It’s all freezing and burning at the same time.
Illyria watches the way Loki moves--twisting and contorting his body into the throws he makes, shooting streams of sparks out of his hands as if this is a game.
Maybe it is.
Illyria revels the fight; the thrill of the moments where she is a god among men. She thinks, the world is mine to take and I am winning. It feels that way. Another enemy goes down in a twisted motion that mimics those of Loki. It was something Loki had conjured from a car--with a tail and teeth that tried to reach her, but in the last moment failed.
No creature of magic is any match for me, she thinks.
She remembers being called to the fight, because she remembers the look on Wesley’s face.
She relishes it.
He was sitting in the dark when his phone rang, his face becoming serious and pensive, “A god?” Wesley had asked, eyes flicking to meet Illyria’s ever-watchful gaze. “I see,” he said, and flipped the phone closed. Illyria waited while Wesley phoned Angel, listened while he explained that, “She’s not much of a scout,” and, “we can’t just send her off to survey the damage. She’s been emotionless, cold and unstable. Untrustworthy,” this time he doesn’t glance up at all. She is sent away anyways.
Illyria was supposed to report back two hours ago, but she revels the fight.
When she had arrived, the others had given her wary glances. They don’t think they need help. She smells the magic on them. Still, in a way, Wesley had told her to come here and survey the damage. And she has a silent, invisible debt.
Illyria listens as they talk strategy.
Thor smiles at her after a few moments pass laced in discomfort. He reaches his hand out towards her and she regards it suspiciously. She cocks her head, wonders what the action is meant to mean. Illyria remains absolutely still and watches as Thor’s smile fades and he withdraws his hand, turning back to Natasha who is explaining that “the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous to the civilians,” and, “We’ve called in some extra help,” and all eyes turn to Illyria and Illyria feels overwhelmed and closes her eyes and thinks about demolishing everything in the entire room. City. Country. World. And now she feels better, breathes, and opens her eyes again.
Thor replaces Natasha at the front of the group and tells of his brother. What Loki can do (“Lies, trickery and mischief have been Loki’s friends since childhood,” he takes a moment before continuing, “He can teleport, shape shift and create many weapons from almost nothing--”) Illyria listens to her own breathing because she already knows some of this and doesn’t understand the emotions in the larger being’s voice. He speaks as if this isn’t a common enemy, as if it’s not someone to fight.
Now Illyria is fighting, and the excitement is high. This is where she belongs. No eyes follow her as she beheads another mystical being that turns almost to dust. Not real.
“Magic,” she hisses.
She had accumulated quite a bit of information before the fight began. She listened in the dead of night while Thor consumed alcohol in unnecessary quantities and spoke--often to himself--of his childhood with Loki. Illyria stores it away for future use like a lonely machine.
Emotionless, cold and unstable, she thinks. Untrustworthy.
Never off her guard, but neither is anyone else in this battle. A dagger of ice flies by her at immeasurable speed, followed by a second one and a third, the fourth reaches its destination and Illyria falls back onto her outstretched arm. Pain races up her side as she looks down--using her free hand to grasp the slippery weapon and pull it from between her ribs. Her expression does not betray her pain.
It’s freezing and burning at the same time.
She stands up to continue the fighting that she so loves, but her vision goes black.
Magic, this is magic doing this. It’s not me, she thinks. Illyria stands up again but the loss of sight is annoying, irritating. The fun has been ruined.
A hand grabs her arm and she whirls around, ready to attack. The semi-familiar voice that responds is Bruce. The one with control issues, she remembers. Illyria remains poised to strike.
Familiar means nothing.
“It’s okay. I’m on your side,” he says. She adjusts her body so she is facing the direction his voice comes from, “Are you alright?” the voice continues.
“I cannot see,” she responds, but even as she says it her vision is returning. A temporary spell? Illyria turns back towards the battle as soon as she can distinguish one shape from the next but the hand stops her again.
“You’re injured,” Bruce says, “You need to come back to the tower,” he gently pulls her arm because Illyria’s eyes are trained on Loki again. In that moment, Loki looks away from the battle at hand and looks directly at her; curiosity weaves through his expression.
“Yes,” she says because that look frustrated her, she is not something to be studied, “This is boring me immensely.”
Wounded. It’s not a new sensation to Illyria. She has been in many battles defending Vahla ha'nesh--what is now known as Los Angeles--and each was more bloody than the last. The people of this era do not understand the meaning behind the word. Wounded is a test of survival. Abandon the wounded and if they return they are worthy of life.
Four, then five eyes watch Illyria as she remains perfectly motionless on the bed. This is where they wanted her. Opinions. Weighing less than sunlight on her skin. And yet she does as they expect her to. If only so that they don’t stare. It’s not working.
Bruce and Pepper watch her sit on the bed. The man with the eyepatch, Fury, arrives moments later. The first two look at her with curiosity, the latter glares. He doesn’t want her here. Illyria blinks once. Human body new, fragile. She glances at the wound. An area of weakness on her armored suit. Weakness in this human body, but Illyria is worthy of life.
“Would you like anything? Water? Does she drink water?” Pepper asks, turning to Bruce as if he knows anything about the being before them.
“No,” Illyria answers before anyone else can, “I do not need anything. You may leave now.”
“Did she just ... dismiss me?” Fury asks slowly, “I don’t think she’s earned the right to--”
“It’s okay,” Bruce almost soothes. “We’ll go now,” and the three of them do--leaving Illyria alone to sit in absolute stillness and think.
She thinks of the battle. She thinks of past battles. She thinks of Wesley and Angel and the son of Angel and the demon, Lorne. She thinks of Los Angeles and Vahla ha'nesh and New York. Illyria think of Loki. Illyria watches the way Loki moves.
Brothers, she tastes the word before she speaks it. Brother. But that is of no matter to her.
Emotionless. Cold. Unstable. Untrustworthy.
The word in her memory sparks realization. She is cold. Maybe it's the injury. Maybe it's the large window to her left. She isn't used to such mundane considerations. Illyria stands to look outside of it at the road below her. It is similar to that which she had fought on earlier, but not the same. Different.
The sky is grey, the lighting is off. A fighting day, she thinks. Her mind goes back to the battle; her attention on the enemy. He looks at her with that horrid curiosity. She's used to curiosity. She's used to the stares of others.
This was different.
And that's when it strikes her that this will not go away. This was different. Illyria is rarely met with such a situation.
It wasn't the curiosity, it was the excitement. A lack of fear. Those eyes wanted to know her. Those eyes wanted to meet her in battle.
And now Illyria feels the pull of curiosity. The same curiosity that she dismisses most instances--revealing it only to Wesley occasionally and to Spike that once. Questions about that which is different.
It's eating at her now.
This will not go away.
'Illyria. Reply back. W.'
The gadget sings its one noted song. Illyria is still alone, though Fury is outside the door. She can hear his breathing. It hitches when the device signals the message. Wesley.
'Here. Fought. Healing.'
'No message when you arrived. Was worried.'
No reply. Her response was designed to irk him. Something in her finds entertainment in annoying Wesley. Most of her couldn't care any less.
After a few moments of silence, Fury enters the room.
"What was that?"
"Wesley. Messages. On this," Illyria holds the device in her hands, vaguely and momentarily fascinated by it.
"The others are back," he says with barely a glance at the pager. "Loki got away."
"Of course he did," she responds off-handedly.
"There is no 'of course'," Fury is offended. Illyria doesn't dignify that with a response. He continues, "You need to respect the members of this team, you're a guest here," he is aware that he sounds like someone's mother, maybe his own.
With only her eyes, Illyria looks him up and down.
"You were sent here to help us," Fury's voice is filling with anger, trickling at first but the river is coming.
"No creature of magic is any match for me," she says.
Fury leaves, still unhappy with Illyria's presence. Less than sunlight.
Moments pass, then hours before Pepper comes in with food. Illyria isn't supposed to move with her injury, but when Pepper walks in Illyria is standing at the window; watching the way Loki moves in her head.
"Are you alright?" Pepper asks.
"Cold. Unstable," is the response.
"Do you need more blankets? Should you lie down?"
"No," Illyria never takes her eyes off the window. "Blankets will not help me."
More time passes.
When everyone else is asleep, she feels free. Illyria has had no interactions with anyone since Pepper. No interactions with the warriors.
Earlier, Illyria had listened as Thor became drunk downstairs. She listened to the low conversations between Natasha and Clint. Crystal hearing. Nothing to store away this time.
She dreams without sleep.
Darkness and silence and boredom spark vivid images. Loki--enemy--reaching his hand out towards her; accenting his curiosity. The expression on his face unwavering. Illyria narrows her eyes at the vision. Leave. The ice dagger flies at her again, and she is dodging everything that he throws at her until the sharp pain hits. That icy heat.
It's a matter of honour, really. He wounded her, and like all else who could make that claim, he will be defeated by her. Slain. Not to exist.
And it freezes and burns her at the same time.
The next morning, Natasha comes to her room. Clint watches from outside the door. His eyes betray the right kind of curiosity: morbid and fearful.
Natasha asks Illyria how she’s doing. That incessant question. Illyria answers: fine. It's what they want to hear. Natasha is curious, for she asks Illyria about her armor: pliability, comfort, mundane information to have and to give. Illyria leaves everything vague anyways. The questions are meaningless. Illyria thinks, what does comfort have to do with armor?
It's understood that Natasha is trying to introduce herself to her temporary comrade, and Clint eventually enters with the same intention. Illyria tastes the bitterness in the room when Loki is brought up. Common enemy, Illyria thinks. Good.
The conversation is mechanical and Illyria knows this is her own doing. At one point she tries--actually tries--to be sociable. It's not something she's used to; It's not something she knows.
Emotionless, cold, unstable, untrustworthy.
She only becomes truly annoyed when they try to help her. To assist her in retrieving anything. Food, water, nothing she needs. If she were incapable of getting these herself, Illyria would not be worthy of life. It's an offensive misunderstanding. She tries to let it go.
Common enemy is the closest bond that Illyria knows.
Every time she closes her eyes, the common enemy is there. Hurling ice shards in all directions and Illyria cannot escape it.
Days pass through the window. Illyria is now able to move from the room. There is relief because Illyria and the memories of Loki were all that lived there. The room tastes of rage.
Thor, Tony, and Natasha sit around a table eating flakes from bowls and discussing battle. Illyria hovers nearby. Uneasy glances are occasionally sent her way, but the conversation continues uninterrupted.
"Have you tried adding something sonic?" Natasha grins at Tony.
"Sonic? Sonic? What is sonic? Of course it's sonic! It's everything!"
"Gamma," Thor says between bites of cereal. "Like Bruce."
"You," Tony points at Thor, "don't know what you're talking about."
Natasha chuckles, "He's better than me."
"That's up for debate," Clint walks over, apple in hand. "What and who are we talking about here?"
"Many things!" Thor booms, "Many people!"
Illyria watches. Sorting information. The lonely machine.
One night, Loki appears in her room. At first she thinks she must be hallucinating, but she never hallucinates with her eyes open. The enemy is here. The heart she carries inside of her races. Excitement. Reveling the fight. And Illyria wants desperately to fight.
He's in green--metal and leather. Helmet on. Illyria envies that helmet, the crown, and the menace of it. As if he can hear her thoughts--and she's not entirely sure that he can't--he takes it off. Holding it in his hands as he looks down, smiles slightly, and shakes his head.
Illyria stays frozen--ready to fight. Curiosity never trumping self-defense. She contemplates first strike capabilities. She shudders.
Emotionless, yes. Cold, yes. Unstable, doubtful. Untrustworthy, only to those who have scorned her.
He speaks to his helmet, "Asgard," he says. "It was beautiful there." Illyria doesn't speak. "You would have liked it."
"You do not know me."
"No," he admits. "Everyone--anyone would have liked it."
Illyria tilts her head slightly, listening for the others. Surely the AI has alerted Tony of this presence. Unwanted.
"You are not to be here," Illyria snarls. "I will destroy you."
Loki vibrates with dark laughter, "I have no doubt about the latter, but your first statement--that interests me." Illyria refuses to respond to that which she does not understand. "Do you think you belong here? Do you think they want your help?"
Illyria knows the answer. "I do not care what they want. I have a debt to pay."
"Ah," Loki says, voice like ice. "I know well of debts."
Illyria's eyes burn with anger. Enemy. Leave.
"I have one question," Loki speaks again, eyes flicking up to meet her own. "Is it worth it to you? Fulfilling this debt at the cost of time--more time--with those who hate you, those planning your removal. Those who do not care whether you live or die?”
“I do not care for their lives, why should they care for mine?”
Loki takes a step towards the primordial god, eyes burning. He speaks, “You are not telling the truth in its entirety, but as you wish.” He turns to the window, helmet under his arm.
“I wish for you to leave,” Illyria says without taking her eyes off of the other. “Or tell me why you are here.”
“Then I will do the former,” is the response. Loki holds his hand up and the energy in the room changes. Within moments Illyria is alone again. She closes her eyes and longs for a fight.
“You haven’t healed yet.”
“I was born to fight; I was sent here to fight. I should never have been taken away from my purpose.”
“Believe me, I know how that feels,” Tony counters, “but you will only be a liability if you go out there injured.”
“Liability?” Illyria asks, “There is no such thing as a liability that you fight independently from--that you do not care about.”
“There is no such thing as fighting independently here. This won’t work if we’re not working as a team.” Tony realizes that he sounds like Steve, he tries not to think too closely on that.
“I am ready to fight,” Illyria’s voice fills with rage.
“Let her come, Tony,” Clint speaks up from the corner. “She’s been fine in training. She clearly wants this. Let her come out with us on the next call.”
“Fine, but this is on you, Mr. Tell.”
Illyria glances at Clint. They share a common enemy.
Two days later the call comes in. A man shooting sparks out of his hands is threatening to take out a hospital downtown. It’s meaningless chaos; no distinguishable endgame.
Probably a trap. They are sent anyways.
Loki is standing on the roof of a car when they arrive. A blue orb surrounding the people below him. They are frozen in place. All completely unaware that anything is happening. Thor immediately takes off towards his brother--Iron Man and Black Widow go for the frozen civilians--Hawkeye keeps watch from high above. His arrow trained on the god of mischief. Waiting.
Illyria stands alone, hoping for something to destroy. Watching.
Loki smiles at the scene before him. His mindless chaos forming. Watching.
Both sets of eyes find each other. Loki grins at Illyria; Illyria scowls in return.
Freezing and burning at the same time.
In one moment, everything changes. The orb of blue dissipates, and the people inside look around themselves--confused until someone comprehends the scene around them and screams. The civilians begin to panic. Tech allows Illyria to hear Clint curse under his breath. Loki jumps down from his position on the car--centered within the chaos, still smiling. Illyria takes off towards him, reveling the idea of an upcoming fight. She pushes past the people, making her way through the crowd.
She thinks, this is all very dramatic.
A flash of green and Illyria’s heart races. A flash of blue and red catches her off guard. Impact followed by piercing pain. Splitting. Explosions. Loss of vision. Familiar.
But familiar means nothing.
Illyria remembers falling; she remembers her wrist snapping as she tried to catch herself; she remembers seeing the sky above her and not being able to name the colour. She remembers Loki above her--his scepter trailing along her armor, up her arm, and stopping at her neck. Illyria remembers a hint of fear, and green eyes squinting.
Illyria remembers Loki walking away, and then she remembers nothing.
Her eyes snap open. Bright, blinding light. Piercing headache. She winces.
“Hey, you alright?” It’s Steve. Illyria immediately schools her expression into one of indifference--ashamed at the display of pain. Of weakness.
“That question is becoming irksome,” she says.
“Sorry, I just- I’m sorry,” he replies. “I feel really badly, is all. I’m sorry.”
“Your meaning eludes me.”
“I hit you. With my shield. I was aiming for Loki but you moved... really quickly.”
“Yes,” Illyria says, eyes narrowing, “I was also attempting to combat Loki.” It’s an obvious statement. Steve chuckles and the sound infuriates Illyria. Annoyance tints her voice, “Has Loki perished?”
“What? No! He’s immortal, I think. I mean I don’t think we can kill him.”
“I’m immortal,” Illyria states.
“Huh. Well, you’re a valuable ally, I guess,” Steve replies. “But you’ve been unconscious for two days, I hit you pretty hard, I’m really sorry.”
“The act of apologizing is mundane, and lost on me,” Illyria says. “I don’t remember much of that fight.”
“You’re lucky. It was a mess,” Steve says, running a hand though his hair. “Loki dissapeared a few minutes after you went down. No one even saw him go.”
Illyria freezes. Something lurking behind her memories. Green eyes squinting.
“Well, I guess I’ll leave you to recover--or something,” Steve says awkwardly, watching the way Illyria stares off into the distance. Illyria says nothing, but watches as Steve leaves. A memory of fear tinting what she remembers of the fight.
Illyria thinks, this will not go away, and touches her arm. Her hand is broken. Something else.
He had let her live.
It hits her in an entirely different way. It takes her back. This is different. Illyria is not taken aback by much. This is different.
Emotionless, she wonders, because she is filled with a rage so powerful she cannot stay still. Picking up the vase of decorative flowers on the nightstand, Illyria thinks of those squinting green eyes. The vase smashes through the window--glass showering down the building in shards. She wants to scream. She wants revenge. She deserves a warrior’s death. Nothing is worse than pity.
He let her live.
Emotionless, cold and unstable. Untrustworthy.
“She broke my window,” Tony says for the third time.
“Shut up about the window,” says Pepper.
“Should we call Wesley?” Bruce speaks up, annoyingly calm.
“Maybe we should just leave her alone,” says Natasha. She understands rage. It was rage that drove her to where she is now.
“Nat, no. We don’t know anything about her; we aren’t going to risk our lives for her second chance,” Clint says protectively.
Steve says nothing. No one wonders where Thor is; too much going on. Illyria listens from her room. They don’t think she can hear them.
The door creaks open. Illyria was expecting him. She says nothing.
“I know a lot about Loki,” says Thor.
“Yes,” Illyria doesn’t so much as look at him.
“He’s very good at what he does.” He gets no response from Illyria. “He likes to get in your head,” Thor continues.
“Not mine,” Illyria says.
“Well, he tries. He’s trying,” Thor says, searching for words.
“No creature of magic is any match for me,” Illyria echoes her words to Fury, looking away. Bored. She no longer wants to talk to Thor.
“Why are you angry?” Thor doesn’t understand social queues--though to be fair the same can be said of Illyria.
“Honour. Pride. He wounded me. I would have slain him for it. He let me live,” her voice becomes increasingly loud. “I was wounded. I was not worthy of life, and yet he let me live.”
Clint throws open the door then. “Found them,” he calls down, then glances at the scene before him.
Illyria glares at him. Clint thinks, if looks could kill.
Illyria mutters again, “He let me live,” and turns away from the two men to look out the window--the empty, shattered gap.
Clint leads Thor out.
Crisis averted. In her head, she watches Loki move.
An hour later, the memories are interrupted by the pager. Wesley.
‘They told me what happened. Are you alright?’
‘Your question is relative. I am alive.’
‘Do you want to come back?’
‘Are they trying to rid themselves of me?’
‘Answer the question.”
‘No. I do not want to return.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Your question is relative.’
And Illyria continues her reverie. The memories of the fight. The good ones. The moment when she came close to destroying that which had wounded her. Scorned. There would be no more pity.
But like a lonely machine, she learns from the others.
Natasha and Clint are together often, she notices. Tony and Pepper as well. She knows what this is. She knows what Wesley felt for Winifred. This is similar, fascinating and painful. Illyria pretends to be bored with it.
She watches Steve watching the world. He is as lost as she is. Steve is new to this time, like Illyria. She knows what he feels; it is familiar.
Familiar means nothing, she repeats to herself.
Thor is hurt by Loki because his trust was broken. Illyria feels little sympathy--if any at all. She knows better than to trust anyone.
Emotionless, cold, unstable. Untrustworthy. It’s all a defense mechanism. Untrustworthy goes two ways, she thinks. This was her intention. Always.
Defense mechanisms are embedded into Tony’s personality. He hides within comebacks and iron and himself.
Illyria thinks about all of this as the days pass. Lonely computer storing information. She has no interest in liking these people. She doesn’t care; she doesn’t care. She repeats it to herself until she believes it to be true. She doesn’t care.
One day, they are distracted. One day, Illyria slips away from them. One day, Illyria finds the room of technology.
She grazes her fingertips over monitors. The tablets come to life at the lightest touch. Labels tell her what she is looking at, ‘Security,’ ‘JARVIS,’ ‘Locators.’ The last has sub screens with many names. Some that Illyria recognizes: Steve, Clint, Natasha, Bruce. Some that she does not know.
Illyria has an instinct for some of it. She figures she could turn off the security around the building, and considers trying. She could hack the basic elements of JARVIS, possibly, but nothing that would allow for more than a practical joke. Again, consideration. In the end, she does nothing; touches nothing.
She feels powerful.
“This will not go away,” she smiles to herself.
She’s lying in the bed--her eyes closed; her mind replaying various battles when he shows up again.
Illyria likes to draw lines of similarity. She likes to compare, contrast and reflect upon various instances in her life. Life is more interesting in its patterns. She thinks about the battles of Vahla ha'nesh, the battles she had seen with Angel Investigations--Wolfram and Hart--whatever they were calling themselves. She thinks about the last time she was injured.
She is drawing these lines when Loki appears in her room.
She is hardly startled. It’s not that she was expecting it--she wasn’t--it’s more that he did nothing to startle her. He appeared calmly and stood by her door, waiting for her to acknowledge his presence. She felt it the moment he arrived. She gave no signs of acknowledgement. She did not open her eyes.
Loki speaks first, “It occurred to me that we are very similar, you and I.”
“Did it?” Illyria opens her eyes but does not turn to face the man in her room.
Loki pauses, “I see you’ve picked up some of the tendencies of the others.”
Illyria sighs, “The others?”
“There it is. You sound like them. You speak like them. Have you not realized?”
Illyria had, in fact, realized that her ways of thinking about things were adapting to those around her. Humans. “I do not know what you speak of.”
“So do you.”
“Why are you here?”
“Do you think that they like you?” Loki asks in return, voice becoming ice cold.
“You are here to play games,” Illyria says and closes her eyes again.
“I am here to warn you. I’ve been in your situation. Living with those that see you as different. They will never love you because you will never be one of them. You scare them.”
Freezing and burning at the same time. A flash of pain in her side. Illyria remembers the blade of ice all too clearly.
“You do not know how much I would like to kill you,” Illyria says.
Loki chuckles under his breath. Illyria hates that. The noise haunts her; she almost cringes.
“Are you sure about the way you feel?” Loki asks, taunting. Doubting Illyria’s words. She springs to her feet, ready to attack. He has pushed her too far, but by the time she is on her feet he is gone. Illyria shivers.
She wanted a warrior’s death.
He appears the next night as well. Illyria expects him this time.
“You return. Do you not fear death?”
“I do not believe in death the same way you do.”
“Do you believe in pain?” Illyria holds a curtain rod up. I was the most menacing weapon in the room. Loki looks at it for a moment, entertained.
“I do. I know of pain. I know of betrayal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you do as well.”
Illyria squints her eyes, “I know of many things.”
“You’ve killed many innocent people, and yet the most recent kill stays with you,” Loki comments. “A girl. Friend of a friend?”
“I have no friends.”
“No, not anymore,” he says thoughtfully. Illyria takes a swing at him with the curtain rod but he’s gone before impact. Instead the rod finds purchase on the nightstand.
Steve is the first one to the room.
“What happened?” he’s slightly out of it. Just woke up. He takes in the scene before him. Illyria, eyes blazing, holding half of a curtain rod. The nightstand split down the center.
“Nightmare,” Illyria lies. Steve nods. False understanding.
“Yeah, I get those,” he draws his hand across his face. “Ice mostly. Being frozen,” he says, eyes glazing over. “Doesn’t matter. I’m sorry about the nightmare. I can explain the table to Tony if you’d like,” he says, motioning at the table.
“Yes,” is all Illyria says. Steve seems content with that answer because he nods a few times before leaving. Illyria sits on the bed. She still holds the curtain rod shard.
Every night is the same. Every night Loki tells her that she has nothing; that no one cares. That she is alone.
Illyria becomes angry during the days. The smallest things begin to set her off. Steve blames the nightmares, he tries to let it go; to convince the others to let it go. He can relate to nightmares.
So can Tony, but he can’t show it. Instead he complains about the broken furniture, the shattered glass, the dents in the walls and floor.
Clint and Natasha remain off in their own world.
The day after Loki’s fourth visit, Illyria sits on the couch reading the only material she could find: Steve’s copy of Of Mice and Men.
Steve notices and finds a place beside Illyria on Tony’s large couch.
“I had to read that in school,” he says, “It was new then. Now it’s a ‘classic.’” Illyria doesn’t respond. Steve has become used to her silence. “It’s pretty good. Sad.”
“It is for love. It is symbolic. The shattering of mortal dreams.”
“Should’ve gotten you to write my paper on it,” Steve laughs.
“Friends seem to be enemies. Enemies are deceitful. They make you think they are your friend. They lie.”
“Because George shoots Lennie?”
“Because everyone lies.”
Steve thinks about that for a moment.
“I do not agree with this,” Illyria says, putting the book down, “Planning is everything. I planned to be here--today. I planned on being brought out again. I’ve been alive for so many years. I planned ahead. I’m here now.”
“But did it go exactly as you thought it would?”
Illyria doesn’t answer that. She looks back at the book. This is not a conversation she wants to have with anyone. Fishermen, trying to get their answers from her.
She returns to being cold, emotionless, and unstable. She has no desire to be trustworthy.
When Loki appears the next night she is ready for him. Metal rod in hand. She leaps for him the moment she can see him. Loki disappears momentarily before appearing again, hands out. A gesture of innocence.
“Please don’t,” he says.
“Because I know you. Because I know how you feel. Listen to me; I only want to help. You have nothing with these people.”
“You know nothing. I have a debt to pay. You will not get in my way. Do not come back. Leave now and never return to this room. I will kill you in battle; I will not kill you here.”
For a moment Loki looks hurt, but in the end he disappears.
‘Look down there acrost the river, like you can almost see the place,’ Illyria thinks, raising the gun in her mind. Watching Loki move. Watching Loki walk away.
He does not return the next night.
Two weeks pass without any word of the god of mischief. Two weeks pass, and Illyria continues to become agitated with the others.
There are three instances of almost-chaos. Motes of dust challenging her word. She is Illyria, god-king of the primordium. They treat her as an equal.
The true danger comes when they laugh at her. Rarely do they mean any harm--occasionally they think she’s trying to be humorous--but it sets Illyria off so completely. Household objects are destroyed and people are injured.
Tony doesn’t forgive Illyria for kicking him in the head.
Bruce tries to talk Illyria down; rambling on about control and anger and destruction. Illyria listens to some of what he says, but does not take it in. Stories for entertainment.
In the time not spent arguing with the others, Illyria traces patterns around the building. She fiddles with the computers; gleaning information from them.
She thinks back to when she found this room of computers.
Eventually, Illyria finds the system that tracks Loki. A lonely machine, she thinks. Tracking someone wherever they go. She has not forgiven Loki for giving up the chance to kill her. She cannot comprehend such actions. Green eyes squinting and walking away.
Missed kill shot. She wanted a warrior’s death.
But it isn’t hard to understand the markings on the screen. Illyria could find him, kill him, and pretend none of this had ever happened. She yearns for that fight. She dreams of it.
She resolves to it.
Illyria finds her chance after a particularly close call with Tony.
He had asked about Fred.
Things had escalated.
In a miscalculation of someone’s part, Tony is escorted to his room by Steve, and Illyria is left alone in the kitchen. Opportunity to leave without being noticed. She takes it while she can.
The streets are buzzing. Illyria closes her eyes and allows her armored suit to change to civilian clothes. Wesley would be furious to see her in Fred’s clothing, but assimilation is necessary.
Perfect memory allows her to find her way to the abandoned shop. It still reeks of cooked meat--Shawarma.
Illyria runs her hand against the wall--eyed closed, sensing energy changes. There it is. She mentally prepares herself for battle and lifts her hand to press the spot on the wall.
The cold voice comes from behind her, “I wouldn’t recommend that.”
Illyria whirls around. She is ready to demolish the norse god. Loki takes a step back to avoid the impact of Illyria’s foot. Illyria snarls; she wanted to catch him off guard. Not the other way around.
‘But did it go exactly as you thought it would?’
She still has her chance to kill. She pulls her arm back--ready to strike--but Loki materializes behind her and catches her shoulder. His strength exceeds hers. Illyria once again curses the loss of her powers--time bomb or not. With her original strength she could have stopped this. She could have stopped time. This would not have been an issue.
Wesley had let her live in exchange for her power.
Loki had let her live in exchange for something else.
Loki whispers in her ear, “I knew you would come.”
“You do not know me,” she says, spite and rage flavouring her voice, “You know nothing of me or my power.”
“We are not all that different.”
“I am above you and your mundane battles with this world. You are nothing but bored--seeking entertainment in lesser souls. Displaying the behaviour of an unloved child.”
“And yet here you are.”
“I have a debt.”
Illyria takes advantage of the quiet moment. She swings around, pushing Loki backwards. He stumbles a few steps before trying to regain balance. Illyria is too quick; she pushes him into the wall, and it cracks behind him. Loki’s face contorts with rage. His hands glow.
“I’ve told you already,” Illyria snarls, “Your magic is no match for me,” and she lunges for Loki, trapping him between herself and the wall. “I’ve been waiting for this day. I’ve been waiting to kill you. Beg for your life weakling; you deserve no warrior’s death.”
But Loki only smiles at her.
And then he kisses her.
Freezing and burning at the same time.
It takes Illyria half a second to realize what’s happening. Loki takes advantage of that time; flipping them around so that it is Illyria against the wall.
Illyria pushes Loki off of her, momentarily stunned. Inexplicably, Loki begins to laugh under his breath. Illyria doesn’t think she’s experienced this level of rage in her life, and it’s been a long life.
The ghost of contact remains with her even after he has backed away.
Before Illyria can make any move, Loki evaporates before her eyes.
Loki is gone.
Just as Illyria was working her way towards shattering--fragmenting like a dagger of ice.
He had used her against herself. In spite of herself. He thought so little of her--thinking he could distract her as if she were human.
Thinking her as no more than her shell.
And she had fallen for it. She had been distracted. The enemy had escaped.
Now Illyria has something new to dream about each night.
The memories of Loki walking away; Loki leaving Illyria to live; Loki convincing Illyria that they are the same--all these memories replaced. In their place, Illyria has the memories of an abandoned Shawarma place. Of Loki pressed into the wall at her hand. Memories of Loki escaping.
When Illyria returns, she doesn’t leave her room. She doesn’t eat. She doesn’t sleep.
Sometimes Steve visits. Often, he sits with Illyria in silence. Other times he speaks of his past. Illyria never says anything in return.
Illyria is angry, not unhappy. Anger, like destruction, is something she is accustomed to.
This is not emotional; Illyria is happy to be cold. She is stable in her rationing and untrustworthy to all. All bases covered.
Different battle strategies. Familiar means nothing to Illyria. Familiar is boring. This is different, she thinks.
And yet when she closes her eyes she can still feel the kiss.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” Steve asks as Illyria shudders in the middle of his story.
“There is no matter,” Illyria says.
“You- Are you cold?”
“Do you want another blanket or something?” Steve ignores the unused blanket still on the bed, and the second one Pepper had brought in a while ago that still lay on the floor.
“Don’t be foolish. Resume your story,” Illyria says, looking out the window.
Steve hesitates, “Okay, but can I ask you something?” Illyria doesn’t answer. Steve continues, “Did something happen to you last week? You’ve been different since you disappeared.”
“I did not disappear,” Illyria answers. Her eyes remain on the setting outside the window. Steve waits a moment for an explanation before giving up and continuing his story: a tale of a boy with no strength and the friend that was always there for him.
Illyria listens, returning to her stony silence.
One day, Steve tells a story about a woman from his time.
This catches Illyria’s attention. Steve speaks of love and hurt and almost betrayal. Illyria knows of love--not that she agrees with the nonsense of it all. She believes that humans believe love to exist; if only because they willed it into existence.
Illyria knows of it, but she cannot understand it.
It is the betrayal and pain that Illyria finds fascinating about Steve’s story. The loss of his world made that much worse by the loss of this woman. It only serves to confirm her belief that love is pointless. It serves little purpose, not even happiness is worth such inevitable pain.
But she listens in silence to Steve’s story. For once, Illyria contains her thoughts on the insanity that is the human existence. For once, she wishes not to appear emotionless, cold, and unstable.
When they face battle again, Illyria watches Steve fight. Monsters hurtle towards him and he easily deflects them with his shield. Steve does not fight with rage, and for this Illyria faults him.
Scowling, Clint watches from his position above the fight. Illyria makes brief eye contact with the archer before pouncing onto a beast with a tail of ice. Like a dagger, she catches herself thinking. She effectively brings it down, and waits for the hammer of Thor. When the beast perishes, it does so in an explosion of dust.
Magic, she thinks.
Sure enough, Loki appears at the head of the battle. Illyria notices him first, but Tony is able to react the fastest. He charges towards the god, but Loki pushes him back with a green tinted force field.
It is then that his eyes flick up to meet Illyria’s. The smile he gives burns her inside out.
Freezing and burning at the same time, and Illyria thinks she’s had enough of that.
Illyria looks anywhere else, but ‘anywhere’ ends up being at Clint--who is looking right back at her. His eyes flickering between Loki’s still smiling expression, and the look of horror that clouds Illyria’s face.
They have a common enemy.
Illyria pummels her way towards Loki then. She is aware now that she must end his existence before anyone else can see what is happening, or what Loki is implying. The beasts are never ending, though, and each one she takes out only brings two more towards her. Creatures of magic.
Loki becomes completely absorbed in stopping Illyria from nearing him, so much so that he doesn’t see his brother behind him.
Thor grabs Loki’s shoulders and spins him around. Loki is momentarily baffled at the sudden contact. Tony takes advantage of the moment and blasts off a part of the building behind them. Waves of cement and glass come shattering down around the street.
Illyria watches the scene, and remembers the vase she had thrown out of the tower. Crashing. This is much louder.
By the time the dust has settled, Loki is in handcuffs. Thor leads him back to Stark tower with Tony trailing close behind. Illyria watches the scene carefully. She watches as Loki looks back at her; she watches as he grins.
Illyria crouches down in the rubble before glancing up for the last time. Clint is staring at her from his post on the building. A question in his eyes.
Illyria looks down at the ground and closes her own eyes. In the dark she can see Loki moving; walking away; leaning towards her. Even these memories are better than the look that Clint is giving her now.
She thinks, this will not go away.
Later, the team gathers in one of the conference rooms of Stark Tower. It’s cold, Illyria thinks. Pale lighting and white surfaces reflecting harshly in all directions. Parallel to the look that Clint keeps flashing her. Part of Illyria wants to leave the room; another part wants to attack Clint where he sits, which is directly across from herself.
Instead, Illyria sits in silence. Fury speaks of the battle; what went right, and what didn’t go quite as well. It’s boring to the point of pain, but so is most of what humans say.
Everything anyone ever says is seeking reaction.
Sometimes it pains Illyria to fake it; most times she doesn’t bother and it is attributed to her strangeness. The foreign, blue demon from another time.
They think she doesn’t understand their social cues, or they believe her to be emotionless. Like Wesley, she thinks. Humanity doesn’t comprehend how unbelievably boring their species is.
And maybe that’s why Illyria has been finding herself left with the images of Loki in her head. Something different. Different is the only thing that makes this life bearable.
She remembers Wesley on a dark night, speaking softly, “There's hope that you'll find something worthy... that your life will lead you to some joy... that after everything... you can still be surprised.”
And he said that would be enough. So far, it’s been the one thing sustaining Illyria.
She hears the name spoken and her head jolts up towards Fury.
“Loki is in... emergency containment,” Fury says, his eyes momentarily flashing to Bruce. Bruce looks down at his hands. “He should be stuck there. There have been adjustments made since... the last time he was captured.”
Thor looks away, and unsureness flashes across Steve’s features. Natasha scowls at the memory before looking to Clint--whose eyes don’t leave Fury. Bruce leans back in his chair.
There is nothing that anyone can do about it.
Illyria pretends that the being who consumes her thoughts and waking nightmares is not currently in the building. She forces the hatred and revulsion down.
She has had no experience with distracting herself. Illyria has always lived a life of taking what she wanted by force, but something about this world has taught her to wait. In this world, being the one to make the first move often proves a disadvantage.
She yearns for a fight, but it does not come.
A week passes, and Illyria does not make any attempts on Loki’s life. She instead waits for him to call for her, or to appear. She remembers the smile he wore as he was lead away. Illyria has no doubt that the moment will come when he calls on her.
In the time before then, she engages in conversation with Wesley. If it weren’t for him, Illyria would not be here any longer. A horrible, treacherous, traitorous part of her wants to do him proud.
Illyria keeps Wesley updated with small non-committed sentences. His responses are never more than a few words, but she thinks she can almost feel that he is pleased with her for breaking the silence she had been holding.
An entire week passes before Wesley asks about the progress of the mission. Illyria knows that he has known about Loki’s capture for some time, but purposefully hasn’t asked her about it.
‘When will you be returning home?’ The pager sings the arrival of the question.
‘I am unable to return to my home. You know this. If you are referring to Los Angeles then no. I must stay until Loki is transported to his dimension.’
‘The team agrees it is safe. I have been of value to them.’ Illyria can’t help but mention her worth here. Wesley’s words from long ago hang in her mind like drapes around a window. Blocking that which should be natural.
Natural, to Illyria, is a lack of caring.
‘Fine. How much longer?’
‘They tell me a week from now. I taste doubt on their words.’
There comes no response.
The thought of Loki itches under her skin.
Clint has expressed that he would like Illyria to stay. Most of the team is indifferent. Illyria wonders about Clint’s motive. Common enemy? Power? Something like curiosity pins her in place--a butterfly trapped in a glass box.
In a glass tower, in a glass city.
Illyria only receives indication of Clint’s intentions when he visits her in her room. Illyria hasn’t left the space in some time. Forever waiting. The tap-tap-tap on the door puts her back a moment. She gives no invitation, but it has become common understanding that she never does. Never will. Clint enters.
“He did something to you, didn’t he?” Clint says without hesitation.
“I could ask the same of you.” She knows perfectly well that Loki has used Clint in the past, though it isn’t something often spoken of.
Clint ignores her. “Did he-” Clint motions to his head, “try to control you?”
“He thought very little of my capabilities. Any attempt by Loki to control me will always end in pain and regret on his part, I assure you.”
Clint pauses a moment; thinking his next words through. “I don’t doubt that you believe that, but with you have to be careful with Loki.”
“Do you, too, doubt what I can do? This will not end well for you, mortal.”
Clint almost takes a step back at Illyria’s tone. Illyria would have smiled at the shock in his eyes if she had been remotely in the mood.
She yearns for a fight, but it is not this one.
“I suppose you’re sure,” Clint says, putting his hands up semi-defensively, moving towards the door.
“You may leave now,” Illyria responds. Because if there is one thing that she has realized annoys the Avengers, it’s being dismissed. The air chills. Clint turns and leaves--pulling the door closed behind him.
Illyria tries not to hold the conversation against the archer. He is talented for a human. Besides, they have a common enemy.
It begins as a pastime--getting Thor drunk. It starts as a way to hear outrageous stories from another world. It starts with Tony.
Thirsty for knowledge, Natasha says. Tony wants to know of this other world, yet he never believes the stories that the intoxicated Thor spins--or so he claims.
It starts with stories of beautiful kingdoms and magical worlds. Fairy tales and prophecies, but soon the stories become personal. It is then that Illyria takes interest.
She knows of kingdoms, worlds of ice, and worlds of fire. She knows of one world of nothing but shrimp. Thor’s otherworldly stories do nothing for her--until he speaks of his brother.
From her room she can hear him, but the emotions are lost behind the walls; absorbed by fiberglass stuffing and drywall.
So Illyria begins hanging around Thor while Tony makes him drink after drink; each stronger than the last. She stays to the shadows. Always pretending to be otherwise interested. Fiddling with curtains or pretending to read whatever is closest.
“He was a good boy,” Thor mumbles. “Well--pretty good.” He looks down into the tumbler in his hands. An almost-smile on his lips. The small glass seems to be constantly in danger of his strong hands. “He tried. I know he tried. They were only pranks. Such that were normal. Nothing out of the ordinary,” Thor pauses then; he looks sadly into his glass. “How could he not have felt loved? Our mother--” he cuts off, a new thought entering his mind. “He felt different and alone. Perhaps he always had.”
Intoxicated beings search less for the reactions of others, Illyria thinks. This immortal being looks so broken before her. Alcohol brings out the truth in people. She had seen it enough in Wesley. Illyria resolves--not for the first time--to stay away from the stuff.
And yet she can’t help but feel something for the immortal being who is so broken by the thought of his past. Especially when the past has been the only time Illyria had felt fixed, normal, strong.
And maybe, just maybe, this god--although she can hardly believe he is truly a god--is broken in this place as well. Maybe he has nothing but the rest of eternity in a foreign place surrounded by foreign people who are all going to die before he can stop them. Before he can join them.
Illyria thinks of when Loki could have killed her. Green eyes in the haze of fear. She would have died in battle. Her death would have the honour of a warrior--but he had let her live.
He, too, knew the burden of eternity.
Not for the first time, Illyria wonders if she truly is worthy of life.
Natasha has been spending time interrogating Loki.
In Illyria’s world, interrogation had involved suffering, screaming, the taking of information by any and all means. Here it means talking.
Natasha is quick with her thoughts and words and even Illyria is often unable to keep up, but Loki is clever. Even in this world; Loki is quick.
Illyria remembers the way he had thrown magic when she had first seen him; impressive feats of contortion and speed. He works his words the same way. The agonizing wisp of fire followed by shards of ice. Embedded. Burning, freezing. It all feels the same.
Illyria watches the monitors with the others. Clint has his eyes trained on Natasha the entire time. Tony watches as if the monitor is showing a rerun of a show he used to like. Bruce and Thor watch with interest--though for different reasons--and Illyria stares at Loki.
All bases covered.
Tony spends most of his time in his lab; the suit had been damaged in the last battle with Loki, and Illyria has taken note of the obsessive way he cares for it.
When he does come up, it’s to eat and watch Loki and make fun of Steve. Sometimes he skips the eating part altogether.
Clint and Natasha stay away from Loki. They spend time together in spare rooms or each other’s rooms. Various places that Illyria makes note not to visit for fear of walking in on something she has no desire to see. They care for each other as Wesley cared for Fred.
All clemency comes back to Fred. All caring to Wesley. All passion to what Illyria has stolen from the one person who took her in. She has a debt to pay. Illyria must not lose her purpose.
Bruce remains away for the good of everyone, and everyone agrees. Considering past events, this is for the best.
Thor does not watch his brother in captive. He repetitively enforces the no-kill order on Loki. It’s almost all he speaks of. That, and the wonder of the microwave oven.
And so Illyria and Steve watch Loki. Sometimes in shifts, sometimes together. When they speak, Loki looks up at the camera and smiles. He intends to make it clear that he can hear them as well as they can hear him. Illyria wonders if it is his intention to make them feel watched.
Illyria wonders who has the upper hand.
Nine days progress like this. On the tenth, Loki begins to carve something in the glass with ice. It must be enchanted because the glass is hulk-proof. Simple ice should not be able to leave marks. Even with spells and magic, the writing progresses slowly. Painfully slowly. Loki takes great care in his penmanship--the letters unfurl one at a time.
Everyone becomes invested in watching Loki carve the glass. Illyria watches his face become still with concentration as he perfects each line, each curve.
I HAVE A DE
Illyria understands before anyone else. Illyria remembers her first conversation with Loki. She can foresee what he will write. She knows how this will end.
I HAVE A DEBT TO PAY.
It looks finished, but Loki stares at the glass. The way he looks at it keeps the Avengers in their place--unmoving. Staring at Loki as he stares at his masterpiece. An hour passes like this, and then:
“I HAVE A DEBT TO PAY.”
And only Illyria understands the significance of the change.
Because he is calling her out; because he is holding her to her words. And finally he has called on her.
The rest of the team focuses on the words carved into the glass. They know that there is meaning behind what Loki has written, but they become so fixated on finding it that they don’t realize that Illyria has withdrawn from any discussions.
She rarely went to the conferences as it was; her absence in the absence of battle is neither unexpected or rare.
So Illyria sits perfectly still and thinks. She thinks about the events of the last few days alone; she does not let the past come into play in her rationing. Not this time. Her stillness is broken by a shudder as she comes to her conclusion; the only conclusion.
And the movement itself--involuntary, thought breaking, and inexplicable--confuses Illyria.
Yet she waits with what can almost be described as anxiety as one by one the Avengers retire to their their quarters. Steve, then Clint--followed closely by Natasha. Bruce stretches and yawns before murmuring goodnight, and after a wary glance at Illyria, Tony wanders off half-drunk to his own room.
There are no false pretenses. Illyria does not pretend to tire; does not pretend to sleep. Instead, Illyria remains still and silent on the couch until she can be sure the others are sleeping or otherwise distracted.
Clint’s sweet words to Natasha echo in Illyria’s ears as she makes her way towards the containment area. Comforting, and yet so human that it almost disgusts her. She almost shivers again.
Emotionless, cold, unstable, untrustworthy. And Illyria realizes that maybe it’s not an inaccurate assessment. Not always.
Loki is waiting for her when she arrives.
He stands in the center of his glass confinement. The words etched into the glass are made prominent by the blue light that illuminates the room. Shadows fall across Loki’s face in a way that should be menacing but really make him look much younger. Almost innocent.
In spite of knowing better, Illyria wonders how old Loki is. Time is not linear, though, and Illyria knows this better than almost anyone. She knows the burden of eternity just as Thor and Loki do, so she doesn’t ask. Illyria does something much worse:
She walks up to the glass and puts her hand on it. Illyria brushes over the words in the glass, and stares at her hand as if she has no control over it. As if she is fascinated by her own extremity, but--of course--it is not her hand. It is a stolen hand.
A stolen hand covering the word DEBT.
Loki looks at her hand and smiles in the wrong way. His smile holds no malice. Only sadness.
“Your pity will only be met with your death,” Illyria says, breaking the silence.
“Pity?” Loki asks.
“It is a miscalculation on your part. I am merely interested in how you achieved-” she waves her hand over the entire sentence, “-this, on this glass. Shatter proof. Smash proof,” she says, describing the cell as she had heard Tony do.
“I did not smash it, for one. I merely changed it. I needed to get the message across; surely you understand,” Loki says, voice loaded with accusation.
And she does. She understands the message. She understands that it was for her. She understands changing the appearance of something to get a message across; she understands that Loki is referring to something bigger than scratches in glass. Something like staying blue when she could just as easily take on the exact appearance of Winifred Burkle.
“I would not do that to him,” Illyria whispers.
“And yet he does nothing for you,” Loki replies. Illyria turns to leave. She doesn’t want to talk about Wesley. Loki speaks, “Wait.”
“You dare command me to stay? You expect me to continue having words with you when you speak of that which you know not?” Illyria snaps.
“This was not my intention. I wanted to-” Loki looks at the ground, and then at the words hanging between the two of them--literally. “I wanted to ask you about where you’re from.”
Illyria rewards him with a blank stare. She stares for some time at the confined trickster.
No one asks her about her home world. Not anymore. Not with curiosity as raw as this. Illyria has been desperate to explain the violence and wrath--the perfect rule she had over Vahla ha'nesh; to explain what she had lost.
Illyria knows that this is what Loki wants to want. To have total control over a population; to dictate their every move; to show humanity that they are below him. Illyria also knows what Loki really wants. Loki wants acceptance and attention; Loki wants to prove that he is above humanity. It only serves to prove his doubt.
And maybe it’s Illyria’s lack of doubt that makes Loki stare at her with the same intensity that she is staring at him. And so she speaks:
“I ruled over Vahla ha'nesh with more power than you can imagine,” she says spitefully. “They revered my every move. I was worshipped by men ten times more worthy than you. A hundred times more than any human. You call yourself a god, but you do not even know what the word means.”
Loki doesn’t even blink. Instead he sits down on the floor of the cell. Illyria takes this well. Now, she may speak down to him.
“You have told me that I would have liked Asgard,” she continues, “but you would have loathed Vahla ha'nesh. So much fire, ice. Every extreme end of the spectrum represented. Humanity has become so bland. Dull. The flavours of the past can not even be fathomed here.”
“Where as Asgard is the epitome of beauty,” Loki murmurs. Illyria shoots a dark glare at him for a moment before realizing that Loki meant nothing by the statement. It was only that, a statement.
Ice crystals begin to form on the glass where Loki breathes.
Illyria folds down on herself to sit on the ground so she may watch what Loki is doing. It is a gesture of respect for the other’s power. Loki may be nothing compared to herself, but he is better than anyone Illyria has met in this time.
She has also become annoyed with speaking to him through the words on the glass. The constant reminder of who she should be helping, and who she shouldn’t.
Loki locks eyes with Illyria before looking down. Illyria senses false innocence; her own eyes narrow.
As if he could see the change in her expression without so much as looking up, Loki smirks. “God of Lies and Mischief,” he says.
“Polytheistic,” Illyria thinks out loud, “How novel.” Loki’s smile is genuine.
“The idea of a god--or gods--is relative to those who believe,” Loki says, and Illyria understands exactly what he is saying. “I am only a god in the eyes of humanity,” he continues, “Only a prince where I’m from. Not even destined to be king, but you know this.” He looks directly at her then, eyes burning.
“King,” Illyria says longingly. “The word for king and god is the same where I am from. Ruler, leader. It’s all the same.” Her voice almost breaks.
As the words leave her, Illyria realizes she has become vulnerable. The want for her home world. Her confusion at this new world. Loki can see it all as clear as day. For a moment Illyria feels something close to panic. She stands abruptly. Memories of loathing infiltrate her mind. Enemy, she thinks.
“My words betray me,” she breathes, then warns, “Repeat them and you will wish for death.” Loki smiles at her again--just a small one.
Illyria fears that he does not believe her, then wonders why she would fear that at all.
And then she is gone to her own room, and then she is wondering if anything--anything at all--will ever go as expected. And she can hear Steve in her head.
Illyria returns the next night. She thinks, for evidence. For the debt.
But something inside her wants to belong. Some part of her believes that Loki will help. It’s such a human desire--to belong with people who despise you, who are below you. It’s all very mundane. Illyria remembers Loki’s words: Do you think you belong here?
No. She is meant to be fighting. She belongs in battle.
They speak of the past. Family, or lack thereof. Illyria never loses her control as she did the first night. She stores away information like the lonely machine that she is. She reigns herself in before showing the weakness of emotion. The same can almost be said of Loki. When his emotions are made evident it is usually a deception; an attempt at subtle manipulation. Neither of them ever forget the endgame.
Illyria tries to remember hatred.
Inevitably, the conversation progresses to the topic of magic. Illyria hates that word. The magic of today is so far below her. It’s not pure. What Illyria could do--and still can, to an extent--and what Loki can do is something unfathomable by most humans.
It’s hardly magic.
It’s hardly conversation,
Loki breathes frost patterns onto the glass. Illyria changes her outfit from her suit to civilian clothing without moving. Loki does the same, then smirks at her. Illyria glares back and touches the glass, making it ripple and shine for just a moment before wincing. Loki cocks his head.
“I lost much of my power,” Illyria explains, her gaze a fiery rage at the memory of it. “I had so much more. So much power. Whole worlds crumbled, and now-”
“It pains you to do anything complex,” Loki finishes thoughtfully.
“You know nothing of pain,” Illyria responds. It’s a weak threat; it’s been said before.
They are both fascinated by the abilities of the other.
It occurs to Illyria that she and Loki are more similar than she thought, and then a more frightening though occurs to her: Loki always knew this--had always said this.
“What of ice, then?” Illyria finally asks, it’s been on her mind for some time. She remembers the pain of the shard embedding itself in her side.
Loki grins, “It’s my specialty, if you will.” He puts his hand to the glass and the frost crawls up the sides, blocking Illyria’s view of everything inside, including Loki.
Illyria reaches her hand up to touch the glass. Her fingers graze it at first, but then she places her palm against it. For less than a second she can feel the cold. Real, she thinks. Dangerous, but then it shatters beneath her fingers.
Shards of glass and ice come flying at her and suddenly the danger is real. Illyria closes her eyes in concentration and stops everything. Well, almost everything. Loki blinks at her from the other side of the shards of glass that hang suspended in the air.
“You can... You’ve stopped time?”
“Sometimes,” Illyria says through gritted teeth. It was supposed to be her secret. Her advantage.
Loki looks around himself before plucking a larger piece of glass out of the air. It’s engraved: TO PAY.”
Then, Loki drops it. The shard disappears before it hits the ground. In her surprise, Illyria releases her hold on time. All of the pieces fall almost to the ground, but disappear before they make contact. Illyria looks up at Loki only to realize that the glass has been replaced. The barrier still in tact. Loki still trapped.
It was only an illusion.
It was only a game Loki was playing.
Illyria desperately wants to be angry but she is only impressed, and when she looks at Loki she can see that he feels the same way. Mutually impressed with hidden talents.
And maybe there is one creature of magic that is a match for Illyria, even if only when she is off guard.
It continues like this for some time. Loki and Illyria alone in the night while the Avengers sleep off a long day of analysis and plotting and repairing. A streak of good luck, Natasha had said of the absence of fighting, though Illyria thought she could hear some longing in Black Widow’s voice.
It’s something Illyria can understand.
Tricks and illusions are passed back and forth like the passing of notes between giddy youth in a classroom. Illyria puts energy into looking unimpressed when Loki pulls items seemingly out of nothing, even when she recognizes them as belonging in a shelf or cabinet of the Stark penthouse. Loki smirks when she slips up and her amusement shows.
Illyria tells herself that this is nothing special; she lies to herself, but she is conversing with one whose title revolves around that trait. She’s more complex and difficult to read than most, but Illyria’s guard is not eternal, and Loki prides himself in making her slip.
Conversely, Loki deems many of Illyria’s qualities impossible. He doesn’t, for example, believe that one can communicate with plants. It’s impossible for Illyria to prove as there are no plants in the immediate vicinity of the cell, and that particular talent was stolen with much of her power.
Though she can tell stories that are too detailed to have been pulled from thin air, especially when one thinks in such logical strands as Illyria does, and part of Loki only claims to not believe her to watch her crackle with annoyance.
Some days they spend the time shapeshifting. It always starts as a way to bother each other. Loki has somehow come into possession of some image of Wesley, and he often changes to that form only to hurt Illyria or try to force some emotion out of her. Illyria is a fascinating creature that must have her limits forced, he rations, in order for him to understand her.
Illyria is silently grateful that Loki has no idea about Fred, at least not directly. If it is emotional reaction that he seeks, Illyria can handle the sight of Wesley.
Illyria, of course, can change into the exact embodiment of Thor, but only briefly. Becoming Fred has always been an entirely different matter as Illyria already has the body and must only hide aspects of her true self. The blue, she thinks, and absently pulls her fingers through her hair.
Loki wonders if Illyria dreams.
It’s fascination that keeps both of them going. It’s insanity driven by the pursuit of knowledge. They both know it, they both fear it.
But Illyria is haunted by it.
In a bout of insomnia, Steve finds himself walking out of his room and towards the monitoring station out of sheer habit. The world may be darker, but it’s warmer. It’s secure even if not safe. The people in the real world are alive.
Loki feels the third presence watching almost immediately, but Illyria does not. It takes some effort for Loki not to flick his eyes towards the camera for fear that the small movement would notify Illyria of this development. It’s one of those rare moments when Loki has the upper hand--even if he doesn’t just yet know how to use it.
Steve is there again the next night, not having said anything to Illyria that day. His presence is welcomed by Loki, though not in any observable manner, because Loki has a plan. If Loki can’t use Captain Rogers to manipulate Illyria, he can try to use Illyria to manipulate Captain Rogers.
A little manipulation is long overdue, after all.
“Fear is below me,” she says, as off-handedly as Illyria could ever manage.
“Is that so?” Loki doesn’t get a response. Instead Illyria’s eyes flick up to meet his own in what is clearly a warning. “Chilling,” he says.
Illyria’s eyes blaze and she tries not to cock her head in question, but instinct dictates otherwise and the tiny movement is not missed by Loki.
“How can life possibly hold any interest to you without fear?” he asks.
“Surprise,” she quotes--references--Wesley. Her voice barely more than a breath. “There is little that surprises me, but it has been known to happen.”
“It can’t be easy to share that,” Loki muses, then hesitates. “Do you trust me?” His lip curls at the corners, entertained by the idea.
“Weakling, of course not. You are nothing to me. One does not trust nothing.” Cold, emotionless, unstable. Untrustworthy. Illyria doesn’t so much as blink.
“I trust you,” he whispers, and Illyria’s head shoots up, but he is grinning at her. Another lie. She had almost fallen for it. It was the fault of humanity. Assimilation. Being surrounded by these self-revolved beings has left Illyria thinking of herself far too often, and not often enough of the motives of others.
Loki runs his tongue over his lips. Now that he has his proof, he takes his action.
Illyria feels the hand on her shoulder and spins around, ready to attack, but it is Loki behind her. She is well enough aware of his magics to understand what he is doing, but the man watching from above has no idea.
Illyria is still fighting the rage that came with being played and deceived, and does not move from her poised-to-strike stance. Loki grins again, this time it reaches his eyes in real amusement. The smile anything but friendly.
Steve freezes in place, watching as Illyria hesitates to attack the trickster who appears to have escaped from the cell. His hand hovers over the panic button--an idea of Bruce’s that Tony had installed for just this purpose--but for some reason Steve doesn’t press it. He watches instead as Illyria figures herself into fighting position.
He trusts Illyria. He knows that it’s borderline rational, at best, but he trusts her nevertheless.
He waits for it, but she does not strike.
Loki continues with the infuriating smile. It remains as he takes a step forward, and then another. The smile remains as he brings his hand up to Illyria’s face and strokes, slowly.
“After all we’ve been though,” his tone mocks human compassion, and even a little false pain leaks through, “You would still kill me? Just like that?”
Illyria scowls at the actor before her. It’s the one thing that Loki has over her: his ability to weave lies and deceit with the beauty of a wildfire. The danger levels are even.
The thought of pressing herself into his hand whirs through her mind, but is is fleeting and is gone before she can act on it. Illyria doesn’t wonder if it was because of her longing to be deceitful, or something genuine. She fears the answer she would find. As it is, Illyria remains perfectly still.
It is Loki who moves his face towards her own. Illyria doesn’t pull away for two reasons:
One, she knows this is a trick, a duplicate. The real Loki is hiding away inside the cell. Trapped. But the curiosity of what this projection can actually do compels her to stay put.
Two, she never actually believes he will kiss her. She doesn’t believe he has the ability, or self-control, to keep up this projection through any real emotions, or anything that requires more concentration than a touch.
Illyria is wrong.
When his lips touch hers, it is gentle and light. Chaste. He pulls away, then moves to whisper in her ear, “Do you, too, doubt what I can do?”
Illyria’s eyes shut quickly, arms falling to her sides. He had been listening to her conversations with others. He wasn’t there for that conversation, and yet here he is quoting her exact words.
She sparks with rage then. Quiet, buried deep, but it’s there. He had let her live. He had watched her when she thought she was alone. He was fascinated with her.
And so she reaches up, craning her neck to engulf his mouth with her own. She bites at his lower lip and his hands find the small of her back and they pull her towards him. This time there’s fire and ice. This time Illyria tastes Loki’s blood and with each bite Loki breathes frost out and Illyria tries not to shudder and Loki tries not to make a sound. They both fail.
Illyria thinks about demolishing everything, just as she had when she first met the Avengers, because sometimes demolishing herself just isn’t enough.
As soon as Loki reaches to touch Illyria, Steve’s hand comes down on the panic button. It was designed to be discreet, but--as with everything Tony designed, ever--it was flashy. Effective though, Steve thinks. Clint is up first, rushing into the room with his bow in hand. He’s fully dressed but looks a bit disheveled, and when Natasha enters in the next minute looking the same way, Steve tried not to think the word ‘Fondue.’
Thor is next, looking groggy, but wieldingMjölnirlike it is an extension of his arm. Bruce follows shortly after, putting his glasses on as he enters, and at last Tony stumbles in. Hungover, clearly, and wearing pajama bottoms and a T-shirt with the logo of a band Steve has never heard of.
Once they are all there, Steve brings up the surveillance feed. The image being displayed shocks everyone silent. Even Tony’s grumbling halts at the image of Loki and Illyria pressed firmly together and... Steve tries desperately, again, not to think the word ‘Fondue.’
Or at least the preparation of fondue and goddamnit he’s thought it now. He’s thinking it as Loki’s hands pull Illyria against him and then proceed up her back to tangle in her hair.
Thor turns away, not wanting to blush. Clint scowls at the breech of trust and Natasha’s expression is, as usual, unreadable. Tony is shocked, but his lips are twitching upwards and Bruce is looking at the floor.
“Awkward,” Tony says, Clint looks ready to hit him. Steve briefly imagines his own fist making contact with Tony’s skull. This is important. This should be stopped; why does no one realize that this should be stopped?
“Look,” Natasha says, and everyone follows her gaze.
On the monitor, Loki pulls sharply away from Illyria. His hand moves to his mouth, and pulls away red and slightly bloody. His eyes flick up from his fingers to Illyria, a tiny trace of--could that be pain?--in his eyes.
Illyria smiles at him, and each of the Avengers has to avert their own eyes because of the sheer chill of the sight.
Clint lets out a long whistle just to be an ass. Thor tries to leave--presumably to intervene--but Tony catches his arm and gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head.
Loki growls low, his image flickering. Thor sighs, Steve’s eyes widen and everyone takes a collective breath because Loki appears back behind the glass.
“Illusion,” Thor says, and tries to leave again. This time no one stops him. No one doubts he will go anywhere but back to his room.
“God of Mischief and Lies,” Steve breathes, feeling a little like an idiot, but mostly completely stunned at what he had just seen.
Tony comes over and claps Steve on the back. Clint turns away, trying to hide the confusion from his expression. Natasha shoots Steve a sympathetic glance before following Clint.
Once everyone is gone, Steve walks to the hallway phone. He’s doing it for her own good, he thinks. This isn’t betrayal. He isn’t shooting her in the back of the head, after all.
When the sun has risen, Illyria is back in her room. Angry, but confused. It’s a dark time. She pulls her knees to her chest in a move that is distinctly human. It’s a part of Fred, and Fred is a part of Illyria.
She can’t get Loki out of her mind. This time it is more than watching him move. This time it is watching his expression right before she kissed him. Illyria doesn’t lie to herself. No false pretenses.
She does, however, deny herself. She loathes herself. Is this a symptom of her humanity, or something altogether new? Like battle, but internal, perhaps. Maybe a redirection of passion. Not for territory or dominance, but for someone to share commonality?
The thought disgusts her. This is different, she thinks, and wonders if it will go away.
Illyria has no intention of leaving her room. Every movement feels like falling. Illyria had always believed herself superior, and now she feels worthless. Nothing more than human scum ruled by her emotions and memories and it sickens her. Everything reminds her of this.
She wanted a warrior’s death on that night when Loki had let her live. She would have been happy to have died that night.
When nothing ever goes how you thought it would, or how you wanted it, what is the point of existence?
Cold, emotionless, unstable, untrustworthy.
Steve waits for the sunrise, and then waits a solid hour after that. He hasn’t slept; how could he?
He’s practiced schooling his expression into one of sympathy and concern, it isn’t difficult. He feigns innocence. Tony would have laughed at him for it. (“You couldn’t look anything but innocent if you killed someone, for gods-sake.”) But he feels guilty.
And when the time comes, Steve knocks on Illyria’s door, phone in hand.
“You may enter,” she says from inside, it almost sounds weak. The invitation is new, different, but Steve brushes it off to focus on the task at hand.
“It’s Wesley,” Steve says as he enters, pointing at the phone. “He wants you back. You know, because you’ve helped us so much here.”
Illyria tries to look unsurprised, and because Steve seems to be concentrating on something, he doesn’t notice anything off about the way she regards the information.
Illyria looks hesitantly at the phone, and Steve realizes that she might not know how to use it. He lifts the receiver to his ear and speaks, “Yeah, she’s right here. Yes. I think so... Alright,” and he hands the phone to Illyria. She mimics Steve’s movements and slowly raises the phone to her ear.
“We-Wesley?” It’s the first time Steve has heard Illyria sound anything but completely sure of herself. He takes in the sight of her. She’s crumpled at the top of her bed. She looks smaller than usual, and Steve realizes that she doesn’t seem herself at all.
Steve leaves the room to give Illyria her privacy, and because the task of seeming innocent is now left to Wesley. He’s glad to be done with his part. Wesley and Steve had spoken for an hour last night about the best way to get Illyria away from here. Now, seeing Illyria as she is, Steve feels better about the betrayal.
Loki was taking something out of her.
Illyria appears in the shared living space--though Tony would never call anything of his ‘shared’--an hour later. She looks no better compared to when Steve saw her last. She almost looks tired.
Clint regards her cooly. Illyria had always seemed to trust Clint more than the others, though perhaps ‘trust’ isn’t the right word for it. She takes her place alone. She makes no motion of noticing the way everyone looks at her.
Steve asks, “How is Wesley doing?” and he could kick himself because could he be anymore obvious?
Illyria doesn’t notice, which is new. “I’ll be returning to Los Angeles tomorrow,” she says. Nonchalant.
“You say that like it’s nothing,” Clint says. Illyria looks up with ice in her gaze.
“Emotionless, perhaps? Cold? Unstable? You were warned about me. I know you were. I am not the same as you, human. Do not make the mistake of placing your trust in me.”
“I think I’ve learned that lesson, thanks,” Clint spits, and Natasha moves to pull him away. No need to get into that argument.
Steve thinks, unstable.
Illyria wonders if she’s that easily read. Do they know her alliances have been tested? She closes her eyes.
Not that she needs, or wants, anyone’s trust.
Part of her doesn’t want to leave these bridges as they go up in flame. Illyria has seen enough wildfires to know that fire shouldn’t be left unattended; especially when it is so rapidly moving beyond her control.
Bruce interjects, “We’ll miss you around here.”
Illyria’s eyes remain closed as she speaks, “Lies.”
Though, part of her is glad to hear it. Part of her wants this to have been worth something.
There isn’t a soul in the tower that believes JARVIS when he speaks--calm as ever, and announces with no emotion, “The prisoner has escaped confinement, sir. I suggest immediate action.”
Tony is so shocked that he doesn’t respond to the AI. Instead it’s Clint who has to ask, “Uh, what the hell does that mean?”
“Loki has not been in the cell for 3.6 minutes now. He appears to be southbound and moving.”
And then all hell breaks loose, but Illyria has always been good at bypassing hell.
South, she thinks. Every time they have fought Loki has been north of the tower. Every time except--
Illyria knows where he’s going. She strides out of the building without any regard for the chaos that the others are consumed in as they all prepare their weapons and communications systems. She heads south and remembers the last time she was here.
Curiosity had taken her to that shawarma place the first time, something else completely brings her there this time. She was a computer back then, following directions. Alone. This time she feels something. This time she does not feel alone.
There are mere minutes until the rest of them trace Loki’s signal here, so Illyria uses what time she has wisely.
Loki is leaning against the wall, looking at his fingernails. It’s the same wall that he had held Illyria up against the last time they had been here. It’s clear that Loki notices when Illyria enters, because he smiles at his hand as he regards it.
A moment of silence passes, and then:
“Where are your friends?”
“On their way, I’m sure.” Illyria doesn’t bother to correct him. She doesn’t have friends. Minions, maybe, once.
Loki still doesn’t look away from his fingernails. “You knew where I was without the trace,” he says, and it’s not a question, so Illyria doesn’t give an answer. “Clever,” he finishes.
“You return to the same spot twice,” she retorts, “Stupidity.”
Loki’s laugh is barely more than a breath, but it’s there.
In the next minute he attacks, sparks and ice shooting from his hands like it’s nothing. Illyria is quick to dodge them.
A blast of noise comes from behind her and Illyria turns to see Thor crushing the already-brittle wall of the abandoned restaurant. Tony follows in his suit, and Illyria can see Clint atop a nearby building, bow aimed and loaded.
The team is here, and the battle explodes into full force.
A rough few moments pass. Loki moves defensively, keeping everyone away from himself. He does no damage to anyone, but he looks as if he isn’t putting much effort into it. Illyria remains still for a moment before hurtling towards Loki.
There aren’t conflicting emotions in battle. Here, it’s one against the other.
An arrow flies right by Illyria and she knows it isn’t a mistake. It’s meant to keep her away from Loki. They don’t trust her, she realizes.
Tony pushes his way forward as Illyria searches for Steve. At the corner of her vision, a flash of blue and red appears. She follows it outside of the quickly disintegrating building.
Steve looks as if he is about to catch her by the shoulders to pull her aside, but thinks better of it. Illyria’s glad, she had no intention of breaking his arm today. Instead Steve stands in front of her for a moment before tilting his head to the nearby alley.
“We saw you...and Loki. Last night,” he confesses, then deflates a little.
Illyria tilts her head. “And?”
“Clint seems to think that you are no longer an ally.”
Illyria looks up at the archer who makes an effort not to look in her direction. She glares at Steve, who raises his hands in defense. Illyria looks back at Loki before moving back to the battle.
She’s been craving this battle for a long time, after all.
Steve also moves back to watch her fight.
Illyria takes off at full force, intending to knock Loki back and pin him down, but instead when she makes contact, Loki pushes out a forcefield of energy and Illyria braces herself for the impact. It does not come. Slowly, Illyria looks behind herself.
Everyone behind her is frozen in an orb of light.
Illyria runs at Loki again, not falling for the distraction. Loki sidesteps her and attempts to corner her against the wall. She scowls and uses the wall behind her to push herself forward, sending herself and Loki back onto a pile of rubble; what looks to have been the wall with the door.
Loki surrounds himself with blue-green light that Illyria quickly finds is impermeable. She crouches down in the momentary pause of battle, scanning her surroundings. Old fluorescent lights swing from wires above her, and she measures the distance it would take for her to reach them. In an instant, she is gone; hoisting herself above Loki, only to fall on his barrier.
Loki is weakened by the efforts necessary to keep the time-orb up. They both know it.
He hardly has time to realize that she’s moved.
The shield falls apart and Loki hits the ground, hard. Illyria is sprawled next to him. In a movement almost as fluid as one of her own, Loki is on top of her. He leans down and for one unbelievable moment Illyria fears he will kiss her, she is prepared to bite.
But he whispers in her ear, instead. “You have a debt to pay.”
“Not to you,” she spits. The words come hushed as much of Loki’s weight is on her windpipe.
“Oh? And why not? I spared your life, didn’t I? I gave you information, willingly. I let myself be captured to help you achieve what you thought you owed.”
“I am loyal to those who trust me,” she replies, voice becoming harsh, but heated.
They both realize in the same moment that it is true. Illyria has no wish to betray the others so quickly, not when they have tried to help her. Loki never wanted to help her, and never wanted help.
He was right to say that they were the same, but Illyria could change. She had been in the past months. Since she had woken up. Suddenly, she realizes that she had always had it in herself to change. Hating herself for having emotions wouldn’t accomplish anything.
Maybe emotions were a weapon. Hadn’t that been what Loki had been playing at the entire time?
It’s all contradictory in her head. The ideas juxtaposing across her mind. Every memory is strength, not useless information. She uses this new found power to flip herself out of Loki’s grasp. Illyria rises to her knees before closing her eyes. She concentrates as hard as she can; she knows she has done it when she can hear Natasha’s sharp intake of breath. Tony curses.
And now everything is frozen in place except the Avengers. It’s Thor who first realizes that Illyria has Loki pinned to the ground. He strides over quickly to contain his brother properly. The others gather closer to the rubble of the Shawarma building, staring Loki down.
Loki turns to look at Illyria. “You aren’t even going to kill me?”
“You do not deserve a warrior’s death,” she says, but this time not coldly. This time not without emotion; this time Illyria says it as if it is a joke. She almost catches Steve smile, despite the fact that he hardly knows what’s been going on.
Clint remains perched on his building. Watching.
Illyria remembers Loki’s creatures of magic, turning into dust beneath them. Not even real.
Maybe being more than just dust is what gives life worth. Maybe feeling something is what makes one worthy of life.
Illyria leaves Loki in the very capable hands of the team. She walks back to Stark towers where she knows Wesley will be looking for her. She almost smiles at the idea of him lost in the building that has become her temporary home.
She thinks about the feeling of the ice shard piercing her skin. She thinks about Loki’s kiss, his voice; the way he moves when he fights. The flash of green eyes before he let her live; the lonely computers collecting information in the dark.
Illyria thinks about every battle, every debt. Every little part of her that keeps her worthy of this life. Every surprise, every difference that makes this life interesting.
She thinks for a moment about all that she has been through. This was different; this will not go away.
Illyria has no intention of seeing Loki again. If he becomes a problem again, they will call her. She doesn’t yet know if she will respond.
Right now, she wants to go back home. She envisions her arrival; Wesley will want to know everything. He will ask questions when they return, they all will. Illyria starts planning her response.
And while she walks, she realizes that everything is freezing and burning at the same time.