Chapter 1: Wayward Son
I. Wayward Son
What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother's blood
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heaves
To wash it white as snow?
~ William Shakespeare
For six months, Loki’s existence has been four dreary, dark walls in Asgardian jail that hold no comfort, just stillness. Now his entire world is crumbling down, because his father is dying and it’s all his fault.
Thor stands on the other side of Loki’s steel cage, his face worn with grief. “It would be unwise to wait any longer, Loki.” Loki answers with a sharp exhale of breath. “Father has asked for you. I believe seeing you before he--”
Loki cuts him off. “He’s not going to die,” he says through grit teeth, the mere word a poison on his tongue. “He’s not going to die.”
“His condition is not improving.”
Loki shakes his head, his voice cracked and rough from disuse. “He’s not going to die.” As if repeating it will make it so.
“Then come with me.”
“My presence will only exacerbate his stress. I must stay away until he recovers.”
Thor searches for the proper words that won’t break his brother’s childlike hope. “Do not do this to him, nor to yourself. You know how you will feel when he is gone.”
“It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Loki says with a growl. “How are you so certain that seeing me will help him rather than hinder his recovery?” He can sense anger taking his speech into a bitter, spiteful direction, and he can’t change its course. “Or are you that eager to hasten your ascension to the throne of Asgard?”
The hateful jab strikes Thor like a blow to the chest, and he steps back as if he’s been slapped.
“What good will come of my company there?” Loki asks, no longer bottling his fury. “What do you expect me to do? Wave my hand and heal him? Tell me you’re not that delusional. I haven’t the means for that!”
Thor sighs and lets the verbal vitriol sink in before he speaks again. “Do not deny your father the chance to see his son before he passes on!”
Loki winces visibly, the words cutting through him like a serrated blade. “I am not his son! It was all a lie!” he roars. It’s been a while since Loki’s felt this much emotion. “He doesn’t want me there any more than you want to stand here before me! Did he tell you to plead for him?”
Thor shakes his head. “This is about what is best for Father.”
“I am doing what’s best for him! He will recover as long as I stay here,” he insists. His rage and assurance abandon him, and he looks at Thor with lost, fearful eyes. “You’ll see.”
“Brother, please. He wants to see you.”
Loki swallows the lump in his throat, trying to make his voice hard. “He’s a sick old man; you can’t take every word he says as gospel. Would you want to see your murderer?”
Thor’s brow creases with ache for his brother’s pain. “You are nothing of the sort. You are his son.”
Loki just scoffs, his fists clenched tight in rage. He takes measured breaths in and out to calm himself. To Loki, visiting Odin would mean that his father is truly dying, and that he cannot stop it. His foolish faith is all he has now, and speaking it is all he can do. “He’s not going to die,” he repeats, but his conviction is weaker than it used to be. “He will get better.”
“Where have I heard that before?” Thor asks dryly. “Brother, I think we both know he’s not getting better.”
“So that’s it, then? You just want me to admit that I killed him?”
“That is not--”
“Of course it is! Can’t you see that? This is all my fault! If I just stay away, he’ll get better.” His confidence mangles in his throat, twisting his voice into something broken and frail. Loki isn’t sure he believes his own mantra anymore.
Thor shuts his eyes, the battle lost, and bids his brother farewell. But Loki knows that Thor will return tomorrow. He always does.
Time passes in torturous, dragging lulls. The burden of guilt grows heavier upon his weary shoulders, his sins multiplying when his mind echoes the failed efforts to please Odin that ultimately landed him here. Vile memories of his deeds flicker in his mind’s eye like a reel of macabre vacation slides, endless reminders of why he belongs in this cage. A monster must be confined, after all.
These are the times in which he envies mortals. The ability to die seems so peaceful and easy in the face of sitting with his sins for an eternity. He longs to die, but he knows that this is a far more fitting punishment--captive in two prisons: one in Asgard, the other in his head, with no possibility of parole.
The next morning, Loki hears a distant creak, then heavy footsteps. The door to his holding cell swings opens, and Thor stands before him. Suffocating bands of dread wrap around Loki’s gut. Thor’s face is pure agony, the final nail in Odin’s coffin.
“Father wishes to speak with you.”
Loki swallows hard, his dry throat protesting. His own voice sounds foreign. “Is he...”
Thor gives a grim nod. Loki feels panic rise in his chest. He doesn’t think he can come to grips with this. Ever since he’d heard news of Odin’s sickness, he’d repressed it, convinced himself that his father would recover in some last-minute miracle. Thor has had time to accept the inevitable, and it’s different for Thor because he’s already lost Odin once--or thought he had, at least.
And it isn’t Thor’s fault that Odin is dying.
Loki stands on rubbery legs, some unseen, loathsome force spurring him forward. Every fiber of his being screams that he doesn’t want this, doesn’t want to see his father die, but he follows Thor out of his cell, through the corridor, and into the daylight that burns his eyes.
There’s no time left for Loki to make Odin proud or to atone for his sins. He knows Odin will die forever disappointed in his youngest son, and Loki’s insides coil with nausea that it’s come to this.
Thor leads him to the palace and steps into Odin’s chambers. When Loki attempts to follow him, he’s barred entry by Sif and the Warriors Three. “Please,” Loki begs, his voice weak and raw, “I need to see him.”
“Tough.” Her glare cuts into him like a sharp knife, and he knows they blame him for this; the unspoken opinion among the Aesir is that Loki’s attack on Midgard had been too much for the time-weary Odin to bear.
You killed him.
Loki knows they’re all thinking it, though none will speak the words aloud. But the accusation lingers in the shifty glances that last a little too long, the hushed whispers of the prodigal son who sent his father to his grave. The stolen relic born to fail and disappoint, to bring misery and chaos. A monster.
Loki can see his mother Frigga kneeling at Odin’s bedside and wants so desperately to be there too. “Please, I must speak with him--”
“You’ve done enough,” Fandral says. “You’ve torn apart this entire kingdom over your foolish obsession to best Thor and claim the throne of Asgard.” Tears prick at Loki’s eyes, and he can’t force them back.
“Allow him inside, I beg of you,” Thor says. They obey, and Thor turns to his brother. “Loki, go to him.”
Loki kneels at his father’s bedside, and Odin’s eye opens weakly, his withered mouth curving into what might be described as a smile. Loki’s ready to pour out apologies that are far too late, to offer him peace in his final moments, but Odin takes a deep breath and whispers in a raspy voice, “Loki, my son...forgive me.”
Loki stares at him with wide, wet eyes in disbelief. For the first time, he’s caught between an ugly truth or a pretty lie.
The same situation Odin had been in many years ago when he adopted Loki.
Loki thinks about the ripples of heartbreak that Odin’s lie has caused and how things might be different had he been raised knowing his true heritage. Perhaps if he hadn’t tried to thwart Thor’s coronation that fateful day, he would never have been touched by that Frost Giant. Maybe if he hadn’t tried to destroy Jotunheim, Odin would not have let him fall.
Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered at all. Maybe whatever choices he’d made, he would always end up here with the man he calls father looking up at him with a pleading eye.
Loki swallows, feeling frantic pain swell up in his chest, and recounts all of the memories that make Odin his father, all of the ways that he loves him and always will love him. He understands now the impossible decision Odin had faced. A lie can be devastating. But the truth can be worse.
Loki reaches for Odin’s hand and lies to his father for the very last time: “Yes, of course, I forgive you. I love you.”
Odin smiles slowly, given absolution in his time of dying, and just like that, it’s over.
Life, meaning, purpose. Gone.
Loki has spent most of his existence trying to measure up to his older brother, striving to prove his worth to Odin. He’s spent so long chasing this dream that he’s forgotten how to do anything else.
And now it is gone, snatched away with his father’s life, his entire world off its axis.
Thor moves to comfort Frigga, who crumbles in his ready arms, and Loki knows he’s going to lose it. His legs wobble as he stands, but he keeps himself composed when he walks out with heavy steps, passing Sif and the Warriors Three as he exits Odin’s chambers. He can hear them whispering, their harsh words like poison-tipped arrows through his heart, but Loki doesn’t falter, just keeps walking, unfeeling, until he’s out of Asgard Castle and away from their prying eyes. Then he keeps going, because he knows as long as he’s walking the waves of anguish can’t pull him under just yet. There’s only one place where he can be alone with his ghosts, a place where he can give himself over to the agony and pray he never has to feel anything again.
Loki reaches the flora of the golden tree Glasir, and that’s when he finally crumbles and breaks, collapsing on the grass as fresh fits of sobs rip through him. He hates the jumpy shuddering in his chest. He hates the grief pounding in his head like a war drum. He hates feeling that this was inevitable, that he was destined to cause Odin’s death in some form.
Crippling waves of agony wash over him for what seems like hours, and all he can do is cry and beg for the pain to stop. When Loki’s eyes are red and raw, Thor comes to him, sitting by his side in silent support. Even this simple gesture is tangled up in memories of Odin; sitting beneath Glasir reminds Loki of the days he’d spent picking golden apples from its branches with Thor and his father.
Loki weeps anew, raging with vicious hands against Thor’s arms around him. His body explodes with angry sobs and whimpers, and Thor’s there for it all, holding his little brother together while Loki spews fury and tears against his chest. Thor lets him fall apart in his arms, and they stay there in their mutual misery until Loki’s limbs ache and his eyes burn.
“I do not blame you, brother,” Thor murmurs, treading careful ground. Loki whimpers into his chest, his shoulders quaking from the force of his sobs. “Do not bear this burden.”
“It is mine to bear,” Loki manages through his tears.
Thor doesn’t answer, just holds him as Loki cries, helpless and hopeless, in his arms. “We will survive. We will endure.”
Of course Thor will--the throne of Asgard has fallen to him now. He has a purpose. But there’s nothing left for Loki, no home for him to return to. Asgard doesn’t want him, nor does Joutenheim, or Midgard...
What can he do but tremble, alone in the cold?
Thor stays with Loki under Glasir for some time, weeping along with him for the father they’ve lost. Thor composes himself, doubly wounded by his brother’s grief, and examines Loki’s thin, weak wrists. “Why have you refused your meals? Do you desire death?”
“There is nothing for me.”
Pain colors Thor’s face. “There is plenty. You must only know where to look.” Loki doesn’t answer, and Thor studies the hollowed bones of his brother’s fingers. “Perhaps Midgard may hold some interest for you. I travel there regularly to visit my dearest Jane. Would you care to accompany me and discover its worth?”
You are unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed!
“Don’t patronize me.”
“I mean no offense. I simply offer you a new life, if you care to have it.”
You have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war.
“Your first order as king of Asgard, and you use it to overrule Odin, much less help me? You are a fool.”
Yes, I was a fool to think that you were ready.
“And you are my brother.”
You’re my son. I wanted only to protect you from the truth.
Loki, my son...forgive me.
“Lo, there do I see my Father.”
We musn’t lose hope that your father will return to us.
There’s nothing you can do without defying Father.
“Lo, there do I see my Mother and my Brothers and my Sisters.”
I swear to you, Mother, that they will pay for what they’ve done today.
I won’t let my brother march into Joutenheim alone.
“Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.”
From a realm of cold and darkness came the Frost Giants.
We were raised together. We fought together. We played together. Do you remember none of that?
“Lo, they do call to me.”
Only one of you can ascend to the throne, but both of you were born to be kings.
You are our son, Loki. And we, your family.
“They bid me to take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla.”
Do you swear to preserve the peace?
Do you swear to cast aside all selfish ambition and to pledge yourself only to the good of the realm?
I, Odin Allfather, proclaim you...
“Where thine enemies have been vanquished.”
And your death came by the son of Odin.
When he wakes, I will have saved his life. I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be true heir to the throne!
“Where the brave shall live forever.”
Look at you, the mighty Thor, with all your strength, and what good does it do you now?
I never wanted the throne. I only wanted to be your equal.
“Nor shall we mourn but rejoice for those who have died the glorious death.”
Did you mourn?
We all did.
Yes, of course, I forgive you. I love you.
“Brother, please remember to eat. You’ll need your strength if you hope to travel with me.”
“Loki, Thor is considering ending your sentence here.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Thor. My son... My heir... My first-born...
He kept the truth from you so that you would never feel different.
“Brother, you are no longer imprisoned here. You are free to roam Asgard as you please.”
I now take from you your power. I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!
“You disgust me.”
“You selfish bastard.”
“Go back to Joutenheim where you belong.”
Father is dead. Your banishment, the threat of a new war...It was all too much for him to bear. You mustn’t blame yourself.
“Why do you remain in captivity, brother? You are free.”
The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity.
“I’d rather stay here.”
No matter how much you claimed to love me, you could never have a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!
It isn’t him.
It will never be him.
I thought we could unite our kingdoms one day. Bring about an alliance, bring about permanent peace...through you.
I could have done it, father! For you, for all of us!
Lights around him.
Cold breeze in the air.
“Your mortal companion resides here?”
“No, she is simply visiting. My other comrades call this place home, however.”
You give up the Tesseract! You give up this poisonous dream, and you come home!
Inside a tall building.
“Shall I inform the others of your presence?”
“That will not be necessary. I will take my leave soon enough.”
“Then I bid you farewell until the morrow.”
Footsteps down the hallway.
Knock on door.
Red, curled flames.
Wide, jade eyes.
Barrel in his face.
“How did you escape Asgard?”
“I did nothing of the sort, but that hardly matters now.”
“Did you come to kill me?”
“I came for you to kill me.”
Chapter 2: Promise
This is the chapter I originally wrote as a drabble. Well...the smut is, at least.
POV will shift from Loki to Natasha every chapter or so, but it mostly centers around Loki.
Once I knew only darkness and stillness, my life was without past or future, but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living.
~ Helen Keller
Natasha stares at Loki in disbelief. Not only are the words he’s just said completely baffling, but his appearance is a tragic mess. He looks younger somehow, but at the same time more worn and weary. His skin is still pallid, without its usual pinches of pink, and dark circles draw attention to his wide, pleading green eyes filled with a despair she knows all too well.
But what catches her attention the most is the gaping emptiness that seems to swirl around him like a black hole, because it sucks her in, and for a moment she feels hollowed out.
“What? Why?” is all she can think to say, her eyes locked on him.
“I haven’t given you adequate reason?”
She finds it hard to argue that. “Why me?”
He shrugs. “We have a...history.”
The shock of seeing him freezes her tongue momentarily. “I’m sure this is something you could do yourself. You want someone to talk you out of it.”
“You misunderstand. We both get what we want: you get your chance to avenge Barton, and I...well, you know what I want.” His expression is incomprehensibly sad for such confident words.
“Why? Why, all of a sudden, do you want to die--” She stops, horrified as the pieces click together in her head. She’d remembered hearing something about Thor’s father passing away a week or so ago. And Loki is Thor’s brother... Grief spills over his face, making him look like a lost child, and Natasha feels something plunge through her heart. “Oh God...I’m so sorry...”
Of all people, Natasha Romanoff understands loss. She might even consider it familiar company. To lose your family is to lose a piece of yourself.
Loki doesn’t snap back at her with a refusal of her condolences. He doesn’t frown or glare. He just looks...tired. When he raises his head, his eyes are wet and red. “You have your answer. Will you do this?”
She shakes her head. “No.”
“No?” There’s an upsurge of anger on his face now, poorly masking the pain still visible around the edges. “Have I not tormented you or your precious Barton enough to deserve death?” he growls. “Why do you refuse to kill a monster?”
“Because what you’re doing is weak.” She’s not sure if she believes that or not, but if he’s going to wage a battle, she will take up her sword as well.
To her surprise, he laughs wryly. “I suppose you’re right, but if I desired an honorable death I would go about it differently.”
Natasha thinks for a moment. Loki could kill her in a second, and if this is a ruse to do so, it’s a damn good one. But his pain is almost tangible, his eyes hollow and lifeless. Natasha knows pain, and she knows when it’s real. She tucks her gun into its place on the nearby bookshelf. “Come inside, and we’ll talk about this.”
He scoffs a laugh again, though he does as she asks. “What is there to discuss? Are you going to tell me I have oh-so-much to live for?” He snorts an angry breath, his arms folded over his chest.
She picks up on that, notices how he says so much when he’s biting and sarcastic. “Your brother wouldn’t want this.”
Loki rolls his eyes and tries to look dismissive, but Natasha sees the subtle creases of pain in his expression. “Then this shall be the first time Thor does not get what he desires. I am finished being a slave to his whims.”
This can’t just be about Thor. Loki’s had ample time to end his life if that’s what he wants, and he didn’t need to come to Midgard to do it. His father’s death must have taken something away, something irreplaceable. But she doesn’t want to reopen the wound by mentioning his father.
She watches him, concerned with the almost-unnoticeable way his lip quivers and his eyes house nothing but torment and guilt. Suicide is the ultimate act of control, and if it’s control Loki wants...
“What do you desire?” she asks.
“I already told you.”
“You want nothing more than your own death?”
“There is nothing more.”
So, he’d lost more than just a father. He’d lost a whole future, a purpose he’d taken upon himself... “What if I gave you something?”
Bewilderment flickers on his face. Does she imagine the hope in his voice? “What could you give me?”
She risks a few steps closer to him. “A purpose.” Something ripples through him for the briefest moment. She tries needling him again. “A reason to stay in the game.”
Loki scoffs a weak and tired sound, but he moves nearer to her. “How do you intend to fill a hollow man, Miss Romanoff, when your own void is a gaping maw?”
He’s close enough to her now that she can smell the enticing musk of him. “This isn’t about me. I’m not the one who came here wanting to die.”
“What panacea could you possibly offer me?” She’s sure he intended to sound threatening, but the hostility just isn’t there.
Natasha takes his face in her hands, and Loki lets her kiss him, lets her tongue brush over his lower lip and slide into his mouth. She feels him turn to stone in the second she responds to the shock of his cold skin against hers. His muscles uncoil when her fingers knot in his hair, crushing him against her as her mouth moves against his. The dig of her hips makes him groan, and fire rips through her at the sheer control she has over him, the way he’s grinding weakly between her legs, needy and desperate, because he is, after all, still a man. A repugnant, arrogant, attractive man reduced to a hormone-ruled adolescent.
Loki moans around her fervent mouth, and she bites his bottom lip and rolls her hips against him. The feel of him hard against her makes her thighs squeeze together, a poor attempt to sate the slickened need between them.
He starts to respond to her, dominating their lusty quarrel by finding other places to kiss her: the corner of her lips, her jaw, the soft line of her throat. His hands entrap her, pull her against his body, and that makes the fire spiral out of control, blazing in her chest.
“Ugh, fuck, Loki,” she groans, breathless as his mouth kisses and trails her skin. This isn’t enough. Natasha wants his mouth elsewhere, his hands and hips around her in so many ways.
She reaches out to undress him, her fingers suddenly confounded by all the buttons and latches and zippers. He assists her with the task, nearly gliding out of his clothes, and she grits her teeth, hating that she’s turned on by him. Because she shouldn’t be. If the world worked the way it was supposed to, her fingers would be tracing the lines of Clint’s stomach right now, her hands pulling Barton on top of her as she falls back against the mattress. But instead it’s Loki: his inky black hair feathered in place, his complexion chalky pale, his features too perfect, like someone out of a classical painting.
Outside the window, raindrops trickle from a smoky, dark sky that hangs over the earth like a gloomy canopy; Natasha thinks it’s too poignant for what she’s feeling now, the wispy, cottony clouds an outward manifestation of the confused, hazy lust swirling dizzily in her brain. She hadn’t planned on actually wanting him this way.
Needing him at her mercy again, she slips a hand between his legs, and he groans as her fingers wrap around him, her thumb rolling over the head of his cock. He growls the breath of an angry god in her ear, and she smiles, watching how his shoulders ripple and tense as her hand drags up and down. Control. Dominance. Power.
Loki isn’t one to beg, and though he’s so close, he can’t let himself plead to be inside of her or to ask for her mouth around him. To do so would be to concede defeat, and Loki is all about winning. So he reaches down to where they meet and stills her hand with his, his gaze darkening as he stares down at her. “Take it off,” he commands, his voice dripping with lust.
Natasha’s lips curve into a smirk at this spoiled god above her, and her fist slides back against the hard planes of his pelvis. He moans, helpless, and his hips jerk instinctively into her hand. He grips the pillows behind her head, careful not to dent her bones beneath his fingers, and his traitorous hips thrust again, succumbing to the twist of her wrist.
She pulls his mouth to hers, impossibly smug as her fingers weave into his hair and trace the curves and ridges of his arousal. His teeth pull at her lips while she pulls the pleasure from him with a squeezing palm and nimble fingers. The soft, tiny whimpers he makes awaken the lust simmering in her belly, and it’s a wonder she can hold it together when he breaks apart in her hand; the sight of this porcelain god coming undone because of what she’s done is almost too much, and his defeated sigh around her mouth makes her squirm and shift beneath him.
Black anger smolders in his eyes at her victory, and Natasha slowly pulls her hand away to taste him on her fingers. He licks his lips at the sight, his eyes hooded with lust.
The next sigh Loki makes is nowhere near the needy, satisfied one from seconds ago, and he squares his shoulders, sitting up to look down upon her, his marble chest heaving. And then he does something Natasha doesn’t expect: he laughs. The sound is deep and dark and terrifying, because suddenly she’s caught off-guard, devoid of the control she’d had over him moments ago. Her throat swells in horror; without desire to blind him, she is literally at his mercy. And he has nothing to lose.
His perfect eyebrows arch in arrogance. “This is your offer?” he scoffs, his hubris returning as he drags an icy fingertip over the pulse in her throat. He’s straddling her hips, and the feel of him against her is pure torment. “Did you think it would be that easy?”
For a moment she wonders if Asgardians have no need for a recovery period. Then she remembers how responsive he is when she tests him. “You’re not sated?”
“I can see that you aren’t,” he answers, pushing her cotton tank up with unbearable slowness and trailing a finger over the newly-exposed skin. His touch is cold, and her flesh rises to meet his, making the corner of his mouth pull up into a smirk.
“I’m capable of...entertaining myself.”
Loki considers that, smiling a little. “Oooh.”
She deflects with weak humor, a trait she most likely picked up from Tony. “No, you can’t watch.” She wants to slug him in the stomach, but she also wants him alive, in every way she can have him, even if that means giving him conquest over her body.
“I don’t have to watch, Miss Romanoff”--she secretly adores the way her surname sounds like a psalm from his lips--“because you wouldn’t have started this if your...entertainment was enough.” She lets him pull the garment over her head, and suddenly she’s an insecure teenager again, burning beneath his gaze as his eyes drink in her form. His mouth meets hers again, quelling her retort, and his hands pull down her shorts. The chill of his skin against her thighs ignites the dormant need in her loins. Her hands reach up, twisting hard in his hair, because if he’s going to get her off, the least she can do is mess up his stupid, perfect hair in a paltry act of vengeance.
His mouth finds other places to kiss her hungrily: the hollow of her throat, a spot beneath the hinge of her jaw, the line of her sternum. His lips trace over the curve of her ribs, and Natasha moans out “Oh God” as his mouth moves lower, and she silently curses Loki’s ignorance of the spots that ache for his attention.
He looks up at her through hooded eyes. “You don’t have to beg.” She can see evidence of that fucking smirk at the corner of his mouth, but she takes solace in the fact that she’s refraining from planting her foot in his face. All about control.
Loki’s tongue drags across her skin as his wide hands explore her ribs, her nipples, her stomach, and all Natasha wants is for his mouth to replace his hands, because his teasing makes her swell and swoon and ache. Clint wouldn’t tease like this; he would know when enough was enough, and he would be inside of her by now. But Loki isn’t Clint, and Natasha isn’t sure why that excites her so much.
A rolling roar of distant thunder sounds outside. Loki turns his head to the window in a subtle gesture, but Natasha sees the worry there and uses it to pry away his confidence.
“Maybe your brother doesn’t approve?” she goads him.
She sees the twist in his features at the mention of Thor, the way his eyes tighten and his lips press into a frown, and for a moment she’s won, regained control.
But it’s a short-lived victory; her words are an indirect challenge, and Loki will be damned if he comes second to Thor here. He traces circles around her nipple with his tongue, reveling in her frustrated moans before he takes the bud into his mouth and nips at it with his teeth. She melts, her body rolling to give him more of her skin to engulf with his mouth. Her ankles hook around his waist, forcing his hips against hers, and she bucks needily between his legs when she feels his cock between her thighs.
Loki’s voice is sweet and smooth at her throat, and she feels his words in her bones. “And you thought I was the desperate one? Look how you beg.”
“Don’t be a brat, or I’ll finish without you.” She tries to sound confident, but her words are weakened by want.
“Oh, but I’ll linger,” he says, his voice dirty, filthy as his hand slides between her legs, his fingers teasing her through the thin, damp cotton. “It won’t be that easy to rid yourself of me.”
She hisses beneath his touch, shoving her hips forward in a silent plea for more. He’s so close to the spot that aches and pulsates for him, and she craves him there in any form he might take. She grinds against his hand for some sort of relief for the mounting need building inside of her as thunder rumbles in the expanse of the sky.
He lowers her panties down her legs, unable to resist the allure of triumph. He dips two fingers inside of her--but just barely--drawing out a broken moan from her throat, and he brings them to his lips to savor the command he has over her flesh.
Loki moves so slowly Natasha thinks that time has stopped; his mouth glides over her inner thigh, his hands curled behind her knees. She isn’t sure of his plan--if he’s going to keep winding her up or eventually grant her mercy--until she feels his hot breath there and suddenly hope and panic bubble up in her chest.
She’s caught in a wild mix of fear and need, and that’s when his tongue feathers over her swollen clit. Her head drops back against the pillow and a loud moan leaves her throat, her lips uncoupled and her fingers tugging at his hair, because it’s all too much. She feels him smile, then he hums around her flesh, sending an electric sweep of pleasure zipping up her spine. She writhes against his tongue as it works slowly inside of her, dipping and pressing against her barest of skin. The breath shakes in her lungs, and she can’t form words, spitting out fragmented obscenities in needy whimpers.
“Loki...” She gasps for him, and he likes the sound of her voice calling his tribute. The tip of his tongue traces shapes and circles against her skin, and her tensed and tortured nerves sing out in praise. She hitches her rubbery legs over his shoulders, his name a chanted prayer on her lips while he licks and sucks and savors the taste of her. “God, Loki... Don’t stop...” It’s not a request, she tells herself, it’s an order, and that makes all the difference as she quakes from his touch, her toes curling and her body writhing.
Loki’s teeth drag lightly over her clit, and just like that Natasha is gone, lost to the white-hot void, her body seizing with unbridled want. She cries for him, winded and breathy, and he holds her hips as she shudders. He stays there for a bit, his tongue still lapping between her legs, and she sighs, conquered by her climax, by him, by this conniving god and his silver tongue.
Loki chuckles against her skin and sits up, his hair tousled as he licks his lips with a self-satisfied smirk. She wants to call Thor to hammer some humility into him; Loki has absolutely no business looking this smug, and she’ll never admit that he just gave her the best orgasm of her life. This secret will go to her grave.
“You will tell no one about this,” she seethes through grit teeth as her chest heaves, humiliated at her defeat.
He crawls up her body, his mouth inches from hers. “What is there to tell? That I had you quivering and pleading beneath my tongue?”
She ignores the urge to smack him, knowing it would do more harm than good right now. At the very least, she’s glad to see a genuine smile on his lips. She just smooths his tousled hair back with her fingers. The words tumble out of her mouth before she can stop them. “One day you’ll remember him and it won’t hurt. It does get better.”
Loki stills, silent for a moment, then he shoves away from her, climbing off of the bed and pulling his clothes back on with swift, angry movements.
Panic stiffens in her chest. She knows she can’t let him walk out that door. He’s too fragile, too desperate. “Loki, wait. Please, don’t go.”
His back faces her, but she sees his arm brush over his face, as if he’s wiping away tears. His hands freeze at his belt, his shoulders slumping in defeated sorrow.
Natasha wraps herself in a sheet, slides out of bed and moves closer to him. She feels too incompetent here, too out of control in a situation she doesn’t want to relive. She had failed once. Never again.
“Loki,” she pleads, and when he turns to look at her she can see the utter misery etched on his face, the lifetime of agony in his eyes. It’s as if someone broke him into little tiny pieces. Natasha struggles for words to mend his heart or heal his soul but knows none exist. She wants to tell him about Gala, her best friend and almost-sister from the training academy. She and Gala had been about twenty years old; Gala came into Natasha’s room one night after a particularly troubling mission and told her “no matter what, I love you.”
That was the last time Natasha ever saw Gala alive. She did, however, see her dead, hanging from the ceiling fixture in her room.
But Natasha doesn’t tell Loki about Gala. Too personal. Too raw. And in the face of his pain, her own would mean nothing.
“Loki, just promise me something, okay? Listen,” she chokes out. He turns toward her, silent, waiting. “Come back and see me. If you ever feel like this again, if you ever want to die, promise me you’ll come see me. I don’t care how late. If I’m not here, have Thor find me, and I’ll come to you.” She sucks in a breath, not caring how desperate she sounds. “Just please, please don’t give up, okay?”
He looks at her, his expression blank and impossible to read.
Chapter 3: Compromised
Thank you all for your lovely comments and kudos~ Four for you, you beautiful humans.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many. The intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.
She spars with Clint the next day and struggles to sweat out her guilty lust like a bad fever. She hates the way Loki’s made her feel: sick, conflicted, twisted. She hates that she’s attracted to him at all, but it’s worse that she’s attracted to him even in his despair. He’s shattered and heartsick and desperate for love, and she wants his nimble hands and roaming tongue.
But even more, she hates that she’d pitied him, that her heartfelt lapse in judgement may well have endangered them all. No matter how many times she’d told herself she hadn’t imagined the despair in his eyes, she still feels the cold dread that this might be his greatest scheme.
She also wonders if he intends to keep his promise.
In her sleep-starved daze, she leaves herself open. Clint takes advantage of her lapse in concentration, but Natasha recovers in time to block his fist.
Clint presses his lips together, his brow creased in that familiar way of his. “You okay?” His voice is low and gravelly, and all she can think of are Loki’s soft, cold whispers against her skin.
She shivers despite her sweat. “Just peachy.”
“You’re distant... What are you thinking about?” His words are pure concern juxtaposed against the flickers of dirty memories in her head.
“It’s nothing,” she insists, but Loki’s thrown her world off its axis in just one night.
“I’ve never seen you off your game like this,” Clint says, and Natasha’s thankful he hadn’t been there to see her when she’d first witnessed Banner change into...the other guy. “It’s like you’ve been compromised.”
The word means a lot to both of them, and she swallows imperceptibly. “That’s a good way to describe it.” Compromised: exposed, made vulnerable to danger, jeopardized.
Clint relaxes and takes a seat on a nearby bench. The empty space beside him invites her to occupy it. Heat emanates from his skin, the smell of him hangs in the air, and for a moment her world’s back on its axis again.
She sits in silence for a moment, wonders how to explain. “When he...controlled you, you said it was like being unmade. That’s as close as I can describe it.”
“Is this something I should worry about?” The tone of his voice tells her that he’s already started.
“It’ll pass. Don’t worry,” she says, hoping her mask of confidence will fortify her own belief.
He nods, satisfied with that, because Clint isn’t one to pry. “You’ll be okay?”
She gives him a pained half-smile. “I always am.”
Natasha’s able to repress unpleasant things; swallowing down emotions is just part of the job description. There’s no forgetting the kind of things she’s seen and done. Compartmentalization is a mandatory skill for someone with her scars.
She tucks away the dizzy twist of sensations in her gut and relaxes under the hot needles of the shower spray, her mind blissfully blank. She stays beneath the falling water for some time before the spray runs cold and reminds her of him. Her chest shudders, and she shuts the water off, furious that the spell is broken.
Natasha gulps for air when she steps out into the darkness of her bedroom, because she doesn’t expect to see Loki standing there as his long fingers examine the books on her shelves.
“How did you get in here?” she snaps, suddenly aware of her too-thin t-shirt and holey sweats.
He turns with grace and poise, the corner of his mouth pulled into that smirk, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “A magician never reveals his secrets.”
She makes a mental note to ask Tony to change the locks. The fear fluttering in her stomach tells Natasha that this was a horrible idea. Lying is second nature to Loki, and he could very easily kill her if he wanted. She’d been blinded by a nostalgic what-if and her need to save a life, and now she will pay the price for her sentiment.
She swallows down the fear. “You came back.”
“I promised, did I not?”
She nods. “How are you feeling?”
His mouth presses into a hard line, and he rolls his eyes. “Why don’t you tell me?” Loki strolls toward her, and she takes an unconscious step back, her eyes everywhere but his. He picks up on the movement. “How difficult this must be for you,” he says with false sincerity. “Everything about me draws you in, yet your pride refuses to allow you to admit it.”
“How very little you know about me.”
One more step carries Loki closer to her, and he reaches out, tilting her chin so she meets his eyes. She can’t swallow, mortified by his magnetism over her. Natasha’s panic betrays her, and her gaze flickers from his almost imperceptibly. But Loki sees it. He trails an icy finger down her throat, and the heady scent of him floods her nostrils. Could she really not have predicted the danger of locking herself in room with Loki, who has absolutely nothing to lose? “Oh, Miss Romanoff, I know enough.”
He’s taken control now, and the smile on his lips tells her he knows it. So Natasha challenges his power: she pulls his mouth to hers, hungrily, greedily, and he’s caught off-guard just long enough for her to seize control again.
He’s wearing fewer clothes this time around, but she still struggles a bit with undressing him as their clumsy feet move them toward the bed. Natasha tips him backwards, her knees on either side of his hips as her fingers trail fire over his chest, her mouth moving behind them to reignite the blaze. His chest shudders with a gasp, and she smiles to herself as her body shifts to answer him with lips and teeth down his belly, her tongue swirling circles around his navel.
Loki’s breath hitches, and his hips arch and swivel, seeking reprieve in the form of wet lips and an eager tongue. Natasha kneels at his feet, playing subservient while her hands push his clothes out of the way. Her fingers wrap around his cock in a firm hold, and she can feel him pulse and shudder in her palm. Her thumb rolls over the swollen head, testing, teasing, and he groans a heavenly sound rich with want.
She can’t take any more. She has to have him. Dominate him. Make him come apart.
Loki sucks in a gasp when Natasha lets him glide past her lips. He arches and jerks, seeking the wet heat of her throat, and she’s eager to oblige, twisting her tongue around his length. She feathers her teeth over the head with the slightest pressure, and Loki howls a needy moan, his hands wrapped in her hair as his hips thrust. He needs her like this, needs her to be in control while he falls apart.
She sucks soft and slow down the shaft, his mewling whimpers exaltations in her honor as the pressure builds. Her eyes open, and she lifts her gaze to his face to watch the way his shoulders quiver and his lips form praises and gasps, the way his teeth dig into his lower lip when her tongue traces his curves and ridges.
Natasha moans around his cock, and Loki cries louder because he’s losing now, conquered by his own tactic. His fingers press into her scalp, but he grips the sheets between his fingers when his muscles seize, and his hips buck into her mouth as the dam breaks. Natasha swallows, hungry for his offering, and the taste of him lingers, salty and thick in her mouth. She makes a show of licking her lips, because she knows he’s watching, knows he wants to see her consume the proof of his want. He shuts his eyes and groans happily as his breath slows, and Natasha crawls back up his body, pushing his thighs apart to sink onto his lap.
“In the end,” he whispers, “you will always kneel.” His mouth wears a playful smirk, but she knows it’s forced folly. He’s still broken, still clinging to whatever panacea for his pain he can find.
“How simple-minded you are, Loki. Sometimes the most powerful position is on one’s knees.”
He arches an eyebrow, her words a challenge. “Where is your advantage when you kneel at my feet?”
“Only by my grace do I grant you ecstasy over anguish.”
He closes his eyes, a smile on his lips. “You are a clever one, little gem.” Her cheeks burn at the endearment; she should not want his affections. His thumbs dip beneath the waistband of her pants, sliding them down her hips, and she tilts to allow him this, curious and needy for whatever he may give or take from her.
Natasha’s not one to trust, and that certainly isn’t what this is; to her, it’s the conquering of a fear and nothing more. Her fantasies about Clint are safe, vanilla, devoid of self-consciousness. But Loki is raw lust. He is both her fears and her darkest fantasies, a side of her sexuality she keeps locked away like a proverbial Pandora’s box. After opening the box last night and walking away no worse for the wear, she reasons that she can go a little further tonight.
He presses his mouth to hers, his teeth softly biting at her lips, and his hips rise and fall beneath her like languid waves. Loki trails his fingers between her legs, and her hips swivel in need and necessity as she tugs off her panties. Natasha feels him seeking purchase in her core. Instinct tells her to take control of him, but the quiet fire in her mind and loins suggests otherwise. She’s had her fun, now he deserves his.
Fair enough, she thinks, and she rolls them over so that he’s on top of her. A brief flicker of uncertainty crosses his face, and she pulls her shirt over her head to snap him out of it. His mouth drops to her breasts, and she feels the pressure of his teeth there, rough and sharp against her skin.
Natasha pushes her hands on his spine, and Loki begins to struggle, reluctant to be molded with her this way. She cloaks her disappointment in humor when she says, “Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet.”
Loki smiles--does she imagine the pain there?--and shakes his head, an icy hand teasing her nipple as if in contrast to her words. “I could kill you so easily.”
She feels like she’s imagining the regret in his tone and his eyes, but it’s there, buried under hubris. “That wouldn’t please you?”
“Your friends might not share my sentiments.”
The allure of danger quickens the gallop of her heartbeat, and she teases his cock with her hips, sliding against him. She notes how his fist tightens in the sheets beside her bed, and the quake of his shoulders when she does it again.
“Stop,” he chokes out.
She plays to his ego. “Stay in control. Only by your grace will you leave me alive.” Her legs hook around his waist, and she coaxes the tip of him inside her, enjoying the smooth slide before he slams into her with a grunt. She gives a throaty, appreciative moan, and he pins her arms, towering over her as he rolls his hips slowly, gently, before it’s just too much.
Loki drives into her hard, and her neurons sing out in devious pain. Natasha pulls him back in when she feels the void of his absence. Every slight tilt of her pelvis sends sparks coursing up her spine, which spurs her to rock against his thrusts again and again until their rhythm is matched and she chokes on his name in her throat. His head drops down to kiss her mouth and coax out more cries, because Natasha’s screams and sighs for him are the sweetest sounds he’s heard in at least a thousand years. He frees her wrists, and her hands reach up to grip his hair while his own wrap around her hips, aiding her quest to feel him deeper.
Loki’s thrusts begin to slow, gaining power the closer he comes to the edge of the world. Natasha moves with him, impatient with his pace, but it’s so good when he slams into her again, ecstasy pulsing through every muscle. His hands are iron fetters around her hips; Natasha’s sure she’ll be sore and bruised tomorrow, but all she can feel is him, crashing into her over and over. His icy breath ghosts over her lips as he shudders, seizes, and he grunts a violent moan before he crumbles, his hands squeezing and crushing.
The sight of Loki coming undone and the distant pain under his hands is enough to sate her. Natasha’s nails drag over the tensed and rippled muscles of his back as she surrenders, every atom breaking apart and reconvening.
She sighs happily into his shoulder, and he kisses her in small pecks up to her mouth, all urgency gone. She smiles, surprised by the peculiar, intimate gesture. “Did I hurt you?” he asks, his hands on either side of her head with the gentlest pressure.
He doesn’t look as if he believes her, but he doesn’t argue. Sleeplessness begins to catch up to her in a sudden, dizzy wave, and she closes her weary eyes. Natasha hears the soft sounds of his breaths in her ear as the world fades away.
Loki feels her stir beside him in the bed, and the mix of terror and anger on her face as she moves to shove him away makes him chuckle. “Good morning to you too.”
He loves the way the blood pools beneath her cheeks when he’s caught her off-guard. He wonders if she’s chagrined at his words or the sight of his bare body beside her. Her expression is hard, interrogative, and she probably means to demand his intentions, but “What are you still doing here?” is what bubbles out of her mouth instead.
His eyebrows raise and his lips spread into a mirthful smile. “I believe this is what you mortals call afterglow.”
Natasha grits her teeth and pins him with her knees, her hands gripped furiously around his wrists. “Cut the crap. Why are you still here?”
“What would you prefer I do?” The question halts her. “Would you rather I depart and leave you...unprotected?”
“I protect myself just fine.”
“Even while you slumber?”
“And of what use would you be?”
“I can’t sleep,” he says softly.
“So what did you do?”
“I watched you.” Loki’s eyes hold hers. “I listened. You spoke of Barton.” His mouth curls into a smirk. “Of me.”
A brief flicker of anger crosses her face. Shaken, she wraps herself in a blanket and hops out of bed to find her clothes. “Get dressed,” she orders him.
He does as she asks and watches her as she grabs her discarded clothes from the floor. She’s pulling on a loose grey tanktop when Loki notices the trails of dark, purplish bruises on her hips, thighs, and around her wrists and arms. Small bites mark her neck and shoulders, and her lips are red and swollen from lust.
The bruises on her porcelain skin match his hands perfectly.
Because I’m the monster parents tell their children about at night?
Loki growls a revolted sound, fury simmering in the pit of his stomach. Natasha whirls to look at him, immediately on guard, but the expression on his face bears no touch of cunning or mischief. She didn’t think he could look more cataclysmically devastated than he had the other night, but he’s proved her wrong.
It takes her a moment to realize what’s upset him. “I’ve had worse,” she says with a small shrug. “It’s an off-day when I don’t have bruises.” She digs through her closet for something with a little more coverage.
“Not this way,” Loki snarls through grit teeth.
She pulls on a pair of dark jeans to hide the proof of his destruction. “No one will see.”
His fists clench at his sides. “That’s not....” He trails off, looking away.
“You’re not the only one, Loki. Banner, Rogers, your brother.” A twinge of pain crosses his face; is he nothing more than a sexual conquest for her? “I’m sure they all struggle with this. I think it went better than expected.”
“Because I didn’t crush your bones?” he snaps. “If it were Barton instead of me, bruises would only be the worst that could happen!”
“You don’t think Jane and your brother have ever dealt with this before?”
The mention of Thor needles him, and his expression is livid. “Thor is the golden son of Odin! He isn’t the one who--” He stops himself, his teeth clenched behind his lips in silent fury as he stalks to the door.
“No, wait!” She rushes after him, and he stills, waiting for her to soothe his misery. His quick flashes of anger are poor masks for the pain underneath. “Don’t go...”
“Why not?” he scoffs. “You want me to finish the job?”
Natasha cringes at his words. “Stop it. Do you have any idea how much I worried that you’d wandered off and done something awful to yourself?”
All he can do is shake with rage at her misplaced concern. “Neither Odin nor Laufey cared whether I lived or died; why should you?”
Natasha’s expression crumbles, because Loki’s just said the saddest thing she’s ever heard. “Loki...”
He fears the monster inside of him, fears that it will destroy everything he touches like a Midas curse. Someone as good as her does not deserved to be ensnared in such evil as his. But Thor is pure and good, and he is hopelessly tangled with Loki’s deeds. Where does he draw the line? Why does he allow himself to associate with Thor, but not this delicious being who reaches out to offer him salvation?
Loki sighs, his anger wilted by her devastation. “How can you possibly see me as someone worthy of love?”
“I don’t know. But you don’t deserve to die.” She doesn’t speak more words that might alleviate his torment. Instead she pads over to the kitchen. “How do you like your coffee?”
“You never masquerade as human?”
“I’ve no need for it.”
“Then what do you need?”
He ponders the question and sits at the kitchen table, his legs spread impossibly wide. “I don’t know yet.”
His posture makes her blush. “Don’t you know how to sit properly?”
“Do you see something you like?”
She ignores his jab. “You shouldn’t be so relaxed.”
“Why not? I have nothing to fear.” At her frown, he elaborates. “I think you trust me more than you let on.”
She sits across from him. “All part of your plan, isn’t it?”
Loki laughs bitterly. “What plan? There is no plan.”
“Then why are you here? I know you didn’t come back to Earth just to get laid.”
“It is my punishment,” he explains, his voice low and cold, “as Thor sees it fit to ruin what little life I have.”
She can manipulate him so easily; her verbal needles force him to spit out frustrated bits of concealed truth. “You can’t fight him?”
His expression shifts almost imperceptibly as he speaks. “The Allfather stripped me of my magic. I cannot fight.”
“What was your bargain?” He raises an eyebrow. “Thor may love you unconditionally, but he isn’t stupid. He wouldn’t give you any freedom if he feared you’d abuse it. So what was your alibi? Eviler twin?”
He measures his words, choosing one that will resonate with her. “I was...compromised.” Controlled in the worst of ways.
Her brow knits in confusion before the meaning of his words sinks in. Then horror crosses her face. “I--I see.” They sit in uncomfortable silence for a moment as her mind reels. “I’m sorry.”
Loki winces at her sympathy. “Thor is such a sentimental fool,” he says with a groan.
“Because he believed you?”
“Because he let me come here...” He trails off, his expression pained. “With the Bifrost repaired I suppose he’s eager to make use of it, but dragging me along is an imposition.” Her angelic face distracts him, turning what should be a cautionary tirade into a soothing whisper: “You don’t know what you’ve done. You really should stay away from me. It would be better...”
“For everyone.” Natasha shakes her head. Loki grinds his teeth together to keep himself from saying something he might regret. “You seem to trust me enough to sleep beside me. Why not trust me on this?”
“Because you’re wrong.”
He hates that she’s arguing with him, so self-assured with her psychoanalyzation. He’d hoped that she would understand his honesty, but his plan had backfired. Her misplaced faith only makes him want her more.
Her phone buzzes faintly from somewhere in the room. She leaves him to pick it up from the nightstand near the bed.
“You have a more pressing engagement?” Loki asks, his voice syrupy-sweet with condescension.
She answers him without looking up from the phone. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“You should take your own advice.” He gives her a knowing glance as he stands and moves toward the door.
“As long as I’m being stupid, will you come back?” Her smile corkscrews through his heart and makes it hard to breathe. “You promised, remember?”
Loki chuckles to himself and steps closer. He lifts her chin and pulls her face to his, testing her, searching her eyes for a glimmer of fear. He tucks a curl of her hair behind her ear with the fingers of his free hand. He hesitates for a moment as her sweet scent overwhelms him and tries to focus on remembering how to inhale and exhale. His lips ghost over hers as he whispers, “Oh, Miss Romanoff? Next time, it’s my turn to ask the questions.”
He leaves her with her thoughts and the warm hum of electricity along her skin.
The number of chapters will probably fluctuate as I split and combine them, but it should hover around the 20~25 range.
Chapter 4: Mother
Apologies for the length, or lack thereof, of this chapter.
When we have lost everything, including hope, life becomes a disgrace, and death a duty.
~ W.C. Fields
Loki stares out at the vast expanse of Asgard, the beautiful world which he’d once called home, and feels nothing for it.
For years he believed that he belonged here, that he might grow to rule the kingdom someday. What a foolish notion that had been. His blood, the people he’d trusted most had kept a devastating secret from him: they hadn’t really been his blood at all. And the Aesir were raised to hate the Jotun, to despise what he truly was...
But what does his father’s betrayal mean now that Odin is gone?
Loki spends most of his time in Asgard wandering in an empty haze. Thor stays busy with his duties as king, but he always makes time to watch over his brother. Thor trails him, making sure that Loki comes back from the edge when he teeters on the Bifrost and stares at the tranquil waves below. He had been horrified the first time he’d followed Loki to the middle of the bridge and watched him roll up onto the balls of his feet. He’d rushed to save his brother and pull him away, and Loki had snarled something about how he wasn’t going to jump and for Thor to mind his own business, and that even if he did jump it probably wouldn’t matter because he’s immortal.
And Thor knew this; Loki had survived far worse. But the fear that this foolish act might kill him--and Loki’s dormant hope that it will--is what keeps Thor shadowing him, a silent sentinel to his brother’s pain.
Today, Loki stands on the edge again, his eyes closed as the gentle wind feathers through his hair. He thinks about taking the leap, about falling through the open air and plunging past the surface of the water. He thinks about how easy and peaceful death might be beneath the waves as he sinks to the darkness of the ocean floor.
He doesn’t know if drowning can kill a god. He’s not entirely sure if he wants to find out, either. But for now it’s enough to feel the breeze at his face and the curl of adrenaline in his gut.
The soft voice behind him does not belong to Thor, but to Frigga. “Loki...” He turns, careful not to lose his balance. “Does this bring you solace?”
“Not entirely, but if I knew of a better remedy, I would take it.”
His mother’s face is worn and weary, and it burns his heart to see her so ravaged with grief. She has already lost her husband. To lose a son as well...
But he is not her son.
“Did you mean it,” she asks, “when you told him that you forgive him?”
Loki feels the sting of his lie and wonders if she can sense it. Death has a way of making even the worst of grudges seem so insignificant, but with the way Odin’s dishonesty has reverberated throughout Loki’s life, forgiving him for it feels wrong somehow. He wets his lips. “I don’t...agree with the decisions he made, but...”
Frigga watches his face as she speaks. “I’m truly sorry that this all went so wrong. We love you just as our own.” To Loki, the present tense seems important somehow. They stand in silence for a moment, and he watches the wispy clouds move along the sky. How many times had he stared mesmerized at the sky in his youth, awed by the sun’s ethereal glow? To feel as if he belonged in such a wondrous, beautiful place had once made his heart soar with pride. Now, knowing his true origins, the painful contrast seems a cruel joke.
“I did not agree with his decision at first,” Frigga says. “He said he never wanted you to feel different, that one day you might be an ambassador between Asgard and Joutenheim to bring peace, but how could that be possible if you never learned to embrace your heritage?”
“He wanted to show that a Jotun child could be raised among the Aesir without revealing that I was of Joutenheim?” Loki asks with a humorless smile.
She sighs. “That is how it came to be.”
“Why, then, did he raise me to believe I might one day be king?”
“Odin and I reasoned that Thor needed the promise of the throne to teach him responsibility. Even as a child, you were responsible and well-behaved. Well, within reason. You were always fond of mischief.” She beams with motherly pride, as if recalling a fond memory, and he finds a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “But when your father banished Thor”--Loki does not allow himself to remember--“he was, in his own way, attempting to teach your brother a lesson. I admit, I found his banishment too harsh at first, and I did all I could to make your father see this, but when Thor returned humbled by his time in Midgard...perhaps I understood.
“But you didn’t need to be chained to the throne,” she continues. “Rather, you needed to be free, free to pursue whatever dream you discovered.” His eyes tighten in almost imperceptible pain, and Frigga steps closer to him, her warm hand finding his cheek. “Do you have a dream, Loki?”
He isn’t sure. Loki’s dream of proving his worth to Odin had died with the man. “If I do?”
“Fulfill it. Go after it, wherever it may be.”
“All I wanted was to be Thor’s equal.”
She squeezes his hand, perhaps needing the comfort just as much as Loki. “You always were. To me, and to Odin. And so you always shall be.” He’s still reeling from her words when she says, “Come home. I want to show you something.”
He follows her back to Asgard Castle and into Frigga’s quarters. She kneels at a familiar wooden chest at the foot of the bed and opens it. Loki recognizes some of the contents, some belonging to her, some to Odin, and some to Thor. His throat swells when he sees some of his own possessions inside, poorly-molded trinkets he’d created in his youth that his parents had thought to cherish alongside his brother’s. “He saved so many of your things,” Frigga says softly as she sifts through the contents of the chest with delicate fingers . “Between the two of you, he almost ran out of space.” She smiles at the memory, her eyes damp and glassy with tears.
Loki doesn’t know what to say. The edges of the hole in his chest begin to burn.
“Remember this?” She fishes out an old necklace, and he remembers it from his childhood when he’d knotted rope around a small, colorful gemstone he’d found in the fields. The stone still retains its unique green hue, even after so many years have passed, and his breath hitches when he thinks about where he’s seen that color before. “Your father kept it even after you threw it away.”
He doesn’t understand. “Why does he still have these things?”
She looks at him, her expression mirroring his. “Because he loved you. You were his son.”
“Why didn’t he throw them out when I returned?”
“Loki, your father wasn’t angry with you. He was very disappointed and upset that you’d lost your way.” He swallows, the revelation ringing in his ears. “But you can find it again.”
“It’s too late.”
He doesn’t know he’s spoken the words aloud until she answers. “It’s never too late. No one is ever truly lost.” Frigga waits until he meets her eyes again. “What makes you happy?”
Loki thinks that he might know.
Chapter 5: Tabula Rasa
I am blown away by all the positive responses to this fic; your comments and kudos are making my heart swell with joy. Thank you so much!
I play around with Natasha's backstory here, using a little bit from the comics and my own personal headcanons since we haven't gotten much from the movies. I hope it's satisfactory~
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
V. Tabula Rasa
You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough
~ Frank Crane
It’s a cool, tranquil night, and Natasha sits in bed, her only company her iPhone and a rousing game of Angry Birds--at least until a quiet knock sounds on her door. She huffs an irritated sigh and pads across the room to answer it. “Rogers, I swear to God, if you ask me one more time--” She pulls the door open, and her spine stiffens at the sight of Loki standing there.
“You were expecting Captain America?” he quips, but his haughty smirk doesn’t last and morphs into something sadder. If Loki notices the subtle signs of distress on her face, he doesn’t show it. “May I come in?” he asks with the meekness of a shy schoolboy...or Steve around anyone lacking a Y chromosome.
She takes in his form and searches for signs that contrast the blankness of his eyes, but she comes up empty. She nods and allows him inside.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?” he asks when she closes the door.
“No.” She’s not sure what happened to his caustic, biting wit. She’s also not sure why she misses it.
No, she can’t miss it.
Because if she grows nostalgic for the mischievious gleam in his eye or the way his the corner of his mouth turns up into that crooked smirk, that means she’s become attached. And for a spy, attachments are the keys to destruction in the hands of an enemy.
Natasha shakes away the thought and watches him intently. His interest tonight lies not in her flesh but in the books crammed into the bookshelf along the wall, and in the growing collage of photos above her desk. She’s amused to see a god gaze at earthly commonalities in such childlike wonder, enraptured by the things she takes for granted.
She moves to stand beside him and pulls a thick volume off of the shelf. “You might like this one, the way you and Thor talk.”
He glances at the title, smiling a little. “‘But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?’”
“Oh, you’ve read Shakespeare?” she asks, impressed as she searches for another book.
“Of course. I’m quite fond of Othello. ‘Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving.’”
“’Then, must you speak of one that lov'd not wisely but too well.’” She smiles at his look of surprise. “Thrust and parry, Loki.” Natasha pulls out an even thicker book than the last and hands it to him. “Try this, then?”
War and Peace. “Are you trying to be funny?” The smirk is back for just a brief moment.
“Pepper thinks I’m a delight.”
“You don’t strike me as particularly humorous.” It may just be her imagination again, but Natasha can swear she hears his teasing charm.
“We all have our secrets.”
“I’d like to know yours.”
Her cheeks blaze scarlet, and her heart thumps unevenly in her chest. She lets herself drown in the emerald pools of his eyes before resurfacing. “Then they wouldn’t be secrets anymore.”
The curve of his lips makes her crave his mouth over her skin, and she takes his face in her hands. Her mouth claims his and licks at his lower lip to sway him into yielding to her want. Loki pulls back, staring down at her with weary eyes as he heaves a tired breath. “I’d rather not.”
She doesn’t understand his sudden refusal, but, more than that, she doesn’t know what else she can possibly offer him. “Then why did you come?”
A smirk dances at the corner of his lips. “Oh, I haven’t yet.”
She tries to fight a smile. “Please be serious.”
“‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”
“You’re not going to give me a straight answer, are you?”
He shakes his head, reaching for her hand, and she gives it to him. “Am I bothering you? You must be tired.”
“No,” Natasha answers, and to her surprise it isn’t a lie. “I wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight.” There’s no sarcasm or bitterness there.
“Are you troubled?”
She meets his eyes, gauging how much information to leak. It was, after all, about half a year ago that Loki had nearly leveled New York City with the help of his Chitauri army and practically destroyed the SHIELD helicarrier. He’d also manipulated Clint into assisting with his schemes and killed God knows how many people. Just because he sits here now with his pleading, puppy-dog eyes and newly-amiable demeanor means nothing.
But Natasha knows the reasons he’s so broken, and she wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, even an enemy. So she uses that mutual sympathy as fuel for a guarded confession: “A little.”
His voice is soft and sincere. “What troubles you?”
“I’ve been...compromised.” It’s a perfect answer, because she knows he’ll understand it.
Pain registers on his face. “By who?”
Natasha doesn’t answer. She sits on the bed and curls beneath the sheets.
Loki can tell he won’t get much out of her this way, so he changes his tactic. “Tell me about yourself.”
She raises an eyebrow, unprepared for this. “What do you want to know?”
“Whatever you’d like to tell me.”
“Why don’t you start first?”
“Don’t you remember?” he says with a weak smile. “This time it’s my turn to ask the questions.”
“And what do I get in return?” She tries not to lick her lips or sound too sultry, but need simmers a slow burn in her belly that’s hard to quench.
A flash of pain crosses his face. “You get to ask the questions next time.”
“All right.” She reclines back against the pillows.
Loki sits on the edge of the bed, his body turned toward her. “Why did you let me in that night?”
“I told you. You don’t deserve to die.”
Her flippant answer--or perhaps the sentiment--rouses his anger like a coiled serpent. “You know that’s a lie,” he says with a harsh, cruel laugh.
“It isn’t. I wasn’t going to let you find someone who would give you what you desired.”
“You think that bearing the burden of my company is a penance for your past wrongs?”
She’s offended, but not by his intended slight. Natasha stares at him in disbelief. “You think I regret it?”
“I know you do.”
“No offense, Loki, but you don’t know anything,” she snaps, glaring at him in livid silence.
Her bitter words and the clench of her jaw tell him that he will gleam nothing from her tonight. “Well, then if you refuse to allow me the opportunity to learn, may I stay tonight?”
“I thought that isn’t what you came for.”
“It isn’t. I’ll only sit...in the corner. Reading. I won’t bother you.” The way he stumbles over his words excites her a little.
“See that you do.” Loki’s expression lights up. “Just remember, I have a rating with every weapon that shoots a bullet or holds an edge.”
“Sweet dreams to you too,” he teases as he takes his spot in the corner of the room and opens the worn copy of War and Peace.
Natasha wakes that morning to find Loki still in the corner, intently focused on the book in his hands. He lifts his gaze when he hears the mattress creak beneath her movement. “Good morning.” Ever the polite demigod.
“You’re still here?”
“Where else would I go?”
Loki watches her sit up, stretch, check her phone. He likes the way her messy ruby hair fans out, the way she drags a hand through it to tame it. He likes the way her breasts strain against the cotton of her shirt, and he thinks about parting her legs, his tongue making her squirm and squeal, but he knows that privilege is lost to him now.
She is so very fragile, and he is very much a monster.
“Come here.” Her words are a sultry command, almost as if she’d read his mind, and he obeys, sitting at her feet on the bed.
“I’m here.” She reaches out to grab him, to remove his clothes, but he stops her eager hands with long fingers around her wrists. “Don’t.”
Need blazes through her as her hot breaths hit his neck. “You didn’t raise any objections before last night. What happened?”
“You ended up with bruises afterwards.” His voice is smooth, stern velvet, and his heart twists in agony at the memory.
“Oh, please,” she scoffs, struggling to unlatch what might be considered his belt. “I can get a bruise from walking into a coffee table. Does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to walk?”
His hands pull hers away from him, knowing that his touch is forbidden. “We can argue matters of ethics all day, but I don’t think either of us have the time.”
“So shut up and get naked.” She’s half-joking, but the vulnerability on his face is enough to halt her frantic hands and squeeze her heart. “Shit, I didn’t mean it like that... I’m sorry.”
Loki inhales sharply, tears stinging his eyes as he struggles for control over the turbulent emotions roaring inside of him. It was one thing for his opinions and thoughts to be overruled and silenced by Odin and Thor, but by this fragile human who’d led him to believe she cared for him?
“I’m sorry,” Natasha pleads again, sorrow in her voice as she takes his hand, hoping her touch might outweigh his pain. “Loki...”
That makes him stop for a moment, his expression heartbroken, but then it morphs into something darker, angrier. He scoffs, detaching from her hold, and strides across the room to the door. “I have more dignity than to be used as merely a tool.” The anger in his voice is laced with bitterness, and he doesn’t know if he’s truly angry at her. “Why did you even bother?”
She starts to argue. “That’s not what I’m--” Isn’t it? Either Loki is only an asset to her lust, or he’s more than that, and things could get tricky. She doesn’t know which option is worse.
He simply shuts the door and takes his leave.
And that’s when it hits Natasha square in the chest. She hasn’t been using him as an object, because losing an object would not fracture her heart this way. But caring for Loki means that she’s become attached... and she can only lose what she becomes attached to. In her line of work, emotions get you killed. Or worse, they get the people you love killed.
In the end, all it’s going to do is hurt.
She tries to tuck this new revelation away for later, because it’s very hard to think with her hormones still raging from his proximity. She grits her teeth and dips a hand between her legs, shutting out all thought as she strokes away the mounting pressure in her center.
It’s not about him. It’s not about love or attraction.
She thinks about how Clint’s warm hand might feel there, how his mouth would feel. Nothing. She twists her hips in frustration, and flickers of him start to surface. The iron grip of his hands. His icy breath at her throat. His heavenly groans when he came, a sweaty, sated demigod.
“Fuck,” she whines as her hips move to meet her hand, irrationally aroused by the thought of him. She scrambles to think of Clint again, to think of how he might make love to her, but the memory of Loki’s powerful fervor is too vivid.
It’s not about him. It’s not about him.
She bites her bottom lip and pretends his name doesn’t slip out against the air when she comes.
Loki spends two weeks moping and stewing around Asgard, avoiding everyone but Frigga and Thor. He spends the first week in a childish tantrum of selfish anger over Natasha’s perceived slights. Did she really see him that way, as merely an object for sexual gratification and nothing more? Didn’t his attempts--albeit clumsy--at connecting with her mean anything? Didn’t her blasted promise mean anything?
When he really thought about it, though, he felt more and more like a hypocritical ass. In the beginning, he’d been using her as a distraction from the gaping void inside of him. He certainly had no room to throw stones.
So he spends the second week pondering if he should see her again and what that might mean. He knows he’s already in danger of loving her, and if their interactions continue on the way he hopes they might--with Natasha sharing stories about her life, her likes, her dislikes, and then himself doing the same--it will be too late.
Loki isn’t afraid of this intrinsically; it’s the knowledge that Natasha will never see him the way he hopes she would that wounds him. But why should she? After the things he’s done, what he is... Why should she view him as someone worthy of love?
Thor finds him brooding in the castle dining hall. “What troubles you, brother?”
Loki thinks about answering with “Nothing” but knows Thor would see right through that. “I have a question for you. That mortal girl you’re so fond of...”
“Right. Do you find it...difficult to be with her?”
Thor raises an eyebrow. “I know not what you mean.”
Now that he thinks about it, Loki really doesn’t want to have this conversation anymore, but he’s in too deep now. “When you two are...intimate”--he frowns around the word as if it leaves a sour taste in his mouth--“is it difficult to stay in control?”
“It is a challenge to control my strength,” Thor admits, “but Jane knows of my struggle and understands the risk.”
Loki wants to ask more, but he doesn’t want to sound like some sort of pervert living vicariously through his brother’s sex life. But Thor is the only person he knows with a similar dilemma, and Loki is curious. “Have you ever...lost control?”
“Why do you ask such questions, Loki? Have you found a suitable mate in Midgard?”
Loki rolls his eyes and scoffs, if only to hide the hysteria beneath the surface. “Oh, please. I’m only curious. It seems such a hopeless endeavor.” Thor does that eyebrow thing again that he does when he’s confused. “To have to be so careful. To never make mistakes lest you crush her bones beneath your hands.”
“It is both that fear and my love for her that grant me control. Passion is but a wild, untameable beast, but when I think of losing Jane, to never see her laugh or blush scarlet again--”
He really hates when Thor does this. Loki holds up a hand to silence him. “Save your soliloquies, brother. I get it.”
“Why your sudden curiosity?”
“Don’t you have better things to do than ponder my motivations behind a question?”
“Why did you opt to stay here last week instead of accompanying me to Midgard?”
“Why don’t you tend to the business of Asgard instead of interrogating for mine?” Loki hopes his jest might conceal the panic bubbling up inside him.
“Then I shall take my leave,” Thor says. “But just know I am ever curious as to your--”
Loki tunes him out after that, contemplating the information he’d gleaned from Thor and trying not to feel dirty for knowing it. He would have liked to live the rest of his life without hearing that much about his brother’s sexual proclivities.
Loki knows he’s capable of controlling his strength--Natasha’s lack of broken bones proves as much--and Thor had said that his fear of hurting Jane and his love for her prevented him from going too far. Loki has this same fear with Natasha, and at the very least a fondness for her. Would it really be that difficult? Thor proves it can be done, but Thor is not a monster. Thor is worthy of good things. Like a magnet, he attracts what he deserves: the mortal girl Jane, the throne of Asgard, Mjolnir, his father’s favor...
All Loki seems to attract are the very worst things, and perhaps Natasha is another of them. Maybe this can only end with her blood on his hands, her body crumpled and broken by his inhuman strength.
But maybe not.
Natasha exits the elevator after a late sparring session with Clint, and she rounds the corner to see Loki standing at her door, his hand poised to knock.
“I was starting to think you were out of my life,” she says dryly.
He turns his head to see her striding down the hallway. “But never your fantasies.”
She fights a smile. “Did you come to grovel?”
“In a manner of speaking.” He watches the way her shoulders move as she unlocks the door, wonders if he might be blessed with a lifetime of these observations. Natasha lets him inside, and his cheeks burn when their eyes meet. “I--I apologize for my rudeness during my last visit.”
Her gaze flickers away from him. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
He nods, agreeing.
She wants to take a shower first, but the prospect of interrogating him is much too alluring. “Will you be fulfilling your end of the bargain tonight?” she asks, taking a seat at the dining table and watching him carefully.
He sits across from her, his expression a mix of intrigue and discomfort. “And what would that be?”
“You said I could ask the questions this time. So I am.” She thinks for a moment about what to ask him that won’t trigger an unpleasant memory. “Tell me about Asgard.”
“That’s not a question.”
She rolls her eyes. “I didn’t know we were playing Jeopardy. Just tell me.”
Loki wonders what to say. “Well, it’s quite beautiful. I’m sure you’d enjoy it. Some call it the Golden Realm.”
“Because it’s so beautiful?”
“Because almost everything is made from gold,” he answers with a small laugh. “They’re very literal.”
Natasha notices the distinction; does he not include himself? “And what about you? What do you call it?”
He gives her a confused look. “Asgard.”
Interesting, she thinks. She rests her cheek in her palm and studies his face. She still doesn’t understand how he looks younger than he did when he attacked Midgard; the forlorn eyes flicking their gaze around the room barely resemble his hardened, wicked stare from the SHIELD helicarrier. “Where do you live in Asgard? Do you live in the castle with your brother--” The agony she sees when his eyes meet hers is enough to halt her tongue. “Shit, never mind. I’m sorry.”
He bows his head. “No, you asked. I will answer.” Natasha finds herself leaning closer, as if the gesture helps her absorb his secrets. “My place in Asgard has been...dubious at best, but since I...visited your realm, I’ve been less than welcome there. And since my father...” Loki stops, gulps against the lump in his throat, unable to say more.
Natasha opens her mouth to enquire further, but then it hits her. A wave of nausea curls in her stomach. “They blame you?” she asks in a horrified whisper.
He gives a broken, sorrowful nod, unable to meet her eyes and see the pity there. “They’re right to, of course. They don’t know the circumstances, but I suppose that doesn’t matter.”
“Loki...” Even when their limbs are not entwined, his name on her lips still sounds like a caress. “That’s not true.”
He scoffs a bitter, weak sound. “Isn’t it? Do you not blame me for the destruction and devastation I caused?” He gestures to the window, where outside buildings are still being repaired and rebuilt from the Chitauri attack. “Do you not blame me for what I did to Barton?”
Natasha thinks about that. It was easy to blame Loki, but was it right? She knows he’d been under someone else’s control, the same way Clint had been--she had, after all, been the one to see Loki crying, wracked with guilt while the others ate shawarma. She doesn’t blame Clint for his actions under Loki’s mind-control, so why blame Loki for what he’d done with someone else pulling the strings?
“No,” she says softly. “I don’t blame you.”
His expression is incredulous, furious even. “Don’t be ridiculous! I’m a monster! It’s in my blood!”
The last part throws her off for a moment. “Whoever controlled you did those things,” she corrects him in a gentle voice. “You don’t blame the gun, you blame who pulled the trigger.” Loki just scowls, needing her absolution but wanting none of it. “We all have skeletons. None of us are blameless, even your brother.”
His tone is as hard as his face. “No, you’re wrong. The monster lives in my veins, not his.” At her look of confusion, he tells her, “Thor and I share no blood. Thor is the son of Odin, and I am the son of Laufey.” He keeps his voice as rigid as his posture, but there’s something weak and childlike there. “Long ago, Odin warred with Laufey in Joutenheim to prevent the Frost Giants from conquering the Nine Realms. After the war, Odin came upon an infant abandoned in a temple.” He takes a short breath, rakes a hand through his already-disheveled hair. “He only told me the truth after I had already discovered my true heritage for myself. Odin lied to me my entire life and taunted me with the false promise of the throne, knowing full well it would only be Thor who succeeded him.” Loki sighs and closes his eyes, the confession a blow to his weakened heart.
Natasha wants to shoulder his pain somehow, to reach out to him and offer some sort of solace. But instead she sits quietly and waits for him to continue.
He licks his lips, and the sorrow in his eyes prevents her from finding the gesture arousing. “He would never let a Frost Giant sit on the throne of Asgard, but I wanted to show him I could do it, that I was just as worthy as Thor.” His voice breaks a little, and he doesn’t tear his hand away when she reaches for him. She feels the chill beneath her fingertips and understands now why his skin is cold when Thor’s is not.
“Why are you telling me all of this?” she asks softly when she thinks he’s finished.
“You’re the first person who’s wanted to know.” Loki smiles ruefully, and it doesn’t reach his eyes. “I know this was more than you cared to hear, and for that I am sorry.” He laces his fingers with hers, slowly, expecting her to pull away. He likes the way her warmth feels against his skin.
“I wouldn’t have listened if I didn’t care.” She realizes the weight of her words too late but doesn’t find herself regretting them. She does care about him, otherwise he wouldn’t even be here, sitting across from her and pouring out a litany of woe. Loki shifts closer, feeling like he needs to be nearer to her. “What did you want to ask me?” she says.
He hesitates before he speaks, wondering if this is a tender subject. “What happened to your parents?”
“They died a very long time ago.” Her voice is a quiet whisper, and Loki knows he’s tripped an emotional landmine.
“Fuck, I’m sorry,” he says with an angry sigh, raking a hand through his hair. “I--I didn’t mean to...”
It’s the first time Natasha’s ever heard him swear so...humanly. She isn’t sure what she had expected--something along the lines of “by Odin’s beard” or whatever ornate phrases Thor uses--but it certainly isn’t...that.
Loki’s still stammering over his words. “Never mind, tell me about Barton.”
“I would talk about my parents, but...I didn’t know them that well. My mother died when I was a baby, and when I was four my father passed away.” Loki notices how she slumps a little deeper into her seat. “Most of my childhood memories center around my foster father.”
So she was adopted too, Loki thinks, somewhat glad to have something in common with her, although tragic. He’d almost started to think they were complete opposites. “What was he like?”
“He was smart, funny...” She smiles sadly. “He would read to me each night before bed, and when he ran out of books he’d make up his own stories. They were always sort of silly, but...I enjoyed them.” Her voice turns wistful. “We would watch old movies together. His favorite was Casablanca, mine was Sunset Boulevard. He was a big fan of Humphrey Bogart.”
Loki sits and listens with rapt attention, and he wonders why she’s opening up to him. This is the most he’s ever heard her speak since that fateful night. When she pauses, he asks, “Did it bother you? That he wasn’t...” He tries to find the words, but they get lost on the way from his brain to his tongue.
“That he wasn’t my ‘real’ father? Of course not. He loved me. I love him,” she says. Loki doesn’t realize he’s holding his breath until his lungs begin to scream for air. “I figure if you were loved and wanted and cared for, that was enough, that it doesn’t matter by who.”
Loki thinks about that, and he knows tonight that her words will fester in his brain if he tries to sleep. “I’m sorry for bringing all of this up,” he says quietly.
“It’s all right.” Natasha can’t put her finger on what it is, but something about Loki makes her feel...happy. It’s strange to her how sharing information with him didn’t send her into a panic. But she doesn’t like these in-between moments when they’re not talking or fucking or teasing each other through the fabric of their clothes. It’s awkward and clumsy, and she doesn’t know how to act around him in these interims. She remembers a brief period like this with Clint, and she hopes that this one will soon fade like its predecessor. But maybe it shouldn’t.
She takes his hand again, smoothing her thumb over the rise of his knuckles. “And you are not a monster,” she says sternly. “Your blood does not define who you are. Dr. Banner is a perfect example of someone who’s taken something that could be a curse and turned it into a way to help people.” She watches his face to see if he’s absorbing this. “He’s learned how to control his anger, how to utilize it for good.” She gives him a small smile. “And if a puny little human can do something like that, imagine what a god can do.”
He laughs weakly, but his joy is so genuine it lights up his face. She’s never seen him look happy before--at least not without demented glee partnered with it--and her heart thuds in her chest at the sight of a real smile on the corners of his flawless lips.
Lips that should be elsewhere...
Natasha leans in closer, seducing him with her eyes. “I’m going to shower. Are you coming?”
She doesn’t have to ask him twice.
The bathroom mirror fogs up as he kisses her bare shoulder, his mouth moving over the back of her neck as her hands pry his from around her naked waist. “Loki, not yet,” she sighs, chagrined that she has to spell this out for him. He lets go of her, and she turns to face him. “I’m dirty.”
Loki just smirks. “I like you dirty.”
Did he just wink? Natasha shakes off the thought and steps into the stall, standing under the hot spray. She waits for him to undress, and soon he joins her in the shower, shutting the glass door behind him before pressing her up against the slickened tile and kissing her mouth.
She palms his marble chest, her hands traveling lower until she finds him, hard and wanting. Her fingers stroke and squeeze, and Loki growls at her lips, his hips grinding into her hand. He runs his tongue over her skin, his teeth scraping her throat hard enough to leave evidence of his desire but not enough to hurt.
Natasha claims his mouth, her hand still stroking and twisting. When she tries to guide him inside of her, Loki stops her wrist, his lusty gaze fixed on hers. “I can’t--” he stammers out, shamed and saddened by his feral want.
Her eager mouth accepts his apologies while her wet hands trace the chiseled lines of his stomach and the peaks of his jutting hip bones. He grabs her hips and pulls her closer, enjoying the warm press of her skin. He longs to satisfy her, to deposit his appreciation and gratitude for her kind words into her body, her heart.
He moans and hums along her skin as his mouth ventures lower until he’s kneeling, prepared to pay tribute to her flesh. Natasha’s hands wrap in his wet hair, and his nose skims the top of her thigh. He laughs a wry chuckle.
“What?” she asks, drunk with lust.
He looks up from his worship of her form to meet her gaze. “Never would I have thought that a god might kneel before a human.” She hooks a leg over his shoulder, and his mouth captures the spot that needs his touch the most.
He holds her hips steady in his hands while his lips and tongue work in chorus to exalt her. He feels the grasping digs of her fingernails over his scalp, and Natasha angles her hips to force him deeper, biting her lip when his tongue hits her clit. “Oh, fuck,” she cries out brokenly, and Loki grins, eager for more praise. He hums around her, his mouth sucking and swirling and licking until his name pours from her throat. Her body starts to tremble, and his hands hold her hips, signaling her safety as he moans around her tortured nerves. A broken string of needy sighs escapes her lips as her hips roll against his mouth. His tongue moves over her core, his teeth dragging behind.
Natasha shatters and breaks, screaming Russian swears interspersed with his name as she soars and spins through blazing white. Loki’s tired mouth lingers, his tongue lapping slowly as he drinks from her, overwhelmed at the blissful taste. Her fingers loosen their grip on his hair, and her body slumps into his hands as he holds her against the tile wall. She sighs for him contentedly, and Loki raises his head, ribbons of her lust on his lips. She stands on shaky legs to bring his mouth to hers, thankful and sated.
When she gets his back against the mattress later, she watches his curious expression, watches his gaze travel over her body as his hands glide over her thighs. Natasha shifts against him, brushing the head of his cock against her entrance, but Loki doesn’t thrust into her like she anticipates. Instead he rolls his hips enough to tease her, to test his control.
“You won’t break me,” she says, encouraging him. “I won’t let you.” She wants to give him this, because she needs him and needs him to know that her earlier comfort holds true.
He smiles and sighs a throaty growl when she sinks and connects them, her fingers pressing into his abdomen. His hips jerk reflexively, and she rides with the movement to lessen its force. His fingers press into her skin with minimal strength, and he tries to control the frantic way he thrusts when he feels the cold void around him. Loki slows, stills, and lets her set their pace as her hips dig and press. When he thinks he might crush her, he pries his hands from her body and grips the sheets beneath him instead, lost to her control.
Natasha rises and falls atop him, her mouth spilling praises in his honor, and he mirrors her moans when she moves harsher against him, his nails raking down her spine. She takes his weary hands, lacing her fingers with his, and they move together, high and low, until she crests and tenses around him. Loki follows her soon after, spent with a tired moan as she sits atop him, her fingers tracing the lattice of his ribs.
“Did I hurt you?” he asks in a soft whisper.
She shakes her head, folding at the waist to press her mouth to his. “You wouldn’t be so happy if you had.” He knows she intends it as a threat, but a long-dormant, sentimental part of him agrees.
They lay there together for a while, weighty and worn limbs entwined, their mouths latched, seeking solace on the other’s tongue. Natasha’s fingers stroke over his chest and find the gemstone dangling from his neck. He sees a small smile form on her lips.
Her voice is airy, angelic. “Is this new?”
“No, it’s quite old,” he answers, enraptured by her interest, watching her twirl it between her fingers. “I found it long ago in Asgard when I was a child. I thought it was so beautiful I had to keep it. It also made me feel unique, because I had been the one to find it, not Thor. Thor was always the one finding and earning special things.” He smiles wistfully at the memory and stops before he says anymore; Loki’s certain that crying after sex isn’t appealing to Midgardian women either.
Natasha presses her lips to the hollow of his throat, and Loki gently draws his fingers through her wet hair before his hands splay across her back. He’s amazed that she’s letting him hold her like this, that she trusts him enough to be so intimate, and his cold, dead heart soars and sings. He sighs happily into her hair as she traces swirls and lines over his skin.
After what seems like too long and not long enough, Natasha sits up and climbs off of him. “I should go get dinner. It’s Tony’s night to cook,” she says as she pulls on clean clothes.
Loki takes the hint and gets dressed as well. “Is he adept in the culinary arts?”
She glances at him over her shoulder. “Please, the man can barely cook an omelette without causing a kitchen fire. We just get take-out instead.” She smiles. “Do you want me to bring you something?”
His eyes go wide. “You...don’t want me to leave?”
“You can stay if you’d like. Just try not to make noise. I don’t think anyone would be too thrilled to know I’ve been harboring you.”
A heavy pang of guilt settles in his chest. “I won’t make a sound.”
“See that you don’t,” she says, crossing the room to take her leave. He searches the bookshelves for something to fill her absence.
Loki’s a hundred pages into Anna Karenina when Natasha comes back, and the stunned look on her face makes him smile. “Why the look of surprise?” he teases. “Did you not expect me here?”
“I guess not. I figured an immortal, powerful demigod would have better things to do than sit in my bedroom with a book in his lap.”
When the darkness envelopes them and Natasha lays her head down to sleep, Loki stays at her bedside, turning pages with delicate fingers while she slumbers. His watchful eyes flicker to her form when she groans in her fitful sleep. He wonders what nightmares plague her, what skeletons lurk in her closet. He wants to reach into her soul and stitch up the void left behind by whatever calamity drove her into his wretched arms. He wants to love her with all that his broken soul can offer.
The force of the word surprises him. Of course, he’s not opposed to love itself--he’d been striving to obtain his father’s love and acceptance his entire life--but the feeling is so foreign to him. It’s different from the love he feels for Thor, for Frigga and Odin, but in many ways it’s very much the same.
Loki watches her until his heavy eyelids close, and he drifts.
I hope that wasn't too ridiculously long!
Chapter 6: Sweet Dreams
Uh-oh, things are starting to get ~zany~.
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
~ Mother Teresa
He’s caught, trapped in the dark void with no escape. He runs until his lungs feel like bursting and his muscles burn. But there is no way out, no way to survive what’s coming. Every stride of his sluggish feet only prolongs the end--the end of everything.
Loki tries to scream, but there is no sound. The darkness engulfs him, eclipses everything, and his feet stumble over the rocky earth, sending him colliding with the ground. He scrambles to stand, but he can’t move his arms. Then his legs freeze, and he’s left staring up into the horrifying nothingness, the gallop of his heartbeat echoing in his ears.
His eyes widen to take in all possible light, trying to find a way out of this nightmare. Then the voice comes: You think you know pain?
No, no. He struggles mightily, but his body is unresponsive, unmoving.
He will make you long for something as sweet as pain!
Loki’s anguished shrieks drown out the words when his body feels severed in two, split by some otherworldly force.
A burning cold rips through him, and he feels like he’s falling through space, the only sounds that of his own screams.
If the Tesseract is kept from us, there will be no realm...
...no barren moon...
...no crevice where he can’t find you.
Something warm covers his mouth and smothers his cries. Loki hears an angel’s voice calling to him from some distant place, and he knows he must be dead now, for there are no angels in this lonely void.
“Loki, will you hush?” the angel hisses as he tumbles through the inky darkness. “It’s just a dream. Wake up.” He jolts awake to see Natasha kneeling over him, her olive eyes flooded with concern. “You’re not going to scream again, are you?” He shakes his head. “Okay, good, because I don’t know how I’d explain why you’re in my room.” She removes her hand from his mouth, and he stares up at her, trying to sort through what he remembers, what he’s sure is real.
“I don’t seem to be waking up. Perhaps I’ve died?” He laughs bitterly. “At least it was honorable, somehow...”
Natasha rolls her eyes. “Loki, you’re being an idiot. You are very much alive.” His gaze flits around the room, and he begins to recall details from the previous night that explain why he’s currently lying on the floor by Natasha’s bed.
His panicked breathing slows as he realizes that he’s safe...for now. “Alive,” he muses, still half-asleep. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
Her expression twists into something sad. “I thought you said you didn’t sleep?”
“Couldn’t,” he corrects her, pushing himself up from the floor and wiping the cold sweat from his brow. “But I succumb like any other.”
“Sounded like you were suffering more than sleeping.”
The corner of his mouth tugs into a sad smile. “That sounds about right.”
Natasha doesn’t pry, unwilling to prod at another painful memory. She stands to her feet and moves into the kitchen. “Are you hungry? I make great pancakes. Just ask Clint.”
He smirks. “I’ll take your word for it.”
Loki watches her cook after she shoos him away from trying to help. When she sets the plate down in front of him, he admires the intricate drizzles of white icing and the fluffy dollops of whipped cream.
“Eat,” she orders.
“But it’s so pretty.”
“It tastes even better.”
He raises an eyebrow. “You’re awfully smug, aren’t you?”
“I think I’ve earned it.”
He does as she asks, moaning around the taste. “Oh dear, you have earned it.”
“I made those for Clint one time after I accidentally broke his arm during a mission. Unfortunately, it was his dominant arm, so I had to feed them to him.”
Loki’s in the middle of portioning off more pancakes with his fork, but now his hand is frozen in mid-air as he stares at her, his mouth agape. “Are you--are you serious or are you joking?” She tries to keep a straight face but a giggle breaks through her stern façade. “So, wait, which part were you joking about?”
“The part about feeding him. Everything else is true, though.”
“Did he forgive you?”
“Well, we’re still friends, so I assume so.” She watches him for a bit, flattered by the tall demigod moaning at the taste of her sweets. “Is there anything like that in Asgard?”
“Not quite. Asgard is fond of richer, heartier foods. I myself have always preferred things a bit sweeter.”
“Then you’ll love it here. Everything has sugar in it. Especially everything I make.”
He looks up from his plate, feeling her eyes on him. “What are you staring at?”
Her cheeks pink with color. She’s been watching him cut up his food as if gliding a bow over the strings of a violin. “Your table manners are...very unlike your brother’s.”
Loki chuckles at that. “Thor is quite fond of discovering how much food he can fit into his mouth at once.” He chews, thinks. “If I recall correctly, that’s a traditional past-time in Asgard.”
Now it’s Natasha’s turn to stare at him incredulously. “I’m only vaguely surprised by this.”
After a moment, Loki asks, “So what do you prefer I call you now that we are more”--he trails off, searching for the proper words, finds none--“closely acquainted? Miss Romanoff seems so stilted and formal.”
“Like a Russian princess,” she says with a small laugh.
Loki smiles a crooked grin. “You don’t think you are?”
“The odds of that are very low,” she answers seriously before realizing his intentions. “Oh.” Her face flushes red as she tries not to appear too flattered by his compliment. “You--you can call me Natasha if you like.”
“What about ‘Tasha? Or Nat?” He raises an eyebrow, smirking a little.
She glares at him. “One step at a time, Loki.” She waits for a moment. “I don’t mean to pry, but...what were you dreaming about?”
“Some things are better left unspoken,” he says, taking another bite and saying nothing else of the subject.
She nods, understanding.
Loki studies her expression, hoping to take the conversation in a less dismal direction. “Your sweets remind me of when Thor and I were younger, there was this old woman named Greta who lived alone in the outskirts of Asgard. There were all sorts of rumors that she took children who passed by her house and, depending on the source, cooked them into pies, which she would bring to social gatherings. Or, she would kill them and bury their bodies in the woods.” He shovels in another forkful.
Natasha sort of glares at him with a grimace of disgust. “Why did you have to get all graphic about it?”
He snorts a laugh. “Don’t tell me the master assassin is squeamish?”
“No, but...really? Cannibalism? Dead bodies? This is scintillating breakfast conversation.”
Loki does his best to look offended. “At least I’m keeping things interesting. And who even says ‘scintillating?’”
She rolls her eyes with a “what am I going to do with you” smile. “Just finish your story, and try to leave out the gross parts.”
“I was simply setting the scene,” he answers haughtily. “But yes, well, Thor and I had heard the rumors, but we weren’t intimidated. Why, we were the, uh, the sons of Odin! We had nothing to fear! So we knocked on the door, and she let us inside. She wasn’t a crazy cannibal or murderer at all; she was just a lonely old woman who’d lost her children in the war, and every day she would bake treats in remembrance, and give them to the children who weren’t afraid of her. Thor and I stopped in to see her each day until the day she died.”
Natasha smiles despite herself. “So I remind you of a rumored serial killer slash cannibal? I’m flattered, Loki. Really.”
He laughs, and she can’t help but be dazzled a bit by the way it lights up his face. “That is not where I was going with that at all.”
She watches the smile linger on his lips. “What was it like growing up with Thor? Was he always so...”
“Loud, with little to no regard for personal space, the distinct lack of an indoor voice, and dumb as a bag of hammers?”
“I was trying to find a polite way to say that.”
“I don’t think that’s possible. But yes, he’s always been that way. It’s in his nature.”
“I’m going to tell him you said that,” she teases.
“But then he’ll know I was here,” Loki says with a frown. “And you know he can’t keep secrets. It all seems a bit messy.”
“So you just plan on sneaking around forever?”
He shrugs. “It’s working out nicely so far, don’t you think?”
The look she gives him conveys a clear and definite no. “Don’t you think you should at least tell them that you’ll be coming and going? What if you try to sneak out in the middle of the night and someone catches you?”
“I think I’ll be okay.”
“What if it was Dr. Banner?”
He thinks for a moment. “We may have a problem.”
“Tony’s still mourning the fact that we made him repair the holes you left in the floor.”
Loki frowns. “Should I comfort the bereaved?”
“Just think about it, okay?”
“Why do I get the feeling that this is just an elaborate ruse to make me look silly?”
She gives him a once-over. “I think you do a pretty good job of that yourself.”
Loki looks down at his clothes. “You think I look ridiculous, but Captain America gets a free pass?”
“To his credit, Captain America knows how to close his legs when he sits.”
He becomes aware of the rather ostentatious way he sits, and he crosses one leg over the other, chagrined. “It’s not my fault you can’t control yourself,” he teases.
“Well, there’s that too,” she says with a shrug. He loves the way her lips purse when she’s trying to hide a huge smile--like she’s doing right now. He thinks about kissing her again, and--
Maybe not. Natasha stands up from the table and walks over to the nightstand, as if reading his mind. She grabs her phone, stares at it for a moment. “Thor ‘must return to the realm of Asgard.’ I think he meant to send this to someone else.”
Loki scoffs a laugh. “He’s just the greatest, isn’t he?” He looks down at the unfinished pancakes in front of him. “Wait, I can’t leave yet! I’m not done!”
“Well, if you’d spent less time talking about cannibalism, you wouldn’t have this problem.” She gives his shoulder a friendly pat, and he tries to shovel in the last few bites as she ushers him to the door.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” he says around forkfuls of food. Natasha just shakes her head and smiles as she snatches the plate and fork from his hands and closes the door.
As always, thank you all for your lovely comments and kudos, and bless you for subscribing to this. <3
Chapter 7: Chrysalis
Background Tony/Steve! Meet the rest of the Avengers (sort of)! Pepper plays therapist! Excitement!
Chrysalis: a protective covering
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
And there is ev'n a happiness
That makes the heart afraid.
~ Thomas Hood
Natasha bides her time by cleaning up and changing clothes, trying to ignore the fire burning beneath her cheeks when she thinks of Loki. Her personal life used to be comforting, the one thing she was certain would not shift or change even when a mission dropped her on the other side of the world. She would wake leisurely and share breakfast with the other Avengers in the family-sized kitchen upstairs. In her bedroom, she would read a few pages of a novel from her bookshelf until she fell asleep. She did not deviate until that fateful night Loki had shown up at her door, out of his head with grief.
She had not bargained for this. Had she known she would come to care for him, she would have thought twice about letting him inside that night.
In all of her life, she’s never come across someone for whom she felt such an inexplicable pull. Her profound bond with Clint had been the strongest relationship she’d ever had--at least until Loki showed up; he’d made her question everything she’d believed in and made everything feel wrong and right all at once.
She leans over the sink to dry heave, hoping to expel this twisted desire from her chest--her blood, her heart--before it ends her. Unable to do so, she slides to the floor in frustration. She rests her head on her knees and allows herself sixty seconds to break apart, letting the sobs wrack her body until she’s out of time. She tucks the agony away for later, stands up, and carries on.
Steve, Tony, Pepper, Bruce, and Clint are gathered in the upstairs kitchen for breakfast when Natasha joins them. Tony stands in front of a menacing-looking contraption on the kitchen counter while Steve supervises. Everyone else looks like they’re bracing for impact, as if the machine will backfire any second.
“Do I even want to know what’s going on?” Natasha asks.
Tony beams her a proud smile. “You’re about to witness the first waffles ever made in this kitchen by Tony Stark.”
Natasha looks at the machine, then back to Tony. “You know that’s not a toaster, right?”
“It’s a new and improved toaster,” he says, “with labor-saving capabilities and artificial intelligence.” The machine’s hands grope around on the counter before grabbing a fork and a stick of butter. “Whoa, whoa.” Tony reaches for the items and replaces them with frozen waffles. Steve gives him a disapproving glance. “Okay, so the AI’s still at an early stage.”
“What stage? Research and development?” Bruce quips. Steve chuckles at that, earning a wounded glare from Tony.
“Just for that, you don’t get any waffles.” Tony presses a button on the machine’s base, and its hands drop the waffles into a square container in its center. Then the hands reach out again, finding the syrup bottle and a knife. The knife slices a small wedge of butter off of the stick and stabs it in the middle. Thirty seconds later, the waffles drop out, cooked to perfection, and fall onto the plate waiting beneath the toasting mechanism. The hands drizzle syrup and lather butter, then retract into their long sheaths at the top of the machine.
Everyone waits with bated breath, anticipating some comical mishap. Nothing. “Even I am surprised that worked,” Tony says, retrieving his plate. “You’re all welcome to help yourselves. Except Steve.”
“Aww, Tony, c’mon,” Steve whines.
“See, if you hadn’t scoffed at my valiant attempts to make breakfast for us, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Natasha laughs to herself, drowning out the rest of their bickering as she sits beside Pepper at the counter. She takes an apple from the fruit bowl and pares it with a knife.
“Oh my God!” Pepper says in a hushed whisper. “What happened to you?” Natasha looks at Pepper, who’s staring at her so intensely Natasha thinks she might be on fire. “Or who, for that matter.”
Oh fuck. Natasha realizes what Pepper’s looking at: the twin oblong splotches on her neck. Hickeys. Evidence.
She tries to stay calm and answers, “Oh, it’s nothing,” as she casually brushes her thick curtain of red curls to hide the marks from other prying eyes. Natasha’s lucky Clint’s too absorbed in watching Tony’s breakfast machine perform its tasks, otherwise she’d have some explaining to do.
“Was it Clint?” Pepper asks, her gaze flicking over in his direction. “I bet it was Clint.”
“It wasn’t Clint,” Natasha hisses. “It’s not anyone you know.” Sort of a lie, but admitting it’s someone Pepper knows will only end in a guessing game.
“Oh, is he cute?”
Natasha realizes this is not a conversation she can easily avoid. Heat burns beneath her cheeks. “He’s attractive, I guess.” If you’re into demigods with mile-long legs and perfect cheekbones.
“Do you like him?”
“More than I should.”
Pepper raises an eyebrow. “Trouble in paradise?”
“No, it’s not paradise. It’s confusing and awful and the worst possible thing that could happen.”
“I’m not following you.”
Natasha sort of turns in her seat so her body faces Pepper. “If I start...feeling things, that means I care about him. If I care about him, he becomes a liability.”
“We all sort of take that risk anyway. I mean, say some nutjob like Loki wanted to hurt Tony.” Natasha feels her skin flush at the name. “They could take Steve--really hitting him to the core, but also pretty hard to overpower--or they could take me instead. I’m easier to abduct--they’d probably pick the puny, non-superhero girl over the guy who could bench-press Thor.” She shrugs.
“You’re just assuming he’s someone equally as strong as me, aren’t you?”
Pepper gives her a “duh” look. “Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“But that means he’ll be putting himself in the line of fire as well.”
“So do all of these guys. You care about them like family. If one of them didn’t come back...” She swallows the lump in her throat.
“So, what do you think?”
“I don’t think the potential for pain is worth giving up on being happy. If you really like this guy, and I think you do”--she grins--“then go for it.”
“What if I don’t really like him? He challenges me, and he sort of scares me. But what if that’s all there is behind the attraction?”
“Then it’ll wear off. But I think it’s deeper than that.”
Natasha sighs. “If the world worked the way it’s supposed to, I would be making googly-eyes at Clint, not...this asshole.”
“If the world worked the way it’s supposed to, Tony would have died in that desert. Steve wouldn’t have been frozen for almost seventy years. Bruce wouldn’t have the Other Guy. Sometimes miracles happen. And I like to think that they happen for a reason.” Natasha wonders about that for a moment. “If you do keep seeing him, are you ever gonna let me meet him?”
“He’s sort of...hesitant about meeting everyone.”
“Aww, he’s shy? Then just get me a picture.”
Natasha makes a face. “Wha--No, that’s weird!”
“Just tell him it’s for a friend.”
“Right, that’ll make it less awkward.”
“Well, he doesn’t have to know.”
“That’s even weirder!”
“You could be really sneaky about it--”
Natasha turns to face forward. “No.”
“Just tell me his name then.”
“This conversation is over.” Natasha leaves the table to try her luck with Tony’s new machine. It turns out that an apple isn’t very filling. She reaches into the cupboard for a plate when she feels someone sidle up beside her. Taking care to keep her neck obscured, she turns her head to see who it is.
“Oh, ye of little faith, are you finally relenting to the genius of my labor-saving devices?” Tony teases her.
“Not all of us are as lazy as you,” she says, slowly backing away from the cupboard and making her way to the kitchen counter. She drops two frozen waffles into the toaster.
“It’s not being lazy, it’s being efficient,” he argues. “Time management is a skill, Natasha.” Tony doesn’t say anything for a moment until he snorts a laugh and brushes her hair back. “Whoa, I didn’t think Barton had it in him.”
Clint’s head whirls to face them as if attached to a string. “Didn’t have what in me? What?”
In horror, Natasha flinches away and smashes her socked foot down onto his. Tony yelps in pain, and Steve chuckles with amusement. “That’s what you get, Tony,” he teases.
Tony makes a pouty face at Steve that elicits an eyeroll from Natasha. “Why must you laugh at my pain?”
“Because it’s funny,” Steve admits with a shrug and an impish smirk as he moves over to Tony, encircling his arms around his waist. “You sort of deserve it sometimes.”
“Now that’s just rude, Steve, and I’m going to have to consider revoking your ‘special’ privileges.” Steve just smiles and steals a kiss. “Like that one.” Natasha watches them, amused by their moment of joy and life and love.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have something like that for herself.
The next week, Loki shows up at her door with a bouquet of gorgeous silver and gold flowers. Natasha nearly drops the coffee mug she’s holding.
“What are those?”
Loki gives her a mischievious smile. “I believe you call them flowers.”
Her jaw tightens. “I know that, smart-ass.”
“I don’t think my ass is particularly smart,” Loki says with an impossibly straight face.
Natasha hopes she’s not as red as she feels. “Why do you have flowers?” she asks in an attempt to distract herself from thinking about his aforementioned ass.
His confident expression falls, replaced with sad eyes. “You don’t like them?”
“No, no, I do! They’re beautiful, I just...don’t know why.” She lets him inside and sticks the flowers in a vase, enjoying their pleasant lavender aroma. “Tony’ll be pissed if he finds out you raided his greenhouse.”
Loki laughs a self-conscious chuckle and looks at the floor. “They’re not from this realm; they’re from Asgard.”
Natasha freezes in shock, almost dropping the vase. Loki needs to stop saying these kind of things when she has breakable objects in her hands. “You’re serious?”
“Quite. They’ll have to do until I find a way to truly capture the beauty of Asgard for you.” She swears he’s blushing.
“Th--thank you, they’re lovely.” She gives him an almost apologetic smile as fire scorches her cheeks. Even one of Tony’s clumsy robots could tell that Loki is smitten with her at this point. She wonders if her feelings for him--whatever they are--are as obvious as his.
“Are you drinking coffee?” he asks her after an unbearably long period of awkward silence.
She wonders what the hell he’s talking about before noticing the coffee cup she’d placed on the table. “Oh! No, it’s hot chocolate. See?” She tips the mug a little to show him. He looks thoughtful. “Try it.” She hands him the mug, and he takes a sip. His face scrunches--which she finds kind of adorable--and he licks his lips.
“Why is it warm?” he asks.
“It’s supposed to be that way. That’s why it’s called hot chocolate and not room-temperature chocolate or cold chocolate.”
Loki furrows his brow; he’s pretty good at that, she thinks. “Aren’t beverages supposed to be cold? This is peculiar.”
Natasha wants to say something clever about how good things sometimes come in unexpected packages, but his curious stare is not helping her form profound thoughts, so instead she just asks, “You don’t like it, do you?”
“It’s different,” he says, taking another sip before she pries the mug from his hands.
Natasha’s trying very hard not to laugh at him. “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t like it.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. I said it’s different. I can acclimate to ‘different.’”
“You were clearly using ‘different’ as a euphemism for something else,” she argues, taking the last swallow. He just frowns, but it’s sort of pouty and makes her blush a little. “So,” she says, attempting to distract him from noticing the effect his face has on her nervous system, “is that the only outfit you own?”
When the hell did talking to Loki become so difficult, she wonders. Stupid fucking feelings.
He laughs a bit. “It didn’t used to be. When I had my magic, I could change my attire at will.”
“Too bad you didn’t get stuck with a nice suit. At least you wouldn’t look as ostentatious.”
“Do you continue to slight my clothes because you think they look better on the floor?” he asks with a grin.
“Well, that’s one reason,” she teases back, playfully nudging his shoulder.
They fall back into their usual routine of trading talking for touching, hands and mouths roaming over exposed skin. He nips at her shoulder and the back of her neck as he works into her, his hands locked around her wrists and pressed against the headboard. Her sighs spur him on, her hips jerking back needily as her inner muscles start to tense around him. When he comes he’s in Valhalla and Niffleheim all at once, bending the headboard rather than her bones beneath his hands. Loki moans soft satisfaction in her ear as they recover, and it isn’t until Natasha rolls them over that she speaks again.
She sighs something in Russian, staring up at the ceiling with a naked god in her bed beside her. She runs a hand through her messy hair, and Loki sees the violet bruises beginning to bloom on her wrists. He gently takes the bone between his fingers, examining her porcelain skin like a fine diamond. His voice is low and laced with agony. “I hate that I do this to you. I wish it were...easier for me.”
She shrugs. “It’s not your fault. You’re learning. I’m sure your brother had to do the same thing.”
Loki frowns, both at the mention of Thor and her erronous assumption that they are equals. “Don’t delude yourself. The son of Odin would never struggle.”
“Is that what he told you?” she asks with a knowing smile, rolling onto her stomach to watch his face. “Of course he isn’t going to admit his shortcomings to his little brother. You’ve looked up to him since you were kids, right?”
He nods, wondering about that.
“He’s not perfect, no matter what he tries to tell you.” She smiles a little, and Loki feels something strange bloom in his belly and flood his throat. He doesn’t understand why she cares enough to console him and insist that his shortcomings don’t make him a monster. No one other than Thor has ever done more for him.
Loki moves to kiss her, to show his gratitude with light lips, and they move slowly, devoid of haste and primal need, instead exchanging chaste kisses and breathy sighs. Her fingers glide through his hair while her magic lips dance in chorus with his, giving and taking, pushing and pulling.
There’s been a shift, he thinks, in her view of him, that she might see him as someone worthy of her love. The thought warms him like a slow fire and makes him feel like a new man, a man who could resurface from the drowning waters of his past and prove her right.
Soon, her eyelids grow heavy, and she rests her head in the crook of his arm as the peace of sleep blankets her. He watches her through the night, unable and unwilling to sleep, preferring the sight of her tranquil face to the black, dreadful torment that waits for him.
At some point in the night she stirs, her limbs thrashing violently against an imaginary attacker, agonized wails pouring from her throat. He gathers her in his arms, letting her fists beat against the stone of his chest as he murmurs soothing words in her ear until she calms.
When her eyes open, she shoves him away and turns her back to him. He can see the slight quiver of her shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” Loki whispers, fearing he’s somehow the cause of her pain. “I won’t let anything hurt you. You’re safe.”
Natasha swallows something hard in her throat. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”
His heart breaks anew, loathing the words he’d spoken about Barton so long ago. “I won’t disturb even a hair on his head.” A clamour of panic swirls in his brain at the thought of having lost the trust he’d struggled to build with her.
She just shakes her head, curling close to press his cool skin against her hot forehead. He loathes that she’s still afraid of him, that he hasn’t yet done enough to earn her faith, but he’s a little scared of her himself; Natasha is just as cunning as he is, and he is fool enough to trust her.
Loki watches over her until the sun breaks through the clouds.
Thank you all for the comments, kudos, and subscriptions. I appreciate it more than you know~
Chapter 8: Choice
Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit.
~ Hosea Ballou
After making breakfast for Loki that morning, Natasha heads upstairs to the kitchen once he takes his leave. Tony and Steve bicker like an old married couple over toast and eggs, and Pepper gives Natasha a knowing look as she sits beside her.
“Rough night?” Pepper asks.
Natasha panics for a split-second, wondering if Pepper sees the bruises decorating her wrists before she remembers she’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt to conceal them. Pepper must be referring to the tinge of red in her eyes. “Oh, yeah. Bad dream.” She shrugs to hide her embarrassment.
“It’s an off-night when someone here doesn’t wake up screaming,” Pepper quips, stabbing a sausage link with her fork.
Understatement of the century.
Clint stops Natasha in the hall later as she makes her way back to her room. “You, uh, you coming to movie night tonight?” he asks, feigning casual.
She doesn’t break stride. This is not a conversation she wants to have, because she knows Clint can sniff out any miniscule change in her behavior. And if he figures out that Loki is the cause of it all... “I always do. As long as we don’t have to watch The Notebook or any of those shlocky romance movies.”
“But you loved Titanic.”
She frowns. “Titanic isn’t exclusively a romantic movie. It’s a historical piece.”
Clint knows not to argue this line of logic with her. “Well, if you don’t want to watch The Wizard of Oz again, you might have to have a word with Steve.”
Natasha shudders, her entire body getting into the act. “Yes, I’ll have to speak with him about that,” she says, swallowing back panic as she arrives at her door.
“You’d tell me if something was bugging you, right?” Clint asks.
“You know the answer to that.”
“Because, I don’t know, you just seem...off lately.”
Proving his theory, it takes her a few tries to get the key into the lock. “I’m fine.”
“See, that?” he says, referring to her shaky hands. “That’s the opposite of fine. Talk to me, Nat.” She heaves a sigh, opening the door and letting him inside. This was not how she planned to spend her afternoon. “What’s on your mind?”
“It’s nothing you can fix.”
“I can listen, if that will help.”
She looks at his pleading face and feels a pang of regret that she didn’t fall for Clint. This would all be so much simpler if she had.
“I never pegged you as a flowers type of girl,” he teases, noticing the vase on the table.
“I’m not, really. They were a”--she searches for the word--“gift.”
“From a man?”
She rolls her eyes. “God, you sound like Pepper.”
Clint laughs weakly before taking her hands in his. “You know you can tell me anything, right? No matter how awful you think it is.” She feels the burn of his skin on hers but only craves cold, her fingers squeezing his as she tries to ignite the fire between them, hoping it could be real.
She slips her hands out of his grasp, disappointed at the lack of electricity between them. “I told you, it’s nothing for you to worry about--”
His eyes are nowhere near her face. She follows his line of sight, realizes with horror that her sleeves are pushed back enough to hint at the fresh, dark bruises around her wrists.
Dark fury smolders behind Clint’s eyes, and Natasha can only imagine the murderous thoughts running through his head. “Tell me who did this, and I’ll put an arrow through his eye,” he growls through clenched teeth.
“Is that what you’ve been hiding all this time?” He pushes back her sleeves to expose more of the bruises. “Jesus, Nat.” He shuts his eyes, his body quaking with rage that needs an outlet. “I’ll fucking kill him.”
“I’ll fucking kill him--”
“No! Clinton Francis Barton, you lay one hand on him and you’ll never sleep again.” He looks at the floor, chagrined by her scolding. “This isn’t as bad as it looks, okay? He’s just strong, that’s all. Like Thor or Rogers...or Banner.”
Clint shakes his head, still breathing heavily. “He’s a monster, Nat. Look at yourself.”
“No, he isn’t!” she snaps defensively. “He’s learning how to control his strength. It’s going to be fine.”
He stares down at his feet. “Do you trust him?”
It takes her a second to answer. “I think I do.”
Clint makes a face. “You think? Nat, if this guy is that strong, you’re gonna need a hell of a lot more than ‘I think.’”
“I know.” Thinking about what Loki might do if she rejects him makes her shudder.
“Just be careful, okay? I trust your judgement, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still worry, y’know?”
“I think worrying contradicts the very definition of trusting my judgement.”
“It’s not you I don’t trust.” She shrugs, unable to argue that. “Do I know this guy?”
“I’m just curious.”
“You’re not going to follow him with a full quiver, are you?”
“Of course not. I only need one shot.”
“Clint.” She sort of growls.
“Okay, okay. I won’t push you.” He concedes, and they sit in comfortable silence before Natasha looks at him again.
“There is something I want to try,” she says softly, seeing the silent agreement in his eyes. He nods, licks his lips, as if reading her mind. Natasha leans in and brings his mouth to hers. His lips are soft, warm, hot as they glide against hers, and she tries not to think of the different set of lips she’d rather have here. His hand cups the back of her skull with gentle pressure, holding her to him as they mirror each other’s movements. She searches for the spark, for the crackle of electricity that rockets up and down her spine when it’s Loki who’s kissing her.
No spark. No fire.
She grunts angrily, and Clint mistakes it for a moan, pleased that she’s responded to him. His tongue licks lovingly at the corner of her mouth, and she crawls into his lap, yearning to feel the familiar fire. Out of all the people she knows, Clint would be the one to ignite the spark.
His hand slides up her shirt, his fingers trailing fire along her spine. He touches her with ease, his limbs languid against hers as he moves. The taut tension in his muscles isn’t there the way it is with Loki, that careful precision that prevents him from crushing her bones. With his mouth still fluttering kisses over her lips, his other hand grazes up her stomach, and his thumb rolls over her nipple through the fabric of her bra.
Guilt strikes her like the lash of a whip. She pulls away, detaching their mouths, frustration lodging in her stomach. “I’m sorry.”
Clint’s brow furrows with concern. “It’s all right, Nat. Sometimes you just don’t feel that spark, y’know?”
His words pierce through her heart like one of his finely-aimed arrows, and she bites the inside of her cheek to quell the tears that threaten to form. “Yeah, I guess not.” Clint’s pain seems too high a price to pay for her own happiness. “I shouldn’t have done that.” She climbs off of him, needing to put distance between them.
“Then why did you?” His voice is soft, but Natasha still hears the accusation buried there, even if that’s not his intention.
Nausea sinks in her stomach. “I had to be sure...”
“So, wait, you were just confused whether or not you really like this guy?” To her surprise, Clint laughs. “Thank God! I thought it was something serious, like you were being stalked or blackmailed or something!”
Anger begins to seep in at his reaction. She’s just hurt him irrevocably, and he’s laughing about it? She smacks his arm. “What the fuck? Why aren’t you angry with me?”
“Why should I be? I was worried that your life was in danger, Nat! This is nothing,” he says with a reassuring smile. Natasha closes her eyes to block out his misplaced joy. “There’s holes in your life that I can’t fill. I’m okay with that.”
She winces inwardly, feeling wretched at his regard. “Stop trying to make me feel better.”
He chuckles. “If you insist.” Clint stands up, his feet carrying him to the door. “Just don’t shut me out, okay?”
She nods absently, swallowing back something hard in her throat. “I won’t.”
Thor notices a change in Loki’s demeanor throughout their weeks together, most notably before returning to Asgard. Loki always meets his brother with a joyous glimmer in his eye reminiscent of his youth, as if someone’s pulled the toxic lead out of his soul and pumped something in that’s pure and beautiful. Thor also notices the way that joy drains--slowly, like a crawling death--while Loki bides his time in Asgard.
Thor finds Loki in a calming meadow surrounded by the labyrinth of trees known as the Forest of Sigurd. Brilliant golden and silver flowers gleam in the buttery sunlight, and the grass ripples in waves with the wind. Loki’s stretched out among the flowers, his face tranquil as he soaks in the warmth of the sun. Thor wonders how his brother finds peace here, if he has a fond memory of this place in which to swim, or if he simply enjoys the sounds of the rustling trees and the heat of the sun.
Thor tries to be stealthy as he approaches his brother, but Loki hears his heavy footsteps against the grass. “What is it, Thor?” he asks, still staring up at the cottony clouds floating in the azure sky.
“I’ve come to offer you relief.”
Thor sits beside him, his brows knit in confusion. “Staying in Asgard ails you, does it not?”
“I suppose you could make that assumption.”
Thor wonders what other infirmities torment his brother. “I see now that you are unhappy here, and that your travels to Midgard are much more rife with pleasure.” Loki smiles wryly; if Thor only knew. “Would you like to make a more permanent arrangement?”
Loki opens his eyes, startled by the sudden goodwill, benevolence he knows he does not deserve. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you would not be bound to return to Asgard unless you wished to.”
Stay in Midgard? It was incomprehensible, impossible. “Odin would not wish it so.”
“Remember that I am king, and my word decrees above all.” Loki thinks about this for a moment, the great lie of freedom offered to him. “I do not believe you are truly lost, Loki. I believe that there is hope for you. If you have found happiness in Midgard, I must allow you to pursue it,” Thor continues. “However, the decision is in your hands.”
It takes Loki the length of one heartbeat to make his decision, but he pretends to consider it for Thor’s sake; casting away his homeland so quickly would no doubt wound his brother. Loki sits up, plucking a flower from the grass and twirling the stem between his thin fingers. “If I agree to this, where would you suggest I stay?”
“With me, of course, and my comrades.”
“I doubt the people of Asgard will have much of a quarrel with my absence, but I cannot see your companions inviting me with open arms.”
Thor grins. “I have my ways to convince them, and they trust my judgement. If I say you are no threat, they shall believe it so.”
Loki lets himself indulge in the greatest wish fulfillment: what if Thor is right? What if he’s been so stubbornly convinced he’s irredeemable that the truth echoes in his ears like a lie?
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Loki asks with a smirk, his heart and hopes soaring. “Work your magic.”
Nothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like mercy and love.
~ Thomas Brooks
Thor takes Loki to Stark Tower the next morning, and Loki feels strange walking through the halls without the need for secrecy. He’s only ever seen Natasha’s room; he has no knowledge of where the other labyrinthine hallways lead or what lies behind the numerous additional doors.
They ride the elevator up a few stories, and Thor leads him upstairs to the kitchen, where everyone is gathered for breakfast. “Comrades, I must request you lend me your ears for a moment,” Thor booms.
All heads turn to look at them, and their playful chatter falls to a hush when they see Loki standing there. He wants very much to shrink to the size of an ant and skitter away. His gaze instantly finds Natasha, and he can’t decode the expression on her face. Is it worry? Fear? Recognition?
Tony is the first to speak. “I’m gonna throw out a wild guess and say that this isn’t a social visit.”
“Perhaps it can be,” Thor says. “But first I must ask a favor of you all.”
“The floor is yours.” Tony turns his attention back to his half-eaten doughnut.
Loki swallows, nervous beneath the five pairs of curious eyes as Thor begins to speak. “With my father’s passing”--Loki tries his hardest not to let the pain show--“it seems my brother grows despondent with Asgard and more fascinated by your realm,” Thor says, and the others share looks of uncertainty. “I feel that he’s happier here. I believe that my brother can be redeemed, and perhaps he may be of some use to you.”
Steve opens his mouth to speak, an offended look on his face, but Thor raises a hand to silence him.
“Please, let me finish. I want my brother to be happy. But I do not care to infringe upon your desires. I believe the only fair way to decide is to give everyone a vote. Is that not the way it is done here in your realm? Loki’s magic is no more; he is no longer a threat to you or anyone else. I would like for you to vote on the matter of letting my brother stay here.”
Loki looks at Natasha, desperate to know the thoughts in her head, but Steve is the first to offer his opinion. “No way!” he shouts. “I don’t want him staying here after what he did!”
Thor sort of shrugs. “Lady Pepper?”
Pepper gives him a look as if he’s just asked the dumbest question ever uttered. “Uh, no!”
Loki glances over at Thor. “‘If I say you are no threat, they shall believe it so,’” he mumbles in a mocking tone. “Do you ever tire of being wrong?”
Thor ignores him. “Banner?”
“Yes,” Bruce says calmly. Everyone is surprised, even Thor. But especially Loki. “Let me explain. Most people run away when they find out there’s a...monster inside of me. But you all didn’t. You gave me a chance. I think, deep down, that’s what everybody needs.”
Interesting, Loki thinks, that Banner’s loathing of his inner beast still allows him to see the good in others, even when those others are beasts as well.
Loki holds his breath, waiting for the words from her lips that might negate all the rest.
“Yes,” she says, trying casual. “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of. If he can be redeemed, then maybe I can be too.”
He’s grateful to her for sharing something personal that might sway the others’ votes. His heart flutters at the thought that she might actually want him around.
Clint’s jaw is taut, his lip curled slightly. “You say he’s harmless?” he asks Thor.
“My brother no longer wishes to ail you. His dreams of ruin are no more.”
Clint frowns. “So, what, did he just wake up one day and say ‘hey, I’ll stop being a murderous psychopath’?”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Loki says in a small yet still powerful voice. “It helps immensely when the thoughts in your head are not your own, doesn’t it?” He keeps his eyes on Clint.
“So, wait a sec,” Tony starts, “you’re saying some hoodoo priest laid his mojo on you the same way you did with Clint?”
“You could say that, yes.”
Clint looks less wary now, but Loki can still see hints of suspicion in his stare.
“And we’re not out looking for this guy...why, exactly?” Tony asks. “Sounds to me like he’s on the top of the psycho food chain.”
“As long as the Tesseract remains in Asgard, you are safe,” Loki explains. “I was offered an army in exchange for it.”
Tony steps out from behind the kitchen counter, pacing a little. “And if memory serves me correctly, we beat you and your army. So you’ve pissed this guy off somethin’ fierce, and he’s probably gonna be looking for you. If you stay here, that paints a big ol’ target right on us. Can you see why I’m not excited about this?”
Loki finds it intriguing that Tony’s biggest concern is that he and his allies will be attacked, not that Loki himself might do the same.
“To be fair, Stark,” Natasha says, “when do we not have targets on our backs?” Loki’s heart skips a beat. She’s arguing for him to stay--in her own off-hand way, of course.
“I’ve barely had this place fixed for six months after the last attack.” Tony looks at Loki. “No thanks to Rock of Ages over here.”
“I won’t put any of you in danger,” Loki says. He knows he needs to convince Tony, because his is probably the vote that matters most. “But if my presence brings you enemies, I will ally with you.”
“How are you gonna do that, exactly?” Tony asks. “I mean, without your magic, you’re basically limp, right?”
Loki tries not to look hurt, but Natasha can see the pain there. “I think you hurt his feelings,” she says with a dark chuckle.
“My brother’s magic abilities may be rescinded, but his strength is almost a match for mine,” Thor says.
Tony thinks for a moment, shrugs. “Works for me. But if you so much as look at one of us funny, I’m kicking your ass.”
Before Loki can find the words to thank him, Steve interjects. “No! No!” he wails, charging up to Tony, rage twisting his expression. “Are you insane? He killed all those people, Tony! He destroyed half of New York! He doesn’t deserve to be happy!”
Loki hangs his head, knowing he deserves all of Steve’s anger but wants none of it.
Tony taps his index finger against his chin, his eyes burdened with pain. “Okay, I’ll give you that, but, uh, my weapons killed thousands, maybe millions of people, destroyed cities too. By your logic, I don’t deserve to be happy either.” Steve frowns, wounded by his words. “Neither does Bruce, who probably killed people when he shifted into the Other Guy the first couple of times. Not to mention the property damage.” He gives an exaggerated wince. “Clint and Natasha have pretty violent pasts. You think they don’t deserve to be happy either?”
Steve sighs and rakes a hand through his hair. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. He’s one of the bad guys, Tony. He’s the kind of person we fight against.”
“Half of us here were bad guys until we got the chance to do good,” Tony says. “This is Loki’s chance. I think he should get it. If he screws it up, fine, we ship him back to Asgard. And after what happened with Phil, this’ll stick in Fury’s craw for sure.” He shrugs and goes back to his doughnuts, like they aren’t discussing the possibility of sheltering another demigod.
Tony’s point hits home, and Steve folds his arms over his chest, defeated. “Fine,” he mutters. “But if he screws up, it’s on you.”
“Barton, has your opinion changed?” Thor asks.
Clint’s voice is low, begrudging, as if Tony’s mention of his past is the only reason he’s agreeing to this. “Whatever. As long as he doesn’t fuck anything up.”
“Lady Pepper? Would you like to reconsider?”
“Well, I guess Tony does have a point, and if you guys trust him...” She trails off, shrugs. “As long as I don’t have to share my room with him.”
Thor laughs a hearty laugh. “That will not be necessary. Loki will be sharing my quarters during his time here.”
Loki’s heart drops into his stomach. He hasn’t considered this. Thor will probably stay in Midgard a while to help Loki acclimate to the change. Sharing a room with Thor will make his visits to Natasha difficult; obviously he can’t bring her there, and spending the night in her bed will only open an unpleasant line of questioning when Thor wakes to find himself alone; Loki’s a skilled liar, but that doesn’t mean he relishes it.
He knows that worrying will do him no good at this juncture. For now, he’s right where he wants to be.
Thor bellows a enthusiastic laugh, slapping Loki on the back as if dislodging a bone in his throat. “It is settled then! My dearest companions, together at last!” Another slap. Loki grabs his brother’s wrist and narrows his eyes. “And to think you doubted my proposal!”
Clint raises his head, staring intently at Thor. “Wait, you mean this was your idea?”
“You assumed otherwise?”
“Yeah, man, I thought you lost a bet or something.” Clint shrugs. “Like maybe you guys were playing Asgardian poker or whatever and the stakes got a little too high.” He glances around and realizes that everyone’s looking at him as if he’s the biggest moron on the planet. “Shit, I don’t know these things.”
Loki thinks he’s going to like it here.
I'm actually really nervous about posting this chapter. Please be kind if you think I did a disservice to the other characters.
Also, in the next chapter, Tony elaborates on "what happened with Phil." I don't think you'll be disappointed.
The wounded recognize the wounded.
~ Nora Roberts
The haphazard way Thor tosses all of his possessions onto the floor and the bed makes his room an absolute disaster. Obviously he isn’t here very often--Asgard needs its king, after all--so Loki is free to rearrange things as he sees fit.
The bed juts out from the right wall--its deep red sheets and golden comforter in disarray. The hardwood floor peeks out from beneath the clutter, and a large, spacious window sits parallel to the door.
Loki’s need for order and cleanliness sets him forth into the task of tidying up, and he begins picking up books and shelving them, hanging up and folding clothes. He hears the presence of someone standing in the doorway but pays them no mind until he hears her voice.
“Clint wants you to know that he never misses a shot,” Natasha says, a teasing smirk on her plush lips.
Loki gives a little laugh. “That’s...reassuring, I suppose.”
“You’re lucky, y’know,” she says as she enters the room and sits on the bed.
“Whatever do you mean?” he asks, forcing an over-stuffed dresser drawer shut.
“You’ve got a brother who would die for you. That’s lucky.”
“Thor has his own allegiances. I don’t consider myself one of them.”
“Then you’re fucking blind, because you’re on the top of his list.”
Loki knows he’ll think about that later tonight when everyone’s asleep and his eyes won’t close. But for now, he tucks it away, preferring more light-hearted conversation. “I think you’re just ecstatic that our clandestine meetings can occur more often.”
“You still owe me a new headboard.” Loki smiles. “That’s not something you get repaired or replaced without some serious questions as to how it got that way.”
“So you’d rather deflect that awkward conversation to me?”
“In all fairness, it was your fault.”
Loki nods, conceding. “Hypothetically, if I do agree to this, what do you want me to say? I doubt the truth will be an easy pill to swallow.”
Natasha huffs a small sigh. “That’s the part I haven’t figured out yet.”
“And you’re a spy.” He makes a tsk-tsk sound, shaking his head.
“Well, excuse me, I’ve never had to explain why my headboard is broken on a mission. Or in my entire life.”
“What an uneventful sex life you must have led before I came along.”
Blood burns beneath her cheeks as she fights a smile. “A lack of broken headboards doesn’t equal uneventful. Use your imagination.” Loki’s face lights up with a grin. “Or don’t. No, please don’t.”
She groans and flops back against the pillows. “You’re awful.” Loki tugs at the comforter to get her to move so he can make the bed. She helps him with the task. “So why isn’t your brother here right now?”
“I told him I didn’t require his presence.”
“You told him to buzz off?”
“I think I was a bit more polite about it, but, in essence, yes.” He smirks. “I suppose the fact that I live here now means some things do not need to be kept secret?” He says it in a way that instantly lets Natasha know what he’s referring to.
“No, that just means it’s going to be harder to keep secret,” she murmurs. When Loki gives her a hurt look, she says, “Do you have any idea the shit-storm that would ensue if it wasn’t a secret? It was like pulling teeth for everyone to agree to let you live here. Just...give it time, okay?”
He likes the idea of time. “Oh? I’ll hold you to that.” He sits down on the newly-made bed, and Natasha thinks about joining him but opts not to. “I wanted to thank you,” he says, “for arguing in my favor.”
Natasha shrugs. “You oughta thank Stark. He’s the one who really went to bat for you.”
“True, I should express my gratitude. Where might I find him?”
“His lab is a sure bet. Either the lab or the bar. You can try his bedroom, but I wouldn’t advise it unless you want to chance walking in on something you probably shouldn’t see.” Loki furrows his brow. “If he’s not working on a machine or drinking his pain away, he’s fucking Steve.”
Loki’s mouth drops open. “Steve as in...Captain America Steve?”
“That’s the only Steve I know.”
“Do I even want to know what goes on here at night?”
“If what we do is any indication, you don’t.” She smiles, and, for the first time in what seems like forever, he feels like he’s home. His heart swells in his chest, and he’s not quite sure how to handle this feeling, so he deflects the conversation.
“Let’s get back to the Stark and Rogers discussion. How did that happen?”
“Well, Tony and Pepper were invited to this fancy gala to represent Stark Industries. Pepper knew that Tony had this embarrassingly obvious crush on Steve, so she opted to go with Bruce to sort of force Tony into asking Steve.” She’s sort of giggling as she tells him the story, and it’s quite adorable, Loki thinks. Hearing himself say the word “adorable”--even in his own head--almost makes him laugh. “He did, and I don’t know the rest of the details, but, the next day, Tony built this little robot that he sent to Steve’s room to deliver him an invitation to dinner on the roof, complete with a box of chocolates and champagne.”
“Tony Stark a romantic?” Loki muses. “Color me surprised.”
“Well, Steve’s a sucker for that kind of stuff.”
“What about you?” Natasha goes silent, her cheeks turning a color that might be described as candy apple red. “You did like the flowers,” Loki says, egging her on. He stands up and moves nearer to her, immeasurably close now. His fingers trace her cheek before hooking beneath her chin, willing her to meet his eyes. “Perhaps you and Rogers have more in common than you think.”
Almost as if on cue, Steve’s voice sounds from outside the door. “Thor, how’s your brother settling in?” Loki and Natasha pull away from each other and turn to face Steve, who’s walked inside to see that Thor isn’t there. “Oh, I guess he’s already leaving you unsupervised,” Steve says to Loki.
Natasha shrugs. “His shift was over. I got this covered.”
“At ease, ‘Tasha.”
Loki almost wants to blurt out “Why does he get to call you ‘Tasha?” but realizes such an outburst would probably be viewed as strange. He doesn’t like the prospect of Natasha leaving the room; the very idea of Steve sitting and glaring at him while he tries to settle in is, well, unsettling. “Your chaperone services will not be needed,” Loki tells Steve. “I intend on resting for a bit...unless you’d care to watch me sleep.”
Steve waits for a moment, but Natasha takes his hand and leads him out of the room. “He’s fine. C’mon, let’s see if Barton’s up to any shenanigans.”
Finally, Loki thinks with a sigh as he sits on the bed. Doubts about the other Avengers accepting him here had swirled in his head last night--along with his usual nightmares--prohibiting him from a proper night’s sleep. Within minutes of relaxing against the mattress, he drifts into sleep, too tired to worry any longer.
Loki tiptoes through the tower that night, careful to keep his footsteps silent as he searches for Tony Stark. He hadn’t been in his lab, so Loki had concluded that he must be at the bar. He doesn’t want to think about the other option; walking in on an intimate moment probably wouldn’t be the best way to get in his new landlord’s good graces.
He takes his time walking through the hallways, staring out at the night sky and the abundant lights of the city that look like beaming stars. It’s quite a change from night time in Asgard, where the sky is black and cloaks the land in darkness. In Asgard, the stars sit in the sky like tiny beacons of light, poor sources of illumination. Here, the city glistens and thrives, bustling with activity even though the sun is gone, and humans move about in vehicles and on foot, oblivious to the demigod in the tower watching them.
Loki finds the familiar corridor leading into the bar, and faint music pours out of the room, growing louder as his footsteps carry him closer. Tony’s sitting on a barstool, his back to Loki, singing along--quite poorly--to the song.
I don’t want any more love songs
My heart can’t let you go
Can’t find a way to tell you so
I pretend that I’m fine
Although you were never mine
They warned me you were royalty
You’re holy, exalted upon a gold throne
And girl, you left me hurtin’ deep in my soul
It just isn’t right
To see that you’re doin’ just fine
All I can do is bleed
Can’t you see
It kills me, oh
Just to think of lettin’ you go
I want you more
Every day more
How am I supposed to move on with you in my head?
I want you more
Every day more
How am I supposed to live without you, baby?
You know I love you more
Loki tries to smother his laughter, because Tony Stark may be many things, but a good singer he’s certainly not. He watches and listens some more, gathering potential blackmail evidence.
Don’t lie, ‘cause I know you’re not sorry, no
I’m a man who’s pitifully plain
And you’re a queen with a strychnine kiss
Who’ll never be mine
Cause lovin’ you’s how good men die
The legacy you left behind
Wish I knew about
The trail you leave of broken hearts, baby
I want you more, every day more
How am I supposed to move on with you in my head?
I want you more, every day more
How am I supposed to live without you, baby?
You know I love you more
How am I supposed to move on with you in my head
I can’t let you go
Every day more
How am I supposed to live without you, baby?
You know I love you more
That last note Tony belts out is a crime against everything melodious and good in the world, and Loki can’t help but explode into laughter. Tony’s posture stiffens, and his head whirls around to see Loki, who’s standing in the doorway laughing until every muscle hurts.
“Shit,” Tony groans, humiliated. “JARVIS, kill the music. Loki, take this to your grave.”
Loki straightens up, still chuckling, and steps inside the bar, marveling at the high ceiling. “If you insist.”
“I’m not bound to that stipulation, sir,” a snooty, mechanical voice insists. “This will make quite an amusing tale over breakfast.”
“I will disassemble you,” Tony growls.
“You’re no fun,” JARVIS pouts but leaves them alone.
“What’d you want?” Tony asks Loki, taking another sip of his whiskey. “You want a drink?”
“I do believe you owe me one, yes.” Loki smiles, tentatively sitting beside him while Tony pours. He slides the glass to Loki’s cold hand when he’s finished. “I wanted to thank you for advocating me this morning.” Tony gives him a “don’t mention it” shrug. “But, I’d like to know why. All your talk of second chances seems dubious.”
“I didn’t think it was my place to tell them the truth.”
“What got you so buckets of crazy in the first place.” Loki looks up from his drink in shock. “Your brother’s got a big mouth,” Tony explains. “He told me what happened to you, the whole adoption thing.”
“Did he?” Loki’s voice gives nothing away.
“Hey, let’s be frank, I think Thor’s the only one here who had a childhood filled with gumdrops and lollipops.”
“Is this supposed to make me feel better, Stark?”
“I’m just saying, we can all sympathize.” He sighs, shrugs. “I know what it’s like to not measure up. My father...was a lot like yours, but instead of favoring a sibling, he favored his work.” Loki doesn’t know which is worse. Tony takes another drink. “I also know that soul-crushing panic you get when your life’s meaning is ripped away from you. And yeah, I kinda have ulterior motives about bringing you in.”
Tony sighs, waits a beat. “We thought we lost a good man. Phil Coulson.” Loki vaguely remembers the man. “Turns out we were just being played.”
“He faked his death?”
“You’ve met Nick Fury, right? Bald, wears an eyepatch?”
Loki nods. “We have...exchanged words.”
“He told us Phil died. Told us you killed him, actually. So imagine my surprise when I hack into the SHIELD database one day and find out Phil’s been shipped off to New Mexico, working for SHIELD under an alias.”
Loki raises an eyebrow. “Did he tell you why?”
“Fury claimed that Phil wanted him to use his ‘death’ to motivate us, to give us a push, which I thought was bullshit. Plus that whole government spiel of protecting secrets and keeping everyone safe. So, yeah, this is partially a huge middle finger to Fury for lying to us about Phil.”
“And the other part?”
“Maybe you could join our super-secret boy band some day.” Tony smirks.
Loki gives a bitter laugh. “You’re confusing me with a hero. I’m not.”
“But you could be. Look, don’t try to bullshit me. I’ve got that anti-social mask-to-keep-people-away shit down to a science, okay? I can see right through what you’re trying to put off.”
Loki wonders about that, if Tony’s right and everything about him is just a poor performance, if the way he speaks and acts when Natasha lies beside him is his true self. But he’s lived so long under the burden of expectation that he isn’t really sure who he is anymore.
“Do you really believe I could be a hero?”
“Well, we buried Phil and he ended up in New Mexico, so I guess anything’s possible.”
Coulson probably won't be appearing in the story, but at least you can take solace in the fact that he's not dead, right? ....right?
I don't really own the song that Tony poorly sings along to--though 99% of the lyrics are my own feeble attempts at songwriting, the real song is a jazzy, Japanese tune called "MORE" by J-pop goddess Koda Kumi, who I fangirl over on an almost daily basis. I thought about using a "real" song, but I couldn't think of anything that wasn't completely dorky or cliche (So I went with something super dorky but not instantly recognizable?). Forgive me.
You might be tired of hearing this, but I'm ever thankful, so I'm repeating it: thank you all so much for your comments, kudos, and story alerts! Even if I don't reply, I do read all of your comments (and some/most of them make me squee with joy). I appreciate every single one of you, even you story lurkers who don't comment. I see you.
Chapter 11: Eumoirous
This one's rather short, but I hope the smut atones for the length. The next chapter is much longer.
eumoirous - Happiness due to being honest and wholesome
I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.
~ Edgar Allan Poe
He lives for the rare moments like this: their limbs tangled in intimate knots as her warm breath ghosts over his frosty skin. Neither of them find comfort in vulnerability yet, so Loki cherishes the occasions when Natasha allows him to simply be with her in such an effortless, open state of affection.
He sighs against her hair and breathes in the scent of her that seems to cleanse his veins. His fingers trace the lines and planes of her back, mapping the arc of her spine. She brings her hand to his chest, her voice an angel’s whisper. “Why were you unhappy in Asgard?”
“Is your prolonged absence not enough?” he teases, and he adores the line of her mouth when she tries to conceal her smile at his flattery.
“Be honest with me.”
“I have no companions there but Thor,” he states plainly, his speech coming out in a sigh as his hands caress her, distracting himself from the pointed truth of his words. “I am left to wander, to reflect.” He frowns, his eyes clouded with grief. “Can you imagine what it’s like to be imprisoned in your own mind?”
Her chest hitches almost unnoticeably, but Loki is too well-attuned to the whispers of her breath. “You know that I can.”
“Then you understand.” He waits a moment, enjoying the silken feel of her hair between his fingers. Natasha snuggles into his chest and listens to the thump of his heart. He wonders how she can find comfort against the chill of his skin. “Thor never told you why he first came to your realm, did he?”
“He might have glossed over some details.”
“Did he tell you the fault was mine?”
Natasha raises her head to give him the appropriate amount of scorn, abhorring his tendency to shift blame upon his own shoulders. “Don’t.”
“Of course he didn’t,” Loki scoffs without contempt. His voice is soft, almost childlike when he tells her, “It was just a bit of fun... I didn’t intend to...” He struggles to speak, fearing fragility will drip through his voice like hot wax. She presses her lips to his chest, righting his sprained heart. “Thor was to be crowned king. I feared he was too impetuous and immature to take the throne, but I suppose my concern was only bitter jealousy... I arranged for the Casket of Ancient Winters to be stolen from Father’s trophy room by Jotuns, hoping it would delay the ceremony. But Thor was too impulsive. He wanted to attack Joutenheim in retaliation.” He sighs, his guilty hands heavy and stilled in her hair. “There was nothing I could do.”
Her lashes flutter over his skin. “That’s why your father banished him?”
Loki nods, feeling more naked before her now than ever. “After that, I...ruined things.” He wants to confess his wrongs but knows there will be no absolution. With her warmth against his skin he feels weightless, complete, and selfishly needs to feel this way a little while longer.
Natasha looks at him with sorrowed eyes and kisses his mouth, shifting her body to align with his, her naked thighs pressed against his hips. Her nails scrape along his abdomen as she sinks upon and around his cock and sits atop him, like a queen on a throne. His hips jolt up into her, and she rides with it, letting his lust simmer and boil before granting him reprieve.
Her cries are passion and pain as they move together, rising and falling, connecting and reconnecting. His hands climb her body, palming every curve; when soft sighs pour from her lips, he can almost convince himself that his hands can help and heal. Her hips rock them together and apart, his body pushing up as hers presses down. She takes her time testing him, her movements slow and languid, lingering at the peak of each rotation before sliding him back inside.
She can feel his urgency beneath her fingertips, rising to meet her touch. She can feel it in the way his chest expands with each breath, see it in the way he watches her with sharp eyes, his tongue wetting his lips. Natasha grinds against him, feeling need flare up hot in her belly, and savors the slide of his cock as she rises from her throne. Loki cups her thighs and pulls her against him, forcing her hips back down upon his. She yelps a wounded whimper when they connect again, and Loki’s hands drop away from her tender flesh, her pain slicing through his want like a hot knife.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, gazing up at her, his eyes wide with concern. “Did I hurt you?”
She folds to kiss his away his worry, licking at his lips with an eager tongue. “I’m not that fragile.” Loki doesn’t speak or move; he only lies beneath her, his face covered in shame and disgust at his strength. She grinds her hips against his, hoping to convey the magnitude of her need for him. He frowns, the clouds of his lust parted.
Natasha sighs sadly and sits up, taking his lucifer hands and pressing them against her skin to show him that she craves his touch as well as his want. He spreads his fingers over her stomach as it swells with each breath and trembles beneath his caress. She rocks back against him, the feel of him inside of her making the fire blaze and burn. His hands trace her spine and climb the lattice of her ribs in reverent appreciation. His tender thumb rolls over a nipple, making her whine against the air and jerk her hips. He works into her again, slow, firm, and her mouth lays kisses upon his lips, his jaw, his chin, as her hips match his rhythm. She covers his hands with hers to entwine their fingers, and they crash and burn against each other until they fall apart together, echoing moans and praises in the other’s honor.
In the glow of bliss, Loki is the first to extricate his hands from hers. He reaches up to pull her face to his, kissing her fully, passionately, and to Natasha it feels like a thank you.
Later, they lie beside each other, and Loki’s mouth holds her lips captive, one hand laced in her hair and the other between her legs, sliding and stroking. She sighs into his mouth, her breath shaky, while her hips rock against his hand, slowly, unwilling to push him further than he can bear. His fingers probe, gentle and curious, and she bites her lip, her hands gripping his hair.
Loki freezes, holds his breath as he examines her expression. “Too much?”
She shakes her head and bucks against him to encourage his exploration. “It’s good. So good,” she moans, and he spreads his fingers just enough to allow his thumb to stroke between them. She chokes out a broken cry, arching her hips into his touch when his fingers press and slide. Her entire body feels like an exposed nerve, and his hands seem to know all the ways to poke and prod until she’s taut to the point of breaking. When his thumb returns to stroke her swollen clit, she’s gone, her moans loud and aching as the world falls away beneath her.
Loki fits his mouth to hers, drunk on her adoration, withdrawing his hand to taste the nectar of her lust for him. She watches him lick and suckle her orgasm from his fingers, savoring the sight while he savors her. He crawls down her torso, licking softly at the spot where she aches for him, craving another taste. Natasha sighs under his tongue and hooks a leg over his shoulder, feeling the world begin to shift and turn before a knock at the door sends them scrambling for their discarded clothes.
“Goddammit,” she swears under her breath, pulling on her shorts and tank. Loki’s in the middle of pulling his pants onto his legs. “Closet,” she whispers to him, and she waits until he’s hidden and out of sight before crossing the room and opening the door.
Tony Stark stands in the hall, looking totally shit-faced and sleep-starved and way too surprised to see her. “What’re you doing in Steve’s room?” Natasha just stares at him in that way of hers until the pieces click together in his head. “Oh shit,” he mumbles, “must’a pressed the wrong button on the...thingy.”
Tony blinks a few times. “Yeah. That.” He gets a good look at her and notices the flush of her cheeks, her mussed hair, and the kiss marks along her throat. Then his gaze flickers past her to the bed and its rumpled sheets. “So, you and Barton, huh?”
“I’m closing the door now, Stark,” she growls. “Also, I’m telling Pepper about this.”
“I’m going, I’m going!” Tony cries, scurrying away from her room.
Natasha slams the door, pissed that he’d blundered in and ruined the mood. “The coast is clear,” she says, just loud enough for Loki to hear. He opens the closet door and steps out, his arms finding her waist. “We’ve got to do this somewhere more private--Hey!” His mouth sucks the skin of her throat while his hands reach to undress her. “What are you doing?”
“Finishing what Stark interrupted,” he murmurs, pushing his hips against hers. She feels his arousal between her legs as his mouth kisses trails up her throat to her lips. Her hands raise to his chest as if preparing to shove him away. “Do you doubt my prowess?” He smiles playfully, nudging her back against the bed.
“What prowess?” she teases back, sitting at the edge of the mattress.
Loki flashes a dark smirk, kneeling at her feet before pulling off her shorts. She watches his head dip between her thighs, feels the heat of his tongue against her barest of skin, and soon crumbles beneath his desire.
“Once Thor deems his company unnecessary, we will have privacy,” Loki says after licking the last of her from his lips.
Natasha still sits on the edge of the bed, watching the muscles of his torso ripple and flex as he moves. “That could take a while.”
He gathers his remaining clothes from the floor and dresses in haste, but not before noticing the flowers he’d given her displayed on the table. It bolsters his hope that she might someday see him as something more than a monster. “I’m sure I could try to accelerate the process.” Loki grins, still proud of his effect on her. “Are you that anxious to see me again?”
Her mouth makes that cute little pout when she tries to hide a smile. “You don’t have to be smug about it.”
“I think I’ve earned it,” he gloats, moving closer to the bed to stand above her. Natasha wraps her heels around his legs and pulls him nearer before rising up to her knees.
She reaches up to take his face in her hands. “And what have I earned?”
“Plenty,” he says, a riddle against her lips.
He bids her good night, and she falls asleep with the scent of him lingering on the sheets.
Chapter 12: Ex Umbra In Solem
"Ex Umbra In Solem:" out of the dark, into the light
This one's pretty long to compensate for the short chapter preceding it. Not really, it just happened that way. But it is long.
Ex Umbra In Solem
Nothing is easier than denouncing the evildoer. Nothing more difficult than understanding him.
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The next morning is better...or worse, depending how he looks at it.
It’s worse because his back is stiff, and his eyes are tired. Thor had fallen asleep on the bed watching television while Loki was with Natasha, so Loki sat on the floor and used a beanbag chair as a makeshift pillow. But his brother’s loud snores--and his own nightmares--prevented him from anything resembling peace. He spent the night watching infomercials and awful made-for-TV movies, and he’d managed to slip into sleep for one hour before Thor woke him in the morning.
Breakfast with the Avengers is a curious occasion, made tense due to all the eyes Loki feels upon him. Tony, Bruce, and Natasha seem disinterested in his presence there, but Clint and Steve glare at him like he’s an unpleasant stain on the carpet. Pepper watches him curiously, and Thor is much too energetic for such an early hour.
It’s better because Thor is there to give him some semblance of comfort and familiarity instead of leaving him to sit alone; Loki can sit beside Thor and talk to him without risking any probing glares. It’s miserable because he can’t sit with Natasha lest his body language betray him; avoiding suspicion is pivotal, and he knows if they act too platonic in public that the others will start to wonder why.
It’s worse because Loki barely manages to snag a pack of Pop-Tarts for himself before Thor devours the entire box.
Thor takes to giving Loki a tour of the tower after breakfast, showing him where each Avenger lives and the various labs and ancillary rooms on the numerous floors. Loki doesn’t mind, even though he knows how to read the maps plastered near the elevators. Thor’s eagerness makes him feel like someone wants him around, even if it is only his brother being hopelessly optimistic.
Sunlight’s golden glow through the windows makes Thor’s hair shine and casts a brilliant halo around his head. Loki frowns at the sight, his rank as second-tier reinforced even in Midgard. “Did you sleep well, brother?” Thor asks as they walk through a corridor on one of the higher floors.
“Not particularly. You snore far too loudly for me to sleep, and you also have questionable taste in entertainment.”
Thor just laughs heartily, slapping Loki on the back with a meaty paw. “You know I love when you jest.”
He hadn’t been joking, but it doesn’t matter. Loki’s pleased that he and Thor seem to be slipping back into the familiar rapport they’d had before everything had gone so wrong.
Bruce sees them coming and swings open the door to his lab. “Ah, Loki! Come in for a bit, would you?”
Loki looks at Thor. “Is this part of your...” He trails off, perplexed as to why Bruce Banner of all people would have any inclination to speak with him.
Thor shakes his head. “I do not know why he requests your presence.”
Loki shrugs. “I’ll find my way back.” He ducks inside Bruce’s lab, surveying all of the complicated-looking machinery and equipment. Bruce leads him to a small wooden table with a chess board set up atop it, seating himself behind the black pieces. Loki stands there awkwardly, unsure whether he’s allowed to sit or not.
“You can sit,” he says with a chuckle, his hand wrapped around the teacup on his desk. Loki does as he asks. “Do you play?”
“Asgard boasts a similar game.”
Bruce gives him a quick run-down of the rules, and they fall silent when the game begins, studying the board and moving pieces into position. Loki finds this entire scenario a bit bizarre, and he highly doubts that Bruce called him in here just to play chess, but it’s not entirely unpleasant.
About ten minutes pass, and Bruce spends them paying more attention to Loki than his next move. He notices the way Loki fixes his stare on the board, the way his brow furrows and his lips twitch while he contemplates his next strategy. He notices the lack of tension, Loki’s rigid but still relaxed posture.
Once Bruce feels that he won’t break Loki’s concentration, he says, “You’re not afraid of me. Why is that?”
Loki raises his head, his hand hovering above one of his knights; Bruce has observed so far that the knight seems to be Loki’s favored piece. “Need I be?”
“Not many people are this relaxed when they know about the Other Guy.”
Loki moves his knight to capture a bishop. “We’ve met.”
“And yet you’re here.”
Loki looks at him. “About that...I, uh, wanted to thank you for supporting my stay here. Do you really believe that drivel about giving me a chance?”
“Of course I do. I’m living proof that it works.” Bruce drinks his tea, makes another move. “After the accident...it seemed like I was angry all the time. I was either mad at myself or mad at everyone else. My work abroad really helped me get rid of all that anger. They didn’t know they had to be afraid of me; they didn’t know what I am. And using my gifts to help others made me feel...like I was still good, y’know?” He smiles sadly. “But having these guys accept me into their home means the world to me. They’ve seen the Other Guy. They know what he’s capable of, and they know he’s still dangerous. But for them to say ‘you know what, that doesn’t matter, you’re our friend’...that kind of acceptance makes a difference.”
Loki feels the truth of Bruce’s words in his bones. Natasha’s affection is merely a shadow of the love and approval he hopes to earn from her someday, and it’s enough to lift his spirits and shift his world. But to feel the full force of it?
Loki thinks he may have found his new purpose.
Since Bruce was kind enough to reveal something intimate and personal, Loki decides to offer up conversation in exchange. “I too am...afflicted with my own demons. But...I fear that I cannot detach from mine as easily as you. Imagine if the beast within you was you, that there was no distinction between the two.”
“But you’re here now. That’s the distinction,” Bruce says, capturing a pawn. “Do you have time for a parable?”
“If it’s a good one.”
He smiles. “A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me,’ he said to them. ‘It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.’” He pauses to take a sip of tea. “The grandchildren thought about it, and after a minute one of them asked, ‘Which wolf will win?’ The elder simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’”
Natasha drops by Loki and Thor’s room, opening the door to find Loki on the bed, reading a magazine. “Tony’s making dinner,” she tells him.
“I thought he wasn’t allowed to operate a stove.”
“He’s insisting on it. I think he’s trying to impress Steve.”
“Oh, well, have Thor bring me a plate.”
She strides into the room, her arms folded over her chest. “No, you’re suffering through this with the rest of us.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Loki, don’t be a brat. I will make you bleed.”
“You are quite adept at drawing fluids from my body,” he says with a smirk as he flips a page.
She wrinkles her nose. “When did you develop such a juvenile sense of humor? Don’t tell me Tony’s been corrupting you.”
“This is hardly the first time I’ve disgusted you.”
“But it seems like it’s becoming a pattern.”
“Or perhaps you are only beginning to see one of the many facets of my wonderful personality.” He gives her a sly grin.
“Are you coming to dinner or are you going to keep patting yourself on the back?”
“Why don’t you persuade me?” he teases, slipping a finger beneath the waistband of her pajama pants.
She grabs his wrist with almost super-human speed and snatches his hand away. “Jesus, Loki, not with the door open!” she hisses in a whisper.
“You could close it.”
“Can’t you wait until at least half of the others are asleep before you get handsy?”
“I can. I don’t particularly want to.” He shrugs.
Natasha huffs an irritated sigh, pulling him to his feet. “Will you just come?”
A playful smirk spreads on his lips. “Oh, I’m sure--”
“You finish that sentence, and I stab you in the throat.”
Dinner goes just about as well as could be expected. Tony makes the poorest excuse for a hamburger anyone’s ever tasted, except for Steve who pretends that they’re wonderful, as to not hurt Tony’s feelings. Loki finds that with enough ketchup they’re almost edible. Once Bruce, Natasha, Clint, and Thor are out of the kitchen, Clint whispers that he has takeout in his room. Natasha catches Loki after dinner to invite him along.
“Barton’s invited us to his room for some real food and a movie if you want to come.”
“Me, Barton, Banner, your brother, and you, if you’d like.”
He glances away, chews his lip. Barton still sort of scares him. “I’ll sit this one out, thanks.”
“Fine, Mr. Anti-Social.”
“It’s more that they seem to be...anti-me. Especially Barton.”
“All right,” Natasha says, shrugging her shoulders. “But don’t say I never asked you.”
He stays in his room that night, reading some of Thor’s magazines before he falls asleep.
The rest of the week passes without much incident. Steve and Barton shun him silently, while Tony tosses joking barbs at him every once in a while. Loki and Bruce meet for chess in the afternoons while Bruce takes his breaks from working in the lab. Thor returns to Asgard when he feels Loki no longer needs the anchor of his presence; Loki couldn’t be happier about that.
He doesn’t know how to act around Natasha. Every now and then, he has to remind himself that they’ve crossed lines of physical and emotional intimacy, because the way she treats him in the company of the other Avengers certainly doesn’t show it. Loki knows the secrecy is essential, but he can’t shake the feeling that he’s merely a masturbatory tissue to be discarded after his use is fulfilled.
Monday evening, after Thor returns to Asgard, Natasha knocks on Loki’s door around two in the morning. She always looks effortlessly stunning, and tonight is no exception. Loki feels hideously inadequate in comparison, clad in borrowed, ill-fitting clothes from Thor’s closet.
His hormones begin to stage a coup against his brain at the sight of her wearing an exquisite black nightie. “Wow,” he gapes, the corner of his mouth pulling up into a grin.
“It’s that big, eloquent brain of yours that keeps me coming back.” She steps inside and shuts the door. From behind her back, she reveals a bottle of vodka she’d been hiding, and she raises her eyebrows as if challenging him.
It takes him a few seconds to gather his wit. “My brain is the only big part of me? How disappointing.”
“You’re telling me.” He stares at her in shock, and his expression makes her chuckle at his expense. “I’m joking, of course. God, lighten up.” She rolls her eyes and hands him the bottle; only now does he notice that it’s half empty.
Despite the aphrodisiac effect of her attire and the alcohol, they don’t spend the night pawing at each other like sex-starved teenagers. Natasha sits beside him on the bed, and they pass the vodka back and forth while alternating between watching television and sharing stories. She speaks of a mission in Budapest with Clint, and he regales her with tales of his childhood in Asgard.
“Did Thor ever tell you about the time I dressed him as a bride?” Loki asks curiously. With the others, he’s treading water, but with her there is only tranquility, so he doesn’t mind opening up a bit.
Natasha stares at him, fighting a smile. “I suppose not. The giant Thyrm had stolen Mjolnir and wanted to marry the goddess Freya in exchange for Thor’s hammer. Obviously, she refused. So I had the brilliant idea of disguising Thor as Freya.” Natasha’s trying very hard not to laugh, but it isn’t working; Loki can see the corners of her mouth turned up behind her hand and the slight shaking of her shoulders. “It worked! And I think I made a fetching bridesmaid.”
That’s when Natasha Romanoff--the solemn, no-nonsense Russian assassin--laughs. Not a fake laugh or even one of her usual wry chuckles, but a genuine, real laugh. The sound is childlike and feminine, so unlike her yet so perfect. Her face shines with mirth, and Loki’s ecstatic that he’s the one who made it happen. Maybe the vodka had a hand in loosening her up, but he doesn’t care. All he can think about is how radiant and beautiful she looks when she’s happy and how he can make it happen again.
“I can see why he hasn’t told us that,” she squeaks out between breaths. “I can’t imagine Thor in a dress. I just can’t.”
“Not just a dress! He wore a veil too.” He takes a swig from the bottle and basks in the bells of her laughter. “At the wedding feast, he ate an entire ox and eight salmon, and no one was any the wiser of his true identity until he had Mjolnir in his hands again.” She’s sort of leaning on his shoulder, trying to smother her giggles. When she looks up again to steal the bottle from him for another drink, her cheeks are flushed pink, her lips still curved into a beaming smile.
Loki doesn’t realize he’s mirroring her expression until she asks, “What’s that look for?”
“You’ve got this dumb look on your face that makes me want to throw up,” she teases.
He raises an eyebrow. “Are you sure that’s not just the vodka?”
She gives him a playful shove, tossing the now-empty bottle aside and climbing into his lap, nipping softly at his lips. Loki’s convinced that she’s drunk, because she’s never been this friendly with him before; he’s seen a lighter, gentler side of her tonight, and he doesn’t know how to feel about it, if she’s genuinely more comfortable around him or if it’s just a side-effect of the alcohol.
She pins his shoulders to the mattress and covers his mouth with hers. Her fingers crawl up his shirt, and he feels her warm hands on his sides. He lets a moan squeak out when her lips find his neck. Her hands roam over the breadth of his chest, and Loki wants nothing more than to give in. She grinds her hips in his lap as she tweaks his nipple, forcing a gasp from his throat.
He can smell the alcohol on her breath, and he knows that the best thing he can do for her is to push her away. He moans against her lips, but she doesn’t seem to hear the uncertainty in his voice; then again, neither does Loki. His hands find hers and gently take her wrists, guiding her hands from his body as he tries to wriggle out from beneath her. He breaks away from the ecstasy of her mouth to whisper, “Stop.”
Natasha does as he asks, her body frozen, looking down at him with the saddest set of eyes he’s ever seen. “What? You don’t...?”
He laces his fingers with hers to prevent her from struggling. “You’re drunk, Miss Romanoff. I may be many things, but I am not so cruel as to take advantage of you.”
She rolls her eyes, her grip tightening, but it doesn’t feel violent or angry. It’s as if she clings to him, a silent plea for him to stay. “I’m not drunk.”
“And I am not a liar and a killer, but that does not change the facts.” He smiles sadly, and her brow creases with pain. “Sleep, darling. In the morning, I will be happy to oblige you.”
Natasha slides her hands in Loki’s hair and doesn’t push for more, just sits in his lap and moves her mouth against his in tender kisses. When he pulls her into bed, she curls against him, her fingers wrapped in his shirt. He wraps the blankets around her body to shield her from the chill of his skin. “You won’t leave, right?” she asks, her voice impossibly small.
“Where else would I go?” He gives her a warm smile, and she returns the gesture, cuddling closer. “What are you thinking, little gem?” he asks after a few moments have passed, but she doesn’t answer, instead fast asleep in the crook of his arm.
Loki wakes up first, dawn glowing in through the window between the gaps in the curtains. He sits up and admires the way the golden rays of light paint Natasha’s bare legs. In her sleep, she’d rolled over onto her side, her back facing him. With the way her face is hidden, he can’t tell if she’s awake or not. He moves to tuck the sheets over her.
“It’s about time you woke up,” she teases, turning over and climbing toward him. He pulls her face to his, kissing her hard. His hands wrap around her hips as he stands and carries her over to the wall beside the window. He pushes the curtains aside, allowing the sunlight to illuminate her perfect face.
“I want to see you,” he explains in a breathy whisper. His lips curve into a devious grin as his fingers ghost over her thighs and rid her of her panties.
She steps out of them, watching him toss them on the bed. “Try not to break the wall, Mr. Demigod.” Her words are hot with want and jest, and her hands reach out to pull his shirt over his head. “We’re pretty high up, and neither of us can fly.”
“Do you not love the thrill of danger?” His hands cradle her ass after she tugs his pants down, and Natasha wraps her legs around him, her heels digging into the small curve of his lower back. He thrusts between her legs, teasing, torturing, and she writhes, trying to fit him inside of her. He can feel his cock against her thigh, and the moans pouring from her throat tell him that she feels it too. Loki doubts he’ll ever get used to the way she sounds when he touches her.
“Don’t fucking tease,” she groans, her words ringing like a plea rather than a command. He’s happy to comply with that. Loki thrusts hard into the feverish heat of her core, shoving her back against the wall hard enough to knock the breath from her lungs. She squeaks out a gasp, and his hips start to move of their own accord, crashing into her harder and harder. Natasha’s hands tug and pull at his hair to fit his mouth to hers, and she litters his lips with frantic kisses interspersed with wanton, needy moans.
Loki makes sure to rein in the force of his thrusts lest he crush her beneath the full extent of his want. The way her legs pull him closer makes the raw need coursing through him begin to unbottle, manifesting in the iron grip of his hands and his hard thrusts. Natasha whines for him to stop, her nails clawing red crescents down his back, and that’s what brings him back to clarity. He hangs his head, shamed and wretched.
Natasha’s hands cup his face, willing him to look at her . “It’s okay. I’m not broken. Just be careful.”
His mind rages with inward hatred. What kind of monster hurts the greatest thing he’s ever known? Loki swallows down his anger and finds that perfect rhythm again--violent but not enough to dent her bones. He slides a hand to the juncture of her knee and thrusts deeper. She howls a pleasured moan as he buries himself to the hilt inside of her. In. Out. In. Out. She tilts her hips for a better angle. He can feel her inner muscles tensing around him. His next thrust shoves her back against the wall again, and the threads of his release unravel.
Loki comes hard, his entire body wracked by the intensity. Natasha rolls her hips as she crumbles along with him, slow, languid waves wringing out the ripples of her climax. She slumps against the wall, sated and spent, but all he can think about are the imprints of his hands around her fragile hips.
She knows his expressions well enough now to sense an inkling of his thoughts. “Don’t beat yourself up,” she says with a sigh.
“I could have killed you.”
“But you didn’t.” He’s still reeling from ecstasy when she pulls his mouth to hers. “You can only get better at this.”
“I hope you’ll allow me more opportunities to, uh, practice my craft.”
He laughs wryly. “This is a new experience for me, dating a nymphomaniac.”
She scoffs, but there’s a smile there. “You’re not, but you should be flattered that I enjoy having sex with you so much.”
Loki tries to ignore the fear that bubbles up at her words. “I was only joking about the nymphomania.” She doesn’t answer, instead kissing his mouth in response, and Loki realizes in horror that he’s misunderstood. “Oh...” he whimpers, trying to keep the heartbreak out of his voice. “Well, that changes things...”
That’s when the door flies open, and Steve Rogers pokes his head inside the room. “Hey, Loki, Tony wants me to tell you--whoamyGOD, why do I keep finding you two?!”
Natasha and Loki scramble away from each other and grab their clothes in a mad dash for decency as Steve stands in the doorway, frozen with terror. “Rogers, what the fuck?” Natasha snaps, her face flushed from passion, anger, and chagrin. “Haven’t you learned a goddamned thing about knocking before you barge into someone’s room like a fucking Neanderthal?” Loki can’t help but snort a laugh, amused at the force of her anger; she shoots him a glare that could turn milk sour.
“I forgot!” Steve wails, still gaping at the scene, his ears probably burning from Natasha’s bevy of curses. Then he looks over at Loki. “Why were you...” He points limply at Loki, then back to Natasha. “What--I can’t--Are you--What?”
“Do you want to slap him or should I?” Loki asks her. He really wants to do it himself, because Steve Rogers has just discovered the dirtiest secret he could ever hope to keep, and the Cap’s going to divulge it to anyone and everyone with a pulse.
Another “Whoa!” comes from behind Steve, this time from Tony who’s waltzed in and brought Bruce with him to gawk. This is not happening. “What’s going on here?” Tony asks with a curious lilt in his voice.
Steve squeaks out “Fondue” in a tiny voice.
“More like ‘fondon’t’,” Tony quips, making Bruce laugh heartily despite his shock.
“Can everyone just get the fuck out?” Natasha growls, and Loki can see the tension in her shoulders and the terror in her eyes.
That’s when time stops, because Clint Barton strolls by and peeks his head in to see what everyone else is clamouring over. He sees Natasha. He sees Loki. Then he sees red.
“You son of a bitch!” Clint shoves his way through the others and slams his fist into Loki’s face with everything he has.
“Clint!” He’s about to swing again when Natasha tackles him to the floor in the blink of an eye, restraining his hands and straddling him so he can’t get up. “Stop it.”
“It’s him? He’s the one who’s been leaving bruises on you?” Clint seethes, a low growl rumbling through his chest.
“Are you going to calm down so we can talk this out like adults?” she coos in a voice that holds no comfort. Loki feels a little sorry for Clint.
“He’s using you, Nat. For God’s sake, can’t you see that? Whatever bullshit he’s feeding you is all lies; he’d lie about what he had for breakfast, it comes that easily to him.”
“Standing right here,” Loki mutters under his breath.
“Clint, that doesn’t sound calm,” Natasha says.
“Let me go, Nat.”
“You’re not going to start throwing punches again, are you?”
“I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”
Loki contemplates climbing out the window. It’s a long fall, but he’s willing to risk it if it means avoiding this horrifying unpleasantness.
Natasha moves off of Clint, and he stands up, his fists clenched at his sides while acrid rage spews out of him like a volcano. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now,” he growls at Loki.
“Because I don’t want you to,” Natasha answers for him. Heads turn to look at her. “Whatever I do in this house is my goddamned business, and I don’t see what my sex life has to do with any of you!”
“She’s got a point,” Tony says with a shrug.
“Wait, Clint, you said Loki gave her bruises?” Steve asks. Of course Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes Captain America would focus on that part. “How did you know that?”
“I saw the bruises a few weeks ago.”
“He hasn’t even lived here that long!”
“I know!” Clint shouts back incredulously.
“Wait, what do you mean, you ‘keep’ finding them?” Tony asks Steve.
“I walked in on them once when Loki had just moved in,” Steve answers. “They were touching.”
Clint lets out a screech that sounds like the death throes of an exotic animal; Steve realizes that was a very poor way to phrase it.
“No, not like that,” he stammers. “It--it just seemed inappropriate at the time because he’d just moved in, but I figured Natasha knows what she’s doing, so--”
“Thank you, Rogers, for being the voice of reason,” Loki says. He looks at Natasha, who’s sitting on the bed with her head buried in her hands. He loathes himself for all of this; of course he would only bring ruin. If she had been caught with Clint, the worst that could happen would be good-natured teasing from the team. They certainly wouldn’t fear for her safety or question her sanity. “I did not come to Midgard to cause any discord. As Thor explained to you all, the Allfather took away my means of magic. I am unable to manipulate anyone into acting against their wishes. Natasha’s behavior, regardless of how much you disapprove, is of her own accord.”
He knows it’s only a matter of time before she drops the guillotine, and he isn’t going to plead for mercy. Before they’d been interrupted, Natasha had been about to admit that he meant nothing to her. Just another notch in her belt. Why should he care if they want to throw him out or worse? She doesn’t love him, could never love him. He’d been a fool to ever believe he could be worthy of love.
“You’re full of shit,” Clint snarls at him. “Why should we believe a word out of your mouth? Your track record’s not helping.” He looks over at Natasha. “And Nat doesn’t look like she wants to jump to your defense.”
Loki stares him down and matches Clint’s rage. “Because she’s trying to find a polite way to tell the Prince of Asgard that he’s a drunken mistake even his own father doesn’t want!”
Natasha’s voice slices through the silence like a knife. “Stop it.” She raises her head, looking at Loki with a strange mix of fury and sorrow. He realizes that his outburst will only prolong his inevitable rejection. If she doesn’t reject him now, it will be solely out of pity due to his verbal vitriol. He doesn’t like any of his options here. “Loki and I are together, okay? I’m not under mind control or any of that bullshit. Now will everyone get out and leave us alone?”
Tony, Steve, and Bruce nod and walk away. Clint looks like he wants to argue but holds his tongue. He gives Natasha a knowing stare before he leaves, shaking his head, and slams the door behind him.
Loki isn’t sure what the protocol is for this situation. Natasha obviously lied about the serious nature of their relationship so the crowd would disperse. There’s no way she views him as anything other than a one-night stand that snowballed out of control. He wants to comfort her, to cool the burn of her reddened cheeks with his icy hands, to knead the tension from her shoulders, but instead he just stands there, helpless to ease her hurt.
“You didn’t have to do that,” he says when he thinks words will do no harm.
“Do what?” She’s still angry.
“Lie to them.”
“I didn’t lie,” she snaps.
“You told them we are together.”
“You told me that we aren’t. Which is it?”
“When did I ever say that?”
“When I said ‘This is a new experience for me, dating a nymphomaniac,’ you said ‘You’re not, but you should be flattered that I enjoy having sex with you so much.’ Then I told you that I was only joking about the nymphomania, but you didn’t say that you knew that or play along. What other conclusion am I left with other than believing that you meant ‘you’re not dating me at all’?”
Natasha tilts her head in confusion, because this is by far the most convoluted line of logic she’s ever heard. “Okay, first of all, you have a frighteningly accurate memory.”
“It can be a blessing and a curse.”
“Second, how the hell did you even come to that conclusion?”
“I just told you.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Perhaps not on its own, but coupled with last night, it paints a very evident picture of your intentions.”
“Loki, what the fuck are you talking about?”
Loki heaves an exasperated sigh, his entire body getting into the act. “Last night, you tried to initiate sex.”
“I remember, and you told me no because you thought I was drunk.”
“Well, yes, but also because I--” He notices her attention is no longer on him, instead drawn to the closed door. He hears a thumping sound on the other side of the door, then a few hushed voices that are still sort of yelling:
“You’re squishing me!”
“Will you keep your voice down?”
“Tony, if that’s your hand on my ass, I’m telling Steve.”
“You’re a poor sport.”
Natasha huffs an angry sigh and storms over to the door, pulling it open to reveal Clint and Tony staring back at her, their eyes as wide as saucers. “Dude, I told you to shut up,” Tony says to Clint, nudging him in the side.
“I’m going to give you five seconds to start running,” Natasha says, her voice impossibly calm yet still impossibly terrifying. “Whoever I catch first will suffer, but he will have it far easier than whoever outruns him.”
Tony and Clint waste no time scrambling away from her. She shuts the door, shaking her head at the idiocy of two grown men. “Sorry, Loki, go on.”
It takes him a moment to recall what he’d been saying before the interruption. “Right, well, yes, it’s partially true that I stopped you because I thought you weren’t entirely capable of making that decision yourself, but the other part is...I might be able to believe that you didn’t only come here last night for sex.” Loki sucks in a deep breath. He doesn’t have far to fall anymore. Her rejection will break apart the weak foundation holding him together. “If this is merely sport to you, I should know that I am in the game.” He holds his breath as he waits for her answer.
Natasha looks as if she’s just been slapped, but her shock dissolved into anger. “You want to know why I came here last night? It wasn’t because I wanted to get you drunk and fuck you. I had an...unpleasant dream”--Loki remembers how he’d noticed the half-empty vodka bottle that night--“and I thought maybe spending time with you would make me feel better.” He scoffs, and she glares at him. “Not like that, you insufferable pervert! When you’re able to hold a conversation that doesn’t include sex jokes, I actually feel...better when I’m around you.” She speaks and winces as if the words cause her physical pain.
His world stops. “Y--you do?”
“So, no, it’s not just sex,” she says, her voice low and tortured. “It used to be, but...now it means something.” Loki stares at her, astonished by the confession. She crosses her arms beneath her breasts. “Look, I can’t explain it, okay, and I’m not gonna sit here and talk to you about feelings.”
The breath leaves his lungs in a shuddering gasp. “You...have feelings for me?”
She groans. “Ugh, don’t say it out loud.”
He feels his heart in his throat, elation of the utmost kind, to hear that his most impossible fantasies aren’t so incomprehensible after all.
Natasha cares for him too.
Loki pulls her to her feet and covers her lips with his, chaos and rapture thumping madly in his chest. His nerves sing in euphoria, and his blood swirls in chorus. He feels her tongue in his mouth, like a flame licking at his lips. Kissing her this way is foreign bliss, rediscovery, and he keeps his mouth tangled with hers until he asks, “Could you believe, despite all the horrible things I’ve done, that I do too?”
“Of course, you wear your heart on your sleeve.”
“So you believe me?” he asks with a grin.
“Or it’s a very well-maintained charade.”
He kisses her again. “Now I don’t even think you believe that one.”
“I’d prefer not to.”
“Then don’t.” He captures her mouth once more, addicted to the feel and taste of her lips. “I’m so sorry it had to be this way, that you had to be forced into a corner.”
“It’s not your fault,” she says, then mutters “Fuckin’ Rogers” under her breath.
Fuckin’ Rogers indeed, he thinks; Loki will have to find a way to thank him.
Chapter 13: With Friends Like These...
XIII. With Friends Like These...
People aren't either wicked or noble. They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.
~ Lemony Snicket
Natasha heads up to the kitchen after changing clothes in her room, and a small part of her dreads seeing the others so soon after they’ve just discovered her biggest secret. She’s not embarrassed about being with Loki, but she doesn’t appreciate everyone being privy to her private matters. Some things ought to be personal. There might have been some gossip if she’d been a little too chatty or flirty with Loki around the other Avengers, but at least they wouldn’t have caught him with his dick inside of her.
She strolls into the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of coffee while she feels what seems like five sets of curious, judging eyes on her. But when she chances a glance at the others, she notices only Clint, Steve, and Pepper are looking at her. Tony’s not even in the kitchen--probably working in his lab on some outrageous gadget--and Bruce is absorbed in the newspaper he’s reading. Pepper follows Clint and Steve’s eyes, looking at Natasha then back to the others, confused as all hell.
Natasha sighs and sits beside Pepper. “I guess Loki decided he needed his beauty sleep, huh?” Pepper asks in a whisper.
Natasha shrugs, feigning disinterest, but she can’t help but notice Clint’s angry scowl out of the corner of her eye. She wants to yell at him, to tell him to get over whatever childish jealousy or white-knight bullshit he’s stewing in, but she’s too tired to argue about this anymore. Tony and Bruce seem to be fine with it, which makes sense because whoever she chooses to fuck is none of their goddamned business anyway.
“Okay, what is going on?” Pepper asks, looking at Steve and Clint. “You guys are glaring at her like she drowned a bag of kittens or something, and it’s really starting to freak me out.”
“Pepper, don’t worry--”
Tony’s voice comes from the kitchen entrance as he strolls inside to wash the grease off of his hands. “Let’s just say Jane isn’t the only one banging a god.”
“Stark, I will murder you in your sleep,” Natasha seethes.
“Wait, you’re sleeping with Thor?” Pepper asks her, her eyes wide. Natasha shakes her head, struggling to remain stoic. “Is it Loki?” She lowers her voice when she says it, as if uttering it at normal volume will bring about the apocalypse. Natasha gives a subtle nod. “Oh my God, Loki’s the guy you were telling me about before?”
Clint raises his head. “You told Pepper but not me?”
“Fuck off, Barton!” Natasha snaps. “Are you really surprised I didn’t tell you? Look how you’re reacting.”
“You guys owe so much to the swear jar,” Steve mutters. Natasha glares at him, letting him know she’s not in the mood.
“Why Loki?” Clint asks. “There are seven billion people on this planet, and you’re fucking Thor’s mass-murdering, psychopath brother?”
“He’s not like that...” She hates sounding like some naïve, boy-crazy little girl who’s glossed over all of his flaws, like she’s too smitten to see him properly. She knows what she saw that night he came to her, but she wishes she had more than her own experiences to justify herself.
Everything about her exterior is calculated, tough and emotionless, because she can’t allow them to see any weakness. And her feelings for Loki--however deeply they run--are definitely a weakness.
“Oh, c’mon, Nat, don’t give me that shit. He’s not some misunderstood, tortured soul who just needs a hug to make everything better,” Clint snaps, his voice hard. “I thought you were smarter than this.”
He may as well have slapped her in the face. “That’s not it,” she says, gritting her teeth.
“Then what is it? Because the only possibility I’m seeing is that he’s got you under some mind-control shit like he did with me and Selvig.”
“Loki told you that he was controlled too.”
“Well, excuse me if I don’t believe him.”
“Then believe me. I’m telling you: he wasn’t in control when he did those things. You can’t have it both ways, Clint. You can’t be okay with second chances for us, but then get mad when I give one to someone else.”
His fists tighten. “That’s different...”
“How is it different? Because he was a ‘bad guy’? So was I!”
“He still is!”
Natasha huffs angrily. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then explain it to me. Make me understand.”
She knows it wouldn’t be right to expose Loki’s pain to an audience. “You’re just gonna have to trust me on this. It’s not my place to tell you any more.”
Clint rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t argue, just sits and stews in silence.
Despite his misgivings, Loki meets with Bruce for their daily chess match. Bruce doesn’t mention the social scandal buzzing around Stark Tower. Instead, he shares short stories of his time with the other Avengers, like the first time he’d met Tony Stark on the SHIELD helicarrier. Loki appreciates the lack of gossip or condescension from Bruce about his relationship with Natasha. At least he knows of one person who doesn’t loathe him entirely.
Natasha comes to his room that evening to call him for dinner. “It’s my night to cook,” she says, the beginnings of a hopeful smile on her lips.
“I don’t think they would appreciate my company.”
“You’re being a brat, Loki. Come on. The only people who even give a shit are Clint and Steve, and I had a talk with them this morning.”
“Barton’s not going to hit me again, is he? He’s got a pretty mean left hook.”
“Clint is too prejudiced to see anything clearly, which makes absolutely no sense; you’d think he’d want the same leniency I’m giving you.”
“It’s not that unbelievable,” Loki says, realizing that Barton is another Avenger with whom he shares a tragic parallel; why should Clint absolve Loki of something he hasn’t forgiven himself for?
“Oh, you think you know him?”
“No, but it’s highly probable that he’s jealous.”
“I have considered that possibility.” Her expression twists into something sad as she sighs. “I wish I could make it easier for him.”
“You could try being uglier.” His jest against her solemn words blesses him with her laughter.
“All right, Romeo, time for dinner.” She reaches for his arm to pull him to his feet.
He shakes his head. “They see me differently now.”
“I know, apparently you’re an entirely different person now that you’re my boyfriend.” She shudders at the word and notices his wide grin. “What?”
“You just called me your boyfriend.” He laughs. The sound is infectious and, if Natasha’s honest, kind of adorable.
She rolls her eyes. “I know, it’s silly, but it’s the only word that really fits at this stage.”
“What about lover?”
She scrunches up her face. “Ew, no. This isn’t a Victorian-era romance novel.”
“We’re not cowboys, Loki.”
He smiles, satisfied with his tactic. “Well then, I suppose this means I get to call you my girlfriend.”
Natasha groans, her cheeks turning red. “I don’t remember agreeing to that.”
“You said we’re dating.”
She pouts at him in that way of hers that makes his heart swell. “As your girlfriend, I’m telling you to come to dinner.”
“Well, when you put it like that...”
Dinner is a smorgasbord of awkwardness, made only slightly less awkward than this morning by the fact that everyone’s fully clothed. Natasha sits sandwiched between Clint and Loki, and no one talks. Even Tony, who actually bothered to come out of his lab to eat, is suspiciously silent.
Natasha maintains an impressive poker face, appearing unaffected by the thick cloud of uncomfortable silence hovering over the table. “I made pie if anyone wants some.”
“I bet Loki does,” Tony mutters loud enough to hear.
Loki looks up and glares at him. “You think you’re funny?”
“I think I’m hilarious.”
Bruce chuckles to himself, shaking his head. Steve sighs theatrically, and Clint just frowns harder.
“Keep doing that, and your face will stick that way,” Loki says to him, irritated with the scowls Clint’s been shooting him all evening.
“Oh, that’s rich.” Clint elbows Natasha. “You see the mature adult you’re dating?”
“You slept in a racecar bed until you were twenty. I don’t think you’re in any position to talk about maturity,” Natasha says.
Apparently, this was not public information. Tony bursts out laughing. “You’re joking, right?”
“That’s bullshit, Nat! You promised you wouldn’t tell anyone!”
She shrugs. “Oops.”
Loki’s surprised to find his lip curling into a grin, and even more surprised when he starts laughing a little.
“So,” Tony starts around a mouthful of lasagna, “who wants to give them the sex talk?”
“Goddammit, Stark,” Natasha groans.
“Not at the table,” Steve whines.
“I’m not touching this one, sir.”
Chapter 14: Family Affair
In which Loki bonds with the team. This chapter's sort of long because I combined it with a shorter one. In the next chapter, the plot starts and doesn't let up until the very end. Lots of foreshadowing here.
Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.
~ Anthony Brandt
“So, how do you know Natasha anyway?” Darcy asks Loki while he tries on scarves in front of the full-length mirror.
“We live in the same building.” He doesn’t think answering with “she tried to stop my attempt to take over Midgard” would go over very well.
“And you’re Thor’s brother, right?” He nods. “‘Cause you guys look nothing alike. Are you adopted?”
He thinks of Odin, of Laufey, of both families in which he feels like a stranger. “I am.”
“Cool, me too.” He’s slightly stunned that she doesn’t see him differently, that even she can relate. “Dude, seriously, who tries on scarves?”
Natasha had decided that if Loki was to live in Stark Tower he needed a wardrobe that didn’t make him look ridiculous. So she’d asked Pepper to take him shopping. Pepper invited Darcy along, who jumped at the opportunity to mold Loki’s sense of style into something resembling a “coffee-shop hipster douchebag,” as Pepper’d put it.
“I try on scarves,” Loki answers haughtily. “And where did Miss Potts run off to?”
“Pepper’s lost to the black hole of the women’s shoe section,” Darcy says. “So, hey, what do you think of something like that?” She points to a mannequin adorned in a casual, black leather jacket. “I think you’d look pretty badass. You seem like a leather kind of guy.”
He likes the way she thinks.
Loki begins to notice that his clothing preferences lean more towards sleek and classy, as demonstrated in his fondness for blazers, vests, scarves, and ties. But he’s not opposed to Darcy’s sense of style either; she has a good eye for what flatters him, even if it’s not something he would otherwise give a second glance.
“So did you hear about all the hilarious crap that happened to your brother when he first came here?” Darcy says to him later as they sit in her car, eating frozen yogurt.
The idea of embarrassing stories about Thor piques Loki’s interest. “I don’t believe so. Please, enlighten me.”
“Well, Jane hit him twice with her car.”
“And she tased him.”
Loki’s trying very hard not to laugh, but it’s a poor effort. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
She shakes her head. “Totally true. I was there.”
“Ask Thor about it and see if he tries to change the subject,” Pepper says.
Loki knows he will; Thor is tentative about admitting his shortcomings or otherwise less than perfect moments to Loki.
Darcy reaches out and feathers her fingers through his raven locks. “Dude, can I cut your hair?” He gives her a perplexed look. “I promise I won’t make you look like a dork or anything. I took cosmetology in high school.”
Pepper barely stifles a laugh.
Darcy glares at her. “Why are you laughing? I did a kick-ass job on Jane’s haircut last month!”
“Yeah, because Jane’s hair has more room for error,” Pepper points out.
Darcy turns to Loki, a conspiritorial gleam in her eyes. “You trust me, right?”
“Well, you did an exceptional job with my attire--”
“See?” Darcy sticks her tongue out at Pepper.
“This really isn’t easing my anxiety,” Loki says.
“Just trust me on this.”
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised myself.”
“Please tell me this is a good surprise.”
“Totally.” Darcy spins his chair to face the mirror, and Loki’s pleased with the reflection there.
Darcy giggles. “Oh my God, who even says that? How are you real?”
He’s sort of amazed that she’s managed to replicate his haircut from when he’d lived in Asgard, before his life went so abysmally wrong. It’s a nice reminder of the way things used to be, of the person he used to be. Maybe he could truly be good again. “Miss Lewis, you’re fantastic, did you know that?”
She smiles. “I know I’m awesome. This isn’t news to me.”
“I’m just shocked she managed to do that without stabbing your skull,” Pepper says.
“Did Jane tell you I did that? She is so full of shit.” Darcy reaches into the pocket of her hoodie and pulls out her iPhone. “Can I get a picture?”
“Um, yes?” Loki forces up a smile.
She sighs. “No, Loki, you’re not supposed to smile...or look at the camera.”
“Because you’ve got this whole moody, tortured rock star thing going, so you’ve gotta be looking away like you don’t care.”
Pepper snorts a laugh, covering her mouth to smother the sounds. Her attempt is unsuccessful.
“Okay...” He’s not really sure why, but what he knows of Midgardian customs seems peculiar, so he decides to play along. “Where would you like me to look?”
“Over there’s good.” Darcy points to the bathroom wall.
“Why am I staring at a wall?”
“So it looks like you’re too cool to care that you’re getting your picture taken. Now look thoughtful and brooding. Stop smiling.” Her admonition makes him laugh, because she sounds so serious about this whole thing. “Oh my God, I can’t do this,” she says through giggles. “His laugh is making me laugh.”
“I’m sorry!” He forces himself to look solemn and pensive for a second so she can take the picture.
“Ugh, perfect. You’re so much more photogenic than your brother.”
It isn’t often that he’s better at something than Thor, so he latches onto this. “Oh, really?” he asks with a smug grin.
“You wanna see?” Darcy presses something on the touchscreen and shows him her collection of Thor photographs, each one more hilariously embarrassing than the last. Loki can’t remember laughing this much in a long time. “Is a good picture of your brother even possible?”
“And he’s been here longer than you,” Darcy bemoans with a shake of her head. “Sad.”
“Absolutely tragic,” Loki agrees, though his tone belies his words. “I need these for blackmail purposes.”
“Oh, he knows they exist.”
He grins. “Yes, but his comrades don’t.”
“I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Natasha takes one look at the “new” Loki, and her jaw drops. “Holy shit!”
“Is that good or bad? It can be such an ambiguous phrase.”
“N--no, it’s good, great!” she stammers out, her eyes wide. “You look...human.”
Loki smiles. “I suppose now you won’t be as eager to rid me of my clothes?”
“In this realm, that’s a compliment.”
He gives her a quizzical look, his eyebrows knit in confusion. “How very contradictory.”
Natasha attempts to distract herself from staring at how long his legs seem in those pants. “Did you get along with Darcy?”
“Yes, yes, she’s wonderful. She possesses some very embarrassing pictures of Thor.”
“I guess you two are gonna be best friends.”
“Of course!” He smirks. “She wanted me to tell you that you have a, uh, ‘smoking hot boyfriend,’ I believe were her exact words.”
Natasha puts her hands on her hips. “Oh, really? That does sound like something she’d say, but I’m still suspicious.”
“I think she might be rather fond of me,” he says with a smug smile. “It would be in your best interest to treat me more charitably.”
She arches an eyebrow. “Or else?” Loki reaches out, brushing his fingertips over her cheek and bringing her face to his. “Don’t think you can avoid this question by dazzling me. It’s not going to work.”
His hand slides to the back of her head, holding her there as his lips brush over hers. “But it always does.”
Natasha slips her hands beneath his jacket to take hold of his waist. “Just because Darcy fawned over you doesn’t mean I will. I like to think I’ve grown resistant to your charms.”
“So you admit that I’m charming?” He raises his eyebrows and smiles against her mouth as he captures her lips in a quick kiss.
She kisses him back with equal pressure. “That’s...not exactly what I said. And now you’re being kind of obnoxious, which cancels out any potential charm.”
“So I’m obnoxious because you think I’m charming?” He bites at her lower lip with gentle teeth.
Her hands snake up into his hair. “See, right now? You’re being obnoxious.”
“I do not think you know what that word means,” he says with a grin, his free hand grabbing her hip and pulling her body forward. His fingers work their way up her shirt, skimming over the small of her back. She sort of jolts at his icy touch, forcing his mouth against the bridge of her nose.
“What are you doing?” she asks, trying not to laugh.
“I’m trying to kiss you, but it doesn’t seem to be working out as I planned.” His cheeks are pink with chagrin.
“I don’t remember you being so clumsy.”
“Perhaps it’s a side-effect of Darcy’s company?”
“Then you might want to rethink your plan about ditching me for her.”
His eyes go wide, his brow creased in sorrow that she could ever think his loyalties so easily broken. “What? I would never--Miss Romanoff, do you have any concept of how lovely you are?” She wants to tell him that she was only joking, but the sincerity he springs forth makes her stop. “You’re intelligent, incredibly strong and valiant, moreso than I’d ever anticipated. You opened your heart to me despite my loathsome behavior, so you must be marvelously loving. You make me laugh--for the right reasons--and though your life has hardened you, you still know how to be gentle and caring.” Loki looks away, blush coloring his cheeks. “I admit I don’t know you quite as well as Barton does or even the way your other companions might, but...I like to think I’ve made an accurate assessment.” The corner of his mouth turns up into a hopeful smile.
Natasha doesn’t know what to say. Those were the last words she’d ever suspected would come out of his mouth. Usually, she’s congratulated on either her strength and heroics; it’s rare that she’s praised for unlocking her emotions instead of receiving compliments on the qualities that make her an asset.
“I’m sorry,” he says, the blood beneath his skin making him look adorably shy. “I’m prattling on, aren’t I? I shouldn’t have said--”
She stands on her toes to kiss him, wrapping her hands in his hair as her mouth moves against his. He sighs happily, pleased that his over-affectionate rambling didn’t frighten her away. “Not a word about how beautiful I am?” she teases.
“Anyone with eyes could speak of your beauty, but you have blessed me with knowledge of your soul, which is far more beautiful.”
She feels her face heat up at his flattery. “I’m more amazed you didn’t quote Shakespeare.”
He kisses her lips, then her cheek, his mouth lingering near her ear. “Why would I use the words of another to express something that is mine and only mine?”
Natasha places her hands on his chest and steals the vibrant smile from his lips with hers. Sometimes words are superfluous.
The golden sun begins to peek through the clouds one morning as Natasha’s wrapped around Loki in his bed, giggling at his bizarre creations in Draw Something. Tony had built a custom phone he’d ended up being dissatisfied with, so he’d given it to Loki and denied any accusations that the gesture was one of goodwill; Loki was just thankful he had something else over which to bond with Natasha.
“That is not a horse!” she says, her voice cracking with laughter.
“Maybe not where you’re from.”
“It has eight legs!”
“His name is Sleipnir,” Loki corrects her, sounding slightly put out.
She rests her head against his chest. “Was he your noble steed when you lived in Asgard?”
“You could say that,” Loki answers with a wry grin. Natasha watches his long, thin fingers paint over the screen as he finishes the picture, inhales the familiar musk of cinnamon and vanilla that still clings to his shirt.
“Steve’s a pretty good artist too,” she says, taking her turn. “You guys have more in common than you’d think.”
“I don’t think Rogers is overly fond of me.”
“Maybe not at first, but I think he can learn to love you.”
“He tried to stab my hand with a fork yesterday morning at breakfast.” She tries not to laugh at the mental image. “I didn’t think Captain America could be so violent unprovoked.”
“You didn’t try to steal his bacon strips, did you? He’s very possessive about those.”
Loki looks a little guilty. “I’ll remember that.” He looks down at his phone and the illustration Natasha’s drawn. “Are those pancakes?”
She nods with a smile. “That’s my roundabout way of asking you if you want breakfast.”
“Clever. But only if you’re making them.” He slides his arm around her shoulders, pressing her to his body, and kisses her cheek. “It wouldn’t be worth my while otherwise.”
She turns her head to kiss his mouth. “You aren’t hungry?”
“I’m still waking up. I didn’t sleep very well.” He rubs his eyes, slow and tired.
“I noticed.” Loki’s sleep had been fitful, and Natasha wonders if they’ve reached a point where she can voice her curiosities about what plagues his dreams. “You can tell me about it if you want,” she says softly, attempting to sound casual.
Loki glowers at nothing in particular, shaking his head. “I’m sorry.”
Natasha nods, understanding. “It’s all right. You wanna stay here for a bit?”
“Just a little while longer.” He drops kisses along the line of her throat while his fingers climb her spine, and they kiss and reconnect until Natasha’s phone chimes.
“Ugh, what?” she grumbles, finding it between the blankets. She reads the message, and a frown forms on her lips.
“What is it?” His hands find her shoulders, his mouth at her chin.
“It’s Clint.” She sighs, types a reply, and shifts to slide out of bed. “I guess we should go. He’s so overprotective.”
Loki gives her a sympathetic smile. “It’s quite all right. I don’t blame him.”
“I know why he’s doing it, but you’d think he’d be more subtle.”
“Maybe I should have a talk with him?”
She shrugs. “Hey, it’s your funeral.”
The kitchen bustles with activity. Steve’s pouring milk into a bowl of cereal when Loki approaches him. “Is there any milk left?”
Steve gives him a look and continues pouring until the last drop, mostly out of spite. “No, we’re all out.”
Loki narrows his eyes. “A shame.”
Tony chuckles and tosses Loki a pack of powdered doughnuts over Steve’s head. “Heads up, Dracula.”
Loki sort of fumbles with the catch. “Er...thanks.” He sits with Natasha, all pretense of neutrality gone. Ever since their, uh, discovery, it seems an exercise in futility to pretend as if they don’t like each other.
“So, hey, we should all do shawarma this weekend,” Tony says. “Loki, come with us.”
Loki raises his head. “Pardon?”
“Yeah, it’ll be great.”
Of course, he has to make excuses. “I--I don’t know if that’s--”
“What, you got other friends you could be spending time with?” Tony presses in a way that seems more pleasant than manipulative. But Loki picks up on the word choice.
He spends a second too long trying to formulate another excuse, and that gives Tony the chance to try a more persuasive tactic. “This discussion’s over. You’re coming with us.”
“I’m glad you gave me the chance to exercise my own autonomy,” Loki mutters under his breath.
“Don’t be a brat, Loki,” Natasha says. “Did you ever think that maybe the others don’t like you because you never really give them a chance to know you?”
“If they really wanted to know me, they’d put the effort in.”
“You can be such a child sometimes,” she says with a sigh.
“Loki, it’s not going to cook any faster if you keep watching.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Well, if you hadn’t slept all day, that wouldn’t be a problem,” Natasha scolds, shooing him away from the oven. “You can continue being helpful by taking the cheesecake out of the fridge.”
Loki frowns, standing up and doing as she asks. “Is it strange that seeing you be so controlling is turning me on?”
“What doesn’t turn you on?”
He thinks for a moment. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” She laughs, and his lips find her neck, his hands fondling her the best they can without sliding underneath her clothes.
“Jeez, you two, get a room,” Tony whines, stumbling upon their display of affection. Natasha wriggles out of Loki’s grip.
“This is a room,” Loki sneers.
“Preferably a room I’m not in.”
“We were here first; you’re free to leave at any time.” Loki snakes his arms around her waist again, but Natasha pries his hands away. He lets go of her, the moment ruined.
“This is also my house, so...” Tony says with a shrug. He pinches a handful of shredded cheese from the bag on the kitchen counter and drops it into his mouth. “Natasha’s playing kitchen tyrant tonight, huh?”
“I’m trying to teach Loki how to cook,” she corrects him, shooting a glare in Loki’s direction.
“Oh no, I am gonna have to stick my head in the sink to make the burning stop?” Tony asks.
To their surprise, Loki actually laughs. “I don’t think I’m that bad... Am I?”
Natasha smiles. “No, you were very helpful.” She looks at Tony. “Don’t worry, I didn’t let him actually touch the food.”
Tony gives a small sigh of relief. “Oh, good. The last time someone from Asgard made dinner, you couldn’t mention tacos without someone wanting to gag.”
“Don’t remind me,” Natasha groans.
Loki’s mouth curves into a wide smile. “Oh, did Thor bring disaster?” This move to Midgard has done wonders for his self-esteem; he’s gathered ample instances of Thor’s lack of proficiency.
“Your brother’s a lot of things, but a good cook? Forget it.” Tony reaches for another pinch of shredded cheese, but Natasha smacks his hand away. “He tried making tacos one night, right? Well, he made them way too spicy. Like, even smelling them would make your eyes start watering.”
“To be fair, they were edible with enough sour cream on top.”
Loki chuckles. “Yes, Thor does seem to forget the ways in which Asgardians differ from your lot.”
“And that wasn’t even the first time he tried cooking,” Tony adds.
“The first time, a fire extinguisher was involved,” Natasha says.
Steve wanders in from the common room. “Oh, something smells good!” He sees Tony, Natasha, and Loki standing in the kitchen. “Who’s cooking?”
“I am,” Natasha says. She nods in Loki’s direction. “He’s supervising.”
Steve doesn’t seem to like the fact that Loki’s there. Things tend to get uncomfortable when they’re in a room together, although Loki would definitely prefer Steve to Barton.
“Can I dig into that cheesecake or do I have to wait?” Tony asks Natasha, hovering near it impatiently and sliding an arm around Steve’s waist. Steve blushes at the public display of affection.
“I would prefer you wait,” she tells him.
“But it’s calling to me.”
She gives Tony a glare that shuts him up.
Loki flips on the oven light again to check on the pizza. “You know, I’d like to make dinner one night, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“When in doubt, just say no to hot sauce,” Tony warns. “And chili flakes.”
Natasha smiles. “Loki, you can barely make toast.”
“To be fair, Stark’s machine is not the best device for making breakfast.”
Tony frowns, put off by the criticism. “It’s still in an early stage. And Steve can use it just fine.”
Loki ignores him, focusing on Natasha. “You can teach me a few tricks. I’m a fast learner.”
“Why don’t we split the labor? That way at least one thing will be edible.”
“A reasonable bargain.”
“I’ve got ten bucks on Loki!” Tony says.
“Twenty for Clint,” Steve challenges, giving Tony a glare.
“My brother has the finest aim in all nine realms!” Thor asserts.
“Doc? Natasha? You guys wanna get in on this?”
Bruce laughs nervously, shaking his head. “I’m sitting away from you to avoid this kind of thing.”
“Apparently it’s unavoidable,” Natasha quips, sharing a “is this really happening?” glance with Pepper.
They had all gathered in the game room Friday night for a rousing match of darts, which quickly turned competitive once Clint realized that it wouldn’t be a cut-and-dry game; Loki matched his skill, and they’d been caught up in a tie-breaker round for about ten minutes now.
“Natasha? You gonna root for your boyfriend or what?” Tony asks.
“I’m remaining neutral.”
“That’s my girl,” Clint says with a smirk. Loki sort of bristles at that.
Clint and Loki turn their attention to the dartboard, and Tony tries his hardest to break their concentration, while Steve scolds Tony for the distractions. Thor tries to boost Loki’s confidence with encouragement, but he doesn’t realize he’s being unhelpful. Natasha rolls her eyes and looks at Pepper.
“I can’t believe they’re doing this,” she says.
Pepper raises an eyebrow. “Really? I can.” Natasha shrugs, conceding. Pepper stirs her hot chocolate. “So, you and Loki, huh?”
“Hey, you could do worse. He is nice to look at. But there is something I’ve noticed.”
“Oh?” Natasha tries to hide the worry in her voice. “What’s that?”
“The way he looks at you...” Natasha flicks her gaze to Loki, but he’s engrossed in making the next shot. “When he thinks you’re not looking, he watches you like you’re the only thing in his world.” Loki makes the shot, and Thor congratulates him with a pat on the back. Clint’s mouth is a hard line as he takes his turn.
Natasha isn’t sure how to process this. She’s no stranger to the flutter in her stomach when she meets Loki’s gaze, but to know it’s just as intense and protective when she’s not looking at him?
Pepper shrugs, taking a sip from her mug. “I don’t know, I just thought it was an interesting observation.”
She finds herself looking over to him, trying to catch him in the act. “Yeah, I’ve never really...noticed that.”
The game continues on into the night, well after the others have retired to their rooms. Clint and Loki keep throwing darts, never missing a shot.
“I gotta admit, you’re pretty good at this,” Clint says, taking aim. He releases the dart, and it finds its target in the center of the board.
Loki smiles, appreciative. “Thank you.”
The unexpected courtesy stops Clint for a moment. “Look, I don’t know what your game is, or what you’re planning to do to Nat, and just because I’m letting it happen doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.”
“You believe she would be happier with you?”
“What if she was?”
Loki nods, conceding. “Then I would let her go...if she ever wanted more than I could offer,” he says in an impossibly small voice. Clint narrows his eyes. “You love her?” It’s not so much a question as it is a statement.
“It doesn’t matter if I do. I’m only looking out for her. Nat isn’t the best when it comes to trust.”
“She trusts you.”
Clint shrugs. “Like I said, she’s not the best with trust.”
Loki thinks he might understand Clint a bit better now.
The air is cold and crisp the next night as their little group treks to The Shawarma Palace. Loki wants to wrap his arm around Natasha, but Thor’s presence behind them makes him wary of showing affection. Thor is still blissfully ignorant of Loki’s relationship with her, and if he knew... He wouldn’t disapprove, but his boisterous congratulations would just make everyone in a five-mile radius uncomfortable.
When they get inside, the only available seating arrangement to contain their large party is a booth in the corner of the restaurant. Loki finds himself squished between Natasha and Thor. Natasha’s face is unreadable, but Thor looks pleased to be seated between his brother and Jane.
Jane glances at Loki. “So who’s the goth guy?” she asks Thor and Darcy.
“Thor’s brother,” Darcy answers before taking a sip of her lemonade.
Jane raises an eyebrow, giving Thor a quizzical look. “I thought you only had one brother.”
“That I do.”
“So...wait, is this the brother who sent that metal robot thing to attack you the first time you got here?” He nods proudly. “And the same one who destroyed the city a while back?”
Loki slumps in his seat, hoping he might be swallowed up by the booth to avoid this unpleasant conversation.
“That would be him,” Thor says, still wearing a smile. Why the hell is he smiling about this? “My dearest brother Loki.”
Jane places a compassionate hand on Thor’s arm. “Honey, your family loyalty is charming and creepy on so many levels.”
“Loki was troubled,” Thor admits, “but he has rid himself of his afflictions.”
Tony barks a laugh. “Troubled? Yeah, calling Loki troubled is like calling World War Two a skirmish.” The table erupts into laughter, save for Loki and Steve, who elbows Tony in the ribs.
Loki can almost see the words leaving his mouth in slow motion, but it’s too late to stop the wreck: “Oh, is that when you two met?”
This is bad. Tony and Steve are sort of gaping at him, and everyone else at the table isn’t sure whether to laugh or be offended. Loki forces out a panicked chuckle, hoping to convince the others of his jest. “That--that was a joke.”
“I guess this wouldn’t be the first time your tongue’s gotten you into an awkward situation, huh?” Tony shoots back.
Loki really wishes the earth would swallow him right now.
“All right, boys,” Natasha cuts in, “zip up. You’ll put an eye out.”
“You picked a hell of a night to hang out with us,” Pepper says to Jane.
“So,” Jane says after a brief moment of awkward silence, “did I tell you guys about my new job?”
Darcy heaves a theatrical sigh. “Only about a million times.”
“Shut up, I haven’t told them yet!”
“Then why did you even ask?”
Jane just rolls her eyes. “So anyway, I got this amazing job offer from Oscorp, right? They’re more into chemical development, but apparently they’re delving into other scientific branches, and they want me to run the astrophysics department!” She grins.
“But you already work for SHIELD, don’t you?” Steve asks.
“Well, yeah, but Oscorp’s offering a ton of money. It’d be stupid not to at least check it out. I’m supposed to meet the founder tomorrow evening for an interview.”
“I wish you success in your endeavors,” Thor says. He tries to look supportive; Loki detects the faint trace of suspicion beneath the surface but says nothing of it.
Jane smiles back and leans over a bit to peer over at Loki. “So, Loki, right?” He nods. “Okay, so you’re the one Thor’s always talking about! It’s nice to finally meet you!” She gives him a cordial wave.
“Likewise. I hope he hasn’t said anything too...embarrassing.”
“No, nothing like that! He talks a lot about how you used to play pranks when you two were growing up.”
Loki chuckles to himself. To hear that Thor cheerfully recalls their childhood together makes elation well up inside of him.
“But I never pictured you’d look so”--Jane searches for the word--“human.” He smiles wryly at the veiled truth of her statement. Loki doesn’t have an intimidating physique like Thor. He doesn’t have any special powers that grant him the ability wield Mjolnir. Save for his lost magic abilities, he’s utterly ordinary, never really fitting in anywhere. It’s as if he was born to be a mortal.
He’s walking with Natasha along an empty street underneath a shadowy sky. There are no sounds but the patter of their footsteps. The buildings on either side of them are abandoned, but their neon lights and signs still shine. Loki feels a sense of dread crawl up his spine, apprehension he cannot identify. The street seems familiar somehow, but the familiarity isn’t the source of his anxiety.
At first the vacancy is sort of relaxing, romantic even. Loki can slide his arm around her waist. She can lean her head against his shoulder. Stark Tower looms in the distance, its shining billboard of lights beckoning them home.
Natasha is the first to notice something amiss. One by one, the lamps and lights behind them begin to flicker out. When Loki turns his head to follow her line of vision, he can no longer see the path behind them; darkness has engulfed the road. He feels the icy finger of dread again and quickens his steps, hoping the safety of Stark Tower will conceal them from the approaching threat.
The onyx sky begins to morph, its color mutating into a sinister indigo. The clouds shift into an interconnecting web, like a map of synapses. The air becomes suddenly pinched with cold, and the path ahead grows into a winding, spiral staircase.
Loki freezes in horror, startled when Natasha bumps into him. They are not safe. Something--or someone--is coming. He grabs her hand and pulls her into the nearest building for cover. A bell tinkers overhead when they creep inside an empty convenience store. Loki pulls her into a hiding spot behind the check-out counter. Outside the window, darkness blankets the street as the lights flicker and dim. Low rumbles sound in the distance. Thunder? No, they’re short. Quick. Almost like footsteps.
Loki risks another glance out the window. A shadowy figure slides through the night, cloaked in the blackness. Loki holds his breath, and the dull thuds of his heartbeat sound in his ears.
Something steps in front of the window, blocking the dim light from outside.
The figure crashes through the window and barrels towards them. Loki clutches Natasha’s hand and begins to run, pulling her along with him. But he doesn’t get very far.
Something sharp stabs through Loki like a hot knife through butter. The pain immobilizes him, and he can feel the warm stream of blood trickling and spreading.
His eyes focus to see the blade of a scepter protruding from his stomach.
Loki wakes with a fearful yelp, his eyes leaking tears and his chest tight with sobs as he jerks into a sitting position. It takes him a few moments to ascertain that he’s awake. He palms his frantic, quaking hands over his middle and finds there is no hole. Still gasping panicked breaths, he stares out the window at the peaceful glimmer of the moon. The chill from the dream is still present, and he reaches for the blankets only to find that he’d kicked them off of the bed.
Natasha stirs and rolls onto her back to look over at him. “Loki? You okay?”
He nods absently, retrieving the blankets from the floor. “Just a dream, love. Go back to sleep,” he whispers, kissing her forehead. He pulls the blankets around them and lies beside her, fighting to banish the nightmare from his thoughts. It isn’t often that he has nightmares, but when he does, they’re brutal. It’s all he can do to keep himself together so Natasha doesn’t worry.
Natasha watches him, a thoughtful expression on her face as she combs back the loose strands of his hair with her fingers. “You’ve never called me that before,” she says.
“Haven’t I?” He raises an eyebrow. “Do you like it?”
“It’s got a nice ring to it,” she admits. “You speak like you’re from a different time.”
“Because I am.” He traces his fingers along her spine. She responds by curling closer to him.
“What were you dreaming about?”
“It’s not important.”
“It is to me. I’ll listen if you want to talk about it.”
“‘If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended. That you have but slumber’d here, while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding, but a dream.’”
She presses her lips together in an effort to conceal her smile. “Are you always going to quote Shakespeare whenever you want to avoid answering something?”
Loki smiles and holds her tighter. “Sleep, love.” She closes her eyes, soon fast asleep in his embrace, and he watches over her, wondering how many more nights like this he will be blessed with before his misdeeds finally catch up to him.
The nightmare still haunts the corners of his mind. While Natasha sleeps, Loki quietly slides out of bed and retrieves his clothes from the floor, dressing in silence and slipping out of the room like a ghost.
He hurries to the elevator like a scared child, fearing that the darkness of the hallways may cloak an apparition from the dream. The elevator opens, and he walks right past his bedroom door on his way to the kitchen. Loki’s too busy checking his surroundings for shadows, so he doesn’t notice that someone is already in the kitchen until he steps inside. It’s too late now to turn around unseen.
Thankfully, the other person is Steve, not the monstrous figure from his nightmare, but Loki and Steve have never gotten along swimmingly--at most, they’ve just tolerated the other’s existence.
“Oh, my apologies. I didn’t know you were here,” Loki says. “Would you like me to leave?”
Steve shakes his head, opening the microwave door and pulling out a small tub of ice cream. “You don’t have to.” He walks back to the table. “Kitchen’s big enough for both of us.” Loki nods and fixes himself a cup of hot chocolate in silence, and it’s only until he begins to prepare his second treat that Steve speaks again. “What are you making?”
“Brownie in a cup.”
“No way, really? Tony tried making one of those, but he ended up setting the microwave on fire.”
Loki snorts a laugh. “Why does that not surprise me?”
“Because Tony can be, for lack of a better word, a moron sometimes.”
“Like when he agreed to let me stay here?”
Steve frowns. “No, he had a good point.”
“So did you.” Loki shrugs, taking his two mugs and sitting across from Steve. “Perhaps I don’t deserve to be happy after what I’ve done.”
“I’m sorry I said that,” Steve says, hanging his head. Loki gives him a dismissive, “don’t worry about it” hand wave. Steve watches him for a moment. “Why did you come here? Thor said you were happier here, but how did he know that?”
Loki begins to pick at the brownie with his spoon. “We had an arrangement. After our father died...Thor offered me a chance to accompany him to your realm.” He sighs. “Father’s death left me bleeding, and Natasha was the one to stitch me up.”
“Why her?” Steve asks. “I mean, why did you go to her?”
He takes another bite. “I told you I was left bleeding. At the time, I cared not to be stitched up again. I believed that she would finish the job.”
Steve looks at him, his brow furrowed in unfathomable pain. “You wanted to die?”
“I practically begged her. It was very unbecoming.” Loki grimaces at the memory. “But she refused, offered me companionship instead. I realize that, in the beginning, my fixation with her was nowhere near healthy. I was only exchanging one addiction for another, replacing the need to prove myself to my father with whatever form of affection she showed me.
“But it felt healthier somehow. I’d been drowning in dark waters for so long, and she pulled me out, gave me air and sunlight.” He shrugs, smiles sadly. “Anyway, that’s why I...came here.”
Steve drops his gaze to the table, and they eat in silence for a while before he speaks up again. “I’m sorry to hear about your father.” Steve stares into the distance, and it takes a few moments before he breaks the reverie. “I lost people very close to me, too. It’s never easy, but it does get better.”
“Natasha said something similar.” It pains Loki to think of who she must have lost to come to that understanding. “Does it bother you, feeling out of place here?”
Steve gives a non-committal shrug. “Sometimes. But it’s not really that different. Some things have changed a lot, but other things are still the same. And some things are better.” A brief smile crosses his face before disappearing, as if he remembers he’s not supposed to like Loki. “You’re more out of place than I am, if we’re being honest,” he says playfully.
“True, but I think that I adapt quickly. I’ve heard amusing tales of Thor’s struggle to acclimate to your ways.”
“He’s quite a character,” Steve says with a warm grin. It’s strange for Loki to see him this way; Steve’s never been cordial in his presence before.
“I’m sure that’s putting it lightly.”
“It’s funny, everyone thought I’d be a fish out of water here with all this new technology, but I think I got used to it much sooner than your brother did.”
Loki chuckles. “Darcy told me that Jane hit Thor with her car. Twice. Within forty-eight hours of him being here.”
“He put Pop-Tarts in the microwave,” Steve says. At Loki’s confused look, he adds, “Without taking them out of the package.”
That makes them both laugh. Loki wouldn’t consider them friends yet, but he’s fairly certain now that Steve doesn’t completely hate him.
Chapter 15: Anathema
For those of you wondering when the "real" plot would kick in: your chariot has arrived. I hope you enjoyed the fluff, because it's going to be scarce from here on out. It will return, just not as frequently.
Personal affection is a luxury you can have only after all your enemies are eliminated. Until then, everyone you love is a hostage, sapping your courage and corrupting your judgement.
~ Orson Scott Card
Loki wakes slowly as the sun glows through the curtains, and he lays in bed, savoring the warmth and comfort for a moment. Natasha’s out of bed, her back facing him as she sings softly to herself while getting dressed. He grins, delighted by the candid moment; she definitely doesn’t know he’s awake. The song is Russian and unfamiliar, but the sound of her voice is sweeter than the greatest symphony. She wiggles her hips from side to side as she pulls on a pair of dark jeans. He bites his lip to keep his smile from spreading.
“That was for your benefit, you little perv,” she says, turning to face Loki with a smirk and blindly tossing something at him from the top drawer of the dresser. Loki starts laughing when he realizes what she’s thrown at him: brightly colored panties emblazoned with cartoon cats. “I’ve never seen these before,” he teases, arching his eyebrows. “Saving them for a special occasion?”
Natasha gasps in horror, her cheeks burning red, and scrambles to grab the fabric, landing on top of him. He’s too quick. He clasps the garment in his hands and tucks his hands behind his head. “Loki, give it back,” she growls, trying to sound intimidating, but she’s leaning over him and her breasts are sort of shoved in his face.
A shrewd tactic, he thinks, because his first instinct is to reach around to her back to unhook her bra, but he quickly reins in the urge. “Only if you wear them. Right now.”
Natasha glares at him. “You are such a pervert.” She pulls at his arms, trying to pry his hands from behind his head, but her strength is no match for his. “It’s sort of disgusting, actually.”
“Don’t hurt yourself.” He smirks.
“This isn’t exactly fair. You have the strength of a god.”
Loki just grins at her. “I know.” She jabs two fingers from each hand into his sides, making him yelp in surprise and reach to grab her arms. Natasha plucks her unmentionables from their now-exposed hiding spot. “Oh, that was clever,” he says. She raises her arms, continuing their little game of keep-away until he nudges her backwards against the mattress. “But I’m cleverer.”
Her lips press together in that way of hers when she tries to suppress a laugh. “I don’t think that’s a word.”
“Isn’t it?” he asks, raising an eyebrow in that way of his. “Well, it ought to be.”
She feigns disenchantment. “You used to be so eloquent.”
“Yes, well, I’m very aware of your, uh, presence here.” He gestures vaguely to her breasts, which are pressed against his bare chest. “I think I’m losing coherency by the moment.”
“We wouldn’t want that.” Her smug teasing turns him on much more than he’d ever care to admit. She angles her hips to roll against his, and he sucks in a breath. His head dips down to kiss her throat, his hands unbuttoning and pulling down her pants. She helps him with the task, and then he’s grinding against her through her underwear, smirking at the sounds of her frustrated moans. When he reaches down to stroke her, she growls, “Inside. Now,” and Loki’s more than happy to oblige.
Sex with Natasha is always amazing, but there’s something to be said for the times when her hands grapple at his back or when her hips flex frantically against his. He works into her hard and fast, gauging how much to give by the sounds of her cries and the way her nails drag down his spine.
His mouth is at her breast when her phone trills from its place on the bedside table; Natasha’s practically hanging over the edge of the bed, in no position to reach for it. Loki pauses, flicking his tongue over her nipple. “Are you going to answer that?”
“It’s not important. Keep going.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I just do,” she sort of growls, forcing her hips to meet his.
“If you insist.” He’s glad she did, because he gets to watch her come apart when he hits that spot inside of her that lifts her body off of the mattress and makes her lips part in ecstasy.
“Are you going to answer that now?” he asks again, kissing her mouth as her chest heaves. “It’s rude to keep someone waiting.”
Natasha doesn’t get the opportunity to answer. The bedroom door opens, and Thor’s voice booms, “Lady Natasha, I must ask--” Then he lets out a yelp that sort of sounds like a scream, because Loki and Natasha are naked together and this is not okay.
“Did no one teach you to knock first?” Loki cries as Thor slams the door shut. He moves to get off of the bed at the same time Natasha does, which sends them rolling over the edge and onto the floor. They land on top of each other, the wind knocked out of them.
“I’m going to kill your brother,” Natasha says in that detached tone Loki knows too well.
“I can’t say I blame you, but please don’t.” He searches for his clothes, tossed aside haphazardly the night before. Natasha wraps herself in the bedsheet, and Loki manages to throw on a t-shirt and boxer shorts before answering the door. “What is the meaning of this?” he growls at his brother standing awkwardly in the hallway.
Thor’s face is a shade of red Loki hasn’t seen in ages. It would be amusing had it not come at Loki’s expense. “Why are you in Lady Natasha’s bedchambers?”
Loki narrows his eyes. “I know you’re not that dense.”
It takes Thor a few seconds to grasp the concept. “Have you found a mate?”
Loki cringes. He hates that word; it sounds much too animalistic for the tender affection he shares with Natasha. “In a manner of speaking, I suppose so.”
Thor’s eyes widen. “Brother, were you speaking of Lady Natasha when you enquired of my dealings with Jane?”
“Just tell me why you found it necessary to barge into our--her room without the proper custom of knocking.”
“I request to speak to Lady Natasha.”
“I’m listening,” Natasha says from her spot on the bed.
“May I enter?” Loki lets him inside, glaring at the back of his head as he passes by. “I have a favor to ask of you.”
She pulls the sheet tighter around her shoulders. “Ask away.”
“I do not trust this man that Jane is seeing tonight.”
“You’re jealous?” Loki asks.
“No, I wish to protect her from harm. I fear his intentions are impure.”
Loki chuckles a little. “Darcy told me everything: the car accidents, the taser. I think Jane is capable of handling herself.”
Thor shakes his head. “I do not take her safety lightly, brother. Do you not feel protective of Lady Natasha?”
Loki knows that he does.
“Thor, honey, please stop calling me Lady Natasha,” she says with a sigh. “I feel like I should be wearing a vinyl catsuit, working as a dominatrix.”
Loki grins. “Ooh.”
“So what’s your favor?” Natasha asks Thor.
“I ask that you keep watch on Jane tonight. Ensure that she returns safely. Asgard demands my attention, otherwise I would do this myself.”
“Uh, I wouldn’t advise doing that regardless,” Natasha warns him. “Stalking your girlfriend is generally viewed as creepy.”
“How is it less creepy if you stalk her?” Loki asks.
“Because we’ll be at a restaurant nearby,” she says to him. “Together.”
“Wonderful!” Thor exclaims. “A date!”
Loki’s eyes widen in horror. “This is a date? When did this become a date?” These were not the plans he had in mind for this evening.
Natasha ignores Loki and looks over to Thor. “If I do this, you owe me.”
“What do you desire?”
“When I think of something, I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you,” Thor says. “I appreciate your assistance.”
Loki rolls his eyes. “Now get out.”
Thor claps a hand on Loki’s shoulder, grinning widely. “Congratulations on your coupling!”
“Out!” They both snap in unison.
When Thor shuts the door behind him, Natasha drops the sheet, and Loki tries to keep his tongue in the vicinity of his mouth. She grabs him and pulls him closer, a hand tangled in his hair as her lips meet his. Her hands reach for the hem of his shirt, and Loki moves to stop her. “What are you doing?” he asks, thoroughly confused.
Natasha tugs at the waistband of his boxers and slides a hand inside, wrapping her fingers around his cock. “Finishing what your brother interrupted.”
Loki bites his lip as her hand strokes. “Please don’t mention my brother while you’re touching me.” She nudges him back against the bed. He didn’t think he could orgasm after Thor’s interruption until he feels the tip of his cock bump against the back of her throat. He groans, whimpers, tugging at her hair, and she sucks hard and greedy, her mouth and tongue and teeth breaking him apart. She swallows and crawls back up his body, her knees on either side of his hips. “Again? Are you always this insatiable?” he asks in a sultry whisper.
Natasha reaches over his head. “No, I’m just getting my phone.” She grabs it off of the nightstand and sits in his lap.
Loki frowns. “Oh. I hope you didn’t miss anything important. Or was that message from Thor?”
“I thought you didn’t want to mention your brother when we’re in bed together.” Loki pouts and narrows his eyes. “It was from Clint, by the way. I think he gets antsy when we don’t show for breakfast.” He watches her fingers tap the screen. “Okay, so there’s a nice restaurant across the street from the Oscorp building. I figure we’ll watch from there.”
Loki gives her a blank look. “We can do that?”
“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” she says, sighing once she realizes he doesn’t understand the reference. “You haven’t seen Star Wars?” He shakes his head. “I don’t think I can date someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars. We are remedying this immediately.” She types a message into the phone. “God, even your brother’s seen the original trilogy.”
“Wh--what? Seriously?” There is no way he’s being outshined by Thor again.
Her phone trills a short chime, and she smiles. “Oh, good. Stark is available to show you some culture today.”
“Why does it have to be Stark? The last time we watched a movie together, he and Banner spent the entire film criticizing the accuracy of the technology.”
“I’d love to do it, but I have to get things ready for tonight,” Natasha says, hopping off of him and picking up her clothes from the floor.
He misses her warmth. “It takes you that long to prepare for an evening out?”
She flashes him a smirk. “It does when we’re going to be spying on someone.”
That evening, Loki knocks on the door to Natasha’s room, and when she opens it he gives an audible gasp. He’s pretty sure the red dress hugging her body is illegal in at least ten states. “That’s...a dress.” His silver tongue at its finest.
Natasha points at him. “And that’s a jacket.”
“Oh, I thought we were pointing out inherently obvious things about each other’s clothes.”
He manages a laugh. “No, I just...didn’t expect you to dress up.” Her expression doesn’t change. “Not that you wouldn’t or shouldn’t, but I wasn’t entirely prepared to--”
She kisses him to stop the flow of words coming out of his mouth. “Why are you so nervous?”
“Because this is so very official. This is a date. We’re dating.” Even saying the word seems to make him nervous.
“What about when we went for shawarma last week?”
“That doesn’t count; we weren’t alone.”
She rolls her eyes. “Well, think of it this way. This isn’t really a date; we’re just pretending that it is while we spy on someone.”
“Just let me find a necklace and we’ll go.”
“I might be able to help.” He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out his gemstone necklace. “Try this?”
She gives him a knowing smile, turning her back to him, and Loki brushes aside the curtain of her hair. “Do you always carry that around in case of a jewelry crisis?”
He hooks the chain around her neck. “It’s personal...and sort of silly.”
Natasha waits for him to elaborate, but he doesn’t. She faces forward, staring up at him expectantly. “Well? What do you think?”
He’s locked in her earnest gaze, enchanted by the way her eyes reflect the vivid green glimmer of the stone hanging from her neck. “Perfect.” He’s not sure he’s talking about the necklace anymore.
Their evening is fairly comfortable, save for Natasha’s occasional glances at the iPad in front of her. She’d installed inconspicuous cameras inside the Oscorp building so she and Loki could watch Jane’s interview without drawing suspicion. The founder of Oscorp--Norman Osborn--sits across from Jane at an elaborate oak desk, his office drab and plain. Jane seems relaxed, so Natasha feels no guilt in tearing her attention away from the screen.
“So, did Stark bore you with the technicalities of building a Death Star?” Natasha teases him, stealing a bite of his decadent dessert.
“Not so much, actually. He sort of...corralled Rogers into watching with us.”
“Was it awkward?”
Loki shakes his head. “Rogers and I have developed an understanding.”
“See? Star Wars brings people together.”
He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that his reconciliation with Steve was not the result of her arrangement. “Except, perhaps, the Sith and the Jedi.”
“True.” She glances down at the small screen before her. Nothing out of the ordinary yet. Loki watches her, adoring the way the blood pools beneath her skin when she feels his gaze on her.
“Can you at least pretend like you’re not enjoying this so much? If this is what Date Loki is like, I’m out.”
His eyes widen. “No, I--I can act differently!”
“Jeez, y’know, for a trickster, you’re terrible at telling when other people are joking.” She puts a hand on his arm, her lips curved into a reassuring smile. “Lighten up a little, okay? I wouldn’t have invited you if I didn’t want you here.”
“Would you rather have gone with Barton?”
“He’d probably just ask about you all night.”
“Well, I’m very glad it wasn’t Barton who, uh, saw us.”
“Yeah, you’d be missing some very important body parts if he did.”
He cringes. “I hope none of your favorites would be on that list. Thor may be embarrassing and loud, but at least he isn’t prone to violence when it comes to our sex lives.”
“Speaking of Thor and our sex lives--”
“Why do those two subjects seem to overlap so often?” he groans.
“What did he mean when he asked you if you were talking about me when you said something about Jane?”
Loki’s sort of surprised that he was able to follow that sentence. Color floods his cheeks. He spoons a piece of chocolate-chip brownie into his mouth to stall for time. “It--it was only a passing mention, nothing important, really....”
“What was it?”
He shrinks into his seat, wishing the floor would swallow him. “I asked him a few questions, and I suppose that made him curious about why I was asking.”
“What kind of questions?”
“It’s not important, really.”
“I want to know.”
He sort of flinches beneath her gaze, his face impossibly red now. This is not going well. Loki wonders if knocking something off of the table to change the topic would be less embarrassing than just telling her the truth. It doesn’t help that he can’t tear his eyes away from her cleavage. “I asked him if it was...difficult for him to control his strength with Jane,” he answers, his voice low and anxious. “He said yes, but my question piqued his curiousity.”
Natasha shakes her head, her ruby lips spreading into a smile. “You are so ridiculous.”
“Thank goodness my ass makes up for it,” he says with a smug grin.
“Do you always have to be gross?”
“Not always,” he disputes. “I think it only makes up about twenty percent of my dialogue.”
“Why does it seem like more?”
“You focus on it.” He smirks. “Which probably says more about your own awareness than you’d care to admit.”
Natasha glares at him. “Someone just talked his way out of sex tonight.”
He opens his mouth to argue, but he’s distracted by the sight of a family passing by the window. A young boy and girl smile exuberantly, oblivious to the world around them. Loki misses that innocence and wonders if someday he might be able to bolster it in a child of his own.
He turns his head to find her staring at him, and he’s perplexed at her expression. “What? I love kids,” he says a little defensively.
“Name one child you even know.”
Loki shrugs; she has a point. He feels a funny twinge in his gut, and he absentmindedly twirls his spoon in the chocolate drizzle on the plate between them. “Do you ever think about it?”
She gives a dark laugh, but he notices her posture sort of stiffen. “Kind of a moot point for me.”
“How so?” He senses that this is a delicate subject for her, but he doesn’t know why he can’t he leave it alone.
“What kind of life could a child have as a constant liability, a target for whoever wants to hurt me?” He can see the faint edges of sadness in her eyes. Loki wants to tell her that any child raised in Stark Tower would be impeccably protected, but the next words from her lips nearly break his heart in two: “Even physically, it’s an impossibility.”
A crippling wave of pain spreads through his chest. He decides not to poke at the topic anymore. “I’m sorry...” He looks away, feeling like a complete and total prick for raising the subject.
“I can probably forgive you,” she says with a shrug and a small smile, “if you learn how to close your legs when you sit.”
“We’ve been over this before; I think it’s a medical condition.”
“I could say the same about that dress.”
She glances down at her chest, scowling and blushing like a little girl about to have a temper tantrum. He finds it adorable. “Okay, I see your point.” Natasha notices something strange from the camera feed, though she can’t pinpoint exactly what. “Hmm.”
“Something the matter?”
“Just a weird feeling, I guess.”
Loki turns the screen to view it from an angle other than upside-down. He can see that Jane’s body language is indicative of discomfort. “She appears as if she wants to leave.”
“But he’s not letting her. Why?”
“Perhaps they need her services.”
“There’s plenty of other astrophysicists. Jane’s not the only one.” Suddenly, the camera feeds cuts out. “Shit!”
“Did it disconnect?”
She presses a few commands against the screen. “Not from our end.”
“He knows we’re watching.”
They head out to the car, and Natasha grabs a gun from beneath the driver’s seat and tucks it into her thigh holster. “Go,” she orders him. “The front door should be unlocked. I’ll be right behind you.”
Loki does as she asks and crosses the street, reaching the Oscorp Building and trying the door. It is indeed unlocked. He sneaks inside, careful not to trip any alarms or alert anyone of his presence.
His eyes search for shadows or movements along the walls. He wonders why Osborn wanted to meet with Jane so late in the evening. This entire situation makes little sense to him. What would a chemical company need with an astrophysicist?
He doesn’t have time to ponder this question. Something slams into him as he turns a corner. A female scream rings out.
He looks down at the terrified woman on the floor. “Jane?”
Her eyes widen as she scrambles to stand. “Loki? What are you doing here?”
He helps her to her feet. Would it be prudent to tell her that he and Natasha were spying on her? “Ih--it’s not important. Are you all right? What’s the matter?”
“I should have known something was weird about all of this,” she whispers, perhaps fearing discovery. “His eyes...”
“I’ll take care of him. Natasha should be here somewhere,” he says softly. “Go find her.”
Jane nods and hurries off, disappearing down the dark corridor. Loki glides across the floor and through the hallway. He spies a door slightly ajar and wonders the best approach. Then he laughs at himself. Osborn is merely human, hardly a match for a god. What has he to fear?
Loki pushes the door open. The office is clean and tidy but devoid of the suspect. Disappointed, Loki turns around.
That’s when the fist hits his jaw.
He staggers back, blindsided by the assault. His assailant is Norman Osborn, but at the same time, it isn’t. Jane had mentioned something about his eyes, and when Loki looks at him he realizes exactly what she’d meant. Osborn’s eyes are distant, vacant, a hazy blue.
He feels a chill; Loki knows exactly where he’s seen that look before. Panic grabs him, numbs him.
“Son of Laufey, what an interesting coincidence.”
Loki can’t stop shaking. His stomach feels like lead.
Osborn takes a few steps forward. Loki moves to step back but stops when he realizes Osborn’s staring at his feet, waiting for him to make that move. “Your fear is wise,” he says smugly. “You understand the repercussions of your failure.”
“Why are you here? What do you want with Jane?” Loki asks, trying to keep the fear out of his voice.
“Did you not listen? There is nowhere to hide where we cannot find you.”
Panic rises in his chest. “What did you do to her?”
“Our quarrel is not with her.”
Loki nods grimly. “But with me.”
Osborn smiles, though his eyes make it more of a leer. “Precisely. Come with me, and perhaps he may show mercy to this miserable planet of yours.”
The words slice through the gristle of his fear, and Loki knows this is a lie. “‘Perhaps?’”
“You craved control, power in the palm of your hand. What changed this desire?”
“My motivations were not entirely my own.” Loki wonders what the best escape plan might be. It would be possible for him to get away--Osborn still only possesses mortal strength--but Natasha and Jane may not be so lucky. His hands tighten into fists.
“He will find you, regardless of your actions here. Escaping will only prolong your death.” He smiles. “Do you think we cannot see with whom your allegiances lie?”
Loki’s breathing stops as if a blade has punctured his lungs. They know about the others. They know about Natasha. The thought of her name destroys any semblance of clear thinking. They will kill her. He will kill her while Loki can do nothing but watch.
Osborn drops away, and Loki jumps back, fearing his executioner draws near. But instead, he sees Natasha standing in the doorway.
“You wanna try not freezing up next time?”
But Loki doesn’t hear her.
Natasha arranges for Osborn to be detained at SHIELD until she can properly interrogate him. Loki stays unnervingly quiet for the remainder of the drive home, and Natasha tries not to let his silence bother her. Loki’s no stranger to moping, but she can’t think of what could be causing his distress. Certainly it isn’t because she took down the target? He’s never raised complaint about her abilities before. Why would it suddenly bother him now? Or could he be upset that their date was interrupted?
When they reach Stark Tower, Natasha can’t take his angry, brooding silence anymore. “Loki, talk to me. What is it?” He rubs a hand over his face and exhales shakily, turning his head so he won’t look at her. “Whatever’s going on, we can deal with it.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” he snaps, revealing bits of truth in his venomous anger.
She wants to reach for his hand, but his arms are folded over his chest. “You’d rather do it yourself?”
His hands tighten into fists. “I have to.”
“Because it’s my fault.” His voice breaks under the weight of his words, and he slides a hand over his eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
“Whatever you’re tangled up in, we’ll help you. We’re a family, that’s what we do.”
Apparently that’s the wrong thing to say. Loki stiffens, throws open the passenger door and climbs out, slamming the door behind him as he storms inside. Natasha’s stunned by his reaction. She’s rarely seen him this angry--at least since they’ve been on good terms--and she doesn’t know how to alleviate the distress and ire boiling within him.
She sits in the car for a few minutes to collect her thoughts. She wonders how far he might go if she follows him, how deep his fury lies.
Nausea rocks her stomach at the thought. No, he isn’t wicked anymore. He never was; whoever controlled him was responsible for that, amplifying the tumultuous emotions in his head into devastation.
Natasha shakes away her fear and follows him into Stark Tower. In the elevator, she thinks if she ought to give him some time to cool off first before approaching him again. But from what she’s learned of his anger and grief, it’s highly childish; he wants the comfort of attention, especially when he’s at the apex of emotion. That knowledge is what fills her with the courage to knock on his door.
“Loki? Can I come in?”
He doesn’t answer, but she knows he’s in there and that his pride won’t allow him to ask for her presence. So she turns the knob and peers inside the room. He sits on the bed, his back facing her, consumed in darkness, save for the wisps of light seeping in through the curtains. His head is buried in his hands, giving the impression that he’s crying, though his shoulders are still.
Tentative steps carry her inside, and she sits beside him on the bed, waiting for him to reject her company. He just sighs sadly. “Will you tell me what’s wrong?” she asks.
His hands rake through his hair. “Just leave me alone.”
“No, you’re done with this lone wolf crap. I want to help you.”
“I don’t want you to help me,” he snaps, but his voice is rough and ragged from grief.
“Okay, then just tell me what’s wrong.” She places her hand on his shoulder, making a move to be nearer. He doesn’t shrug it off or jerk away from the touch, just sags beneath her kindness.
Loki exhales, his hands tugging at his hair. Natasha waits for him to open up, because she’s noticed his body language shift from angry to scared. “I can’t let you help me. I can’t let anyone help me. I have to do this myself.”
“What is it?” Her hand rubs soothing circles on his back to accent her support. “I won’t leave, no matter how awful you think it is.”
Loki doesn’t look at her. His eyes stare at the floor, but she can still see the terror on his face. “Thanos is coming.” Her eyebrows knit together in confusion. “He is the one who...compromised me.”
She nods slowly. “How do you know this?”
“Osborn was possessed the way I was...the way Barton was... He told me that Thanos knows where I sleep and that he will come for me.”
“Did he say when?”
“He wouldn’t make it that easy.” Loki scrubs a hand over his face. “I’ve put all of you in danger.”
She gives him a hopeful smile. “We can take care of ourselves.”
“He has an army and a plethora of advanced weapons.”
“We have a Hulk and Tony Stark. I think we’ll be okay.”
“He’s impossibly strong...”
“So are you and your brother.” Natasha reaches for him, takes his face in her gentle hands, as if her touch could deposit her sincerity into his bones. “Loki, we can defeat him. And we have an advantage: we know he’s coming. We can strategize.”
He shrugs out of her hold, craving her affection but knowing he does not deserve it. “There is no ‘we.’ I don’t want you or anyone else getting involved. This is my mess.”
“We want to help you clean it up. And if the others won’t, then I will.”
His eyes go wide. “No!” He grabs her shoulders, surprisingly gentle for such a sudden movement, and the feel of his fingers is electric against her skin. “I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you.”
Natasha doesn’t know how to respond to that. She stares at him, uncomprehending, transfixed by the intensity of his scorching gaze. “You--you really should think about telling the others, at least so SHIELD knows,” she whispers. Loki doesn’t answer. He presses his cool lips to her forehead. “Wait...how do you expect to fight him if you don’t have your magic?”
“I don’t, not really. I fell through with my end of the bargain, and he wants revenge.”
Natasha freezes when she realizes the subtext in his speech, and a choked whimper spills out of her throat. “No! I won’t allow it!”
“And how do you plan to stop me?” he asks with a dark laugh.
She holds his face between her hands, her heart breaking at the thought of losing the ability to touch him like this. “Loki Odinson, you will do no such thing! No matter what happens, you are not sacrificing yourself!” The word is acrid on her tongue.
To her surprise, he actually smiles, and she wonders what she’s said to amuse him when his words have been so grave.
“I’ve just...I’ve never heard anyone call me Loki Odinson before.” He laughs an angel’s laugh.
“What do people usually call you?”
“Laufeyson,” he says with raised brows, as if the answer should be obvious.
“Oh.” Confusion crosses her features. “Hey, don’t try to distract me. You are not running off to face this Thanos alone.” He hangs his head, exhaling angrily, his hands clenched into fists in his lap. “Promise me you’ll tell Tony about this, okay? It doesn’t have to be tonight.”
“I cannot,” he says, damned and guilty. “This does not concern them, and to drag them into this would be inexcusable.”
It terrifies her that she doesn’t know how to get through to him. To reiterate that she cares for him will only drive Loki deeper into his convictions. But she doesn’t want to leave him alone either. Abandoning him would be the worst thing she could do at this juncture.
“All right,” she says with a nod. “If that’s what you want.” He stares at her, stunned by her surrender. “I won’t fight you if you’re set on this.” She looks into his panic-stricken eyes. “But can I stay tonight? I assume you’ll be gone in the morning?”
Loki doesn’t answer, engulfed in the terror of losing her, and Natasha uses his silence to press her lips to his. He responds with urgent need, his hands in her hair, pulling her body against his. Soon, they are connected, and she moves slowly, deliberately, tiny whispers of want leaving her lips as she climbs and falls atop him. He traces his fingers over the jutting bones of her pelvis, committing her curves and the feel of her skin to his memory, because his memories will soon be all he has left of her. He’s thankful for the time she’s given him, knowing it’s far more than he’s ever deserved. Surely, dying to protect someone he loves should count for something; perhaps his death will count as a warrior’s death and earn him a place in Valhalla.
He watches her come undone, her body arched in bliss, and she moans the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard. The waves wash over his head and pull him under.
When they finish, she lies atop his chest, and Loki traces the curve of her spine while her breath warms his frosty skin. He’ll miss everything about Natasha: the scent of her hair, the planes of her back, the flutter of her eyelashes against his chest. He’ll miss the way he feels when he’s tangled with her, as if her touch is a blessing bestowed upon only the most worthy.
And a man who destroyed as many lives as he has could never be worthy.
Breathing her in, he’s calmer now, and finds that he can think more clearly with her beside him. Throughout the night, he’s had many small moments where the full scope of his love for her really hits him. When she tries to hide her smile, or the way she wraps a curl of her hair around her finger. Just little things that pluck at the weakened sinews of his heart. The odds forbid him from having her, and if he claims to love her, he knows what he must do.
Protect her, no matter the cost.
Thor is in the kitchen the next morning with the others when Loki comes out to join them. “Ah, brother, do you have news to report?”
Loki silences him with a hand, shaking his head sadly. “This concerns all of you now,” he addresses everyone. “I’m so sorry.”
“Oh, what’d you do?” Tony groans, not anticipating the weight of Loki’s confession.
“Shall I tell you everything?”
Chapter 16: Reverberations
There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us, with or without repentance.
~ Gilbert Parker
“Start at the beginning,” Tony says, still unconcerned. “And try to make it interesting.”
Loki gives a humorless laugh. “I’m sure that Thor has informed you of my past, so I won’t bore you with that.” Those with their backs to Loki slowly turn to face him, interested now. He feels Natasha’s stare, her eyes electric on his. “When I fell from the Bifrost, I was...low. I had lost everything, and I think you can sympathize with what desperation can do to you. I was approached by a being who calls himself Thanos. When he bargained with me for the Tesseract, I was simply in no position to decline. Even if I did, he...can be very convincing.”
Loki’s words hang in the air for a moment until Steve speaks. “Who’s Thanos?”
“Thanos is a Titanian superhuman,” Loki explains, “who controls the Chitauri. He is impossibly powerful, and he is the closest thing the Nine Realms have to a true god. This is all the knowledge I have of him; he used an envoy to speak with me and offered his army in exchange for the Tesseract. I wanted to destroy, to conquer, so of course I accepted. When I experienced moments of doubt or indecision, he was there to reassure me.” Loki shudders.
“So how does his mind-control work, exactly?” Tony asks.
“From my understanding, it is strongest when the subject is emotionally weak. It’s easier to take root in someone’s mind when he wants you there.”
Natasha nods slowly. “That explains why Selvig was able to give us a way to close the portal. He was fighting it.”
“Yes,” he agrees. “I had no will, no reason, to fight. But I was awake. I had to watch while...he murdered people. Innocent people. I was trapped in my own body, hoping and praying that someone would set me free.” Loki feels their eyes on him and worries they still suspect him a liar. “It was unbearable, moreso than you could ever possibly imagine. There is no forgetting.” He swallows hard, his gaze dropping to the floor. He’s never spoken so candidly to them before; Natasha has been the only person with whom he’s bared his soul. And even with her, he still has secrets.
“When Thor escorted me back to Asgard along with the Tesseract,” he continues, “Thanos’ influence had been knocked out of me. I fooled myself into thinking that Asgard was a safe haven, but if Thanos wants you dead, he will find you.”
“So why’s he keeping you alive?” Clint asks. “To fuck with you?”
“That is one way of putting it. Thanos wants revenge, and he has nothing but time.”
“Okay, well, here’s what I don’t get. How’s he able to come here if he doesn’t have the Tesseract?” Tony says.
“Thanos’ intellect is far superior to any mortal’s, or even any god’s. It would not be too implausible to think that he might have created his own portal.”
“Are you asking for our help?” Clint sneers in a way that insinuates he will offer no such aid.
Loki shakes his head. “Nothing of the sort. I wanted to warn you of the possibility of his attack, but he should have no quarrel with you if I simply hand myself over to him.”
An uncomfortable silence falls over the room as they comprehend his meaning. Thor is the first to speak. “I will not allow this.”
Loki scoffs. “I don’t recall leaving this matter up to a vote.”
Thor stands up, stomps over to Loki and towers over him. He claps a meaty paw on Loki’s shoulder, probably intending the gesture as support, but it comes across more intimidating than anything in the realm of friendly. “You are my brother, and I will not allow you to throw away your life.”
“I do not see a lot of options,” Loki answers. “To drag allies into this battle would be unwise. If Thanos even knows I have allies, he will use them against me. Don’t you get it?” he snaps. “There is nothing stopping him from destroying every single thing I care about!”
“So was this your plan all along, then?” Natasha asks, and Loki recognizes the subtle tone of anger there. “Live long enough to be a martyr and die a hero’s death?” Each word out of her mouth seems to aggravate her more. “Tell me, Loki, what the fuck was the point of all of this if you’re just going to check out?”
“Would you rather I drag you into this and risk your lives?”
“Your brother just volunteered!” she reminds him. “He’s more than happy to help you, and so am I, if you’d just stop the self-sacrificing crap! You’re not being noble; you’re being stupid. What if you do go off alone and hand yourself over to Thanos? He knows you have a brother, and if he wants to torture you, what’s stopping him from finding Thor and making you watch him die a slow, painful death?”
Loki’s expression twitches for just a brief second.
“Just because you put yourself on a silver platter saying ‘here I am, come kill me’ doesn’t mean he’s going to actually do it,” she continues. “If what he’s after is making you suffer, leaving you alive to watch everyone you love die would be far more effective.”
They sit in silence as that revelation sinks in. “Back up a minute. How do you know Thanos is coming?” Bruce asks.
Loki fills them in on the favor Thor had asked of him the night before.
Tony catches on quickly. “What if his endgame isn’t torturing Loki?” Everyone turns to look at him. “Think about it. If he’s able to possess people here, he’s got a portal. He doesn’t need the Tesseract, so what could he be going through all this trouble to get?” Heads swivel to Loki. “Think like an evil genius. Why would he go through all of this just to kill Loki? If he’s hellbent on screwing with him, what better way to do that than to have Loki constantly looking over his shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop for the rest of eternity? No, there’s something bigger going on here.”
“Did he say anything that might clue you in on what he’s looking for?” Bruce asks Loki.
Loki shakes his head. “Beyond the Tesseract, I do not know what he could be after.”
“So, who wants to be the one to call Fury?” Tony asks. “Not it.”
Loki panics at the mention of Nick Fury, if only because he knows the man might have some serious qualms about Loki’s living arrangements. “Is that entirely necessary?”
“This is kind of the type of thing SHIELD is set up to protect against,” Steve says.
“Right, y’know, the whole purpose of the Avengers Initiative?” Tony adds. “I can give you a welcome packet with all the details. For fifty bucks, you can get an engraved team ring.”
Loki looks over at Thor. “I never know when he’s joking.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” Clint butts in. “We’re going to tell Fury about this Thanos thing, right?” Tony nods. “And he’s going to want to know where we got this information. We’re going to tell him what exactly?”
“The truth,” Tony says with a shrug, as if it’s the simplest solution.
“So we’re going to tell Nick Fury that our oh-so-reliable source is Loki. Naturally, he’s going to want to know why the hell Loki would tell us anything and why the hell we would believe it. What’s your answer to that?”
“Yeah, see, that’s a conversation I’d like to avoid, which is why I’m not going to be the one having it,” Tony says. “Steve, he seems to like you. Why don’t you give him a call?”
“Wh--what---Me? Why me?”
“Well, it’s between you and Legolas over there, and he doesn’t seem too thrilled about the prospect.”
Steve shrugs simply after thinking it over for a moment. “Well, okay, I guess I can do that.”
“What exactly does this entail for me?” Loki asks him.
“Be ready to prove to Fury that you’re worth something to SHIELD,” Steve says. “That is, if I can manage to convince him to give you an interview.”
This morning is not going the way Loki had planned, but--to be fair--most of his days haven’t.
Nick Fury shakes his head when Loki walks inside the interrogation room at SHIELD. “I’m gettin’ real tired of your ass causin’ problems.”
“Are you using a new moisturizer, Nick? You’re positively beaming.”
Fury has mastered the art of communicating the sentiment “screw you” with only one eye. Loki finds this out first-hand. “Sit down and shut up.”
Loki does as he’s told, loathing the subordination.
Fury flips through a file on the desk in front of him, pulling out a handful of photos. Loki knows where this is going and wants no part of it. Fury slides the pictures across the table to Loki. “I am only doing this as a favor to Rogers, because, personally, I want nothing to do with the sick son of a bitch who did this.”
He has no choice now. Loki turns his gaze to the photos. The violence and destruction encapsulated there hits him like a wrecking ball. He fights hard to keep his face neutral, not wanting Fury to see him crack. “Understandable.”
“So you’d better have a damn good reason why I shouldn’t just throw you back into that holding cell.”
Loki nods. “A powerful threat is coming, and I know what he wants.”
“It got anything to do with the guy we threw in lock-up last night?”
Another nod. “Has he said anything?”
“Says he’ll only talk to you.” Loki isn’t sure how to answer that. He’s not thrilled at the idea of speaking with one of Thanos’ envoys again; last night had been enough. “Do you know how to stop him?”
“I’m still working on that.” Fury gives him a glare. Loki changes his tactic. “I have a...skill set that may be of use to you.”
“I can match any of your precious Avengers in strength and speed.”
Fury leans back in his chair. “You’re not impressing me. What makes you any different than Captain America?”
“A better fashion sense?”
“I don’t have the patience to deal with another smart-ass on this team. I can barely handle Stark. So cut the crap.”
Time to bluff. “Magic is my speciality. You’ve, uh, seen my work.”
“I have. I’m also curious why all of a sudden you want to work with the good guys now.”
Loki shrugs. “If you can’t beat them, join them?” Fury stares him down for a moment, as if trying to decode his ulterior motives. “This new threat used me as an instrument for his will. I am the only one who has the knowledge of how to combat him and what he seeks. This is why I am valuable, nay, indispensible to you.”
“For this battle,” Fury says. “What’s stopping me from shipping you back to Asgard when you’re done being useful to us?”
“Magic? Illusions? Sorcery? Can your team do that?”
“Give me a demonstration.”
Loki winces visibly, wounded in the one spot he’s still weak. “I can’t.”
“Why the hell not?”
“My abilities are...temporarily stifled.”
“So, what, you’re like a fairy godmother? Clock strikes twelve and your magic goes kaput?”
“My abilities were taken from me when I returned to Asgard.”
“Then why the hell are you wastin’ my time? Get ‘em back, or you got a one-way ticket to Asgard.”
That stuns him. “Get them...back? I don’t know if that’s possible.”
Fury shrugs, standing up and collecting the file. “Then I guess you’re outta my hair.”
“So, what’s the verdict?” Tony asks when Loki steps out of the interrogation room.
“It’s...complicated. I will only be allowed to stay and ally with you if my magic abilities are returned to me.”
“What’s so complicated about that?”
“The Allfather rescinded my magic. When he died”--Loki’s expression changes almost imperceptibly, but Thor and Natasha notice it--“my magic died with him.”
“That is untrue,” Thor says. Loki feels an upsurge of hope. “Before he passed, our father transferred his power to me. I believe I may be able to restore your abilities.”
“Is this really a good idea?” Clint speaks up. “What’s stopping Loki from turning on all of us once he gets his powers back?”
The mere thought that he might betray the closest thing to family he has fills Loki with rage.
“Have you no trust?” Thor says. “My brother may have been lost and misguided, but he has paid a heavy price for his deeds. He conducts himself now with honor, and if his powers are restored, I believe he would make an invaluable ally.”
Clint looks at Loki. “Are you paying him for all that good PR, or does he always kiss your ass like that?”
Loki gives him a pained smile. “Well, you know Thor: always willing to see the best in me.” He turns his head to his brother. “If you are indeed able to return my powers, I’m certain I will need to train them. It’s been far too long since I’ve used magic. I’m a bit rusty.”
Thor nods. “Man of Iron, would you be willing to spar with my brother on the occasions I am unable?”
“Why me?” Tony asks with a frown.
“Your metal body is better suited to withstanding energy blows than the others.”
Tony shrugs, relenting. “Yeah, okay. Any excuse to knock Reindeer Games around a little.”
“Then we are in agreement? I restore my brother’s magic, and he allies with you?”
The team exchanges short glances before nodding in approval. Even Clint begrudgingly casts his support.
The decision stuns Loki. He doesn’t know how to respond to such a gesture of kindness and camaraderie. “Thank you for wanting to keep me,” he says, overcome with emotion. “You will not regret this.”
No one questions why Natasha’s furiously chopping onions at dinner or why Loki isn’t there. Tony doesn’t question why he finds Natasha in the kitchen that night downing the last of the vodka.
Loki rolls onto his side, alone in his spacious room. He glances at the glowing red numbers on the nightstand: 3:00. Moonlight seeps in, the curtains drawn away from the dark window he’d been watching prior. He misses her warmth on the other side of the bed, and he knows she’s impossibly angry with him.
He creeps into the kitchen for a cup of hot cocoa to lull him to sleep. He does not expect to find her there, pouring herself another glass of vodka.
Natasha glances over at him and narrows her eyes in disgust. Somehow, her silence cuts deeper than any words she could have thrown at him.
“I suppose I deserve that,” he says.
They coexist in silence for a few moments, each going about their own business until Natasha speaks up. “If you knew it was going to end this way, why did you even come here?”
Loki knows she’s not referring to his trek to the kitchen. “I didn’t know, not exactly. I had hoped that he would do as you hypothesized earlier, simply leaving me alone in constant hypervigilance. I had not anticipated that he might...act upon his vengeance.”
Natasha draws an angry breath. “Why are you so eager to throw your life away, Loki? Maybe I’m stupid or naïve or childish, but I thought we had something nice here. But you’re deciding to leave me.”
“Because if I don’t, I’ll lose you.”
“If you die, you’ll lose me anyway. Don’t you think you’ll have a better chance if we all try to fight him?”
Loki shakes his head. “Too many casualties.”
“What if he’s not as strong as you think?”
“He has near god-like strength--”
“We took you down without any casualties.” She shrugs.
“Who’s to say I didn’t yearn to be captured?”
Natasha ignores him. “And you said ‘near god-like strength.’ That means you and Thor would be stronger than him, correct?”
He presses his lips together. “You’re grasping at straws, it seems.”
“I’m just saying this might not be as impossible as you think it is.”
He realizes that Natasha will never understand why his self-sacrifice is necessary. So Loki takes a deep breath and does what he does best: he lies. “You’re right, I’m probably overcomplicating things like always.” He gives her a self-deprecating smile.
She swirls the last bit of vodka in her glass as she looks over at him. “Why are you caving so quickly?”
“Because I miss you,” he admits, chagrin coloring his cheeks. “I don’t like it. I feel out of sorts when you’re cross with me.”
Natasha smiles, and his world’s back on its axis again. “Promise me you’ll be a little more self-preserving, okay? I want you to at least try to defend your life.”
“Don’t worry, love, I will.”
Chapter 17: Meliora
This one's a little short, but the next one makes up for it.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
~ Carl Jung
Loki bolts awake, drenched in a cold sweat, his heartbeat stuttering in his chest. His thoughts are still twisted in the realm of the nightmare, and he longs for something to will them away.
He pulls on his discarded pair of pants and heads into the bathroom. He runs the faucet, splashing cold water on his face to disrupt the visceral images of the dream. Loki fights the urge to look at his reflection, fearing he might still be locked in the nightmare; looking into the mirror would conjure a disturbing reflection.
Natasha shifts in her sleep, awakening as if she’s sensed he’s left the bed. “Loki?” She combs a hand through her tousled hair, pushing it out of her face.
Loki sees her sitting in the bed, her legs folded daintily, her body bare and beckoning. “I really am a coward.” He makes a sound that’s one part sob and two parts chuckle.
“We’re all afraid of something,” she says, welcoming him to bed with an embrace. She sits behind him, pressing a kiss to his back while her hands link around his waist. Loki says nothing, feeling entirely undeserving of the soft kisses she presses up and down his spine. Natasha doesn’t pressure him to talk.
“I killed my father,” he speaks into the silence. The hole in his chest begins to pulse and ache anew. He wants to find words to absolve himself of culpability, but he knows the blame rests solely on his shoulders. Loki doesn’t say anything else, just lets the confession hang in the air.
His declaration of guilt doesn’t banish her affection. Natasha blesses him with her touch, her lips climbing his vertebrae and her fingers spreading over his chest. He huffs an angry sigh. “Don’t mope,” she says. “It’s such a turn-off.”
“What’s it like, caring for a monster?”
She wraps him tight in her warm arms. “When I meet one, I’ll tell you.”
Loki wants her to push him away, to push away this foolish, misplaced faith in him--to push him away before he ruins her too. But her touch is hallowed and pure, and he needs it, though he knows he does not deserve it.
“I’m no saint,” she says softly, and Loki turns to stone in her embrace, fearing that she’s heard his thoughts. “I’ve done things I...regret.” Her fingers are hot on his skin as she speaks. “I told you that I owe Barton a debt...”
“Because he spared your life?”
“Yes, but there’s more than that.” She traces the ridges of his shoulder blade with her lips. “I took something irreplaceable from him.” Loki feels the slight shudder of her chest against his back. “I killed his parents. I didn’t know it at the time, but...that doesn’t change things.”
He raises his head in stunned shock. Part of him can’t believe what she’s just admitted, and the other--slightly larger--part of him can’t believe it’s something so personal. She’s never opened up to him like this before, and he doesn’t know how to proceed. “And Barton doesn’t know?”
She presses her cheek to his skin, and he feels prickles of heat. “No, he knows. I think that’s worse,” she says with a humorless laugh, “because he doesn’t hate me for it.”
Loki covers her hands with his, hoping the gesture conveys what words cannot. “I don’t understand how anyone could hate you.”
He can almost see the stubborn smile on her lips. “The stories I could tell...”
“Your past is simply that. The care and patience you show me speaks much louder than recanted deeds.” His breathing slows, calm beneath her touch. “You’ve so much goodness in you, love, and you’re absolutely blind to it. It’s maddening.”
Her lips cover his skin, trailing kisses up his spine. “Gee, I have no idea what that’s like,” she teases. “What did you dream about?” When he doesn’t answer, she asks, “Your father?” He nods slowly, soaking in his guilt. “It was a bad dream?” A bit of a silly question, but she wants to get him talking.
Loki shakes his head. “No, actually, it was...pleasant.”
“But then you woke up?” He nods again. Natasha slides out of bed, finding her discarded clothes on the floor. “I want to show you something, as long as you promise you won’t laugh.”
He looks over at her, intrigued. “Of course not.”
“Then follow me.” She takes his hand, and they leave the bedroom as she leads him to a room he’s only seen once before when Thor had given him a tour of the tower. The room is mostly empty, save for a spectacular piano in the center atop the hardwood floor.
“I should have known you were musical,” Loki says with a smirk.
Natasha sits on the bench, pulling him along with her. He’s about to make another quip, but when her fingers touch the keys he’s speechless. The melody is simple, but it fills the room and his heart with its soothing, luxuriant arrangement. He listens, enraptured as the music swells and slows, five minutes of a sweet lullaby.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” he asks in an astonished whisper when the song drifts to an end.
That makes her laugh. “You’d be surprised.” She begins to play another song, this one more melancholy than the last. “I used to come down here and play when I couldn’t sleep.”
“Well, now I have you.” She smiles slyly as her fingers flow across the keys.
Loki listens until the final song makes his eyelids grow heavy and his head slowly lean upon her shoulder.
That afternoon, Loki decides to pay Norman Osborn a visit.
Natasha accompanies him, mostly because SHIELD doesn’t entirely trust him yet, and she wants to ensure that he can speak with the detainee. But a small part of her still doesn’t entirely trust Loki yet either, and she needs to keep an eye on him to make certain that he doesn’t do anything stupid.
Norman Osborn gives Loki a smile that makes his skin crawl. “Master’s loyal lapdog, come home at last.”
Loki curls his lip in annoyance. He knows that Thanos’ envoys are privy to the spots that wound Loki the most, and that it would be unwise to play into that.
Or would it? He remembers how Natasha had used that tactic to her advantage what seemed like ages ago: by responding as he’d expected her to respond, Natasha had managed to coax Loki’s plan from him. Would that approach work here?
“You know I serve no one but myself,” Loki says. He contemplates the advantages of standing as opposed to sitting, but he knows that the envoys are not easily intimidated. Simply towering over Norman Osborn will do nothing. Best to sit across from him, make play that they are equals.
“Of course, you managed to acquire both an armada and the Tesseract at no cost.”
Oh, there had been a cost, he thinks.
“So, why have you come here?” Norman Osborn taps his chin as if in deep thought. “You crave power?”
“Not at the expense of surrendering my autonomy,” Loki says carefully. “They tell me you refuse to speak with anyone.”
“And why is that?”
“We have a”--he searches for the word--“history.”
Loki nods. “Quite a time to be frolicking through the past, don’t you think?”
“But the past is what shapes our future. Without the past to define us, who are we?”
Oh boy. Loki fights the urge to roll his eyes, tries to stay steady. His hand mindlessly toys with the gem beneath his shirt. Just knowing it’s there comforts him, reminds him that Natasha cares for him despite his unsavory past. “I need to know what Thanos is planning.”
Norman Osborn shakes his head. “You miss it, don’t you? Dominance, control. Power in the palm of your hand. He can give you what you desire.”
Loki wonders if there’s anything behind the evasiveness, or if this guy just has an irritating sense of humor. “I doubt that.”
Loki feels disgust roil in his gut when he realizes that he’s making small talk with the envoy to the being that possessed and controlled him. He tries to keep his face neutral.
Norman Osborn’s eyebrows raise. “Oh...what you desire cannot be forcefully given.”
Loki feels razors shred his insides. “What is Thanos planning?”
Norman Osborn sits back, a dark smile overtaking his face. “Do you know what brought Thanos to your precious planet?”
He shakes his head. “Thanos has desires that extend beyond the realm of power, Laufeyson.”
“Death.” Loki frowns, waits for him to say more. “From a very young age, Thanos had a fondness for the macabre. You share some similarities, I believe; Thanos was also shunned by his peers, a monster among his own.” Loki stays very still. “As he grew, so did his desire for conquest. Then he met her: Mistress Death. He strives to woo her by gifting her the souls he collects.”
Loki doesn’t like where this is going.
“He was very upset by your betrayal, you see. Mistress Death was not pleased with his failure.”
“If I were to allow him to capture me, would that soothe the savage beast?”
“Mistress Death will not be satisifed with anything less than the annihilation of all that live,” Norman Osborn tells him in a placid tone. He gives a wide smile. “You’re looking a little green, son of Laufey. Was it something I said?”
Loki’s heart feels like a boulder in his chest. Sacrificing himself to Thanos will change nothing. His comrades must fight if there is to be any miniscule chance of survival. Some of them will die.
Natasha...so fragile, so defenselessly human.
The thought of losing her is visceral. “So that’s his aim? Destroy every living being? Has he the means for this?”
“It is unwise to play games with me.” Loki fights the urge to chuckle at how much like Thor he sounds.
“Only one of us is in a gaming mood. Look at yourself, Laufeyson! You come here to extract information from me, as if it will change anything, as if you could ever hope to wield the power that Thanos possesses!”
Loki sees himself reflected in the mirror of Osborn’s vacant eyes; the face of the monster there smiles back at him. He looks away in revulsion, the fingers of his left hand fretting with the gem tucked underneath his shirt.
“You want my advice? Ally with him. Abandon these helpless weaklings and pledge your allegiance to Thanos. Perhaps he will have mercy on you. After all, you are so similar.”
Loki can barely keep his expression neutral as he darts from the room.
Chapter 18: Coalesce
This one's pretty long, with Thor and Loki bro moments, a little Blackfrost fluff, and Avenger!family feels.
The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.
~ Mario Puzo
“Why did you never think to return my abilities to me earlier?” Loki asks Thor as they spar together in Asgard.
Returning Loki’s magic had been unceremoniously ordinary. Thor had simply placed his hand upon Loki’s chest and transferred his abilities back to him. Loki had expected something much more complicated, and wondered why they needed to be in Asgard to complete the ritual.
Thor gives a careless shrug and swings Mjolnir in a wild arc. Loki barely dodges, anticipating Thor’s answer. “The thought never occurred to me.”
“I know a lie when I hear one.” Loki summons a clone to materialize behind Thor and grab him.
Thor chuckles, trapped by his brother’s illusion. “Then you must know what a poor liar I am.” Loki isn’t too sure about that one, but he lets it go. “Lady Natasha told me of your worries,” Thor says, the Loki clone evaporating.
Loki frowns, wondering what that could possibly mean. “What worries?” he asks with a laugh, but he doesn’t seem to get it right.
Thor twirls Mjolnir to summon a downward strike of lightning. Loki moves out of the way, effortlessly. “That you bear the burden of our father’s death.”
“I don’t recall telling her anything of the sort,” Loki half-lies. He’d said he killed his father, but nothing about taking the blame for it--although it was heavily implied.
Thor gives him a weak smile. “She reads you almost as well as I do, brother.”
Loki just rolls his eyes. “Is this the part where you try to alleviate my burden?”
“Aye,” Thor says with a nod. “You are no more responsible for Father’s death than I am.”
“How can you say that?” Loki snaps, his fists clenched at his sides. “His health only began to decline once he learned of my dealings in Midgard!” But Thor shakes his head, and Loki stares at him in confusion. “What? What aren’t you telling me?”
“He was ailing even before your return.”
“But that was the final push!”
Thor shakes his head again. “Do not think that way.”
“What other way is there to think?” It feels good for him to argue this with Thor; they haven’t had much opportunity to talk about Odin’s death, and Loki’s been itching to expel all of his self-loathing onto whoever will listen. “Couldn’t you assume that my leave from Asgard caused his sickness? No matter from what angle you choose to see it, the fault is mine!”
Thor furrows his brow. “Why are you so eager to cast blame upon yourself?”
The best answer he can find is: “Because it is my fault... I don’t want the blame, but if it is mine...”
“What if it isn’t?”
They’ve stopped sparring by this point, reduced to simply standing opposite each other. “It is...”
“Why do you say such things? You say you do not desire blame, but you hoist it upon your shoulders!”
“Can you honestly say Asgard does not blame me for the death of their once-king?”
“The Aesir have their own prejudices that prevent them from seeing things as they are.”
Loki thinks about that for a second. He is the only “outsider” in Asgard; it would be very easy for the Aesir to cast blame upon the lone Jotun and feel justified for doing so.
Thor slings his free arm over Loki’s shoulders, and they walk back to the palace together. “I am curious,” Thor says, “where you traveled on our first excursion to Midgard together.”
Loki twists his face away from Thor’s gaze. “It is not of import.”
“I am only curious. You seemed focused that day, as if you had a plan in mind.”
Loki chuckles, though the sound is choked with fear. “A contingency plan, maybe.”
Thor stops, and Loki can almost hear the click in his brother’s head as he realizes the meaning of his words. Mjolnir slips of out Thor’s grasp and hits the ground with a massive thud. “Tell me you jest.” Loki turns to look back at him and sees Thor scrutinizing his expression. His expression twists in horror. “No, you cannot mean...”
“Obviously, fate had other plans,” Loki says with a mangled smile, trying to reassure him.
Thor’s horror turns to anger, and he advances on Loki. “How could you ever think of conceding defeat in such a way?” he bellows.
Loki sort of backs away from Thor’s smoldering fury. He wonders why Thor is angry with him. He understands why Thor might feel sad, but angry? Loki retaliates with rage of his own. “Because I had nothing!” he snaps. “Asgard wants nothing to do with me, nor does my birthplace! My father gone, my abilities gone, the burden of guilt on my shoulders--”
“So you would rather lay down and die? Loki, I know you feel responsible for our father’s death, but--”
“It wasn’t just that,” Loki admits. “You saw the destruction and death I brought upon Midgard. Could you live with those revolting memories in your head, knowing you were the cause?”
Thor’s expression softens, but Loki can still see the pain on his features. “That was not your fault either.”
Loki wants to argue that but holds his tongue. “But you understand?”
“I understand, but I do not agree. You had no right to keep this from me!”
Loki rolls his eyes.
“What if the situation were reversed?” Thor asks. “Would you want me to give up?”
The idea of Thor ceasing to exist cleaves Loki’s heart in two. “Like I said, fate had other plans.”
“Where did you go?”
“I went to Natasha and asked her to do it.” Loki’s gaze focuses on the distant mountains. “I suppose a very small part of me wanted to hear a reason to continue.”
“I could have told you many reasons.”
“You feel obligated,” Loki sneers. “Natasha had no such duty.” He is silent for a moment before interrupting the reverie. “Anyway, she made me promise her I wouldn’t do it.”
“I could have asked the same.”
“She has, uh, her own special ways of negotiation.”
Thor’s eyebrow knit together in confusion for a brief second before he understands. “Oh. No matter, I could have done the same.”
Loki laughs, gives him a playful shove. “Stop.” He’s missed this light-hearted banter with Thor, and he cannot reconcile the idea that they might drift apart again. Despite Loki’s own misgivings about their blood bond--or rather, their lack of one--he loves Thor deeply, and he knows that Thor loves him as well. What would happen if one was forced to kill the other?
Loki freezes in his tracks. “I must ask a favor of you.”
He sort of struggles with the words. “You remember the scepter I used on Midgard, how it had power to control the minds of those it touched?”
Thor thinks for a moment. “I do not, but continue.”
Loki realizes that Thor had never seen the scepter in action--or, at least, that particular feature. “Thanos possesses an ability very much like that. I would like to safeguard you against those powers.”
“I shall not let him touch me. Simple.”
Loki gives him flat eyes. “Yes, because that approach worked so well for Fandral. It is not simply the enemy you know that you must watch for.”
“What do you mean?”
“When Thanos possesses someone, they now have the power to control others.” It pains him to say this. “Even if I were under his control again, you would not hesitate to let me touch you.”
Thor realizes his brother’s point. “What do you suggest, then?”
“I believe I have a spell that can protect against possession, if you would allow me to cast it upon you. There may be some pain, but it should only be temporary,” he explains. “I can try it on myself first if the potential side-effects worry you.”
Thor shakes his head. “I trust you.”
Loki gives a wry laugh. “And this is exactly why you need this protection.” He sighs wistfully and places his hands upon Thor’s chest, over his heart. A light blue aura encircles his hands and surges into Thor’s body. Thor makes a sound akin to a burp, and the aura fades, the spell completed. “Did you just belch?”
“That was not part of your magic?”
Loki raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know. I was expecting something more along the lines of a pained grunt or a gnashing of teeth. But whatever works.”
“I felt no pain.”
“Then I feel less apprehensive about casting it upon myself.” Loki places his hands over his heart and casts the spell. Thor may have felt no discomfort, but Loki feels as if a hand has reached through his chest and squeezed his heart. He winces slightly, hesitant to put the full extent of his pain on display. But Thor picks up on his distress.
“Are you hurt?”
“I can manage.” The muscles in his chest ache as if he’d been straining them ceaselessly for days.
“Wonderful!” Thor slaps Loki on the back, and Loki bites back a scream of pain. “Then let us return to the palace and feast!”
Loki is too proud to ask Thor to carry him.
“You know,” Tony says, dodging a ricocheted energy blast, “I oughta start charging you for any damage you cause around here.” The blast crashes into a wall. “Like that.”
Loki chuckles. “Then you may want to attack me with something that won’t destroy your humble abode.”
Tony descends to the ground, and his armor disassembles piece by piece. “Yeah, we should probably take a break. It’s getting late, and I’m hungry.”
“You’re sure about this?” Loki asks, following him out of the training room.
“Yeah, see, it’s dark outside?” Tony points to a window, demonstrating his point.
Loki frowns; sometimes Stark’s sarcasm is tiring. “I was referring to your confidence in our victory.”
“Oh, that? Yeah, piece of cake,” he answers, stepping into the elevator.
Loki’s about to argue with him when he spots Natasha and Clint coming his way, and they certainly aren’t dressed for dinner. He realizes with horror that she intends to fight alongside the others. “What are you doing, love?” Loki asks her, noticing the way Clint bristles at his affection.
“What you guys just finished doing.” Natasha moves to push past him, but Loki takes hold of her waist.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
Clint just glares at him.
“Loki, I’ll be fine. Clint’s strong, but he’s not that strong.
Loki shakes his head. “That’s not...exactly what I meant,” he murmurs, taking her aside. Natasha waves Clint off, and he saunters into the gymnasium, giving them privacy.
“Then what do you mean?”
Loki watches her face, feels the fragile warmth beneath his hands. He cannot lose her. “I mean that this is so much bigger than anything you’ve faced before. You can’t protect me.”
“I can try.”
He takes a deep breath, trying to keep himself composed. The mere thought of losing her sends his mind into a panic. “Natasha, no.”
She stares into his eyes for a long time, and Loki wonders what she sees there. A monster? That’s certainly how he feels. All he wants is to keep her safe, and there are no limits when it comes to Natasha.
“Are you...forbidding me? Loki, this is what I do!”
Selfish, selfish, selfish! his inner voice screams. “I’m asking you to sit this out.”
“You want them to fight without my help?”
He nods slowly. He loathes the idea of his friends fighting his battles, but he cannot relinquish her to a likely death. Just the idea itself is unbearable; he can only imagine how painful the reality of living without her will be. Loki shudders away from the thought.
“I know it’s selfish,” he whispers, “and I’m so sorry, but I cannot be without you.”
“If he’s this strong, we’ll need all the help we can get.”
Loki shakes his head.
“Then you’re sending them to die?”
“No! I love all of them, even Barton and Stark, though they irritate me. But you”--he takes her face in his gentle hands--“you are the most important thing in my world. If you were to die...” His chest expands as he struggles to calm his erratic breathing. Guilt thickens in his stomach, and he swallows hard, his eyes watery. “You cannot go.” He tries to sound assertive, but his voice is shaky with emotion.
“What if something happens to you?” she asks. “How do you expect me to live through that?”
The question stops him for a moment. He hasn’t considered the possibility of Natasha matching the intensity of his affections. But she is so fragile, so mortal...
Natasha watches his face and sees how difficult this is for him to ask of her. She takes his trembling hands in hers, her fingers caressing the bones of his wrists.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, tears flooding his eyes again. “I’m so, so sorry.”
She understands his fear. He’s already lost the focus of his world once before, and it sent him to her door that night, drowning in grief. To lose his world again, once more bearing the burden of guilt... Natasha doesn’t want to consider what he might do.
“Loki, I’ll discuss it with Clint, okay?”
“You need his permission?” he scoffs, though it’s weak.
“No, I just...I just think I should weigh the pros and cons of it with him.”
He nods, mortified. “Whatever you need to do. I’m so sorry.”
She squeezes his hands. “If this is what you need... But I should practice anyway. Just in case.”
“I’m sorry I’m not strong enough to live without you,” he tries to joke, though it’s more truth than he’d care to admit.
She moves closer to offer him comfort in the form of her arms around his waist. “Love isn’t a weakness,” she tells him, but he’s not sure if she really believes that.
Loki presses his lips to the crown of her head before he lets her detach from him. “You should go. I know how Barton doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
She smiles at that and disappears through the gym doors, leaving Loki feeling wretched and wrong.
“What’d he want?” Clint asks when they’re finished.
Natasha waits for a moment before answering. “He wants me to sit out.”
“No shit?” She nods. “So what are you gonna do?”
“You don’t have an opinion?”
“It’s your call. I’d love to have you there, but I understand if you’d rather sit this one out.”
She sighs, staring off at nothing in particular for a moment. She doesn’t want to divulge Loki’s secrets, but if it would help Clint understand him better... “Loki was very...low when he came to me. He’d just lost his father, and he blamed himself for it. He sort of based his entire existence around his father’s approval, so when he lost that... If we lose anyone in this battle, he’ll blame himself, but if he loses me, the guilt will kill him.”
“And what rationalization will you use the next time he does this?”
“I know you don’t like him, but--”
“It has nothing to do with my opinion of him.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“Okay, maybe just a little,” Clint admits. “But how do you know he won’t try to sideline you next time?”
“Because I know he’s not like that” is the first answer that pops into her head, but voicing it seems so trite and weak. That doesn’t stop her from saying it. “He just needs time to heal.” Natasha sees the disapproving look on Clint’s face. “Stop. Will you trust me on this?”
“It’s him I don’t trust. I’m still not entirely sure this isn’t one huge trick.”
“Believe me, it isn’t.”
“Then what’re you gonna do?”
She stares off at nothing in particular. “I don’t know.”
After her shower, Natasha catches Loki later that evening as she heads into the kitchen. She spots him on his bed, absorbed in the book he’s reading, and she decides to tell him of her conclusion.
She will, of course, abide by his wishes and sit out of the battle.
Every instinct in her yearns to fight, to defend her life and the lives of those she loves, but she cannot break his fragile heart. If his life depends upon hers, she must stay alive.
“Loki?” she whispers, slipping into his bedroom. He looks up from his book, his expression emanating relief.
“I can’t detect a trace of anger in you,” he says. “You’re skilled at hiding it.”
She smiles and sits beside him on the bed. “That’s because I’m not angry.”
He rises up, taking her hands in his own. “And you’re a skilled liar, so forgive me if I don’t believe you.”
Another smile. “Takes one to know one.” She squeezes his fingers. “I wanted to tell you what I’ve decided.” He’s shaking his head. “What?”
“Please, love, forget that I ever cornered you with an ultimatum. You cannot hate me for this as much as I hate myself.”
She squeezes harder, hoping it might quell his self-deprecation. “Stop. I understand your concerns, and I wanted to tell you that I--”
His lips upon her own stop her speech. “I rescind my request. Please, whatever you choose, do so free from guilt.”
Natasha glares at him. “Dammit, Loki, that isn’t fair.”
He blinks rapidly, taken aback by her fury. He hadn’t expected her to be angry. “Wh--what? Why are you upset?”
“Because I was supposed to be the noble one, coming in here to tell you I wasn’t going to fight. But now you’re backing down and robbing me of the chance to be honorable.” She narrows her eyes. “You’re sort of a dick.”
That makes him laugh. “I assure you, that was not my intention.”
“I don’t give two shits about your intentions. You’re making me look bad!” Her smile lets him know she’s joking.
“My apologies. I’ll try to give you the opportunity to be self-sacrificing next time.” She stands to leave, but he gently pulls her back to him. Her knees land in the space between his legs. Natasha moves to kiss him and feels his cool hands against her skin. His fingers trace the curve of her spine before pulling her shirt over her head.
Her hands toy with the hem of his shirt, and when she moves to pull it off, she notices an unusual scar on his chest along the breastbone. Natasha glides her fingertips over it, tracing the intricate pattern. “Another battle scar?”
Loki shakes his head, his lips pressed into a flat line, and covers her hand with his own. “Actually, this one aims to prevent the malady that turned my mind against me. Thor has one just like it.”
Her brows knit together as she processes his words. “An anti-possession mark?”
He nods. “I cast a spell upon myself and Thor to prevent Thanos from using us against each other.” He watches her expression, curious as to the thoughts in her head. “You don’t appear to be jealous.”
“I know Thanos would use Thor to hurt you before he chose anyone else. You don’t need to justify your reasoning to me.”
Loki’s hands linger at the small of her back. “Are you upset that I didn’t offer protection of this caliber to you?”
She shakes her head, trying to ignore the way his fingers trail over her hipbones. “From the way you winced when I touched it, I figure it might do more harm than good.” If a god like Loki is still reeling in pain from the after-effects of the spell, than a mortal would fare much worse. She sighs, lost in thought. “Sometimes I am envious.”
“Of my exquisite ass?” he teases.
Natasha lightly smacks his shoulder. “Of your strength. I wish there was more I could do to help. I’d rather be an asset than a liability.”
“You didn’t feel this way last time, did you?”
“Not exactly. But that was more about outsmarting you than matching you in brute strength.”
Loki raises an eyebrow, her words resonating somewhere deep inside of him. “So who’s to say you cannot outsmart Thanos?”
He picks up on the hopeful glimmer in her eyes. “I thought you said Thanos was a Stark-level genius.”
“Then it might be up to Stark. But perhaps strategy will be Thanos’ undoing.”
It’s an interesting prospect. Neither of them have considered the possibility of using their wits to win this battle; strategy hadn’t been part of the plan. But now it seems as if perhaps there is a faint glow of hope at the end of the tunnel.
The next morning, after Natasha has departed for breakfast, Loki bides his time. He shuts the bedroom door so that no one can sneak up on him, especially her. He wants this to be a surprise.
This wasn’t the way he’d wanted things to go. Ideally, he would have waited a little longer, but with the imminent threat of Thanos’ attack looming in the very near future, Loki felt it necessary to be upfront before it was too late.
He slides open the top drawer of the dresser, digging through folded clothes to find his cherished green gem.
Odd. It isn’t there.
He searches more thoroughly this time, in case it had gotten lost between underwear and rolled-up socks.
Loki feels an abrupt, icy prickle at the back of his neck. He pulls out the middle drawer and searches its contents, hoping perhaps he’d misplaced it. No luck. Third drawer. Nothing. Bottom drawer...
He runs to the closet, frantic, digging through the pockets of his jacket. No. No. No. He couldn’t have lost it!
Could someone have crept inside and stolen it? Who would do that? Clint? Tony? Thor? Natasha?
He stares at nothing in particular for quite some time. Fear crawls over him, and he shudders. He tells himself he’s being ridiculous, that this is just a prank and nothing more. But he can’t subdue the panic rising slowly in his chest.
Loki takes a cautious step back and slams into something hard. He yelps, whirling around to defend himself with a wild swing.
“Whoa!” Tony ducks the blow, and Loki relaxes at the sight of the familiar face. “It’s just me.”
His heart still pounds with terror in his chest. “What are you doing in here?” he screeches.
“I sneak in to your room every once in a while and put itching powder in your clothes,” Tony says with an impossibly straight face. “You haven’t noticed, have you?”
Loki huffs an angry, relieved sigh, the tension taken out of his body. “Just give it back,” he says with a groan.
Tony raises an eyebrow. “Give what back? ...Oh, right, that’s the real reason I came in here. I have something to show you.”
“Is this another one of your jokes, Stark?”
“You see me laughing?”
Loki follows Tony to his workshop. “Would you care to explain what’s going on?”
“I could explain, or I could show you. I’d rather show you.” Loki doesn’t like this; he can see faint edges of worry in Tony’s expression. If something’s shaken him up, it can’t be good.
Tony leads him into the lab and stops in front of a large, holographic computer screen. Loki stands behind him. “I was looking over the surveillance tapes from last night--”
“Do you do this often?” Loki wrinkles his nose. “I didn’t know you were fond of voyeurism.” If this is a habit, had Tony seen him sneaking through the tower to see Natasha on those early nights of their “relationship?”
“I just got a weird feeling I couldn’t shake.” Tony shrugs, taps a few commands on the keyboard, and a grainy video appears on the screen. “I thought I was just overreacting until...well, you’ll see.”
Loki swallows, the panic suddenly gripping him again. “Okay, so here’s Natasha going into your room around midnight,” Tony says. Loki nods, and Tony fast-forwards through the footage. “Nothing interesting, nothing interesting, until four thirty-three a.m. when this happens.” Tony looks back at him. “This might not be easy to watch.”
Loki feels a tremor roll down his spine and shake his entire body. Tony presses play, and Loki watches, his muscles tense, his heart beating much too fast. A shadowy figure, his back to the camera, walks down the hallway to Loki’s door. He lets himself inside. The door inches open with unbearable slowness. Then the figure nudges the door closed.
Tony skips through the footage. “This is about ten minutes later.” He presses play, and the shadowy figure emerges from Loki’s room, taking care as he exits, but unbeknownst to him leaving the door slightly ajar.
Tony doesn’t say anything.
Loki remembers how casually he’d dismissed the fact that the door was ajar this morning; he’d assumed Natasha had slipped out for something. Now he realizes it was something far more sinister.
“How do we know that isn’t Thor or Barton playing a prank?” Loki blurts out.
“I thought about that, so I checked the other cameras just in case. But I traced everyone’s steps and it all checks out. No one left their room around that time.”
Loki laughs, though the sound is choked with fear. “Oh, please, Stark, you honestly expect me to believe that you couldn’t pull off a stunt like this? You built this place. You know where all the cameras are and their blind spots. I wouldn’t put it past you to manipulate the footage either.”
Tony stares at him, completely perplexed. “Why the hell would I sneak into your room and do...what, exactly?”
Loki eyes him suspiciously. “I won’t pretend to understand your proclivities.”
“What would I even do in ten minutes? Even for a quickie, that’s disappointing.”
Loki makes a face. “Are we really having this conversation right now?”
“Do you think I stole something? What do you have of value to steal?” Tony continues, ignoring him.
“I have a few things,” Loki retorts.
“What’s small enough that he could sneak out of there with it?”
Loki’s stomach plummets as the pieces fit together. “Oh no...” He doesn’t know why the room is suddenly spinning, why he’s on his knees with no recollection of how he’d gotten there. “No, no, no, no,” he moans, raking a hand through his hair as if trying to tear it out.
“What? What is it? You wanna share with the rest of the class?”
“We could have been...” He trails off, sobs building in his throat. He knows he needs to pull himself together and think straight, but he can barely remember how to get back to his feet.
“Is this that Thanos guy?” Tony asks. Loki finds in it him to shake his head. “Then who?” He holds up a hand, needing a moment to make sense of this. Loki staggers to his feet, inhaling a deep breath before he speaks.
“If it was Thanos, we would all be dead. It’s one of his envoys.”
“How do you know that? And what did he steal?”
“He stole a...sentimental token. A gem I’d found in Asgard when I was a child.”
Tony looks at him as if Loki’s just said the most inane thing anyone has ever uttered at any point in history. “He stole a rock?”
“It’s a gem,” Loki corrects him.
“Tomato, to-mah-to. Why the hell would he steal a gem? What, does he have a girlfriend he wants to propose to?”
Hot blood swirls in Loki’s head. Rage bubbles up inside of him at the thought that Thanos had stolen the gem to propose to Death. It wasn’t enough for Thanos that he had Loki terrified for the lives of his friends. No, he had to defile the gem that Loki had consecrated for the purpose of proposing to Natasha.
Loki doesn’t understand why the earth is shaking until he realizes that he’s shaking, pulsating from the ferocity of his anger. His vision hazes over with red.
“Don’t tell me you turn into a giant, green rage-monster too?” Tony says. Loki storms out of the lab, his strides quick and furious. Tony chases after him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to tear his throat out!” Loki roars.
“No, no, bad idea! Very bad idea!” Tony tries to grab Loki from behind, but Loki’s too strong and shoves him away. “Will you just think for a moment? You know how strong this guy is, and you’re just gonna rush off and fight him alone? C’mon, you’re smarter than that.”
“Flattery will not work, Stark.”
“Don’t make me call your brother,” he says, his voice raised so Thor might hear him at the end of the hallway in the kitchen.
“Try it.” Loki barely manages to make it halfway down the hall before Thor sweeps him up in the steel grip of his arms. Loki struggles against his brother’s hold. “Unhand me!”
“What causes your rage, brother?” Thor asks, fighting to keep Loki in his grasp.
Loki growls the words through his teeth. “Thanos stole the gem.”
“Does such a slight require a foolish sacrifice?”
“Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement,” Thor warns. His rage is maddening, possessive, and he can feel himself slowly slipping out of control. Loki despises Thanos for what he’s done to him and--
“You’re better than this, Loki.” Thor’s words wound him, because Thor has every reason to believe the opposite. But for some reason, he doesn’t, and that hurts.
Loki slumps, surrendering, and Thor holds him, gentler now, in case his lucidity is a trick.
“Tell me what happened.”
Loki does. When he gets to the part about the gem, it’s difficult for Loki to control his anger.
“I don’t understand,” Thor says when Loki’s finished. “Why is this jewel so important to you?”
Loki rubs a hand over his face. “It doesn’t matter why.”
“Actually, I think it does,” Tony interjects. “Or, rather, why does it matter to Thanos?”
Loki grits his teeth. “I’m assuming he intends to court Death with it.”
“So, what, he built a portal just to come to earth for something he could get at a jewelry store?”
“‘This is the very ecstasy of love, whose violent property foredoes itself, and leads the will to desperate undertakings.’”
Tony takes a few steps until he’s face-to-face with Loki, glaring up at him. “All right, Loki, cut the crap. What aren’t you telling us?”
“I’ve told you all I know--”
“There’s a reason why Thanos wants this stupid gem.”
“To court Death!”
Thor places a cautious hand on Tony’s chest. “Ease your anger, Man of Iron.”
Tony ignores him, bearing down on Loki. Bruce, Steve, Natasha, and Clint have actually emerged from the kitchen to watch this, and they aren’t being subtle about it; Clint munches on a doughnut while he watches their argument. “You have an entire team here of people willing to fight this guy, so I wanna know what’s so special about this stupid thing that Thanos is willing to build a portal to earth to come get it!”
Loki thinks hard, reflecting back to his conversation with the envoy. There has to be something he’d missed, some infinitesimal hint as to Thanos’ intentions in all of Osborn’s drivel of power and control--
...power in the palm of your hand...
Loki stiffens with a start, his spine impossibly straight. “Oh no. It can’t be.”
Loki looks over at Thor. “The Gauntlet.”
Thor’s eyes widen in realization.
“What is that?”
“The Infinity Gauntlet grants nearly omnipotent power to whoever wields it,” Thor explains. “It is powered by special gems, each with their own unique abilities.”
“I’m assuming Thanos stole one of the gems from you?”
Loki nods absently. “But I never knew...” he stammers out, shamed that he hadn’t figured this out sooner.
“How many gems are there?” Bruce asks.
“I do not know. Five? Six, maybe?” Loki answers. “I would need to research in Asgard.”
“Where is the Gauntlet?”
“The Gauntlet is safe in Father’s trophy room,” Thor says.
“For how long?” Loki asks. “The Tesseract was pilfered easily enough, and the Casket...” He feels a pang of nausea. “If Thanos knows I possessed one of the gems, Asgard may be the next place he searches.” He sighs, rubbing his tired eyes. “I should go with you,” he says to Thor. “You must protect the Gauntlet, and I need to learn more of its power.”
Thor nods. “A good plan.”
Loki hangs his head. “I’m so sorry to have burdened you all with this and endangered your lives.”
“At the end of the day, you’re part of our family, Loki,” Steve says. “Your pain is our pain.”
Loki’s mouth opens in a gasp of shock. Why would they ever embrace a monster into their clan? His own blood didn’t want him; why did these strangers welcome him with open arms?
“And a family protects each another,” Bruce adds.
“All right, guys, keep the chick-flick moments to a minimum,” Tony says.
Loki doesn’t know how to respond to their acceptance. To be cared for, wanted, loved...is this how it feels? He nods in acknowledgement, sneering “Let’s go, brother” as he walks along with Thor to depart for Asgard.
Chapter 19: Epithalamium
epithalamium: a Greek word meaning "nuptial song"
Chapter updates after this point should be much quicker now. Sorry for the wait.
I have seen children successfully surmount the effects of an evil inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.
Loki sits in the Asgard library, thick tomes of knowledge spread on the table in front of him. To call it a library, he thinks, is a disservice to the word; his occasional trips with Darcy have proven Midgardian libraries to be infinitely better organized and inviting. This room is more of a collection of Asgardian books haphazardly crammed into shelves, and it lacks a computer system to search for anything.
Some of the titles are familiar to him from the days he’d spent here as a youth, when his curious brain had soaked up information like a sponge. This gives him a better start in selecting books that might aid his search, but he still must find them on the sprawling, massive shelves. It’s exhausting, and his tired eyes yearn to close as sits at a table and pores over a text.
Loki wishes Odin were here to bestow his wisdom upon him. Not only would it make this task simpler, but his father’s wise words would be a great comfort. He misses Odin, misses the way his father would regale him and Thor with tales of epic battles fought long ago or of mystical relics from enchanted lands. The ripple of the memory spreads through his chest. He swallows something hard in his throat and squeezes his eyes shut against tears that threaten to spill.
A familiar female voice speaks to him in the distance from the entryway. “Your brother tells me you align yourself with heroes on Midgard.” It’s Sif, and she walks inside, carrying a square box in her hands.
“Thor is full of tales, most of them embellished.”
She sits across from him and sets the box on the table. “He said that you might desire a meal?” She flips the lid open to reveal a canister of ale and a plate of rich, hearty meat.
“This is true.” He can’t remember the last time he’d eaten, having been engrossed in researching information on the Gauntlet and its corresponding gems. It had been dawn when he arrived here; now, the sun had begun to set. Loki shoves the books aside and begins to eat.
“What have you learned so far?” Sif asks, absentmindedly flipping through the pages of one of the many books on the table.
“The item that Thanos seeks is called the Infinity Gauntlet, powered by six magical gems. Each one possesses its own special abilities.” He counts them off on his fingers. “The Time Gem, obviously, controls time. The Space Gem enables one to travel through space by teleportation. The Reality Gem alters reality, much like the Tesseract, but the gem is more powerful. The Power Gem enhances one’s strength and abilities. The Mind Gem grants psychic abilities, and the Soul Gem deals with the attack or modification of one’s soul.”
“And where are these gems you speak of?”
“They are safe,” he assures her before realizing his error. “Save for the Soul Gem.” Sif raises an inquisitive eyebrow. “It was stolen. But no matter. Thanos cannot utilize its power without first acquiring the Gauntlet.”
“Do you need all the gems to wield the Gauntlet?”
He shakes his head. “This will work to our advantage.” Loki’s distress does not ease with his words, but he tries to hide it by finishing his meal.
Sif, however, is no stranger to Loki’s familiar tactics of repression. “Something ails you, Loki.” It isn’t a question. “What are you hiding?”
He sighs, pushing aside his plate after a moment of contemplation. “There is...one detail that troubles me. I doubt that Thanos will be able to be killed, given our current strengths. However, with the Soul Gem, it may be possible to create a new dimension in which to entrap him. But the cost...”
“You didn’t think such a maneuver would come for free, did you?” He smirks, but there is no joy. “The Gauntlet grants its wearer near-unlimited power; to summon the energy needed to create a new dimension would likely bring my death.”
He notices the color drain from her face. “A noble death, to die for those you love.”
Loki smiles sadly, then his expression shifts into something more serious. He reaches across the table to take her hands in his. “Sif, you must promise never to speak of this to anyone, most of all Thor. If he knew of what I must sacrifice, he would forbid me from setting foot upon the battlefield. But it is the only way. We do not have much time to prepare for Thanos’ attack, and drastic measures must be taken to ensure we do not lose any more lives than necessary.”
Sif nods, taken aback by his fervent stare and empassioned words. “I understand. I shall say nothing.”
They break apart from each other at the sound of Thor’s voice booming through the hall. “Ah, Sif! I see you have brought my brother sustenance!”
Sif nods, sliding out from her seat. “I was just leaving, actually.” She bids them goodbye and exits the library.
Thor smiles and takes Sif’s place across from Loki. “Has your research yielded anything of worth?” Loki tells him what he’s learned, editing when appropriate. Thor seems pleased. “Perhaps this may be easier than first thought.”
Loki returns to the palace with Thor, and when his brother is out of sight, Loki takes this time to speak with Frigga.
“This battle Thor has spoken of, are you distressed?” she asks him.
Loki tries to hide his worry, but he knows enough to know that Frigga can see past his mask of placidity. “A little. I am...unsure if his confidence in our victory is warranted.”
Frigga places a loving hand on his shoulder. “Thor is very headstrong, but he has learned so much since his impetuous days of youth.” Loki wonders if that’s true; certainly, Thor is nowhere near the impulsive warrior who led them into Joutenheim that day, but Loki knows the dark, devastating power that Thanos possesses.
“You believe him to be a fair judge of an enemy he has never met?”
Frigga sits on one of the many golden benches inside the palace and urges Loki to do the same. He sits beside his mother, cherishing every second, for it may be his last. “I believe him to be fairer a judge than you in this particular circumstance.”
Loki raises an eyebrow, curious as to how she came upon this verdict.
“Your mind has been conquered, my son. This enemy has led you to believe him mightier than he could ever hope to be, and your fear of him allows this. Thor has told me about Natasha.” At Loki’s shocked expression, she chuckles. “You love her. But as much as we may fear for our loved ones, we may use that same fear to protect them.”
Loki shuts his eyes in pain. There would be no easy way to break this to her, to tell his mother goodbye. So he won’t. He simply cannot bear it. He takes Frigga’s hand in his and tries a smile. “Thank you.”
They gather around the kitchen table at Stark Tower that night at dinner, discussing potential battle plans over Bruce’s freshly-baked quiche.
“So can you still use the Gauntlet even without the Soul Gem?” Steve asks after Thor relays the information gleaned in Asgard to the team.
Loki nods. “That is correct.”
“If there is no objection,” Thor cuts in, “I would like to request that I wield the Gauntlet in battle.”
“Why would we object?” Bruce asks.
Natasha gives him a look. “You know he meant Loki.”
Loki chooses to ignore that. “How do you expect to command the powers of magic?” he asks Thor.
“Would it be too difficult for you both to use it?” Steve asks. “Thanos has the Soul Gem, right? Well, how about Thor starts out using the Gauntlet? He’s about the only one here who might be on par with Thanos’ strength, and the Gauntlet would multiply his power exponentially.”
Loki shrugs. “Thor is much more accustomed to combat than I. But how do you propose we acquire the Soul Gem?”
“I’m getting there. You”--Steve points to Loki with his fork--“use your magic and illusions to steal the Soul Gem from Thanos while Thor fights him with the Gauntlet.”
“And once the Gauntlet is at full power, I use it to create the new dimension and trap him,” Loki finishes.
“The trickiest part will be those few seconds when Thor gives you the Gauntlet,” Steve says. “The rest of us will take on his army--Tony on perimeter, Clint up high, and everyone else keeping ‘em from injuring civilians.”
“Pretty similar to our strategy with your army, actually,” Clint tells Loki with a smirk.
Loki is silent for a moment, mulling over a new strategy rather than Clint’s comment. “I could draw Thanos out myself, perhaps in a clearing, somewhere not too close to town. This would require I be alone, lest he suspect an ambush.”
“So, you’d approach him yourself and do...what, exactly?” Tony asks.
“A last-ditch effort to talk him out of an attack?” Loki answers, a half-smile on his lips. “Words can wound quite fatally.”
“No offense, Loki, but I don’t think bringing up his deep-set emotional issues is the right play.”
“Loki knows him better than anyone here,” Natasha argues. “He knows how to get inside your head.”
“As true as that might be, I don’t feel good about leaving him there alone without any sort of back-up in case things go south,” Steve says. “If Clint can hide out on top of a building, he might be able to interfere if anything goes wrong, or at least send a signal to one of us on the ground.”
Clint nods; he likes this idea.
“If Thanos brings his army, that might be a bit of a problem,” Tony argues.
“Then I shall interfere and join my brother in his fight,” Thor says proudly.
Loki gives a half-hearted smile. At least they have a plan.
Loki waits for Natasha after the others have retired to their rooms. He wonders how much she’s pieced together, if she knows that he has a secret. Of course she does; she’s no idiot. Luckily for him, his final trump card will cast away all speculation. After this, she will incorrectly deduce the reason for his secrecy.
Natasha tiptoes into his bedroom, a sort of forced composure in her expression. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” she asks as she makes her way to him on the bed.
“About letting me fight.”
“It sounds as if you are.” She sits beside him, and he tries to force down his fear of losing her as his arms pull her to his chest.
“Maybe just a bit,” she admits. “I have a little more to fight for now than I used to.” She gives him a cold stare. “Don’t tell anyone I said that, all right?”
Loki smiles her favorite smile. “Your secret is safe with me.” His hands pull her against his body. “I do have something to ask of you, however,” he murmurs against the soft skin of her throat. “And don’t worry, it’s not what you’re thinking.”
He looks up at her, watching the way her hair pools at her shoulders when her knees straddle either side of him. It’s hard for him to concentrate on the task at hand, knowing that this might be the last time he ever sees her this way.
The last time he ever sees her at all.
“The timing for this is all wrong, but please don’t think me insincere because of that.” His hand slides up to her cheek, fingers tracing her skin ever so gently, his eyes searching for something in hers. “I realize that I have absolutely no right to ask this of you, but if something were to happen...” He stops, swallows, too numb to really register the thought. Gathering his nerve, he slides off of the bed and kneels at her feet. “Miss Romanoff, would you do me the extraordinary honor of marrying me?”
Natasha laughs earnestly; it’s the most joy he’s seen on her face in a while. “All right, Loki, very funny. What’s your real question?”
“You think I’m joking?”
She examines his face and realizes that this isn’t his usual folly. “You’re serious?”
“Deathly.” In more ways than one.
She frowns at his choice of words. “Don’t.”
“The thought alone is dreadful, isn’t it?” he jokes in an attempt to mask his hurt.
“No, not at all.” He wants to believe her, but Loki knows a kind lie when he hears one. “I’m just...overwhelmed.”
He climbs up to sit beside her on the bed. “You don’t have to give me an answer now. I only wanted you to know how--” He realizes the futility of his words and stops.
“Loki, are you sure you aren’t doing this because you think I won’t come back tomorrow?” She notices the change in his expression when she mentions her death. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, I do say yes. How would that even work? Did you want to get married tonight? And where would we go? Would it be here, or would it be in Asgard?”
“The choice is yours.”
“I thought the Asgardians weren’t very fond of you.”
He gives her a pained smile. “But they love Thor. I’m sure if we choose to wed in Asgard that Thor will silence all dissent.”
“And if we wed here?”
Loki laughs quietly. “All I am concerned with is binding myself to you, and you to me.” His touch brushes over her third finger where a ring might sit. “If I had done this earlier, I might have been able to give you something in return instead of only paltry words. A gem for my little gem.” He tears his gaze from hers, chagrined. “But Thanos has stolen that from me too.”
She pats his hand. “You’ll get it back. You can be pretty persistent when you want something.”
“Want and need are two different matters. You need something to reassure you when I can no longer tell you that I love you.” He sighs, distraught, raking a hand through his hair. “There is something I must show you before you make your decision.”
“Oh?” He thinks he might hear a quake in her voice. Loki can only wonder what horrors have conjured in her mind, though none of them as shocking as what he’s about to show her.
“I will understand if you no longer wish to be involved with me after this, of course.” He watches her with careful eyes, trying to detect any signs of hesitation.
“It’s not something gross, is it?”
He laughs, pleasantly surprised by her humor, but the levity soon fades. “Perhaps not as you would expect...” He bites the inside of his cheek to prevent himself from saying more.
“Loki, you don’t have to show me if you don’t want to. We all have secrets.”
He stands up and takes a sharp breath, fixing his gaze on her. “I suppose I’ll just get this over with.” He places his hands on his chest, and a soothing green glow engulfs his body for a few seconds before slowly ebbing.
Natasha stares at him, but fear is not what causes her lips to uncouple or her eyes to widen. His skin glows a flawless blue, like an azure crystal. His piercing emerald eyes are now sad crimson, his brow creased in worry. At the sight of her expression, he cringes away as if bracing for a blow.
It’s impossible for her to look away, because he’s almost too beautiful to be real. Is this the form he’s been ashamed of for so long? Natasha finds her feet and moves closer, taking his hand in hers to examine the changes. His skin is still cool and satin-smooth, but its color is gorgeous, otherworldly. She looks up at his face to see his expression twisted in ancient sadness.
“Blue’s always been my favorite color,” she says with a smile, tracing a finger along the back of his hand. “You’re beautiful.”
“Don’t lie to me,” he snaps, anger blazing in his blood-red eyes as he pulls away from her grasp.
A void burns the empty space where his hand had been. “Why didn’t you look this way when you lost your magic?”
“I suppose it was the Allfather’s final act of mercy toward me,” he murmurs, bitterness lacing his tone. “Do you see now the monster I truly am?”
She shakes her head, unsure if she should reach for him again. “No monster could ever love me the way you do.” His chest hitches with a gasp, and she takes his hand. He doesn’t fight it this time. She wants him to stay this way for a little while, but she knows asking it of him would be unfair; no reason to push him. “I’m not afraid, and I don’t think you’re a monster.”
His lovely eyes light up with joy, and the corners of his lips curl up into a smile. He reaches out with a tender hand to pull her face to his, his mouth delicate upon her lips.
Chapter 20: Vindico
Vindico -- to avenge, punish, liberate, deliver, protect
The noir hero is a knight in blood-caked armor. He's dirty, and he does his best to deny the fact that he's a hero the whole time.
~ Frank Miller
Loki did not want to waste any part of the night by sleeping, but he would need to be well-rested for the coming battle. His talk of subterfuge, he knows, would be in vain--at least for those who want him to come back alive. If Loki manages to talk his way out of a fight, it will come at a price; Thanos will not be satisified with a truce that does not shed blood.
That morning, Natasha leaves him to get dressed. Loki ponders the repercussions of his proposal. She had never given him a straight answer, and even though she hadn’t shuddered away from his Jotun form, something in his chest still feels heavy and wrong. Was she uncertain of how to tell the others? Or was her apprehension centered around Loki himself?
They all share breakfast in silence, and Loki doesn’t like it. It feels different, uncomfortable, as if they are all strangers on a mission instead of a family fighting to protect their own.
Steve seems unusually chipper. Loki figures it’s because he’s in his element again, leading the troops into battle and planning their mode of attack. It must be nice to have such confidence.
Steve leads them a few miles out of town and points Loki in the direction of a clearing in the distance. “We’ll be inside the city fighting his army if it comes. You and Thor just focus on Thanos. Don’t worry about us, okay? We’ve got this.”
Loki nods, looking up to see if he can spot Clint perched high.
“You won’t see him,” Steve says as if reading his mind. “That’s the way he wants it.”
Loki takes one last look at Natasha, who gives him a calm “you’ll be okay” smile. He doesn’t see a goodbye in her eyes or the quirk of her lips, but Natasha’s skill in controlling her micro-expressions means he wouldn’t see one anyway.
Thor clenches the fist that bears the Gauntlet and nods as if to say “I have your back.” Loki trusts that he does.
He departs from the others and crosses the clearing, coming to stand beneath a tree in the middle of the field. He stares up at the sky, watching the clouds scuttle by. How many people dwell in that city who know nothing of the enormous threat that looms above them?
The last few seconds pass before a cloak of dread covers Loki. That is how he knows that Thanos has arrived.
“Son of Laufey, have you surrendered?”
In all the time Loki spent with him, he’s still not used to seeing Thanos. The Titan stands before him, his head encased in a cowl emblazoned with gold. His blue bodysuit is adorned with golden accents, from his belt to his boots and gloves. Atop his shoulders sit heavy gilded guards. With his purple skin and red wine eyes, Thanos is the very fuel of Loki’s nightmares. The only thing missing is the vast emptiness of space, the cold void that echoed his screams.
Loki wonders in futility what he could possibly give Thanos that would satisfy him. Is his life enough? “How did you know I was here?” he asks, faking ignorance.
“The Gauntlet sings a distinct song.”
Of course, Thanos could sense the energy given off by the Gauntlet. Loki knew this. What Thanos couldn’t do was pinpoint the exact location, which is why he was here and not with Thor.
“I believe you have something that belongs to me,” Loki says.
Thanos grins a garish smile, reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the dazzling green gem. “The Soul Gem, is it? I will make a deal with you. Give me the Gauntlet, and I return your gem.”
Loki tries to read him, curious if this is a bluff. Would Thanos really sacrifice one of the gems for the Gauntlet? Doubtful. “And who’s to say you will not simply kill me afterwards and take the gem for yourself?”
“My soul is far more important to me than a polished stone.”
Loki doesn’t know how to respond to that. He doesn’t know what it means. What does Thanos’ soul have to do with using the gem? Unless to use the Soul Gem means to gamble with your very essence of being...
“You would not risk your soul for unlimited power?”
“What makes this gem so important to you?” Thanos asks, dodging the question. Loki tries to hide his smirk; Thanos’ resolve is not as strong as once thought. “Why do you risk your life, your soul, to acquire it?”
“My motives have never had any bearing in your decisions. Why start now?” Loki Laufeyson: Sass-Master Extraordinaire.
Thanos begins to circle him, appraising his movement. “I am curious, you see. When I bestowed you with the scepter, you craved power. What do you seek now that is worth your life?”
“You have nothing of the sort?”
“What good is a treasure if you are not alive to appreciate it?”
Loki thinks of Natasha. “‘If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.’”
Thanos laughs an awful, maniacal sound, but Loki wonders if he hears some hysteria behind it or if that’s only his own fear trickling through his veins. “You lay down your life for a human? You surrender your quest for power for sentiment?” He scoffs. “I thought you made of stronger mettle, Laufeyson, but now I see that you are just as weak as the many who have come before you.”
Loki ignores him, focusing on more important issues than his own bravery. “How did you manage to travel to this world without the Tesseract?”
Thanos’ expression twitches almost microscopically. “The Tesseract was unnecessary, I learned, to travel between worlds. It was not difficult for me to conjure the technology to build my own portal.”
Confirming what Loki and Tony had already suspected. “Then why did you send me on a mission to obtain it?”
“You failed in your mission,” Thanos says. “I sent you to obtain the Tesseract and also the Gauntlet.”
This comes as a shock. Loki doesn’t remember this.
“If you managed to be apprehended, your return to Asgard would give you the opportunity to procure the Infinity Gauntlet and all of its gems.” Not all of them, Loki thinks, and in that moment realizes Odin’s wisdom of hiding one of the gems away. In the event that the Gauntlet was stolen from the trophy room, the thief would be unable to wield it at full power.
“But you didn’t anticipate that your influence would be penetrable,” Loki says. His hands are clenched into fists so tightly that his fingers are numb. To think he had been controlled by this monster, that Thanos had reached into his head and played with his brain! Loki grits his teeth, murderously angry. He forgets the plan, indulging in the thought of ripping Thanos limb from limb and using the Gauntlet to incinerate the body.
His muscles flex in yearning. He knows it would be a waste of his life to attempt to injure Thanos; Thor stands the best chance of wounding him, but the idea simmers quietly in Loki’s mind, palpable and appealing. He stands there, numb with rage, reminding himself of the strategy that gives them the best chance of survival.
“Indeed, I...miscalculated,” Thanos says, settling his gaze on Loki. Loki almost shrinks back instinctively. “You are shrewd, capable of hiding the Gauntlet.”
Loki fights the urge to smirk. The Gauntlet is hidden in plain sight; it seems that Thanos cannot detect it even when it’s right under his nose. This gives Loki a shred of hope, because it means that Thanos also cannot sense Loki’s allies nearby.
“I don’t have it,” Loki answers, and it isn’t a lie.
Thanos scoops him up in a massive paw, clutching Loki’s collar with unbridled fury. He brings them face-to-face, his eyes enraged. “I do not play games!” he growls, a gruesome, frightening sound. “Lead me to the Gauntlet at once, or I will peel the flesh from the bones of your allies while you watch in helpless horror!”
Loki hears his frenzied heartbeat in his ears. Does Thanos know his allies are here? Will he kill them or leave them alive and only claim Loki here today?
Thanos jolts and drops Loki onto the hard soil. Loki looks to see what startled him; an arrow sticks out between Thanos’ shoulder blades.
Good ol’ Barton.
Thanos whirls around to find the mystery shooter. He sticks out his hand to fire an energy blast in the direction of the shot. Suddenly, Thanos is gone before Loki even has time to flinch, careening across the clearing as a strike of lightning crosses the sky.
Loki never thought he’d be so happy to see his brother.
Thor jumps off of Thanos, twirling Mjolnir in preparation for another attack. Thanos finds his footing, his eyes drawn to the Gauntlet adorning Thor’s right hand. A grisly smile spreads on his face as they lunge at each other. Thor swings his hammer up, catching Thanos underneath the chin. The booming crack upon impact is enough to make Loki wince, feeling the sound echo in his bones. He isn’t sure how to interfere; both Thor and Thanos are moving so quickly it’s hard to keep up. His only points of reference are the sharp sounds of collision when one of them lands a blow.
As Thanos’ arm slams into Thor’s face, Loki tenses to attack and joins the fray. A wild howl sounds in the distance as the sky opens, and the Chitauri make their mad descent into the city.
The Avengers are ready for the army’s siege, an advantage they did not have during Loki’s attack almost a year ago. Bruce has already phased, knocking back a wave of Chitauri with his massive fists. Tony circles the perimeter of the city and fires blasts from his armor to ground the enemies. Visually, everything moves quickly as Natasha and Steve team up against the advancing forces. It’s no cake-walk, but it’s certainly not as difficult as it had been before. Natasha realizes quickly that the army serves solely as a distraction; Thanos intends to split up their forces. Divide and conquer.
Steve bangs his shield against an attacking Chitauri. The power behind the swing knocks the spear from its hand as the alien stumbles back. Natasha grabs the weapon before it hits the concrete and stabs it into the throat of the monster.
In the distance, a loud crash sounds when Bruce slams his fist into the ground with force that seems to shake the earth. Natasha nearly loses her balance as she grapples with a Chitauri, using her legs to throw the monster over her head and into Steve’s shield.
From a high perch, Clint fires arrows at stray enemies that have eluded the other’s sight. A sudden noise makes him whirl around, face-to-face with an alien. The monster’s clawed hand slices through the air at him. Clint jumps back onto the ledge of the building and leaps off, landing an arrow through his foe’s eyesocket. His second arrow latches onto the concrete tower, and Clint swings through the window, landing on his feet.
Tony’s eyes search anxiously for stray Chitauri. In a split-second of distraction, an alien propels into him, sending him careening through the air. Tony crashes through a building, the concrete crumbling like dust, before correcting himself. He fires two blasts that the monster dodges effortlessly before swinging at Tony, its claws slicing through the air. The Chitauri’s attack brings it closer to Tony, and he grabs its face and blasts its head into pieces.
The body drops like a sack of potatoes. From behind, another Chitauri tries to catch Tony off-guard. Tony turns to face it and attacks. His energy blast hits the monster square between the eyes and sends it toppling, head over heels, toward the ground below.
Tony’s squabble with the stray aliens draws out a cluster of Chitauri. Tony flies off, twisting and turning in flight and causing the monsters to crash into buildings, unable to keep up with his swift changes in direction.
Prepared for the attack, SHIELD sends in militia aircraft to help the Avengers defend the city. The extra firepower is a godsend for Steve and Natasha, who shift between protecting civilians and destroying the advancing forces. Natasha twirls a dropped Chitauri spear and makes quick work of her attackers with their own weapon. Adrenaline jolts through her veins, and in a fleeting moment of downtime she wonders if something has gone wrong in the clearing.
Thor and Thanos trade blows, their movements almost too quick for the human eye. Loki has battled side-by-side with Thor for the duration of the fight, their combination of distracting illusions and potent attacks working in tandem to wear Thanos down. The sight of the extra firepower with SHIELD’s arrival had allowed Loki to concentrate entirely on the fight and brought an end to his worries of Natasha’s safety.
A loud thwack! sound makes Loki cringe; Thor’s head twists to the side from the force. A crimson trail of blood drips from his nose. Loki’s chest heaves, his lungs sucking in air as he tries to keep himself calm. He sends a small dagger slicing through the air. The blade lands above Thanos’ eyebrow and splinters open the skin. Blood trickles into his eye. Thanos turns his attention to Loki. Thor charges at him and slams Mjolnir into Thanos’ head, then Loki bashes his knee into his skull.
Thanos’ skull is visibly smashed in from where Mjolnir had made contact; Thanos lets out a gutteral growl, his red eyes glowing with rage. He reaches out and grabs Thor by the throat, smashing him sideways into the ground. The hardened soil crumbles beneath their weight. Thor swings Mjolnir blindly, and Thanos bashes Thor’s head once more against the cracked earth. Thor’s foot catches Thanos in the stomach, sending him stumbling in reverse and allowing Loki to swing his leg under Thanos’ feet. Thanos topples back. Thor lands on his stomach before Thanos can rise up.
With Mjolnir in hand, Thor brings the hammer down onto Thanos’ face. Loki hears something crack, the sound sharp and wet. But what makes the breath catch in his throat is not what he hears, but what he sees: Thor is covered in the crumbs of the earth, his stringy blonde hair peppered with dirt. A gash above his eyebrow rains blood upon his face. His lips are torn and split, and bruises have begun to form over his forehead and cheekbones.
In all their time as warriors, Loki has never seen Thor hurt like this. No one has been able to match the mighty son of Odin. Until now.
Thanos swings his fist into the side of Thor’s face, knocking him over enough for Thanos to get to his feet. Loki tosses another dagger that sticks in the back of Thanos’ neck. It doesn’t deter him much, as he reaches up to pull it out and tosses the knife aside. Thor reels on the ground, and Thanos swings his foot back before smashing it into Thor’s jaw. The loud crack reverberates through Loki’s bones.
Thor rolls back a few feet from the force of the blow. He lands on his back, his limbs splayed, staring up at the sky. Thanos steps into his view, eclipsing the sun, and crushes Thor’s arm beneath his foot. Thor howls in pain, and the sound crawls up Loki’s spine. Thanos reaches for the Gauntlet.
Loki darts at him, swinging his leg out to send Thanos flying in reverse. His only thought is to keep Thanos away from Thor and the Gauntlet. Thanos lunges for Loki, who vanishes and reappears behind Thanos. Loki’s foot slams down against Thanos’ skull, squashing his face into the dirt. He digs his heel in, taking too much twisted pleasure in the act, wanting to bury him in the ground for what he’d done to Thor.
It happens before Loki can even comprehend it. Thanos grabs Loki’s ankle and swings him over his head as he rises to his feet. His other hand curls into a fist and, as he swings Loki into the punch, Thanos’ fist launches into Loki’s side with the force of a wrecking ball.
Loki shrieks in pain before Thanos tosses him to the ground, broken and bruised. Loki’s hands grasp where he’s been hit, and he tastes blood on his tongue. Pain like none he’s ever felt before seizes through him. The Hulk smashing him against the floor of Stark Tower--that was nothing compared to the throbs of agony inside of him now.
As Loki burns beneath the weight of this impossible pain, Thanos towers over him. His meaty paw reaches out and removes one of Loki’s throwing knives from its holster. Thanos wraps his fingers around the hilt, drawing out the moment. He raises the blade above his head.
Disoriented from the blow, Loki barely manages to move out of the way in time. The blade slices through his wounded side, hot and sharp against his skin. Loki chokes out a wail, and his fingers find the wound. Blood trickles through the gash in his leather armor and runs red on his hands.
Thanos pulls the dagger from the ground and draws it back. The silver knife glistens in the sunlight. Loki knows he’s done for. He cannot fight through one more second of this immeasurable agony.
You are unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed!
You need something to reassure you when I can no longer tell you that I love you.
Look at you, the mighty Thor, with all your strength, and what good does it do you now?
Thor’s voice booms from above him, and Loki opens his eyes to see Thanos on his knees with Thor’s foot between his shoulder blade. Thor’s hands grip Thanos’ wrists to pull his arms behind his back. Thanos screams in pain as Thor slowly pulls his arms from their sockets.
Loki realizes what Thor has in mind. With all the energy he can muster from his aching body, he scrambles to his feet. Loki picks up the dagger that Thanos had dropped and jams it into the Titan’s belly. Blood spurts from his mouth. Loki twists the blade as his other hand reaches into the pocket from which Thanos had pulled the Soul Gem. He retrieves the precious stone, smiling to himself at the familiar sight.
Two loud, simultaneous cracks and Thanos’ blood-curdling screams fill the air as Thor gives his arms the final twist and detaches them from their sockets. As Thanos falls, Thor drops Mjolnir onto Thanos’ hand, breaking the tiny bones beneath its weight and trapping him there. But the damage wouldn’t last long. Thanos would recover; his body would heal and piece itself back together. Loki only has a small window of opportunity to ensnare him while he’s still weak.
Thor withdraws his hand from the Gauntlet and gives it to Loki. They share a wordless exchange of glances before Loki finally speaks. “Go to the others. This is my battle.”
Thor nods, understanding Loki’s insistence on finishing the job. He’s gone in a flash, hurtling toward the city to handle the remaining Chitauri.
Loki places the Soul Gem into the Gauntlet and sheathes his hand inside of it. He feels the surge and blaze of power in his veins. He knows it won’t last very long. The spell to imprison Thanos will sap him of everything he has, and his current injuries ensure a grisly fate.
Do you swear to preserve the peace?
Do you swear to cast aside all selfish ambition and to pledge yourself only to the good of the realm?
Loki smiles wryly, moving slowly as he walks toward Thanos. He wipes his thumb over the gash on Thanos’ forehead, gathering enough blood required for the spell.
He stands tall, clenches his fist and braces himself.
The pain starts in his chest as the blue wisps of mystical energy swirl outward from the center of the Gauntlet. The heat builds inside of him, growing hotter as the cerulean tendrils grow and climb. They’re almost an ethereal manifestation of the fingers of the flames that lick at his veins and scorch him. It’s almost too much to bear. It feels as if it’s breaking him from the inside, piece by piece.
But it’s working. The feathered fingers reach out for Thanos and wrap around him like airy tentacles. Bright blue light begins to envelope him. Loki feels his side throb in pain, as if wounded anew.
He wants to scream out, to do something to fight this horrendous agony, but he keeps his lips firmly pressed together. To scream would be to admit defeat, to plague Thor and the others into rushing to his aid. And then they would all die.
He sucks in breaths through gasps between his teeth, counting the dull thuds of his heartbeat as it battles the firey torture. He watches the azure glow slowly swallow Thanos into its core, remembering that Thanos’ defeat is the reason he endures this.
Loki thinks the pain might ebb as the spell nears its end, but instead the torment doubles, crescendos until every fiber of his body feels as if it’s unraveling. Every blistering tongue of flame seems to spark up with rejuvenated vigor. The Gauntlet burns his hand like the hot end of an iron. Tiny needles of pain shoot through his fingers and his knuckles, traveling up his arms in a neverending current of agony.
As Thanos is swallowed into his empty prison, the pain swells higher and hotter. Loki drops to one knee, feeling as if every cell in his body is crumbling to ash. His free hand grips the ground, crushing the dirt between his fingers. Then the pain begins its retreat. But it doesn’t leave his body relaxed. As the fire burns out, so does--it seems--his life force. All Loki can feel is an empty, dull feeling in his muscles and the searing pain in his side.
Chapter 21: Our Darkest Hour
Feels. Feels everywhere.
XXI. Our Darkest Hour
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
~ John 15:13
With the portal closed and the last remaining Chitauri defeated, Steve slumps against a toppled vehicle, wiping the sweat from his brow. “What’s the situation with Loki? ‘S he got it under control?”
Thor nods. “My brother requested to finish Thanos alone.”
Natasha’s body understands before her head does; her stomach lurches with undefinable dread.
Steve gives voice to her concern. “And you let him?”
Thor gives him a confused look. “Why would I do otherwise? This is his battle to fight. He deserves the honor of conquering the fiend who stole so much from him.”
Natasha gasps in fright, instantly covering her mouth to smother the childlike sound. It all makes horrifying sense now. Loki hadn’t proposed because he was worried for her safety; he was smart enough to know that the Chitauri would pose no real difficulty.
Loki had said goodbye. He was still set on sacrificing himself.
Her heart aches in her ribcage, and hot tears sting her eyes. “That stupid bastard!” She kicks a dent into the door of another destroyed car.
Steve looks over at her, understanding the reason for her outburst, while everyone else seems confused.
“I do not understand,” Thor says. “Why does Loki’s victory cause you such distress?”
“How could you leave him alone?” she accuses. She doesn’t realize her hands are trembling until her fingers tangle in her hair. Her entire world seems to be shaking as her heart pounds erratically in her chest. She tries to breathe, but it feels as if her lungs are punctured.
Clint is the one to catch her as she falls backwards. He lets her sit, her arms wrapped around her middle as he rubs soothing circles over her back. Natasha struggles to calm herself down, but it’s impossible to breathe when her mind reiterates the reason she’s panicking in the first place: Loki is dying. Loki could already be dead, and she can’t even stand up to save him.
“I think ol’ Goth Boy can take care of himself,” Tony says, trying to be helpful. He isn’t.
Steve shoots him a glare before looking at Natasha with gentle eyes. “Do you want us to go find him?”
She finds that she can shake her head in reply. “It--it has to be me. He won’t listen to you.” Slowly, she relaxes, her chest expanding with deep, calm breaths. Her heartbeat slows to a healthy gallop. The ability to think clearly resurfaces, and Natasha stands up without Clint’s help. “I’m going after him.”
Loki surveys the empty battlefield, save for Mjolnir on the ground. Before he can move his hand to wrap around the hilt, a searing jolt of pain hits him like an electric shock. He grips the hammer for balance and finds that it tilts beneath his grasp. No more is Mjolnir immoveable stone for Loki.
He smiles weakly. Worthy at last.
Natasha’s voice breaks him from his reverie, and his smile widens. This must be Valhalla, but why is the pain still reverberating through his body? Loki struggles to stand, to look unaffected when he greets the angel. His hands are pressed against his wound lest his insides spill out.
Natasha rushes to him, concern in her eyes when she notices the red ribbons seeping between the cracks of his fingers. “Oh no, you’re bleeding...”
He staggers toward her. “It’s not serious, just a--” His words are cut off with a gurgle, and then he coughs out a thick splotch of blood. Crimson streams spill from his mouth. His head feels dizzy and heavy. “Oh dear...” He slumps, his body limp as he falls against her. Natasha catches him in her arms, and they kneel on the ground as her hand shoots out to put pressure on his wound.
“Loki, no, look at me. You’re gonna be okay.” She begs him, panic in her voice. “We’re gonna fix you up. You’ll be fine.” His eyes close. “Just--just--Look at me, look at me! Don’t close your eyes, okay? C’mon, just stay awake for me, Loki, please.”
The taste of blood burns on his tongue. A small geyser spurts through his fingers. Pain slashes through him, and he struggles to concentrate on the angel’s voice while the dark water pulls him down.
“We’re gonna fix you up, and you’ll be good as new, and then we can get married, right?” Through the cottony haze, he sees his favorite sight in all the Nine Realms: her smile. The heavy water drags him under. Loki slumps against her shoulder.
“Loki? Loki? Oh no. No, no, no, no. Come on, come on, please.”
Warm arms wrap around him.
When Natasha arrives back at Stark Tower with Clint, Thor, and Steve, she follows the blood trail into one of Tony’s many workshops. This one has a makeshift operating table, and Tony and Bruce work frantically over Loki, their hands and clothes smeared with blood. Tony’s still wearing the Mark VII with the helmet piece down. Loki’s skin is even more ghostly white beneath the bright lights, and there’s a deep reddish-purple discoloration near the gash in his side. She can see the faint heaving of his chest. He’s still alive.
“It’s internal!” Bruce shouts to Tony. “You have to find the bleed!” Loki’s body arches off of the table as he chokes out another gush of blood. Bruce cuts holes into a catheter and pierces Loki’s chest with a scalpel, sliding one end of the tube into the incision. Crimson flows through the tubing, splattering onto the floor while Bruce sutures the tube to the skin to hold it in place.
“What am I looking for, Bruce?” Tony asks. “C’mon, you’re the doctor.”
“Find what’s bleeding.”
“Uh, that doesn’t help!” He shines a light into the wound. “Okay, wait, I think I see it.”
“Can you seal it shut?”
Tony’s eyes go wide. “Oh, c’mon, you’ve gotta be kidding! Without anesthesia--”
“There’s no time!” His hands work over Loki’s chest, keeping the dull thuds of his heart beating. “Do it now!”
Tony takes a small instrument and slides it into the wound. Loki shrieks in agony when the hot probe sears the leaking blood vessels shut, and his body thrashes against the sharp pain.
Natasha doesn’t realize Clint’s holding her up until she loses her footing from pushing forward, trying to run to Loki. The smell of blood--Loki’s blood--burns the back of her throat.
“It’s not stopping,” Tony says, panic in his voice. “And it’s coming too fast!”
“Using the Gauntlet must have ruptured something.” Bruce sort of shoves Tony out of the way. “Keep him breathing,” he says, his gloved hands searching for the bleed. Loki’s heart thumps once more, then falls silent.
Tony presses on his chest and forces air into his lungs while Bruce tries to find the rupture. But there’s just too much blood coming too quickly. Natasha can’t see, her eyes wet and blurry, but she knows it’s too late. She doesn’t want these awful memories in her head--the screaming, the bleeding, watching the man she loves die a slow, painful death. It doesn’t feel real.
She blinks away the clouds and sees Tony working over him, trying to breathe life back into Loki’s broken body. But his dead heart does not beat again.
Inexorable fear grips her. Nausea curls in her stomach, and her mind can’t process anything beyond the limp body of the focus of her world. A new life, an entire future she’d chosen. Gone.
Bruce walks out of the room, slowly and sadly, and Natasha’s world drops out from beneath her. “I’m sorry. We tried all we could, but he bled out too quickly.” Something reaches into her chest and squeezes her heart.
Just like him.
She slides to the floor, barely registering Clint’s warm embrace around her shoulders as she tries to breathe, but it rusts in her lungs. She chokes on a sob. Her breath comes in ragged, shallow gasps. Each gulp of air draws in the scent of his blood.
“It’s okay, Nat, it’s okay,” Clint murmurs in her ear, and she wants to scream that, no, it isn’t okay until she realizes what he means.
Glass-shattering pain rises up in her chest. A sob leaves her throat in a choked whimper.
This is the first time they’ve seen the Black Widow cry.
“Nat, I’m taking you to your room now.”
Miss Romanoff, do you have any concept of how lovely you are?
Anyone with eyes could speak of your beauty, but you have blessed me with knowledge of your soul, which is far more beautiful.
“Dinner’s ready, if you’re hungry.”
As your girlfriend, I’m telling you to come to dinner.
“No thank you.”
“...will not allow you to discard my brother’s body...”
“...take him back to Asgard?”
Tell me about Asgard.
Well, it’s quite beautiful. I’m sure you’d enjoy it. Some call it the Golden Realm.
We could marry here or in Asgard. The choice is yours.
“There may be a way to bring back what was lost.”
“Then do it! Nat’s wasting away in there!”
“I know not what to bargain with that would be of equal value with a life.”
“You’re the fucking king! Can’t you...”
Odin lied to me my entire life and taunted me with the false promise of the throne, knowing full well it would only be Thor who succeeded him.
“Lady Natasha, I cannot express how sorry I am that my mistakes led to your loss.”
“The day you asked me to spy on Jane, when Loki and I had our first date...you said you owed me a favor.”
“That I did.”
“If there’s anything you can do that might bring him back...”
“Aye, I shall endeavor to return my brother to us all.”
Miss Romanoff, would you do me the extraordinary honor of marrying me?
That night, when the haze prohibits her sleep, and the blanket of stars is heavy and thick in the sky, Natasha takes a walk to Loki’s room. The familiar, vanilla-cinnamon scent of him lingers inside, and it makes her gag as if it’s putrid and vile. She shuts the door behind her, punishing herself with his aroma, and stands there for a minute or two, breathing in his memory. Nausea grips her tightly and doesn’t let go. It’s maddening how the scent of him brings back once-pleasant memories that now slice through her with a jagged edge, how a mere aroma can twist her throat into knots.
She stumbles over to the closet and opens the door. The smell burns in her nose like fire, racing down her throat and into her lungs. She holds her breath, sifting through his shirts and sweaters, each piece of clothing an inescapable memory. Her shaky hands reach out for the black leather jacket he’d been so fond of. It too is drenched in his scent, and agony rips through her when she draws breath again.
This is torture, she knows. She shouldn’t be doing this, but he is gone and she misses him, and this is all the heaven she’s allowed now.
She slips the jacket on, arm by arm, and the smell of him blooms in a sweet, deadly cloud around her. But the bed is what sends her world crashing down, because on the sheets is the scent of him and her entangled, the smell of early-morning memories and late-night rendezvous. She cries weakly into the blankets, knowing that he’ll never flash that crooked smile again or bless her with his laughter. She will not wake up to find him lying in bed beside her, his hair mussed and messy. He will not be there to eat her cooking or pretend he doesn’t hear her singing. He will not be there to say “I do” or see their children smile.
Instead, he lies lifeless on a cold metal table in a dark laboratory.
Natasha stands on shaky legs and leaves the room, sealing off its undefiled state. She finds Loki in the place where life left him, his motionless body covered with a white sheet. She refuses to lift the sheet, to remember him lifeless and ashen. She swallows something hard and painful in her throat and sits in an empty chair beside the table.
She wonders what to say, if her words might somehow reach him, wherever he is. She feels a pang of guilt when she thinks that Loki probably lived his entire life without hearing the words “I love you” from the people he needed it from the most. Especially her. Natasha never thought that she needed to say it; she felt it was the subtext of every word out of her mouth, every time she gave him a piece of herself that no one else had. But now she’s sorry she never said it, sorry that she let him die before he knew how much he means to her.
Her voice is low, raw with pain, when she finally speaks. “You always said you were a monster. I know that’s not true. You were the man who gave his life protecting his family, protecting the world. You’re a hero. It’s a shame you never saw that.”
She sits at his side for some time, grasping for more words but finding none. No eloquent speeches will deliver him to her. No heartfelt sentiment can reanimate a corpse. She whispers “I love you” to his ghost before she leaves the room, the hole in her chest aching and throbbing.
Natasha roams the tower, finding the piano. She wonders if she still remembers the song she’d played for him what seems like eons ago. She finds that she does. She isn’t sure if the melody is helpful or harmful right now. Perhaps a mix of both.
When she returns to her room in an attempt to sleep, the ache in her chest swells and crescendos. Unbearable memories of Loki lifeless and broken beneath her hands. Hearing him scream in agony. The scent of his blood seeping between her fingers. Watching his spirit slip away. Being powerless to stop it.
Natasha stays enclosed in the blankets and does not sleep.
Chapter 22: Sacrifice
Another long chapter. Remember, I promised it wouldn't be completely depressing? Make sure to stay tuned for the epilogue.
So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty.
~ Haniel Long
Hel is not as dreary as a resting place for the dead may seem, and Thor discovers this firsthand after his trek through the cave Gnipahellir. The cold air chills him and reminds him of his lost brother, the reason he’s here.
Thor had been saddened to find that Loki’s soul dwelled not in Valhalla, the home of fallen heroes, but thankful that he did not come to rest in Niffleheim, the realm of dishonored dead. His search for Loki’s soul had led him to Hel, where the neither honored nor dishonored come to rest, what his companions on Midgard might refer to as purgatory.
Hela greets him as he arrives, a smug smirk on her lips. “Well, well, well, what’s the king of Asgard doing in a place like this?”
“Hela.” Thor nods, acknowledging her. “You know why I am here.”
The ruler of Hel, Hela stands long and lithe, her features bearing exquisite beauty. Born of the Jotun sorceress Angerboda, Hela is just as mischevious and cunning as Loki. “Of course, you want me to bring little Loki back.” She smiles, a twinkle in her green eyes that makes Thor’s heart ache. “I must admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for him.”
“Then we have a deal?”
Hela bursts into a hearty laugh. “Oh, Thor, honey, I took you for a lot of things, but embarrassingly stupid wasn’t one of them. I can’t just go reviving people at my whims. There are rules, y’know.” She moves in circles around him as she speaks, her tongue caressing every syllable. “You’ve gotta sweeten the pot. Make it worth my while.”
“Control of Valhalla,” Thor answers almost immediately. He’d come prepared for this, ready to bargain with everything he has; the burden of guilt upon his shoulders does not allow him anything less. “You will have power over all of Asgard’s dead, including Odin, and myself as well when I pass on.”
Hela taps a finger to her chin, contemplating his offer. “Remind me why I should give you anything? You Aesir can be so cruel to those you deem different than yourselves.”
Thor recalls Hela’s parentage; his people’s treatment of the Frost Giants will cost him dearly now. “Twenty years,” Thor says. “I shall die twenty years sooner.”
“Forty!” he roars.
Hela rolls her eyes, looking very unimpressed with his theatrics. “Keep going.”
“Take forty years off of my life, as well as complete control over Asgard’s dead. That is my offer.”
Hela says nothing. Thor waits, anticipating, fear trickling through his veins. Then she says, “No.” His heart drops into his stomach. Hela walks away. Thor begins to panic, wondering in futility what he can possibly give her that will be enough to save his brother. What does he possess of worth?
Thor realizes Hela’s intentions before he gambles away his trusty weapon--she wouldn’t be able to wield it anyway. She isn’t concerned with taking years off of his lifespan, because a few decades in either direction wouldn’t matter much to a god.
No, this is an exercise in sacrifice and humility. Hela wants him to suffer. She doesn’t believe he deserves to rule Asgard after his father’s war against her people, as well as Thor’s own foolish quarrels with the Jotuns. Violence ripples and echoes, and Thor must pay the ultimate price for the deeds of his blood.
“Please,” he begs in a broken whimper. “I will surrender the throne of Asgard.”
She stops and turns to face him. “What use would I have for that?”
“I know not, but I do know you to barter for less. I surrender the throne, you bring back Loki.”
Hela smiles, satisfied with his offer. “If only Loki knew how much his brother loves him.”
“Do we have a deal?”
“The throne of Asgard and control of its dead. You get your brother back.”
Loki hears a dull thud in his ears. Then another. And another. Frantic pounding in his chest. Burning. His lungs burn. He inhales, greedily sucking in air as he sits up on the operating table. Waking is disorienting at first, especially in such unfamiliar surroundings. Slowly, he recognizes the room as one of Stark’s workshops. Then dim, hazy memories begin to swirl in his head. He remembers an angel and how he’d slumped in her arms when the blackness pushed him down. He remembers blinding white lights and sharp, stabbing pain. Then the blackness again, this time crushing him. No pain. No worries. No fear.
Fearing the worst, he places a hand on his chest. Solid. Weighty. This reassures him that he is not a ghost. His lack of a shirt does not reassure him. He does not remember taking it off, but he’s thankful that whoever undressed him did not remove all of his clothing.
On cautious legs, Loki moves off of the table and tries his footing. Nothing hurts. He walks over to the mirror, curious as to the extent of the damage. That much pain and agony had to leave evidence somewhere.
Shock freezes him when he sees only a faint scar along his side where the blade had cut, and a smaller, thinner scar beneath one of his ribs. But how? Blood had poured from his side...
Loki swallows hard, the realization slowly crashing into him like a wrecking ball through molasses. Panic trickles through his veins, and he tries to smother the dread as he picks up his tattered, bloody undershirt off of the tile floor. There’s a long gash down the middle, splitting the fabric in two. He frowns when he notes the same cut in his shirt as well. He tosses the ruined garments aside. At least the pants he’s wearing are intact, he thinks to himself as he rushes out of the room to find the others.
Bruce is the first person he encounters, and to his credit he looks as equally startled as Loki. They stare at each other for a few seconds before Loki manages to speak. “Where is Thor?”
Bruce blinks, then he smiles warmly in understanding. “Your brother said he had business to tend to in Asgard.”
A cold finger traces down his spine. He does not like where this is leading. “I see.”
Bruce claps a hand on Loki’s shoulder. “It’s good to have you back.”
Loki nods, still not accustomed to anyone other than Thor and Natasha appreciating his presence. Speaking of Natasha...
He navigates his way through the hall to find the elevator. When it opens, he’s face to face with Clint Barton.
Loki braces himself, fully prepared for a confrontation. Clint looks like he’s just seen a ghost. Then he laughs and shakes his head. “Well, I’ll be damned.” Loki waits for some form of scorn or derison to show on the other man’s face. But Clint just steps out of the elevator and smirks at him as he passes by. “You might wanna put a shirt on.”
Loki tries to make sense of all of this as he rides down to Natasha’s floor. Is it possible that he’s merely been under anesthesia? Perhaps Banner was able to patch him up but was unsure if he would awaken.
He wants to believe that, but the looks of stunned shock on Bruce and Clint’s faces tell him a different story: a story far more tragic than he wants to accept.
Loki reaches Natasha’s room and knocks.
It takes her a moment to answer. Natasha opens the door and sees Loki. In the air, he tastes a lush whiff of her. Instantly, he notices the grief etched on her face, the purple circles around her red-rimmed eyes. He imagines he looked similarly devastated when his father had died. Who else had been lost in the battle?
Natasha stands there, stunned. She backs away a step, looking as if she might embrace him. Then her fist flies toward his face.
Loki jerks backwards to avoid the unexpected blow. Her foot kicks him in the midsection, and she grabs his arm, twisting it behind his back. “Whoa, hey, hey, hey, it’s me!” he yelps.
“Prove it.” She twists his arm tighter, making him grunt in pain.
“Y--your name is Natasha Alianovna Romanoff. You loved ballet since you were a little girl. You sing Russian songs when you think you’re alone. And you, in a lapse of judgement, agreed to marry me.” She loosens her hold on him. “‘Tasha, it’s me. I’m real.”
Slowly, she lets him go, and he turns to absorb her shock. Natasha moves closer, fearing that he might vanish at any sudden movement. She reaches up to touch his face, and Loki squeezes his eyes shut, fully anticipating another attack. Instead, she embraces him in a crushing hug, pulling him tight against her body as if he might slip away if she lets him go. He can see the shuddering quake of her shoulders as he wraps his arms around her waist. He breathes in the comforting honey-lilac scent of her hair.
When she lets go of him, that’s when her fist collides with his face.
“Ow!” she yelps, wiggling her hand in an attempt to stop the pain.
He chuckles, taking her hand in his and feathering his icy fingers over her knuckles. “Don’t hurt yourself, love.”
“I could say the same to you,” she snaps back through grit teeth. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“I would think you might be more appreciative to someone who saved your life.”
“By throwing away your own?”
“I don’t see it that way.”
“How else am I supposed to see it? Why would you ask me to share my life with you if you’re not even going to be around for it?”
Loki fixes his gaze on her. “I would not have done so unless it was my only option.”
“How come you didn’t tell anyone about this?”
“Because whoever I told would try to talk me out of it, as if there were some other feasible solution. And it would only cause needless worry.”
Natasha snorts an angry sigh, looks away. She opens her mouth as if she plans to say more but stops her speech. Instead, she tries a different route. “Have you seen your brother?”
“Not yet. I do have some questions for him.”
“You think he did this?”
“It’s the only way this makes sense.”
“What happened to me?” he asks.
“You were gone.” Her voice hitches on the last word.
“That’s what I’ve gathered. But how did I get back?” He knows the answer, in a deep, dark place he cares not to go. But voicing it--or even thinking it--will make it real. So he decides to play unwitting for a little while longer. “How long was I gone?”
She looks up at him, her eyes full of wonder. “Less than a day.” Natasha drops her gaze to his midsection, examining the damage or lack thereof. She traces a fingertip over the long, pale scar on his side, remembering the way her hands had held him together on the battlefield. “There’s another scar here,” he says, pointing to his chest. She nods, her eyes finding the embossed line and her finger trailing along its path. “I don’t remember getting this one.”
“They tried to save you,” she tells him in a quiet voice. “Banner and Stark, I mean.” Loki stares at her, uncomprehending. They’d tried to save him? Why? It was unnecessary; they’d won, hadn’t they? “Loki, I watched you die. You were a mess. I--I don’t--”
“You...watched?” Agony cleaves his heart anew.
“We all did.” She leads him inside, and they sit on the bed. “What do you remember?”
“You were the last thing I saw before I died.” He gives her a small smile. Natasha’s shoulders slump, her expression almost unreadable, but he detects a bit of pain there. His cold hands reach for the warmth of hers. “No, no, it was the most beautiful thing I could have wished for! You held me in your arms, you agreed to marry me”--saying the words feels wrong on his tongue, as if it is a future never meant for him--“and I was happy. Thank you.” He stays silent for a moment, basking in the memory. “How did it happen?”
“You bled out.” She shuts her eyes, and Loki can only imagine what she sees. “Banner says that using the Gauntlet must have...ruptured something inside you.”
He nods. “I anticipated that would happen.” Her brow creases in pain. “Who else did you lose?” Natasha looks up at him, bewildered. “When you opened the door, you looked absolutely ravaged by grief. Did you lose another ally or--”
Natasha’s hand lashes out and whacks him hard across the face, catching him completely off-guard. In retrospect, he probably should have anticipated this. He gapes at her, feeling the faint sting of her slap, though he’s more stunned by the gesture than anything resembling pain. “Why did you--”
“Loki Odinson, did you ever consider the possibility that I was upset because you had died?” Her eyes are fierce, her voice low and threatening.
Loki just stares at her, incredulous. “No?”
Natasha’s eyes narrow, and she looks as if she might hit him again. “Excuse me?”
“Why would I consider that? It’s impossible.” He stops, processing her words, searching for what she wants him to see. The revelation strikes him like a blow to the chest. The world stops. “You love me,” Loki marvels.
“Yes!” She laughs a light, airy sound. “I do!”
Blood pounds in his ears. He opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out. He stares at nothing in particular, his eyes unseeing. “You love me...”
“Yes!” She laces her fingers with his, her smile earnest and ecstatic. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
He doesn’t. “I need to hear you say it,” he says, his voice breaking. He knows they’re just words and that anyone can say them, but no one has, and that’s why they’re so important to him.
Natasha reaches out with gentle hands and brings his face to hers, and Loki stares in wonder, like a child witnessing the glory of the gods. “Loki, I love you.”
Loki starts to cry, hot tears gushing down his cheeks while he reels from the impact of her words. Natasha moves to shoulder his pain, to pull him into the cradle of her arms, but he has no need for comfort. His smile is radiant, his eyes shining with dewy joy. Natasha really loves him the way that he loves her--unconditionally and irrevocably. And for the first time, he feels worthy.
His cool hands reach for her, his fingers threading through her hair as his mouth eclipses hers. It feels like he’s kissing her for the first time, and Loki gasps a little at the sudden passion that builds in his chest. She kisses him back with fervent lips, pulling him closer and locking their bodies together like congruent puzzle pieces.
Their mouths break apart when a sob hitches out of his throat, and his grip on her tightens. His muscles seize from the force of his need. She coaxes his mouth back to hers, and they seem to pass their intensity back and forth before Loki crumbles beneath a wave of sobs. He tries to meld his mouth to hers in the interims where he chokes for breath. Natasha presses soft, light kisses to his cheeks, his nose, his forehead, her lips upon the tracks of his tears.
He pulls away, ashamed at the magnitude of his affection. When he gathers the courage to meet her eyes again, he’s comforted to see the same adoration staring back at him. She looks at him like she loves him, even after he’s just ruined a good kiss, and even with his dripping-red ledger.
His moment of worship over, he rests his forehead against hers, feeling her warm breath on his face. He smiles a wide, gleaming smile. “Why are you wearing my jacket?”
Natasha glances down, then back up to Loki, a bit of scarlet coloring her cheeks. “Well, it’s not like you were using it.”
He laughs, and the sound feels foreign and wonderful in his throat. “I rather like seeing you in my clothes.” His fingertips brush along the line of her clavicle, and he sweeps the curtain of her hair aside to kiss the exposed skin of her throat.
Her breath is shaky when she speaks. The feel of his mouth melting over her pulse ignites every nerve ending in her body. “I think you like seeing me out of them even more.”
He definitely does.
Making love to her now is an entirely new experience for Loki in the wake of Natasha’s confession. That first glorious night he’d spent with her is a dim ember compared to the fire blazing in his core when he’s tangled with her now. Knowing the full extent of her affection for him turns the silkiness of her fingertips into a valkyrie’s caress. The taste of her on his tongue is the finest wine, her moans a symphony of want.
He teases her in ways that make her back arch and her toes curl. She sighs a mix of Russian and English swears against the air when his mouth trails along her inner thighs. He climbs up her body, kissing her stomach, the curve of her chest, her breasts, her lips. He twirls his tongue over a nipple, making her moan and roll her body in response, wanting to trap her flesh in his mouth. His teeth scrape over the nub, and she shifts her hips beneath him, hissing in pleasure while her hands dig into the planes of his back.
Natasha grabs fistfuls of his hair as Loki’s head dips down to take her other nipple between his teeth, and when his tongue rolls over it she howls a moan and hooks a leg around his hips. He grins against the mound of her breast, raising up and sitting back on his feet. Loki examines the dark bruises that have bloomed on her white flesh. He’s grateful that they aren’t his handiwork, but saddened that some wretched creature hurt and marred her body.
His thin fingers paint lines along the outside of her thighs, as if her body is a canvas and he is the brush. Her hips twist for reprieve, and he maneuvers a hand between her legs. He likes this position, because he can watch her bite her lip and sigh and squeeze her eyes shut when his stroke deepens. When her hips begin to roll in waves against his hand, he withdraws from her. His tongue wraps around his fingers to taste the proof of her want. It’s sweeter now, he thinks, that he’s earned it.
Loki folds at the waist to kiss her, his breath cool and crisp on her skin. “Tell me”--he captures her mouth again, tugging at her bottom lip--“what you desire.”
Natasha angles her hips in just the right way to slide the tip of his cock between her legs, brushing the head over her entrance. “You.”
He raises an eyebrow, smug off of her hunger for him. “Be specific, love. I have many ways of fulfilling you.” His hand between her thighs reminds her of this, making her twist and whine at the thrill of his touch. “See?”
Her voice is soft and pleading, a pout on her lips. “I want all of you.” She slides her hands up his iron arms, grabbing his shoulders and pulling him closer.
“Are you sure?” His expression softens, all traces of self-assurance gone, and Natasha stares up at a frightened god. “You’re already so broken...”
She scoffs a wry laugh. “Broken? I really should shoot you for that.”
“Good thing I’m bulletproof.” His smirk is back, his confidence renewed. Loki hitches one of her legs over his shoulder, pulling her mouth to his as he connects them, gasping a shaky breath against her lips when he’s buried inside of her.
Natasha moans, earnest and eager for him, and though they’re both wound impossibly tight from teasing, they settle on a slow, gentle rhythm. Loki pushes in while Natasha moves to deepen, to complement his stroke. Her hips roll with his, and her mouth cries “moremoredeeperGodyesplease.” He wants so badly to give her more, to give her what she wants if it’s in his power to do so.
He thrusts deeper, harder, and she hisses in pleasure, her fingers gripping at his back. She’s so tight and warm he thinks he’ll burn up inside of her if he doesn’t crumble first. The urge to thrust with all he has is maddening, but she is too sensitive under his hands for him to think of losing restraint. He bends to kiss her again, pulling at her lips with his teeth, and she grabs at his hair.
Her body undulates beneath him, angling her hips enough to make her sigh “so good” against the air in breathy whispers. He pushes, she pulls, and it’s slow enough to build up a distant pressure. Her hands drag down his spine in tightly-wound need, and his name is a chant on her lips. It’s almost too much for Loki to take: the sounds she makes as he moves inside of her, the way her hands grab and claw at his back, her leg hitched over his shoulder, allowing him to go deeper. Deeper. Harder. In. Out.
Natasha pulls his mouth to hers, her hands at his chest. Her index finger traces the small scar beneath his rib as her lips move with his. Her fingers fan out over his ribcage, and her thumbs tease the puckered flesh of his nipples. His hips jerk at her touch, and she squeaks in response, making him stop.
“Did you just squeak?” Loki asks through poorly-repressed laughter. Natasha narrows her eyes and frowns, her cheeks pinched with red. “That’s kind of adorable.”
“You’re such a little shit,” she grumbles under her breath. Her chagrin doesn’t stamp out the fire in her loins, as her hips roll in time with his, needy and wanting. He thrusts harder, forcing out another sound from her throat, though not as comical as the last.
His smile is offensively smug, and his voice drips with velvet lust. “Are you going to come for me?” he coos, resuming their slow grind from earlier. He knows she’s close; he can tell by the way her brow creases and her back arches, and the way she bites her lip as if it might keep her from unraveling--it never does.
Loki feels her tense around him, slowly and gradually, and his next thrust marks the end of the world for them both. Natasha bucks her hips feverishly against his, needing more than he’s able to give, and he jerks into the void as the earth starts to crumble. Her inner muscles pull him into ecstasy, and he thrusts once more, hard, deep, enough to sate her and earn more praise in his name. He watches her come undone, and then it’s his turn, and he falls off of the edge, spiralling into the white-hot heat.
His climax is so much more resonant and satisfying when he doesn’t try to fight it, when he feels the pull and lets it take him. He comes hard, and it’s agonizing, all-encompassing. His grip on her slackens under the force of his will, his limbs falling away as he succumbs and the entire universe shifts.
Natasha’s hands piece him back together. Her fingers press into his flesh and bring him back to reality, realigning the atoms broken apart by bliss. When Loki resurfaces, he folds to kiss her, his breath cold smoke over her lips. “Did I hurt you?”
She shakes her head. “You showed surprising control. How did you manage it?”
Loki feels the warmth of her fingers over his hipbones. He licks his lips, thinks for a moment. “You’ve altered me, love. Knowing that I have earned your heart...it’s comforting, relaxing. Why did you tell me?”
Natasha turns her head away, trying to hide her face as blood pools beneath her cheeks. “Losing you put a lot of things in perspective.”
He sighs happily. “‘After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well; treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison, malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing can touch him further.’” She raises her gentle fingers to his lips, and he kisses them with tender care.
“What are you thinking?” she asks.
“That you are my Mjolnir.”
Natasha attempts to hide her amusement, but it breaks through. “Some men compare their loves to a rose or a summer’s day. Mine compares me to a hammer. Let no one say you’re not romantic, Loki.”
He smiles sheepishly. “Be fair, now, I could have compared to you the hole in Stark’s chest. My own personal arc reactor.”
“At least it’s pretty; it glows.”
“I think Thor would be opposed to allowing Stark to tamper with Mjolnir.”
“He doesn’t have to know.”
“It would be quite obvious when he notices the blue glow emitting from it.”
Natasha shrugs. “Not my problem. You started this.” She nestles her fingers in his hair.
“Yes, and now I’m regretting it,” he says with a laugh. “Just accept the compliment, darling.”
She blushes at the endearment and kisses the bridge of his nose. Loki accepts the kiss but does not reciprocate, his mind lost in thought. Natasha notices his demeanor and watches his eyes. He seems frightened somehow, as if something awful has taken root inside of his brain. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you know what spurred Thanos into his modus of destruction?” Natasha shakes her head, urging him to continue. “Winning the heart of Mistress Death herself.”
When he doesn’t say anything else, she looks up at him. “And?”
Loki realizes he might need to elucidate a bit more. “Thanos was shunned as a child, just as I was. He was born out of place, as was I. Thanos fought and destroyed to win the heart of Death. I did the same for Odin and Thor. It is not often I encounter an enemy who is but a mirror of my past self.”
Natasha nods, understanding now. “Sometimes the worst thing about fighting bad guys is that...they’re not really bad guys.”
“Am I doomed to repeat my mistakes?”
“You know what tragedy can do to a person.”
He does. “That does not excuse misconduct.”
“No, but it explains a lot.”
Loki isn’t sure about that, and he isn’t sure why he’s so eager to burn atop this emotional pyre, especially now that he has Natasha back. He sighs into her hair. “If I can identify with him, have I truly changed at all?”
“We’ve all got both good and bad in us. All that matters is what we act on.” That calms him a little, and he sags beneath her touch. “It’s all right. It’s over.”
It isn’t. Not yet. Not until he knows for sure why he’s here. Loki sits up, rakes a hand through his hair. “I must find Thor,” he says, gathering his clothes from the floor and dressing.
“Look, whatever he did or didn’t do, try not to be too angry with him.” Loki looks over at her. “I asked him to make good on that favor.”
“What did you ask of him?”
“Just...to do whatever he could to...” She swallows.
Loki nods. “I cannot make any promises, but I don’t blame you for asking. You know not the lengths Thor will go to ensure the well-being of his loved ones.”
“I think I might.”
He shakes his head. “No, you don’t.” With that, he departs, hoping to find Thor in their shared quarters. Loki’s intuition does not disappoint. When he swings open the door to their room, Thor sweeps Loki into a crushing hug. Loki groans in pain. “Too strong,” he rasps.
“My apologies.” Thor releases him with a sheepish smile. “You look well, brother.”
“Yes, about that. I have an inquiry for you.” Loki tries not to focus on the pain, remembering the dread slowly swallowing him. “What did this cost?”
“I do not understand.” Loki sees the slight disparity between Thor’s words and his expression.
“You were never a skilled liar, so do not test me! Tell me what you did to bring me back!” He hears the quiver in his voice, and he’s not sure he wants Thor to confirm his worst suspicions.
Thor bears a proud smile. “I bargained with Hela.”
Blood roars in his ears. A dizzy panic begins to settle on his shoulders. “You--you what?” His voice leaves his throat impossibly weak.
“I ventured to Hel and bartered for your soul.”
Loki reaches out and grabs him by the armor, shaking him. “No! Tell me you’re lying! You couldn’t have--” His throat swells, choking the words. “How long?”
“She was not concerned with years.”
“Months?” Loki asks in a horrified whisper.
Thor shakes his head. “I did not bargain with time.”
Loki blinks back an onslaught of tears pricking at his eyes. “Then what?”
“I gave her control of Valhalla and relinquished the throne of Asgard.”
He can’t understand. The words don’t make sense in that order. His heart throbs, aches. He forgets to breathe, reminded only when his lungs cry for air. “You...gave up...the throne?” Loki stammers out, the realization slowly seeping in like a poison.
Thor nods, a prideful smile on his face, seemingly oblivious to Loki’s mounting anger. “And now you’re alive, and--”
Loki’s fist slams into Thor’s jaw. “You damned fool! Are you really that self-sacrificing?”
Thor stumbles back, rubbing the spot where he’d been hit. “Are you not appreciative? I saved you.”
“Appreciative?” Loki sputters, turbulent waves of anger and grief crashing inside of him. “You expect me to appreciate the fact that you’ve thrown away your entire future--your entire life--for mine?” He takes another swing, fury still pulsing through him. Thor sees it coming and evades. “You stupid, impetuous asshole!”
Thor chuckles. “Midgard certainly has had an effect on you, brother.”
“How am I supposed to live with this?” Loki demands with a blazing glare, angry tears streaming down his face.
“How was I expected to live when my brother had died?” Thor answers, his tone devoid of any levity.
“I am not your brother!” Loki yells, his throat raw and shredded.
Thor’s expression crumbles, because Loki’s just said the saddest thing he’s ever heard. “No, Loki, you are my brother, whether you believe so or not. Never doubt that I love you.” Loki feels his heart stop, hearing Thor turn his own words back on him.
Loki nods slowly, his anger surrendered beneath his brother’s love. “You sacrificed everything...” he says around a sob. “You gave up your life, your future...”
“I do not see it that way. Loki, why do you think you do not deserve to be saved?”
“Not at your expense. Not this way.”
“You are more important to me than any throne. I want you to live and be happy.” Loki wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, sorrow settling in his chest. Thor embraces him in a gentle hug. “We are truly equals now.”
Loki breaks down and sobs in a way he hasn’t since Odin’s death.
“So, hey, shouldn’t today be Loki’s rebirthday?” Tony asks.
Natasha gives him flat eyes. “What?”
“You know, rebirthday? Celebrating someone’s second birth into the world.” Tony explains this as if everyone should know this term he’s just made up. “Steve’s got one.”
It’s early morning, and they all sit at the table in the kitchen, celebrating Loki’s return. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to stay up and eat junk food.
“What do I have?” Steve asks, blissfully unaware of the discussion as he returns from the restroom.
“Don’t ask.” Natasha groans.
“You know, your rebirthday,” Tony tells him, slinging an arm around Steve’s shoulders when he sits beside him.
“I vaguely remember having this conversation before.”
“Well, it’s officially a thing now, since we’ve got two people here who’ve been plucked from the jaws of death.”
“Don’t you mean three?” Loki asks, pointing to the blue glow emanating from Tony’s arc reactor.
“Technically, I never died.”
“A celebration calls for one more round of Midgardian ale!” Thor exclaims.
“No, big man, your ‘one more’s always end up multiplying,” Tony says.
Loki smirks. “My, my, Tony, I’ve never known you to refuse a drink.”
“Whoever told you that you were funny was not looking out for your best interest.”
“Girls, don’t fight, you’re both pretty,” Pepper deadpans.
“Loki’s the prettiest,” Natasha teases him. “His hair looks like something out of a L’Oreal commercial.”
“I know that you’re obligated to say that, but it still hurts me.” Tony places a hand over his arc reactor in mock hurt.
“My brother makes a fine female,” Thor boasts. “He once masqueraded as a bridesmaid in--”
Loki reaches up and covers Thor’s mouth, laughing nervously. That is not an anecdote he’s comfortable sharing with the group. “You’ll have to forgive him. When he drinks, he can’t exactly separate truth from fiction.” From underneath the table, Loki kicks Thor in the shin. Thor winces.
“I wanna hear the Disney Princess Loki story,” Tony whines.
Natasha grins, and Loki knows that look. It’s the smile he fell in love with. “I think Thor’s the one playing the role of the princess.”
Clint’s mouth drops open. “Aw, c’mon, why does she get to know and not us?”
“We all have our secrets,” Loki says coolly. “Someday I might let you in on them.” He stomps on Thor’s foot for good measure in case he got any ideas about blurting out more embarrassing stories.
“Is he kicking you under the table?” Steve asks Thor, tilting for a better view.
“That’s sort of cheating, isn’t it?”
Loki rolls his eyes. “Captain America: Enforcer of Arbitrary Rules.”
Steve pouts a little, and Tony tugs him closer. “Don’t let him get to you, Steve. He’s just jealous that you can rock a spangly, skintight outfit better than he can.”
“Goddammit!” Clint yells. “That is not an image I wanted in my head.” The rest of the table erupts into laughter, and Clint just scowls at their mirth. “It’s not funny, you assholes. You try imagining Loki in Steve’s costume and see if you don’t want to pour bleach into your brain.”
Loki looks over at Natasha, raising an eyebrow and giving her a leering grin. She shoves him playfully, a smile on her lips, and something in his chest swells up and pushes everything else aside.
When he fell from the Bifrost, Loki believed that nothing in his existence could ever be worth one more heartbeat of such immeasurable agony. Then Thanos found him, and Loki’s definition of suffering evolved to encompass this new pain. When Odin died, Loki’d realized he knew nothing about true anguish. The pain seemed to come stronger and harder each time, with no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
It seemed a glorious miracle that he ended up at Natasha’s door that night.
Natasha laughs at something Tony says. Then Thor joins in, and in their joy Loki understands the ebb and flow, that all of his past agony had brought him to this point. The pain he endured did have a reward, even thought it wasn’t what he had in mind. It was something far greater than power or prestige; Loki had found a family, a place where he was loved, and wasn’t that what he’d really been looking for all along?
He can’t think of a better way to spend his life than with his new family.
Chapter 23: Epilogue: Valhalla
Short and sweet, and also foreshadowing future one-shots I plan on writing. ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I have found the one whom my soul loves.
~ Song of Songs 3:4
“You know Fury cries at weddings?”
Loki laughs, light and airy. “You’re kidding.”
“Oh, you’ll see.” Natasha smiles and looks up at the gauzy clouds in the pink sky. Once the aftermath of the battle with Thanos had died down, Loki had found an opportunity to take Natasha to Asgard. They lay beside each other in the meadow, gazing at each other and, occasionally, the expanse of trees on either side of them.
“I can’t imagine that Barton is going to be thrilled about this.”
“He’ll get over it.” She plays with the flower petals sprouting in patches around them. “He is warming up to you, albeit slowly.” She smiles sadly. “I joke about him being jealous, but I know he wouldn’t try to stop us.”
“He loves you,” Loki says.
She nods. “And I love him. Just...not in the way he wants.”
Loki closes his eyes. He doesn’t know how to offer her comfort in moments like these, so he just lets them pass.
“You mentioned that you want children someday,” she says.
“Did I? If I remember correctly, I asked you that.”
Natasha ignores his attempt to derail the conversation. “We’re not talking about me.”
“I think it’s a topic that concerns you.”
“Loki,” she says in that flat, hard tone that conveys she means business.
He looks away from her, focusing his gaze on the flower he’s picking apart. After a few seconds pass, he says, “I wish it wasn’t an impossibility.”
“Let’s say that it isn’t.”
“We’re not talking about me,” she reiterates.
“Why not? Doesn’t it equally concern you?”
“Because I want to know how you feel.”
His mouth presses into a hard line. “It will always be an impossibility. No matter how much I may want it...” She waits for him to continue. “I’m still learning how to control my strength around you. Imagine a child, infinitely more fragile...” He sighs softly. “And how could I guarantee I won’t become like my own father?”
“If you’re worrying about that in the first place, you probably won’t.” She laces her fingers with his. “You have an amazing capacity for love, more than I’d ever expected. I think you would be a wonderful father.”
Loki isn’t sure about that. “And you?”
She tries to hide her smile. “I wouldn’t be opposed...but you know my concerns.” He feels a swell of hope in his chest that her only obstacles are not personal, only conditional. “Would a child of ours be half-god?”
“I do not know. I’ve never given the matter much thought... I don’t see why not.”
“It would be half Jotun,” she says, more for his benefit than her own. Loki’s expression flinches ever so slightly. “Are you sure it’s not an ‘impossibility’ because you don’t want to reconcile your own prejudices?”
“Any child of ours would also carry half of your loveliness and goodness,” he answers. “It would be very difficult not to love.”
Natasha smiles, feeling his arm slide around her shoulders and his fingers caress her cheek. “Boy or girl?”
“It matters not.”
“Oh, come on.”
He thinks for a moment, watching the clouds swirl by. “A boy, I suppose.”
He likes that she’s warming up to the idea. “Perhaps we should inform the others of our nuptials before we begin family planning.”
Natasha frowns. “That’s such a weird word: nuptials.”
“Shall I rephrase?” Loki grins, shifting so he’s on top of her. “Perhaps we should inform the others of your decision to marry me.” He presses his mouth to hers, thrilled with the words.
Her hands find his chest, gently pushing him away so she can sit up. “I thought it was a ‘lapse of judgement.’”
“But still your decision.”
“Do you have a ring?”
He nods, reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the glimmering green gem; after returning the Gauntlet to its rightful place in Asgard, Thor had given the Soul Gem to Loki per his request. “My proposal would have been much more effective if I’d had this.”
“Maybe,” Natasha says with a shrug. “A ring might be slightly better.”
“Your Midgardian customs are peculiar.”
“Your Asgardian customs are peculiar.” She fights the urge to stick out her tongue at him.
“Yet you agreed to wed here.”
“Well, I should probably do at least one nice thing for you,” she jokes. Loki knows she’s done far more for him than this.
“There is something else I want to show you.”
“Oh? Are you going to keep me guessing or do I get a hint?”
The corners of his lips turn up into a crooked smirk. “How do you feel about horses?”
Family is a haven in a heartless world.
Thank you all for reading! I hope you enjoyed it and that I did not disappoint your expectations. I plan to cross-post this story (as well as any future one-shots) to ff.net, and I will post a .pdf version on tumblr for those of you with e-readers who'd like to re-read this. :) Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.