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Lost and Found

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Lost and Found

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

When Loki left to work on his double-play against the Chitauri he never came back. When Silbhé was brought onto the Helicarrier to debrief the newly-formed Avengers Initiative, she knew something had to be done. What no one expected was the kind of power she could wield, and how far she was willing to go…

 

Missing

I lost him, never knew if I would ever find him again… but I never stopped loving him.

We said our vows, giving all we had, all we were to each other.

Afterwards, we were together a full week; spending most of that time either taking walks through the garden or unleashing our passion in my bedroom. My father was still on his business trip and my aunt was staying with her sick friend for the time being. I was enjoying the longest period of time I'd ever had with Loki. At least something came out from him not being able to return to Asgard. Though I still didn't like the situation he was in with the Chitauri…I would feel a lot better once it was all over. Though it probably wouldn't be happening for a while yet.

That particular day, as we laid together in silence enjoying the afterglow of our activities, Loki seemed to suddenly remember something. He made a motion with his hand before reaching into empty air. I recognized what he was doing, having seen it before, a subspace pocket, where he usually kept things he didn't want to lose. What he brought out of it was a beautifully crafted pendant about two inches long and one and a half wide of a bird with its wings fully open. It was a nightingale…

"Oh Loki…it's beautiful…" I declared, marveling at the gift.

"I had it custom made for you." He told me as he put in on me. "It's Asgardian metal, far more resistant than any Midgardian metal could be. I also wove many protective spells on it, it will help keep you safe in the hard times to come."

"It's a wonderful present, thank you." I smiled at him, kissing his chin when I couldn't reach his mouth properly.

"When I ordered it, I meant it to be a graduation present, but now…I think it fits well as a consort gift." He declared.

"Consort gift?" I was surprised by that.

"I'm not sure if you didn't realize what you did when you repeated my declaration a few nights ago, word for word, but we're bound now." Loki explained to me in a sudden monotone. "Not quite like with the demarkonian, but still. With those words and the fact that you were pure upon the night of our union, and your desire to belong to me…we are married as far as the most ancient of Asgardian traditions go. Of course I doubt very much that m…the Allfather would recognize our union considering he sees me as a traitor and you as a mortal, but it's not like I care for his opinion either…I only care about yours."

I could hear the unasked question: did I regret it.

"Well, I will admit that you have surprised me." I admitted calmly. "I did not know the kind of magic that was in those words when I repeated them…but I won't take them back. If I had known beforehand I would still have said them, and meant them." I smirked at him. "A heads-up might have been nice though, so I could get you a present too…"

"You are all the present I could ever wish for." He assured me, kissing me, obviously relieved by my declaration.

"I still will get you something."

I did get him something, eventually. It was a circular golden locket, about an inch in diameter, with a heart made of Celtic knots engraved on the front; on the inside, one side held a miniature picture of me, so he could 'see' me whenever he wanted, while the other held a microchip in which I'd had someone record myself playing the flute, the very first melody I'd played for him. He'd loved his gift, made him change his mind about not needing anything else…He had it on him always, hidden beneath the collar of his shirt. I, on the other hand didn't have to hide my pendant, my friends even knew my boyfriend had given it to me…they just didn't know who my boyfriend was exactly…not sure what their reaction would be.

After that week of bliss was over, Loki and I both had to get moving. He had to go back to the Shadows, with Thanos and the Chitauri, to play double agent (well, it would be, if he had someone aside from me backing him up on this side). While I began making plans, trying to find a way to help him. I didn't expect the opportunity to fall straight into my lap the way it did. It was truly the most magnificent coincidence.

 

xXx

Magnificent coincidences aside, I still wasn't beginning my new job until September, which gave us a chance for an actual honeymoon of sorts. Using the excuse with my father and aunt that I wanted some time for myself, to spend traveling, before I began my new job, neither of them raised any objections when I boarded a plane for Europe on the last days of June. I had just checked into my suite in my favorite hotel just outside London when Loki joined me.

That became our arrangement for the following two months. I would travel like a normal human (because if I didn't some people might start to wonder how I was getting from one place to the next, there needed to be records). Loki meanwhile would be doing whatever it is he needed to do, elsewhere. I knew he hadn't yet gone back to the abyss, I knew I would be able to feel it when he left the realm; and he hadn't, except to walk the shadow paths.

We traveled through England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy and many other places during those two months; never staying anywhere for more than a week. Those were two wonderful months, the best of my entire life and then…everything changed.

I got back to Portland a week before I was to show up for my new job in Puente Antiguo, New Mexico. Loki had been with me until right before I boarded the plane, had warned me that it might take a while for him to visit again, since he was going into the abyss, to see the Chitauri. I did my best to hide my worry and nervousness about him; giving him a kiss goodbye, wishing him well, and boarding the plane back to the United States.

Days passed, I packed my things and moved to New Mexico, where I got installed in a small room in the one hotel the town had. It looked a little worse for wear (which wasn't too surprising, considering what I knew had happened to them less than four months before).

On my first day in the job I met my direct boss: Dr. Jane Foster, astrophysicist who led a team of scientists and engineers who were attempting to create an Einstein-Rosen bridge that might connect us to Asgard. Along with her was her mentor: Dr. Erik Selvig (who wouldn't be staying long, as S.H.I.E.L.D. was calling him to work in another project); and her personal assistant: the newly graduated Political-Science major Darcy Lewis (who, unknown to all but a scant few, was also one of the best hackers ever). Aside from those three I also met my boss's boss; our contact with S.H.I.E.L.D.: Philip Coulson, better known as Phil.

I got settled into my job easily enough. It's not like what I had to do was that complicated. I was to teach everyone in the team Norse mythology, so they could be somewhat prepared for Asgard. They had made a great deal of letting me know what 'truly happened' in New Mexico, made me sign about a dozen confidentiality forms, etc. (As if I hadn't known everything, and more, before they said a word).

Days passed, and weeks, and I didn't hear from my love. I could still sense him, though vaguely, just enough to know he was alive, and not in Midgard. And time kept passing, weeks, and eventually months, until eventually I had to accept I had lost him. Something had gone wrong, even if I hadn't the slightest idea of what or why. I could only hope that he would find his way back to me eventually, or I would find my own way to him…

In any case, eventually I had other things to focus on, like my own health. I was badly sick for months. It was a good thing Jane and Darcy had offered me to move in with them, in a house on the outskirts of New Mexico not long before; otherwise I would have had no one to help me. I almost died mid-March… and through it all, I never saw Loki. It broke my heart, for him not to be there when I needed him most; at the same time my blood froze in the realization that something must be truly, horribly wrong… for I couldn't imagine anything short of that being able to keep my love from me. And I knew he loved me, that was one thing I would never doubt, no matter what happened.

The summer came again. Darcy had earned herself a second major through online courses, this time in computer sciences. We hadn't seen Erik since Christmas, and Jane was invited to work on a special project for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Tromso, Norway; when we were forced to pause the work on the recreation of the Rainbow Bridge after a dangerous explosion nearly killed all three of us, seriously injured a considerable number of the people working with us, as well as the facilities we were working in. They didn't want us getting back to it until after they were all completely sure it was safe… or as safe as it could be.

It was at that point that Phil approached both Darcy and I (who had pretty much ended up jobless when the plug was pulled on our project and they sent our boss overseas). He offered us jobs in more direct contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. I would pretty much be doing the same as I had back in New Mexico; only this time I would be lecturing everyone in the organization, not only those directly working on the project. Darcy was offered a position as Phil's assistant; he needed one, apparently had for a while, only his assistants never lasted. Phil had hoped that if Darcy had managed to deal with someone like Jane (half-crazy, more-than-half-obsessed, extremely meticulous and way-too-chaotic), she should have no trouble with him.

Things went pretty well. Darcy and I had become great friends during our year in New Mexico; things were still pretty good in New York. We lived together in a two bedroom apartment provided to us by S.H.I.E.L.D.; we weren't exactly downtown, more like on the outskirts; but it was good, since the S.H.I.E.L.D. offices weren't downtown either. Things all changed in the end of March, when Darcy decided to move in with her boyfriend; they'd been together for a year (apparently my almost dying served as a catalyst for him to finally ask her out…). I was just waiting to hear they would be getting married. I was happy for them, truly, those two were good for each other; and they were both my best friends, so… everything was perfect on that front.

I was honestly surprised that even almost a year after first being hired to work directly for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a consultant I still had a job. I mean, I didn't think there was anyone I hadn't given the same lectures to, already; unless they were new to the Agency. I had the belief, though Phil refused to confirm or deny it, that they just wanted to keep me around in case something happened and they decided they needed me. In the end, it's not like I was about to complain. They were paying me well, I had my apartment, my friends close by, and even if I didn't have the chance to try and find Loki…I didn't actually think I would be able to do much even if I had the time. Not like I had the slightest idea where to even begin to look…

A considerable number of new agents had joined S.H.I.E.L.D. at the beginning of the year, and after they'd all gone through weeks of what was considered as 'basic training'… (It was bad, I had to go at least through half of it myself, even though I was only a consultant, supposedly because of how high my rank actually was, being their mythology –read Asgard- specialist and all that) they were sent to me. Somehow I ended up spending what should have been my Spring Break, teaching a bunch of newbies, most of who had the classic better-than-thou attitude (particularly with those of us who weren't full agents like them), trying to get at least enough information into their thick skulls so they wouldn't get killed the next time an Asgardian 'dropped by for a visit'.

Of course it might not be all their fault, most thought Fury was a bit too paranoid (me… I'm not sure, I've heard it's not really paranoia when the danger is real… and in our case it was very, very real); they just didn't understand the importance of learning the things I was teaching. They didn't know an Asgardian was already somewhere around, and would be on the move openly at any time. And his move would, hopefully, prompt others to do the same…

Really, a war was coming, and no one but me knew it. Because I hadn't forgotten. Even after nearly two years, I still remembered everything Loki had told me, and everything I'd found out on my own (either through my research, or thanks to what I could feel through our bonds). The Titan and his army of Chitauri were going to attack Midgard, were going to attempt to either conquer it or destroy it, as well as acquire the Tesseract (which I knew was in possession of S.H.I.E.L.D.; it was the 'top secret project' Erik had left to work on shortly after my arrival to New Mexico). Only the date of that war had yet to be set…

I could sense it, it was coming. Even if I hadn't seen Loki in so long… our bonds still existed. I still loved him, would always love him; and regardless of whatever may have happened, he still loved me too. Even if I couldn't hear him, or see into his mind, I could sense some of his moods, of his feelings… the war was coming… it would be upon us very soon…

Of course I never expected it to interrupt our vacation! Phil knew how much I wanted those vacations, some quiet, down time when I didn't have to worry about dealing with too many egos in one room… so he'd arranged for me to have two free weeks beginning on the 28th of April. I'd be going back to work on the first Monday of May (technically the second week). Also, what made things even better was that Darcy got those same two weeks off. It was awesome!

We spent the first week in my family house near Portland (which only Phil and Darcy even knew about). Darcy even got the chance to meet my Aunt Kathryn, who happened to be in town. Then, as things were, she invited us to spend the second week of the vacation at the South Hamptons. A friend of hers had a house there, though she only lived there during the summer, in any case my aunt had a standing invitation to use the place if she wanted. Darcy immediately said yes, loving the idea of spending a week in a beach house. I liked the idea of going somewhere that had no connections to our everyday life… at least it didn't until two Agents came knocking on our door on Wednesday morning!

 

xXx

Even as I finally stepped off the black quinjet and onto the helicarrier (S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mobile HQs and one of their greatest secrets) I still hadn't the slightest idea as to what exactly was going on, who had thought it a good idea to get me out of my temporary home before noon without giving any explanation whatsoever, or what exactly did they believe could warrant something like that. I was still dressed in a ¾ sleeved ivory-white loose peasant blouse and short light denim skirt. Darcy had thrown a pair of grey over-the-knee socks and white flats, which I was still putting on while on the jet already (they hadn't even given me enough time for that!) It truly was ridiculous! Phil and Fury were going to be hearing about it! Aunt Kathryn was not pleased, and with her past experience in working for the government I didn't even want to imagine what she would do… particularly since she hadn't known I worked for the government! (Technically, S.H.I.E.L.D. was overseen by a World Council rather than just one government, but the point was the same in the end).

When I stepped properly into the halls of the helicarrier I was holding my beach-bag (an off-white knitted bag adorned with brown, white and sand colored beads and ribbons in other various shades of the same colors), in which I had managed to place my most important possessions.

"Agent Romanoff, would you show Doctor Banner to his laboratory, please?" I heard Fury saying right as I entered the main room.

I froze briefly, my mind working a mile a minute as I considered what exactly might be going on that Dr. Banner suddenly was back in America… particularly considering the events that had made him leave years before. Still, I didn't allow my thoughts to show, instead jumping straight into what I'd previously planned on doing the moment I saw Fury.

"Fury!" I called loudly as I reached the very center of the main deck. "Wanna explain to me what the hell I'm doing here in the middle of my long-overdue vacation? Heck! How the hell did you even know where I was?! It's not like the house is registered in any name you might be able to connect to me!"

"Professor Salani, you were brought here over a very delicate and highly dangerous matter." Fury stated, easily ignoring my tone.

"You haven't told me how you knew where I was." I reminded him.

"That is my fault…" I heard Phil call from a side.

"Oh Phil…" I called in a sing-song voice as I spun slowly on his direction. "Darcy is quite upset with you right now. As is Rose!"

Phil's eyes just widened at the mention of those two names. Two of the people he cared the most about, he didn't like them being upset with him.

"Tell me this is worth it." I told him.

"Very much." He hurried to nod. "World-in-danger kind of situation."

I just sighed, shaking my head.

"And if I'm being called in, I imagine this includes Asgard in some shape or form." I declared, dropping onto the closest chair.

"Agent Hill will put you up to date." Fury informed me. "The situation is quite serious."

"Fury…" I called, remembering something right then. "I need an allowance on the confidentiality clause of my contract."

"What for?" Fury's brow furrowed, obviously not liking it.

"Well, considering that your Agents almost dragged me out of the house where I was spending my vacation, without any explanation except their usual 'top secret'…" I rolled my eyes. "It wasn't just Darcy and I in that house. My aunt Kathryn was there with us… an aunt that didn't even know I work for S.H.I.E.L.D. or anything of the like!"

"We can give you a cover." Agent Hill offered.

"Ah ah." I shook my head pointedly. "Not gonna work. My aunt worked for the government in the past, she's a former agent herself. She's not gonna buy any kind of cover story you give her."

"Your aunt was an agent?" Fury was honestly surprised at that. "Why isn't that in your file?"

"She didn't serve the American government but in the United Kingdom; she also retired when I was still an infant." I clarified. "Still, she was an agent for fifteen years… Oh, and it was under another surname, so as to protect her brother, my father…"

"What name?" Hill looked very interested suddenly.

I knew things were going to get quite interesting once I answered the question. After all, while my aunt might not have worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. directly, she had liaised with them. She had been part of the team the MI5 had sent to help in the search for Captain America back in the late seventies and eighties. She of course didn't know I knew what she had done in that time (as far as she knew I worked as a consultant for a group in the private sector). It all was in the past for her; doesn't mean she wouldn't demand explanations after the morning, though.

"Kathryn Adler." I stated, finally.

Fury just stared at me for the longest time. While most weren't paying much attention to our conversation, busy as they were with the helicarrier; some like Hill, Phil, the-not-yet-departed Romanoff and Banner and, surprise of surprises, Captain America himself; could only watch as Fury looked honestly shocked for what had probably been the first time ever.

"I've heard that name…" Hill muttered pensively.

"She was part of the team MI5 sent to aid in the search of Captain America." I explained. "I don't know if she was ever connected to S.H.I.E.L.D., but still." I turned back to Fury. "So, like I was saying. She's not just going to forget what happened this morning. She will want explanations… that is, of course, if she hasn't managed to get the truth out of Darcy just yet."

"Sir?" Phil called quietly from a side.

"Permission granted." Fury stated simply. "Everyone else get back to work. The clock is ticking and we have a world to save."

With that they all got in motion.

"So." I stated, straightening up and mentally readying myself for anything. "What's the situation? Who is threatening the Earth this time?"

"Psychotic god, claims to be from Asgard." Hill told me as she turned on the monitor before me. "Goes by the name of Loki…"

I could almost feel the blood draining from my face, even as I prayed they wouldn't notice; I also thanked the fact that I was already sitting, for my legs wouldn't have been able to sustain me in that moment… I really had only been fooling myself… I wasn't ready at all…

 

xXx

Thankfully, in the end Hill thought my lack of vocal response after his announcement was caused by my surprise at 'discovering' that the Norse gods truly existed… I let her continue with that idea. As soon as I could I got someone to guide me to the room that was going to double as my sleeping quarters and office. There I had a computer upon which's hard-drive was a copy of every single file I'd ever used or even written since coming to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. I connected my own tablet, with my personal virtual library, opened the first file that was believably useful and then just stayed there, pretending to look at was written there, to be studying it attentively; while in the inside I fell into pieces.

That wasn't even the worst moment. No, at some point after I left the main deck for my temporary quarters Loki had been sighted in Germany (this I knew because I was receiving updates on the situation straight on my phone, thanks to Phil). Captain America was sent with Agent Romanoff and some other Agent to 'arrest' him.

Loki's not stupid, I knew that. Which meant that, if he was calling that much attention onto himself, there must be a reason. I suggested the idea to Phil citing that, as God of Mischief and Lies, the whole thing in Stuttgart being a ploy would certainly fit Loki's likely MO. Phil, Fury and Hill all agreed with me and sent a secondary team of Agents to canvass the vicinity even as Captain America, and later on Iron Man, battled Loki. By the time they found out just what Loki's actions were a distraction for, it was too late to do anything about it.

I stayed in my room for a long time, until I was sure I could face everyone with a straight face; that I wouldn't give up anything no matter what…of course, it was just my luck that right as I was walking down a hallway I happened to see a group of very armed Agents passing by… escorting Loki to his cell!

Fate just had it that he turned in my direction right as they were passing me, for a second our eyes met and… nothing, there was no recognition at all. His blue eyes showed no reaction at all before he turned to the other side, to smirk at Dr. Banner in his lab, before being lead away and… wait. Blue eyes? That had to be wrong. Loki's eyes were green, not blue.

Still, the short meeting, and mainly the lack of recognition had hit me hard, I just spun around and went straight back to my room. Deciding not to come out until I was called. And to keep myself distracted, I played my flute, it was the only thing capable of soothing, as high-strung as I was in that moment.

I'd known, when Loki didn't return from his visit to the abyss and to the Chitauri, that something had gone wrong. I'd known that, if I wanted to help protect the Earth from the upcoming invasion I would have to place myself in a position to be of help. I knew that, if my worst fears were true, and Loki had been turned somehow, that would mean facing him, while on different sides of the battleground (so-to-speak). I still hadn't been ready, not for any of it. I had no idea how long it would take me to be ready, though something told me I might never truly be… and yet, the time was up. The battle was upon us, and it was time I did my part.

 

xXx

The next morning I managed to get myself a tea and some toast before an Agent summoned me to the main deck. Fury wanted me to 'educate' the Avengers in everything I knew about Loki… well, obviously I wasn't going to do that. Not only I could not justify a great deal of the information I possessed; there was also the fact that possessed or not, remembering me or not, I wasn't about to betray my match.

When I entered the huge main area of the helicarrier the image of Loki was being shown in some of the monitors, apparently they were all keeping an eye on him. I took a second to focus all my will and keep my façade in place, before I finally began paying attention to what was being said:

"Loki's gonna drag this out." Rogers was saying as he turned to the other blonde sitting beside him. "So, Thor, what's his play?"

I couldn't stop my eyes from widening at least some. So that was Thor! Loki's brother… and my own brother-in-law for all intents and purposes.

"He has an army called the Chitauri." Thor began explaining. "They're not of Asgard nor any world known. He means to lead them against your people. They will win him the Earth, in return, I suspect, for the Tesseract."

I couldn't help but wonder where and how he'd gotten that much information; if Loki had been lost to the Chitauri since the end of that summer, almost two years before… then how had Asgard been able to learn that much? The Titan didn't seem like the kind to grow careless and let things slip, it wasn't his style, as far as I knew.

"An army, from outer space?" Rogers inquired.

"So, he's building another portal." Banner seemed to ponder the situation for a bit. "That's what he needs Erik Selvig for."

"Selvig?" Thor seemed shocked.

"He's an astrophysicist." Banner explained.

"He's a friend." Thor qualified.

I couldn't help myself, the words were coming out of my mouth before I fully realized it.

"Erik is involved?" I asked.

"Professor, you're here." Hill nodded in my direction, signaling me to a seat.

"What's happened to Erik?" I asked, even as I did as bided.

"Loki has them under some kind of spell, along with one of ours." Romanoff stated quietly.

I imagined it must have been someone close to her, probably her partner, seeing how she was alone in that moment. I felt for her, wondering what Loki had done exactly.

"Is Jane alright?" I asked next.

"Jane's fine, Silbhé." Phil assured me as he stood beside me. "After Loki took Selvig we moved her to a safe place. We also have some of the best Agents keeping guard."

I nodded. If Loki hadn't taken her yet, he wouldn't be doing it… at least I would do my best to make sure of that. And of course Darcy was alright… I would know if she weren't.

"You know Erik and Jane, my lady?" Thor asked, turning to me.

"I do." I nodded. "I'm Silbhé Salani. I worked for Jane for almost a year before working directly for S.H.I.E.L.D., Erik left shortly after I arrived, but I knew him as well. I also know Darcy… in case you were wondering. All three speak highly of you."

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Silbhé." Thor bowed his head at me.

Automatically I responded in the same manner, barely managing to stop myself from telling him to call me Nightingale, afraid it might be away too much. Loki had told me how he'd mentioned my nickname before his brother and their 'friends' on several occasions, though none of them had ever inquired about it. Not truly interested.

"Thank you." Thor said, looking at Phil and I in turn. "It does me good to know that at least Jane and Darcy are well and safe. It's no accident Loki taking Erik Selvig. I dread what he plans for him once he's done. Erik is a good man."

"Silbhé was saying the truth, they all talk about you a lot." Phil told him. "You changed their lives. You changed everything around here."

"They were better as they were." Thor shook his head in regret. "We pretend on Asgard that we're more advanced, but we…we come here battling like Bildschneip."

"Like what?" Phil and I asked at the same time.

"Bildschneip." The blonde Asgardian repeated carefully. "You know, huge, scaly, big antlers. You don't have those?"

"No." Phil shook his head for emphasis.

I could only shiver in a mix of horror and disgust.

"Huh! Well they are repulsive, and they trample everything in their path." He clarified. "When I first came to earth, Loki's rage followed me here and your people paid the price. And now again. In my youth I courted war…"

"War hasn't started yet." Fury interrupted as he joined us. "You think you can make Loki tell us where the Tesseract is?"

"I do not know." Thor admitted. "Loki's mind is far afield, it's not just power he craves, it's vengeance upon me. There's no pain would prise his need from him."

"A lot of guys think that, until the pain starts." Fury deadpanned.

I couldn't help it, I hissed. Several eyes turned to me, but no one said a thing, they probably just thought that, being a civilian, I didn't understand the truths of war or that I was just against torture in general. As a matter of fact, I was against torture; but more than that, I was wholly against anyone hurting my love in any way, shape or form.

"What are you asking me to do?" Thor asked, voice and pose both tense.

"I'm asking, what are you prepared to do?" Fury asked in turn.

"Loki is a prisoner." Thor said simply.

He was trying to appease Fury, which I knew to be useless, but I kept my silence.

"Then why do I feel like he's the only person on this boat that wants to be here?" Fury hissed in a very annoyed tone.

I didn't have to ponder the question, I knew it had to be true; however, I still didn't say anything. It was taking already enough of my concentration not to snap against Fury after what he'd just insinuated; I didn't need to put myself in the spotlight, it would only make things trickier. Particularly since I hadn't the slightest idea of what I could do to help at all.

"I wanna know why Loki let us take him." Rogers put in his two cents right then. "He's not leading an army from here."

Well, that wasn't necessarily true, but in any case, I wasn't about to give up any of my love's secrets; like I'd told myself before, I wouldn't betray him…

"I don't think we should be focusing on Loki." Banner countered. "That guy's brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him."

I winced, at least internally; knowing what he'd said was, at least in part, true; but then again, if Loki was crazy, so was I, and more than two other people currently in the room, so…

"Have care how you speak." Thor hurried to defend his brother's honor. "Loki is beyond reason but he is of Asgard, and he is my brother."

"He killed eighty people in two days." Romanoff deadpanned.

I couldn't help but let my brow furrow. Killing that many people in such a short span of time didn't really fit Loki's character… which meant that, either there was more wrong with him than I suspected initially, or they were pinning deaths on him he wasn't truly responsible for. However, all thought I may have concerning that were chased away with what Thor said next.

"He's adopted?" Thor shrugged.

I couldn't help it, my control slipped for just a second.

Abruptly, the screen closest to Thor seemed to short-circuit, the sparks jumping onto Thor, shocking him harshly, even if just for a second.

There was a reaction immediately as Hill hurried to cancel the flow of energy to that screen, while Phil made sure there was no damage. Thankfully no one seemed to notice the minuscule sparks dancing on the tips of my fingers, which I quickly hid beneath the table I was seated by. The last thing I needed was for the secrets to be revealed before I was truly ready to own up to things… not that I had the slightest idea when exactly I would be ready, but still.

"I think it's about the mechanics." Dr. Banner interjected, choosing to change the topic. "Iridium, what do they need the Iridium for?"

"It's a stabilizing agent." Stark began speaking the moment he stepped into the room. "Means the portal won't collapse on itself like it did at S.H.I.E.L.D. Also means the portal can open as wide and stay open as long as Loki wants."

There was some banter between Hill, Fury and Stark as the millionaire made a huge deal of ordering people around and checking things on Fury's screens. I just ignored him, focusing instead on the image of Loki that had appeared on the screen before me at some point. With the way his gaze was fixed straight on the camera I could almost believe he was looking straight at me…except he hadn't the slightest idea of who I was…

"The rest of the raw materials, Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily." Stark eventually went back to the main topic. "Only major component he still needs is a power source of high energy density. Something to kick start the Cube."

"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?" Hill asked, surprised by his extensive knowledge on the matter.

"Last night. The packet, Selvig's notes, the extraction theory papers… am I the only one who did

the reading?" He seemed to blanch.

There was no answer. I had no doubt that he, in fact, must be the only one to have read those papers; at least to the end. I had tried, but there was too much I didn't understand, even after having worked with Jane for months, so I eventually left them.

"Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?" Rogers wanted to know.

"He would have to heat the Cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier." Banner pointed out, thoughtfully.

"Unless, Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the Quantum Tunneling effect." Stark retorted.

"Well, if he could do that he could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet." Banner blinked as he realized what he himself was saying.

"Finally." Stark called dramatically. "Someone who speaks English."

"Is that what just happened?" Rogers inquired, looking at the rest of us.

I just shrugged. I knew I could act in a similar way when I happened to find someone who could understand what I was talking about (in my own specialties), and astrophysics, physics engineering and the sort seemed to be much more complicated than mythology, history and literature. Then again, to each our own, I guess.

"It's good to meet you, Doctor Banner." The millionaire genius hurried to greet the Dr. "Your work on anti-electronic collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you- lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."

He said it in such and off-handed tone I could help the chuckle that came out of me. That immediately seemed to remind everyone that I was there.

"Thanks…" Banner murmured, with obvious doubt, even as he too turned to me.

"Doctor Banner is only here to track the Cube." Fury informed Stark very seriously. "I was hoping you might join him."

"Yeah, sure…" Stark muttered distractedly, eyes fixed on me. "Who are you?"

The blunt question actually caught me by surprise, and for a second I didn't answer.

"You weren't in the files I was given last night." Stark pointed out.

I could guess what those files were about, and the obvious reason why I wasn't included in them.

"I am not part of the Avengers Initiative, Mr. Stark." I clarified. "My name is Silbhé Salani, Professor in Norse, Celtic and Greek-Roman Mythology, European History and Literature. I am a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D."

"She's our Asgard expert." Phil added helpfully. "With how similar Asgard seems to be to Norse mythology… and she's the best in that area."

"You look a bit young to have that many degrees." Banner pointed out.

"They're technically three different degrees." I clarified. "I have each of them up to Masters' level. I graduated when I was nineteen, in case you were wondering. Have been working for S.H.I.E.L.D., directly or otherwise, for almost two years now."

"Another genius!" Stark called out brightly. "This is wonderful."

"I know nothing of astrophysics, engineering, or any of your specialties, Stark." I stated.

"Of course not, like I know nothing of mythology or literature… I know some history though." Stark stated, still quite animatedly.

"Professor Salani is here to educate everyone on Loki, at least as much as she might know, possibly the Chitauri, and whatever else we might have to wary of at this point." Fury informed the group as a whole.

Everyone nodded, none of them complaining about a twenty-one year old 'educating' them. Not like it would change a thing, but still. It was nice not to be considered less. Still, the image of Loki still on my screen reminded me how complicated everything was… I would be lucky if I managed to get all of us through the madness that was coming, still with our lives.

The group split right about then, as they each went to work or train, or whatever else was necessary. I went to finish getting all the necessary material together. An agreement had been made to hold a 'lecture' of sorts after lunch. I just wondered if we had that much time…

 

xXx

I worked for a few hours before relaxing by playing a soft melody on my flute, a lullaby. It was the most relaxing song I had. After lunch (which I had to rush because I ended losing track of time when I began playing my flute) we all came together in one of the bigger rooms. Hill handed each of them tablets on which she had already saved the files I'd compiled for the current situation. Mostly concerning Loki and what little information I could justify on having about the Chitauri (I was forced to take great liberties and mix mythologies more than once as they really didn't exist in any mythology, but I couldn't just not give them information that could potentially save their lives… save many lives). Thankfully, since I was the only specialist on such topics, and especially the mix of them, there was no one who could say I was lying, or question where exactly I got my information from.

The session went well enough. We covered the main materials, and I let them know there were some other things in the tablet they might want to check out. They were free to look me up if they had any doubts, and we could arrange for another meeting if it became necessary.

That evening was a repeat of the previous one. Except that time I at least went to get some dinner. Afterwards I chose to talk a walk on some of the less used hallways of the helicarrier. There I pulled out my flute and began playing it, the same tune of the last two times. For a while there was nothing in my mind except the tune coming out of my instrument, until…

*Nightingale…?* I heard a low, haunting voice that came from inside myself, yet wasn't my own. *My Nightingale…?*

That was all I could hear, and yet it was enough to shake me to my core. I was quite sure I knew just whose voice that was. It didn't make the situation any easier at all, though. I still had no idea how I was going to get Loki back; because I was going to, no doubt about that (I wouldn't allow myself to doubt it, no matter what).

That night I could almost sense my love, beneath my skin… inside me. The fact that we were in the same location and yet I couldn't actually see him (images in a monitor don't count) hurt me in that moment more than ever.

 

xXx

When the next day came it began pretty much the same way. Until after lunch. I'd gone to the room where he'd held the 'lecture' the day before, in case they wanted to ask me questions or something. I stayed there for a while, looking through some things in my table while absently tracing the runes on my deamarkonian.

I'd been there at least for a couple of hours when I suddenly got the feeling something was going on. Something serious. Like the tension all around me was suddenly thicker. I hadn't the slightest idea of what was going on, but I still followed my feelings. What I found was nothing I could have ever expected: the so-called heroes, as well as Fury were in the lab Banner and Stark had been working in to track the Tesseract, and they were all arguing like crazy!

"Agent Romanoff, would you escort Dr. Banner back to his…" Fury was saying right as I reached the lab's door.

"Where?!" Banner yelled, angry. "You rented my room!"

"The cell was just…" Fury tried to justify himself.

"In case you wanted to kill me." Banner interrupted, as if it were obvious, and nothing at the same time. "But you can't, I know, I tried!"

I couldn't hold back my gasp, and yet no one heard me…

"I got low." Banner elaborated. "I didn't see an end so I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out. So I moved on, I focused on helping other people. I was good until you dragged me back into this freak show and put everyone here at risk!" He took deep breaths, as if calming himself. "You wanna know my secret, Agent Romanoff? You wanna know how I stay calm…?"

I was considering saying something about his speech…I certainly felt about his confession on having attempted suicide. However, I was distracted when I noticed exactly what Banner had done, even as he spoke… he was holding Loki's scepter in his hand. A scepter that was letting out a low but quite noticeable aura…

"Doctor Banner, put down the scepter." Fury ordered in his most serious voice.

Bruce did, before moving to the monitor that had just sounded a short alarm, announcing that what they were looking for had just been found.

"Sorry kids." Banner quipped as he focused on the information appearing on the monitor. "You don't get to see my party trick, after all."

"Located the Tesseract?" Thor inquired.

And that, somehow, seemed to devolve in another round of arguing. Did they not realize what they were doing? Right as I was about to ask that very question I could see the jewel on the scepter glowing. My instincts began screaming at me then, my body going into 'fight or flight' mode without me even realizing until I was suddenly holding both arms ready, a white-ish aura covering my hands.

"BEWARE!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Fury, Romanoff and Rogers, probably because of how used they all were to following orders, couldn't help but react to my voice, to the authority in it, as they threw themselves back and down, completely ready for anything. Tony and Thor too were wary, even if his reaction wasn't as strong as the others. Banner was the only one who didn't react at all, completely enthralled by what was appearing in the monitor. Against my own common sense and instinct I hurried to Banner, trying to get him to listen to me. However, by the time I reached him, it was already too late… for both of us.

"Oh…my…god…" Banner gasped.

I had just touched his arm, and suddenly the next thing I knew we were flying… no, not exactly flying. I hadn't actually become aware of the explosion that had blasted us in the first place until we were already in the air. Then, abruptly, we found ourselves on the floor, in what I guessed must be one of the equipment rooms. My side of my head crashed violently against the ground, nearly knocking me out and making me horribly dizzy.

I don't know how long I just laid there. Eventually I managed to force myself to focus (though my head felt as if I had suddenly developed one of the worst migraines of my life). Still, I forced myself to get moving.

"Salani!" I heard someone yell from above us.

"We're alright!" I yelled, not even looking where we were being called from. "But you better keep others away. We don't want trouble!"

I prayed he would get my indirect; we really didn't need Banner to Hulk out; or even if he did, to go on a rampage, I just prayed I would be able to handle it if he did anyway.

I tried to get on my feet and failed, my ankle was trapped beneath some kind of tank. Neither my ankle nor my leg were hurt, just stuck. I had to find a way to move that tank, which wasn't going to be easy; because if I tried to get free by force I would definitely end up hurt.

"Dr. Banner?" I called in my most neutral tone. "Are you alright?"

I heard someone approaching and immediately began waving them away. Hadn't they understood I didn't want anyone around?

"Doctor…" I began calling again.

"You need to get away… Professor…" I heard him call in a low, harsh voice.

"We will both get away doctor." I told him. "The helicarrier is being attacked. They need us."

"You… are the one in danger here." Banner panted.

"I trust you…" I told him soothingly. "Dr. Banner… Bruce… the Hulk is just a part of you. I am not a threat to you, therefore I'm not a threat to him… believe that, please."

The doctor didn't get to answer to me, he just roared before the sound of cloth ripping echoed.

I cursed mentally in several languages. With a rush of adrenaline I pressed the tips of my fingers to the tank, calling on the power I could sense beneath my skin… running in my blood. The tank went flying off me, crashing against a metal wall, causing pressurized hit air to come out harshly. I had to roll to evade part of it and the move had me landing closer to Banner than expected… dangerously close… particularly since he was no longer Banner, but the Hulk…

"Uh oh…" I muttered for myself.

"Hu…" He turned his big eyes straight to me.

Then, as I laid there, with the Hulk half beside me, half over me, I couldn't help but notice certain details in his eyes, his face… somehow, even with the green skin and the huge change in mass, I could see Banner in the Hulk.

"Hello Hulk." I greeted him, trying to stay as calm as possible.

"Little girl is greeting the Hulk…" He seemed confused by that.

"Yes." I nodded.

"No one but Betty ever be nice to Hulk." He said in a gruff, yet obviously sad voice.

"I'm not your enemy Hulk." I assured him. "In fact, I would like to be your friend."

"Little girl wants to be Hulk's friend…" That surprised him even more.

Before I could say anything else we both could hear what was obviously the sound of shooting, and a lot of it, coming from many different directions at once.

"Hulk, the situation right now is very dangerous." I told him as I managed to sit up. "We're being attacked. A lot of people are in danger. Will you help us?"

"Hulk help new friend." He agreed.

In that moment I truly couldn't understand why so many people spoke horrors about the Hulk. He might be huge, and green and almost primal in a sense, but he was no monster, not truly.

"If you help us I'm sure you'll make a lot of new friends." I assured him. "Just… please try not to kill anyone big guy? Some of the people won't understand you're trying to help, even those who might want to be your friends. So, be patient with them ok?"

It was obvious he didn't like much what I was saying, but he still went. I just hoped things would be alright. In any case I hurried to the closest intercom, managing to make it so my voice would be heard in all the helicarrier.

"Attention please." I called with as much authority as I could. "This is Professor Salani. Dr. Banner has transformed into the Hulk. He is on our side. I repeat, he is on our side. I ask that S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents don't attack him and let him help you. Again, Hulk is on our side."

"This is Director Fury, I second the Professor's instructions." I heard Fury suddenly over the same channel. "I repeat, I second the Professor's instructions."

I was still trying to ponder on what it meant that Fury was so willing to back me up, particularly when he had no way of knowing if there was any truth in what I'd just said. But I just didn't get the chance to think about that too much. I wasn't sure how it happened, but I ended up in the detention block. To be more precise, right outside the room where Loki's glass cage was located. I was about to hurry away, not wanting the temptation of seeing him, of helping him, to become too strong… until I heard him speak.

"The humans think us immortal." He was saying to someone else in the room, most likely Loki, his laughter harsh and cruel. "Shall we test that?"

I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to slip into the room without being noticed, on the side opposite from where Loki was standing, hand hovering over a control panel… and how had he gotten out? Well, that wasn't as important as the fact that Thor was in the glass cage… and it seemed the button was threatening to push was the one that would let the cage fall. Things were definitely going to go FUBAR (to use military slang) unless some miracle happened!

I never expected just what form that miracle would take. But then again, having known him for all of two years, and seeing how he was two of my best and most trusted friends… maybe I should have expected it.

"Move away please." Phil called as he entered through a secondary door, prototype weapon in hand. "Do you like this? We started working on the prototype after you sent the Destroyer. Even I don't know what it does. Do you wanna find out?"

I could feel the energy surrounding Loki and sensed what was about to do just a fraction of a second before it happened.

"No!" I screamed as I came out of my hiding place. "Stop!"

Somehow I managed to jump across the room (teleport), pulling Phil away from the spot he'd been in and pushing him behind me, all in the instant it took for Loki to teleport himself as well. When time began moving again as it should I was standing, panting, the tip of Loki's scepter less than an inch away from my neck; and the god was looking at me with absolute shock.

"Lady Silbhé!" Thor cried out in a mix of confusion and shock.

"Silbhé!" Phil cried out in panic. "What are you doing?! You shouldn't be here!"

"Too late." I said grimly as I faced Loki straight on. "I'm done hiding."

"Who are you girl?" Loki asked, lowering his scepter as he looked at me curiously. "They call you Silbhé. I haven't seen you… or heard about you."

"I am Professor Silbhé Salani." I said as I straightened up to my full (if not much) height. "You may know who I am if I tell you I am also called the Nightingale…"

Thor gasped, somehow managing to make the connection; though Loki himself didn't.

"Is that supposed to mean something to me?" Loki asked in a drawl.

I couldn't help it. In that moment, with that single question, something inside me snapped.

"Phil, get back." I ordered my technically-boss without actually looking at him.

"Silbhé…" He began, worried.

"Things are about to get really complicated." I half-explained. "I would rather you not get hurt in the process. Please Phil. You've always known I kept secrets, some pretty big ones. Well, here it is, my biggest secret."

As I said that I willed my deamarkonian and claddagh tattoo to become visible to everyone in the room; right as my nightingale pendant slipped from beneath the neckline of my blouse, somehow reflection the light of nearby lamps in the perfect manner to be seen by all.

"I can easily get rid of the distractions…" Loki smirked.

"You won't hurt him!" I yelled.

We both teleported practically at the same time; only to reappear on Phil's other side. This time Loki swung the scepter as if it were a glaive, downwards. I raised my arm high, managing to catch it in my hand… only the magic I channeled through my arm stopped the weapon from cutting straight through my hand, though I still was sure I would have a bad bruise.

"You are a spell-weaver…" Loki stated more than asked, curious.

"I am." I answered calmly.

"How?" He demanded, not liking not knowing something.

"That's a question you already know the answer to." I replied easily.

"I do not!" He hissed.

"You do." I insisted. "You just don't remember." My voice dropped to a low murmur as I added, with all the feeling I was capable of. "I know you Loki… better than you know yourself. And you know me just as much… you just don't remember."

"And why do you suppose I don't remember this?" He asked, raising a thin brow in challenge.

"Because your mind is being played with." I told him.

"Who would dare do that?" The god wanted to know.

"The Titan." I said quietly.

"He wouldn't dare…" Loki hissed.

"He would too!" I cried out. "Please Loki, you're more intelligent than this! The Titan is using you! With you taking lead of his Chitauri, if the invasion fails, he's away and safe from any repercussions; if you win he still gets what he wants! Please! You must be able to see this!"

For a second something in Loki's eyes shifted. Suddenly they were more green than blue and I could swear I saw the same light in his eyes that had been there on the last day of our summer-long honeymoon…

"My Nightingale…" I heard him gasp.

Regretfully, that chance was lost almost immediately, as abruptly his eyes were that unnatural blue again, and he was firing a bolt of energy from the scepter.

"Algiz!" I cried out in a hurry as I backed down a few steps to give space for my shield.

It miraculously formed in time and was strong enough to hold back Loki's attack. However, I knew it wouldn't be that easy next time.

"Phil!" I yelled even as I began preparing for everything. "Get Thor out of that cage! Now! And get out of here!"

With that I was off. Loki and I kept jumping through the room, throwing spells at each other over and over again. I was at a disadvantage, acting completely on the defensive, as I would never willingly harm my love… under the mind-control, he had no such compunctions.

Somehow, even with us jumping all around the room and attacks flying like confetti at a birthday party, Phil managed to open the cage and get Thor out.

Right in time, as I couldn't fully stop one of Loki's concussive waves and went flying… straight into Thor's arms.

"Lady Silbhé…?" Thor called.

I could see the questions in his eyes as he helped me onto my feet.

"Just call me Nightingale… big brother…" I whispered… my voice catching slightly.

"What…?" Phil looked bewildered.

"That's right." I nodded as I focused once again. "The crazy god over there is my husband… and I'm getting him back!"

Suddenly I got an idea, one I couldn't understand how I hadn't gotten it before… with a wave of my hand I called the black-jade flute to my hand. Then I immediately pressed it to my lips and began playing the first melody that came to mind: Nightingale… the first song I'd ever played with that flute…

It didn't work. Somehow my actions managed to infuriate Loki, who attacked all three of us. In a hurry I took hold of both Thor and Phil and teleported to the door I used to get into the room.

"Thor, please get Phil out of here…" I told him in al almost pleading tone.

"Silbhé…" Phil obviously didn't like it.

"Lady Nightingale…" Thor didn't either.

I couldn't help but smile at Thor acknowledging my claim even with no backing. It felt nice.

"Please." I insisted. "I need you to do this. And I need you to trust me. I can handle Loki. I truly believe I can bring him back… I have to."

I didn't give them the chance to insist anymore, simply teleporting back to where Loki was. For reasons I couldn't understand he hadn't attacked while I got the others away.

"I will get you back Loki…" I whispered as I held the flute tightly. "It's a promise."

At that I placed the flute against my mouth. This time I chose a different melody, playing the same lullaby I'd been playing ever since my arrival to the helicarrier.

The response to it was quite different, as Loki visibly seemed to be fighting against himself. It was a fight that lasted for minutes and right when it seemed like he (my Loki) might be willing it. He shot a beam at me. It all happened so fast there was nothing I could do. The protections on me made it so nothing happened to me, however the flute broke in two. There went my plan… or maybe not necessarily…

"I'm not called Nightingale only for the music I can play with a flute." I stated as I suddenly got a wild idea. "And my match well knows that."

I called on as many shields as I could in quick succession, layering them so I would be better protected. I just hoped I would be able to do what I needed, and wanted, without being interrupted… or killed. The moment I was sure I was as ready as could be… I began singing:

"They say I'm seeking up the danger

That one day you won't let me go…

I need you Aquarius

Enchanted I will have to stay.

I feel you Aquarius

'cause you're the sea, set me free

You call to me Aquarius…"

Attacks began hitting the shields, but they resisted (mostly) and I took the chance to continue the song I'd composed for my love during the last two years…

"I relinquish

To your powers

From your grasp

I just can't hide

I missed the danger

I had to conquer

You made me feel alive…"

Too many shields were fallen by that point, almost all of them, but I could also see I was getting through to my match. I couldn't give up… I wouldn't.

"They say I have to be aware

That one day you won't let me go…

I need you Aquarius

Enchanted I will have to stay.

I feel you Aquarius

'cause you're the sea, set me free…"

I never got to finish the song; because right as I had just finished that line the last of my shields flickered and fell and the next attack hit me straight on, however, right as I hit the wall, arching as a pained moan escaped my lips, I heard a voice that made it all worth it…

"My Nightingale!"