“I will,” Loki said. “As soon as you admit that giving yourself to the King is completely preposterous.”
“It’s not preposterous,” I bristled. “I know it’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can come up with. I can’t let that painting come true.”
“How do you know that going with the King will change anything?” Loki countered.
“You didn’t see the painting. You don’t understand.”
“The only way to truly stop the painting is to kill the King,” Loki said. “And you’re the only one strong enough to do that.”
“But I don’t know how to,” I said. “And you’re strong. You can do it. I need to do something to divert the outcome of the painting until you can figure out how to stop him.”
“Wendy, if I could kill him, I would’ve done it by now,” Loki said with a lopsided smirk. “You know that.”
“It doesn’t matter.” I waved my hands and stepped away from him. “This isn’t open for discussion. I’ve decided what I’m going to do.”
“And you think I’ll just let you go?” Loki asked.
“Let me?” I glared at him. “You don’t ‘let’ me do anything.”
“You know I can stop you.” His eyes met mine evenly, and he stepped toward me. “I will do everything in my power to keep you from him.”
“Loki, he will kill us all,” I said emphatically. “The King will kill Tove and me and you. This is the only way I can protect us.”
“I don’t care,” Loki said. “I would rather die fighting him. I would rather see you die fighting, than knowing that you surrendered to him. You can’t give up.”
I lowered my eyes and swallowed. Tove stood off to the side. I’d hoped he would jump in, say something, but he didn’t.
“What do you propose I do?” I asked quietly, still staring at the ground.
“We’ve still got time until he’ll come for you,” Loki said. “Learn how to kill him, and when he comes, fight him.”
“What if we lose?” I asked. “What if I can’t stop him?”
“If you can’t stop him later, then you can’t stop him now,” Loki said. “Giving up now doesn’t mean you can stand up to him later. It just means you’re dead.”
I glanced over at Tove, who still kept silent, and I thought about what Loki said. I hated that I didn’t know what the right thing was. All I wanted to do was keep everyone safe, and I was terrified that if I made the wrong decision I would get us all killed.
“Okay,” I said finally and turned back to Loki. “I’ll stay for now. But you need to work twice as hard with Finn. The trackers must be prepared for whatever happens.”
“As you wish, Princess.” Loki smiled slightly, the corner of his mouth turning up. But something glowed behind the usual sparkle in his eyes, something deeper, burning. When he looked at me like that, my heart pounded so loudly I was certain he could hear it.
I became acutely aware of how close Loki was to me. He could reach out and touch me if he wanted, and I made sure to keep my arms firmly folded across my chest so I wouldn’t be tempted to do the same.
In a way, I had been grateful for all the chaos in the palace because I hadn’t had a chance to think about Loki, but with him standing here, I could think of nothing else but the night we’d spent together.
More than the things we’d done, the imprints burned into my skin from where he touched me, was the memory of what we’d actually shared. A moment where I’d never felt closer to anyone, as if the two of us had become one.
The painting flashed in my mind, the image of Loki skewered at the hands of my father, and I knew that I would do whatever it took to save him, even if it went against Loki’s wishes. I could not let him die.
“I trust you have much to do, Markis,” I said, numbly, and my cheeks flushed when I realized we’d been staring at each other for some time. With my husband watching.
“Of course.” Loki gave a quick nod and turned to leave.
Tove walked after him, closing the double doors behind Loki. Tove stood in front of them for a moment, leaning his forehead against the wood. When he turned back around to face me, he didn’t look at me. His mossy eyes flitted around the room, and he pushed up the sleeves on his pajama shirt.
“Is everything alright?” I asked carefully.
“Yes.” He furrowed his brow and shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m happy that you’re not going off to die. I don’t think I would like it if you died.”
“I wouldn’t like it if you died, either,” I said.
“But…” Tove trailed off, staring intently at a spot on the floor. “Are you in love with him?”
“What?” I asked, and my heart dropped to my stomach. “Why would you…” I wanted to argue, but the strength had gone out of my words.
“He’s in love with you.” He lifted his head and looked up at me. “Do you know that?”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I stammered. I walked over to the bed, needing to do something to busy myself, so I pulled up the sheets. “Loki is merely –”
“I see your auras,” Tove interrupted me, his voice firm but not angry. “His is silver, and yours is gold. But when you’re around each other, you both get a pink halo. Just now you were both glowing bright pink, and your auras intertwined.”
I stopped and didn’t say anything. What could I say to that? Tove could physically see how we felt about each other. I couldn’t deny it. I kept my back to him and waited for him to go on, for him to yell at me and accuse of me being a slut.
“I should be mad,” he said at length. “Or jealous. Shouldn’t I?’
“Tove, I’m sorry,” I said and looked back at him. “I never meant for this to happen.”
“I am jealous, but not the way I should be.” He shook his head. “He loves you, and I… I don’t.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “The other night, when I had the break down, and I hit you –”
“That wasn’t your fault,” I said quickly. “That never changed the way I felt about you.”
“No, I know,” he nodded. “But it got me thinking. I only have so much time before I completely lose it. These abilities, they’re going to keep eating at my brain until nothing is left.”