for every sun ascending
a lonesome moon will grow
In the end, he tricked them all.
He thinks himself a good ruler; a humble, merciful one. He brought peace. He took away the pain. There are no weapons anymore, there are no corrupted governments, no wars. Under his rule the Earth is starting to clean itself, day by day becoming a better place. And it's all his doing.
He still despises New York, or what remains of it. There are bad memories ghosting around this city and it unnerves him just to think of them. He builds his palace in the north, close to the ocean (he wants to settle in Norway, the way it has always been, but he can't leave just yet, there is still too much to fix). It's beautiful – an exquisite piece of art: all marble and hard stone, with flecks of green and silver. There is a huge garden at the back, shielded from the outside world, filled with blossoming summer flowers. He treats it with utmost care, loving the strong scents and vivid colors that sometimes are the only cure to soothe his tired mind.
He seeks out the Avengers, one by one. His people are very resourceful at the task, able to use every electronic device, every eye, every thought even to locate them, then bring them before Loki's throne, pushing them to their knees. (In the end, you will always kneel.)
He's merciful, still, but he lets the world see the executions, lets Tony Stark's head roll into the streets and to the feet of the crowd. (Look at your villains, look at what happened to them. You're safe now.)
He doesn't wear a crown, the horns on his head enough of a power display, his army, his people are what makes him king. I am the revival, he says, I am the resurrection. And they bow to him, throwing flowers at his feet.
Thor visits him, and the sight of his once-brother makes Loki almost choke with the emotions he thought he'd long forgotten. He inclines his head and allows a small smile to flicker on his lips.
The words he hears make him almost spit out, something resembling poison filling his mouth.
"What have you done, brother?" And there is despair and disapproval in Thor's voice, and something more, all too familiar but he doesn't want to acknowledge it, (it is disappointment). But Loki is king now, and he will cower no more.
"I have brought peace onto this planet, Thor. I saved billions of innocent lives. What do you find wrong in that?"
"It was not their will to be ruled, not by you," the god says. He sounds almost apologetic; he cannot deny the truth, cannot deny that the Earth is indeed well, but there is still the matter of his wretched morality, the one that made Thor so loved everywhere he set foot and the one that made his failure. "Did you forget the Chitauri? The havoc they'd caused, the people they'd slayed? All in the name of your power--"
"I remember," Loki says calmly, his green eyes shining like two suns, burning and dangerous, "that is why I destroyed them. They will never pose a threat to anyone, you have my word."
Thor knows he will not succeed at this conversation, words never being his strongest suit. He needs Loki to see sense desperately, to leave Thor's beloved planet (he grew so protective of it over the past years), but most of all, he needs to have his little brother back home.
But he knows it's a failure, as he looks into those two burning orbs of green, full of authority and defiance. There is no use in trying anymore. (It breaks Thor apart.)
"Come back to us," he says one last time in a small voice, "our father is willing to forgive you all, if only you came back."
Loki's fingers dig into the armrests of his throne. There is something cold slithering at the base of his neck.
"I have no father."
(I killed him.)
He looks at his people from the screen of every electronic device on the planet, flashes of green and red behind him. They can see Hulk destroying buildings in the center of Washington, smashing cars and throwing them in the direction of frightened citizens. There is blood splattering the camera like rain, bits and pieces of metal thrown around and there is smoke, thick and black, the promise of fire. In a flash the image transforms into Captain America's cruel smile, as he holds a woman hostage and threatens to cut her throat with a sharp blade he keeps at her neck. She is crying, mouth open in a soundless scream, while her hands uselessly claw at his in the hope of being released; but then he presses the knife deeper into her throat and there is blood, and it is all red again.
Loki stares straight ahead, something akin to sadness glittering in his eyes.
"How misleading trust can be," he says softly. "Those people, those you called your heroes mere years ago, have shown you just now their true identity. They are but monstrous creatures, relishing in chaos and destruction. But I will allow it no more."
He imagines cowering families in their destroyed homes, children crying from hunger and cold, people in filthy hospitals crawling in pain, and there is a bile rising in his throat and a sudden tingling behind his eyelids. They are all his people now, and he has to make it right this time. "You are safe now."
He is pleasantly surprised when they bring her to the throne room, and licks his thin lips in anticipation. It's been two years since the avenger search has started and they had them, all but one.
Her hair is red and curly, just as he remembered, but it's a tad bit longer and wild, full lips bitten and bloody, scratches and cuts all over her face. She didn't go without a fight, he notices, and there are four men escorting her even though she's cuffed and seemingly powerless. Green eyes find their twin ones and he sees no fear there, just some insufferable sureness, and he knows then that the time on the run has not broken her, (yet).
"After all this time, the final piece of the puzzle," he says silkily, his lips curling into a smile that doesn't feel quite right. "I've been waiting impatiently for you, Natalia."
She flinches, her birth name foreign in her ears. She's been Natasha Romanoff for longer than she can remember, the life of Natalia Romanova hidden deep, burned from her memory with The Fire, all of it long forgotten.
"What would you have me do with you?" He is open for entertainment, his body sore from too much magic used too abruptly; he needs a distraction and the poor attempts at persuasion from the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent or pitiful acts of resistance might prove to be just what he needs to relieve the tension. But she surprises him, yet again.
"I can be useful to you", she says casually and he observes a drop of blood falling from her split lip, down her chin, into the curve of her neck, leaving a red streak from its path.
"And how would that be?"
"Regimes fall everyday-"
„-and you tend not to weep over that, yes, I remember our little conversation quite well, Agent Romanoff," he tells her impatiently. He looks her up and down, from her torn and used clothing to her beaten face. It makes him sad, almost. "My question being, what exactly do you think you could offer that would be of any interest to me?"
She contemplates the question for a while, brow furrowing just slightly. "You know of my fighting skills and of my espionage training--"
"That is indeed quite delightful, but I don't need such qualities. There are no threats from which I would require protection, and if they were ever to surface I have an army, a faithful one, w hich you could never be a part of."
Natasha seems at a loss for a moment; she stills and licks another drop of blood that's formed on her lip. The sight makes Loki soften his gaze, relax his posture. There is no need for violence; she poses no threat any longer.
"You can go," he tells the guards, and as they leave he rises from the throne. He walks towards his prisoner, with his hands clasped behind his back. "Would you like to see my garden, Natalia?"
She furrows her brow again, confusion for once clearly written across her face. She follows him obediently, staggering on her weary legs through the high corridors; they're exquisite, intimidating and dreadfully cold. They pass numerous pairs of guards and she realizes bitterly that escaping will never be an option (but there are always other ways of getting out, ways she has been more than properly trained for). He doesn't look back to see if she's following, so damn sure of himself it drives her mad. She cannot allow herself to let her facade slip, so she keeps a blank expression on her face, trying to freeze her heart into a stone.
As they enter the garden the scent nearly knocks her from her feet, the mixture so rich she finds it suffocating. The plants are wild, growing high and twirling with one another like snakes (from the corner of her eye she thinks she sees them move and it sends shivers down her spine.)
The whole place is pulsing with magic.
He leads her deep into the core of the garden, through narrow paths lined with thorny hedges. They cut her sometimes, but it's nothing in comparison to what she's been through in the past few days when they were transporting her to Loki's palace. Scared of her or not, his people were not merciful or very humane.
He stops by the roses, and she can't help but admire the flowers. They are bigger than any she's ever seen, fully blossomed and of vivid colors. There is a particularly magnificent bush with milky white roses that seem to glow in the moonlight. She feels the urge to bend down and smell them, touch them, to make sure it's not another trick of his.
Loki turns around and his features are softer, almost serene; Natasha marvels at the sight of his face against the flowers, nearly translucent skin glinting in the pale light of the evening, and his eyes, those two pools of green are boring into hers, transfixing her to the spot. He smiles, and it is everything but pleasant, and for the first time since her arrival she can taste fear on her tongue.
"Do you find them beautiful?" he asks, and she nods her head, too scared that her voice might betray her. "You remind me of them".
Her eyes widen as he comes closer; so close, she can feel his cold breath on her face. Her cuffed hands dangle awkwardly between them but he pays them no mind.
"I think you would make a beautiful rose." He puts his hand on her cheek in a gentle caress, and she closes her eyes, only to open them all of the sudden as shocking warmth starts seeping from his fingers into her body. The world starts spinning and Natasha lets out a gasping breath, but no sound is heard.
Loki looks down at the red rose that's appeared before his feet and bends down to caress its petals. They are soft as silk and they smell of blood.
He finds no peace at night, nightmares wracking his mind every time he falls asleep. He doesn't dream of pain anymore (Chitauri no longer hold a grudge over him, he slayed every single one of them, his hands sometimes still bloody and too hot) or his family (he has no family now, so he supposes it's a natural course of action).
Instead, in his dreams he loses his voice. He tries to pry his mouth open but it stays shut, even though there are no binds, no sews that would hold it close (and then he remembers that one time Odin punished him, he remembers the taste of his own blood and flesh as he stood in the middle of the city with his mouth sewn shut, the thread piercing his lips over and over again, never allowing them to heal properly).
Some nights he dreams of his people, their faces full of hate and disgust as they look at him, fingers tingling to rip his heart apart; other times he watches them being killed, one by one, and he can do nothing to stop it. He sees destruction and death, and he sees children, their little fists banging on their tormentors' hands as they snatch them away from their homes, into other, cruel words where they would never find peace or acceptance.
He wakes dripping with sweat, shivers running through his body. It takes him a while to regain his composure and prepare himself for the day. He can never forget.
The next time he visits the garden he finds Natasha standing by the bushes, her eyes blazing with fury.
It is a curious sight, for he has never intended for her to go back to her human form. Annoyance builds inside him like fire as he takes in her ragged appearance. She is still wearing the green dress they had taken her in, but it is now battered and torn, thorns and dirt covering the fabric's surface. There are leaves in her hair, her once flawless skin soiled with dirt. Looking down at her feet, he finds himself surprised yet again – for there are vines coiling around her ankles, binding her to the rose bush. It is then that he finally realizes what exactly has happened.
"Let me go," she spits, her previous facade having vanished completely. She was prepared for many things, situations that required intrigue, deception, deceit, seduction even, but she was never trained to deal with magic and it frightened her more than anything has ever had. The perspective of possibly spending the rest of her life as an immobile rose made her almost lose her mind, as did the realization that Loki is not a man easily persuaded.
He stares at her silently with almost scientific interest, his eyes dancing from her face to her ankles surrounded by rose vines. She must have somehow bent the magic he gave her to her will, using the rose's life force to walk around the curse he has cast. He is almost impressed, although she is not even aware of her achievement - it was her rage that was truly responsible for the reclaiming of her form.
"Am I not even worthy of a proper cell?" she seethes, trying to move closer to him. It's not possible though, the vines short and coiled so tightly that the rose thorns cut through her skin. She makes a choking sound at her futile attempts at moving her feet, unwanted tears welling behind her eyelids (but she will not cry, never let him see her weak and broken).
"I'd thought you might like it better here," he says innocently, taking a small step towards her. She grits her teeth, glassy green eyes blazing like wildfire. He can almost taste her anger on his tongue and it thrills him, heart quickening from sudden excitement.
"Why don't you kill me while you're at it? What happened to your snotty promises of Barton killing me in your most perverse--"
He huffs with annoyance and shakes his head, "I would gladly keep my promise, had your dear friend not been dead by now, therefore ruining all the fun."
It's like a stab to her chest. Although her heart screams that he is lying, that Barton cannot be dead, there is a quiet voice in the back of her mind that believes him. Her face falls. For a moment she almost forgets how to breathe.
Loki watches her intently. She's let her guard down, quit pretending as soon as she's found there is no use for it anymore, and now, as her face consorts with anguish, he can finally fully celebrate his victory; how easy it was to get rid of his mighty foes, how easy it was to take the Earth for his own.
And how easily the Black Widow is breaking to pieces in his hands.
He leaves as she stumbles to the ground, thorns cutting into her knees, ripping their soft skin to shreds.
The cellar is cold and smells of mold, the sound of water dripping from the ceiling being all that echoes along the walls. It fairly reminds Loki of Asgardian prison and in his crooked sense of humor he really appreciates the irony. He feels a slight tingling when he passes the magic barrier at the end of the corridor, just by the entrance of the cell. A cell made for something bigger than a human.
He doesn't really like going in there.
For such a large cell, the man lying in the corner seems almost like a child, especially being almost completely covered with rags, the only thing that's visible beneath them is his face. It's not easily recognizable either, for he wears a bushy beard and long, greasy hair that covers most of his forehead. There is a woman too, she sits with her back against the wall, cradling the man's head in her lap. When she spots Loki she tenses immediately, pulling the man closer to her body.
"How are you faring, doctor Banner?" Loki asks conversationally, taking a good look at the dirty floor of the prison and wrinkling his nose in distaste.
The man looks at him with an unfocused gaze and clears his throat. "I've been better."
Loki then turns to the woman and with a sharp tilt of his head motions her to leave. She is trembling all the time, that Darcy Lewis, or at least that what's left of her, (it's not that much anymore). She is stick-thin, with large purple bruises under her eyes, and long matted hair that reaches just below her waist. With utmost care she lifts Banner's head from her lap and places it on the floor. Before getting up she traces her fingers along his hairy cheek and whispers sweet nothings in that thin and hoarse voice of hers, and Loki rolls his eyes in impatience. Only when she finally leaves, he moves closer to the messy pile of blankets that is his prisoner and crouches by his side.
"Have you figured it out, yet?" he asks, wondering once again how this pitiful, blind creature could have caused him so much trouble.
"I've told you already, I don't know," Banner rasps, his eyes closing in distress. "I have tried it many times before, but he just... won't allow it."
Loki grits his teeth, his previous mild annoyance turning into cold rage. "Maybe I should work on the matter with Miss Lewis? Poor girl is wasting herself in those dungeons with your pathetic self. At least there could be some use of her – mayhaps what works on her will work on you?"
Banner's eyes flow open and for a moment Loki can see terror in them. That is good, he knows that fear can be very productive.
"You have to understand," the man says, but it is now anger that can be heard in his voice "if I knew how to kill myself, I would have already done that. You think I enjoy lying here in this goddamned cellar? Or watching as you turn this poor girl into a shell of a person? Or if I like listening how you murder my friends, how you poison innocent people's minds?"
Loki stands up, his face an image of tranquility (except for his eyes which are blazing with cold, unsheathed fire).
"I've been good to you, Doctor. I've been keeping you safe. Taking care of your beloved girl. Protecting people from your monstrous side. And this is how you repay me?" He closes his eyes, terrible sadness overcoming him for a moment. (Some people are so ungrateful, so unworthy of his kindness.)
"I give you one more week," he says at last. "If you disappoint me once more, I shall use the Tesseract and the people who die in the process will lay on your conscience. It saddens me greatly, but if there is no other way, then so be it. After all, there will always be sacrifices for the greater cause."
Banner seems speechless for a moment. "You can't do this! There must be another way, there must be a way to restrain its power-"
"Oh, I can only presume it will require a great deal of it to exterminate such a stubborn creature as yourself."
"You can't just wipe out an entire city!" Banner chokes out.
Loki's lips curl into a thin smile. "I can. And I will."
He is drained by the time he comes back from the dungeons and his feet on their own accord lead him to the garden.
The potential damage of what he's just promised sinks into him slowly, sudden anxiety overtaking his mind. It wasn't protecting, it wasn't what he's promised his people. He hears whispers in his head, frantic voices of reason, and of blind rage. He feels as if he's being torn apart, his mind consisting of different parts – ones that crave bloodshed and pain for those who oppose him, and ones that want him to be the merciful leader, to bring peace and order. He is losing his grip on who the real Loki is.
The scent of roses hits his nostrils and he takes a deep, steadying breath. It always calms him, his garden, it makes him feel like he's finally home.
As he turns, a bright flash of red catches his eye and his irritation returns, along with a shrill malicious voice in his ear. Natasha stands nearby in all her battered glory, red locks billowing in the night wind. She looks as if she wants to say something, but the mere look at Loki's face stops her in her tracks.
"If you anger me again, I swear I will kill you," he hisses, then drops unceremoniously on the grass, his back against a tree trunk. He closes his eyes, and takes another deep breath.
Natasha regards him from afar, notices the rapid rise and fall of his chest, and the violet circles beneath his eyes. He looks unhealthy, if not straightforward sick and she suddenly feels a desperate urge to know why.
"What's happened?" Her curiosity wins with good sense and she asks the question, not really minding the consequences anymore. (In truth, she no longer has anything to lose.)
His eyes shoot open and he sneers at her in the most loathsome way he can. "And why would I tell you that?"
She shrugs. "I suppose I'm just curious. You know, sitting here all day, doing nothing."
"I have just seen your friend, the Hulk," he says at last. "He refuses to help me... exterminate him."
Natasha feels the urge to laugh in his face, but has enough common sense to remain passive. Instead she cocks her head to the side and explains: "You can't kill a hulk. It's impossible. Bruce tried, trust me."
He knows it's foolish to as much as listen to her misguiding words, but indulges her nevertheless. "What would you have me do with him then? I can't keep him locked up all the time, it's inhumane."
The woman looks at him disbelievingly. "I don't think just letting him out would be an option for you, would it? No, I didn't think so." She sighs. "You see, this is the only option I can think of right now. He doesn't even do those things on his own accord. It's all the other guy's job."
"But they're both the same person. If I don't punish him, the other part of him will be left unpunished too. And such things cannot happen. There must be justice." He closes his eyes to silence the voices that are pounding in his ears. It's been getting worse with each day and he worries if his dreams will be plagued by them too.
"Well... yes, but you can't punish an innocent for crimes he didn't commit. What is happening to you?" She sees him draw a hollow breath, but then a hiss escapes his lips. Natasha drops to her knees by his side and grabs his hand, trying to stop his fingers from clawing at themselves. He is tense and gasping as if there was no air in his lungs, and she fears he might collapse at any moment.
With one hand still grasping his, she draws out the other and slaps him lightly on the cheek. "Hey, look at me. Here, come on. Open your eyes. Loki--," and he does, green meeting green once more. He looks weak and crushingly tired, but when he looks at her, she recognizes something resembling admiration in his eyes and it feels like a blow to the head. He squeezes her hand that is still in his and gently moves it into her lap.
"Thank you," he says, voice a bit strained. "I should probably just get some sleep."
He gets up and dusts his clothes, then with a curt nod in her direction stalks back to the palace, his lean form disappearing from her view in no time.
Frantic thoughts are swimming through her head; she refuses to believe that out of all the possible situations, she has found herself in the easiest of them all, and she hasn't even realized that. How could she have been so blind? She should have noticed how lonely her captor was, noticed how everything he did was to earn approval and respect. She's paid too much attention to things beyond her reach, like magic or being outnumbered, allowing herself to lose hope. And in the process of analyzing her situation she has overlooked the most important factor – that, magic or not, Loki was still just a man.
With men she could deal with, and she would always win.