The length of the fall through the abyss between Yggdrasil’s branches cannot be expressed by any normal conception of time. Time has no meaning there and nor does space. It merely is. Not that Loki even possesses the presence of mind to be aware of his surroundings. The pain of being in a place where sentient life is not meant to exist is little compared to the pain of final and complete rejection. Odin Allfather has named him monster, and even the very act of trying to prove him wrong, to show that Aesir nurture had indeed tamed vile Jotun nature, merely showed that such a thing was impossible. No action of his would be enough. All his life he has been wrong, and in trying to do right it seemed he did the worst of all.
It is no longer any wonder that he has always been treated second best. Of course a monster could not adapt to Asgard’s ways, of course a monster could never be normal, could never be a true warrior. And Jotun are meant to be fierce fighters, so it seemed he failed even there. His own kind didn’t want him, a forsaken runt taken by Odin out of pity and the potential of a willing tool.
What a fool he had been, to think he ever had a family. To think he might have been able to earn his false-father’s love.
In this place beyond time he passes through darkness, his sight the first of his senses to be stripped away. He does not know when taste, or smell, or hearing leave him, for there is nothing in the abyss that he can use them upon. Touch is last, the awareness of his own body gone, leaving him trapped inside the poisonous curves of his own mind. There is nothing to occupy his thoughts but to dwell on the injustice of it all, to be enveloped by pain and anger and a bitter loathing, wishes of how it could have been.
When the abyss finally spits him out he returns to himself only slowly. He is far from any part of the Tree he knows, far from even the most adventurous paths he has walked. The stars are strange, and his magic weak. The journey seems to have drained him, and he allows himself to drift, aimless, in the faint light of a far-off foreign sun. He might be a monster but he is still a god and a sorcerer, and neither the cold of space nor the lack of anything to breathe can harm him, if he does not let them.
It is only by instinct that he does not let them.
Eventually, inevitably, he is discovered. He is barely aware of being brought to a floating fortress, a chill, desolate place carved from asteroids and metal similar to that used in Asgard, protected from the perils of space by a force-field of a type he does not recognise. Loki rouses himself sufficiently to examine it with the weary tendrils of his power, finding it devoid of magic. Mere science then. That is not to say that these people, strange grey-skinned creatures who seem to communicate without speech, do not have sorcerers of their own, merely that they do not incorporate seidr into their technology. Not so great a realm then as... As that which is no longer his home.
He is brought before a leader of some kind. He does not bother to resist. What would be the point? He is far, far from anything he knows, and too weak to do anything about it.
“What are you, I wonder?” the creature muses to itself, the first Loki has seen capable of speech, the words automatically translating through the All-tongue, magic divining meaning. “Strange pale thing – how are you still alive?”
Loki says nothing. It is better to observe and gather information – this much is habit, even if he can’t bring himself to care about the situation he is in. Everything inside him seems to have been flayed open and frozen, numb and empty as the wastes of Jotunheim. There is perhaps one slight, small glowing ember that remains and that is hate, because none of this would have happened if Thor had been worthy of the throne, or if Thor’s friends had not committed treason against their king (yet what else should he expect? Somehow they seem to have always known the monster that dwelt beneath this cuckoo-skin, for how else to explain their hate of him?). Yet even these memories seem shattered and confused after the abyss, sharp and jagged-edged as a broken mirror.
“No matter,” the creature says. “Let us take a look and see.” It reaches out to touch his temple and it does not quite occur to him to resist until it is too late. His drained seid is too little to keep out the mind that comes questing in. His self, his thoughts, his history are naught but pages in a book to be perused, examined, turned over and cast aside. He is distantly aware that his body has gone rigid, gasping for air in something like pain. Like pain, for he is not entirely capable of feeling such a thing yet. He has not quite returned to himself.
“You have been to the planet our master seeks,” the creature says, taking its hand away. It seems... satisfied. “The realm you call Midgard. You know a way there that we cannot take. This is good. You will be able to open a door. You will be able to retrieve the artefact.”
Loki may have been brought low, lost much, but he still has some pride. He is a prince, if not quite the Prince of Asgard he thought. He is royalty and he will not be used by some unknown race. He holds his head high, despite his exhaustion, despite the trembling in his limbs. “And why should I do this thing for you?” he asks.
“We will reward you richly for your services to us,” the alien creature tells him. “Knowledge, power, dominion over that far realm once we have what we desire. I have seen what it is you want, and it is in the power of the Chitauri to give it to you.”
“Oh,” Loki says, allowing his disbelief to show. “And what is it that I want?”
“Revenge. Revenge on the family who treated you ill and cast you out.”
“And if I refuse?”
The being reaches out again. This time Loki knows what is coming, this time he tries to block the intrusion, but his seid is still too weak, a frail pathetic thing barely clinging to his bones in exhaustion. The creature goes straight for the parts of his mind that link into his nervous system and agony explodes like arcing lightning through every part of his body. Now he remembers what it is to feel pain.
Loki screams. He does not stop screaming for some time.
When the pain stops, every muscle aches with the strain of constant contraction. He is lying on his back, staring up at the stars. The being stands over him, its arms folded calmly in front of it, hands tucked into the sleeves of its robe. Eyes can just be glimpsed in the darkness of its hood, catching a faint shine. Loki may have some difficulties reading its unfamiliar body language, but he knows avarice when he sees it. Pleasure too. Avarice for whatever ‘artefact’ it is they seek, and pleasure in having another being at its mercy.
Whatever these Chitauri are looking for, they want it desperately. Desperation is something Loki can use. Indeed, it seems he may have to use it if he wants to make it out of here alive. Pretend to agree for now, and search for escape when he can. Or wait until they trust him to go to Midgard. The artefact is likely to be a better prize that whatever they offer.
In honesty, he doubts this race can have much to teach him; he has long since made himself an ardent scholar of every scrap of knowledge he has ever come across in his travels. He is nigh unparalleled in seidr – only Odin and his mo- Frigga are greater. He has little use either for a world to rule – he has never wanted a throne. The idea of revenge... It pulls at something inside him, at the little ember of rage fuelled by pain. It becomes a... pleasant idea. But the promise of revenge will not make him abase himself as a servant.
“I will... consider... your offer,” he says, summoning strength enough to speak.
“Do not consider it for too long.” The Chitauri beckons; two of its subordinates come forward and take hold of him, pulling him to his feet. “I would not wish our methods of persuasion to break such a useful tool.”
Delving into his mind, it soon appears, is not all the Chitauri can do. He is strapped into a machine of their devising which seems to have the same nerve-stimulating effects. They leave him there for hours at a time, not even able to write in agony for how tightly he is tied down, pausing only occasionally to ask him to submit. It never quite reaches the heights of horror that his fall through the abyss managed, but the pain is unrelenting and unvarying. In many ways that makes it worse; he thinks he would manage it better if there were ups and downs, something to focus the mind on in different ways rather than this constant barrage.
His mind, his sense of self, fractured as it already was by the abyss seems to be splintering ever further. When he is even capable of rational thought every part of him is turned to rage and anger, and it is not particularly discerning in its targets. He hates his captors, he hates Thor, he hates Odin, he hates Laufey and he hates himself for being so weak to be caught in this trap.
At one point he surfaces from the torture to find the robed Chitauri from before standing over him again. Loki bares his teeth and wishes the creature were close enough to bite. He would eat of its flesh, quench his thirst with its blood, devour its soul to restore his seid.
“Have you considered our offer?” it asks. “If you will agree to serve us, all this can stop.”
He does not know how long it has been. It seems like a long time. He cannot remember what the Chitauri’s offer had even been.
It must have been the wrong thing to do, for him to refuse, mustn’t it? All this, he recalls vaguely from before, had been about doing the right thing, the Aesir thing. But trying to do the right thing has shown itself to be futile; it landed him here. No choice is the right choice. Therefore when everything he does is wrong, when everything is the sign of the monster he is, the only recourse is to embrace it. Chasing after the respect of Odin and Asgard gained him nothing. Perhaps the only way a monster can be happy is acting in accordance with its nature.
Also, it will make the pain stop.
“Fine,” he says. “I accept. Tell me what I have to do.”
The Chitauri desire the Tesseract. Loki could laugh, if his vocal cords were not so sore from screaming. He is a little surprised that he remembers so much about it, but then such knowledge is seid, and thus written onto his very bones, impossible to forget. The Tesseract is no mere power source, nor is it merely a device to allow movement across vast distances without recourse to the Bifrost, as this race seem to believe. It is an artefact passed down to Odin from his forefathers, from Ymir, from the very earliest days of the Nine Realms, long thought lost. It is something that had filled nursery tales in his youth – the crystallisation of Yggdrasil’s essence itself. In the right hands it can remake worlds. And these fools wish to use it for transportation.
So yes, Loki will help them, at least for a short while, because he has given his word and because they will hurt him if he does not. But he sees in this an opportunity to take his revenge. It seems that their skills in telepathy only allowed them to take his surface thoughts, the most recent memories; else they would already know how small are their ambitions. He will help them escape their restricting little corner of Yggdrasil’s outer twigs, and then he will take the Tesseract for his own. Still, it is not yet safe to plan, not when they might delve back into his mind at any time. He will wait to return to Midgard, where his thoughts will be his own.
In the meantime he accepts the fruits of the other terms of their agreement.
The knowledge they promise him, the so-called ‘secrets of the universe’ are hardly that. Oh, it is certainly a different perspective, and their science is certainly of an academic interest, but they have a rather inflated opinion of their own strength and advancement. He supposes it is inevitable, from creatures residing in such a backwater of the World Tree. They have no sense of scale. They have no knowledge of the deep mysteries, of the secrets of seidr that allow connection to and manipulation of the very fabric of the universe itself, the warp and weft of the loom-fabric of reality.
(He will burn their living flesh and dance on their bones.)
The power, on the other hand, is of more use. As the Tesseract embodies Yggdrasil, so the Chitauri have learned to extract a part of that power, even out here on the edge of things. Of course they can access only the smallest portion of it, yet it is still enough for weapons and vehicles, for them to give him a staff that will let him home in on the Tesseract’s location. There is something oddly pleasing in it being a spear. He supposes he associates it with the power of kingship, and it suits his fighting style when he is forced to resort to close combat more than a sword.
It is in gaining this weapon that he first meets the master of this realm, one these Chitauri do not name. He too is strange to Loki’s eyes, and while he may not have the scent of seid about him his mind is deep and vast and malevolent, his body strong as Asgardians are strong, his very being seemly tainted with energy echoingly similar to that of the Tesseract.
(This is the one who wants the cube, who caused his torture. Loki will take his time with him. He will pay back his agonies sevenfold.)
“So you are Loki, Prince of Asgard,” he says. Loki does not mistake the mockery.
“Of Asgard no longer,” he replies. “Say rather Loki of nowhere. Loki No-onesson.” Whatever pain there is in admitting it comes deep under layer upon layer of ice. It fuels a feral thing that has grown up in his heart.
“Do not mistake me for a being with mercy,” the nameless one says. “If you fail to fulfil our bargain, it shall not go well for you.”
Loki does his best not to laugh. What more can be done to him after all he has gone through?
“Perhaps you wish a demonstration?” The alien raises his hand.
Pain. Pain enough to shatter the ice, to spear through to the very heart of him. It seems that every molecule of his body cries out in shock and agony. He does not understand how it can be so great, worse than the abyss, worse than the rack. This is utterly unlike anything he has ever experienced.
When he comes to himself he is sprawled out on the floor, salty blood in his mouth and trickling from his nose.
“I believe I have made myself clear,” the alien says.
(You will die slowly and begging me for mercy.)
Though his seid remains weak after his fall Loki has enough power remaining to begin moulding his new weapon to his own will, tuning it to his frequency. It is a useful gift, though it has not the potency of either Gugnir or Mjolnir. Once he is done with it, it will allow him to amplify his powers, to focus them. It will allow him to begin the work of gathering information. It is not possible for him to travel the long, long ways to Midgard in his current state, but he has no need to. A mind, a sense of self, can go where physical form cannot.
So Loki builds constructs, spun from seid and Yggdrasil’s energy, and sends them out to find their echo realms away. They move through mirrors and reflections, borrowing form, listening, ever listening. They feed off the nearby Tesseract and then when they are strong enough they return to him and share what they have found.
Thus does Loki learn of SHIELD, of the mortal scientist Erik Selvig, of the Midgardians’ efforts to harness the Tesseract’s power both at the present moment and in their past. He learns of the hidden place the Tesseract is kept in. He learns from idle gossip of the ‘Avengers Initiative’ and somewhat of those the mortals term ‘superheroes’. It is not hard to begin to work a subtle weaving to touch the mind of this Selvig, to begin to whisper ways to rouse the Tesseract, to prepare the way. His passage must be made as easy as possible if he wishes to be able to actually do anything once he arrives.
(The mortals will die too if they try and interfere in his revenge.)
So does Loki gain knowledge, and plan, and ever hoard strength. His Chitauri liaison is not best pleased by the apparent slowness of his progress, but their intrusive mental scans now reveal only what he desires them to, and they cannot argue with the reality of the situation.
Certainly he is going as fast as possible. He has absolutely no desire to stay longer than he must in this miserable place. His room is little more than a cell, their food unpleasant and barely palatable. Without his seid to transmute the more deadly elements he might have starved by now, and it wastes his precious energy with every meal. He does not bother to cut his hair in its accustomed style, nor does he need to shave. He has never been able to grow a beard.
(Jotun monster. Soon he will show them what that means.)
There is little way to tell the passage of time in this place, but at least time does pass, unlike in the abyss. He marks the days by the growing strength of his hoarded magic, by the slow, certain pulse of energy like sap through Yggdrasil, mapping the universe. He fans the flames of his hate into a firestorm. Finally he deems himself ready.
The journey to Midgard has none of the ease of the days of his strength, despite the aid of the Tesseract’s energy. It is long and arduous, and his once-sure feet seem to slip upon the narrow path. To fall may very well be fatal, and he has not survived the abyss once already to let it take him a second time. Finally he reaches his destination, the central of Yggdrasil’s nine greatest boughs.
His arrival is in a great cloud of steaming cold; the chill between the stars that has never been able to hurt him. Much of his life makes greater sense with the revelation of the truth. The warmth of Midgard is strange on his skin after so long in cold places. He does not like being reminded of his last visit to this realm.
The movement of feet over solid flooring tell him that the mortal guards are moving to surround him, their weapons no doubt ready to strike. As though (a monster) a god has anything to fear. Loki rises. He thinks of what is to come, and a smile breaks across his face, wide and teeth-baring. The Tesseract is there, before his eyes.
“Sir, please put down the spear.” The man is loud, echoing within the metal walls of this vault. Loki looks at him and is struck with the heavy weight of memory, of another one-eyed man wielding a voice of authority. Though little else of his appearance is the same, for a moment Odin’s shade is before him.
(He condemned you to this! Destroy him!)
Loki recalls that he is armed, that his spear is in his hand. He calls on his seid.
The beam of energy that erupts from the weapon would have struck the man had the soldier beside him not thrust them both out of its path. Loki hesitates no longer. A long leap takes down the first of the mortal guards, the fire from their pathetic weapons shattering on Aesir-forged armour. His spear tastes its first blood. Two knives find the throats of another pair of mortals. Loki may not be a warrior by Asgard’s standards, but he has battled before, killed before. This is child’s play.
Another blast of magic, drawing on the nearby energy of the Tesseract, takes down another, followed by a slashing cut across the fifth’s throat. These Midgardians die too easily. Thor would say there is no honour in it. Yet is that not the monster’s lot, to defile the halls with a glut of blood and death? What little honour he had left after seidr and a coward’s knives has long since been wiped away.
(A monster cares not what he kills. Make them suffer as you have suffered.)
Once more the little projectile weapons fire, the little spits of metal no more effectual than biting flies. One hits above his collar; it barely hurts. A little seid scatters them. The next to attack is met by a boot to the chest, sending him flying. So fragile. So pathetic. No wonder his own barbaric kind sought to rule them. What warlord, what monster could resist?
All of a sudden he is left in silence. The mortals are scattered, their primitive machines in many places spitting sparks. Loki breathes deep, taking stock. Even such a small amount of magic use after his journey has left him more light-headed than he would like.
There! Movement. The brave soldier is getting to his feet. Loki is before him before he can reach for his weapon, grasping his wrist and twisting. He gauges the pressure it would take to break the bone – barely anything. He has met Asgardians who shake hands harder. There is something familiar about this mortal’s face. Perhaps one of his constructs saw him among the other little ants scurrying around this place. Yes, that seems right.
“You have heart.” And he will need servants to fulfil his needs on this realm. He does not need to look far into this one’s soul to see that he has much blood on his hands. How appropriate. He reaches out his spear, touching the tip to the man’s chest. He extends his will. It takes a surprising amount to sway the mortal to his own ends. Loyal are you? I will need loyalty.
There is one other mortal still alive, aside from the One-Eyed One and the scientist, and it is but little effort to overcome his heart as well. This one is much easier. His motives are monetary.
Loki allows the little lord to believe he is not watched as he removes the Tesseract for transport. He would not like to risk touching it yet himself. Not until he has had a chance to study it. The power might prove dangerous.
The little lord rises. “Please don’t,” Loki says, turning. “I still need that.”
“This doesn’t have to get any messier,” the mortal says, and it is not entirely bravado. He is truly keeping his calm. Extraordinary. Loki puts the pieces together in his mind. This must be Nick Fury. So far he is showing little to deserve his epithet. Mayhap it is of a sarcastic cant.
“Of course it does. I’ve come too far for anything else.” It’s more truthful than he meant it to be. He must remember who he is. He has lost much, but he is still Silvertongue, still Liesmith. “I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose.” Will the mortal read those words right, he wonders? For the nameless one’s geas is truly a burden, though one he soon intends to shed.
“Loki!” This time it is Selvig who speaks. Ah yes, the scientist. The would-be sorcerer, playing with things he cannot hope to understand, save for on a most superficial level. After all that Loki has whispered to him over the vast distances of space he will be easy to turn to his own ends. “Brother of Thor.”
(Thor! Traitorous fool! Willing to protect little mortals but not the one he calls brother!)
The rage that comes at the sound of That Name is more than he would have expected. What fools these mortals be. Brothers? Golden Thor, ever-beloved, brother to a monster? Nay, only Odin’s lies. If Selvig did not factor so heavily into his plans, he would strike him down where he stood.
“We have no quarrel with your people,” Fury says.
Hah, Loki wants to say. Even now my people are the monsters of your fairy-tales. He is aware of the legends of both Aesir and Jotun that persist even to this day. “An ant has no quarrel with a boot.”
“You planning to step on us?” Ah, a hint of a challenge. This ant has a spine.
“I come with glad tidings.” The lies slip from his lips like silk. “Of a world made free.”
“Free from what?”
“Freedom. Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart...” A demonstration perhaps. He turns upon Selvig, seid awaiting the command of his will. It is pitifully easy. “You will know peace.” For that is the truth he has found in the abyss. Fate cannot be fought. Nature will win true. A monster will always and forever be a monster.
“Yeah, you say peace,” Fury says. “I kinda think you mean the other thing.” Above his head the Tesseract’s energy swirls.
“Sir?” His new soldier speaks. “Director Fury is stalling. This place is about to blow; drop a hundred feet of rock on us. He means to bury us.”
“Like the Pharaohs of old.” A leader ready to sacrifice himself to halt a threat. Perhaps not all these mortals are without merit.
“He’s right.” Selvig this time. What good, loyal servants. “The portal’s collapsing in on itself. We’ve maybe two minutes before this goes critical.”
“Well then.” The soldier needs little in the way of instruction, seeming to pick up on the coming command subconsciously. Or perhaps he simply knows how this must go. His weapon leaves its sheath with great speed for a mortal. The weapon knocks the little lord from his feet. Loki makes for the exit, trusting his servants to pick up the Tesseract.
(They are his now. His to protect. His to keep.)
This has taken much out of him, more than he had hoped. Sudden pain and weariness overtakes him. Just a little further to go. He has his own guard now. Everything is proceeding as planned.
Loki knows more of Midgard than Thor, who in his arrogance and unthinking stupidity assumed that all worlds were either as Asgard was or else naught but backwards barbarian lands out of Odin’s tales – at least until seeing them for himself – and hence did not bother to learn of them. However there is still much that is unfamiliar to him. During his most recent and very short visit he had taken the time only to retrieve knowledge on the most appropriate form of dress for one of his station, scooping it from the mind of a nearby mortal. But there is much more to a realm than clothes. Listening in to the idle talk of those gathered around the Tesseract had helped, but they were mostly concerned with their work, and many of the references they made were meaningless without context.
This fact is only brought home by the leagues they travel once pursuit has been evaded and the base collapsed behind them. The surface the captured vehicle travels over is dark and paved with a substance that – if his magic tells him true – is derived from oil. It amazes him. Asgard has not had such a substance since eons past, and Jotunheim never. Loki only knows of its existence itself because it is mentioned in some of the very oldest books of magic, those that rather more closely match the science of this world. In such primitive ways of seidr it was a necessary ingredient in many spells and constructs. How far behind their own this world is!
(Primitive ants! Affection for them has made Thor soft. Killing them will be a worthy revenge.)
The cold night air washes over him, but it does not cause the chill that suddenly makes him shudder. A strange thing to feel, but he dismisses it as unimportant. Though t’would be better if it were caused by the cold, he thinks bitterly. Even in Aesir disguise he is still what he is. Jotun. Monster.
The vehicle that carries them is swift, near as fast as Sleipnir when he exerts himself. Like a chariot it has space at the back for him to stretch out, though he cannot imagine any mortal finding the wind of their passage comfortable. Strange little creatures. Little ants.
He makes himself comfortable. He will need to rest, gather his strength after the journey. Closer to Yggdrasil’s heart his magic will be swifter to return to him. Then he can begin to put his plans into action.
Loki is woken from half-dreaming some time later by the touch of a hand on his shoulder. It is light but he instantly alert, calling his seid to defend himself. However that is not necessary. It is only his little Midgardian servant, the soldier. They have stopped moving. The vehicle has come to a halt by a low building with an open wall-less courtyard covered by a roof. Machines three-quarters of his height sit in lines, and the whole place is lit by harsh yellow light.
“I thought you might be hungry boss. We had to stop for gas anyway, so I picked up a few things.” He passes over a bag made of something thin and slick. “I didn’t know what you like, sorry.”
A questing touch of seid reveals another oil-derivative. How common is the stuff in this realm, that they can use it so frivolously? Looking inside, he can see several small cakes wrapped in clear film printed with a variety of small words and the legend ‘Twinkie’, some kind of sandwich in a cardboard retainer, three packets of ‘beef jerky’ which seems to be dried meat, a clear bottle of water and another containing liquid the colour of pitch marked ‘Coca-Cola’.
This is all very strange. Not merely the Midgardians’ idea of food, which certainly seems to have changed greatly over the past few centuries, but the fact that his new servant anticipated his needs so swiftly. At ho... in the palace, servants had cleaned and waited tables and prepared food certainly, but they did not bring him anything unless he asked for it. Was it different, having a personal servant, or did mortals merely make particularly good ones?
“Where is Selvig?” he asks, opening the bottle of water. Not glass, as he had expected, but more of this malleable oil-stuff. He just hoped they didn’t put it in the food. The water tastes odd, and the balance of minerals is decidedly different from what he is used to, but it is perfectly palatable.
The soldier waves his hand in the direction of the building. “Paying and getting us coffee. It’s his turn to drive. I figure you’ll tell us where we need to go when we need to know, and until then getting as far away from SHIELD as possible sounds like a good idea.”
A smile curls Loki’s lips. “I am glad I chose you. Competency is hard to find in any realm.”
“I enjoy what I do,” the soldier says, matching his grin.
Loki extracts the sandwich and examines it for a moment before unwrapping it. “What is your name?” he asks.
“Agent Barton. Clint Barton, also known as Hawkeye.”
“Barton,” Loki turns it over in his mind. “Bart’s son?”
Barton shakes his head. “We’ve not used that naming custom in a long time boss. Besides, I couldn’t tell you either way. My parents died when I was a kid.” He says it the same way he says everything else. Calmly. Loki frowns.
“And that does not... bother you?”
Barton looks momentarily confused. “It did... before,” he says. “It’s in my file, but I never told anyone about it. I didn’t want to. But... it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”
Ah. One more side effect of the binding spell then. Certainly something to keep in mind. “Freedom,” he says quietly, mostly to himself. “Freedom from woes and pain.” Rather merciful really, for a monster. He shall have to remember to be nastier next time.
At this point the door of the little building opens and Selvig steps out. He ambles over towards them, holding a kind of recessed platter with three cups tucked into it. “Excellent!” Barton says, going over to meet him. “Caffeine!”
“This is the ‘coffee’ you spoke of?” Loki asks warily, noting the similarity of the root words. The All-tongue translates unfamiliar concepts strangely, conveying half the sounds of native language, half an almost sub-conscious sense of the meaning behind it.
“Do you want yours?” Barton asks. “It’s a stimulant, so if you’re planning on sleeping it might not be the best idea. Might not affect Asgardians though.”
“Aesir,” Loki corrects, though he does not mention that his biology is as alien to the Aesir as it is to the Midgardians. “Another time, I think. I still need to recover my strength.”
“You’re not cold back there?”
“No,” Loki says, looking down at the untouched sandwich in his hand. “Not at all.”
The next step of the plan is to find a way of harness the Tesseract to create a portal both large enough and stable enough to transport the Chitauri’s army. This requires equipment, which requires people to acquire and work on said equipment, which requires a further exertion of his powers. Selvig, while far from even a beginner when it comes to seidr, at least knows the capabilities of mortal science and technology. He can identify what they need, once Loki has explained the principles in small enough words.
It is easier, in the end, to simply dump the concepts straight into his brain through the channelling powers of his staff. Knowledge; that is the weakness of men like Selvig. Loki knows, for it is one of his own many weaknesses. Much he has learned, over the centuries, and much he has paid for it. Selvig is no different. It is even conceivable that he might have made a bargain such as this willingly, if given the choice.
(His most recent pain was payment for nothing. He will take what he is owed.)
The first request is for a primitive computation device, which merely indicates further that these Midgardians are barely capable of thinking for themselves. Compared to the elegance of constructs like Odin’s ravens, which can analyse and prioritise information from the entirety of the Nine Realms, this ‘laptop’ that he steals from a barely-guarded warehouse is like a child’s toy. Still, they work with what they have. He manages to acquire a few of the other items on Selvig’s list during the same trip.
The next thing is to find a safe place from which to work. Barton’s skill-set comes into use here. He is an assassin, a silent killer, and a ‘secret agent’ which means that he does the dirty, dishonourable work other mortals do not wish to sully their hands with. As such, he knows many appropriate locations, not to mention his knowledge of where they might find the manpower required to build and monitor the stabiliser device as well as do whatever other jobs might be required of them as Loki’s plan adapts to future circumstance.
Their new hideout is in the sewer system of a nearby city, damp and dank with walls of red brick. Loki keeps out the wet and the smell both with his seid, while Barton splices into the local power grid to power their machines. Loki leaves Selvig to his laptop while he and his soldier arrange how they will acquire scientists and mercenaries sufficient to their needs.
“SHIELD has plenty of enemies both domestic and international,” Barton explains, as they go through the list he has drawn up, making calls and arranging deals. Loki does not yet have quite the strength it would take to bind quite so many souls to him. Not yet. Money has a power of its own though, and that tends to by enough.
(If you own them they are yours and you cannot be a slave if you have slaves yourself.)
“This realm is still ruled by many petty warlords then?” Loki asks. For all that has changed in the past few centuries, other things seem to have remained the same.
Barton laughs. “I guess you could say that. It’s kind of a mess at times. Wars everywhere. Still, it makes plenty of work for folks like me.”
“I am beginning to think the Chitauri had the right idea of it,” Loki says. After all, who better to unite a world than a Prince? A Prince of Monsters, it is true, but... there is so much he could do with this realm. There is great potential here waiting to be unlocked, that much is plain. United, he could make this a world to rival Asgard!
But if he tried he would be doomed to failure. This much Loki knows, this much has been made violently clear to him. Trying to do good is not in his nature, and so it turns to dust and slips through his fingers. He has no wish to do that to Midgard. No, he will stay with his original plan which requires his failure. Let the Chitauri lose their war and take the Tesseract for himself. He will be content with power; he needs no realm.
“So tell me Agent Barton,” he says. “Of SHIELD’s capabilities. What forces could they muster to turn back an invasion?”
“What magnitude are we talking?”
“Perhaps two or three thousand, including several wings of small flying craft, and perhaps four-score war-beasts. Very large, well-armoured war-beasts.”
“Sounds tricky. The Helicarrier has decent firepower but it’d go down pretty quick against that lot. They would have to call on the US Army and Air force, and that would take a bit of time to scramble - to get into position. Unless they could get a nuke off from a distance, but things would have to be pretty damn fucked up to resort to that.”
Nuke – nuclear. Interesting. An old-fashioned sort of power source, but with the potential to impart massive destructive force, if one were willing to pay the price. So many of the old paths of seidr are like that. And the cost of that path is particularly terrible. Loki has never been tempted to meddle in such magics.
“What of this ‘Avengers Initiative’ I have heard discussed?”
Clint grins. It’s a harsh wolf-grin, a feral bearing of teeth. Loki finds himself liking this little mortal more and more. He is like a well-trained hunting hawk, ready to stoop upon its prey. “If I know Fury he’s already started to get the team together. They’re his pet project – I was meant to be part of it, before you claimed me. He’ll be glad of the excuse you’ve given him – though he’ll want to get the Tesseract back very badly as well.”
“A pragmatic leader then?”
“Very,” Barton says seriously. “SHIELD have a habit of doing whatever it takes.”
“I shall... remember that.”
(Hurt them! Hurt them before they have a chance to hurt you!)
“The first prospective team Fury drew up was Iron Man, the Hulk, ‘Tasha and me. Then we found Captain America, so he got added to the roster. Thor was put down as a maybe after New Mexico.”
Loki’s eyes narrow. “Fair warning,” he says, barely keeping his anger in check. “I react badly to that name. Do not speak it in my presence unless absolutely necessary.”
“Sure thing boss.” Suddenly an unexpected hand is on Loki’s shoulder. “Family can really fuck you up, I know.”
“Do you?” Loki spits, suddenly venomous. “They are not my family. My family was nothing but a lie.”
“You grew up with them though,” Barton says softly. “I know what that’s like. Family is at least as much what you find as what you’re born into. By bond, not by blood. For me, first it was the circus, and then later on SHIELD. ‘Tasha and Coulson, hell, even Fury a little.” For a moment confusion passes through his blue-hazed eyes, but it goes again as quickly as it came, and he smiles. “Actually since you took over from them, I guess that makes you my family now.”
For once in his life, Loki is speechless.
Re: Clint's referring to the spell's effects as 'brainwashing', he's quite aware that if it was earth-standard brainwashing he wouldn't actually be able to realise that it was affecting him, but he's not about to believe in magic either. It's just the most convenient way of describing it. 'Sufficiently advanced technology' and all that.
Clint has been trained to try and resist brainwashing. He’s seen other people who have managed to break their conditioning, hell, he even helped ‘Tasha get through what the Russians did to her. He understands Stockholm Syndrome and why it happens, he understands the theory of manipulating someone’s mind to your cause. This is nothing like any of that.
When Loki touched the sceptre to his chest it was like a wave of warmth had overwhelmed him. He had felt... loved. That’s the only possible way of putting it. There are leaders in human history whose very charisma and cult of personality have made people want to worship them, to get down on their knees with a burning desire to do whatever is asked of them, to fulfil every minor need of the one they want to serve, and in that moment he understood them perfectly. Loki is perfect. Loki is utterly deserving of his loyalty. He would give, will give, anything to make Loki happy.
And Loki doesn’t seem like a very happy kind of guy, which causes the brainwashed part of Clint a great deal of distress. At the start after escaping from SHIELD he had looked like crap, worn-out and exhausted, and that had just led to the part of him that he is going to think of as evil!Clint for the sake of his sanity going all ‘mother-hen’ on him and trying to feed him sandwiches. While actual Clint had been in no fucking mood to feel sorry for him, he did wonder why he was so beat up in the first place. Hell, he wondered a lot of things. Loki was an unknown quantity, and unknown quantities made him nervous.
Still, for all that most of him is happy to serve, Clint is still in here, which is better than the alternative. Some part of him is still self-aware enough to know that he didn’t choose this, that something is very wrong here. A part of him that belongs to himself, not to Loki. He can’t actually do anything, he can’t stop himself from doing what he thinks Loki would want. He’s just a little voice in the back of his own head. But at least it gives him hope that maybe this is reversible. That maybe there is a way out.
He thinks the thing that scares him most is how much he hasn’t changed. A large part of his job is killing people, and he never questioned all too much who they were or why they needed to die. SHIELD told him who his target was, and then he eliminated that target. Natasha is about the only exception to that, and only because something about her echoed with something in him. Like looking in a mirror. They are two of a kind, and however much he might have believed what he told her about killing for SHIELD being somehow morally better than killing for the FSB, in the end, however justified, murder is murder.
So really, what is the difference between killing who SHIELD tells him and killing who Loki tells him? That’s what makes it so hard to remember sometimes that this is wrong, that he’s been brainwashed by some kind of alien artefact. He tries to focus on ‘Tasha and Phil. God, Phil. He doesn’t even know if he’s alive. Phil was in the SHIELD base when Loki came through from where the fuck ever, and there’s no telling whether he made it out or not. Probably he did, because Clint can’t imagine something as simple as a collapsing building taking out Phil ‘Secret Ninja’ Coulson, but there’s no way of knowing. He can’t actually allow himself to think about the possibility of Phil being dead because if he does he’ll just go mad. He wouldn’t be able to cope with that on top of everything else.
He has to find a way to stay strong, to try and resist the allure of just giving in to the seductive pull of submission. He has to. For the man he loves, and the woman who’s like a sister to him. For his family.
Loki has told him to ‘acquire a solid pure-carbon substance’. Clint has no fucking idea what he intends to do with that, but it’s a simple and harmless-seeming enough request, so he doesn’t put much effort into trying to fight it. Sometimes he has this vague idea that he might be able to nudge evil!Clint into doing something slightly different to what he was planning to do, but it takes a lot of energy, and he can’t do it to anything really important for the plan. So he’s just waiting for the right opportunity, the right moment. And in the meantime he’ll buy Loki his stupid coal.
One express delivery to an abandoned building with good access to their sewer base later, and Clint is lugging a couple of heavy sacks down to join the rest of the equipment. “Where do you want ‘em Boss?” he calls out. Loki emerges from the shadows where he’s been lurking, clutching his sceptre. Clint has never seen him put the damn thing down for more than a few seconds. It’s kind of creepy.
Loki holds out his hand. The brainwashed part of Clint is pretty good at anticipating what Loki wants, even when he doesn’t have the sense to use actual words, so he slices through the heavy fabric and pulls out a lump of coal, tossing it to his master. (God, did Clint just think that in a non-sarcastic way? He really is fucked.) Loki smiles, and Clint feels a little shiver of pleasure go down his spine.
“We do need something to pay our new servants,” Loki says, laying his staff down on a nearby camp table (courtesy of Walmart) and folding his palms together over the coal. He closes his eyes, and his knuckles turn white with effort as he squeezes. Strange wisps of energy shifting in the colour spectrum between blue and green surround his hands, and for a moment the space between his fingers seems to glow white hot. When Loki opens his hands again it is to show Clint a tiny diamond glinting in the centre of his palm.
“I’m glad you’re impressed.” Loki says, and again there’s that warm rush of pleasure. Clint is trying not to forget that it isn’t real, that it isn’t actually coming from him, but it’s increasingly hard.
Clint glances back at the coal spilling from the open sack. “That’s going to buy us a lot of mercenaries,” he says.
“I believe they should arrive within the next few days, correct?”
“That’s the deal. I managed to get the cash for their up-front fee out of a coupla’ SHIELD expense accounts they hadn’t shut me out of yet, but we’ll need the diamonds when they get here. Mercs are expensive these days.”
“I trust you to handle the details,” Loki says. Stop feeling so happy, Clint tells himself. Complements from super-villains do not give us the warm fuzzies. Or in an ideal world they wouldn’t. Clint hates stupid Norse aliens.
Before long the base is teeming with well-armed professionals in tac gear and swarms of scientists in lab coats waving around clipboards and bits of shiny technology. The latter are mostly on loan from AIM and HYDRA in return for Loki letting them keep whatever research they do into the Tesseract. Not that he’s giving them much time to do any of said research. Building the portal machine is the top priority here, and Clint knows that Selvig for one is barely sleeping in his rush to force alien concepts and technology into a form compatible with Earth science.
At the moment Clint himself doesn’t have that much to do. He co-ordinates the watches guarding all the ways in and out of the tunnels, and he arranges for food deliveries and for any bits and bobs that turn out to be needed. But all in all, this doesn’t take up much of his time. It isn’t as though he’s prone to boredom – you can’t be a sniper if you aren’t prepared to spend days on end waiting – but his brainwashed self has this terrible urge to be useful. Evil!Clint gets all antsy when they’re not finding some way of making Loki happy.
However, because Clint is an ingenious son-of-a-bitch, he has come up with a way to use this to his advantage. It relies on a certain amount of double-think; basically as long as he can make a convincing argument to himself that something is for Loki’s good, he can do it, within reason. So far he’s been looking up Norse mythology on Wikipedia. Evil!Clint likes anything that will help them anticipate Loki’s needs, while Clint himself is hoping for some kind of information about strengths and weaknesses. That’s assuming that any of it can be trusted, of course.
Mind you, going by what he’s read, if it is true it’s very nearly enough to make him feel ever so slightly sorry for Loki. Because seriously, Asgard is pretty fucked up, and he doesn’t think it’s just the brainwashing making him think that. People having their lips sewn shut, snakes dripping acid venom on people, having your innocent kids killed for something you did... It’s enough to make the brainwashed part of him near incandescent with rage, and Clint as a rule is not much given to anger. But really, even if the Vikings got it right, that doesn’t exactly excuse trying to take over the world. Plenty of people have shitty, abusive childhoods and don’t become super-villains.
Okay there’s definitely a correlation and all, but that’s why places like the Vault and Ryker’s have so many therapists.
Asgard probably doesn’t have therapists.
Goddammit, he needs more information! He needs to know more of what Loki’s plan is, he needs to know his motives. Whatever his reasons are, they’re secondary to the problem of trying to stop him killing any more people. Clint can’t do very much, but his entire modus operandi is about being in the right place at the right time to apply the right amount of force. Usually in the shape of an arrow to the heart. He can do this.
He needs to ask Loki some questions.
If we know what the plan is, we can carry it out more efficiently, Clint tells himself, carefully not letting any other reasons slip through his mind. Loki shouldn’t have to worry about everything himself. And you know, talking about your problems is psychologically healthy. We want to be there for him. We want him to be happy.
The risk of this particular plan is that he actually starts to convince himself that all this is entirely true (rather than only partly true). There are times when he catches himself feeling sympathetic for Loki and he’s not entirely sure which part of him the thoughts come from. It is getting harder to tell where the brainwashing stops and he begins.
Just hang on, he thinks. Just keep on going. Until what, though? Until SHIELD comes to rescue him? Unlikely. Until Loki’s plan is complete? It’s not as though he’ll let Clint go once he’s done. He’s trying not to let it seem hopeless, but there’s not much of a light at the end of the tunnel here.
Anyway, he has a super-villain to interrogate. In the interests of making everyone involved more co-operative, he’s brought food. Donuts, to be precise. He always brings Phil donuts when he’s in a bad mood.
He’d just compared Loki to his lover, Clint realises, horrified. Bad thoughts, bad thoughts.
Too late to back out now though.
Loki is holed up in an alcove watching his minions scurrying about. He’s sitting on the steps, his hands clasped tightly around his sceptre. His face looks drawn and pale. He looks ill again. Maybe he hasn’t been getting enough sleep. Do Norse god-aliens sleep? Clint glances down at the donut box. Maybe he should have brought soup.
Get a grip! You’re thinking like brainwashed-you again!
As he gets close though, Clint sees that Loki isn’t really watching anything at all. He’s staring straight ahead, his eyes sort of glazed over. The crystal at the head of his staff is glowing faintly, releasing wisps of Tesseract energy as insubstantial as gas. Clint pauses. When people start checking out like this, it’s generally not a good sign.
He’s just wondering whether he could get away with waving a hand in front of Loki’s face when Loki comes back to himself. His head jerks to the side with a hiss of pain, and his breathing goes quick and harsh. Clint knows what it is to breathe like that, when you’re trying to hide that you’re hurt. He’s torn between wanting to go over and help somehow, and the knowledge that Loki’s pride will not thank him for it.
Loki looks up. He seems to be aware of what’s going on around him at least, though his mouth thins at seeing Clint standing there. There’s an awkward silence.
Fuck it, Clint thinks, and goes over.
“I brought you something to eat,” he says, holding the box out. Loki takes it cautiously, like he thinks it’s going to spring open and unleash some kind of trap.
“How thoughtful,” he says, with a clear hint of sarcasm.
“I just worry about you, Boss,” Clint says, and hates how earnest he sounds.
Loki shoots him a suspicious sideways glance, but he opens the box. “More Midgardian delicacies, I suppose,” he says, reaching in. He takes a bite out of a custard donut and makes a pleased noise. He eats like someone who has only just realised they’re hungry, taking massive bites and licking every last speck of sugar from his fingers. Clint finds himself slightly mesmerised by his tongue.
“So what’s the next step in the plan?” Clint asks, finally dragging his gaze away.
“Once the machine is ready Selvig will take it to the power source. As for you and I... let’s just say I have a revenge to take before I’m done.” Loki’s eyes are wide and feverish, and more than a little mad. “Not that such is my only vengeance, the only grievance that must be redressed. I have more than enough to go around. But this must come first; I’ll have my fun, though I must leave them in well enough shape to fight. That is for the second vengeance.” He smiles and suddenly reaches up to grab Clint’s wrist, pulling him down to sit on the cold brick beside him.
“Tell me, will Fury have gathered his band of lost souls yet?”
“I... yes. The timing is well within his projected scenarios. He’ll have them on the Helicarrier, waiting to catch our trail.”
“Your chosen ‘family’” – his expression is half sneer, half honest disbelief – “are amongst their number, are they not?”
“Yes.” This is in no way how Clint hoped this conversation would go.
“Tell me,” Loki says. “Tell me everything about them. The ways in which they are weak. The soft underbelly where they can be hurt. Open them up to me as you have opened the others of their pathetic troupe.” He pauses. “And tell me why they are worthy of you.”
Clint struggles, he fights, but he is already opening his mouth, words spilling forth uncontrollably. The pleasure of doing his master’s bidding is already lapping at the walls of his resistance. He is handing over the tools of his family’s destruction, and he has no idea how Loki intends to use them.
He can only listen to himself talk.
Loki listens and tries to banish the lingering aches of psychic pain.
(Again the Chitauri hurt you. Again they debase you. Once the Tesseract has been turned to your will, you shall turn their sun to ashes, you will trap them in eternal agony, you will unmake their planet and everything they hold dear.)
Barton’s voice is steady and oddly calming. The sweetmeats he brought with him have given Loki a boost of energy he badly needed. The Chitauri are ever watching him through the staff, leaving him little time free to plan their demise as it should be planned. Good revenge should be savoured. Nor can he speak to his servants as he might wish, lest he is overheard. But one revenge they certainly will not begrudge is revenge on Thor’s would-be allies.
Oh, of course he will not hurt them too much – they must be able to turn back the invasion force after all. But a little hurt will both make him feel better and serve to bring them together. Strength in adversity, was that not always the way? One of Asgard’s few proverbs, and proven enough in the example of Thor and his little band of warriors. Yet it did not do for Loki, always on the outside even after lending his wits and seid on their petty quests. No strength, no togetherness for the Jotun outcast, for the hidden monster.
But these so-called heroes are all monsters and freaks together, are they not? They have created themselves, or been created, through mortal science and it has left them with so very many insecurities, so many avenues of attack. Hurting them will be no challenge at all. The only challenge will be not striking too deeply, wounding them such that they will no longer be fit for purpose.
“Natasha is a lot like you,” Barton is saying. “You’ll need to be careful with her.”
“Like me?” Loki says, laughing. “There are none like me.”
Barton frowns. “She relies on people underestimating her,” he warns. “She’s clever, she uses trickery. She’s deadly and she won’t hesitate to strike a killing blow. She’s killed more people than me, and I’ve killed a lot of people.”
“You want me to stay away from her.” Loki sees the intent behind his words. “You don’t want me close enough to kill her.” Loki smiles, and reaches over to pat Barton’s cheek. “Clever, to try and get around my seid like that. Don’t worry. I have no intention of killing. That would spoil the fun entirely. Her life at least is safe from me, and that of your lover if you so wish it.” His hand wanders up to card through his little assassin’s hair. Hmm. Soft. “You do wish it, don’t you?”
Barton’s eyes slide half-closed, blissful. “I want what you want,” he says.
“I want you to tell me the truth.”
“Then no, I don’t want you to kill them.”
Loki smiles. “Not on my honour, for I have none, but on my seid. So I swear. I wish to be good to those who serve me, and you have served me so well.” Barton is leaning into his hand, hungry for affection. It is... pleasant, even if it is only due to the spell. Sudden whim takes him, and he leans his sceptre against the wall, leaning in to press a soft kiss to Barton’s forehead. He smells of strange human smells, coffee and sweat and the faintly scented soaps they use on their hair.
Barton nuzzles into Loki’s shoulder, and Loki lets him. The mortal’s ear is near enough his lips for the quietest whisper to carry.
“Because you are so good,” he says softly, ever so softly, “I will tell you what I am going to do. I have said I have an army, I do not want them, they are not mine. They will come here for their prize and you mortals will kill them for me. I wish no realm, I wish only to hurt those who have hurt me. Odin, Thor and the Chitauri. I will lose and then I will take the Tesseract and have my revenge, and so in losing I will win, because all I can do is lose. I am a monster playing a monster’s part, because there is nothing else, no other path of destiny before me save this.”
He draws back, takes up his sceptre and stands. Barton blinks up at him in confusion.
“Good boy,” Loki says, and walks away.
What the fuck? That’s pretty much the only reaction Clint can think of, sitting on the floor watching Loki stride off. A monster playing a monster’s part? The Chitauri? Loki speaks in riddles, and he is beginning to think that there is genuinely something wrong with his mental state. Was he like this before, as Thor’s brother? Clint was in New Mexico. He’s read all the reports, written a good few of them himself. Loki had been responsible for the metal war machine that had destroyed half the town, but before he left Thor had made no mention of madness. What changed between his journey back to Asgard and Loki’s arrival on Earth?
Loki has spoken before of the army he intends to bring through the portal they are creating, and now Clint has a name for them. The Chitauri. He’d thought the army belonged to Loki’s allies, but from what he just said it seems the god may not be working entirely of his own free will. But who would be powerful enough to make Loki do anything, he think indignantly, before realising that’s just evil!Clint thinking. Loki is far beyond any normal individual human, yes, but he’s hardly all powerful. Especially with how tired he’s been looking recently.
And is that indicative of something more? Perhaps whatever hold these Chitauri have on him? Clint thinks over what he’s been told, what he’s seen. Little clues. He’s always been observant. One possibility: The Chitauri want to invade and conquer Earth, and have forced Loki into clearing them a path. Loki doesn’t seem the type to allow anyone to make him do anything, so he’s plotting to... make them lose? Presumably he can’t just refuse to open the portal on pain of... something, so he’s going to make sure SHIELD and the Avengers Initiative are nice and close by to beat the crap out of the invasion force. That way the Chitauri’s failure won’t be his fault.
That makes a certain amount of sense, but Clint gets the feeling he’s still missing something here. Loki had called himself a monster, for one. And he’s talked of ruling Earth before, which seems an unlikely thing for the Chitauri to allow their tool. Although perhaps to set him up as a puppet... He at least looks human, whereas who knows about the Chitauri. Still, this seems deeper, more complex. The rough outline looks right, but the devil is in the details.
Anyway all this is enough to make him sure that Loki is perhaps not the threat he had thought. Oh Clint isn’t about to fool himself that he has any regard for human life. He’s a long-lived, possibly near immortal alien, and they are... Well, he said it himself, he thinks of them as ants. But if Loki is being forced into doing all this... Clint is currently in a position to know exactly how that feels.
I need to help him, he realises, for once both parts of himself, brainwashed and otherwise, in complete agreement. If I know the rest of his plan, we can set this up so the Chitauri die with a minimum of collateral damage. The minimum loss of human life.
‘I bring tidings of a world made free from freedom’, Loki had said, back in the SHIELD base. Had he been talking partly about himself even then?
Clint scrambles to his feet, full of renewed purpose. He’s going to get Loki out of the Chitauri’s hands, and goddammit, he’s going to save the world while he’s at it.
Perhaps it may not have been the best idea to confide in his servant, but really, Loki tells himself, there is no risk in it. The spell holds strong, and while it does there is no chance of Barton spilling his secrets to others. Nor will he be able to pity him if Loki orders him not to. He would be incapable of it.
And did it not feel good, to confess to someone who by virtue of his own seid cannot condemn him, or hate him, or turn away from him? Loki has ever been a private person, but that is at least partly by necessity. Thor never understood him, and Odin was a distant figure. And a liar, he must never forget that. Perhaps real fathers are different. It is true that Thor was ever closer to Odin than Loki was.
(Perhaps when you have caused Thor as much pain as he caused you, you will kill him, and send his broken body to Asgard. Let Odin know what it is to be torn away from someone you love, to have a family broken.)
It is a day before Barton comes to speak to him again, outside of normal reports on the state of their operation. Once more he is bearing a gift of food. It amuses Loki; does his archer think he is Volstagg the Voluminous, to be coaxed into happiness by what he can stuff into his belly? Not that he objects; though Asgard’s table has delicacies from across the Nine realms, they have little from Midgard, only old recipes from the time of war with Jotunheim. Midgard has changed much since then, and they have many intriguing morsels for him to try. Though Loki is accustomed to suppressing his hunger when he has to, seid requires a great deal of energy, and his real appetite can be quite... prodigious.
“What have you brought me today?” he asks, peering at the little plastic tub.
“Baklava,” Barton replies, holding it out. “It’s made with honey and nuts; I thought it might be a little more like what you’re used to. Mead is made with honey right, so....”
Loki lifts out one of the little sweetmeats, dripping and half-sticking down to the bottom of the box. He takes a delicate bite and cannot hold back a moan of pleasure. If these are the delights Midgard has to offer, perhaps he will stay here for a while after this is over. Servants are easy to acquire, as is Midgardian money, and with the Tesseract his magic will be such that none in this realm can harm him.
“What you said before,” Barton says, “if there’s any way I can help you, if I can make things easier...”
Of course his words have aroused the protective instincts his seid has given them. He should have known. “So long as you continue to play your part in the plan as admirably as you have, all will be well.”
His soldier’s eyes flick to the sceptre by his side. Good, he is smart enough to realise the dangers of talking freely. Such a clever little one this. He is glad he took him from his previous masters. It would have been a true shame to kill him. Barton looks frustrated. Clearly he has questions.
And it would be good, would it not, to be able to rely on one of his servants to understand the hidden meanings behind his actions. To know that there would be no confusion, no misunderstandings. That Barton would not, in trying to anticipate his wishes, accidentally damage his true plan.
Loki pushes the sceptre a little further away from him. It will be harder to do without being able to channel the Tesseract’s energy, but the expenditure of his seid will be worth it. He reaches out to cup the side of Barton’s head again. His soldier looks up, perhaps expecting another kiss. Loki smiles, and pushes in with his seid.
This is far easier when you have the experience of it being done to yourself. He slips into Barton’s mind, seeing the shimmering over-layer created by his spell, seeing beneath if the archer’s own self, battered and beginning to seep into the spell around the edges, but still strong. Loki delves deep, threading seid behind him. Down to subconscious levels, where he halts, and begins to build a link. A chain, a thread, to go between their minds and allow them to speak without words. A channel of communication the Chitauri cannot track, not from so very far away.
Clint is blinking in confusion when Loki releases him.
You may ask you questions now, Loki says, testing the link. For none shall hear but you and I.
“What did you..?” Clint asks, before thinking better of it. Telepathy? He asks. You can just give someone that?
A channel between our minds, Loki replies. I repeat, ask your questions. And, so we look less suspicious, come sit with me again.
Barton does as he’s told. Loki pulls him down further so that his head is resting in his lap. His fingers wind through the mortal’s hair once more. Let Barton think perhaps that the connection is stronger with the contact, let Loki tell himself that it is just for the look of the thing. In all truth, he enjoyed doing this the day before, and he has never been good at denying his wants.
Barton settles into it, twisting to a more comfortable position, resting his hand lightly on Loki’s thigh. Loki hardly needs his new-wrought connection to feel the waves of bliss echoing through the outer seid-binding.
You could have... oh this is nice, Clint says, mind to mind. You could have come to SHIELD for help. If we knew what the Chitauri were doing, if we knew they planned to come to Earth, we could have done something. Worked together.
Even if I did not wish to take my revenge on my false-brother through you, through hurting his latest pets, his latest toys, Loki says bitterly, do you truly think my words would have been believed? I know my reputation, I know what Thor must have said of me to your kind. Allow Loki-Liesmith access to the Tesseract, to your new-won jewel and weapon? I think not.
I suppose that’s true, Clint says, regretfully. Well if all you have is me, I want to help you. I don’t particularly want this world to be invaded and conquered. What kind of hold do the Chitauri have over you anyway?
Loki’s hand stills for a second. I shall not speak of my time with them, he says viciously. It was not pleasant, to say the least. He resumes his petting, trying to sooth away the memory of pain. His heart burns with hate.
They hurt you! So fierce and protective, little hawk. He can feel the archer’s muscles stiffen against his side, an instinctive readiness for action.
Yes, and we will hurt them back, Loki thinks, dark and terrible.
They’re the monsters, not you, Clint says to him, with earnestness bought of seid. Why did you call yourself that, it’s clear you’re nothing of the sort.
Anger is replaced by hurt, bitter hate turning in on itself. Loki feels once again the pain of being nothing more than what he is. His little archer knows nothing of true monsters. He is ignorant in his innocence.
If you saw my true face you would not say that!
Barton twists to look up at him, blue-shone eyes showing nothing but curiosity. No fear. Loki realises that with the seid, he will be incapable of hating him, of shunning him, from looking away in horror. No matter what his true reaction might otherwise be, in this time and place Loki’s foul Jotun heritage means nothing.
He cannot decide how it makes him feel.
“I am not of Asgard,” he says, aloud. The Chitauri already know all this. “Not truly. Odin lied to me; he stole me as a babe from Jotunheim in the last days of our war. He wanted to use me, perhaps if only to see if my kind are evil by nature or by culture.” He is caught up in his memories, barely even aware of what he’s saying. “I suppose I proved the former on that count. Everything I tried to do, to make him proud of me, to make him love me was futile. Thor, the true Aesir son, always came first. I am a monster, and I can’t fight that. I can only play the role that destiny lays out for me.”
Barton sits up and for a moment Loki thinks that even through the seid-spell he is disgusted enough to pull away. But then he leans forwards to pull him into a hug. It’s the first embrace Loki has received since... he cannot even remember.
“Destiny is bullshit,” Barton says. “You don’t have to be anything you don’t want to, I don’t care what you are. I’ll help you, I’ll do whatever you want.”
“Would you kill me, if I asked you to?” Loki says, not quite knowing what makes the words spill uncontrollably from his mouth.
Loki chokes back a laugh. Stupidly, foolishly loyal. He lets himself relax into his servant’s arms, and tries not to think about the magic that makes it so.
In which Clint has a plan, Loki does not understand the function of seatbelts, and Thor and Loki have a bitter confrontation.
Though obviously Loki has thought through his means of revenge very clearly, Clint has also been doing a little planning of his own. If he’s going to help Loki, he’ll need to get the information about the Chitauri out to someone who can actually do something about it, and that means the Avengers Initiative and SHIELD. Easier said than done of course, considering they know he’s been compromised. He won’t be able to go through any of the normal channels. But Loki spoke of taking a personal revenge on them. That means he’ll want to get close. Clint is sure, though he doesn’t know details yet at this point, that he can find a way to be there at the same time.
And then what? He’s still mostly brainwashed. Although he’s managed to get around most of the effects due to the simple fact that both sides of him are working towards the same goals, that doesn’t change the fact that he is pretty much the opposite of objective right now. He can’t be 100% sure he’s doing all this of his own free will, or that he’d be doing it all if he was in his right mind. He thinks he would. He’d like to think he would.
And that’s not even getting into the fact that he’s still a traitor to SHIELD, which is an unpleasant thing to think about. This isn’t just something he can snap out of, he hasn’t the faintest idea if it’s anything like the more common, human, types of conditioning that can be undone with time and careful handling, if you’re lucky. It’s possible only Loki can undo it, and that’s clearly not going to happen.
Clint could tell Loki about his plan. Make an argument that coming from him with the brainwashing removed, with his head free and clear, as himself and as a once-trusted member of SHIELD the information will be taken seriously. That he could convince Fury that Loki’s intentions are, if not good then not actively malicious. But the problem is he isn’t exactly 100% confident it would work himself. If would be far too easy for SHIELD to dismiss it as Stockholm Syndrome, as the brainwashing still being there on a sub-conscious level, and how could he prove that it’s not? He isn’t sure himself that it’s not, that it hasn’t got into the part of him he thought was safe without him knowing about it.
It is the only workable plan he has though. And he’s running out of time. Erik Selvig has reported that the machine is very nearly finished, only a few of the rarer and harder to come by components remaining. Clint has to talk to Loki and get him to see that they can get out of this with a good outcome.
He’s just making his way through the central area of their secret base when Selvig calls to him, waving him over to the machine assembly area with the wrench he’s holding. “Agent Barton! I’m in need of your expert assistance.”
Clint picks his way through the maze of tables and wires and computer terminals. The machine itself is enclosed in its own little space behind walls of clear plastic. Selvig is wearing the same clothes as the day they left the SHIELD complex, and he’s been shaving erratically. Several days worth of stubble coat his chin. Yet he seems cheerful for all that. Brainwashing again, though when it comes to his work, Clint has the suspicious that such behaviour is not entirely out of character.
“If you need me to lift something heavy I can do that,” Clint says, “but anything more complex is a little out of my area.”
Selvig laughs. “It’s about the last components for the device,” he says. “These folks you’ve hired have been very helpful, but this last... It’ll be a bit trickier. The information is on the tablet to your right.” He directs a couple of the HYDRA scientists to the other end of the machine. “Where did you find all these people?”
“SHIELD has no shortage of enemies Doctor,” Clint says, picking up the tablet he’s been directed to, a heavy military-issue thing built for resilience rather than convenience. There’s a face on the screen, and a floating, slowly turning image of some kind of metallic substance. Science stuff. He turns it to show Selvig. “This the stuff you need?”
“Yeah, iridium,” Erik replies, pitching his voice to carry from where he’s messing about with more bits of metal and nuts and bolts and tools. “It’s found in meteorites; it forms anti-protons. It’s very hard to get hold of.”
Clint hopes he doesn’t expect him to understand whatever techno-babble he’s talking about. Clint’s own technical knowledge is limited to weaponry specs and things that go boom. There hadn’t really been much time for schoolwork in the carny lifestyle, and while he’s certainly not stupid, the only learning he gives a shit about is stuff with the potential to save his life.
It’s that kind of learning that’s going through his mind as he flicks through the information on their target, the scientist who keeps the biggest supply of iridium on the planet in his high-security lab. There are maps, there are blueprints, there’s even the man’s schedule – whoever they paid to put this together is good. This is everything he’ll need to break in and steal the stuff, though the most efficient and fast way to do it is somewhat... bloody.
“Especially if SHIELD knows you need it,” he says. Well, he’s guessing, but it makes sense. Selvig is hardly the only person they had working on the Tesseract, and it’s not like the Avengers Initiative is short of geniuses. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are both clever enough to figure out this sort of thing.
“Well I didn’t know,” Selvig says, spreading his arms wide. He seems slightly manic. It’s probably due to lack of sleep. Clint has experience that sort of thing on long missions before. “Hey!” he says, suddenly switching his gaze to a point over Clint’s left shoulder. It only takes a moment of Clint’s awareness to identify Loki approaching. It’s in the slight creak of leather, the chink of metal on metal, the vaguely unearthly scent of snow and ozone.
“The Tesseract has shown me so much,” Selvig says, “It’s more than knowledge, it’s... truth.”
“I know,” Loki says. He sounds better, confident and self-assured. Less ragged than he has on previous occasions, less unstable as well. Clint hopes it’s a good sign. As if reading his thoughts – which may be possible, Clint doesn’t exactly know how this link thing works – Loki turns to him and asks, “What did it show you Agent Barton?”
“My next target,” he replies. True enough, though hardly even scratching the surface of this whole fucked-up situation. He knows he’s going to have to kill people on this next mission. Innocents who have nothing whatsoever to do with the world of superheroes and aliens who claim to be gods. But it’s necessary to finish the machine, and that is necessary to end the threat of the Chitauri. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis, and he’s always been skilled at those. SHIELD is a very pragmatic agency.
“Tell me what you need,” Loki says, and even though the brainwashed part of him is particularly sensitive to it, Clint doesn’t think he’s imaging the tenderness in his voice. He’s glad, both parts of him. He’s helped, at least in part.
Clint pops the lid on the case for one of the latest toys the mercs have brought them. It’s the latest in archery technology, and the bow unfolds with a snap of his wrist. “I need a distraction,” he says, thinking of the perfect night, the perfect moment. “And an eyeball.”
“An eyeball,” Loki asks, looking amused.
“The lab has a retinal scanner,” Clint explains. “It reads the eye so only certain people have access.” He has no idea whether they have that kind of thing in Asgard. Probably something more high-tech. Probably they call it magic. “So I’ll need his eyeball. Whether it’s still attached or not is irrelevant.”
Have I told you how refreshing I find your lack of mortal morals, Loki tells him in his head.
Morality is a luxury for people in my line of work, Clint thinks back. Whatever gets the job done.
Loki smiles, showing too many teeth. Again, if he were human Clint would be seriously concerned about his mental health. But perhaps it’s different for aliens. He’s not even the same species as Thor, apparently, so it’s impossible to draw a comparison there. This must be the first time in Clint’s life that he’s wanted to know more about the inner workings of warrior cultures. Context might explain a lot.
“I’d appreciate it if we could go over your plan though,” he says out loud. “When are you planning on taking on the Avengers?”
“Oh, I thought I might let them capture me after I’ve enacted your distraction,” Loki says. “You’d be surprised how much I can get done from inside a cell.” And limiting me will perhaps stop me from going too far in my revenge, he adds through the mental link.
Oh, great. This is far too soon. It’ll be hard enough to convince them of his story and Loki’s somewhat-good intentions anyway without them being exposed to Loki’s sharp tongue and whatever unpleasantness he has planned. “I thought you’d just send in some of the hired muscle,” he says cautiously. “Not go yourself.”
“Oh well that’s no fun,” Loki replies. “I really ought to make an impression on those I’m destined to rule.” He taps the tip of his sceptre lightly against Clint’s shoulder. Ah. Speaking for their audience again.
“What about escape?”
“You’ll have to help me there. I’m sure a man of your... ingenuity can find a way.”
Well yes, probably, but it’ll involve killing a lot of SHIELD agents which is absolutely not in Clint’s plan. It’s not that I’m objecting, he thinks furiously, but I’m sure there’s a better way to achieve your goals.
Perhaps. What is it you would have me do Clint Barton?
Clint is only going to have one shot at this, so he’d better be convincing. He starts to explain his idea.
Loki assembles his Midgardian ensemble carefully. Much as on his previous visit to this realm, he wishes to project an aura of confident power, of natural authority. A princely mien, in other words. Midgard may no longer be ruled by royalty, he is told, but they have nobility all the same, though it is formed by wealth as much as by birth. Thus does he present himself. Prince of nowhere, yet still a prince.
Not wishing to waste a great deal of seid in transporting Barton, himself and the men his little hawk has chosen across continents, they travel through mortal means, their faces cloaked from recognition by a simple spell, much easier than the alternative. More diamonds buy first class tickets on an ‘airplane’, a great wrought-metal machine capable of flight. It is heavy and ungainly compared to Aesir means of travel, not to mention far more cramped, but it suffices. More onerous are the multitude of indignities they are forced to undergo for the privilege, though the pathetic Midgardian technology is easy enough to fool. His men shall have their weapons.
(They should not dare to lay hands upon him. If he were but free to act as he pleased, he would tear each finger from their hands separately and slowly.)
The trip is slow, but Loki has always been capable of amusing himself. He runs through the mental frameworks for seid-workings as the hours pass, and considers the plan his pet soldier has proposed. It is fair enough, and costs him nothing. A full revenge on Thor and Asgard is best put off for a later day in any case. Let them think his intentions pure. Let them think they have misjudged him. All the sweeter to betray their trust.
Another ‘car’ is hired once they have landed and passed through more tiresome mortal security, and thus Barton drops him off at the building in the centre of this town of Stuttgart where the man whose eyeball he needs is to be found. Loki straightens his clothing back into perfection with another touch of seid, and makes sure to face one of the mortals’ surveillance devices, as omniscient as Huggin and Munnin, as he allows his glamour to fall, as well as the weavings that turn away Heimdall’s gaze. Barton has told him SHIELD will be watching, and as for Heimdall, well, he is always watching.
The building is finely lit, well laid out and certainly not a bad specimen of architecture, considering which realm is its builder. Delicate music emanates from stringed instruments, filling the air with a certain sweetness. Loki finds it pleasing to the ear. Swarms of finely clad little mortals bustle around in the central hall, chattering to one another meaninglessly. Little fools. Naive little fools.
(They are weak. They would deserve what is coming for them. But revenge is sweeter than teaching fools a lesson.)
His target steps up to the speaking area. At this very moment Barton is beginning his invasion of the laboratory building. A mere touch of their mental link sends the image of a guard falling to a silent arrow flashing into his mind. Good. Very good. Everything is very nearly in place, and then this shall begin.
His sceptre reformed into something a little more in keeping with Midgard, Loki makes his way along the balcony, his steady steps measuring out the time before he must strike. A painting takes up most of the wall to his right, but he does not take the time to appreciate it. Perhaps when all this is over, when the Tesseract is his... but for now there is blood to be shed. Still, this realm is not devoid of culture, or pretty things.
The man has begun his speech as Loki descends the stairs. He has no idea of what is coming, and Loki finds the thought of his unpreparedness rather satisfying. This trick may have more menace than the pranks he played before his fall, but he is going to enjoy seeing the looks on their silly little faces. He flips the sceptre in his hand, taking hold nearer the end and choosing a mortal to get things started.
The long length of solid star-metal takes the mortal under the jaw with enough force to lift him off his feet. He goes flying, sprawling back against the cold stone. The scientist turns, the Midgardians begin to back away, not yet seeing, the sheer unexpected not yet sinking in to their slow little brains. Loki grabs his target by the back of his neck. Mortal strength is no match for his own, be it Aesir or Jotun. It is as easy as handling a pup of one of Asgard’s great hunting dogs.
Loki drags the man across the room, to the stone altar that dominates the centre of the hall, flipping him over onto its surface. An appropriate place for an offering of blood, of a part of a self. Parallels echo across Loki’s mind like splinters from a dropped glass shattering on the floor. An eye for knowledge. What knowledge shall he give this mortal? A sacrifice, even unwillingly given, ought to be appropriately paid for.
The matter transfer device is a prototype made by Selvig and those who take the name HYDRA, completed by Loki himself. He pulls it from the pocket of his suit jacket with a flourish, holding it high for his audience to see. A twist of seid flicks it open and he takes a moment to send his mind questing along his link to Barton in both question and signal.
Miles away, his soldier holds the device’s twin up to the lock.
Loki stabs downwards. Blades whirr, blood spays, the man jerks and screams. Seid/ fastens onto mortal flesh like a ravenous beast, surges power, begins the transfer of matter across space. All around the foolish Midgardians finally realise the danger they’re in. They scream, they scramble for the exits, they flee in a chaotic rush like a startled shoal of fish. Loki cannot stop the wide grin that spreads across his face, nor would he want to.
(Yes. Yes. This is it. This is all you have been waiting for, all you have wanted. Let them feel fear. Let them know pain. Let them run and tell their realm that Loki is come to show them the world’s truth.)
Clint’s mental voice breaks across his thoughts. We’re through boss. Lab’s wide open. Loki takes a moment to share in his archer’s satisfaction, but only a moment. If his earlier appearance to the cameras did not summon SHIELD, this surely will. He must make sure that they are easily able to find him.
He pulls the machine away from the ruined mess of the scientist’s eye and drops it, no longer needed. He places a palm over the man’s forehead and pushes in. The mortal has lost consciousness from the pain, which makes things easier. Loki leaves behind his payment. When the man wakes, he will know the most basic secrets of seidr’s path. What he chooses to do with it is his own business.
Seid banishes his mortal guise; summons back his leathers, his chain, his armour. Sets his helmet upon his brow. The curving horns are a somehow comforting weight. Princely power settles around his shoulders like a cloak, and he gathers all of Thor’s oft-seen arrogance in preparation for his latest performance. Time to lie.
He has no real interest in ruling this world. He does not wish the responsibilities of doing so; to rule badly would be beneath his pride. But the Chitauri must think he desires his promised reward.
In the end, the Midgardian soldiers arrive far sooner than Loki expected. Whatever their mode of transport, it must be much faster than that available to civilians. He has barely begun to impress a tyrant’s will upon this little gathering of mortals before a man clad in red, blue and white is blocking his seid and another type of flying craft is menacing him from the sky. If it were not his plan to submit to them here, he might laugh. Though his seid is perhaps a third as strong now as it was before in Asgard, before the trials of the Chitauri and the abyss near drained it entirely, it would be no real challenge to take these few down. Still, he must make it look good.
A bolt of seid channelled through his sceptre makes the craft dodge aside, breaking the aim of whatever pitiful weapons it had pointing at him and allowing him to leap into the attack. Judging by the colours and the shield forged of some intriguing star-metal alloy this must be the fabled Captain America, legendary hero of Midgard. Let him see how a hero faces up against a god.
Loki allows the Captain to have the first blow, testing. The strike is surprising in its strength. No ordinary mortal this. Loki swings the sceptre in fierce, punishing arcs, not yet drawing on his seid. The third catches the man low, sends him slamming back against the low wall at the edge of the courtyard. The Captain retaliates by tossing his shield, but Loki bats it casually from the air. He really was hoping for something a little more challenging than this.
The mortal has some degree of speed though, Loki notes as they come to blows once more. He dodges several more swipes from the sceptre before another one hits him, knocking the breath out of him. Loki strides over, places the butt of his staff to the back of his head. How easy it would be to kill him in this moment, to crush his head with a burst of seid, or in manner less lethal to take his form and twist, pulling forth some other shape, an animal perhaps, leaving his mind trapped. Yet there would be no point – Thor has no kind of connection to this man yet that his death would cause him pain. And besides, he is needed.
“Kneel,” he says, taking pleasure at least in this. For all the man’s fine words, all his pride, force makes even him submit. Force will make anyone submit.
His words prick the mortal’s pride enough for him to recover some of his strength. The Captain’s hand comes up pushing the sceptre aside, and he leaps to his feet, his leg coming up in a high kick that takes Loki across the mouth. There is enough mass behind it to force him back, though it doesn’t break skin, and certainly won’t bruise.
There is something pleasing about having a spirited opponent, at least. If his own hawk has heart, so too does this man. It is worthy of him to continue fighting an opponent so much stronger than he is, one he must know by now he can barely hurt. The Captain attacks again, and Loki throws him across the courtyard.
Suddenly music blasts out, filling the air with an oppressive racket. If indeed it can be called music; it has little in common with the smooth strings from earlier.
“Shoot to thrill, play to kill, I got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will,” the harsh-toned voice sings out, roaring over deep thrumming beats. It’s near feral, with a savageness befitting a war-song. It is, he admits, more like what he was expecting from this realm.
Loki looks to the skies. Something is approaching at high speed, leaving a contrail behind it. A blast of energy shoots from the figure’s hands and hits him full in the chest. Loki flies backwards, his spine impacting roughly against the edges of nearby steps.
Now that had some kick to it! Perhaps these mortal soldiers, these Avengers, will be able to defeat the Chitauri after all. He’d been beginning to wonder.
The Iron Man – for such it must be – rises from his landing position, raising his weapons. “Make a move Reindeer Games,” he says, in some strange reference that Loki does not understand and does not particularly care to understand. Captain America retrieves his shield and comes to stand beside him. Loki calls upon his seid, though not to attack, though it would be easy to do it. They have tasted only the merest, most basic modes of battle available to him. Instead he dismisses his armour, his helm, returns it to that between-space where he keeps those items he cannot trust to any lesser vault.
He raises his hands, palms outwards, in a gesture of surrender. Let them think him cowed. Let them believe he is outmatched.
The Iron Man powers down his weapons, which is unbelievably foolish of him. Loki may appear disarmed, but surely Thor told them before he left of his powers of seidr. A seidmenn is never unarmed. Loki could remove all the air from a meter wide space about both their heads merely by crooking his fingers.
What fools these mortals be!
Still, he allows them to take him. That is what he has come for. And with Hiemdall’s vision unblocked, very soon Thor will be coming for him. Then he can begin his revenge. Mind, his hurts will be nothing to what the Chitauri would do to them, given the chance. When this is all over, really, they ought to be thanking him for his mercy.
Until, of course, he shows Thor’s new friends, his new comrades in arms, his true strength.
You okay there, boss? Clint asks him through their mental link.
Everything is proceeding according to plan, Loki replies. They are currently speeding back towards SHIELD’s citadel, or wherever their main base of operations is. Of course they have bound him to his seat, though barely. More for show than anything, for the little straps would do nothing to hold him did he not wish it.
At the front of the craft, his captors talk amongst themselves. They are fractious, uncomfortable with each other. Divided. Their war-band is so newly formed; they have not yet fought together, not yet been bound in the bloodied bonds of battle. As they are, they will strike the Chitauri’s army and shatter like a badly-forged blade. It will not do.
The craft shakes abruptly as thunder and lightning fill the skies. Loki feels a chill go through him. Thor is coming. Odin All-father has sent him to Midgard. Anger rises like a flood. A lifetime fighting alongside Thor, trying to prove himself worthy to the one he thought was his father, all meant nothing compared to the truth of his birth, the truth of his monstrous nature. Never to be Thor’s equal. Never to have any hope of being worthy. When the throne had fallen to him out of necessity, he was betrayed and overthrown within the space of days. All ending in his fall, and an endless agony of pain. He has a right to be angry!
(Everything done to you springs from him. From his arrogance, from his glory. Tear him down. Pull him into the dirt alongside you and grind down his heart and soul until nothing is left but a shadow.)
“What’s the matter,” the Captain asks, “scared of a little lightning?”
“I’m not overly fond of what follows,” Loki replies. His gaze seems irresistibly drawn to the sky above, though of course he cannot see out of this thick shell of metal.
The craft jerks again, more violently this time, and there is the unmistakable sound of an impact against the wing. He is here. The Iron Man grabs his helmet and slips it on, striding forward as though he truly thinks he can take on a god. Well, perhaps Loki gave him something of a misleading impression. A slap of a button sends the door in the plane’s rear hissing open. Arrogant fool. Bad as Thor himself, Loki thinks viciously.
Thor lands on the ramp so nicely spread out for him with a clank of Mjolnir striking inferior metal. There’s an icy determination on his face that sends something almost like fear shooting through Loki. But that’s foolishness. Nothing Asgard can do to him can be as bad as what’s already been done.
Thor strikes the Iron Man a hefty blow to the chest before the mortal can think of attacking him. The Midgardian flies back, and Thor reaches down to pull Loki bodily from his seat. The feeble straps tear around him. Thor’s hand is strong and crushing on his neck. All he would have to do would be to squeeze; not enough to kill him, but enough to make things very difficult. Has he miscalculated? Has Odin told Thor of his Jotun heritage, and if so has that been enough to awaken his hate enough to strike him down? Will Thor slay the monster that has pretended to be his kin for so long?
Thor pulls them out into open air, his fist clasped around Mjolnir’s haft letting him direct their flight. They are over mountains and forests, a desolate, isolated place. They fall, a long, curving arc that brings them to land on the side of a rocky hill, a landing Thor does not bother to make easy. Loki is dragged over stony ground for several metres at high speed before they come to a stop.
He cannot help but be reminded of the last time they were in this position, back on the Bifrost, Thor standing over him and placing Mjolnir’s unmovable weight on his chest. Will he do the same now? Or will he drive the hammer into Loki’s ribs, into Loki’s heart. Kill the treacherous Jotun beast. He starts to laugh.
“Where is the Tesseract,” Thor demands. Loki hates him, hates every part of him, the sound of his voice, his golden hair, his foolish face, the over-wrought bulk of his frame. It is bitter and poisonous, and all he wants to do is turn it outwards, turn it onto his once-brother, drown him in it like forcing his face down into a brackish pool.
(Hurt him. Hurt him.)
“I’ve missed you too,” he says, unsure himself whether it is truth or lie.
“Do I look to be in a gaming mood!” So angry. So ferocious. Does he think to scare Loki into truth? After everything he’s been through? Kill a few hundred, a few thousand Jotnar and that is nothing, kill a few Midgardians, and that is enough to rouse his rage? He should have killed more.
“Oh you should thank me,” he says, beginning to rise. “With the Bifrost gone, how much dark energy did the All-father have to muster to conjure you here? Your precious Earth.” And does he really think Odin would have spared the effort, were it not for Loki? Odin knows all that the Tesseract can do. He is right to be worried.
Thor drops Mjolnir with a thud. Loki once again finds himself gripped around the neck, though at the back this time. Thor is close, too close. Loki wants to reach out and tear into him, sink his nails into flesh, turn himself into a wolf so he can rip and bite.
(Spread his entrails across the mountainside! Tattoo runes of ancient agony into his skin with his own blood!)
“I thought you dead.”
“Did you mourn?” Loki asks.
Thor hesitates for a moment. “We all did.”
Thor’s problem ever has been that he is too stupid to know when he’s lying. Oh, Loki is sure he thinks Asgard mourned for its curséd lost son, but only because he was not capable of looking past an outward show of false sincerity. Too willing to believe the lies of others. Too willing to believe the lies of Odin. To willing to believe...
Loki cuts him off with a whispered “Shhh.” No. He will hear no more of the All-father’s lies, passed from others’ lips. “Your father.” That much it seems is enough to make Thor let go of him. Of course. To be reminded of just what he is touching. Of the foul taint that lurks beneath Loki’s skin. “He did tell you my true parentage, did he not?” He walks away, trying to put some distance between them before the viciousness he can feel lurking gets the better of him and he acts before he is ready.
“You are my brother,” Thor insists. “We were raised together, we played together, we fought together. Do you remember none of that?”
Oh I do, Loki wants to say. I remember it very differently from how you seem to. Besides, it is clear enough it meant nothing in the end. Not to Odin, who repudiated him at the end. Not to anyone else in Asgard. “I remember a shadow,” he says instead. “Living in the shade of your greatness. I remember you tossing me into an abyss, I who was and should be king!” All the pain is rushing out of him in a flood, a heady mix of words to push this fool away from him. All he wants is to hurt him in return. There is no love between them anymore. It is gone, soured like old milk. Rotted into something foul.
“So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights?”
No, I take it to hurt you! But Thor will not believe the truth of anything Loki does here, and besides even with the staff gone, the Chitauri may have other ways of watching such a key confrontation as this. And Thor of course dismisses him, dismisses the disgust and subtle torments of the court and Thor’s own bosom companions as nothing more than fancies. As more of Loki’s lies.
Loki wants to scream.
“No, the Earth is under my protection Loki,” Thor says, and Loki has to laugh instead. Thor has no idea of what is coming, no idea of why Loki allowed himself to be seen so that Thor himself would be sent.
“And you’re doing a marvellous job with that,” he replies. “The humans slaughter each other in droves while you idly fret! I mean to rule them.” And if that were true, he could hardly make the place worse than it already is. But he has no intention of sacrificing his own ends to improve the lives of a few short-lived mortals. “And why should I not?”
“You think yourself above them?”
“Then you miss the truth of ruling brother!” And perhaps he does. After all, what does a monster know of such things? Yet even a monster may guard fiercely what it owns, as a dragon guards its hoard. “A throne would suit you ill.”
Loki hisses out his anger, striking Thor on his way past, striding off again. Distance, he must remember distance; else he will break Thor before he has fulfilled his purpose. “I’ve seen worlds you’ve never known about,” he says, near shouting. “I have grown, Odinson, in my exile.” Grown, and been broken apart, and come together once more. Grown into a hollow shell of a thing. Grown into hatred and hurt. “I have seen the true power of the Tesseract, and when I wield it...”
(Worlds will burn. Galaxies will fall as to dust.)
“Who showed you this power?” Thor demands. So they... they knew already who had found him? Knew of the Chitauri, knew what was done to him and what... care nothing? “Who controls the would-be king?” Or do they only guess. Half-truths, half-seen. Still it is another basin of sharp vinegar poured over open wounds.
“I am a king!” Loki shouts, suddenly desperate in that moment to assert his lineage. Or perhaps merely to prove that that at least the Chitauri could not take from him. No power can take away his blood, Laufey’s blood, for good or ill.
“Not here!” Thor replies, shoving him back. “You give up the Tesseract, you give up this poisonous dream!” He is scanning Loki’s eyes, Loki’s face, looking for what Loki does not know. Does he think words will stop all that has already been set in motion? Does he think words could protect him from the Chitauri’s wrath if he does not do this thing? “You come home,” Thor says, and Loki takes cold delight in the edge of brokenness seeping into his voice.
Loki smiles, a momentary humourless laugh caught between his teeth. He shakes his head, denying all kinship. He has no home, and if he did it certainly would not be Asgard. In truth, Asgard was never his home. Besides... “I don’t have it,” he says. Thor steps back, a snarl of rage twisting his lips. Mjolnir flies to his upraised hand.
“You need the cube to bring me home,” Loki continues, “but I’ve sent it off, I know not where!” Of course, it would be simple enough to ask Clint, who follows on behind for a while more, but he will not do that.
“Listen well brother,” Thor says, raising his hammer.
It is at that moment that a bolt of metal comes rocketing from out of the sky and slams Thor off the mountainside. Loki grins. It appears the Iron Man is less than pleased about an arrogant Aesir stealing his prisoner. Oh, this is going to be fun.
We're getting to the part where things start going a little more AU. This is mostly Clint's positive influence, with the intention of making the Avengers view Loki more positively, ie. less like a supervillan. Once we draw even with where the movie ends, I am intending on having a couple of chapters where Loki tries to deal with some of his issues, hopefully leading up to a somewhat happy ending. But we shall see where it goes.
The confrontation between the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor is very entertaining to watch, but like all good things it must eventually come to an end. That end comes with the natural explosion of force that might be expected when Mjolnir’s uru metal clashes with the force-absorbing species of star-metal that makes up the soldier’s shield, something Thor himself ought to have realised had his ego not gotten the better of him. But then he never did pay as much attention as he ought in their lessons.
An uneasy truce is reached after that, and Thor and the two so-called Avengers make their way back up the mountain to where Loki is waiting for them. Although they must surely find it odd that he has made no move to escape, they say nothing of it. Loki smiles at them, enjoying the mortals’ wary suspicion. These people clearly have a long, long way to go before they can call themselves a team. They are fractious, egotistical, arrogant... all Thor’s faults reflected and magnified. But they will learn.
Thor does not try to speak to him again during the trip, and Loki would not have answered him if he did. Words have always been one of his best weapons, his role the diplomat rather than the warrior. If he were to unleash his tongue now he would strike too deeply, break this nascent team apart before it began. That is not what he wants. He cannot allow the roiling maelstrom of black emotion in his belly to rule him.
(You could though. You should. Sully that golden shine, drown it in the sticky tide of spilled blood.)
His sceptre is close by, held by these so-called heroes. Kept safe from him, or so they think. They do not know that he can touch its power from a distance, at least in part. Much like his link to Barton, he can view the world through its eyes, has he need. That is how he intends to watch the chaos he plans on causing. What use is a little revenge, a little chaos, if you aren’t there to witness it?
It is not much longer a flight before they arrive at what turns out to be a floating fortress. This had indeed been one of a variety of possibilities Barton had informed him of and in fact the most likely, but he is pleased to see it nonetheless. That which soars can so easily be brought crashing to the ground, though only the threat of such is in his plan.
Guards greet them once they land. The air here so high up is thin and rarefied, but Loki has survived the emptiness of space. A few moments of this are barely noticeable. He checks on his link to Barton, making sure the connection is still strong at such a distance. Communication will be essential in the hours to come.
Report, Agent Barton, he says.
Everything’s fine on this end boss, comes the reply. We picked up the supply jets once they landed – minimal casualties. We’ll be ready for the extraction once you give the word.
Well done, Loki says, and feels the seid-web around his pet shiver with pleasure. He smiles. It seems to make the mortals nervous.
Did Goldilocks show?
It takes Loki a moment, but then he almost laughs. It’s a malicious thing, suppressed inside his head, but there’s humour in it all the same. Yes, he replies, he is here.
He does not speak through the link again, but he takes a certain degree of comfort in its presence as his escort and guard walk him through the narrow corridors of this place. It is pleasant to at last be given loyalty, even though it is not truly real. Barton perhaps... but no, half of that is the seid seeping through unnoticed, the other half born from the desire to save his own people. It has nothing to do with Loki himself. How could it? He is what he is, and none of it is good.
At one point they pass by one of the mortal ‘laboratories’, and he espies through the window another of SHIELD’s pet monsters. Even if he had not seen the man’s picture in the files Barton hacked from SHIELD’s network, his identity would be obvious. Seen through seid-sight he is wrapped in malevolent green energy, a colour that holds certain similarities to Loki’s own fires. Too, it holds some resemblance to that of the Tesseract. ‘Gamma radiation’, these ignorant mortals call it, one of the energies of the universe, one of the secret sources of power seidmenn such as himself can tap into. And this fool did it by mistake, and paid the inevitable price. He has power, oh yes, power in droves, but that power has a mind of its own and does not care to be controlled. Loki has done many dangerous things with his seid over the centuries, but even he was never so careless as to turn himself into a monster.
No, that was already done for him, by blood, by birth.
He gives the would-be sorcerer a smile as he passes. Let him make of that what he will. Let it bestir fear and doubt in his heart. He has his own part in Loki’s plan. His time will come.
The prison they have made for him is a cylinder of reinforced glass and metal, wound about with protections against a certain kind of energy. Ah, so this cage was originally meant for another, it would seem. The barriers dampen one aspect of his magic, it is true, but he has many others. Walking the secret ways may require a certain amount of energy of that kind, but strength of will will allow much that might otherwise be impossible. He could slip their noose if that was truly what he wanted. He is Loki. He is strong.
The door locks behind him with a hiss. A familiar face steps around the glass, one-eyed, cloaked in leather. Loki feels a stab of viciousness. Though he may bear Heimdall’s skin, there is too much of him like Odin for Loki to be comfortable. And Heimdall also betrayed him, at the end.
“In case it’s unclear,” Nick Fury says, not looking at him, moving over to some kind of control panel. “you try to escape, you so much as scratch that glass...” A touch of a button and the floor irises open beneath his cage. The roar of the wind is loud even through its thick walls. Loki leans over for a closer look. It is best to know the dangers and thus the possible alternative uses of this prison.
“Thirty thousand feet straight down in a steel trap,” Fury tells him. “You get how that works? Ant. Boot.” He motions from Loki to the console and back. Such condescension is expected, if certainly not appreciated.
Loki laughs, a low chuckle, stepping back from the edge. Does this man really think this little thing could hold him if he were not letting it? Does he think that Loki’s seid is so pitiful it could not cushion his fall?
(This fall is nothing, nothing. The abyss took him to depths beyond the ability of this puny mortal to even begin to comprehend! He shall fear no threat of theirs.)
“It’s an impressive cage,” he lies, “not built, I think, for me.”
“Built for something a lot stronger than you,” Fury tells him.
Oh, Loki doubts that very much. But he has not seen the beast in action. He may be wrong. But he does not think so. The beast is reputedly mindless, and there are forms of strength other than that which Thor and Asgard laud so highly. Yet still that kind of strength, a brute’s strength, will be a part of his plan today.
“Oh, I’ve heard,” he says, turning his head to look at the camera watching him. A touch of seid slipping out of his prison lets him cast his mind through the cables, signal, wiring leading to the watcher, and once he knows the room he can twist and view it through that self-same system of surveillance. For what is that energy these Midgardians call electricity but another form of seid itself? Their science is his own ancient history.
“A mindless beast, makes play he’s still a man,” Loki taunts, enjoying the way the little mortal shell shifts, recognising uncomfortable truth. And it is truth, as Loki may attest. Monsters are monsters, and it is sheer foolishness, naivety, to pretend otherwise. “How desperate are you; you call on such lost creatures to defend you?”
“How desperate am I?” Fury replies, “You threaten my world with war, you steal a force you can’t hope to control, you talk about peace, and you kill ‘cause it’s fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did.”
A force he cannot hope to control? What gives this little mortal the right to make such judgements, he who knows nothing of seid, nothing of the deeper mysteries of the universe? Whose greatest ambitions for such limitless power, the power to control the very weaving of the universe, were fuel and weapons? He knows nothing! Oh, he shall regret saying such things once this is over, once Loki is sole owner of the Tesseract.
Still, the rest of his assessment is accurate enough.
“It burns you to have come so close,” Loki replies, words meant part in warning, part in promised threat. And not only for this man, but for those he knows are watching, will be watching. “To have the Tesseract. To have power – unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all mankind to share?”
Petty ambitions, that is all these people have. Yet it is in some ways understandable, for they are so very far behind Asgard’s own powers. They do not know what they do not know. They scrabble desperately not to be crushed underfoot, to pull themselves grasping upwards towards the same level. That would be a worthy ambition, but their methods are poor. If Loki chose, he could do such things with this world.
But that is not for him. He has thought it already and discarded it. A monster cannot be king, it must be the villain in the night, the shadow in the story, the darkness which light beats back but cannot ever fully destroy.
That is Loki’s path. Unless – and he barely ever even dares to think this, his final ambition – he can rewrite such fate, unravel the warp and weft and weave it back together in a different pattern.
It may not work, may not even be possible, so he rarely allows himself to contemplate it. But it is the shadow of a thought, lurking in the back of his mind.
“And then,” he muses, turning back to the one-eyed man, his false-father’s mirror, “to be reminded what real power is.” For he can do nothing while the Chitauri still exist. They are the real threat, to them both.
(Destroy them! Wipe even the memory of them, every speck of their history, from the face of the universe!)
For a moment all is silence, but then Fury’s lip quirks upwards, as much in disbelief as anything. He believes this all to be the Liesmith’s tricks, boast and empty threat. Well, let him. He shall learn. Fury turns to leave.
“Well let me know if real power wants a magazine or something.”
With such as his parting shot, humour as weapon to disregard and put aside the threat which is Loki, he is gone.
Loki wonders at what point they will try pain. As the commander here said, the Midgardians are desperate, and in that desperation may be driven to much. They will surely come, once they deem they have given him enough time to wait and sweat and wonder, come with their tools and petty tortures. He wonders what kind of imagination they have.
Whatever they do, it shall not be enough. Not after the void, not after the Chitauri. Not after everything else he has been through. They shall pry nothing but laugher and mockery from his lips if they try.
(If they hurt him he will kill them. He will not suffer again. He will not be forced to submit!)
In the meantime he turns his attentions to his sceptre, to where the pair of mortal scientists are trying their best to understand it. He applauds them for trying at least, and from all he has seen and all Barton has told him they have perhaps the minds to comprehend the principals behind it, were they shown to them. It is a pity then that their tools are so useless, so insufficient. Working thus, they can do no more than scratch the surface.
What is interesting is that they have their own suspicions, their own wariness of the very organisation that has called them together. Of course they are right to do so, but it amuses him that they are so mistrustful. In this too, they are wise, and he thinks he sees a certain shade of himself in the bearded one called Tony Stark, the Man of Iron. Through his own wit and primitive seid he has raised himself up to the level of a demi-god, capable of battling even Thor for a time. He is a creator, a smith, a shaper of things, much like the dwarves of Svartalfheim. He too has made his own loyal servant-companion, a worthy construct who does his every bidding, much as Loki shaped his own little hawk.
They try so hard, these mortals. They have none of the complacency of Asgard, for they cannot risk such. They have not the broken malevolence of Jotunheim, the haughty aloofness of Alfheim and Svartalfheim, the beaten-down stoicism of Vanaheim, or the inwards-turned warring of Muspelheim, though that last is closest. They turn their faces outwards and strive ever upwards. Who knows, but in a few centuries, they may even grasp what they reach for.
Asgard may soon find itself challenged for dominion of Yggdrasil. Loki finds himself looking forwards to seeing it.
Ragnarok, an old mortal fantasy, may one day be brought about by them.
In the end they send first not their torturers, but the woman they call the Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, his own archer’s shield-sister. It is a confrontation Loki has been expecting, though not so soon. Surprisingly, she gets very close before he picks up on her presence.
“There’s not many people who can sneak up on me,” he says, turning to face her. He saw her before, flying the plane that brought him here, but she had not acknowledged him. Does it pain her to know that her shield-brother belongs to him now, that she can no longer lay claim to his loyalty? Surely it must. Perhaps she desires revenge of her own.
“But you’d figured I’d come,” she replies, calm and collected. She knows better than to show any weakness of emotion. He recalls Barton’s words, his warnings. She works through Loki’s own ways. Does Thor respect her more, he wonders, that she follows what Asgard would deem the methods of her sex? Of the two of them, it is Loki who gives up his honour when he plays to his strengths.
No matter. Let their contest begin.
“After,” he says. “After whatever tortures Fury can concoct, you would appear as a friend, as a balm. And I would co-operate.” He smiles, sharing with her how laughable such a scenario truly would be.
“I want to know what you’ve done to Agent Barton,” she replies, ignoring that opening. Ah, so she is here – at least in part – for herself. And he supposes there is still his hawk’s lover to consider, she may be asking on his behalf as well.
“I would say I’ve expanded his mind.”
“And once you’ve won, once you’re King of the mountain, what happens to his mind?”
Ah, that is the question. Loki certainly has no intention of letting him go, not such a valuable and loyal servant. Not fully, not permanently. After Barton’s own plan has played out, once the Chitauri are all destroyed and Loki has what he wants... He will reclaim his soldier, and they will walk the worlds together as Loki studies his prize, until he has decided what shape his new universe will be. Perhaps he will keep Clint Barton even then, his strong right hand. Loyalty in return for loyalty. Protection in return for protection.
He says none of this. “Is this love, Agent Romanoff?” he asks instead. How much will she reveal? How much does she think Barton has told him?
“Love is for children. I owe him a debt.”
Ah, there is wisdom in that. For the shadow creatures the three of them are, emotion is a liability. Sentiment becomes a barrier to achieving everything that must be achieved. The analysis of cost and benefit provides a surer footing. Such Loki has seen in Clint’s mind. Such he is beginning to understand himself.
“Tell me,” he asks, stepping backwards to take up a seat on the single bench his prison has provided.
Romanoff hesitates, but in the end she speaks all the same. “Before I worked for SHIELD, I ah... well. I made a name for myself.” She settles into a seat of her own. Their actions create a false atmosphere of confession, of being in each others’ confidence. They are both aware it is a lie. “I have a very specific skill set. I didn’t care who I used it for. Or on.”
Monsters again. Though in her case, from what he has been told, she was less born one than made one by other hands. Shaped, cast into the mould required. Conditioned, through methods no less sure than his own seid. Yet even she has not escaped her nature, merely directed it towards a different route.
“I got on SHIELD’s radar in a bad way,” she continues, “Agent Barton was sent to kill me. He made a different call.” Mercy to a monster, or like calling to like? Perhaps both, from what he knows of the man. His soldier walks in the grey between morality and its lack; because he disregards it entirely he is free to act as he wishes. Just as he does not do good for its own sake, nor does he do evil. Loki envies him that freedom. Envies this woman it too.
“What would you do if I vowed to spare him?” he asks, curious. Of course he needs no vow to keep that promise, but she will not know that until much later.
“Not let you out.”
“No, but I like this,” he tells her. “Your world in the balance and you bargain for one man.” Most mortals would find this strange; he understands it entirely. For people like them, for people like him, the world cares nothing. They must hold fast to themselves and whatever they hold dear. Trying to save a man she thinks of as family is not strange at all.
“Regimes fall every day. I tend not to weep over that; I’m Russian. Or I was.”
“And what are you now?”
“It’s really not that complicated,” she says, rising. “I’ve got red in my ledger; I’d like to wipe it out.” Somehow, he does not entirely believe this. It feels wrong, coming from someone who must surely know her own self intimately in order to do as she does. Her acts in the past, her nature, all the blood she has shed... It is done, and past, and what it reflects into the future is Fate.
“Can you?” Loki asks. “Can you wipe out that much red? Drakov’s daughter? São Paulo? The hospital fire?” Those the Destroyer killed. Jotunheim and his own murdered dead. “Barton told me everything.”
He stands, stalks forwards. The words are bubbling up in sudden anger, in a spark of unexpected, unasked for hate. “Your ledger is dripping, it’s gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality, this is a child at prayer. Pathetic.
“You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors... but they are part of you. And they will never go away.” There is a fury in his heart, a poison gushing up unasked for. Does she think to deny her own nature when Loki could not? Does she think they are not monsters both? Does she think anything could truly change that?
(Promise her pain. Promise her death. Show her the monster so that she may look at it like a mirror and understand.)
He is about to say more, to dig the knife in deeper and tear and rip, intimidate and threaten and show her fear, but all of a sudden he remembers his promise, his own vow to Barton not to hurt his family. Albeit he swore not to kill them, but this is too much, it is not what he wanted to convey. He has lost all his subtlety in his anger and that is dangerous. For rage is sentiment too, it is its own emotion, and carries its own risks.
He steps back, draws away. Quietens himself.
“You claim righteousness,” he says, “but you are all monsters here. You are the freaks you’ve made yourselves.”
Natasha Romanoff smiles. “So, Banner. That’s your play.”
“What?” He seems sub-consciously to have said more than he meant to. To have shown his hand to her, though when he spoke that last few sentences he was not thinking at all of his plan. She has thrown up her own mirror in front of him and he did not like what he saw. He is an ugly thing, and he has let that blind him, loosen his tongue for him. Barton was right, she is dangerous.
“Thank you for your... co-operation,” she says.
Her task completed she turns away from him, speaking swiftly into the communicator at her ear. He is forgotten, no longer of consequence to her. It smarts, but he has no-one to blame but himself. He allowed the anger she provoked to master him, and he has paid the price for it.
Still, he has the sceptre. This may not be as much of a set-back as these mortals think it is, and even if he gets none of his own personal revenge out of this, he can still serve to bring these bickering fools together. Either way, it is time to summon his hawk.
Clint has been watching the computer carefully, tracking the signal of the energy Loki’s sceptre gives out. The SHIELD jets they’ve stolen had just refuelled when they captured them, but it actually uses up more fuel to follow the Helicarrier at its own slow speed than during normal operation. Still, they have to be the right distance away so that they can respond quickly when Loki sends them the signal. Once he has finished having his fun they can come and pick him up, and Clint can conveniently break free or be broken free from his mind control so he can go and talk the Avengers.
Well, that’s the plan anyway.
Barton, are you in position? Loki’s voice in his head makes him jump in surprise. Looks like it’s time to get this thing started. Finally.
I’m ready, he replies.
Make your approach.
Clint signals to the pilot to send out word to the other two planes, and goes to make sure all the mercenaries are clear on their orders. This mission involves creating the greatest amount of chaos with minimal loss of life. Thankfully Loki doesn’t really give a fuck about SHIELD agents, so it wasn’t too hard to persuade him their deaths weren’t necessary, at least. Though the brainwashed part of him doesn’t care, the rest of Clint can’t help but feel guilty about the idea of killing people he used to work with, hell, that he possibly might even know.
And there’s Phil. There’s Natasha. Loki has sworn to him that that they are safe from him, but much can happen in the chaos and heat of battle. A stray bullet. A piece of shrapnel. He has to make this as quick as possible, and minimise the risk to them. He will be able to see them again very soon.
None of this will be for much longer. Oh, he’s under no illusion that Loki is about to let him go free for very long. In fact, he rather suspects Loki doesn’t plan to remove the brainwashing at all, just tuck it away into his subconscious waiting for a trigger to let it take him over again. But that will just have to be good enough, because there are lives at stake, his family and the civilians of earth both.
Clint is going to tell the Avengers Loki’s entire plan. Not quickly enough that they’ll get there in time to stop the portal from opening, because that would completely fuck Loki over, but there will be enough time between the Tesseract’s shield going up and the actual tearing open of space for them to evacuate the immediate area. His brain-washed self would also like it if he could persuade them that Loki isn’t the bad guy here, that he’s been forced into the whole world-conquest thing, but he hasn’t decided whether he will yet, or whether it’s worth the likelihood of disbelief. He’ll need to see how pissed off he is without the warm fuzzies from the mind control affecting him.
His jet is beginning the approach to the Helicarrier. The mercs are suiting up in stolen SHIELD uniforms. Clint unpacks his bow, flicking it open, checking his supply of arrows. He’s got a couple with heavy explosives packed into the tip. They should be enough to knock out one of the engines, and that will cause enough of a distraction for his team to infiltrate the carrier. After that...
He signals for the pilot to lower the ramp. He stands there for a moment calculating the effects of wind speed, and the way the massive rotors warp the air around them. He draws his bow, sights, and fires.
He doesn’t need to look to know the arrow went exactly where he wanted it to. The explosive head is remote activated, using controls set into the handle of the bow. He waits for a few moments until they are far enough away to not be caught in the debris from the blast, and then his fingers find the trigger.
Smoke and fire erupt. Metal screams and goes flying. The Helicarrier gives a massive lurch and begins to tilt sideways, slipping downwards through the sky before it recovers equilibrium. The damage is severe, but certainly not irreparable, which is as Clint intended. He waves for them to approach and set down on the slightly slanting deck.
They’re running out of the plane as soon as they touch down. A nearby vent leads down into the service shafts and from there deep into the heart of the carrier. Clint kicks the loosely anchored mesh aside and motions his men down, his eyes scanning for SHIELD agents who might have come up to assess the damage. He’s the last to drop.
“Keep that engine down,” he orders the first pair, then to the second, “head to detention, wait for the cameras to go dark.” The last two he tells to stay with him. Once he’s hacked into the mainframe, they can hold that position while he finds someone to purposefully run into. The other planes should be touching down right about now, bringing their reinforcements. He’d like the one who fights him to be Natasha. He’s well aware that she’s capable of beating him in close-quarters, and he’d like to know that she’s okay. It would make her feel better about the whole thing too if she believes she’s the one to knock him out of Loki’s control.
He doesn’t like to lie to her, but it’s going to be necessary, at least for a little while.
He heads for the bridge, the mercenaries following him. The special arrow he’s had made for this is drawn from his quiver so he can test the action of the USB prongs that should spring out on impact. They seem to work smoothly, so he hopes this goes to plan.
When they get there his two mercs make for the main gangway while he heads up, looking for the perfect spot. He has a place in mind; he scopes out possible sniper spots for any room he’s in, and he’s spent enough time in this one to be very familiar with his options. No-one sees him as he climbs, but the men he sent in are quickly taken down by Fury and Hill. Still, he’s in position now, and more will be coming shortly.
Alarms are going off everywhere; there are damage reports and incident reports being shouted out at short intervals. Apparently Banner has changed into the Hulk, and he’s tearing up the research floors. That’s not really a surprise. Thankfully Hill seems to have a plan for getting him off the ship, which is good because the utter destruction of the Helicarrier isn’t something any of them want. Controlled destruction, that’s what Clint is all about.
He can’t see Phil anywhere, and he hopes that’s a good sign.
The first couple of arrows Clint sends down are mini-grenades, a lot of flash, a lot of noise, but hopefully not too fatal. They clear the path to the target site of the computer, and he sends the third arrow off before ducking back into cover, away from the inevitable gunfire sent his way. That will be enough to shut down the cameras and remove the defences in the detention block, and allow the men he sent there to get Loki out of his cell. They did discuss shutting down another of the engines as well, but they couldn’t be sure the techs would get either of them up and running again in time. This will be enough for what they came to do anyway.
Time to go find Natasha.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Loki knows at once when Clint has arrived, when the fractious situation he is monitoring through his link to the sceptre turns explosive in a rather literal sense. The mortals – and Thor – pick themselves back up quickly enough, and he is somewhat gratified to see that they are in fact capable of pulling together once an external threat is upon them. The entire craft shudders and lists before righting itself. He concentrates inwards, then out through the seid-bond, gaining a sense of where his soldier is and a little of what he is seeing. So far, everything appears to be going to plan.
Each member of the Avengers has their own little tasks to perform and keep them busy, which means that they will be unable to stop the mercenaries from getting to Loki’s cage and letting him out. Though he could escape on his own, it would be difficult, and the easier way is generally better. Besides, he must yet husband his power in preparation for greater things. Greater challenges. He waits, patiently, for his servants to come to him.
It takes some time, but he is does not mind the wait. It is a pity though that he has no bond with them other than that of monetary reward, for it means he cannot track their progress. Even discounting the regular Midgardians who may bar the way, they also have to stop by the research labs to retrieve his sceptre. Still, with the maps Barton was able to provide for them, they ought not get lost, and it was easy enough to guess where SHIELD would take such an intriguing artefact and plan ahead. It seems the nature of this race to be curious, even where t’would be better for their own safety if they were not.
Long minutes pass, but eventually the pair of mercenaries his hawk has sent him arrive. One waits, holding the sceptre carefully in his arms, the other going to the control panel and examining it carefully. Having evidently figured it out, he presses a few buttons in sequence, and the door begins to slide open. Loki is just stepping out when he feels the unmistakable seid-signature of Mjolnir coming towards him. Thor. It must be. And if this isn’t the perfect little trap just waiting for someone to set it up.
(Hurt him! Let him feel the pain of rejection and betrayal! Let him experience a fall.)
He takes his sceptre from willing hands and steps into the shadows, calling them around himself, casting a kind of invisibility about him. With a spell so familiar it is like breathing, he calls forth one of his illusions, a copy of himself, that he puts back into the cage, waiting. He dismisses one of his servants, freeing him to continue causing chaos, keeping the other as a possible distraction. Yet he does think he will need him. This is between Thor and himself. Inevitable.
Clint strides through the service corridors, making no effort to be silent or conceal himself. That would be counter to what he’s trying to do here. He knows Natasha must be looking for him; his viral arrow allowed him to hack into SHIELD’s comm system and he overheard her answering Fury’s alert. She is hunting him, and happily, he wants to be caught.
He’s halfway down a gangway when he feels the metal grill underneath his feet shudder slightly with the weight of a light impact. Tasha. It’s her, it has to be. He whirls round, his arms rising almost instinctively bringing up his bow to block her attack and prepare to return it. He’ll have to make this look good, and honestly the brainwashed part of him feels almost somehow resentful of her very presence, of a reminder of a past loyalty, contrary to its Loki-centred world. But he doesn’t want to hurt her, not really. She’s family.
She blocks him, and he shoves her back, using his bow as a weapon. His previous bow had been more fragile, less useful for this purpose, but part of their training is being able to use nearly any item they come across as a potential weapon. Muscle memory takes over, and Clint barely has to think about what he’s doing. It’s easier to let the mind controlled part take over. He knows neither part of him intends on winning, but it has less compunctions than he does about possibly hurting the woman he thinks of as his sister.
Natasha’s foot snaps up in a hefty kick that takes him across the chin. Clint reels back, his head suddenly feeling strange, the brainwashing wavering, like a file that’s been corrupted. It snaps back into place quickly enough though, in time for him to see her pop up from the other side of the gangway and land another blow.
He stumbles back far enough to have space to shoot. The first arrow he fires is dodged easily enough and then they’re back in close combat again. He’s always known Natasha is quick, has seen it every time they sparred, but it seems now she’s fighting even harder, even faster, though she hasn’t gone for any of the weapons he knows she keeps on her. She isn’t trying to kill him. She’s trying to capture him. Contain him. His heart swells with warmth beneath the outer shell of Loki’s control.
He gets the drawstring of his bow around Natasha’s wrists, using the elasticity to pull her back when she tries to get some room to manoeuvre. Their heads collide painfully, and again the mind-control wavers for a moment. Not long enough for him to take stock, not long enough for him to figure out how he would be feeling about anything once he’s free, but enough to put him off balance yet again. He pushes Tasha up against the guiderail, but it only takes her a few blows before she’s broken his hold.
Finally, Natasha draws her knife. Clint tries not to feel somehow dismayed. Under other circumstances, it might almost be a compliment, that she thinks he’s too dangerous to be taken in without some kind of disabling wound. Yet some part of him wishes... what? That she’d tried harder? That’s not fair of him. This can’t have been easy for her, not after all she’s been through, her history, after all they’ve been through together.
He pulls out his own knife. He can’t afford to seem less than committed. Not yet.
For a moment Clint wants to call out to Loki, shout along the bond he created to make sure he still agrees to this, to make sure he won’t just slap the brainwashing right back into his head before he’s had a chance to convince the Avengers of anything. But he can’t afford to let his concentration lapse. Not with blades out. He could forget himself, or she could.
Thor comes barrelling down the corridor, running into things headlong as is so very typical of him. Loki watches silently from his hiding place, anger thick and black as the void curdling in his stomach. Thor is naive, and Thor believes in the inherent good nature of himself and those around him. He is a fool, and he blinds himself to the truth. Were he not so eager to believe the best of Asgard, he would not have brushed aside Loki’s treatment at their hands as mere ‘imagined slights’. Were he not so confident in himself he would not have had the arrogance that spurred Loki into proving him unworthy. And now he is fool enough to believe that after everything Loki has been through, after learning his heritage and taking an unwanted throne, after the void, after the agony, he can be anything other than what he is. A shell of ice over fire. Twisted. Broken. Monstrous.
(Punish him. Blind his unseeing eyes. Tear out his too-honest tongue.)
Loki will not lie to himself about this. Nor will he fight what is inevitable. And he will show Thor the truth he does not wish to see, through trickery, through pain, through a fall.
He opens the door of the cell again as his hated once-brother rounds the corner, letting his illusion step out. Thor lets out a loud cry of, “No!” Loki could laugh. Once more too trusting, believing only the evidence of his eyes and naught of his brain. Even now he is too straightforward for ruling, now that he has no shadow behind him to bear the brunt of subtle ways; woman’s ways as Asgard calls them, no matter that they are Odin’s tools also. Better almost that he remain here in Midgard, a so-called hero, self-named protector. He is not yet worthy of the throne.
Thor barrels up the stairs towards his seid-self and Loki lets it dissipate as he throws himself through it. Thor lands flat on his belly inside the cage, and Loki closes the door behind him. He creates another illusion to watch his once-brother, content to maintain his hidden position. Even now another may yet come upon them, and besides, he can split his mind between such castings as this, allowing him to view his new prisoner from more than one angle.
“Are you ever not going to fall for that?” his illusion asks.
Thor is as golden and strong as ever, though he wears not his full armour, merely light clothes as for a hunting trip or friendly sparring. Perhaps Loki ought to be insulted – surely with all his powers and the Chitauri at his back he is a more dangerous prey than that. Does Thor forget how Loki once put his skills to use in their quests of old? Again the arrogance of the Aesir. Only strength of arms, strength of the body, matter to them.
(Break him apart. Shatter his bones and make him crawl. Wither his muscles until he has no more strength than an old crone.)
There are many things he could do to Thor now, so neatly trapped in a prison of his own allies’ making. But that is to be for later. For now, there will be a fall. Not so agonising as Loki’s own, perhaps, but it shall have to suffice.
Thor’s gaze roams over the confines of the cage, his anger clear and growing. Loki can see the point where it masters him, where he tightens his grip on Mjolnir and leaps forwards in a mighty blow designed to shatter the thick glass walls. Yet it is insufficient to breech the cell with one strike, and Fury’s earlier warning quickly proves to have been entirely serious. The massive clamps holding the prison in place loosen and draw back. Only the slight press of a button will be enough to send it tumbling down towards Midgard’s soil many miles below.
Loki laughs through his seid-self. Once again Thor participates in his own destruction. How could he ever have thought himself related to this weak-willed fool? Thor has all the brutish simplicity of the hero of the tale. Loki is the villain, twisted in around himself, out of true. The animal cunning of the wyrm. Subtle and dishonourable.
“The humans think us immortal,” his illusion says, walking over to the control panel. “Shall we test that?”
The noise of the lone mercenary collapsing, forgotten until now, catches him off guard. Both Lokis look up. A man is standing there bearing some kind of unwieldy weapon, clad in a simple fitted black suit. He appears unassuming. Unthreatening. Loki is immediately wary.
“Move away please,” the man commands. He frames it as a request, but the threat is evident. He seems somehow familiar. Loki concentrates, keeping the shadows wrapped around him as concealment as he inches silently closer to the man’s back. A curious mortal. The gun he bears carries round it the wisps of a familiar kind of seidr.
“Do you like this?” the man asks, hefting the weapon. “We started working on the prototype after you sent the Destroyer. Even I don’t know what it does.”
Even more remarkable. To be able to examine the wreck of Odin’s construct with their primitive tools and yet build something so close to the original is truly an achievement for this race. While Loki doubts this particular mortal had much to do with the forging of it, he must be both trusted and formidable to have been given charge of such a weapon. Again the feeling of familiarity sweeps through him, like the memory of a memory.
With the press of a button the gun begins to charge, the barrel glowing with the same vicious power, the same seid, as the Destroyer had possessed. “Want to find out?” the Midgardian challenges.
Loki grins behind his back. Silent as a ghost, he is a mere hands-span away. Raising his sceptre, he presses the bladed part of it to the little mortal’s throat. His illusion dissipates with a wave of his hand.
“Do not move,” he commands. “You are very brave, little spy. What is your name?”
The man remains obstinately silent, utterly still. A thin rivulet of blood runs down his neck. Loki sighs, and reaches around for the tag hanging from the mortal’s jacket.
“Agent Philip Coulson,” he reads aloud. Ah, no wonder. The familiarity is an echo of his own hawk’s memories of his shield-brother and lover. A worthy warrior, one who would undoubtedly have found his way to Valhalla if he had chosen to slay him. But he has made a promise.
“Do not hurt him,” Thor bellows from his cage. “Or I swear...”
“You swear what?” Loki says, words burning with vitriol. “You are powerless to make threats, ‘God of Thunder’. Yet I have already given my word, to one more worthy than you.” He feels his captive tense, and so returns his attention to him.
“You match your lover well,” Loki tells him. “And so I think it would be a kindness to reunite you with him. You will serve me as well as you have served your man of Fury.” It is a little awkward to slide the sceptre down towards the heart, but the seid-spell has already begun to take hold before the mortal man can think to struggle. He is strong, Loki sees, strong in both mind and body. His will is iron, his heart beating with an Aesir’s strength. His mind is cold and organised, layered and precise. His body is fast, well-trained, camouflaged under false normality.
If his archer is a hunting bird, the others of his family are felines, each hiding their power in different ways. Natasha Romanoff is showy, appearing as an ornament to be admired, showing weakness that is no weakness. Philip Coulson blends into his surroundings, a hunter, stalker, appearing out of nothing to strike without mercy.
Loki approves. Perhaps he will claim the final member once this plan has been completed. Once Barton is his again, once the Chitauri are defeated, he can bring the family together once more, as his unstoppable servants. His strong tools. (He dare not think of more than that, the Warriors Three to his Thor, for it is only seid that binds them to him, not true friendship, true loyalty.)
Still, there is much to do before then. And for now, he has Thor’s punishment, his own vengeance, to consider.
Letting Coulson free, he returns to the control panel, recalling what Fury had done before. It is not wise to do such things where Loki can see them. A slight manipulation of the touch-screen, and the floor irises open beneath the cage. It is somewhat academically interesting, he supposes, to see how these people control their basic ways of seidr through these intermediaries, rather than direct control of the world’s weaving, as is more efficient.
He pauses with his hand over the central red button. He wants Thor to see this. To know. To truly understand that Loki is going to do this, is going to hurt him, purposefully, remorselessly. They must play their roles, each of them, until Loki can rewrite the rules. That is fate. And Thor is too blind to see Loki’s hate unless he writes it into his very flesh with the largeness of his gestures.
Whatever Thor sees in his eyes, it must get through to him. He steps back once, then again. Loki smiles. Oh, he does not intend that the fall kill him. He does not think it will. But even if Thor manages to escape before impact and injury, the hurt Loki has just caused him will endure. The first of many.
He presses the button.
When his forehead hits the railing at force, Clint feels the mind-control break, evaporating like smoke amongst the pain. He’s reeling, dizzy, not entirely sure what way is even up. He pushes himself backwards, going to his knees. He’s beginning to recover, his slightly woozy eyes focussing on Natasha standing above him, her face hard.
“Tasha,” he says.
With a well-placed blow from her fist, she knocks him out.
When he wakes up, he’s strapped down. His head is a mess, aching, sore, kinda ringing and echo-y. He can’t feel a trace of the brainwashing though, and it’s honestly amazing to be able to turn his head and look around and it to be 100% his own choice and his own decision. He supposes there’s a chance that it’s just gone dormant, stuffed down in the back of his sub-conscious somewhere, but it doesn’t feel like it.
“Tasha?” he calls out.
“I’m here Clint.” She’s sitting next to his bed. He can see a couple of bruises starting to bloom where he caught her a few hits, but they’re minor. Mostly she looks happy, as much as Tasha ever does. Happy, but also a little sad too, and he doesn’t know why.
“Tasha... I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you,” he says.
“I know.” She smiles. “How are you feeling?”
“A lot better now that Loki’s not in my head,” he replies, and it isn’t even a lie. But it’s not all the truth either. Loki isn’t entirely gone. He can still feel the psychic link he set up, nestled in the back of his mind. Quiet, at the moment, but still there. “If I’d known all it took was a good knock to the skull to get rid of the bastard... well not like I coulda done anything about it anyway.” He smiles, kind of winces a little. He knows how this ought to go. How he would put up his usual shell, but be all shaken up underneath it. If he’d really had his control taken away for that long.
But he hadn’t. He had control, of a kind. Warped, and working within some pretty serious restrictions, but still control. And now he’s gotten rid of the weird brainwashing making him feeling all nice and worshipful about Loki, he’s a little surprised to find out how much of his thoughts are the same.
Don’t get him wrong, he’s not about to jump right back on the Loki bandwagon, but he remembers everything he saw, and he knows Loki isn’t in his right mind. There’s a brokenness about him, something shattered and warped in his mind. Whatever happened to him, whatever the Chitauri did to him, it’s made him even more dangerous than he must have been before, but he’s not really all that interested in taking out his mental state on Earth. From what Clint can make out he wants to kill all the Chitauri, and then all the Aesir, in that order. Humans don’t come into it.
And call him callous, but Clint doesn’t really give a shit what happens to a couple of alien races he’s never met. For all they know of the universe, extinction and genocide happens every goddamn day. As long as it doesn’t involve Earth, he’ll limit his concerns to their own solar system, thank you very much.
“Are you sure you’re completely free of him?” Natasha asks.
“I know, there could be triggers I’m not aware of.” Clint sighs. “I don’t know. You... of all the people here, you’re the only one who can understand. But I don’t know if he left anything behind. If something might... set me off. I’m betting SHIELD medical want to keep me under observation, huh.”
“Medical have a bit too much on their hands to be worrying about you right now,” Natasha replies. Clint winces again.
“Tasha... how many...”
“Don’t. Don’t do that to yourself Clint. This is Loki. This is... monsters, and magic, and nothing we were ever trained for.”
But it wasn’t Loki. Not really. The assault on the Helicarrier might have been his idea but Clint had been the one to modify it, to make it fit his goals better and try and save some lives in the process. If he failed in that... it’s on him. Him. No-one else.
“Loki... he get away?” he asks.
“Don’t suppose you know where?”
“Yeah, actually, I might,” Clint replies. He struggles to sit up a little straighter. “I remember... I remember a lot. Not all of it. But a lot. I know a lot of what he’s planning, and I don’t think it’s everything you guys think it is.”
“Probably not,” Natasha agrees. “They do call him the God of Lies. But he’s not invincible, even there.” There’s a slight smug tilt to her lips that makes Clint realise she’s speaking from experience.
“You... they had you interrogate him?” He doesn’t know why he’s surprised. He should have seen it coming. But he’d been so focused on keeping them safe, her and Phil both, that he’d stupidly assumed that because he was tangling with her she would be well out of Loki’s way. But there’d been plenty of time before he got there.
Tasha nods. Clint shakes his head. She’s clearly okay, came out of it in one piece. Too late to worry now. He needs to keep his focus, not let his pounding headache distract him.
“Yeah, so obviously his plan’s not going to be obvious,” he says. “But I know – or I think I know – where it’s all going to go down. He had Selvig take the machine and the Tesseract off by himself so that he couldn’t slip and tell you guys where it is. But I was supposed to take him there after we broke him out. It’s in Manhattan. I need to talk to Fury. Talk to the team. I need to explain things, we need to get a plan together.”
Natasha nods, and begins unstrapping him. “Okay,” she says. “Maybe you’re in the clear, maybe not, but either way this has to take precedence. Fury is with Rogers and Stark. Banner’s missing, but we were only using him to track the gamma signature. Thor...” She hesitates.
“Loki did something to him.” It’s not exactly a stretch. Loki hates Thor. It’s hard for Clint to even fathom how much. He tries not to get caught up in strong emotions. You can’t be a sniper and a field-agent while being a hot-head. He thinks Loki might have been the same, before. But whatever happened... he blames Thor for a lot of it.
“Dropped him inside the Hulk’s cage,” Natasha tells him. “Status unknown. If he’s alive, he’ll be back.”
Clint nods. Makes sense. “Okay,” he says. “Take me to our leader.”
The bridge of the Helicarrier smells strongly of explosives and burnt things. Mostly plastic, thankfully, but there’s a hint of barbequed flesh underneath it. Clint wrinkles up his nose, feeling guilty and ill. He did his best, but there were always going to be casualties. How many and how bad, he doesn’t yet know. He’ll find out though, one way or another.
The room is mostly empty, minimal crew. Rogers and Stark are both sitting at the SHIELD emblem shaped table, with Nick hovering opposite them like a thundercloud. Agent Hill is standing in the background, one side of her forehead dark with dried blood. Director Fury looks up as they enter.
“Our Sleeping Beauty awakens,” he says. Clint can’t read his tone, but then that’s not unusual. Fury has two modes, pissed-off and inscrutable. This is the latter. “You were supposed to be confined to quarters Agent Barton.”
“This is the guy Loki turned into his own little worker zombie?” Stark asks, spinning around in his chair. Clint has never had the ‘pleasure’ of working with Tony Stark, but from what Phil has told him, he’s not really relishing the opportunity.
“Barton has information about Loki’s plans,” Tasha explains, falling back into her professional mask. “Considering the circumstances...”
“Understood,” Fury says. “I hope you can give us something Barton, because we are flying blind here.”
“Are we entirely sure we can trust this guy,” Stark objects, butting in again. “How do we know he’s not feeding us bad intel.”
“I trust Agent Romanoff’s professional judgement on this matter,” Fury says. “Now, Agent Barton, to the matter at hand.”
“Shouldn’t we wait ‘til everyone’s here?” Clint asks. “Where’s Coulson?”
There’s a moment of horrible silence. It drags on for long enough that Clint begins to feel panic starting to claw its way up his throat. But surely nothing really bad can have happened? Loki made him a promise!
“Agent Coulson is missing,” Director Fury says at last. “He went to confront Loki in the detention block with the Destroyer weapon prototype. Unfortunately the cameras were down, so we don’t know what happened then. However there was no body found, so as of this time we are working under the assumption that Loki pulled the same mojo on him as he did on you.”
Loki! Clint can’t stop himself from reaching out immediately for the link, shouting mentally. Loki! Tell me! Is Phil with you?
There’s a wait that stretches out for far too long, time during which it seems that all Clint can hear is white noise filling his head. If anything has happened to Phil...
Yes, my hawk, do not worry, the reply comes. I have your lover, safe with me. He is fortunate I made you that oath. Clint lets out a breath he didn’t realise he was holding. And is it not right, that your comrades-in-arms should band together to rescue one of their own, one they know even better than you? What is a quest, without a damsel to be saved at the end of it? He sounds amused.
Clint isn’t stupid. He knows this is about more than just fulfilling an oath. Loki took Phil because he wants to use him as leverage, as a bargaining chip to make sure Clint comes back to him, just as promised. Under other circumstances he wouldn’t blame him – trust is not an easy thing to give for people in Clint’s line of work, and he’s sure the same is true of the Aesir court. But it’s Phil. Phil. He doesn’t like to think of him chained and controlled like he was.
“You okay to continue Agent Barton,” Fury asks. It’s cautious, the way he says it. Nick knows about their relationship, he knows how difficult this must be for Clint to hear. He knows how difficult it must have been for Phil. It’s almost ironic, this reversal of their positions.
“Yes,” he says, then clears his throat and repeats it less feebly. “Yes sir. I’m alright. So.” He gathers himself together, returning his thoughts to what he has to say. “As I told Agent Romanoff, I was aware for a lot of what happened over the past week or so. The first thing I gotta say is the most important. Ground zero for the Chitauri’s invasion is going to happen in Manhattan. You’ve got to get the word out to the police, National Guard, whoever, to try and get as much of that area evacuated as possible.”
“Then we should head out immediately,” Rogers says, already half-way out of his seat. “I was briefed on the capabilities of modern aircraft; if we take a jet and Stark gets into his suit, we should make it there in time to locate Selvig and stop him from activating the machine.”
“Well I was sorta taking that as a given,” Clint replies. “But the evacuation has to be top priority. Final decision of the exact location was left in Dr Selvig’s hands, so I can’t be sure he isn’t already in position, hidden somewhere.” For a moment he wonders if he should mention the failsafe Loki had Selvig build into the machine, but it’ll only raise more questions, and they agreed ahead of time that if they want the coming battle to look appropriately realistic, Loki is going to have to participate. Erik will conveniently ‘awaken’ in time to tell them.
The issue is that if he tells the Avengers everything now, a variety of things could happen. One; they believe him, agree to let the Chitauri through, but close the portal down too quickly to be believable. Two; similar, but they pull their punches where Loki is concerned, giving the game away to the surveillance in the spear. Three’ they think he’s still brainwashed, lock him up, and stop the portal from opening, fucking everything up. He’s sure there are plenty of other possibilities Loki has considered. The bottom line is that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission, so for now he’s going to have to stick to basic information only. If everything goes as it ought, there’ll be plenty of time to explain afterwards.
Besides, Loki has assured him that he’s been keeping the amount of what he calls his seid – his alien magitech – that he’s recovered since coming to Earth a secret from the Chitauri, and that he’s not planning on using up much of it during the battle. He won’t be in any danger if the Avengers take the revelation of his true motives badly.
So yeah. For a while he was almost considering not mentioning Loki’s good intentions, hoping that once he was free of the brainwashing he would be able to stick within SHIELD’s protection, find a way not to go back. But now that Loki has Phil... There’s no choice.
He tries to tell himself working for Loki wasn’t so bad. And that’s true, as far as it goes. But it wasn’t what he would have necessarily chosen. Yet... Loki is still going to want his revenge on Thor. Without the Tesseract, Thor will be stuck on Earth. There’s bound to be some collateral damage. Sticking with Loki, Clint can minimalise that. Maybe he can even find some kind of way to get Loki’s mind back on a slightly more even keel, though God knows he’s not exactly a qualified shrink.
It won’t be so bad. He’ll have Phil.
“I’ll see to it that civilians are removed from the area,” Fury says. “Barton, you’re going along. Your knowledge of the enemy might come in handy out there.” Unspoken, the knowledge that if he proves to still be compromised, Tasha’s not going to be ordered to bring him in alive again. He knows procedure. A threat in the field is to be eliminated.
“I guess we’re trusting the judgement of a guy who lied to us about building weapons now,” Stark says.
Tasha turns to glare at him. “No Stark. You’re trusting my judgement.” That gets him to shut up. Rogers seems satisfied by it too.
“There’s a jet ready for takeoff in the hanger bay,” Fury tells them. “Suit up, and head out.”
They’ve received their orders. If their luck holds, Thor will somehow find them en route.
They’re ready to beat the Chitauri into a wet smear on the pavement. He hopes.
For clarity, let's just say that Fury made a modified version of his pep-talk re: Coulson before Clint got there, minus the bloody cards.
Writing Tony Stark POV, for the first time within this fic. Hopefully he doesn't sound too much like the other wiseass, a certain Clint Barton.
Loki escorts his newest servant through the corridors of SHIELD’s flying fortress to the ships that will take them to wherever Selvig has taken the Tesseract and his finished machine. The man follows behind him quickly and silently, their footfalls matching time with one another. He is like a caged shadow. Loki approves.
At one point one of the numerous minor agents that are roaming around the vessel in chaos and panic comes across them, registers just who it is she has come to face, and makes to draw her weapon. Before she can even pull it clear of the sheath at her side Agent Coulson is upon her, striking with deceptive economy of motion. He snaps her neck with a quick jerk of his hands and sets her limp body carefully to the ground. Then he returns to his place at Loki’s shoulder as though nothing has happened.
(Yes! Let them cut a swath of the dead, hunt these mewling little prey-things through the corridors of this steel trap!)
“It appears you are at least as ruthless as your lover, Agent,” Loki says, even more pleased.
“I aim to be efficient my lord.”
“My lord,” Loki repeats, smiling. While he has never objected to Barton’s more affectionate terms of respect, it is pleasant to be given the title he deserves. It is appropriate to his changed circumstances in any case. Though the facts of his blood remain the same, he has no realm to let him be called prince, majesty or king. “Continue to call me that, and I think we shall get on very well.”
Coulson inclines his head in a gesture of respect. “As you wish my lord.”
They continue on to their waiting transportation without further incident. The mercenaries that remain alive are already there, having returned as soon as they completed their assigned tasks. Loki ducks his head to enter the rear of the craft and indicates for them to take off.
“Shouldn’t we wait for Barton?” one of them asks hesitantly.
“He won’t be returning with us,” Loki replies, settling onto one of the benches. Agent Coulson sits next to him; the only free seat. The pilot shrugs and begins their takeoff. Loki watches the Helicarrier as the door slowly closes. It seems they have managed to repair the engine that his archer damaged. Indeed they should count themselves lucky, considering what Loki could have done to them. They escaped with but a few dead and only minor injuries to their great flying craft.
“To comfort that part of you that my seid cannot reach,” he says quietly to the mortal next to him, “your lover remains alive and well. My control over him has been broken, which I admit was not entirely my plan, but it matters not. I have you, so I am assured he will come back to me.”
“May I speak honestly to you, my lord?” his newly acquired servant asks.
“Always,” Loki replies. “If it is criticism you offer, I know my seid prevents you from acting in any way against my interest, hence it must be of some value.”
“Your plan, what I know of it... it isn’t going to succeed.”
Loki cocks his head to one side, intrigued. Of course he already knows this – it is the general idea – but he is curious as to how the mortal came by that conclusion. “Why do you say so? Your Midgardian heroes are scattered. Where is my disadvantage?” he asks.
“I’ve watched the footage of you in Germany. I saw you in the cage. You lack conviction.” There’s an honest concern to his words, and Loki finds yet more satisfaction in knowing he has claimed a servant with insight. He has seen what it appears most others of his kind have not.
“That is because I was lying,” he says, speaking softly, conspiratorially. “As I have told your shield-brother, none of this is about me winning. By now Clint Barton will have revealed the location of the Tesseract and the portal to your commander and to the Avengers, and they will crush the Chitauri for me.” He smiles. “Once he knew, your lover became most helpful. The attack on your place of power; that was his plan we used. By which I mean the genuine him. No seid, no spell. He has seen the advantages of helping me remove this boot from the back of my neck.” He spits these last words with real venom, though he quickly calms himself. “I hope you might do the same.”
He does not need to dip deep into the weaving of his seid to feel the roiling mess of divided emotion that wells up in the mortal at his words. He takes a certain pleasure in it. A small and petty cruelty, perhaps, but probably necessary. There will be plenty of time for him to make up for it later.
(Share the pain around. How dare others be gifted with ignorance of the hurt of betrayal.)
Very soon, the Chitauri will be vanquished, the blame naught but their own and Loki free of their power and obligation. The Tesseract will be his. Everything is proceeding according to plan.
Selvig is waiting for him in the truck, parked across the street from the tall tower with the Iron Man’s name blazoned across the top of it. Loki smirks. A worthy choice of site indeed. It has the required height, and it will prick the pride of that most prideful man.
“Is the machine ready?” he enquires.
“Yes,” Selvig replies, glancing over at Agent Coulson briefly before dismissing his presence as irrelevant. A delightfully focused mortal, this one. “But there’s a problem. We can’t get into the tower. Stark has one of the best security systems in the world.”
“I suppose you were relying on me to get past that,” Loki says, perhaps a little exasperated. Well, it’s true enough that he’s capable of it, but it cuts into their time window, and the Tesseract must have reached the energy-independent stage of the process by the time the Avengers get here. He’s well aware that it’s too late for Clint to try and delay them at this point.
“Very well,” he says, raising the sceptre. It remains a more efficient use of his seid to channel it through the weapon, though given any choice he would rather destroy the foul tool. It is a hateful reminder of the Chitauri’s presence, always watching. Even now their psychic echo clings to it, albeit faintly. “I shall deliver you to the top of the tower. Be swift once you are there. Time grows short.”
(Soon. Oh so soon he will have his revenge.)
A glamour is the most convenient way of evading the watcher’s eyes. It’s as true of this mortal science-seid construct as it is of Heimdall. He weaves the spell over the three of them and over the machine, which he realises, is large enough to be impractical for Midgardian methods of transport. Even if Loki hadn’t been needed to get past the tower’s guardian, he almost certainly would have been needed to move the damn thing up there. It seems the delay was necessary either way, though it is still irksome.
Wrapping the device in a bubble of power allows Loki to unmoor it from the rest of the universe’s fabric, suspending the usual interwoven rules of weight and mass. It lifts delicately into the air, and bobs along behind them as Selvig opens the doors of the vehicle and leads the way across the road. The streets are empty and lifeless. That may be a sign that Clint’s plan is working; that the multitudes of mortals who normally swarm the city like ants have been removed from the equation. If so, Loki is pleased, for it will make his servant pleased.
With the glamour performing its function, they pass into the building without incident. At first it appears the ‘elevator’ – a simple vertically moving box – will be too small to allow the machine passage, but it is not too draining for Loki to bend these rules too. Space can be very elastic even without unmooring from warp and weft. Such is the nature of that-which-is-woven.
In the short minute that they ascend, Loki cannot keep himself from sending his seid questing out in investigation, searching for the creature that monitors this place through a web of cameras and sensors. Stark’s construct, whom Barton had spoken of. It is short work to find it, an intangible presence or awareness that exists – at least in this place – inside a whirring heart of machinery, sending its feelers out across both the entire tower and out through the signals pulsing through Midgard’s earth and sky to other locations within the realm.
A curious creation. Perhaps through sentimentality, Stark has given his construct personality and self-knowledge, neither of which are necessary for the fulfilment of its tasks. Or more likely, due to simple loneliness. Though Loki is not so overconfident as to make sweeping judgements on a man’s personality through others’ words and a few minutes of observation he nevertheless would mark Stark as a man with few bosom companions. Much like Loki himself in that regard. They have a number of similarities, it seems.
Perhaps when all this is over, Loki might make him an offer. Renounce Thor and his warrior ways that have no real place or respect for a man practising the arts of seid or science, no matter which they are called, and instead learn from him. (Just as unnatural as he, no matter Thor’s current grudging diplomacy.) There is potential there, he is sure of it. He has a sturdy background in Midgard’s own meagre understandings of the field, and even if it requires a little of Loki’s own seid to permit his mortal biology to manipulate magic, Stark is fully capable of learning.
An intriguing thought, at any rate. Loki has never taken an apprentice before, but even if he has his own concerns that focus little on this planet, he would not mind the idea of allowing them a little power, of showing them steps to ascend as is their intended goal. Potential weaponry in payment for the Tesseract, when he takes it. Not to mention it would disquiet Odin All-father.
And if his teachings only serve to allow his monstrous nature to infect others, what of it? Monsters beget monsters. He will be true to the truth of himself, since he can get nothing from Asgard either way.
But he should not allow himself to be distracted by thoughts of the future. His current plan has not yet come to pass.
(When they are dead, all of them who have hurt you, dead and broken after many tortures, many agonies. Not until then, after fire and frost and darkness.)
Loki allows Selvig to direct him to the best spot to set down the machine once they reach the roof. It is a clear day, and the view stretches for miles around, a great shining city abutting the sea much as Asgard abuts the wastes of space. A river coils like a gleaming silver serpent below. This may not be the highest tower visible, but it is certainly amongst the tallest.
“All that’s needed now is for it to be activated,” Selvig says, setting up his workstation nearby and beginning to connect a variety of cabling. “The machine will run the program by itself once the energy shield is prepared.”
“Excellent,” Loki replies. “Watch over it until enough of the Chitauri have been destroyed. If one of the Avengers reaches here before then, delay them for as long as possible.” He hesitates for a moment, but Selvig has served him well... “It is not necessary for you to give your life to do such. I do not ask that of you. Merely do what you can.”
He leaves the scientist to his work and makes his way down to the floor that houses Stark’s personal dwellings. There is a platform that should give him a good view of the proceedings until the battle begins.
“As for you,” he says, addressing Agent Coulson. “It would be best if you took the vehicle below and left the area. I will be able to track you by the feel of my seid-weaving, and if you are to remain as a bargaining chip, I will need you safe.”
“Yes my lord.” The mortal nods respectfully to him and turns to leave. Loki takes up his position out on the balcony, keeping his eyes upon the skies.
Momentarily he follows the link that still sits anchored in the back of Barton’s mind, casting out his awareness so that he can look out through his archer’s own eyes, see what he sees.
Boss? Clint asks. Loki can feel the shock of the sudden intrusion ripple through him.
Be calm, he replies. I merely wished to see how you were proceeding.
Stark has gone on ahead – he can go faster than the jet, Barton replies. ‘Tasha, Rogers and I are all here. We’re maybe a half-hour out. No sign of Banner or Thor as of yet.
Indeed, Loki can see the enhanced mortal he fought briefly seated opposite Barton. The woman who bested him in their little war of words would appear to be flying the craft once more. Luckily for her, words are reputedly not her only weapons; else it might easily go badly for her once the army arrives. As it is, he’s wary of underestimating her again. She has Barton’s respect, which says a lot.
I can only hope you are enough, he tells his soldier. If I have to betray my true allegiance to stop the Chitauri from taking the Tesseract I will, but I do not like my chances of outrunning their leader’s wrath. I have not studied the Tesseract in anywhere near enough depth to use it effectively against that one. He believes that will be a work of decades, as the Midgardians measure time. Not so long for one such as him, but far too long a time to run and not be caught.
Don’t worry. We can do this. He can feel the warmth of Clint’s confidence enveloping him. It is not in Loki’s nature to be optimistic, but he finds he wants to try. He has come too far now for failure.
Tony Stark would be the first to admit he has a pretty big ego. That’s why he’s so well equipped at recognising it in others, namely the horned Ren-fair reject that is Thor’s baby brother. Or not-brother, since; adopted. He hasn’t exactly gotten the whole story of whatever the hell went down between them that led to this whole world-domination mess, since Thor hadn’t been too keen on telling it, plus he figured he was missing a fair bit of cultural context. But he understood the basics. Feels unloved, daddy issues, blah blah blah, it’s not exactly original. Hell, Tony himself has a few of the same issues. But he never turned into a super-villain.
Okay, from certain points of view it might have been a near thing, especially if you counted all those years in the weapons business, but a couple of points in common does not automatic sympathy make. The long and short of it is that someone is threatening his planet, the one he personally lives on and so has a pretty large stake in, and he’s not about to sit down and let that happen.
However, he’s got a bit of time to think the situation over while he’s rocketing towards Stark Tower in the really-too-battered-to-be-safe Mark VI suit. There are a few things that don’t sit entirely right. For one, from myths and Thor’s tales, Loki is meant to be this super-dangerous sorcerer and super-intelligent trickster. So where are the tricks? Letting himself get captured? Way too obvious. Letting his own mind-control spell be cancelled out by a simple blow to the head? Kind of a major weakness. Way more likely he lifted it himself, sent this Agent Barton guy in with false intelligence to lead them straight into a trap.
At least, that’s what he would think if not for the aforementioned ego thing making the location fit. According to JARVIS, no-one has entered Stark Tower yet, but with alien god-magic in play there’s always the possibility that the security systems have been fooled somehow. He has managed to get JARVIS to pull up the gamma search Bruce had been working on before he’d Hulked out, and the results from that back Barton up. The shiny cube of death is in New York.
So where’s the twist?
Unfortunately, even his own brilliant brain hasn’t managed to come up with an answer to that question by the time he reaches Manhattan air space. Whatever the trick turns out to be, they are going to be walking into it blind. Good thing Tony is excellent at improvisation.
As he rockets over the Hudson River, one of the boot repulsors gives out for a sudden nervous moment. After the battering it’s taken over the past few days, Tony is not surprised it’s close to breaking point. First fighting Thor, then getting knocked around by the Helicarrier rotor. He’s in no condition to take on an army, which is why they really need to shut Loki and Selvig down before they get the portal open.
If not... well, there’s always the Mark VII.
“Sir, they seem to have bypassed security somehow,” JARVIS says apologetically. “The Tesseract machine is on the roof. I turned off the arc reactor as soon as I became aware of the drain on its energy, but I’m afraid the device may already be self sustaining.”
“Fuck.” Tony can see it now, big and shiny and already cycling into position. He comes in to hover above the rooftop. There’s a man standing with his back to him, facing a laptop set up on a stand. It’s gotta be Selvig.
“Shut it down Doctor Selvig,” he orders, making sure the suit’s speakers project his voice loud enough to be heard over the wind and the noise of his own repulsors.
“It’s too late,” the man shouts back, turning to look up at him. He’s grinning, wide-eyed and wild-looking. Kinda manic, if Tony is any judge, the sort that usually comes from chemicals of one kind or other. He ought to know. “You can’t stop it now. She wants to show us something.”
Oh yeah. Definitely high, even if it’s only on Loki’s weird-ass magic brainwashing. When you start anthropomorphising your machines, that’s when you know you’ve got a problem. Tony’s not being a hypocrite here; he’s well aware of his own personal fucked-upness and he’d like to think he owns it. It’s a matter of self-awareness, and Selvig doesn’t seem to have any.
“A new universe,” Selvig tells him, and Tony’s had about enough of this.
“Okay,” he says, charging up his repulsors. Time to take this machine down. (Don’t worry, he’s done the science, he knows this isn’t going to set off some kind of horrific apocalyptic meltdown or chain reaction, he’s not stupid.)
Unfortunately it’s a bit too late for the ‘blast it to hell’ approach. The energy shield surrounding the Tesseract absorbs his blasts and bounces them back out even stronger, sending him tumbling ass over tits through the air until he can get control again. He’s not sure what happened to Selvig.
“The barrier is pure energy,” JARVIS says, deciding to chip in at last. Pity he couldn’t have mentioned it a bit sooner. “It’s unbreachable.”
“Yeah, I got that,” he says. He looks down, and sees he’s being watched. Loki is standing on the platform of the floor below, gazing up at him. He’s smirking. “Plan B.”
“Sir,” JARVIS protests, “the Mark VII is not ready for deployment!”
“Then skip the spinning rims,” Tony says, exasperated. “We’re on the clock.” That machine is going to rip open a portal at literally any moment, and it’s looking less and less likely that he’s going to be able to stop it. Agent Romanov, Capsicle and archer dude are still at least a quarter hour out. Right. He can totally do this.
He lands, and the mechanical arms start disassembling the suit. He’s got them sufficiently programmed now that they can work around a pretty significant amount of battle-damage without accidentally ripping off one of his limbs along with a piece of plating, which is handy in situations like this. Loki quickly picks up his intention, and mirrors him, heading towards the door on the opposite side.
“Please tell me you’re going to appeal to my humanity,” the psychopathic, adopted, demi-god says, once they’re both in the same room. He’s still smirking, supremely confident. Tony might not be feeling much like either, but he reckons he can do a pretty good mockery of both.
“Uh, actually I’m planning to threaten you,” he says. It’s... kind of semi-true. It could be called threatening. It could also be called bluffing.
“You should have left your armour on for that,” Loki says, gesturing with his staff. God, that thing makes Tony nervous. Still, banter. They’re bantering. He can do banter till the cows come home, empty talk is kind of his thing.
“Yeah,” he replies, heading down the staircase towards the bar, where he last left the prototype bracelets for the Mark VII. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Tinkering while drunk, surprising how often that produces usable results, considering. “It’s seen a bit of mileage and you’ve got the uh... glowstick of destiny.”
Loki looks down at it, and that’s an interesting expression. Tony has seen enough empty smiles to know what they look like, mostly in the mirror or in pap shots. Loki’s hiding something. He’s wearing a good mask, which makes sense for a Trickster and a God of Lies, but Tony knows a little bit about masks himself.
“Want a drink?” he asks, surprising himself at how sincere he is, though it’s a good excuse as well.
“Stalling me won’t change anything.”
“No, no, no; threatening.” Unless part of Loki’s Liesmith shtick is the actual ability to tell when someone is lying. That’s not outside the realms of possibility. But then Natasha probably wouldn’t have been able to get him to spill about Banner, so he reckons he’s safe. “No drink, you sure? I’m having one.” Yeah, he really, really needs one. This whole situation will look so much better through the bottom of a glass of whiskey. Nice and... amber coloured. Wine would make it rose coloured, like rose-coloured glasses, but he’s not really a massive fan of the grape and... this whole metaphor is kind of getting away from him.
Loki has turned away from him at some point while his back was turned. He’s standing by the window now, staring out at the New York skyline. “The Chitauri are coming,” he says, and there’s something nearly desperate about it. He doesn’t sound nearly so confident now. “Nothing will change that.” He turns again, abruptly. “What have I to fear?”
Why does Tony get the impression Loki is trying to tell him something here? This is just the kind of thing Barton ought to have told them if he actually wasn’t mind-controlled any more. Y’know, details of Loki’s particular psychosis. Motivations besides having a shitty family life and being adopted. Something so that people who use words as weapons (see Romanov, Natasha) rather than armour (see Stark, Tony) could get at him where he’s actually vulnerable and shut him down, ‘cos judging by the reported result of the Thor vs Hulk fight (stalemate) hitting him a bunch of times isn’t going to cut it.
“The Avengers,” he replies, answers the question to give himself more time to think. He doesn’t need his brain to run his mouth. He starts to pour his drink. “It’s what we call ourselves. Sorta like a team. Earth’s mightiest heroes, type thing.” Mmm, scotch.
“Yes,” Loki says. “I’ve met them.” He seems to be enjoying himself again now that they’ve... switched topics? Is that what they’ve done? Would have thought it’d be all one big topic but apparently not.
“Takes us a while to get any traction, I’ll give you that one,” he says. “But let’s do a headcount here. Your brother, the demigod.” And damn, does that get a reaction. Loki turns his head away like he’s just been slapped in the face. His hand clenches around the staff of doom several times. It’s like... it’s like a more raw version of his internal reaction every time someone compares him to Howard. That’s the only comparison he can think of, and it’s not a comfortable one.
Seriously, he’s becoming ever surer that there are some really significant parts of the story that Thor left out when he was telling it.
“The super-soldier,” he continues, taking the opportunity the distraction gives him to reach for the cuffs and feeling a little guilty about it. “The living legend who kinda lives up to the legend.” Not mentioning his way too painful and horribly accurate remarks on Tony’s admittedly shitty worth as a person. “A man with breathtaking anger management issues.” That at least gets a smile, hurt hidden again. Tony isn’t going to analyse how much better that apparently makes him feel. “A couple of master assassins, and you, big fella, you’ve managed to piss off every single one of them.”
“That was the plan,” Loki says. Which, kind of a stupid plan. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to take off with the cube to somewhere way out of SHIELD’s jurisdiction, Asia somewhere, or South America, find a convenient little power station to hook the portal device up to. That’s what Tony would have done. (No, he doesn’t spend way too much time thinking about villainous stuff like that, shut up.) Hence why he’s still waiting on the other shoe dropping.
“Not a great plan,” he says, going for honesty. “When they come, and they will,” – it’s his ass on the line here so they’d damn well better – “they’ll come for you.”
‘And I can take them’ says Loki’s expression. Yeah, hi ego. Guess that’s just what happens when you’re a thousand year old alien who was worshiped as a god by nations of humans for decades. “I have an army,” he says.
“We have a Hulk,” Tony counters.
“Oh, I thought the beast had wandered off,” Loki says, and yeah, Tony’s not about to let anyone call his new science buddy a ‘beast’. He’s. Not.
“You’re missing the point, there is no throne, there’s no version of this where you come out on top.” He’s angry, the words come spilling out, but it’s still not enough to make him overlook the strange way Loki jiggles the sceptre in his hand at every sentence he says. He’s in no mood to analyse it right now though. “Maybe your army comes and maybe it’s too much for us but it’s all on you. Because if we can’t protect the earth you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it.”
For a long tense moment Loki’s body language changes. They aren’t having this mock-friendly back and forth anymore and Tony is almost 100% certain that he’s about to get stabbed in the face, but then all of a sudden it smoothes away. Loki is back to his suave, slightly brittle self. His eyes flick to the part of the wall that’s hiding the Mark VII and he... Holy shit, did Loki just wink at him?
What. The shit. Is going on?
Oh god, he’s filled the suit full of booby traps hasn’t he. JARVIS couldn’t see him, he could have broken in there and turned it into a metal prison, could have set it to blow him up, could have put the internal arc reactor on a feedback loop that would fry his central nervous system, could have...
“If you want to avenge anything, Tony Stark,” Loki says. “You’d better be wearing something a little less fragile.” His eyes flick over Tony dismissively.
“You’re that arrogant?” he asks, through the fear, through the sickening sense of violation. “You’re going to give me a chance to suit up and fight you rather than squashing me like the bug you keep comparing us to? Doesn’t seem very smart to me.”
Loki smiles. “Were we in Asgard it would be called simple honour. Whereas you can see it as foolishness. Believe me, little seidmenn, Thor has no respect for your mortal ‘tactics’ other than ‘hit it with a hammer’. But in answer, yes. I do not think you can defeat the Chitauri either way, and I am sure they would laugh at your arrogance in assuming otherwise.”
He says these last words with a strange kind of intensity. Tony is clearly still missing... whatever it is. Apparently being threatened with alien invasion isn’t too great for his critical thinking, who knew? He takes a small step in the direction of the Mark VII suit, just testing. Loki does nothing, just watching him passively.
Okay never mind, JARVIS can run some diagnostics on the suit once he’s in it. Loki has a point, he’s not going to survive very long if he doesn’t have some kind of protection, and right now he has no idea how to shut down Selvig’s machine. He simply can’t let himself think about tricks and traps, reverse psychology because he doesn’t really have much of a choice here. There’s a large chance of death either way, and if he’s going to go out he would rather be in the suit than without it.
“Uh, JARVIS, I guess you can deploy.”
It takes a slightly embarrassing wait, but after a few seconds that feel a lot longer when there’s an alien super-villain watching you mockingly, the Mark VII springs out of its docking station. Tony holds his arms out so the laser guidance system can target in on his wrists, and then the armour is assembling itself around him. He’s a little gratified to see that Loki looks rather surprised at the spectacle.
“Impressed?” he asks.
Loki does nothing but smile in return. He points out the window with his staff. “You should go now and prepare,” he says. “The portal will be open soon. When next we meet, I will probably be trying to kill you. Don’t take it personally.”
“Oh, sure,” Tony replies, feeling a great deal better now he won’t die when poked with sharp objects, and since he hasn’t exploded yet. “I get how it is; I’m just in your way, trying to stop you taking over the world. You like me as a person, but baby, we just wouldn’t work out.”
He takes a certain amount of pleasure in the confused and slightly offended look on Loki’s face before he’s jetting out through the bank of windows. Fuck the glass; he won’t fit through the doors. Not like he can’t pay for it.
“JARVIS, patch me through to Cap and the others,” he says. They’re about to have an army to fight.
Warnings for Aesir attitudes towards gender roles, gender essentialim, gender binarism. (I'm not entirely sure how best it precisely ought to be warned for, so if anyone prefers different wording/clearer wording, please do comment and I'll change it. Also, more notes on the Sif situation at the end of the chapter.) Sorry for the delay, I've been on holiday aka no internet access. Should be another chapter up on Sun/Mon however.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Man of Iron has lived up to Loki’s expectations. Aside from his talents with mortal science, evidence for which Loki has already seen in abundance, it is clear he possesses a great deal of courage as well. He was willing to swap words with the Lie-smith himself, to challenge, threaten and stall one much more powerful without even the protection of the armour he has made. Another worthy mortal.
It seems there are many more of them than he had anticipated of this realm. But perhaps it is not so strange. This threat he has conjured, this piece of shadow-theatre, naturally calls for the best of Midgard to be assembled against it. Their monsters, their weapons, those he knew of already, but he underestimated the quality of their warriors. As a people they are intriguing in their mixture of qualities and values, some of which Asgard would prize and some which they would find contemptible and base. But Loki thinks there is strength in such a mixture. Strength that in time, the other realms will learn to fear.
(Ragnarok. Asgard’s skies dark with the smoke of a thousand fires. The dying screams of her warriors. Mortals swarming the walls numerous as a swarm of wasps, wrapped in the fruits of their seid.)
But that is a future still centuries off, though Loki hopes one day to see it. For the moment, he must return his attention to the coming battle. The portal the Tesseract is weaving is growing ever stronger, a harsh buzz that rasps against his seid-senses, a heavy potentiality that suffocates and cloys the very air. It is reaching its peak, its tipping point. He turns his face to the heavens, expectant.
The portal opens with a terrible explosion of power, ripping through warp and weft and twisting, pulling, forcing together two locations in a way that while similar to the Bifrost is yet somehow worse, far worse to his finely tuned understanding of the universe and of Yggdrasil. An ugly, primitive, unwieldy thing.
The Tesseract does not easily lend itself to mortal science.
Loki readies himself, makes sure his masks of megalomaniac and marauder are holding tight over the truth of his plans. Now is the most crucial time, for the Chitauri will be closer than they ever have been since his imprisonment by them, and he cannot afford for any little mistake to allow them to divine the deadly revenge he intends to bring upon them and all their people. He must continue to fool them until it is too late, until they are upon the brink of their own destruction.
He strides out onto the balcony of Stark’s building, calling his armour to him once again. Metal and leather assemble around him, crafted proof against most anything these Midgardians could bring to bear against him. If they have more of those Destroyer-based weapons, it will even stand up to a few strikes from those, if he is caught unawares.
From the sky high above attack platforms come streaming down, their engines screaming. An equally fast red-gold blur shoots upwards past the tower to meet them. Tony Stark, flying into battle without even the comfort of his allies and teammates in support. Again it is bravery, but also perhaps something more. Loki knows several details of the mortal’s life before the forging of his suit, knows that he, much as with Barton’s shield-sister, has much blood on his hands that he is trying to atone for.
How much will Stark do to wipe away the monstrosities of his past? If he is anywhere as determined as Loki is and has been...
Still, no mortal heroes’ lives shall be given this day. The Chitauri are arrogant, and the army they gave him small next to the teeming masses that swarm upon this world. And, judging by the oh-so-familiar tingle of seid at the edge of his perception, Thor will be upon this place very shortly. They may have bested one of Asgard’s before, but Loki had been weak from his fall, and was in any case no true god, no true Aesir. When Thor’s wrath falls, they shall not withstand it.
Thor draws ever nearer. Loki can feel him, drawn through the sky by Mjolnir’s pull. He prepares himself for the confrontation he knows is to come. His sceptre is lengthened to its battle form. He is armoured, helmeted, swathed in the trappings of his power and his birth. His hate is hot and growing, a bitter, burning thing.
Thor lands on the platform before him, resplendent in his own battle gear. His chain shines in the sunlight. His cape is a fluttering banner of crimson. His hair shows no tangles from his flight, remains as always the colour of fields of wheat at summer’s height, of gold burnished and polished and wrought into the finest adornments.
Once Loki loved him, and believed he was loved in turn. No longer.
“Loki,” Thor shouts up at him. Mjolnir is humming in his grip, his will meshing with its seid. The weapon obeys its master. Oft has Loki felt his brother’s anger in this way, as spell-craft, as violence waiting eagerly to be unleashed. Never has he felt it directed against himself, not even on the bridge when Thor tried to stop him doing that which he would have eagerly done himself not days before, had he the wit to have thought of it. “Turn off the Tesseract or I’ll destroy it!”
“You can’t!” Idiot. Weak-witted fool, as ever. Did he not pay attention to the tales of their youth, listen to the truth of the Tesseract’s phenomenal power? Or was that too close to seidr for him, no great battles and warriors to hold his attention and thus ignored? “There is no stopping it. There is only... the war.” Of course such obvious melodrama will slip past him. Once Loki would have believed Thor knew him well enough to see through these most obvious of all his lies. There is no subtlety here.
But no. It seems Thor has never paid him attention enough to see what is right before his eyes.
(Monstrous Loki, am I? Loki always lying, Loki the taken-for-granted, Loki weakling, Loki womanly, Loki the pitiful and dishonourable! Shall I show you the true monster? Shall I inscribe every single one of my ‘imagined’ slights upon your skin? Shall I reduce you to a shade, the mewling, pathetic, despised creature like you always thought me to be?!)
“So be it,” Thor says, and Loki can no longer hold back his rage.
In the heat of his anger he is in no mind for spells. Most paths of seidr require the cool, determined application of will. Using hate as a well-spring of power leads to nothing good, and he is wise enough to remember that much at least. However the mere blasts of energy channelled through his sceptre are simple and basic enough to be safe.
So he attacks. His strength is fuelled by emotion, churning through him as he swings his staff, arcs that weave together, one after another, inscribing great patterns in the air. Sparks erupt as from the forge – indeed in another’s hands Mjolnir might have served that purpose instead of as a tool for war. Loki may not have Thor’s strength, but neither is he weak. His blows would easily be enough to bruise if they connected, to break bones at a lucky hit.
Spinning, he fires a bolt of blue energy, missing Thor by inches. In this moment all thoughts of past fellowship or of a slow and proper revenge are forgotten in the haze of bloodlust, or the sheer need to end him. All his hurts, all the simmering anger tamped down has come together into this one white-hot moment, the desire to see Thor broken at his feet, his blood soaking the floor, the charnel stink of death heavy on the air. His second blast of uncontrolled magic is met by Mjolnir, another pyrotechnic deflection. One of the letters proclaiming Stark’s ownership of this tower becomes a casualty, plummeting hundreds of feet down to the streets below. Loki is fairly confident that there are no mortals to be hurt by it though. He’s sure he would have felt some of Clint’s concern if the evacuation hadn’t proceeded as planned.
Even if that were not so, it would not stop him.
Loki is holding back nothing save his seid, and the same is true of Thor. For all his claims of remaining brotherhood, Loki is sure he will not hesitate to strike a fatal blow if he leaves a sufficient opening. He cares not. Either this will end now, with one of their deaths, or it will continue on into the future, promise of more battles to come, more blood, more pain, the chasm between them that cannot be breached continuing to grow.
With every thrust that fails to land, every blow averted, Loki’s anger only grows. The war in the skies around them fades away. There is nothing but the battle, this vicious struggle fuelled by the pain of a thousand small cuts ripped open into jagged oozing wounds by un-sought-for truth and the agonies of the void.
(Kill him. Kill him! Rip out his heart and consume it before his dying eyes!)
Yet suddenly there is a familiar voice in his head forcing him to split his attention away from Thor, accurséd True Son.
Hey Boss, Clint Barton says. We’re coming in hot. These bastards really are swarming, huh?
Yes, Loki replies, seeming to his surprise almost to split off from his rage, another self at this point; one entirely capable of carrying on this battle by instinct alone. There are many points of comparison. It is strange to suddenly find a calm place in the midst of the storm of his feelings. A place where he can look at his actions objectively and realise that this is futile. In an obvious show of strength Thor will always prevail, yet in his anger Loki seems to oft forget this. Thor has also his own role to play in the greater battle, a role that Loki himself is taking him away from.
He has allowed emotion to master him once again. He should know better.
Can you provide me with a distraction? he asks his soldier.
Sure. Where do you need me?
At Stark’s tower, Loki replies. Can you still pilot that craft with one of the engines damaged?
Uh, I should be able to, Barton replies warily. But I really would prefer if we weren’t on fire. I’m guessing you’ve got a good reason for this though.
It seems that he and Thor know each other’s close combat styles too well if he can keep up this fight and talk to his servant at the same time, Loki thinks to himself, ducking aside from another swing of Mjolnir. Yet at this point there is little hope of flight, nor is he confident he has his hate under control enough to use his seid.
I fight Thor, he admits. If he sees his companions in distress, surely he will go to your aid. Then I may slip away and leave him to slay the Chitauri.
There is a moment’s hesitation, and then; Sounds reasonable. I’ve done more improbable things.
Brief moments later Loki hears the sound of propeller engines coming in to circle the tower. He manages to throw Thor aside long enough to aim his sceptre at the flying craft, trying as best he can not to target any area too vital. He has no wish to cause his hawk harm. This is show-craft only, not truly meant. The bolt of energy strikes one of the whirring rotors, made in miniature mimicry of those on the parent craft, that flying fortress. Smoke billows. Thor looks up.
Yet instead of leaping to the rescue, as Loki expected, his fool not-brother instead lets out a cry fuelled by anger of his own and leaps at him, bearing him to the ground and beginning to lay about him with fists, fists of all things! Loki can scarce believe it. He struggles against the hold, the shots too close to block and the pain that blooms with each act of Aesir strength, but he has never bothered with training for wrestling. It is the last thing he ever expected to need.
Oh fuck, he catches Clint thinking. Oh fuck, so much for that plan. No, it’s cool, it’s cool, we’re not crashing, we’re just uh, descending with style. I can do this. I can do this.
Barton? Loki asks, managing to be worried despite the more pressing concern of Thor’s weight pinning him down and the hand that’s currently pummelling his – thankfully helmeted – head into the ground.
I’m fine. I’m fine. Whoo. I totally stuck that landing.
Loki can be thankful for that much, though it didn’t exactly turn out as planned. For all his struggling, he’s not any nearer to getting free, and though he is certainly tough this isn’t exactly fun. At least this is nothing compared to the damage Mjolnir would be capable of inflicting.
Of course, this is precisely when the Chitauri commander makes the decision to send in the first of the great war-beasts. Precisely what Loki was intending Thor to be in charge of killing, were he not busy trying to punch his face in.
Thor pulls him to his feet, hands fisted in the leather at his throat. He shakes Loki as though he’s some kind of unruly pup, perhaps one of the royal hunting dogs that’s gotten in where it shouldn’t. Perhaps he believes that he can beat sense back into him?
“Look!” Thor shouts, far too near to his face. Loki is more concerned with cataloguing his hurts than paying attention, to be honest, though he still looks at whatever Thor is trying to rub his nose in. “Look at this! Look around you.”
The city is burning, it is true. The Chitauri swarm everywhere, yet seem not to have spread out beyond the limits of this island district, so there is that. The damage to buildings is irrelevant in the scheme of things, and he doubts there has been over-much loss of mortal life. Yet Thor can have no way of knowing about the evacuation, he realises, and he’s not likely to notice from up here. He supposes laughing would not be greeted favourably at this point. Mind, he’s still a little dazed.
“You think this madness will end with your rule?” Thor asks. Does he really still believe that is Loki’s ambition? That it was Loki’s ambition? Surely he’s spoken to Moth- to Frigga? She of all Asgard at least showed him some kindness, some affection, hard as it was to get. And she must have seen his reaction when they handed him Gugnir at Odin’s bedside. But perhaps even she misbelieves him now? Thinks him false all along, the conniving, treacherous Frost Giant, the snake, the poison in their midst.
Again they prove they have never truly known him. And Thor yet thinks to claim brotherhood? Kinship? Arrogant still, for all he’s learned. No. Loki will never again look to his so-called family for love. He will be what they think of him. He does so hate to disappoint.
“It’s too late,” he says, calmed enough now to use his seid to call one of his smallest throwing knives into his hand. “It’s too late to stop it.”
“No,” Thor replies, as though his mere words will make it so. As though his godhood gives him that power. “We can. Together.”
Hah. Together? Use Loki’s seid as your useful tool once again and then cast him aside once his part is done, without acknowledging him or his aid? Yes, Loki knows what ‘together’ means to Thor when it comes to him. Never the same as it meant when used to the Warriors Three, or to Sif. So no, even were all this real and he had found some measure of guilt he would not agree to use his own hard-won knowledge to do what Thor never could, and shut the Tesseract down.
He smiles. His fist flashes forward and the little knife pierces through Aesir armour into Thor’s side.
Thor collapses backwards, momentarily brought down by the strength-sapping enchantment Loki spells onto all his blades. It will not last long, and the wound is hardly enough to do Thor much harm, though it will not heal with the customary swiftness.
There is a look of such betrayal in Thor’s eyes and Loki simply does not understand it. Or did he think Loki’s monstrousness extended only to mortals? “Sentiment,” he says, and while his hate is still his hate he seems to discover that it is not all there is. But there is no time to reflect upon whatever this signifies. A Chitauri skimmer is coming this way and he intends to be on it.
And then Thor strikes. He lifts him up and throws him and the sceptre skitters away over the platform. Loki is caught entirely by surprise, and Thor lifts him again and throws him down, tossing him about as though he’s naught but a toy. Loki gasps as his ribs bruise. He is still following the path of the approaching craft with his seid however, and so it is an easy thing to simply roll and let himself fall, catching onto a metal framework a fathom or so below.
There will be plenty of time to deal with Thor as he deserves once the battle is over. Time to think too. It’s clear he sorely needs it.
There are many things that Thor does not understand about Loki. Nor does he refer only to the current madness that has taken over his brother, and the things it inspires him to do. All throughout their lives there has been this gap between them, for while Loki has always known him well enough to trick him with his words, Thor has never been able to make his brother do anything he did not want to. Thor has never been able to see into his brother’s heart, nor divine the meanings behind his actions. As much as he loves him, Loki is oft a mystery to him.
For one, he has never really been able to comprehend his brother’s use of magic. They were both brought up in the same way after all, with the same knowledge that all Asgard shares. The ways of seidr are woman’s work, so do all know. It is not as though Loki has not strength, cannot wield a warrior’s weapons if he so chose. He may not be the most accomplished with their use, but nor is he the worst. Many warriors could count themselves less skilled than Loki. Yet ever he has shied away from the honourable, correct way of doing battle, taking to his unmanly pursuits.
Mistake him not; Asgard has its place for such arts, even on the battle field. But they are for women. And if Loki found himself inclined that way, towards their use, even then it would have been acceptable if he had taken up the appropriate sex to go with it. Just as Sif has taken up a man’s role to join Thor and his closest companions on the battlefield, so too could Loki join the ranks of the Valkyries, Asgard’s battle-mages. Those women are fearsome indeed, crafting their own ensorcelled weapons and flying to the fight on ethereal wings formed from their spell-craft. Would that Loki could have gone to war as one of their number!
And so this is the thing that Thor does not understand about it; since it is clear to all that to be a sorcerer ‘tis only proper to play a women’s role, why did Loki not do so? Even one as unversed in those arts as Thor knows that there are spells that would permit him to change his appearance, though even staying as he is might have been acceptable had he acted correctly. It would have been the right thing to do to, becoming in some part Thor’s sister rather than playing at this strange in-between thing. But no reason did Loki ever give for the choices he made, or at least none that made any sense.
Not that it makes Thor love him or cherish him any less. But it is confusing that he is so adamant about it. But that is an old grievance, and he has long ago accepted that he will never know why Loki chose that path. It is impossible to make Loki see the sense of the matter, and so Thor no longer tries.
Here on Midgard though, it seems things may be different. It has been many centuries since he was last here, and much has changed in the mean time. Tony Stark is clearly a man of power, perhaps of princely birth himself by how others act around him, allow him liberties. Yet he practises the mortal seidr much as his dear Jane did. There has been little time for Thor to question him on the matter, and he did not wish to push with things so delicate still between the members of their warband. Mayhap there will be good reasons for his less than honourable behaviour, or indeed, perhaps Stark is a woman as the Midgardians count these things. Either way, there is a possibility that the Man of Iron may be able to shed some light on his brother’s choices.
But that is all meaningless if he cannot get his brother back in his right mind. For now there is little he would not give to have things back as they once were, when they were as close as any two could be. He does not believe – or does not wish to believe – that Loki has been this malevolent creature all along. Though his brother has oft been given to lies and mischief – other dishonourable things not worthy of a prince, yet other choices Thor fails to understand – surely he is not capable of such an immense false-hood. Thor would have seen such jealousy surely, if Loki had been coveting the throne that was rightfully his own for so long? It is some strange madness that has overtaken him, a fever of the mind perhaps, and if Thor can take him back to Asgard, back to his family, they can surely cure him.
He pays no heed to the doubts of his Warriors Three, who say that mayhap this is due to his Jotun nature rearing its head. Loki may be a Frost Giant born, but he is not like the rest of that foul breed. How could he be, having been brought up one of the Aesir? Loki is not a monster. Loki is his brother. That is fact, that is truth, and naught else matters. His actions here on Midgard are those of an ill mind, no more.
Besides, what few of their number has he killed? Eighty or so, the warrior-woman claimed, and those the delicate little soldier-folk as peopled their flying fortress, not the elite battle-band he has joined. Any warrior of his Father’s court would be ashamed at so few, so of course Thor had tried to make his excuses for Loki’s poor showing. And for all his attempts on Thor’s own life, none have yet done any lasting damage. Thor knows his brother. If he truly wanted him dead he surely would be dead, through some method he would not see coming.
So it is that he once again tries to reason with his brother when he lands on the roof of the Man of Iron’s stronghold. And so it is that he joins battle with him again with a heavy heart, much as they did before on the Bifrost. It is not until he sees Loki fire upon the flying craft that he loses control of himself. Not because of the surety of those mortals’ death – faceless mortals he does not know, he assumes more of SHIELD’s folk – but because of the look on his brother’s face. That look of gleeful joy, such as he has worn many times in the past at the culmination of one of his many pranks. But this is no prank, and Thor cannot bear to see the emotion so perverted.
He loses his temper.
The battle becomes a close-quarters brawl, one in which he has the advantage. Yet his anger leaves him as quickly as it arose, he masters himself again and once more resorts to words, hoping to reach his brother. Words have never been tools he is skilled in using, and he cannot help but think if only he were better with them he would be able to help Loki as he ought to be helped. If it were he who had fallen to such madness, he has no doubt that Loki would be able to bring him back.
For a moment he begins to hope that Loki is at last listening. Then the knife is plunged into his side.
Thor staggers back, weakness suddenly sapping the strength from his limbs. There is a brief few seconds where he fears he has badly mistaken his brother, where he fears the blade is poisoned and feels the anguished sting of betrayal. But it is not long before he feels the sensation receding. Just another of Loki’s little spells then. He is relieved, and guilty that he doubted so.
In the end it is not long before Loki escapes him, fleeing from the heights with the aid of one of these creatures that compose the army he has summoned. Yet Thor still has hope for him. All is not lost. He truly believes that Loki may yet return to them, that things will be as they once were, Loki fighting at his side instead of turned against him.
He must have this faith; else what kind of brotherhood could he claim?
The streets of Manhattan are aflame. The Chitauri skimmers are armed with some kind of energy weapon, Clint notes, and they are firing them indiscriminately, flipping cars, tearing through buildings, sending fire licking up where there is material easy to burn. He can only imagine what chaos there would be if people were still in the area. Thankfully whatever strings Fury pulled seem to have done the job, and he can’t see any civilians anywhere. The city is deserted, and it would be a ghostly and unsettling sight under any other circumstances.
“We need to get back up there,” Captain America is saying. There’s a steely determination on his face that Clint is pretty familiar with. In fact he’s intimately familiar with the man’s history, could hardly not be with Phil as a lover, but he hasn’t had time to put two and two together until now. Looking at him, he has no trouble believing this man is a soldier and a commander; that he’s led men into battle before. He may have been out of his element on the carrier, but now Rogers is slipping back into a place he knows, a place he spent years inhabiting. In overt war like this, Clint will defer to his authority.
“Wait,” the Captain says, something catching his eye from the street below. “There are armed men down there.”
“Police maybe,” Clint says, risking a peek over the balustrade. “Or the National Guard, if Fury managed to persuade them this was a serious threat. Don’t look very organised though.”
“We could use all the help we can get,” Rogers replies. ‘Tasha grasps his meaning immediately.
“We’ve got this,” she assures him. “We’re good.”
“You think the pair of you can hold this lot off for long enough for me to make contact?”
Clint grins. Violence he can do. Violence he’s good at. And it will be good to work out his stress, the tension growing at the back of his neck for every moment he doesn’t know for sure that Phil is safe. “Captain, it would be my genuine pleasure.”
He nocks an arrow to his bow, stands and fires in one smooth motion. These aliens may not be anything he’s killed before, but they’re human shaped, and they must have similar enough anatomy to humans, because the one he hits goes down just the same. After that it’s simply the business of dealing out death. He’s in his element, much like Captain Rogers. This is what he knows how to do.
Battle is like a dance, spinning, dodging, whirling to plunge arrowheads into unprotected flesh before pulling them free and loosing them from his bow. That’s how he sees it, and the metaphor is only borne out by the glances he catches of Natasha. She embodies it, utterly graceful and poised, already having liberated one of the Chitauri’s energy weapons and figured out how to use it against them. It’s more help than her pistols. Then again, though she’s never less than capable, for her if she has to resort to shooting it usually means things have not gone according to plan.
It’s easy to lose track of time, with wave after wave of Chitauri drawn to the pocket of resistance they are creating. It doesn’t seem like it has been too long however before the lightning comes down. It’s great bolts of blinding light, filling the air with the taint of ozone and burned flesh. Thor. He’s alive, and he has finally arrived.
Captain Rogers returns from briefing the muggles – as Clint has kind always thought of non-spies – at about the same time. Clint has to look away from their conversation, pretending he’s checking his bow. It’s not that he personally feels any particular animosity for the Aesir prince, but he’s intimately acquainted with Loki’s feelings for the man, and being too friendly would feel somehow disloyal.
Not that he really ought to be concerning himself with disloyalty considering that Loki only got him on side in the first place with brain-washing, but he supposes he can understand the lengths a person in his circumstances might be driven to. He has somehow grown to like this particular alien.
Tony Stark’s voice comes over their comms. “Thor’s right, we’ve gotta deal with these guys,” he says.
“How do we do this?” ‘Tasha asks. They’ve all fallen to looking to Rogers to take the lead, it seems. Makes sense. There’s this indefinable air of command about him.
“As a team.”
“I have unfinished business with Loki,” Thor says, perhaps partly to assert his own authority. He is a prince where he comes from. He’ll hardly be used to taking orders.
“How ‘bout you help us deal with the problem at hand first?” Clint says. A little snide, he knows, but he can’t help it, and he doesn’t think anyone really notices.
“Loki’s going to keep the fight focused on us,” the Captain says, and begins outlining their battle plan. He’s soon interrupted though by the putt-putt-putt of a small motorcycle coming up the rubble-strewn street. The man on it is wearing a purple-ish shirt and loose fitting slacks, has curly black hair with a sprinkling of grey through it, and is smiling ruefully.
“So,” he says, dismounting. “This all seems... horrible.”
Clint... has no idea who the hell this is. If he was someone the military brass sent he would have arrived with a whole lot more style. If he were some local without enough sense to follow the evacuation order, the others wouldn’t be looking at him like they know him.
“I’ve seen worse,” Natasha says, and the man gives her a little nod like she’s referencing some kind of shared experience. But Clint knows most of the significant folks she’s run with in her time with SHIELD, even if only through a photograph in a file, and he’s not one of them.
“I’m sorry,” the man says.
“No, we could use a little worse,” she replies, and none of this is making things any clearer.
“Stark, we got him,” Rogers says.
“Banner?” comes the query, and oh! Clint gets it now. Dr Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk. This is good. This fits well with Loki’s plan, though it hadn’t been one of the prerequisites. A ‘berserker’, as he’d called him, is just what they need to take out the big stuff. Clint, unlike the others, is well aware that this one big fish is not the only one they’re going to have to deal with.
Of course it’s right about then that Stark swings round the corner of the nearest building, said big fish right on his tail. It comes in low enough to be scraping against the cars that still strew the street, abandoned. Stark jets past them and Banner smiles a little, turns and heads to meet it.
“Now might be a really good time to get angry,” Rogers says.
“That’s my secret Captain,” Banner says. “I’m always angry.”
And then he turns into the jolly green giant and punches a space whale in the face.
It. Is. Awesome.
Stark also makes it explode, which is less awesome. Either way it really pisses the rest of the Chitauri off, judging be their angry cries from all around.
It’s the six of them against an army. The Avengers Initiative, finally assembled against a threat they were formed to defeat.
The Chitauri are going down.
Re: Sif, she's in kind of a sucky situation here. I wanted to put Valkyries in, and I was also thinking why Sif obviously wants to be seen as a female warrior in her own right/in the 'male' tradition, which, obviously a perfectly valid life choice, but not much done in Asgard clearly, since she had to work so hard at it. Her talents lie in physical skills, rather than approved-for-females magical fighting skills. But I figure Asgard kind of loop-holed around allowing her what she really wants by forcing her into this pathway that was originally intended (as with in a variety of cultures although not to my knowledge the Norse) as a way for trans* folk to become themselves. In my head canon, that's why she dislikes Loki so much, since by virtue of being a prince he kind of gets away with it.
The mortal heroes are finally all present. Even the green monster, which Loki had not entirely expected. They have proved themselves well capable in their handling of the first wave. He reaches out his seid through the sceptre, shuddering internally. It is easy, too easy, to establish the link with the Chitauri. Their psychic awareness presses up against his mind, slimy as the trail of a slug. Foul.
“Send in the rest,” he transmits to them. He is confident they will die as intended. Everything is going to plan, and he has nothing to fear.
The war beasts begin to emerge in greater numbers. From his position skirting the edges of the battle, Loki can see Thor take up position on a tall, needle-sharp tower. Mjolnir’s seid-summoned lightning flashes around it, shooting up to strike the sky-beasts just emerging from the portal. They burn and die, and Loki cannot entirely smother his grin. They fry and pop so satisfactorily.
Elsewhere the Chitauri are dying in droves. They have no more sense of tactics than Thor, and Loki has no intention of helping them, or indeed getting involved at all. He has played his part in getting them this far, and when they fail he is sure the blame cannot be placed upon him. He has given them all they asked for and not a thing more.
It is not long before the other human forces begin to arrive. Their most basic warriors, ill armoured and armed by the standards of their elite, their ‘Avengers’, but entirely making up for it in numbers. And they at least have some modicum of knowledge of how a war ought to be waged. Loki’s so-called army act like raiders, like pirates, and expect to take a world with it!
It is after another half-hour or so of slaughter when his seid-link to Dr Selvig reports that it needs his attention. It appears the Black Widow is approaching the top of Stark Tower. Loki smiles, and lets his control of the mortal diminish, sinking it down to a sub-conscious level as he had intended to do with Barton. Let the man think himself free. Let him think he created the fail-safe of his own accord, instead of Loki’s subtle prompting. Mayhap all the Chitauri are not yet through, but they will have warning enough of the portal’s closing if they are clever enough to detect it. More fool them if they let themselves be shut out. More condemnation to put on the incompetent commander who waits across the vasts of space.
Hey boss, Clint says to him suddenly. You want me to send you a present? In the interest of making this look real, you understand. There’s enough humour in his tone for Loki to know this is more about poking fun at him than any attempt at verisimilitude, but he’s willing to allow it.
As you wish, he replies. Within moments, an arrow is winging its way towards him.
Even without the advance warning it would have been simple enough to catch it.
Really? he asks, sending a smile his hawk’s way.
By the way, it’s explosive, comes the reply.
Loki has just enough time to shield himself with his seid before the arrowhead detonates. He goes flying, but – by design he’s sure – he is close enough to Stark’s tower that he lands safely, his protective spells cushioning him from any harm. He allows himself to laugh as he pushes himself to his feet. A good prank is a good prank, whether it’s at his expense or no.
Unfortunately it’s at that point the great green monster comes leaping through the air, taking the both of them barrelling through the already broken windows into Stark’s sanctum. Loki hits the wall and falls, his already bruised ribs protesting further. The berserker growls and punches the floor like an animal preparing to charge. Loki pulls himself up, sneering. Does this self-made monster wish to take him on? Monster against monster?
“Enough,” he shouts at it, drawing forth tendrils of seid in preparation to attack. He’s sure with the amount of Tesseract energy that constantly swirls around the creature that it will have no difficulty seeing the open threat.
And still he must play his part, for the war is but half won, and the sceptre lies out on the platform but a few fathoms away. “You are all of you beneath me,” he says, a claim that he might have once believed. Now however a number of these mortals have won his respect. And as for Thor, he has never been able to equal him, let alone rise above him. “I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by an a...”
Whatever braggadocio he’d been about to sport is abruptly cut short by the monster’s swift pounce, its massive fist grasping him by the ankle and jerking him into the air. The creature is Jotun tall, and Loki has little time to react before it is swinging him through the air like a rag doll, bashing him off the floor with strength he’s not sure any Aesir could match.
The breath is knocked out of him. Every impact causes another burst of pain. His bones begin to crack, even his own ancestry not enough to protect him from such bestial, violent force.
When the creature lets him go he can but lie where he is, winded and stunned, whimpering with the utter, encompassing ache that fills every part of him. It may not be the worst pain he has ever suffered, but it is immediate while they are in the past and have lost their teeth with time.
He has not the presence of mind to unleash his seid upon the cursed beast before it leaves as quickly as it arrived. Though how much use it might have been he is not entirely sure. The energy that fuels the berserker change has too much in common with that of the Tesseract. Spells might find little purchase upon the self-stuff of that one.
Still, he has missed his chance to find out. In future he will know to be more cautious of the green monster, to engage it from afar if it comes to that. In the meantime...
For now, he rather thinks he will be staying right where he is. He can’t quite muster the energy to move.
Whatever the fuck Loki was trying to tell him, Tony hasn’t had the time to figure it out. Even an intellect as awesome as his can’t really focus on that kind of thing when he’s literally fighting for his life. All his processing power is taken up with calculating angles and velocities, with weaving the suit between Manhattan’s skyscrapers and dodging the skimmers which inevitably end up on his tail.
There are too many of them. That’s the conclusion he comes to after about the first half hour. It’s true that none of the team have been seriously injured yet, and that they’re taking down the aliens like swatting flies, if the flies all had broken wings and the fly-swatter had a targeting lock. But there are a hell of a lot more aliens than there are Avengers, and they just. Keep. Coming.
Things become a lot easier once both Thor and Bruce are in play, because those two are their real heavy hitters, and are actually capable of killing the space-whales. Speaking of which, the mere existence of those things is giving him a headache. They are giant flying animals with no visible means of propulsion or lift and they have some kind of super-tough armour apparently welded onto their hides. What? In what world does that make sense?
Things to ask Loki maybe, once all this is over and they have the guy popped back inside his cell, hopefully with fewer mind-controlled minions waiting in the wings to spring him. The way Tony figures it, eliminate the helper-drones, and they’ll be fine.
Of course that’s assuming Loki has been fighting them with anywhere near his full strength. Tony has this little sneaking suspicious Loki could have escaped at any time he wanted to. He just hadn’t wanted to. It’s something that’s worthy of more thought, but it is right about then that he gets the call from Fury that the Council has fucked up beyond all belief and they have a nuke headed their way.
Maybe it’s the memory of Cap’s jab back on the Helicarrier. More likely he would have chosen to do it anyway. Really, there is no other choice for which guy ought to be taking the chance of death to lob that nuke through the portal. Thor is the only other one who might be capable of it, and that’s assuming all the electricity in his hammer didn’t interfere with the electronics. Either way, given a choice between Thor risking himself and Tony Stark risking himself, it’s no contest.
Tony may have an ego the size of his tower, but that doesn’t mean he’s not honest with himself when it matters, and even he isn’t going to try and claim he measures up to a god.
He tries to call Pepper. If he’s going to die, she deserves to know. She deserves to find out from him, not from one of SHIELD’s impersonal phone calls. But she doesn’t pick up. She doesn’t answer, and isn’t that just the way his luck goes? He doesn’t know why he expected any different. Doesn’t know why he thought he deserved to hear a friendly voice before the end.
The G-forces that hit him when he takes the turn upwards make his vision start to blur out around the edges. He can feel it pressing him back into the suit like someone’s stuck a couple of blocks of concrete on his chest. It’s nothing he hasn’t felt before doing aerial acrobatics, but usually only for a couple of seconds and not after going all out for such a long time. The thrust of the rocket at his back makes all the difference in how difficult this is.
He makes it. Just. His belly nearly scrapes the side of the building before he’s up and into open air, the gaping wound of the portal straight ahead. Eldritch blue energy swirls around the edges of a deep black maw. He has time to note that through it he can see stars before he draws level with it. And then he’s inside.
Darkness, thick as being blinded. A roaring in his ears, the sound of his own rushing blood, of white noise, of nothingness. The pressure of the armour around him gone, as nakedness, as less than nakedness. No smell of his own sweat cloying in close conditions. No taste of his own parched mouth. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Time becomes unknowable. It might be seconds, hours, days, but all he knows is that he is starting to go slowly mad trapped in his own mind. He was not meant for silence. He was not meant for this... this lack of anything!
And then the stars return, as dazzling now as the flash of a thousand cameras, though he knows they are no brighter than any others from Earth’s own skies. The display before his eyes bleeds back into colour, into the flashing notice of failure to connect above Pepper’s face, as if that’s not an indication of all their relationship so far, no matter how much either of them tries. And then fading, flashing out, as the link home is broken. Jarvis’ upload to the suit failing. His vision narrowing to the slim eye slits of the suit.
He lets go of the nuke. His jets cut out; he feels the subtle pull of gravity starting to hook its claws back into him. It seems that much of Earth has managed to make it through all these light-years, these light-millennia, of space. He keeps watching though. He sees enough.
The mother-ship in the distance, a vast many-armed thing. The ranks of space-monsters waiting for their chance to come through. Yet more flocks of the alien attack craft. And through it all the rocket carrying death arcs, unnoticed and ignored, until the moment it impacts against the great central craft and explodes.
There is no sound in the vastness of space, but the resulting explosion is real enough, as is the radiation that’s sure to follow in its wake. Tony watches the light approach, shining bright as the sun, and he cannot look away. If this turns out to be the last thing he ever sees, which seems likely, then he’s damn well going to appreciate it. After all, who in this day and age can claim they saw a nuke go off? Very few.
He is falling, but it is too slow. And surely they will have closed the portal behind him by now? Death is certain, but it’s something that’s been coming a long time now. It’s his payment, long due. It’s karma, catching up with him.
The light is bright and he is tired. Despite his promise to himself, he finds his eyes slipping closed. Unconsciousness claims him.
Clint is feeling pretty sore. He’s all out of arrows, and that last plummet through the windows of an office building was hell on his arms. He’s got rope burn all down one forearm, and he’s bruised all down one side where he crashed into the glass. He doesn’t seem to have any serious injuries though he reckons, taking stock of himself. A few small cuts, but the bleeding seems to have stopped, and they don’t do more than sting.
Judging by the rapid decrease in the noise level outside, it seems the party might be over. Slowly he picks himself up and goes to check. The streets outside look calm and deserted. There are Chitauri bodies sprawled out all over the place, not to mention the wreckage of crashed skimmers. That’s on top of the property damage from firing their energy weapons everywhere. Still, by the looks of things, it seems they won.
“Hey guys,” he says, before realising that his communicator isn’t in his ear. A little rummaging around – carefully – amongst shards of glass soon turns it up though. He makes sure it’s clean before sticking it back in.
“Hey guys,” he repeats. “How’d we do?”
“Glad to hear you’re okay Hawkeye,” Captain Rogers replies. “Everyone is alive and mostly in one piece. The invaders are down.”
“Score one for the Avengers Initiative,” Clint says, grinning and starting to relax. The world is saved, it looks like casualties were minimal, and Loki will be in the clear. Now all that’s left is the clean-up. Which, it has to be said, does include explaining the rest of Loki’s plan to his team-mates, and trying to ensure they aren’t too pissed off at him for lying to them.
“You also ought to know that the World Security Council authorised a nuclear strike,” Natasha says, and for a moment all of Clint’s muscles lock up in panic. Then he realises that if that had happened obviously they would all be dead, so it must not have gone through. “Stark intercepted the missile and guided it through the portal,” she continues. “Thankfully he made it back through before it closed. Whatever damage it did on the other side seemed to knock the Chitauri out cold.”
“Puppets with their strings cut,” Clint muses, mostly to himself. It’s something to ask Loki when they meet up again.
Rogers speaks again. “Rendezvous with us at the base of Stark Tower,” he orders. “That’s our last known sighting of Loki, and this isn’t over until we have him in custody.”
“Will do,” Clint replies, with a silent sigh. Time for the big reveal.
Hey boss, he says, reaching out for the mental link still lurking at the back of his head. We’re headed your way. Up to you whether you stick around to tell your side of the story.
I... think I’ll be remaining where I am for a little while longer, comes the reply, but nothing more. Clint shrugs. He’ll deal with the situation, whatever it is, when he gets there.
Loki is well aware of the mortals gathering around him as he struggles to right himself, but he pays them little heed. His seid is already at work healing the wounds he has suffered, and he has plenty to spare for his defence should it become necessary. The portal has been closed, the Chitauri defeated and broken, and even their commander killed, though he knows not yet how that last thing could be. The mindless drones that made up the army have lost their guiding force. Things have worked out well, and he has nothing to fear.
Twisting himself to sit upon the nearby steps, he regards the assembled heroes with a grin. Standing at their forefront, Clint Barton, his soldier, his hawk, lowers his bow, smiles, and reaches out a hand to pull Loki to his feet.
“You look like shit, boss,” he says.
“If I knew how formidable your berserker was, I’d have taken greater care to avoid him,” Loki replies into shocked silence, straightening and cracking his vertebrae back into alignment with the snap and crackle of rapidly healing bone. He nods to a visor-less Tony Stark. “I think I’ll take that drink now,” he says.
“You make mockery even now brother?” Thor growls. Loki glances at him and then tries to block his existence from his awareness. This will go so much smoother if he can pretend Thor isn’t here.
“You’re looking very calm for someone whose plan just failed so spectacularly,” Stark says suspiciously. “Though it looks like you’ve got one trump card up your sleeve?” He nods in Barton’s direction. Again Loki smiles. The Man of Iron is looking for the truth, questing towards it. He will have little trouble believing it when it is presented to him.
“My plan did not fail,” Loki tells him. “In fact, everything went entirely as I intended.”
“Really?” Stephen Rogers says. There is blood and burned skin visible through a rent in the belly of his uniform, but he stands straight despite it. Such a strong, brave mortal, though he is too like Thor for Loki to like him. “That’s why you made us think Agent Barton was back with us? All that was a set-up?”
“Aye, what latest trickery is this?” his false-brother asks. Once more, Loki ignores him, puts his presence aside. Now of all times he can risk anger least.
Clint Barton steps forward, his loyal archer. Even without the bonds of his seid-spell, he is remarkably willing to do Loki’s bidding. It cannot be all due to the hostage he has taken else he would be much more grudging. Can it be that something about Loki has won some kind of respect, some kind of fidelity? Unlikely. What could be found worthy about a monster? Yet he can think of no other explanation.
“It’s the truth,” his hawk says. “I’m sorry for keeping this from you guys, but we needed you to act like you did for the plan to work. The Chitauri had to believe Loki was on their side until we killed off their army and closed the portal.”
Loki can see the light dawn in Stark’s eyes, though the others of their band seem as yet less convinced. Clint’s shield-sister for one is particularly tense. No doubt she fears that she has been fooled all along by her own wishful thinking; that her shield-brother has been under Loki’s seid-control all this time. The Captain looks uncertain, and the berserker is twitching in barely held back anger, still subject to its rage. Loki knows not when the change will reverse, though he hopes it will be soon. He does not want to chance another attack from the beast.
And Thor... “You have bound this warrior to your own will?” his false-brother growls, his knuckles going white as his grip tightens on Mjolnir’s shaft. “You would use your seid for such wickedness?”
“I do only what I have to, Thor!” Loki replies, his voice sharp with quickly rising irritation. This is precisely why he was hoping to ignore the Aesir’s presence.
“You take this man’s honour from him!” Thor shouts, not heeding Barton’s immediate protests that his honour is perfectly intact thank you very much. “Loki, even in madness you go too far!”
“So murdering mortals and allowing an invading army passage are not too far for you?” Loki asks, half-laughing and bitter. Of course. Aesir morality. These mortals may be Thor’s chosen pets, but they are still naught more than that to him. And a warrior’s honour is always more important than his well-deserved death in glorious battle.
“You twist my words as always Loki. Release the mortal’s mind at once!”
Loki snarls, wordless. Thor is too blind to see the truth; he has convinced himself of a certain version of events, and no quick speech of Loki’s will shift him from it. For all his silver tongue, that is not within his power. His false-brother has always been stubborn.
No, there is only one way to end this so he might forge some uneasy peace with this team of mortals. He may yet find some use for them in the future, and it will make his hawk more willing to serve him if he is not in open war with his once-teammates. Not to mention that the one-who-seeks-death, the mastermind behind the Chitauri, surely will not give up on owning the Tesseract so easily. He will come for Midgard in the end, and Loki finds himself curiously unwilling to let him have it, though of course by then he will have taken the real prize far away.
His seid is strong; he has used little of it since coming to this realm. He has had long hours to consider what he might best use against Thor, whom he knows so well. Not to kill him, not yet, for despite the satisfaction it would give him a proper revenge is better, and that takes time.
Loki splits himself, easy as breathing, taking a half-step through Yggdrasil’s dark paths to place himself behind his not-brother. His fingers are swift forming the runes of power he needs. The other Avengers have no time to react before he casts his spell, his hands flying to either side of Thor’s head, the subtle weaving twining its way inside.
Mjolnir falls, taking on its true weight once more, though the enchantments on it prevent it crushing through the floor, or indeed plunging even further, into this planet’s crust down to the core. Uru metal is the heaviest known, and Asgard is well versed in the universe’s materials.
Loki turns from the still form of his false-brother to face the mortals once more. With Thor out of the way, perhaps they can finally have a civil conversation.
Tony has finally got what Loki was trying to tell him. Embarrassingly, he’d had to have it pretty much spelled out for him, but it all makes sense. The simplicity of Loki’s plans for world domination. The quiet air that hinted at desperation, at being trapped. The disgust he’d had for that sceptre he’d carried, something the Chitauri had obviously given him, and which probably also had something to do with how they controlled him.
Tony’s not stupid, he’s not about to forget about all the people that Loki has killed, all the damage he’s done. And they have absolutely no guarantee that Agent Barton isn’t being mind-controlled by him right now – it’s not like they have a handy test for it, which is really something of an oversight at this point, surely they’ve had enough time to come up with something. This might all be another lie, something that’s being pulled by a desperate demi-god trying to patch over the remnants of his plan. But that last one is seriously unlikely, if only because it’s ridiculously, needlessly complicated.
No, the reason he’s ready to stay and listen is because it seems like Loki may not have had very many options. They’ve only got the bare bones of the story, but Tony has a little personal experience with being forced into doing something that you’d really rather not thanks very much, and he knows what those kinds of people will do to get what they want. He’s sure the same applies to aliens. Sure, maybe Loki wasn’t refusing to take over Earth out of any fondness for its inhabitants; that seems unlikely. Tony would bet he refused because he’s a prince, and no-one makes him do anything he doesn’t want to. It comes to the same thing.
And in the end, didn’t Loki do just what Tony himself did? Find a way to get out of the trap he was in, whatever the cost? Tony built the first Iron Man suit. Loki used the Avengers as his own personal wrecking ball. Maybe Loki’s not about to become a hero now that it’s all done, but he’s not trying to take over the world either, so that counts as a win in Tony’s book.
However, he doesn’t get any opportunity to clarify Loki’s story, because Thor apparently has a major thing against mind-control – duh, he didn’t get the reference about flying monkeys Tony, he’s an alien – though he did know about Selvig and for some reason doing it to Clint is somehow different. Things suddenly get a whole lot more heated. There’s shouting. Thor looks like he’s about to attack at any moment, and Loki isn’t far behind. Tony can tell it’s making the Hulk antsy, and no-one else knows quite what to do either.
And then Loki is behind Thor, his hands raised, and the Norse god drops like a stone. There’s a wild, manic look in Loki’s eyes, a madness writ large and Tony is made really damn aware of why he should be afraid of the guy. Because whatever he did, it took Thor down, and if he could have done that at any time... then maybe they’re finally seeing the kind of magical badass his brother kept warning them about.
“I have been waiting to do that for some time,” Loki says. “And now without his boorish interruptions we can talk terms like the civilised people I know most of you are.”
“What did you do to Thor?” Cap asks, his shield at the ready. Loki glances over at him and sneers.
“I merely gave him a memory of mine,” he replies. “But I was not talking to you, honourable warrior.” He makes those last two words sound like an insult.
“Terms huh?” Tony says, because it doesn’t seem like anyone else is going to. “I hope you don’t mean terms of surrender, ‘cos you might have been showing off your ‘true power’ or whatever there, but don’t think for a moment that we’re about to bow down to you. And, y’know, I really don’t think that’s what you’re all about anyway.”
Loki smiles like a shark. “It is true that I no longer have to play that part now. Yet whatever I am, I am still of royal blood, and I will still have respect. Or fear, if you cannot give me that much.”
Okay, issues. Issues spilling everywhere. “Hey, personally,” he says, “It’s hard not to respect someone who fooled us all for so long. I mean, you give a stellar performance, really, it was brilliant. Not to mention it was a good plan.”
“So you did work it out,” Loki says, sounding pleased. His grin is less manic too, less on edge.
“You gave me plenty of hints,” Tony replies. He glances around at the rest of the team. Agent Barton is standing half way between them and Loki, which is telling as to where his loyalty currently lies. Cap looks hesitant, but for now he looks to be standing back and seeing where this goes. Although by all accounts the man is not afraid of jumping in or taking decisive action where necessary, he’s also the kind of guy who likes to have as much information as possible before making a decision. Agent Romanoff is inscrutable, as always.
As for the Big Guy it looks like he’s finally starting to calm down a bit. It’s all this wary talking – if there’s no punching going on, it probably seems like there’s no real need for him to be here to protect his smaller self. Vocal threats have less impact than the physical, Tony notes. Something to remember.
“Perhaps you’d like to explain for the rest of us,” Cap says, as behind him the Hulk starts to shrink down, skin flushing back to a more human shade.
“Well Steve, it’s clear they didn’t give you a great brain to go with all those muscles,” Tony replies, unable to stop himself even now. Admittedly the way he says it is a hell of a lot more teasing than it used to be, so fighting together does seem to have done some good. But he’s not entirely ready to forgive the way Cap cut him to the bone, even if it wasn’t anything untrue. It’s just that he always looked up to the guy growing up, so it’s not something he can just brush off like he would – and does – from anyone else.
“Listen, I’ll explain,” Barton says, putting his bow down and spreading his arms in a gesture of peace. “And just so we can get it out the way, no, I’m not being mind-controlled right now, hard though that may be to believe. But I made the call that throwing in with Loki meant I could persuade him to minimise loss of human life, and I reckon it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
“You mind if I ditch the suit before we get on to this?” Tony says, sticking up his hand. “I’m kinda uncomfortable, and I can tell this is gonna involve lots and lots of fun questions. I mean, while we’re on it, I’d also kind of like to hear Loki’s side of the whole ‘I’m adopted let’s destroy a planet’ story.”
Loki nearly flinches. Tony thinks he’s maybe the only one to spot it, though Romanoff might have too. With her, who knows? “For a tale such as that, a skald might expect payment,” he says, baring his teeth. Putting aside the whole Chitauri thing, which alright, might seem counter-intuitive considering that’s what this whole battle’s been about, Tony thinks he’s just found where the source of many of said issues lies. “But by all means shed your armour. My quarrel has never been with you, seidmenn, nor with your team.”
“Seidmenn?” Bruce says from behind them, both hands clutching at the ruins of his pants in an attempt to preserve his dignity. “That’s uh, something about magic isn’t it. Wow, I missed a lot while I was out.”
“Welcome back Science-Bro!” Tony calls out, as he sends the signal for JARVIS to disengage the suit. There’s enough juice left in the built-in arc reactor to get it off him, but not enough to send it back into its display/repair case to allow the automated systems to bash out a few of the dents. Still, he doesn’t really care about leaving it in a pile on his floor. This room is a mess already. “Cap tells me the Big Guy saved my life towards the end there, so thanks for that.”
Bruce smiles. “I don’t remember it, but no problem.”
“So,” Tony says, heading over to the bar to fix drinks. “Please, go ahead with the story.”
“Okay,” Clint nods. “As I understand it, it’s something like this. After the New Mexico incident, Thor went back to Asgard, and had a fight with Loki. At some point the Bifrost was destroyed. Now I might not have been told exactly what went down, but I know that the end result was that Loki ended up in the hands of the Chitauri.” Barton glances over at said alien, but so far Loki doesn’t seem to have any objections that Tony can see to the way he’s telling the story.
“Let us say merely that it was not a pleasant experience,” Loki says, moving forward so he can pluck Tony’s glass of Scotch out of his hand. Tony shrugs. He had promised him a drink. “I was weak after my long fall from the Bifrost, through the abyss. I could not fight them, nor could I escape them. So I allowed them to believe they had broken me, that I would fetch them the jewel they desired so much, the Tesseract, that I would be content with the payment they offered me.” Hate twists his face, momentary but no less alarming for that. Yeah, Tony would not want this guy properly angry with him.
“As though I wanted a throne!” Loki continues. “I have never wanted a throne. That is not and has never been my fate. All I am concerned with is revenge, revenge on the Chituari, and revenge on Asgard.” His eyes flick to the prone form of Thor, still lying where he fell, as peaceful as though he is simply sleeping. Though if Loki gave him the kind of memory Tony thinks he did, he’s sure Thor’s mind is currently anything but peaceful.
Clint jumps in, taking over the thread of the tale. “I found out about Loki’s real motives,” he says. “And I also worked out a way to partly get around his mind control. I was aware enough underneath his ‘spell’ for that. I guess he wanted to be able to confide in someone. He set up a weird kind of telepathy, a sort of mental link that let us communicate without the Chitauri knowing about it. I managed to persuade him that we could alter his plan so he could still achieve his goals without killing quite so many people.”
“I do not like waste,” Loki says, smiling and raising his pilfered glass in a kind of salute.
“Casualties on the Helicarrier were much lower than expected,” Romanoff says. She sounds... not quite as wary as she was before, in Tony’s opinion. Well, if a suspicious ex-Russian spy is starting to buy this story, it has a high chance of being true. And it makes sense, it fits all the facts they have. Occam’s razor – this sequence of events explains this whole situation better than what they’d previously thought, and let’s be honest, his own thoughts had been trending this way for a while.
Although on Barton’s side... Personally Tony can’t imagine feeling any kind of sympathy for a guy who’d stuck him under their control, especially not if he was still aware the whole time. It sounds like pretty much one of the worst things he can think of. But he won’t question Barton’s decisions. It’s not his place, and he’d be really pissed off if someone did it to him. And since it seems Clint and Loki have somehow hit it off, have somehow nearly become friends of a sort, perhaps Tony ought to be thanking him. He’s sure everything could have turned out a hell of a lot worse without what sounds like a steadying influence on the alien god.
“So what happens now?” he asks. “The Chitauri are all dead, you’ve got your revenge. But there’s still Asgard. You still planning on going after them?”
“And if you are,” Cap adds, “do you intend on continuing your vendetta against Thor? I may not know your grievance with him, but so far he’s seemed like a good man. Certainly a good man to have in a fight. He’s a part of this team now, and I’m not sure I’m willing to allow you to do whatever it is you’re planning to do it him.”
Tony winces as Loki’s eyes narrow. “A good man?” he asks, voice vicious. “Oh yes, Thor is perfection, as always, and a monster such as I could surely have no valid complaint against Asgard’s golden son! Think you I ask your permission? I do as I will, and if you throw your lot in with him you open yourself up to my vengeance. Do not think I shall go as easy on you as I did last time we fought.”
Look, Loki may not be the most stable of individuals, but this is honestly sounding worse and worse about Asgard. You don’t call yourself a monster like that and sound like you mean it unless someone else has made you think that way. But the full story isn’t something they’d be able to drag out of Loki very easily, and who can blame him. Fuck, you think Tony goes telling people about why he has so many daddy issues, or the full details of what happened to him in Afghanistan? No. Not on your goddamn life.
“Whoa, whoa,” he says, holding up his hands. “Simmer down folks. No-one’s going to be fighting or taking revenge or whatever right now. The city’s enough of a mess already, and let’s be honest, we’re all beat. I nearly died just half an hour ago, and I damn well deserve something to eat as a reward. So let’s just get to the point of this little meeting huh, agree we won’t try and kill each other unless the other one starts it first, make nice, whatever. There is far too much talking here, and not enough recovering from traumatic life events.”
It’s apparently enough to get Loki to calm down at any rate, and he favours Tony with a non-threatening kind of smile. “Well spoken,” he says. “For now my terms are thus; the army may be gone, but many of the Chitauri race yet remain. I shall not rest until they are all dead, and for this purpose I shall be taking the Tesseract.” He stalls Tony’s protests – and he’s sure whatever the others were about to say as well – with an upraised hand. “The Tesseract is no toy, no plaything. Your race has not yet come far enough to use its full power. My own study of it shall be the work of centuries. Approach me in a hundred years or so and I may reconsider.”
Tony resists the urge to whine like a kid that’s just had a shiny new toy taken away. It’s not like gamma energy was even his field, but this thing was one of Howard’s pet projects for a long time and he only just found out that it existed. SHIELD has a lot to answer for, and he wants to see what he can make of the artefact. But let’s be honest, it’s an Asgardian artefact, and it’s not like Thor would have let them keep it under other circumstances. Loki probably has an equal claim to the damn thing.
“As for my so-called family...” This smile is decidedly less pleasant. “For the moment Thor may remain with you. I have little doubt that you will have questions for him. For one, I myself am curious why Heimdall All-Seeing knew of my army, but not of my treatment at their hands.”
“Yeah,” Tony says, glancing over at the big blonde heap on the floor. “I’ve got a coupla things I’d like to know too.”
“Keep questing after truth seidmenn,” Loki tells him. “We shall talk again, you and I. But now I shall take my leave, and Barton with me. Never fear, I shall permit him to return should his skills be needed, and of course to visit you as he desires.”
“You’re really going to go with him?” Romanoff asks.
Barton shrugs, picking up his bow. “I’m sorry ‘Tasha. I’m really sorry. But... Phil.”
She nods in assent. Tony is confused for a moment, but then he makes the connection; dating a cellist, cellists have bows, aka an archer aka Clint Barton. The sneaky bastards. He heartily approves, or at least he would have except that these circumstances are kind of fucked up. First Barton had been the brain-washed one, now the positions have been reversed... God, but Loki’s a dick.
Talk about the lesser of two evils, but then Barton is a spy, so maybe he’s used to making that kind of call. Still, in Barton’s place he’d be looking to take a little revenge of his own one of these days.
“Come,” Loki says, and holds out his hand. Barton takes it and they disappear in a flicker of light, like a mirage. There one moment, gone the next.
Into the uncomfortable silence they leave behind, there is a cough and a spluttering exhalation of air, and then Thor is sitting up, his long hair draped in straggling curtains about his face.
“Loki,” he says, quiet, sounding almost broken. “Brother. I am sorry. I did not know.”
Yeah, for all they just saved Manhattan and the world, this scene is kind of the opposite of cheerful. Wonderful. Tony is just about falling asleep on his feet, he hurts everywhere, bone deep, and he’s starving.
“So... about that shwarma.”
The usual warnings for Asgard related stuff (though less so than in previous Thor POV), as well as more mind-control, and even less pleasant than it was for Clint. Also, this is my first time ever writing Coulson. so I'm not 100% sure of my particular take on him... Well, we'll see what you guys think.
Philip Coulson’s mind is not his own. There is a slavish, devoted dog of a thing pasted over the top of it, a worshipful slave to an alien will. He has tried to get past it, carefully, one after another every method he can conceive of, applying his own stock of determination to it in steady pressure searching for the slightest hint of a give. It had been a useless experiment. Whatever ‘magic’ – as the Asgardian race calls it – has him in its grasp, he can’t break it. He has analysed it from every angle he can think of and still... nothing.
This is what Clint has been subjugated to over the past few weeks. It was painful enough merely knowing the bald facts of it – Phil has enough experience in the intelligence industry to have a fairly comprehensive understanding of brain-washing and the deep variety of ways it can fuck someone up. Much worse feeling it for himself. It’s bad enough that his actions aren’t his own, but it’s the ardent faith of the thing that is now in control that really grates on him. Phil has always been dedicated to his work, but he’s been careful not to fall into that kind of trap of patriotism and fanaticism that leads to wilful human rights abuses, torture of innocent people, and worse. He’s always loved his country, or rather the ideals it was founded on – which no doubt has something to do with his early crush on Captain America – but he knows not to go too far. He’ll do what’s necessary to keep it safe, but there’s lines he has drawn for himself that he will not cross over. For one, civilians are off limits, always.
The thought that Loki, with a word, could make him desecrate all his morality is enough to chill him to the bone.
Phil is well aware that Clint is a lot less fussy, morally, than he is, but he’ll not insult his own partner by thinking this might somehow have been easier for him. This removal of all autonomy, this mental violation, it’s a concrete example of all those instinctive body horror tropes that fill movie theatres for a reason. It awakes innate revulsion. No-one ought to be subjugated like this.
He does not put much stock in Loki’s words to him that Clint has somehow given in and gone over to his cause. If the mythology is to be believed, and they have evidence enough that at least some of it has a basis in fact, Loki has always been known as a trickster, and Thor’s words only bear that out. What sort of gullible idiot would he be if he took a trickster’s words at face value? He’ll admit he had a few moments of automatic disbelief and fear, but his common sense soon took over, the multiple possibilities of actual events given the sparse facts he knows. Phil will judge the evidence of his own eyes, if in fact he even gets the opportunity to assess the situation. As it stands, he hasn’t seen Clint at all yet.
If Loki was telling the truth about that much, somehow his partner managed to break free of his mind-control on the Helicarrier, or was broken free by outside means. That is some comfort at least, to know Clint is himself again. But equally true is the fact that Phil is acting as hostage as well as slave, and if things go badly for SHIELD and the Avengers when they fight the alien – whether or not the story of planning to lead the Chitauri to defeat is true, which admittedly seems believable, high probability – that situation is not likely to change. He has no doubts that had he been given a similar ultimatum when Clint had still been in Loki’s power, he would have given in. Searched for all possible alternatives, of course, but submitted in the end anyway.
Love may be a liability, but to deny it is to deny being human. And though Phil does try very hard, even he never claimed to be a perfect spy.
At the moment he has little to do but think. Driving the rented truck out of New York City takes longer than expected, for the roads outside of Manhattan are choked with vehicles heading away from the island. An evacuation order – Fury’s doing no doubt. It seems that the part about Clint giving away the location of the portal was true, although – he comforts himself – it does not follow that the rest was. For one thing, he has managed to establish enough about the mental construct that currently overrules him that he knows it is certainly impenetrable by any force of will, however determined. Willpower has always been something of a... specialty... of his. Unless there’s some particular method of thought that provides a way around it, he can’t see how Clint would have gotten the freedom to suggest any changes to Loki’s plan.
A certain wisp of an idea condenses... perhaps one might subsume the self into the slave super-ego, resorting to willing capitulation... No. He doesn’t want to consider the idea. That way leads to thoughts of Stockholm Syndrome, of a process that has all the horrible sense of inevitability to it and so which he cannot allow himself to think of. The repulsive, unnatural thoughts that float just above his own are enough of a drain on his sanity without compromising it any further.
In the mess of traffic, with the heights of skyscrapers all around, it is impossible to see if battle has broken out. The slave-mind has no real curiosity, as its faith in its master and his inevitable victory is absolute. He has no idea what’s going on, which is intolerable for a man used to having all the resources of SHIELD at his fingertips. He simply has to sit and stew, a prisoner in his own body.
About two and a half hours after he left Stark Tower, by which time he is out of the city proper and into the suburbs, some kind of subtle mental prompting makes the controlling self pull up in the car park outside a Taco Bell. The sight of it reminds him that it has been some time since he last ate, but while he doesn’t think the slave-mind would have any objection to getting food – it wants to keep itself strong for its master – it appears to be waiting for something.
It doesn’t take long to find out what that something is. Footsteps approach, loud on the asphalt, and then Loki appears at his window. He looks significantly the worse for wear, his face cut up, his armour dull and everywhere seemingly coated in a thin layer of what looks like concrete powder. Iron Man, Thor or Hulk, Phil thinks; the only three possessing the capability to do that. He wonders which it was. The sight makes the dog-loyal self – well, Phil has always been a cat person – fill up with overwhelming concern, which is nauseating. Yet he himself would actually take some comfort in the sight if the alien wasn’t smiling so widely.
“You may leave this vehicle where it is, Agent Coulson,” Loki says. “We shall not be needing it for the next part of our journey.”
The slave-mind opens the door and climbs down to join its master. The sceptre is nowhere to be seen, but instead Loki is carrying a very familiar case. The Tesseract. Phil’s heart sinks as scenarios flit through his mind. Chitauri and Avengers dead, Chitauri dead and Loki escaped, Chitauri alive and Loki escaped... insufficient information to come to any conclusion. And then he catches sight of Clint and every part of him comes to a sudden, shuddering halt.
He looks... not well, for there’s dirt, and scabbed over scrapes, and runnels of dried blood. But alive, and mostly healthy, and smiling in what is clearly honest relief of his own. Under any other circumstances Phil would be right at his side, embracing him, breathing in his scent, but he can’t. He can’t move, because the other-self, the slave, does not care about Clint in the slightest. Its mind is only for Loki, smug and self-assured.
But as it happens he does not need to move, because Clint moves for him. He comes close and wraps his arms around him and mutters nonsense into his ear, half-sobbing expressions of love and thankfulness at seeing him again. Phil... Phil still cannot move, cannot return the gesture as every part of him that is him wants to. All the slave-mind does is turns its head to look at Loki. Looking for instructions. Looking for permission.
Loki nods, and as he crooks his fingers in some arcane gesture his control spell washes aside like water breaking over a rock. Not gone – Phil can still feel it in the back of his subconscious – but for now he is free. Free to grab onto Clint like a man saved from drowning, free to whisper his own words of comfort in return.
He does not forget that Loki is still there, and though most of him in swept up in the joy of reunion with the man he loves, there is a part of him that he holds back, analyzing every option for taking the alien down. Phil does not set too much stock in revenge and retribution, but this being is a clear and present threat to everything he has ever sworn to protect. He has seen enough of Loki to come to a few conclusions about his character. Mad. Broken. Vicious, though not uncontrolled. Outside of the prevailing moral codes of humanity, certainly. Phil did not particularly care what might have made him this way – his priority was dealing with the danger as it existed. But there is nothing here that even his inventive mind can use as a weapon, and Loki has his magic.
When he raises his head from Clint’s shoulder, Loki is smiling at him as though he knows precisely what was just going through his mind.
“No doubt the two of you have much to discuss,” the so-called god says. “Though mayhap here is not the best place for it.”
“Yeah,” Clint says, letting go and taking a step back. His bow, Phil notes, is slung over his back along with an empty quiver. “You never did say what the plan was from here, boss.”
The mere sound of those words coming out of Clint’s mouth is enough to make him flinch, though he’s trained enough to hide it, or mostly hide it. Normal rules of perception are unlikely to apply to alien races. The universe is becoming a stranger and stranger place with each passing year. Worse though; he can’t tell if Clint is under Loki’s spell or if this is a genuine shift of allegiance. All his fears have come flooding back. Imagine that servile personality washing over yourself for weeks instead of merely hours... how easy would it be to lose yourself in that? Stockholm Syndrome is enough of a concern under normal circumstances without adding ‘magic’ to the mix.
“We still have unfinished business with those scientists and minions who proved so useful,” Loki replies. “Deals must be concluded, payment given. I have loosed Selvig permanently now, for he is no longer of any use, and deserves his freedom. Though I suppose releasing his friend is more than Thor deserves.”
“Yeah, he was being kind of a douche-bag back in the tower,” Clint says. “Hopefully you sticking some memory of yours in his head will make him realise a few things.” For the moment Phil is content to be quiet, taking in the information. Every scrap helps him build up a picture of what went on in Manhattan, helps guide his choices as to the correct action to take – assuming he has the chance. There’s usually a chance, if you’re patient enough to wait for the right moment.
“I have no great hope for it,” Loki says. “It is no longer my problem, or at least not until I have examined the Tesseract and learned how to use its great power safely. I can be patient to take my revenge upon Asgard.”
Phil makes a decision. A direct approach might get him further, or at least tell him if Clint is... himself. “Mind telling me what this is all about?” he asks his partner quietly. Clint looks abruptly somewhere halfway between guilty and defiant. Not a good combination.
“It’s kind of a long story,” he says. “I did what I had to do to minimize casualties, and I think it turned out pretty well. I never meant for you to get involved like this though.”
It’s looking less and less likely that Clint is still subject to Loki’s control. Phil’s heart sinks further. If his partner has really thrown in his lot with this alien out of some misplaced sense of sympathy, what, realistically, can he do about it? Deprogramming has never been his specialty.
“As I said,” Loki interrupts. “Better you talk this over once the rest of our business has been concluded. I have a number of boltholes spread o’er Yggdrasil’s branches, and I can assure you of their complete safety. Even if the Chitauri managed to wrest their locations from my mind, they no longer have any way of getting to them, and no further hold on me or my seid. My word was given and my promise upheld, and that is the end of it.”
“I’ll explain all you want later Phil, I swear,” Clint says.
Phil doubts his personal preferences have any kind of sway here. Still he nods his assent – there is a chance, however slight, that he may lull Loki into complacency by going along with his plans. Yet he dreads the return of the slave-mind warping back over his own. To his surprise however, Loki does not reactivate it. He merely steps closer, forming a kind of triangle between the three of them. The scent of ozone suddenly fills the air and all around the very fabric of reality seems to ripple.
Something like the pressure of a hand on his back prompts him to take a step forward, and the world changes.
Of the very depths of the travails his own brother had been subject to, Thor had been utterly ignorant. Now, that is no longer the case. Yet he can hardly believe that the memory Loki has shown him is naught but unvarnished truth, for all that he saw it with his very own eyes, felt it with the bone-deep surety of experience shared. It seems madness that all this can have come to pass with no knowledge of it in Asgard. Heimdall Ever-Watching had been searching for Loki all throughout Yggdrasil before finally coming upon him out in the very wastes of the Great Tree, and it had been his words that had led them to knowledge of the Chituari, the curséd alien army who – it appears – have done his brother great wrong. But naught had he said of this... this torture!
It makes no sense! How can the gaze of the Gatekeeper have failed? Some trickery of seid the creatures possessed, to hide their crimes from Asgard’s eyes? Or – a near treacherous thought in itself – that this knowledge might have been kept from Thor. Is it possible that all others have deemed Loki beyond saving, condemned him for his actions that were Thor’s own youthful, foolish crimes writ large? He’d thought this madness of Loki’s random, a fever of the brain, but now it seems it may have been forced upon him. Indeed, it may have only been the shortness of the memory thrust into his mind and the protection of the fact that it was a memory that saved Thor from near the same fate.
Pain he has suffered before, but good pain, earned pain, the honest hurt of battle and questing. Not mindless, unending torture. What right would any man have to expect Loki to come out of that the same? And if he was already unstable, as his actions against Jotunheim seem to suggest – though what reason behind that lies yet unclear – how much worse must the Chitauri have made it?
Oh, Loki. Oh, brother. If only he had known he would have braved e’en a journey across that vast distance to rescue him. Loki is right to hate him, for it seems he abandoned him when he needed it most. Ignorance is no excuse, if it were only his arrogance still un-mastered that prevented him from pressing harder, investigating further... if indeed truth has not been told in Asgard.
And it seems in the end Loki saved himself when Thor could not. A feint, an illusion of obedience such that none of them – save perhaps the Man of Iron – saw through. Thor could not see through it, and he should have been able to. He has neglected the closeness they once shared in their youth, centuries past, and this is the price of it. A sundering. A family broken apart. Thor’s fault, for the most part, in his blindness, in his curséd arrogance! Foul word for foul deeds and his own crimes gone unpunished for too long!
He does not wish to lay any of this blame upon his father, but the more he is forced to confront the consequences of his own actions, the more Thor wonders if mayhap there is some blame to be spread so far. An uncomfortable conclusion, for how can the King and Lord of Asgard have made a mistake? Odin is wisest of all – what right has Thor to suggest otherwise? Yet... even a monarch may, perhaps, be mistaken. Not even the most powerful seer can see all ends of things. Not e’en his mother, bound by her own gifts to speak no word of her visions.
Aye, there is much here that is not right. Much that he wishes to make right. On the eve of his near-coronation Odin had given Thor words he had not yet been ready to hear, that Mjolnir had no equal in power in destruction yes, but also that it had no equal as a tool to build. Thor wishes to be worthy of that power, of all aspects of that power. Though he still has much to learn – as all this makes clear – one day he will be king, and if he is still naught but a weapon, a thing for killing and nothing more, what kind of king will he be? Odin struck their enemies down, but he also made Asgard great.
So must Thor learn to create and to mend. For the hammer is also the black-smith’s tool, which is a thing he has never given much mind to. No more.
He has time to think over all these things as his war-band, still fresh-forged in battle’s heat, makes their way to a place of victory feasting. He does not know yet what they discussed with his brother while he was in the grip of that terrible memory, but by their silence, the wary, watchful eyes of Stark, he is sure it likely reflected badly upon him. But perhaps that is necessary. These warriors, mortal though they may be, they deserve to know more of what in his own shame he has been unwilling to tell them.
Thus, as the surprised merchant greets their arrival and sets them down to await victuals ‘on the house’, which seems an impractical possibility, he comes to a resolution.
“My friends,” he addresses the table, speaking for the first time since he awoke. “I have kept things from you and for that I am sorry. You are good folk and true, and you deserve to know what it is that has passed between my brother and me. Though a feast may not be the best place for such solemn words, should it please you I will tell of all that led up to this unfortunate day.”
Huh. In all honesty Tony really thought they were going to have to resort to some fairly probing questions to get Eurovision here to open up. He’s been wearing that kicked puppy look ever since Loki skedaddled and let him return to the land of the not-having-terrible-things-happen-in-your-head. Whatever memory Loki showed him has really given him a metaphorical kick in the stomach. Tony has a few ideas about what it could have been, none of them good and not made better by his own personal experience and active imagination.
“We’re all ears,” he says, glancing around the table at the others. And it has to be said, for all they just scored a victory for Team Planet Earth here today, nobody is exactly looking chipper. Tony guesses finding out you were a pawn all along for an alien sorcerer does kind of suck. And Romanoff is looking especially down now that her partner in spying, Agent Barton, has sauntered back on over to Team Morally Quite a Dark Shade of Grey. Food will help though he’s sure, when it arrives. Thor’s probably depressing story can hardly make things worse.
“It began... likely it began far before this incident, now that I give it mind,” Thor says. “But to my knowledge it began on the day I was to be handed the crown of Asgard, to act in the interim while my father slept the Odinsleep, the first time I would be given such honour. But... I was not ready. I was arrogant, I thought too much of myself and my realm, I hungered after war. I wished to prove myself as my father had in the battles of his younger days. Loki my brother knew this – he has always seen the most clearly of all of us. Insight, deception, trickery, seidr, those are his gifts.
“Loki wished to prove to my father that I could not yet be trusted to take the throne. He opened a way to allow Jotnar – Frost Giants – into the weapons vault to disrupt the ceremony. In my outrage I vowed to go to Jotunheim and enact revenge for this transgression. No doubt Loki would say t’were his hand in that decision, but in truth I should have done it whatever his words.”
Thor hangs his head; his hands are folded on the table in front of him. He’s ashamed, Tony realises. He might have been the biggest jock to ever jock, by his own admission, but he’s clearly learned his lesson since then. From the briefing packs he read, they can put that down to his ‘banishment’ to New Mexico and the actions of one astrophysicist Dr Jane Foster. If they ever meet, he’ll have to congratulate her.
“We Aesir are a warrior race,” Thor continues. “And killing in battle is what we take joy in. Yet I provoked that fight, and so the lives of those I killed are upon my head. It served no purpose, and it brought no honour to me or Asgard. I would have brought us to open war, had my father not appeased Laufey with my banishment. An act that did much good in the end, for it forced me to see myself as I truly was. Yet it was after that trip that the madness began to creep into Loki’s mind.
“I knew none of this ‘til after my return, but my father told me that it was on that fateful day that Loki found out the truth of his heritage.” Here Thor pauses, his forehead furrowed in thought. Which, Tony thinks, may be a bit of a strain for him after all, since it’s clear enough from what he’s just been saying that he was brought up to be a warrior king, rather than one who gives a shit about politics. It seems like Loki was meant to take that role, which sounds about right from Tony’s admittedly shaky grasp of history. Save the second son to act as an advisor, or to go out into risky diplomatic situations since it was less of an issue if he got his head chopped off.
“Yes,” Romanoff says, “You mentioned Loki was adopted, but not much else.” At Tony’s left, Bruce pushes his glasses further up his nose. After he’d changed back, Tony had lent him some of his own clothes to wear, and he’s pleased to see that they fit rather well, and certainly look a darn sight better than what Bruce had on when he met him on the carrier.
“If I understand the implication,” Bruce says softly, “of your culture and the strength advantage you have over us... were you actually excusing Loki’s small kill-count when Miss Romanoff brought that up?”
Thor shrugs, looking sheepish. “Well,” he replies, “you must admit your mortal warriors of SHIELD are not the most challenging opponents. I am sure given the opportunity... Even considering that he does not use honourable weapons... Not that I am saying he was right to attack your people without provocation, for you are one of the Nine, not some backwater hunting world! Nor are you any threat to Asgard. But really, had he exerted himself I am sure he could have reached far more respectable numbers.”
They have a very different culture to us, Tony reminds himself, while trying not to think too hard about the implications. They’re aliens, you can’t expect them to think the same way, or have the same concept of right and wrong. Still, if that’s a ‘poor showing’, what exactly does Thor consider a good one? And what the hell are hunting worlds? And is he saying that if Earth posed some kind of ‘threat’ to Asgard, whatever that means in their terms, they would think themselves perfectly justified in some kind of pre-emptive strike?
He can see he’s not the only one having bad thoughts about those last few sentences either. Bruce looks a little bit ill, Cap looks a mixture of shocked and outraged, and Romanoff... well, she’s the Black Widow, she doesn’t feel emotions like normal human beings do. But he thinks she’s less than impressed.
Thor himself is looking rather puzzled at the reaction, but then the server comes over with plates of hot meat and sauce wrapped in pitta bread, breaking the tension, and drawing the Aesir’s attention onto an equally important cultural value – the consumption of a metric fuck-ton of food.
The first plate of shawarma has disappeared down Thor’s throat by the time the waitress has finished putting down the rest, and Tony says, “You might as well keep them coming – it looks like we’ve got a hungry bunch here.” He gets a nod in reply, and the woman heads back towards the kitchen. The demi-god is licking sauce from his fingers with evident enjoyment.
“Your Midgardian fare is most satisfactory,” he says. “But I have lost the thrust of my tale. I may not be able to see into my brother’s mind enough to know how the revelation of his ancestry led to his actions ‘pon the Bifrost, but if I set the events out for you all, you may have better luck than I. As to his most recent assault upon your realm, the vision he gave me made much clear. Yet I suspect that was much of what you discussed while I was incapacitated. I should have been more trusting of his word, but to my shame I confused his madness before with his madness now. Now I perceive they must have most dissimilar causes, though the former is still beyond my comprehension.”
“We’ll do what we can to make sense of it for you,” Romanoff says, in a perfectly neutral tone. She’s eating with careful bites that miraculously avoid spilling any sauce anywhere, which in Tony’s opinion is just further evidence of her supernatural abilities. As for himself, he isn’t quite sure yet whether he likes it.
“Some eleven or twelve centuries ago,” Thor says, “the Jotnar invaded Midgard. Asgard assembled to stop them, led by Odin my father. We drove them back to their own world and beat them in glorious battle. The artefact that permitted them their power, the Casket of Ancient Winters, was taken from them. But my father took something else from Jotunheim that day.”
“Let me guess,” Tony says, seeing where this is going. “Loki.”
“Aye,” Thor replies. “King Laufey’s own son, abandoned in their temple. When my father picked him up, his new-born seid permitted him to take on Aesir appearance. Odin took him in as his son, as my brother. None knew the truth of it until now.”
Tony sighs. A few of the more obvious of Loki’s issues are beginning to make perfect sense. Never matching up to the firstborn, the golden son, which is fairly literal in Thor’s case. Seen as ‘dishonourable’ in some way, whatever that meant to the Aesir – though it was clear they took honour seriously, so that was probably a greater condemnation than Tony would otherwise have thought. And then you find out you’re the kidnapped kid of a conquered people – a temple is, after all, a fairly strange place to abandon someone.
“It was unlucky that father fell into the Odinsleep whilst I was still banished,” Thor continues. “The throne fell to Loki. I am the more sure now that I have seen the truth of his latest actions that he never wanted it, but to my friends, who had seen me so recently banished and were often... uneasy at the companionship of a seidmenn, it seemed suspicious. They travelled to Midgard to tell me what had occurred, and to persuade me to return home if they could. I had not intended to, but....” he sighs. “I suppose the madness had him in its grasp by then. He sent the Destroyer after me. I do not really blame him for it even now – he was not in his right mind, and it did not kill me, after all. But it made me see that something was very wrong, and that I must return.
“When I arrived Loki had tricked Laufey by promising him Father’s head, but instead t’was Laufey who was slain. In his fevered state Loki had some idea of turning the Bifrost on Jotunheim, destroying it utterly. We fought. I could not let him do in major part what I had myself been so bloodthirsty to do in minor. In the end it was necessary for me to destroy the Bifrost to stop it. In the explosion of it, the both of us near fell into the void. Loki caught hold of Gugnir, Odin’s spear of office, and my father, newly awakened, had hold of me.”
He trails off into silence. Thor seems to be caught in the grip of a great deal of emotion. Tony has a dreadful sense that this is all starting to coalesce into one big fucked-up ball of damaged psychology that seems to have been steadily growing inside Loki’s head until this last sequence of events tipped it over into critical mass. Goddamn space Vikings! It’s clear they don’t have therapists in Asgard.
“What happened then?” Cap asks, using some kind of ‘you can trust me with your pain, good citizen!’ voice. It seems to work though.
“Loki said... that he had tried to do this terrible thing for our father, for Asgard’s sake. Odin... he meant to say that it had not been necessary, that Loki had no need to go to such lengths to win his approval, but my brother did not take it that way. I fear he believed our father to be condemning him. To be... casting him out, or like it. He let go. He fell.”
There are tears glimmering in Thor’s eyes. Tony is honestly completely crap at handling other peoples’ shows of emotion. He doesn’t know what to do other than simply forge ahead with the question he knows he has to ask, but desperately doesn’t want to.
“Tell me what these Frost Giants are like,” he says, “As a people, I mean.”
Thor makes a face. “For the most part, untrustworthy, power-hungry, barbarous, vicious monsters,” he replies. “But of course Loki is nothing like that. He was brought up as one of us, as an Odinson no less! Though I’ll admit,” he says, uneasily, “that there is an argument to be made that it was not a... a perfect transition. But to compare Loki’s mild mischief – his momentary madness aside – with Jotnar foulness... No! That is in no way right!”
Oh god. There is no facepalm big enough for what Tony is feeling right now. Arggg, he could scream if he thought it would do anyone any good. Untrustworthy, of a demi-god known as the Lie-smith? Power-hungry, when his own brother’s friends thought he’d gotten him banished to steal the throne? And then to be told that these personality ‘failings’, no doubt magnified in seriousness by the culture that had stolen him, were due to his birth as the son of the very worst of all the monsters... How could anyone think that would possibly turn out well? Combined with whatever he’d gone through at the Chitauri’s hands... It’s a wonder the guy is still functional at all.
“Well...” he says. “I can tell you that I’m pretty sure I know why your brother decided it would be a good idea to murder all the Jotnar. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure you want to hear it.”
Thor perks up at that, like the big golden retriever that he is hearing the promise of ‘walkies’. “Whatever your conclusion friend Stark,” he says. “Please share it. If I have been insufficiently humbled by my experiences thus far, ‘tis better it be done quickly than let any arrogance of mine grow once more.”
Tony sighs. Now, precisely how is he meant to go about explaining that his own culture has royally fucked his little brother over...
The usual warnings for Asgard related stuff, plus I'll let you guys make your own minds up about whether or not Clint has gotten a bit Stockholmed.
Travelling through Loki’s strange method of teleportation is... weird, to say the least. Clint comes out of the other end disorientated and off balance. It had been a momentary flash of darkness, the sensation of movement, the impression of a great expanse of empty space stretching around him, felt rather than seen. A rough, unfamiliar surface beneath his boots. He takes several deep breaths, taking stock of himself.
They are back in the base, chill brick walls rising around them. Loki smiles, and Clint can feel a pulse of pleasure through their mental link. He’s been getting a lot of that, and satisfaction as well. It makes sense; everything went just as Loki wanted it and he got to see a whole bunch of Chitauri slaughtered too.
Beside Clint, Phil is leaning heavily on his arm. There’s a tense energy to him that Clint knows means he’s seriously pissed off. Which is understandable – being under Loki’s mind-control hadn’t exactly been a pleasant experience, although Clint has forgiven the guy for it since then. Loki hadn’t had much of a choice, and it had turned out okay in the end. Doing it to Phil though... yeah, Clint is kind of in two minds about that. On one hand, it was a serious dick move, and he’s well aware it was at least in part to use his lover as a tool against him. On the other, Loki could have killed Phil, and he didn’t. Clint is perfectly willing to take any possible alternative over that.
“Here,” Loki says, and produces a large velvet bag from somewhere – Clint is assuming some kind of other-dimensional pocket of space. Handy for storage. The alien prince tosses it over casually and Clint catches it, pulling the mouth of it open to have a look inside. It’s more diamonds, lots of them. Enough to pay off the mercenaries very generously. Phil raises a curious eyebrow, and Clint tilts it in his direction to show him.
“Produced by magic,” he explains. Phil makes a disapproving sort of noise, and darts a suspicious look at Loki’s back. Clint really wishes he could take him aside and explain to him... well, explain to him why he decided to go along with Loki’s plans, for one thing. Explain why he honestly doesn’t mind sticking around now that Phase One is over, and maybe hopefully convincing Phil that he should stay too. Obviously if he wants to go back to SHIELD – which he probably will, since Phil always gives himself 110% to whatever job he does – he ought to, it’s just that Clint is rather worried that it’s not going to be an option.
As Loki heads off down the tunnel, Clint follows him, Phil following on closely behind. He can already catch hints of the usual noises of Loki’s minions echoing from the walls. It hasn’t been long enough since they left for anyone to have gotten impatient and thought about leaving. It seems like a lot longer, considering everything that’s happened, but it’s really only been a couple of days.
“So, uh, this was our secret base,” Clint tells Phil, looking mostly to fill the silence. “Pretty comfy, as secret bases go.”
“Clint...” And goddamn it, Clint hates how... how tired, how hesitant, Phil sounds. His own lover doesn’t trust him, and how can he blame him? It’s easy to forget that Loki’s actions have resulted in the deaths of a lot of people, even if it wasn’t entirely by his own free will. But Phil doesn’t know that last part.
“I promise I’ll explain everything when we get... wherever the hell it is we’re going,” he says, knowing it’s barely adequate.
Phil looks like he would have said something else, but they’ve arrived. Loki raps the hilt of his sceptre on the floor, getting everyone’s attention.
“Greetings all,” he says. “The plan went as intended. I thank you for your services. To the warriors amongst you, the remainder of your payment is here, with Agent Barton.” Clint holds up the bag obligingly. One of the guys – Kent, he thinks the man’s name is, the one in charge – comes over to take it from him. He checks it over, nods, and starts to gather the other mercs together. They’d lost a few in the attack on the Helicarrier, but Clint chose the less pleasant type of mercenaries for a reason. To the minds of those who remain alive, it just means they’ll be getting a bigger share of the profits.
“And for the seidmenn amongst you, those you mortals call scientists, you have the knowledge you have acquired whilst in my service. However, I appreciate that it has been but a short time you have spent here. Thus, I promise each of your organisations, that is, HYDRA and AIM, one boon that they may claim from me at any time, though I shall reserve the right to refuse those that I deem unreasonable and ask that you choose another. Still, I imagine that the favour of a god shall be most highly prized by those that rule you.”
This is probably a really bad thing, and by the way Phil is glaring, Clint knows that he at least thinks so. But... look, he’s not about to try and claim that Loki is a good guy or anything, but he’s still the (adopted) son of a king, and he seems to have some kind of moral code of his own, even if it doesn’t really match a human one. It might not be a disaster.
You sure about this boss? he asks mind to mind.
It is a small enough thing, Loki replies, sounding amused. He lifts the hand not holding the Tesseract container and makes a motion much like that of a magician producing a coin from behind a kid’s ear. Instead of dollars though, he is holding two small stones, each with some kind of rune carved into it. He tosses one to each of the groups. And worry not. I have made a pact for peace with your friends, have I not? I have no intention of breaking it.
Alright, that does make Clint feel a lot better.
“When you wish to call in the debt,” Loki tells his now ex-minions, “merely throw the stone into a fire, and I shall come. Is this acceptable to you?”
“Yes sir,” one of the scientists says, gazing at the little pebble with the look of someone who desperately wants to start prodding it to see how it works.
“Then we shall depart,” Loki says, turning to face Clint and Phil. He reaches out a hand to Clint’s shoulder again, and Clint grabs hold of his lover’s hand. Then they are back in the darkness once again.
This time when they reappear it is to the hissing sound of pouring rain. The room they are standing in is dry enough however, and as Clint’s eyes adjust to the dim light, he can see that they appear to be standing inside the hollowed out bole of a simply enormous tree. He can see the walls carrying on and on upwards, see the other side of the place cathedral-distant. Partitions of carved wood divide up the space, solid for perhaps three or four metres at the bottom before transforming into delicate filigree that stretches towards the empty expanse above. Behind them they are lit by a doorway that seems to open out onto a cloudy sky, though he can just about make out torches sitting in sconces on the partition walls. In fact, it only takes a gesture from Loki to bring them bursting into life, flickering with green flames, conveniently not setting the wood on fire.
“Nice place,” Clint says. “Where the hell are we?”
“In the most isolated part of the great forests of Alfheim,” Loki replies. “A safe place. We shall not be found here.”
Clint fidgets, glances over at Phil, who is impassive. “So, what now?”
“Now I begin my preliminary study of the Tesseract,” Loki says. “Although you and your lover have much to talk over, I doubt it could fill the time any examination in depth would take, so I shall do my best to be brief for the moment. Perhaps a week. There is good hunting here, and equipment to replace that which you used up in the battle. This is one of many hideouts I have built over the centuries, and it is well stocked. Make yourselves at home. I shall be in the central room, though I would ask that you do not disturb me unless it is an emergency. It will be... delicate work.”
“Okay boss,” Clint replies. Loki nods once, and moves away, disappearing behind a door directly opposite the apparent entrance. Clint turns to look at Phil, suddenly very nervous. They are alone at last.
Silence stretches out. Phil is the first to break it.
“Are you still under Loki’s spell, Clint?”
“No,” Clint replies. “Tasha knocked me out of it on the ‘carrier.”
Phil’s face twists with as much emotion as he ever shows, and Clint... he aches inside that he’s the goddamn cause of it, that he’s the one that put the hurt there. He loves Phil; he can’t bear the thought that he’s causing him harm. “Then... why?” he asks. “Why are you still obeying him?”
Clint scrubs a hand through his hair, frustrated. “It’s not... it’s not really a simple answer,” he says. “But... but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and explain. When this all began... when he took me... yeah, I hated him. I’ll admit that. But you have to get that this whole invasion of earth thing, all the things he did because of it, none of that was his choice.”
Phil’s eyes narrow. “You’re going to have to explain a bit more than that, Clint.”
“It was clear enough that something was going on even before he told me about it,” Clint says, the words practically spilling out of him. He needs to convince Phil that he’s telling the truth, that he really does have a reason for all this besides what his lover probably thinks, ie. Stockholm syndrome or something. “He was pretty beaten up when he first got here, and he was... twitchy, like... like an animal that’s used to being kicked. Not PTSD, not quite, but I think only because his species or whatever probably process shit differently to how we do.”
Phil nods for him to go on, which is a good sign. He’s willing to listen at least.
“He told me that the army that was coming wasn’t his army, that they had forced him to help them invade so they could take the Tesseract, and that they were watching him through the spear thing. He didn’t say it in so many words, but it’s pretty clear they tortured him. Loki’s plan was for the Avengers to kill the Chitauri as they came through the portal, since if they failed at that point they could hardly blame him for their own incompetence. Uh, and that seemed to work out pretty much as intended.”
Phil is silent for a moment, but there’s a certain softening to his face that gives Clint hope. “And what was your part in all this?” he asks.
Clint winces, just a little bit. He’s going to have to tell the truth about the Helicarrier, and that... well, it might not go over so well.
“I thought I could limit the loss of life. And I’m pretty sure I did, so it’s not like it was a completely terrible idea or anything. I’m pretty sure Aesir culture has very different morals to our own; I’m not going to pretend Loki actually gives a shit about human life. But he doesn’t have any real grudge against us either, that’s all reserved for the Chitauri and Asgard. And mind-control aside, he’s actually pretty nice to his minions...”
“Nice?” Phil says sharply, before he can continue. “You’ve felt the same horrible, worshipful thing that his brain-washing puts in control of you, how can you possibly...”
“It wasn’t... that bad?” Clint says, knowing it’s not exactly the most helpful thing to say, but unable to stop himself. And it wasn’t! That devotion, that belonging... okay, not something he would ever have chosen, but once he’d learnt how to work with it instead of against it, it had almost been pleasant at times. “I mean... after a while I learned how to get a bit of control, as long as I could get myself to think we were working towards the same goals.”
Phil closes his eyes and breathes deeply. Clint recognises the expression on his face; that’s his ‘I’m severely pissed off with you right now but I’m not going to explode at you because that would be counter-productive’ face.
“Can’t you see what he’d done to you?” he says at least. “That thing wearing down at you... He’s manipulated you. He’s made you loyal to him. He’s not a good person Clint, he’s not your master. Even if he had reasons for everything else he did, brainwashing is still unconscionable.”
“Hey, Phil, no,” Clint says, dismayed. “I don’t have Stockholm Syndrome. Or at least I’m pretty sure I don’t. I never said Loki was one of the good guys, I just said he wasn’t exactly a bad guy either. And... and I’m not keeping on obeying him just because. Don’t forget he had you as a hostage, for one thing. I’m pretty angry at him about that, though considering that it was either that or killing you...
“But look, the only reason I joined SHIELD in the first place was because it was a much better fucking option than keeping on running from my shitty childhood. I’m not like you, I don’t have a... a calling, or whatever. I just kill people for money, and I try and justify that I do that by saying that I’m doing it for my country but it isn’t true, deep down, and you know that about me, you’ve always known. If it wasn’t SHIELD, it would be some other government, or I’d have gone mercenary. You and ‘Tasha are who matter to me, not the rest of them. The only people who matter. So... killing some of them, to save a hell of a lot of civilians down the road... It did not bother me anywhere near as much as it should, and that’s gonna be true with or without someone messing with my head.”
Fuck, he can feel tears threatening to well up. His throat is tight. These aren’t exactly things he’s proud of, not when compared to Phil, who is a really fucking moral guy even though he tries to pretend otherwise sometimes. These are things Clint sometimes tries to hide, and maybe he’s made too good a job of it. He made sure when they first started out that Phil knew what he was getting into with him, but maybe Phil has forgotten some of that, over the years.
“The whole Helicarrier attack? Loki was going to do it anyway, but most of it was my idea. The people who died there, those lives are on me, but I did it because I knew the alternative was worse. And maybe I never entirely thought it through until now, but do you really think I can go back after that? After what I’ve done?”
“Yeah, sure, Fury would get it,” Clint replies. “But what about everyone else? All the regular folks whose friends I killed. You think they wouldn’t find out about it?” He hadn’t realised he felt guilty about doing that, but apparently he does. Maybe he’s not quite as heartless as he thought. He still wouldn’t take any of it back though. He’s still sure it had been the necessary thing to do.
Phil looks pained, but he can’t offer any reply or reason why maybe Clint would be able to go back to SHIELD. That one fight to save the day with the Avengers had been a reprieve, a one-time-only sort of deal. Now he has Loki, and Loki has him, and that’s basically it. There’s Phil, for now, but he’s not going to want to stay and Clint is fooling himself if he thinks otherwise. Maybe he can... oh, he doesn’t know, help Loki get less broken or something. He’d had a bit of a positive influence before, as far as he can tell. And it would at least be something useful for him to do.
“Can we... can we talk about this more some other time?” he says. “I think I’ve said enough shit already, and I’m not sure saying any more is going to help right now. I just need to work my own thoughts out a bit more, I guess.”
Phil nods. “You’re right. I have enough to... process anyway.”
It’s awkward, it’s painfully awkward, and Clint doesn’t know how to make it better. Things have never been like this between them before. Phil has been his first serious long-term relationship anyway, so he has no other experience to fall back on, not that he can imagine anything quite preparing him for a situation like this.
“I’ll... I’ll go and find some arrows,” he says. “I think I need to shoot some things.”
“Go on then,” Phil says, without much warmth. Clint gets out of there faster than is strictly appropriate. God, this is so messed up.
“Well first of all,” Tony says, “I should probably make sure you know that I’m just theorising here. If anyone else wants to chip in, please feel free, because I make no promises. It’s not like I’ve got any qualifications here, I just took a Psych class for a semester in college in between being awesome at science to try and get into a hot girl’s pants. And maybe I’ve got a little bit of personal experience when it comes to being fucked up by your family.”
“Anything you can say will of great help to me, friend Stark,” Thor replies. His big blue eyes are practically glistening with unshed tears. “I believe you may see this matter more clearly than I.”
Tony looks over at Romanoff, who of everyone else here is the most likely person to be able to psychoanalyse an alien demi-god, but she just gives him a look that says pretty clearly ‘you’re on your own here’. Yeah. No-one else wants to break bad news to Thor, and who can blame them.
“It’s like this,” Tony says. Well, it’s gotta be said, and it looks like he’s the man to do it. “This sounds like something that’s been coming for a while. I mean, you’ve said that Loki seems to have believed that he’s always been treated as second best by Odin and the rest of Asgard.”
“It is not true,” Thor says adamantly, and then, more hesitantly, “At least, that is what I have always told myself. Yet how can I deny that I was lauded for my actions, the very thing that allowed my arrogance to master me, to make of me a fool. Loki said he lived in my shadow – that was never my intention, but now can I really see fit to claim that it may not have happened? And I, in my foolishness, too blind to see it?”
Well this is... progress. Sort of. It doesn’t exactly help that Thor looks like a kicked puppy right now, which kind of disposes a guy to be on his side, even if maybe all the facts don’t necessarily say that he deserves it. He’s just naturally likeable, and that might be part of Loki’s problem.
“So Loki feels like he isn’t as worthy as you are,” Tony continues. He’s used to explaining things via a whole bundle of pop-culture references, but that isn’t going to work here, and it just makes things twice as hard. Normal, boring people language sucks. “You’re a big, bad warrior prince, and he’s... not. I’m guessing he’s not exactly a warrior at all as you guys define it either. What is it that makes his weapons dishonourable anyway? What difference does it make whether someone fucks your shit up using a hammer and a sword or whatever verses a spear and knives and so on? I gotta say, I don’t get it.”
Thor fidgets. “I know it is not the same on Midgard,” he says. “You mortals have not our strength of arms, so it is not fair to expect you to hold to the same standards of honour as we do. In battle, it is meet that a warrior fights his opponent man to man, in close combat. Weapons that strike from afar, such as those little throwing weapons your common soldiers use, make mockery of that. They are suitable only for the weak and for women.”
Tony can see Romanoff bristle at that from the corner of his eye, and he winces internally. However strong and indestructible Thor is, the Black Widow will find a way to make him very, very sorry he’d said that.
“And the worst of all is his practise of seidr,” Thor continues, looking even more unhappy, if that is even possible. “For it is not right that a man should make use of magic. Though,” he says hastily, “’til true that it seems different here. You, Man of Iron and your berserker friend are seidmenn both, yet you are no less respected for it. I do not understand it, and I have never understood my brother’s insistence on following the man’s path despite his proclivities. It is but another matter on which I had hoped you might shed some light for me.”
Still a puppy. A big, hopeful, sexist, puppy. Tony Stark is really not the guy who ought to be explaining this stuff. He looks around the table for help. Cap looks confused, Romanoff looks pissed off, and Bruce just looks like he would really rather be anywhere else than here. Damn. Help doesn’t appear to be forthcoming.
“Yeah... it... doesn’t really work like that here. Like, at all. We call ‘magic’ science, and pretty much anyone can do it if they feel like it. Of course, some people are better at it than others,” – he waves his hand in his own direction and in Bruce’s – “but, uh, no. We don’t call it women’s stuff. Kind of the opposite actually until a few decades ago...”
Thor looks like this is literally blowing his mind. “But how can it not be self-evident? Magic is cunning, and trickery. No true warrior’s weapon. Or it is for building, nurturing and healing, and women are better at that. It may be a powerful tool in battle, true, but not for men.”
“Oh man,” Tony says. “I don’t know how to explain this to you. I don’t. This is gonna take, I don’t know, sociology 101 textbooks and... and history of feminism books and a whole bunch of stuff I really don’t know that much about.” He really wishes Pepper was here. She’d know exactly how to explain gender stuff to a space Viking.
It’s been 1000 years. How are these guys still stuck in the Dark Ages? Their tech is state of the art, so why not their culture?
Cap sticks up his hand. He’s such a Boy Scout it’s unbelievable. “I... I’m confused too,” he says. “I know things have changed, but I haven’t really had the chance to find out much about it. I didn’t even know that dame... that women could become scientists now.” He’s blushing. Tony is flailing a little bit inside.
Romanoff sighs, and speaks up. “I’ll explain these things to Thor later, and Steve if he’d like.” Her voice is pleasant in that dangerous kind of way, and Tony is really fucking glad it’s not directed at him. Still, he’s pretty sure Natasha knows that Thor isn’t really to blame for his culture’s backwardness. She won’t be too rough. “Since SHIELD hasn’t taken the time to let Captain Rogers in on these things. But please, continue. You were doing well.”
“Is this meant to be some kind of character-building exercise, you not helping me do this?” Tony asks, looking at her suspiciously. He wouldn’t put anything past her. Romanoff gives him an innocent look which tells him nothing. Damn it.
“Anyway,” he says, trying to get his – never exactly linear – mind back on track. “This really makes things even worse for Loki. Seriously, you couldn’t tell that being told he was womanly and weak for being good at magic would make him feel shitty?”
“But he might have changed his actions at any time,” Thor protests. “He may not be as skilled, but my brother can still use a sword!”
“You can’t expect someone to change their entire personality just because it makes you feel uncomfortable!” Tony says. “People don’t work like that, even alien people.” He pauses for a moment to consider it. “Probably.”
“He’s right,” Cap says, which is a little bit of a surprise. Honestly the guy looks pretty beat, which is probably why he hasn’t exactly been contributing much. “I might be behind the times, but I’ve always believed that if it isn’t hurting anybody, then people should be able to do what makes them happy.”
Tony nods. “Well said, Captain Freedom, well said. Better not let the Republicans hear you say that though.” Cap gives him an odd look, but Tony is already barrelling on. Let’s get this mess over and done with as quickly as possible. He’s pretty sure the serious discussion is delaying the delivery of more shawarma.
“So basically your bro was already kind of fucked up before he found out he was adopted,” Tony says. Thor looks annoyed – well Tony wasn’t trying to insult Loki, it just sort of happens naturally whenever words come out of his mouth. “But now I guess he thought he had a reason why daddy didn’t love him, and why everyone hated him.”
“Our father does love Loki!” Thor says, bringing his fist down on the table with an alarming amount of force. Surprisingly it doesn’t break, though it does let out an unpleasant creaking noise. Thor immediately looks repentant.
“Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t,” Tony says, shrugging. “Sure seems like he didn’t really show it though.”
“Tis true Odin has never been... open, as to his affection for us,” Thor says. “But it was clear by his looks and his actions that he did love us both.”
Tony isn’t going to argue the point. He wasn’t there, he doesn’t know. But he’s got a little experience in the area, and that’s probably what makes him want to come down on Loki’s side of the equation. “The point is that you guys grew up hearing that these Frost Giants were all monsters and then Loki finds out that he is one. You think that’s not going to fuck a guy up? You think that wouldn’t make him believe he’s finally figured out what’s wrong with him, and that it’s that he’s a monster?”
Thor closes his eyes. His hands are clasped together tight enough to whiten his knuckles. Yeah, the truth is a painful thing to hear. Tony knows. That’s why he cloaks so much of everything in a shell of personality, of light-hearted words, of joking and poking fun at everyone and everything. What, it’s a totally valid coping mechanism.
“Maybe the whole reason he wanted Jotunheim destroyed was to prove to everyone that he really was one of you. That he belonged. To finally get his dad to notice him and tell him he’d done a good job.” Yeah, that has the ring of truth to it. God knows Tony had done enough stupid things to try and make Howard give him some fucking scrap of regard when he was a kid. Bad enough being unwanted... if he’d found out he was adopted he would probably have imploded.
That way lies super-villain Tony. Symmetry, huh.
“It seems... I have many apologies to offer my brother,” Thor says, his voice heavy with emotion. “I have hurt him, I who should have protected him. He has protected me many times over the years, and I... I have been too stupid and blind to do my duty to him.”
“Yeah well, buck up big guy,” Tony says, uncomfortably. “I’m sure you’ll get a chance to at some point. Loki’s got enough... issues... surrounding you that he’s sure to turn up at some point, even if it’s just to try and kill you or something.”
“My brother has never seriously tried to see me dead,” Thor replies. Well... at least he’s thinking positively. Tony just nods, more than a little disbelieving. “But thank you for your words, Man of Iron. Your tongue surely holds much wisdom.”
“Can’t say that’s a compliment I’ve been given many times,” Tony says. “But I’m glad I could help. Now, hopefully since that drama is over we can get the waitress to bring us some more shawarma.”
Warnings: internalised racism
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
With Clint having left into the interlocking landscape of tree branches that make up the canopy of this immense rainforest, Phil has nothing to do but to stand in the gap of the entrance and watch the rain sleeting down and think. He stares out at an alien landscape, foliage just the wrong shade of green, leaves of an unfamiliar shape, the sheer scale of everything – in some ways it is inconceivable, hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is a different planet. In others... the sheer strangeness of the place is like stepping into science-fiction. He’d never really expected when he first joined SHIELD that he would have to deal with anything like this. Espionage is his game, and though he’s certainly adaptable, this can be a struggle at times even for him.
The situation is not good. Though Phil has no doubts that what Clint said to him was the unvarnished truth – as he saw it at least – that doesn’t mean it was pleasant to hear. To what extent Loki’s control has moulded his partner’s perspective he doesn’t know. There is no data to draw from, no known outcomes that he could evaluate. There is only pain and confusion, the horror of a lack of control, so inimical to a man like himself.
And yet, for Clint, it seems the very same thing hardly bothers him, and that is what Phil finds the hardest to understand. He can’t imagine giving in to the slavish mind that had taken over him in those drawn out hours, not to the extent that he could somehow find a way to take control of it. Submission, and hence a kind of freedom. Was that what Loki referred to in his many diatribes? Although, as with everything that comes from the mouth of a ‘God of Lies’, that cannot be trusted.
Is Clint lost to him entirely then? The thought carves out a hollow place in his chest and fills it with heavy lead. What they have – or perhaps now, what they had – is a rare thing for people in their line of work. Loneliness had been part of the bargain Phil had made when he chose this career, and he had never expected to find someone to share himself with, in the too-short stretches of time between missions. Clint... Phil would not be quick to say he loves someone, but that’s the truth of it. He loves Clint, and letting him go, letting this break them, giving in to circumstances without a fight? That’s anathema.
This crisis may have split them apart, changed everything around in a calamitous upheaval, but even if Phil has to rebuild their relationship piece by shattered piece he’ll do it, however long it takes. Clint may not be able to return to SHIELD – that had been a valid point – but Phil has no intention of letting that stop him, even if it means staying here with a deadly enemy.
Clint was right; Phil had always known of his lover’s mercenary nature. It was all that had led to sparing Natasha Romanoff’s life, which had certainly turned out to be the best possible decision. Certainly her character was much the same as Clint’s, and if their positions had been reversed Phil doubts the outcome would have been much different, save perhaps more chillingly effective. It had been a certain naivety on his own part to think that their differing moral standpoints wouldn’t cause some kind of clash between Clint and himself, one way or another.
Perhaps Clint truly doesn’t care who his employer is. Phil still has some hopes of changing his mind, but he will have to face the facts of the situation if he can’t. He will not betray SHIELD, he will not betray Fury or his country. But if Loki has told Clint the truth, that he cares only for revenge on these distant alien powers, that may not be necessary, or at least if it is, not until long after Phil is dead. He is capable of compromise.
It merely remains to see precisely what the nature of that compromise might be.
Loki settles into a meditative position in the centre of a perfectly circular room. Although much of this sanctuary is cluttered with the debris, both useful and not, of centuries spent travelling Yggdrasil’s branches studying the paths of seidr, this place at least he has kept clear. The floor is polished as smooth as any spell can make it, as are the walls. The ceiling is a mosaic of colour, such majesty that the small spectrum Midgardian eyes can comprehend would not be fit to take in a tenth of it.
Not that either of the two Midgardians here are likely to see it. He does not regret releasing Agent Coulson from his seid-weaving. It gave comfort to his hawk, and he could tell the other was not adapting well to it. Such a continual struggle would have damaged him in the end, and that is not what he wants. Still, he had enjoyed the way the man called him ‘my lord’. A pity to give that up. There will be time enough in the future for these things however.
He opens the Tesseract container. The light of the universe casts itself upon his face. His senses thrill with the power of it, quiescent though it may be. This is power to reshape reality on unimaginable scale. This is the legacy of the world’s beginning, of Ymir the Shaper, of Auðhumla, the first world that bore life amongst the sapling branches of the Great Tree, now long lost to the vast expanses of time, billions of years and many generations of even the long-lived Aesir and Jotnar.
It is dangerous even to touch it, but Loki thinks he has the measure of that much by now. The case is put aside, folded into dimensional space where it cannot disrupt the purity of the room. The wards on the walls are active now, a shimmering barrier of energy, letting nothing pass within or without. This chamber was constructed for the most delicate weavings of his seid, and he must but hope that it will be sufficient to this latest task. He places the Tesseract before him, his breath catching in his throat at the raw sense of the potential that shudders and roils beneath his fingertips.
For a moment, he knows fear. How can he hope to master such a thing as this, as it was meant to be mastered? His plans are not the lowly ambitions of less powerful beings. He means to have what even Odin dared not keep. Is it foolhardy, to aspire to such? He is after all only a monster, an unworthy thing. Yet his seid is strong, his very monstrousness that which gives strength to him, makes the mere thought of revenge possible. Is his heritage not that of kings, though fallen Jotnar kings they may be? Is Laufey’s line not Ymir’s line, just as Odin’s is, though warped and twisted? Many ages ago Jotunheim had the same claim to power as Asgard, though they resorted to base, foul things and descended to that which they now are.
Loki has a right to the Tesseract and all it contains. All he must do is prove himself.
He holds his hands bare centimetres away from it, stretching out his seid-senses. This is what those mortals built their little machines to do, for they were not capable of it in and of themselves. Seidr is a complex thing if one hopes to have any greatness at it. One must envision both what-is and what-they-wish-to-be, holding them in the mind in the fullness of truth and comprehension before applying the will to change it. To truly know a thing, it must first be glimpsed through kennings, through the simplifying gaze of metaphor that leads one on a sure and certain path from outline and outwards appearance to the ephemeral nature of reality. Thus the warp and weft, thus weaving, thus call fire bane-of-wood, or honour mind’s-worth, or sky Ymir’s-skull. Thus one can see the whole of a thing as separate parts brought together, like a many-faceted jewel. Or at least this is how the Aesir learn, how he learned. To a mortal mind, he suspects it would make little sense.
Still, he has more important things to focus his mind upon. Distractions are dangers in such deep examination of such a deadly thing. The Tesseract is that which holds vastness within, and while to see one part is to be able to use it, for the ultimate use one must know all. A week shall barely scratch the surface, but it shall give him a place to begin.
There are many wondrous things confined within those small-seeming walls of the Tesseract. Many kennings that Loki could give to it – well-spring and world-weaver and star-spinner. Yet for all his silent contemplation, his utter stillness of self that allows his mind free rein to wander over the surface of the artefact in detail enough to make it a universe of its own, there is still something that is holding him back. An unseen obstacle to proper comprehension.
He disengages his thoughts and senses and turns them inwards. The Tesseract does not have a mind of its own as such, but to call it mindless would not be a true thing either. It must judge and evaluate, much as the action of Mjolnir now that the All-father has placed his weavings upon it, though in far deeper and more intricate action than that mere weapon. This obstruction is not a problem with the thing itself, thus it must be a problem within Loki.
That is not entirely a surprise. The problem generally is Loki.
This though... he is not entirely sure what precisely about himself is so objectionable. He scrutinises the subtle, fragile links that have grown up between the Tesseract and himself, looks to where they join upon the surface of his seid, of the core of his magic and of his inner self. That he is a seidmenn is not the problem and would make no sense if it were, for only one with some knowledge of the subject could approach the container of such power. Nor – at first – does it appear to be the facts of his birth, of the monster hiding beneath an illusion of Aesir-pale skin.
Then, with a sick and sinking heart, he realises. It is not his filthy blood, no, but the lie he has told to cover it. The Tesseract will allow none to approach it fully without honesty. For Loki that is as much a weapon as the lies he is known for, though the battlefield for both is not what those of Thor’s ilk would recognise as such. In magic the truth is oft a necessary thing, for falsehood can be a trap as cloying as honey, and a lie may be twisted into truth in a perversion of a wish fulfilled. Honesty of intent, honesty of purpose, honesty of self, those are what the Tesseract requires of him, and of these three he has not the last. How could he, being what he is? Yet it seems if he wants to progress he will have to show his true skin, his Jotun skin.
The mere thought of it disgusts him. He knows that he is a monster, by birth and by the word of Asgard, yet he does not wish to see it. For all that he has told himself that he shall be what they say he is and act accordingly, there is still some great part of him that rejects that, rejects the awful truth that cuts as deep as any sword. This is a thing that Loki has always known; that a simple truth may be far more painful than any lie no matter how skilfully crafted. He had not thought to have it turned upon himself.
This is cowardice, he thinks to himself. This is foolishness. You are what your birth and your fate have marked you to be and still you deny it. However horrible it may be to look upon, however much his shape-shifted self, force of long habit, denies it the truth does not become less true.
And he does not have to look. His eyes will be upon the Tesseract, not upon his skin. Provided he remembers to cover himself with his falsehoods again once the week is up he shall not alarm his surprisingly faithful servant. By whatever mystery of loyalty his hawk has come to serve him even without the control of his seid, he does not wish to try it by exposing him to the true nature of the monster that is Loki. He will not chance driving away the one person who has remained at his side by choice, the only one in his entire life not forced into suffering him through the bonds of duty, be that duty of family or the lie of Aesir princedom.
Until now Loki has only done this with the Casket of Ancient Winters in his hands, and it had caused such a revulsion in him that he had stored that thing, both treasure and curse, in the furthest pocket of folded space that he had been capable of creating without losing it. He does not call it to him now. Its energies have a kinship to the Tesseract that will certainly be dangerous if the two are placed so close together. In any case he must find a way of removing the illusion by his own hands. Does he desire to have so little self-knowledge as to be trapped by it, an easy comfort of his own making and thus surely more than he deserves? No. He must face the monster.
It is, in the end, such a little thing. His seid permeates every inch of him, and though he has before attributed the ease with which he changes form merely to that, now he sees that it has more in it of the melting and reshaping of ice and water. Each cell of him changes at the gentle nudge of his command; that which he has learned the mortals call their genetic code. So simple to break apart and reform, the tiny miniscule parts joining a dance that is moulded and controlled by his seid before they re-weave together.
The deep blue sweeps over his skin, followed by the raised lines whose purpose he has never desired to question. The quality of his vision changes, a subtle shift that does not so much alter the spectrum of what is viewed but the way in which it is processed. The room is suddenly warm, though not enough so to truly trouble him.
Loki closes his eyes. He does not want to see the horror of his heritage writ large upon him. Laufey’s child. Evil’s kin. Without honour, undeserving of even the regard one would give an animal such as a horse, a hawk or a hound. A creature to be killed whenever possible. In truth, naught but vermin.
But that is what he is, and that is what the Tesseract wishes to see. So he shall not deny it.
He returns his mind to the artefact before him. This time it permits him access with ease. He has fulfilled the cruelty of its conditions. Paid its price. Ah, but that is the way of it, weregild owed not in gold but in pain, as with all seidr.
He bends his thoughts to his work, turning away from the sight of himself. If this is to be required for all his examination of the Tesseract, then he must become accustomed to ignoring it. He has no choice in the matter. The promise of his eventual revenge is too sweet a reward to give up.
Loki hadn’t been lying about his place being well stocked. Though Clint has been out hunting more than once, to keep his eye in as much as to avoid awkward conversations, there hadn’t been any real need for the animals he’d brought back. Strange things they are too, long-limbed and skinny all of them, though they turn out to be decent enough eating. With everything that the pantry contains, a massive amount of dried food, or salted, or otherwise preserved by some kind of stasis field that Loki would probably call magic, they’re able to make very good meals out of the creatures.
It would be almost pleasant if not for the situation that constantly hangs over them. At least Phil seems to have believed him when he said he hadn’t been Stockholm’d or anything, but Clint can tell he isn’t exactly happy about it. Neither of them knows exactly what to say to make things better and so things just remain in this unpleasant holding pattern. Clint has tried to explain again why he thinks that staying with Loki is his only choice, and even that he thinks he might be able to be some kind of positive influence on the guy, but, well...
He gets it, he really does. Everything that’s happened, everything that Loki has done... Phil might know the reasons behind it all, but with Clint involved it’s clear he’s finding it hard to put all that aside, and Clint can’t really blame him. It is a terrible situation. He kind of wants to broach the question of whether Phil plans on staying past the week they’ve been given, but in all honesty he’s afraid of the answer. For as awful as everything is, seeing Phil again is still a relief, it still makes him happy. He doesn’t want to lose that, doesn’t want to lose the chance of somehow fixing this.
The problem is that he doesn’t know how, and it’s clear that Phil doesn’t either. There are a few stilted conversations, and it’s not like the both of them aren’t trying, it’s just that they don’t seem to be going anywhere. It doesn’t help that Clint doesn’t even know precisely what Loki is planning to do after he’s finished studying the Tesseract. It’s not that he’s been cagey with his plans, more like he’s too absorbed in whatever to remember to tell him about them. It makes it hard to consider arguments for Phil staying with them. If there’s nothing here for him to do other than be bored... it hardly compares with the excitement of SHIELD active duty.
It’s easy for Clint not to get bored. It’s in his nature to be okay with it – sniper, remember – but he knows Phil isn’t made like that, just like most regular people aren’t. Clint has this sneaking suspicion that Loki might not have taken that into account, being an extremely long lived alien and all that. For him a week is probably like blinking. If life working for Loki is just going to be a continuation of this... it makes it even less likely that Phil will stay, hell, even less fair that Clint should ask it of him.
Things come to a head, of sorts, after a few days. Phil meets him on the way in from another of his hunting trips, his hands clasped in front of him in a way that Clint knows means business. “I think it’s about time we talked,” Phil says, a kind of iron calm in his voice. A trying-too-hard kind of calm. “Talked properly about the two of us.”
Clint dumps the squirrel-bear-thing he’s carrying. He nods. Phil’s right, they can’t keep doing this strained dance around one another. Communication. Yeah. That stuff. That’s what they need. He follows his lover – he still thinking of Phil as that, perhaps overly optimistically – to the room that’s set up as a kind of lounge, though with a great deal more of random alien crap lying about the place than might usually be expected.
“You’re right,” he says, sitting down on a couch upholstered in... some kind of leather. Probably best not to think about that too much. “I’ve been avoiding it, you’ve been, I don’t know, working up to it...”
Phil is fiddling with the cuff of his shirt. It’s a soft, tan, linen thing laced with cords at the neck, clearly made for someone a lot taller. There hadn’t exactly been a supply of human-standard clothes about the place. “I would like us to be sure that we’re on the same page,” he says. “And I would just like you to know that I don’t want to give up our relationship, no matter how much this has strained it.”
Clint feels a warm glow rising inside him. He’d never admit it out loud, but he’d been worried. Worried that choosing this path had cut him off from Phil entirely, created a kind of moral point of no return. “I don’t want to give it up either,” he says. “That was never a price I was willing to pay. I’d hoped that you and Tasha both would never get involved, though I guess that was a stupid thing to wish for.”
“I wish you were able to come back home with me Clint,” Phil says softly. “But you were right. It isn’t possible any more. I can accept that, even if I’m not happy with the situation circumstances have left you in.”
“And I’m not about to ask you to stay here full time,” Clint replies. This is going... fairly well. Better than the last few conversations have gone anyway. “It wouldn’t be fair on you. Not that I know what Loki’s planning yet. Though I guess whatever we decide, it’s going to depend on him a bit. I think he’ll do as I ask though – he seems to... like me, I guess.”
Phil raises an eyebrow. “You believe he’ll be willing to let me go?”
“He didn’t keep the mind-control on,” Clint points out. “That’s a good sign, right?” He’s not entirely sure which one of them he’s trying to convince. It would be a lot easier if he could talk to Loki through their telepathic link, but he had been very clear on the Do Not Disturb thing.
Phil makes a non-committal sort of noise. “A compromise would be best,” he says. “We’re both capable of a long-distance relationship – ideally it would be little different to the time we spent apart working for SHIELD. I would spend some time here with you and some time with SHIELD. Perhaps you could even come back to see the Avengers occasionally.”
“I’d like that.”
Phil smiles. “However,” he says, “I don’t know if Loki has transportation capabilities that would allow that, assuming he would even agree to it.”
Clint sighs. This sucks. Everything feels like it’s up in the air and they’re just waiting for it to drop, possibly right on top of their heads. And if it’s Loki they’re waiting for... that’s just the opposite of helpful.
“It really bothers you doesn’t it,” he says. “That I’m fine with throwing my lot in with him. Maybe it makes me a traitor, maybe it makes me brain-washed, I don’t know. But it if wasn’t for it fucking everything up with you, then I really would be okay with it. Happy with it.”
“Yes, it bothers me,” Phil replies. “How could it not bother me? I don’t believe it’s healthy. But I promised myself I would try and be willing to compromise, for the sake of our relationship. Leave you with Loki, so long as I could be around to make sure you were safe, as much as I’m able.”
Clint thinks that Phil is making it sound like an abusive relationship or something, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Unless you count consensual hair stroking, which if that’s how the Aesir, or possibly the Jotun, have sex it would be really weird. But that’s probably not the case. And he doesn’t think Phil will appreciate him mentioning it either.
“I’m happy with whatever can get us as close to back to normal as possible,” he says. “That’s my entire criteria.”
Phil smiles. “That’s what I want as well. As long as we can be honest with each other, as long as you can stand me telling you from time to time when I think your situations is... getting out of hand...”
“And you can stand me telling you to occasionally shush,” Clint retorts.
“Then we can make this work again. We will make it work again.”
For the first time since they came here Clint feels hopeful. All is not lost, love will save the day and so on. Perfectly trite he knows, but sometimes also true, with a little effort and elbow grease. So yeah, fix his relationship with Phil and maybe fix Loki too. Well, a man’s got to have goals.
So things are a little better after that. There’s still not very much to do other than hunt, but at least he and Phil are talking to one another. Clint fills him in on everything that’s happened over the past few weeks, the whole story from the moment the staff touched him to the moment he’d seen Phil getting out of that truck and his heart had soared. He has an eye for details; he makes the tale long enough and involved enough that it fills the long hours of the days – and in fact the days do seem slightly longer than normal, though whether that’s boredom or an actual quirk of whatever planet this is he doesn’t know. In return Phil tells him how things were at SHIELD, the full impact of everything Loki had done up until the attack on the Helicarrier. He doesn’t do it to make Clint feel guilty, but even so a little of that emotion trickles through. Still, it’s a price he willingly pays for what is all told an acceptable outcome.
Of course talking isn’t all they do. Not that it’s been terribly long by their standards, but given how much each of them had worried about the other there’s a definite need for touch, for the warmth of skin to skin, for a reassurance that yes, both of them are alive, both in one piece. A little of the awkwardness still remains, but making love is as easy as it ever was. There’s time to take things slow, long afternoons spent in bed amongst soft thick furs. It is familiar, and comforting in its familiarity. Despite everything else, this hasn’t changed.
All in all, the rest of the week passes quicker than Clint anticipated. He’s hardly paid attention to counting the days, but typically Phil has been doing it for him. On the morning of the seventh day he untangles himself from Clint’s octopus-like limbs and says, “Today we find out Loki’s intentions.”
Clint props himself up on his elbow, haze of sleep clearing quickly. Before the whole SHIELD thing he hadn’t been much of a morning person, but military training soon beat that out of you in one way or another. “He’s reasonable,” he replies. “It’ll be fine.” He’s fairly sure he’s telling the truth.
From that point on the air takes on a tense feeling, a tingling sense of anticipation. After breakfast they start hanging around the entrance chamber, watching the door that leads to the central room. For whatever reason, perhaps the undercurrent of faintly worried energy that Phil is giving off despite his attempt at projecting his usual calm, Clint is having difficulty slipping into his usual sniper’s patience.
At about mid-morning, the door swings open. The glimpse that Clint gets of the room inside is dark and featureless, though Loki’s silhouette blocks out most of it. Loki looks weary; his shoulders are slumped and his hair falls around his face in even greater disarray than usual. He steps forward into the light of the torches and Clint sees something that’s... more than a little odd to say the least.
“Hey boss,” he calls out, coming forwards to meet him. “Is there any particular reason why you’re blue?”
Loki’s eyes snap up to meet his, and for a moment he looks like a cornered animal. Then he spins on his heel and vanishes back inside the room. The door slams shut behind him.
Okay, Clint thinks, that’s odd even for Loki.
“Something’s wrong,” Phil says, coming to stand at his shoulder. He’s frowning in concern.
“Yeah,” Clint replies. But the embargo on interrupting has probably been lifted now, so he has his telepathic link. His mind is already stretching out through it, questing towards the cold shine of Loki’s thoughts.
Hey, he thinks. Hey, are you alright?
For a long moment there is no reply, but finally Loki thinks back, sounding miserable; I can’t seem to change it back.
Clint exchanges glances with Phil, who seems to have guessed what he’s doing. The whole mental link thing had been another thing he’d disapproved of, but it’s not like it’s going to go away if Clint pretends it doesn’t exist. Plus, it’s useful.
“I’m going to go in there and see what the matter is,” he tells his lover. Because it’s clear that something is wrong, very much so. Phil nods, and Clint sets off towards the door, hoping Loki hasn’t locked it behind him.
He hasn’t. Clint pushes it open and gets his first glimpse of Loki’s inner sanctum, or whatever this is. It’s very... empty. That’s the first impression he gets. Smooth and perfectly circular, with the Tesseract resting on the floor in the very centre, illuminating the place with its unearthly light. There’s some kind of mosaic or painting on the ceiling, but it kind of hurts his eyes to look it at so he doesn’t. Loki is standing with his back to him, starting at his hands. Yup, blue. And, Clint notices, with some kind of scarification running in distinct patterns over his skin.
“It remains a mystery to me why you are still loyal,” Loki says quietly. “I have told you already that I am a monster, and there is little in me worthy of love – my so-called family is proof enough of that. Perhaps now seeing the truth of it that I have tried to hide will be enough to drive you away.”
“Do you want to drive me away?” Clint asks.
Loki laughs, an unpleasant sound. It reminds Clint too much of how he was at the beginning, when he was still recovering from what the Chitauri did to him. “Perhaps I should, for your own sake,” he says. “But I am a selfish monster, and I do not wish to give up the first person to treat me with such kindness, which is more than I deserve.”
“Honestly?” Clint says. “You don’t seem like very much of a monster to me. Not more than I am, or ‘Tasha is. You did what you had to do. So what if you’re a Jotun? You told me about that before, remember, and I’m still here.”
Loki shoots him a bitter look. “You say that only because you do not understand what the Jotnar are. I was born evil and not all Asgard’s trying has changed that. I am still a monster, still a man who uses seid, a liar, a trickster, no true warrior and utterly without honour. I do not deny this. It is my destiny, the path of my fate, and since Asgard did not see fit to slay me while they had the chance so shall they reap the result of their false mercy.”
What precisely is Clint supposed to say to that? He’s no shrink, he’s a soldier and a killer, he doesn’t have the words to sooth this kind of vicious hurt. Whatever Asgard’s warrior culture is really like, they’ve really fucked Loki over. None of the so-called faults or crimes that Loki just listed sound particularly monstrous to him, even considering the greyness of his own morals, and he’s well aware that murder was not on that list. Killing is apparently a-okay, in fact Clint would be willing to bet one of the problems the Aesir have with Loki is that he doesn’t do enough of it, or maybe just that he doesn’t do it in the right way. Most of those who died at the first Tesseract installation had the roof dropped on their head. Only a half-dozen or so were killed by Loki personally. To the Aesir, is that dishonourable?
“Just because they call you a monster doesn’t mean that you are,” he says, trying to find some way of explaining this. As though a few words from him will make any difference. But there must be something about him that’s done some good, because Loki had seemed less unstable before this latest set-back. “Here on Midgard, we don’t give a damn about any of those things. The whole point of SHIELD is to do espionage when necessary – that’s what I do, and Natasha does. Even what Phil does occasionally”
“She is a woman – that does not count,” Loki replies. He is still staring at his hands, and Clint thinks that perhaps the tips of his fingers are starting to look paler. “I cannot comment on the rest of you. Midgard is... different. Many of you are monsters here, as Asgard measures them.”
“That’s some stupid fucking gender essentialism bullshit,” Clint tells him. Not that he hasn’t been guilty of it himself from time to time, but luckily he’s had ‘Tasha to smack him over the head with the fact that he was being a douche. It’s a learning process.
He was right, Loki’s skin is definitely starting to turn back to normal, though Clint supposes it isn’t really normal at all considering that’s apparently what he’s meant to look like. It seems to relax him a little though. “You understand that even with the All-Tongue little of what you just said makes sense,” he says.
“That’s because Asgard is stuck in the past,” Clint replies. “Cutting edge technology, completely backwards everything else.”
Loki laughs, just a little bit. “Before my fall I would have taken great offence at that,” he says. “But it seems to me that if I do not muster the strength to take my revenge on Asgard within a few centuries, your people will do it for me. For I do not believe Odin All-Father would suffer another race to ascend to match his power, and if his willingness to war meets your opinions of this so-called ‘backwardness’, I can but shudder with pleasure to think of the consequences.”
“Well I’m... glad I made you feel better boss,” Clint says. Loki turns to face him, and he has returned to his old appearance. The only blue is the faint reflections of the Tesseract’s light in his eyes.
“Yes, there is something very pleasing about you,” Loki replies.
“Seriously though,” Clint says. “Just because they call you a monster, just because you don’t fit some bullshit standards they insist on holding you to, it doesn’t mean anything. I would have thought you’re the kind of guy to piss all over any label that someone tried to stick on you. Or decide to own the label; I’m pretty sure that’s a thing that people do. Maybe I should introduce you to Lady Gaga.”
“One of your Midgardian warlords?” Loki asks, sounding curious. Clint laughs.
“A singer, actually,” he replies. “Phil likes her, it’s his guilty pleasure. I’m more of a country/western fan. I don’t know what your tastes in music are, but you never know. It might be helpful.”
“I will consider it, if you think it wise,” Loki says. “But for now I believe we have business to discuss, you, your partner and I.”
Clint nods. He’s not sure if Loki is changing the subject on purpose, but it doesn’t matter. This won’t be the last time they’ll have a conversation like this he’s sure, but now he knows next time he’ll try and be better prepared. A happier, healthier more stable Loki would be good for everybody.
“Okay. We’ve come up with a compromise, but it all depends on what you’re planning on doing next. Basically boss, we’ll lay it out for you and you tell us what you think.”
Loki smiles. “I look forward to hearing it.”
There’s still an undercurrent of pain, shoved down somewhere deep, but Clint thinks he has been somehow helpful here. If he can keep doing what he’s doing... Not that he has any objections to revenge as a concept, but the way Loki talks about it seems less than healthy. So even if this isn’t what Clint would have chosen, he has a place here, a purpose.
That’s enough for him.
I don't know precisely how long the last chapter will be, but this tale is definitely starting to wind to an end. I do intend on writing a couple of time-stamps from the future of this universe though (I want Loki to meet a few Midgardian magic-users).
Tony makes a reference to Al Oerter - he's a four time Olympic Gold Medalist in the discus.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is something astonishingly reassuring about his hawk’s reaction. There is such loyalty, it appears, in the man’s heart that not even a monster’s face is sufficient to break it. What thrall of Asgard would be willing to serve a malicious creature such as him? None, yet this mortal is willing. This mortal, who stands on a firm dividing mark between good and evil in his great, grey heart, will condescend to serve a creature of the blackest birth. It is... amazing.
In all honesty it warms him all through, this un-looked for faith. Clint does not seem to believe in Loki’s own monstrosity, and though he knows the Midgardian speaks merely out of ignorance and the strange ideas this realm possesses, it is still pleasant to be thought of that way. It has the comfort of all lies, but he is weak, and so he welcomes it. Weak too, to keep this noble warrior serving a monster, but he cannot imagine losing him after all this. Loki does not like to need any creature, to be beholden in that way, but he needs Clint Barton.
His hawk believes he can convince him that he holds some kind of goodness using Midgard’s ways. And perhaps all he says is true, in that realm. But for all Midgard’s unexpected strength, they have changed much since the old days, since the time before the war when Odin looked upon it and its inhabitants as one would pets, to be moulded and brought up in Asgard’s own image. Those little mortals were Asgard’s property, and not to be tampered with by the rampaging avarice of Jotunheim. That situation no longer exists. Midgard is its own, and so its morals have fallen far from the golden ideals of the Golden Realm. Perhaps Odin is not aware of this, for it seems his mind turned to other things after Laufey’s defeat and the loss of his eye. Perhaps more occupied with his latest project, taming his newest pet, his little Jotnar runt.
Odin will regret that. Both in Loki’s revenge and Midgard’s eventual expansion. Still all that does not change the fact that Midgard is hardly a place of good, hardly a realm of impeccable honour. It has seidmenn aplenty, it wars amongst its own using methods fit for no true warrior. Though not yet unsalvageable, there are still many monsters here, and if Odin wishes to make any use of the place in future he will have to cull it. So for all his hawk’s pretty words, all his loyalty and faith, it changes nothing. Loki is, and always will be a monster.
Yet perhaps he ought to commit to his own resolution. Take pride in his monstrosity; take ownership of that which he is. If Midgard welcomes monsters, why, let him be welcome! Let him listen to this female skald whom Agent Coulson holds in such high esteem. If he will never be good, let him make the most of evil.
Much heartened, Loki follows his hawk through to where Clint’s lover waits as patient as the predator he is. The foulness of Jotun blue has vanished from his skin at last, hidden back under the illusion of shifting shape, that centuries-long lie. He is in good mind to listen to their requests, to give his loyal soldier anything he desires. Few rewards that are in his power to bestow are correct recompense for such a show of devotion. Were he still Prince in Asgard he would have showered the man in gold, in well-worked finery and weapons bought from the dwarves – though he has never made such a bet with them as the mortals tell it.
“So that’s all sorted out,” Barton announces, clapping his hands together as if to banish the subject from mind. His lover looks less convinced – and he is certainly lover once more, for Loki can detect the scent of their mingled pheromones in the air, unfamiliar yet still recognisable for what they are. However he does not press the matter. No doubt he has more important concerns right now.
Loki nods, backing up his hawk’s words. “I apologise for my abrupt reaction,” he says. “But I understand you have a proposal to put to me.”
“That’s correct.” How stiff and proper this hunting-cat is! The mortal is nervous around him, though not quite afraid. Wary of Loki’s power, which is wise. Loki would keep him if he could, go back for the third in their trio, but they could only be bound to him through seid and Clint would not allow that. If he wants their loyalty, it will be a thing slowly bought. But he is Jotun, and they need no golden apples, though he supposes consumption of them can only have aided his health. He will have the weight of years on his side if he desires to court them.
Nor does he have any intention of letting those sworn to him perish, as mortals are wont to do. Even if he has to sneak into Asgard to steal from Idunn’s garden, he will not let them waste and die.
“Then speak,” Loki says. “And I shall grant it. I am a creature that rewards those who have served me well, as your lover has.”
Coulson raises an eyebrow and Loki smiles at him. He can afford to be magnanimous, to be pleasant and personable. Not for nothing is he called Silvertongue, though prolonged exposure tends to rather result in a tarnish as his true nature becomes apparent. As proof, see the entire example of Asgard.
“You understand that I don’t particularly want to stay here,” Coulson says. “You brainwashed me, and to be diplomatic, I’m not exactly pleased by that.”
“It was necessary in the moment,” Loki replies. “But you have my apologies, of course.” It is not even a lie. Although his oath only bound him not to kill, he is well aware of the stress his seid-spell put on the bond between these two and for that he is sorry.
“My loyalty remains with SHIELD,” Coulson says, “and although Clint’s is with you now, that doesn’t mean either of us is willing to be parted from the other because of it.”
“There is peace between your folk and me,” Loki tells him. “I do not mean for this situation to cause conflict. You wish to return to your masters, I understand that.”
“But we want to be able to visit each other,” Clint says. “Trouble is if we’re going to be hanging out all over the nine realms that might be tricky.”
“So you would like me to facilitate this,” Loki says. This is good. This is something he can do, and it will give him very many opportunities to slowly win Philip Coulson over to him. He saw enough inside the man’s head to know he is more morally aligned than his little hawk, that he has greater honour, more inclined to combat hand to hand and careful to keep violence between those capable of returning it. He would make a worthy Einherjar should he fall in battle. “Very well. Some charms can be devised to permit you to walk the paths between the worlds as I do.”
“You seem... very accommodating,” Coulson says, sounding suspicious.
“All my desires have been met,” Loki replies. “I have no need to be petty, and no matter my actions, I hold no particular enmity for mortals. I hardly blame you for disliking me – I killed many of your brothers-in-arms – but it was necessary. The number would have been greater, save for your lover’s influence, and for his sake I would make that up to you.”
“Thank you boss,” Clint says, pleasure and satisfaction humming along the seid-link they share. “We really appreciate this.”
“The preliminary enchantment can be done here,” Loki explains, “but to anchor it, and of course to return Agent Coulson home, we shall need to return to Midgard for a short time. And it may be wise in any case to inform your former master, the one known as Fury, of all of this. I made my bargain for peace only with those so-called Avengers, and he may be less pleased to hear it.”
“He understands bigger picture stuff,” Clint says.
“That’s true,” Coulson says, “but equally he may take the attack on SHIELD personally.” There is a quiet and calculating sense behinds those words, a careful mind well capable of analysis. “Not to mention permitting alien beings to invade Earth – would Asgard allow such an attack on its sovereignty?”
Loki reflects on the truth of that last point, and of the symmetry between two certain cyclopean rulers. Both proud, both monarchs and leaders. No, Fury shall be no ally of his, shall not accept any simple promise of peace. Not that he has anything to fear. He is Loki – he is a god. “Asgard would not,” he replies. “But Fury has not the power to trap me or hurt me, so what does it matter? If you worry he will try and stop your travel that is of no consequence – I may shield you from his detection as I shield myself from Heimdall Gatekeeper. I do not anticipate that I should cross paths with him again.”
“We captured you before,” Coulson points out.
“I allowed it,” Loki replies.
“So all we need to do it make sure you stay out of his way,” Clint says. “We could hang out at Stark Tower – Stark doesn’t exactly trust SHIELD, and didn’t you say something about wanting to talk to the guy anyway? We should be able to lay low with him for a little while and then you and I can head of to wherever, and Coulson can go home and be debriefed.”
Loki smiles. “A good plan.” Clint is right; he has an offer to make to the mortal seidmenn, one which he is certain the man will be interested in. A quick, clever, ever curious mind matched with skills such as a dwarven thane might envy. Not one to resist knowledge freely given, even once apprised of the price seid often demands. The power source nestled in Stark’s breast is proof of that.
“Very well,” he says. “I will start to weave the enchantments you need, and tomorrow we shall depart for Midgard.
Loki brings them out of the space between worlds onto the sweeping balcony of Stark’s tower. The broken glass of the windows has been replaced and through it he can see the beginnings of work to repair the rest of the damage done to the citadel. The only thing that appears not to have been touched is the remnants of the letters that once blazoned this prince’s palace with its owner’s name. All that remains is the single ‘A’. Odd, considering Stark’s vanity. Resources cannot be the obstacle – that mortal wants for nothing physical. No, there is a more subtle cause lying behind what would otherwise appear to be a small matter. A question he may ask him when they meet.
Loki leads his two mortals into the high room that looks out over the city, the room where but a week before Loki was himself bested – in force of arms only – by the great green berserker they call the Hulk. The crater left by his own body remains, though the slab of stone has been marked out to be removed and replaced. He turns away from it, uncomfortable with remembered pain that rasps across his nerves like ghosting sparks. He is not nervous. Merely wary. Stark had been protective of that particular monster, so it very well may remain in the building. Still, he can deal with either of its forms, if he must.
Loki is aware of the construct JARVIS sounding a silent alarm at his presence here, so they do not have long to wait before the doors of the elevator chime open – a typically lazy Midgardian invention – and the master of the house steps out. To Loki’s immediate displeasure, he is not alone. It seems that all the Avengers have been residing in this hall, even his so-called brother. The mere sight of him makes emotion thick and choking rise up in Loki’s throat. It is not entirely the hate he has hitherto been used to. There are other feelings within it, unfamiliar ones he does not wish to examine over deeply.
He may no longer have his sceptre, for which he can only be thankful, but his fingers flex all the same in preparation for spell-casting. It would not take much for them to come to blows, and he has no intention of holding back.
“Brother!” Thor exclaims. Mjolnir is at his waist, looped through his belt, and surprisingly he makes no attempt to draw it free. “We had not expected your arrival, but it is most welcome.”
Loki’s eyes narrow. “I find that hard to believe,” he says. “But I did not come here to speak with you.”
“Perhaps not, yet still I would have words with you Loki,” Thor says, stepping forward. None other in his band of warriors seems to wish to step in, though surely they must know now what has passed between them, of Loki’s own desire for revenge. They know that this is not safe. “It seems I have much to make amends for.”
The mere fact that he would admit it stops Loki cold. Make amends? Thor, the golden son, the arrogant warrior, would apologise to a monster without honour? Did Loki’s own memory really make so much of a difference? “Speak then,” he says through a suddenly dry throat.
“I have wronged you Loki,” Thor says. “I should never have said that you imagined the insults my friends and I have given you– these great mortal warriors have shown me otherwise. They have great wisdom here, of which I am but only starting to learn. Believe me Loki when I say that no fact of your birth or whatever your use of seidr could ever make me think any less of you, though I have been much remiss in expressing it to you. All our family has. We claimed to love you, but our actions never showed it.”
Loki is without words. Never would he have expected such things to come from Thor’s mouth.
“I am not perfect,” Thor continues. “In truth the opposite. I have belittled you on our adventures, never given you credit for the many times you saved our hides. Never given you the glory you deserved, the praise of the court, the feasts in your honour. Greedy and arrogant, I took it all as my due. Your advice to me has ever been good, yet I have ignored it many times, or forgotten its source if I did pay it heed. I have treated you ill, and yet thought to claim brotherhood which I am not worthy of.”
“Have you forgotten I am Jotnar, that I am a monster?” Loki asks, “You cannot desire to be a brother to that.”
“Whatever your birth you are no monster Loki,” Thor says, no pleads. There is a horrible sincerity in every one of his words that Loki cannot deny. Thor has no skill in crafting falsehood, he could never lie so well. He means everything he says. “What do you and I, what does Asgard, know of Jotunheim save tales from a time of war? They may very well be monsters all, but that you yourself are who you are makes me believe that cannot be the case.”
“And my lack of honour?” Whatever Thor’s words, Loki sincerely doubts the rest of Asgard would be so... so accepting. Hah, they never have been, even before any but Odin knew of his true heritage. Does Thor think to change that by a few kind words? He may be a prince, but the people would not stand for a Frost Giant in the royal family.
“The woman of spiders has made me see that perhaps... perhaps what Asgard thinks of as dishonourable is... is not so bad.”
Oh, Loki could laugh. His hawk’s shield-sister is twin to him in mind as well as soul it seems. She has been using the same arguments, the same logic of Midgard upon his once-brother as Clint used upon him not a day before. But that does not make it any more true, for all that poor, easily-swayed Thor has been persuaded.
“Do not give up your own honour in a foolish attempt to win me back,” he says. “You think I do not know my place, where I come in the natural order of things? I am a seidmenn because there is nothing else I can be, but I am not arrogant enough to call myself good, or noble.”
“I am sorry Loki,” Thor says. “I am sorry brother – for I do hope to be your brother again one day – for all the things I have done to make you rightfully hate me. And most of all I am sorry for not trying harder to find you after your fall. I should have, I should have searched the Nine Realms and beyond, I should have quested throughout Yggdrasil after you. I should have found you and saved you, and I cannot lay any blame upon you for hating me, the one who left you to the hands of those foul alien beasts. You have shown me what was done to you, and oh Loki, I am sorry.”
“Even if I were to accept your apology I would not call you brother,” Loki says. He could not. Not after everything. And it would not be fair to Thor either, who will one day have to take up the throne of Asgard. He cannot have the monster Loki as his kin when that happens.
“No, I do not ask for that,” Thor says, though the undisguised pain in his eyes speaks differently. He is so open, he hides nothing. He has not the mind to. It is one of the qualities that Loki has always found pleasing in him, and besides, it is a fine trait for a warrior to have. “I do not deserve it, and I see now that I should not force it upon you when you do not desire it. Mayhap that will change with time, if I... if I can find some way to make it up to you Loki.”
All he can do in reply is nod. He had put that memory into Thor’s head to hurt him, to take some measure of the revenge he has sworn upon him and all of Asgard. He had not expected even in the wildest of his imaginings to gain such ground as this. Is this not what he wanted to hear from his once-brother’s lips since before his ill-starred time on Asgard’s throne? An acknowledgement of worth? Equality? Yet what use is that, now that he knows what he is. For all Thor’s pretty words, for all that it soothes something harsh and rough and broken-edged down in the heart of him, it cannot change that one simple fact, that he is Jotnar. Asgard is no longer his home. His family has never been his family. Perhaps Thor does not hate him, but Odin has disowned him by his own words.
Thor comes closer, close enough to grasp his shoulder in one large and calloused hand, a surprisingly comforting grip. “I have much still of learn of Midgard’s wisdom, Loki, but my friends will be diligent in teaching me. I do not wish to repeat the mistakes of my past.”
“I suppose I must congratulate you,” Loki finally makes himself say. “But I did come here with a purpose, and this little heart to heart, pleasant as it is, only delays that.”
“Aye Loki,” Thor says, smiling like a young pup. “Aye, no doubt you wish to speak to these steadfast warriors. But will you come back to speak to me again? I would do my best to repair what I have broken between us.”
“I shall consider it,” Loki says, which is more than he feels should be expected of him under the circumstances. “Now, if you will...” He lightly brushes Thor’s hand from his shoulder. Though this unexpected event has rather put him off his balance, he has yet the equanimity to do what he came here for. There are enchantments he must complete, mortals he must speak with.
He will have time to absorb the full import of this later.
Tony hadn’t been expecting the so-called God of Mischief back so soon. After dropping some sort of horrible torture memory in his big brother’s head and getting well... pretty much everything he wanted, Tony had thought he would have gone off to do his own thing with the Tesseract and that would be that. Apparently not. And then Thor had taken a cue from whatever sensitivity and not-being-a-douche-bag training Agent Romanoff has been giving him and gone forth to pour his goddamned heart out.
Well. It seems to have done some good at that, which is also pretty surprising. For all that Loki claims to hate the guy with the burning power of a thousand fiery suns, a little soul-bearing and he’s forgiving Thor all over the place. Were Tony in his position, he’d be a lot less pleasant about it. They’re talking, what, centuries of being made to feel like shit? Tony had maybe a decade or so of his dad pulling that crap and he can’t imagine setting it all aside. Alright, there had been the whole ‘saving his life’ thing with the atom model and re-creating a new element and all that jazz, but fat lot of good that did after all these years.
So yeah, for all he’s a long-lived alien sorcerer with no concept of human morality, Loki just might be the better man between the two of them.
Family reunion over and done with for now, Loki leads his little duo of mind-slaves – although with Barton Tony supposes that’s arguable – over to chat briefly with Agent Romanoff. Thor sort of stands there awkwardly for a moment before clapping Cap on the shoulder and leading him off towards the armour landing platform for some kind of conversation based on their fondness for hitting things with big metal objects. Probably a wise choice of conversation partner, since going by prior experience Loki is not terribly fond of Al Oerter there.
Tony sticks with Bruce and tries to eavesdrop without looking like he is. He’s sure that Loki will want to talk to the pair of them – he’d mentioned making some kind of offer to Tony actually, now he recalls it. Makes sense, since apparently they are both magic users as Asgard counts these things. He hardly needs to bother though, because Loki doesn’t seem to care if they hear him.
“Agent Coulson is returning to SHIELD,” Rudolph says, though Tony can’t really call him that since he’s not wearing that ridiculous hat anymore. “I am crafting a pair of amulets for them both that will allow them to visit each other – and of course for Clint to visit you. I have no intention of forcing the three of you apart.”
Romanoff’s eyes are narrowed, her arms folded over her chest. Whether that body language actually means anything is less clear, considering just who it’s coming from.
“Of course only Clint and Agent Coulson will be able to activate the charms,” Loki continues, smiling as though he’s trying to be friendly and disarming. It’s actually quite a nice smile, if you can forget how many people he’s killed, directly or indirectly. “I am mindful of the potential for misuse.”
“The offer appears to be made in good faith,” Coulson says mildly. His eyes look normal rather than that glowing blue shit which seems to indicate mind-control – there had been something about that buried in a number of the after action reports from the Helicarrier.
“And Clint?” Romanoff asks.
“I’m staying with him,” Barton replies. “I’m sorry Natasha, I wish I could explain more...”
“And why should you not?” Loki asks. “We shall remain here for some little while, so you should go with your shield-kin and speak amongst yourselves.” He puts one hand over his heart and gives a little bow to Natasha. “I have great respect for you after all, my lady. There are not many who can best me in a battle of wits.”
Agent Romanoff very nearly smiles at that, a shocking display of emotion in Tony’s mind. Dear lord, if Loki somehow managed to get her on his side... It simply doesn’t bear thinking about. The pair of them are both terrifying enough on their own.
Loki straightens up and looks over at Tony and Bruce. “There are others here with whom I would have words,” he says. “But before I leave you three to your own devices, I have a minor question. You were the one who had the sceptre last, the one the Chitauri gifted me with. What was done with it?”
“It was sent back to SHIELD for study,” Romanoff replies. “We are being very careful with it, you can be sure.”
“Wise,” Loki says, with a shark-like grin. “Even now it links back to those who forged it. They can cast their minds through it and watch what transpires in the world around. I would not let it near anything you wish to keep hidden. Though this attack of theirs you have so ably repulsed, their utmost master is not one to be daunted by such a setback. He will come questing after the Tesseract by other means eventually, though he’ll be no threat for several years.”
“And what are you planning to do about him?” Romanoff asks. There’s something viciously amused about her words. Loki laughs a little, that soft, slightly disturbed-seeming chuckle.
“Not on your account but on my own,” he says. “Though you knew that of course. Oh, he shall pay for what was done to me, as will his race of living weapons. He’ll rue the day he laid hands on Loki-Prince.”
And with that he turns his attention to Tony, and to Bruce, who is shifting nervously at his shoulder. Tony resists the urge to step protectively in front of his science bro. They’ve only been cementing their friendship over the course of this past week, tinkering on this and that together down in the lab, bouncing theories and ideas off one another. It’s not exactly usual for him to make friends with people, which only makes the ones he has all the dearer to him. Even though Bruce is the Hulk, and thus entirely capable of taking care of himself physically, it’s the emotional side of things that Tony is more worried about. Loki has a sharp tongue, and the Hulk did throw him around rather the last time they met.
“So, my two seidmenn,” Loki says. “I said I would return to speak with you, and so I have.” His eyes flick over Tony, lingering for a moment on the arc reactor shining through his thin T-shirt. “Do not think me unmindful of the similarities between us,” he says softly.
“Yeah, I kind of noticed them myself,” Tony replies. “So Draco Malfoy, what did you want to talk to us about?”
Loki cocks his head to one side. “I may have taken more heed of Midgard’s culture than Thor,” he says. “But I am no more likely than he to understand the references you make Tony Stark.”
Tony grins. Oops. Not that he’s actually sorry or anything; in fact it gives him an excuse to use all kinds of faintly insulting nicknames for the guy without getting turned into a frog or something. Is that even a thing that Loki could do?
“The two of you practise mortal science,” Loki says, getting straight to the point, “and I the paths of seidr your kind call magic. There is kinship between the two. We may learn much from each other – you seem the kind of man who might have some skill in the field, if you can craft spells as well as you do metal. In other words, I wish, as you mortals might say, to ‘talk shop’.”
Tony grins. “See, look at you using a reference already.”
Loki looks one step away from rolling his eyes. “I have skimmed a few of your mortal colloquialisms from Clint’s mind, it is true.” Hmm, on first name terms now, are they? Interesting.
“Okay well, yeah, if you want to talk about your super advanced Asgardian magi-tech then I’m hardly going to pass up that opportunity now am I,” Tony says, looking over at Bruce for confirmation. Bruce nods.
“I think it’ll be very interesting... to look at the points of comparison,” he says. “For example the overlap between the current body of research in the field of gamma radiation and the signals that the Tesseract was giving off...”
“My study of that artefact is only just begun,” Loki says, “and your realm not ready to share it. Besides berserker, you hardly need any more power than you have already stolen away beneath your skin, nor I think would you wish to pay the price it would ask of you.”
Bruce’s mouth twists with something between embarrassment and pain. Tony wants to hug him. He seems very huggable in this moment. “No, you’re right,” he says. “And I’m sorry for... you know. For Hulk smashing you.”
By the looks of it Loki would rather not have been reminded of that event. From the evidence of the broken parts of Tony’s floor, it hadn’t exactly been one of the guy’s finest moments. Still, “Apology accepted,” he says, with a frosty sort of politeness.
“Enough of this chit-chat,” Tony says, clapping his hands together. “Let’s go down to one of my labs where we can do this thing properly.” Mostly he can’t wait to start poking Loki to see how he works. Magic! Laughing in the face of the laws of physics!
God, this is going to be so much fun.
Epilogue: one year later
“So, you’re completely ready to do this?” Clint asks from his seat lounging about another one of Loki’s lairs. He can’t really call them evil lairs, since they’ve firmly taken up the position of the 100% morally neutral, a place Clint likes just fine, but they’re still definitely lairs.
“I believe I am.” Loki holds the Tesseract delicately between his fingers. The unearthly light of it makes his face glow blue, though it’s a much softer colour than his Jotun form. Clint thinks he’s made some progress on that front. Since studying the Tesseract has pretty much required Loki to stay in that shape for most of the time, he has been using the opportunity to try and use positive reinforcement and all his persuasive abilities to make him hate himself just a little less. He’s even resorted to leaving self-help books lying around the place after trips back to Earth, but Loki mostly just laughed at him for that.
It does seem to be having an effect though. And maybe Loki still sees himself as a monster to too great an extent than Clint would like, but he also seems to be surprisingly okay with it. He’s taken the advice about ‘owning it’ to heart. He even listened to Lady Gaga, which was... interesting. Loki seems undecided on whether he actually likes her music or not, but he’s fascinated by the singer herself. So there’s that.
“Although there is still a very great deal that remains mysterious about the artefact,” Loki says, “its weapon functions are close to the surface and easy to divine. I believe I have located a ‘sub-routine’, as Tony would call it, that should serve my purposes perfectly.”
Loki has been spending far too much time hanging out with Tony Stark if you ask Clint. The man has been completely unbearable since Loki gave him the ability to manipulate the basic forces of the universe – and if he had really thought that was a good idea then Loki is far, far less smart than he claims he is. Though Clint hadn’t been present for that event, seeing the guy shoot a brood of accidentally transported bilgesnipe with repulsors augmented with something called ‘balefire’ while laughing like a man one step away from joining the Evil League of Evil... Yeah. Clint would not go so far as to say that Tony Stark is drunk on his own power, but honestly he’s just waiting for him to have some kind of showdown with Dr Doom because There Can Only Be One.
At this rate Loki’s totally not at all subtle plan to win ‘Tasha and Coulson over to Team Neutral and Therefore Awesome will be completed within the year. Neither of them is entirely keen on being within the blast radius when the inevitable explosion happens. Also, they’re the only two squidgy enough to actually be at risk if one of Stark’s creations really does blow up – apparently the Hulk regards that sort of thing as a fun game, which tells you all you need to know about Stark’s workshops.
Anyway, Clint is letting his thoughts get away from him. They have a mission to undertake.
“So, are you still sure you’re doing this for the right reasons?” he asks. Loki smiles.
“You Midgardians may find revenge to be unhealthy, but let me assure you that the same is not true for either the species I am or the species I generally appear to be,” he chides. “And it must be done all the same. The Chitauri are still, after all, a threat.”
“Alright then,” Clint says, hopping to his feet. “Revenge it is, best served matured for 12 months.”
“Hardly any time at all for one such as myself,” Loki replies. He holds out a hand for Clint to take – though it is possible to follow him through the paths between worlds using only their mental link to guide his steps, that’s not something Clint’s going to want to try on this particular trip.
The world warps around them. They walk through darkness, and Yggdrasil’s bark is as rough and easy to tread as ever underfoot. When they re-materialise in reality, at first there appears to be little change. The black canopy of the world is studded only with the pinprick light of far-away stars. Gravity remains only because Loki wishes it to. They turn slowly in space – for that is just where they are, out in the midst of space with nothing but Loki’s seid to sustain them.
Clint is just about to ask if Loki was holding the map upside down or something when the sun comes into view. Well, not the sun, an alien sun, but it is still a blazing white-hot thing that is hard to look at despite the fact that it’s not much bigger than the nail on his smallest finger.
“It doesn’t look like much,” he says.
“Nothing does at such distances,” Loki replies, smiling a fond sort of smile at the universe. “It will be much bigger soon.” He holds the Tesseract out before him. Strange patterns flicker across its faintly translucent faces. The whole process is honestly fairly anti-climactic, though Loki keeps up a look of intense concentration throughout, and his brow is faintly beaded by sweat by the time he lowers it again.
“Of course this will happen in reality in perhaps a month or so,” he says. “And the light shall take some time to reach this place. But the heart of the star is unstable and cannot now be made well, so it would not be a lie to show you an illusion of what shall soon come to pass.”
The far white sun begins to blossom outwards, spreading waves of super-hot plasma and gas like the unfolding petals of a flower greeting morning. It might be beautiful, were it not death incarnate. The dying star expands ever outwards in a slow, writhing explosion, tortuous and utterly quiet. Clint can’t take his eyes off it.
“The flares will reach the Chitauri home planet and boil it dry,” Loki explains. He sounds almost... dreamy. “It will be slow. They will die of heat and thirst. They will die in agony. Thanos may already have left the asteroid base where he chose to make his home, or if not he will have his own way to escape. That matters not. There will be time for him later, and even he cannot take a planet by himself.” There’s a quiet sort of happiness suffusing the bond between them. Satisfaction. Peace.
“Is it all you ever hoped for?” Clint asks, a little wryly.
“Yes. It is.”
It's finally finished! Well, apart from a few timestamps set in between the main body and the epilogue, but I'll be posting those as separate stories once they're written. Thank you everyone who has read, enjoyed, commented, kudosed and bookmarked this fic, and I hope you find this a satisfying conclusion to the tale.