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Golden Heart, Silver Tongue

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22nd January 1852

Loki Laufeyson
Stark-Laufeyson Estate, Jotunheim

Loki,

I cannot write much now, but you have to be told the news. Tony was kidnapped while on a covert mission to inspect defence systems at our border outposts. His escort were found dead yesterday afternoon, and given that Tony was neither among them nor anywhere nearby, we can only assume that he has been taken by those who ordered the attack. We have high hopes for his survival, since his standing and wealth make him of great value.

We are of course doing our utmost to get him back, and I will not leave Muspelheim until I can bring him home with me. He may be your husband, but he is also my best friend.

Sincerely,
J. Rhodes

*~*~*~*~*

13th February 1854

Banner Estate, Jotunheim

Bruce,

I do not have much time but I have to write to you. Just know that whatever they say about me, I am innocent, I swear it. Romanoff has been after Father's influence and the information he can give him all these months, and I believe it is the only reason we ever became engaged. I had thought not to tell you to keep you safe, but now that Alexi has discovered that I have not been as in the dark as he had thought, I must disappear and you must know the truth. I will tell you more when I can, but I must leave before Alexi follows me. Ivan will deliver this note to you; I am trusting him with my life, as I am you. I shall not tell you where I am going, as much for your protection as for mine.

Be safe, my brother, and do not let the lies of Alexi Romanoff fool you.
Natasha

*~*~*~*~*

5th May 1855

Hydra Banks, Asgard Branch
Gylfi House, Gangleri St.
Valhalla District
Asgard

Thor Odinson
Mjölnir Cotton Mill, Industrial District
Midgard

My dear Mr. Odinson,

I am writing to you on behalf of Hydra Banks, through whom for many years your family has run its more financial business matters and ventures. Today, the sad duty falls to me to inform you that, following over a year of delayed payments and falling profit margins, the bank has been forced to issue a final deadline for the repayment of funds owed. If our books are not balanced by the end of this same year of 1855 – in approximately seven months from now – then legal proceedings will be begun, and it may fall upon us to have to relieve you of your mill in order to pay off said debts.

The sum total owed to us by the Odinson family, according to our accounts, is £12,337-16s-3d. By 31st December this very year, we expect to have received, in one or more payments, this full amount as well as any more interest that is accrued over the intervening time period.

We assure you, Mr. Odinson, that the sending of this statement of intention to your good self is as decidedly distasteful a matter for us as it must be for you to receive it. Did these times not put such power on material wealth and solvency, we would not dream of holding you to such account, and would be delighted to go on doing business with you. For many years have we worked with your family, and your father, the late Mr. Odin Grimm, may he rest in peace, was one of our most valued investors. It is the utmost wish of Hydra Banks to retain this good and long-standing relationship, and we will do everything in our power to be most accommodating in this, your hour of need.

Should you need any assistance or have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Ever your servant,
J. Schmidt

Johann Schmidt,
Chief Executive of Hydra Banks

*~*~*~*~*

29th May 1855

C.B. Odinson
Mjölnir House, Industrial District
Midgard

Philip Coulson
SHIELD Legal Services,
Yggdrasil Square, Valhalla District
Asgard

Mr. Coulson,

Since my elder brother is unwilling to contact you himself, I have taken that upon my own shoulders. Ever since my father raised our family out of poverty and established the Mjölnir textile business of which we are still proprietors today, it has been your SHIELD services to which we have turned when in need of legal advice or assistance. Your help with numerous contracts and issues of property has been highly praised and appreciated by my family, but it is now that we truly find ourselves in need.

Being frank, as I feel can only be best in this dire situation, since our father's passing three years ago, it has fallen on my brother Thor to run this mill as best he knows – and it is not going well. It is true that we have the happiest and healthiest workers in all the nine realms, and our cotton is of the highest quality and in great demand. However, financially, my brother is in trouble. He is unwilling to compromise his principles for profit; a fact that makes me proud to call him my brother, but does not help us pay back the loans owed to investors. Fortunes have not been good this past year, and even months before that. The bank has finally issued a notice of foreclosure in the case that they do not receive the full amount plus any required interest by the end of the year. I do not see how the family will be able to pay such an amount, and my brother is stubborn.

I am writing to you out of desperation, Mr. Coulson. I can only hope that in your professional capacity you will be able to turn back the tides of bad fortune that are lapping at our family's toes, or that you might reason with my brother, whose hard head is too much for even me to break through.

Yours, in hope and thanks,
Clinton Barton Odinson

*~*~*~*~*

17th June 1855

Anthony Stark
Stark-Laufeyson Estate, Jotunheim

Tony, once-beloved husband of mine, I am sending you this letter for two reasons. Firstly, I feel that, despite the circumstances, you do still deserve an explanation; and secondly, leaving you such a useless 'clue' amuses me a great deal and will make the game that much more enjoyable.

You should know that I do not hate you. I am leaving because we were no longer happy together, and have taken Síf with me because she is precious to me and you are clearly in no state to care for a child yourself. I do not particularly intend to stay away forever, but I will not come back unless you bring me back. Then we shall sort out this mess our marriage has become.

I am issuing you a challenge, you drunken sot. Set aside the bottle, leave your machines, and find me. Hunt us down.

Don't expect any more clues, my dear. You will need all your wits about you, for I shall be using all of mine to escape.

Find me.

Delightfully and devilishly yours, my former darling,
Loki

*~*~*~*~*

Stepping out of the carriage for the first time into the streets of Midgard somehow feels more dramatic than he ever thought it might be. He can't stop his eyes darting from side to side, trying to take in as much of his surroundings as possible, and were it not for the feel of a tiny hand clutching at the back of his greatcoat, he might have let himself get lost in the feelings of apprehension and a daring excitement.

As it is, Loki Laufeyson, lord of one of the biggest estates in the Nine Kingdoms and a ruthlessly successful businessman, spins round to face his daughter. Every time he sees her, he can't help that his mouth quirks up into a smile – a smile that anyone who knows him well can immediately identify as one of real happiness, as opposed to his usual trademark smirk – but love just bubbles up inside him and squeezes at his heart and the only way to release some of the pressure is to grin, beam, delight in her presence.

“Síf, my darling, my apologies. I've got you.” And he grips her around the waist, pecks her on the cheek, and sets her gently on the ground.

Síf looks up at him, dark eyes big and round like one of the little muntjac deer that graze back at the Stark-Laufeyson estate. (Loki hesitates to call it home, even in his head, because that would defeat the whole purpose of this exercise. Home is in Midgard now, right here). Her hair, dark like both her fathers' but sleek in a way that only Loki's has ever been, is pulled back into a plait which bobs as she moves; as always, not a single hair is out of place.

“Papa, is Auntie Natasha meeting us here?” she asks, with all the gravitas a six-year-old can muster. “This place is very grey, I think we should ask her to find us another house. Somewhere with more yellow.”

Loki is stumped for a moment. His daughter is perfectly right, the house in front of them is fairly sizeable and still mostly in good repair, but its most overwhelming feature is definitely its lack of colour.

“Yellow, hmm? Why would you want to live somewhere yellow, my sweet?”

He's not looking at her, but he just knows that her little nose is wrinkling in displeasure at the endearment. She takes after her father – her other father – that way. The corner of Loki's mouth twitches as all of a sudden he finds himself struggling to hold on to his good cheer.

“Because yellow is like sunshine,” she says, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. “I don't want to go on an adventure in the rain, and grey is like rain.”

Loki pats her on the head, careful not to disrupt her hair that he brushed and arranged so carefully this morning, and laughs lightly.

“Well, once we've moved in, we can paint the house yellow, how about that?”

The triumphant look on Síf's cherubic face is all the answer he needs, and he's still chuckling as he leads their driver and his valet to the front door – the servants laden with boxes and cases full of Loki and Síf's belongings – following in the footsteps of the small girl skipping ahead of them.

Already, it's getting easier to breathe, easier than it has been in a long time.

*

Meanwhile, in a manor on the other side of town, Thor Odinson growls and throws a ledger across the study, ignoring an exasperated sigh from his younger brother. As Clinton goes to pick it up, dusting imaginary dirt off the red leather cover and rolling his eyes, Thor slams his hands down on his desk and hangs his head, breathing hard.

This really is too much.

“How could you, brother? I have said before, the house of Odin will not fall so easily. The bank, the investors, they are but specks of rust in our armour, and--”

“Thor,” Clint begins, gripping his brother's shoulder and taking in the dark circles growing underneath his eyes, “I am sorry. I am sorry that I went behind your back, that I didn't inform you before contacting SHIELD. But I am not sorry for contacting them. Yes, the 'house of Odin' will survive, I have no doubt about that – and I'm sure that you will be the one to restore our family's fortunes.”

Thor ruthlessly crushes the little voice in the back of his head, the one that adds 'especially since you were the one to lose our fortunes in the first place, the one to throw it all away.'

“But Thor, this time we need help.”

Clint gently – but forcefully – starts to steer Thor towards the door of the study. “Come now, let us go find something else for you to do. Destroying this office will not help things, and you need a distraction.”

Thor sighs, still angry, but letting himself be pushed in whatever direction his brother might please. He is furious, wants to break things and shout until he has no voice left, but he knows it is not his brother's fault. He doesn't want to upset Clint, has not even once since he came to join the Odinson family, and he will concede this particular fight. And, deep down and silently, he is willing to admit that his brother is right. That he cannot fix this alone.

Spending the day riding through the open fields to the north of town, racing Clint and laughing when his brother's horse tips him into a hedge, is extremely effective at clearing Thor's mind.

The grin does not leave his face all through dinner, and the maids and his valet look surprised but delighted at his good mood. Thor feels slightly guilty, knowing that he has been taking out his temper on those who don't deserve it, lashing out verbally at all those around him, but he cannot help it. It has always been the way he has dealt with emotional stress, even though it put him at odds with both his parents more than once.

Clint though, Clint understands how he works, and lets him rage for a while before pulling him out of it, forcing him to laugh at life again. They have a good partnership, have done for years. Clint is technically Thor's cousin, but the death of his parents when he was still a boy meant that he and Thor were raised in the Odinson household as brothers, and Thor cannot think of him as anything else.

Thor makes sure to thank everyone politely and enthusiastically for the excellent meal, and enquires about Clint's studies; he wants to travel, once the mill is safe again and they have the money to spare, and had been looking into learning various languages and reading about the other parts of the Nine Realms and their practices.

Everything is wonderful, normal, for hours, for most of the day. After dinner, he and Clint retire to the room they have always shared as a family, the room that still has their father's armchair set aside close to the fire, despite the fact that Odin had passed away three years before, and their mother's couch where she had liked to spend the evenings sewing until her own death a few months after her husband's, peaceful and accepting.

Clint curls up on the rug with a book, lazily chewing an old quill pen as he reads, and Thor watches him happily for a while, nursing a glass of red wine and smiling contentedly. Eventually he rouses himself enough to move to the small table where they keep a set of writing supplies, realising that he should swallow his pride for once and write to Coulson and SHIELD himself, if only to confirm his brother's words.

But as he sets pen to paper, wording the plea for aid in his head, the cloud descends over his head once more, and his pen strokes become more and more vicious as he glowers down at the page.

Clint looks up once or twice, but wisely decides to keep out of it this time.

*