding, of course, a my dear at the end of his sentence, but he decided to keep silent.

"I put word out there about her and I came back empty-handed. She's just a plain and boring teacher and nurse assistant from the South who can't be corrupted."

He broke apart unceremoniously and cast a glance at Miss Foster. Lady Sigyn was right, she didn't seem the type to be easily corrupted; it didn't mean it wouldn't be fun to try.

"Not even by me?" he asked with a smirk. His sharp and unmatched mind drawing plans with complexity that would put the spies for the Crown to shame.

He could've argued he managed to corrupt even her — the paragon of fairness and bashfulness. To corrupt a lowly girl from the South, a mere servant in the eyes of the whole ton wouldn't be that difficult — but decided against it. He didn't have time to point out Lady Sigyn was demurer than she gave herself credit for.

"Not even by you," she replied, pulling him to a kiss he didn't seem very keen on reciprocating; his eyes still focused on the incorruptible Miss Foster. When she realized he wasn't even trying, she blinked and broke apart. "Are you interested in her now?"

"Are you jealous?"

His smug tone hurt her more than she could put into words. She reached out to him, caressing his heart over the layers of expensively tailored fabrics he wore.

She'd give just about anything to have that heart to herself.

Not that she'd tell him that. He was arrogant enough without having her to boast his gigantic ego.

"I am a married woman."

His smirk fell. The smugness with it.

Icy, bluish eyes focused on her one last time before he took his leave.

"Then behave as such."

#

"A penny for your thoughts, my lady."

The deep and silk voice dragged her from her thoughts. In the dark and silent balcony facing the most beautiful garden she'd ever thought to see away from her beloved Hampshire, Jane whispered back.

"…studying the stars."

"May I?" The same voice sounded close to her again and this time she forced herself to take her eyes from the stars and look at him.

"Sure."

She surveyed his form: he was a tall man. Somber. As if a dark and dangerous aura emanated from him. And the smile on his lips did nothing to demote her from such assumption, however early it was.

He approached the baluster, supporting his weight on his elbows. Jane let her eyes fall on his hand. He pushed a glass of champagne towards her. She unwillingly took it and brought to her lips. Even if she didn't drink it immediately.

As if to assure he bore her no ill intentions, he sipped his own champagne lightly.

"I would not dare drug you, my fair Miss Foster." He reached for her gloved hand and brought it to his lips in the most gentlemanly of the gestures.

"A lady has to be sure, my Lord..."

All but ignoring her cue to reveal his identity, he lingered with her knuckles closer to his mouth. What wouldn't he give to feel her skin in the nude — and not just the skin of her hand.

His blue eyes took on the pinkish hue her cheeks suddenly acquired.

Lovely…

It'd be a most delightful experience to be the one to corrupt his brother's sweet fiancée.

And gorgeous.

It was one thing to spy on her looks from afar. From that close, he could see pretty didn't do her justice.

Unable to hold his intense gaze any longer, Jane cleared her throat.

"Would you…"

He smirked.

"Of course," he replied, the smile still on his lips. He let go of her hand, but not without bestowing upon her fingers the briefest of caresses. "You said you were studying the stars…"

He looked up, giving Jane the opportunity to stare at his profile. He wasn't only a tall and somber man. He was handsome. No… Handsome didn't do him justice. He was beautiful. Dark and thick eyebrows cast a shadow over the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. She wondered if in any other kind of illumination, they'd look different. Perhaps a clearer or darker blue? Then there was the aristocratic curve of his nose and the lips she'd had the briefest of contacts with before…

"See something you like, Miss Foster?"

Jane blinked twice; her whole face aflame. She noticed he was staring back at her, much closer than before. Much closer than appropriate.

His lips curved in the shadow of a devilish smirk.

He was thoroughly enjoying himself.

Heavens, talk about awkward.

She didn't know what to reply. What could she say? Was there even anything she could come up with to undo this mess? If she didn't like to be stared at so unashamed, she wondered it also applied to men.

However, Lord… — what was his name, anyway? — didn't seem bothered by it. On the contrary, it was as if he enjoyed it quite a bit.

Cornered — both figuratively and literally — Jane blurted out the first words that came to her mind.

"Are you sure there's even anything to like about yourself?"

Her words seemed to have stuck a nerve, for the smile faltered a bit…

…to come back with full force.

"Why, Miss Foster…" The way in which he spoke her name had her skin crawling with goosebumps. This man was definitely dangerous. His voice became lower as he uttered the next words; a silk whisper. "…are you any eager to find out? Shall we move to a more private chamber?"

"Your chambers?" she asked, her eyes widened at his bold suggestion.

She liked bold… — she detested propriety, a woman like her had nothing of decorum running through her veins — but that was just too much… bold.

"Mine or yours…" he purred, his lips so close to her ear, Jane had to bite her bottom lip. As if conscious of her discomfort, he broke apart. "I really have no preferences. It could even be here. You see, I'm a bit of an exhibitionist."

His smile made him look devilishly handsome. No man had ever approached her with such indecorous proposal. Her mouth hung open for a few seconds, till she closed it and looked ahead, towards the garden.

She thanked the cool breeze waltzing around them, for she didn't think her face could get any hotter. Or any redder. Thankfully, the dim lights didn't allow him a more private and thorough inspection of her mortified expression.

"How boring…" she finally found the force within herself to mutter. Out of the corner of her eyes, she watched as his eyebrows shot up in incredulity. "Is that the only way men have found to prove themselves?"

"Oh, my dear…" He laughed and rested his back against the baluster. He seemed relaxed. If he couldn't corrupt her, he'd die trying. She was just too much fun to tease. Was that the reason why Thor fell for her? No… Different from him, Thor would never treat her like a common whore. As for he himself… He believed all women were equal… Prone to displays of both appetizing and well-behaved affections. He was inclined to think Miss Foster fell in the first category. "Certainly not. But it's one of the most pleasurable means."

There was silence for a moment and both seemed to relax in each other's presence. At least, Jane seemed to. Loki hadn't felt that much comfortable around anyone in a while.

Miss Foster was… refreshing.

"We're talking about the stars," he offered after a while, returning to their topic. His eyes focused on the dark sky above. He was easily distracted by the sight of her delicate profile and rosy lips. As much as he admired the stars himself, no constellations could compete with her beauty.

"I didn't think it was possible to spot so many stars here in the North," she commented breathlessly. As if in awe. If there were anything more beautifully composed, she wouldn't know. She didn't want to know. What wouldn't she give to have her notebook to sketch the constellations above…

"I see you have made many assumptions about the North, Miss Foster…"

"Yes…"

Her answer was followed by silence. Loki clasped his hands behind his back.

"About its inhabitants as well, I presume."

"Yes…" she replied, thinking about Loki of Bradford. Her lips were set into a straight line. She was so very grateful she managed to evade him the whole night. She hoped to continue to do so. At least for a longer while.

To be in the company of this… smug and quick-witted stranger was the most unusual and pleasing event to happen to her in almost two months since she last saw Thor.

"Anyway…" she cleared her throat. She refused to think about her betrothed right now, least she wanted to end up crying. And Jane had shed far too many tears already. "I could use a telescope."

He was shoulder to shoulder with her. In fact, he didn't understand the need to be in constant touch with her. Perhaps it was the fact she was Thor's — and he'd love to snatch his fiery bride from under his nose — or the fact she gleamed when she talked about the stars… or how her light drew him in… Or the fact she was so delightful innocent he couldn't help but want to corrupt her till there was nothing of that happy and naïve glint in her brownish eyes… His forefinger slowly found its way to her chestnut hair, curling around a silk strand.

"If you want…"

His whispered words made Jane look at him expectantly.

"…I could show you the stars…"

There.

The entire the magic of the moment was broken and forced Jane to stare at him with widened eyes. Even if his own blue orbs didn't match the impropriety of his suggestion, she couldn't mistake it for innocence.

Oh, that nerve of a man!

How dare he!?

She pursed her lips again into a firm line and stared at him; chin up in a defiant gesture.

"Is that the only thing you men here in the North can think about?"

Realization slowly sunk on Loki…

…and his smirk returned with full force.

He could've said the ones in the South thought about it as well, some of them merely talked about it and acted on it… But they were, in essence, all the same.

As she continued to stare at him in that defiant way, he couldn't help but laugh. The sound coming out of his lips the most genuine he heard in a while.

And he found he liked how Miss Foster made him laugh.

"You have such fire, Miss Foster…" He ran the back of his fingers on her cheeks in a loving gesture. "I like it."

She broke apart unceremoniously, putting at least an arm of distance between them. Loki dropped his hand to his side. He missed her warmth already.

"However… And you'll have to forgive me, my lady…" He clasped his hands on his back and smirked. "It wasn't a figure of speech. In fact, I do have a telescope I could land you… In a manner of speaking, I could show you the stars."

Jane breathed very slowly. She couldn't even imagine how red her face was right now. Should she apologize? Could she? Perhaps she might. But… But she couldn't find it in herself to do so.

Heck, he was the one to come up with inappropriate suggestions. It wasn't her fault for assuming the worst.

"However… If you're interested…"

"Heavens, you're incorrigible!"

This time, he wasn't the one to laugh. She gladly accompanied him.

"I've been called worse."

The edge in his tone made her think that maybe… just maybe… he had been called stuff he didn't like or didn't think he deserve to.

"Who are you?" she felt like asking; her heart hammering against her ribcages. She feared the answer. A passing by Lord who would never come back again? A pauper man who would be thrown away rather quickly and harshly by Thor's brother? She had heard terrible stories of him — and in most of them he didn't deal well with those who didn't pay what was due. Perhaps this was a Lord who owed him a great deal?

She shook her head and repeated her question, "Who are you, really?"

"Loki…" He spoke slowly, eyeing her with rapt attention for very reaction. "Loki of Bradford at your disposal, my Lady."

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