"Act of God" That is what the insurance companies said when they didn't want to pay out . "Act of God" No one could argue that loophole. That spring day when the sky opened up and dumped nightmares onto New York had definitely been host to an act of God. Or gods, names like Thor. Loki, and Chitauri, as ridiculous as they sounded, were tossed around on the news, although without any sound confirmation. Nothing was definitely confirmed anymore. Facts and logic couldn't be trusted in a world where alien robot whales could swim through the city destroying whole buildings and Captain America was still alive. Steve Rogers could be walking the streets just outside her building and that would be completely normal. The thought made Sophie shake her head.
Half hidden government agencies named Loki, an alien Norse god-like being as the leader of the terrifying army that had fallen on them. Nothing more had come of inquiries than had been discerned from blurry news footage on the day of the tragedy. Everything was over as fast as it had started and all traces of the monsters had been swept away from the public almost immediately. The world was left with their lives and security shattered, a city to rebuild and was only given only a ghost story to blame. Sophie knew better than to believe that what she was told was the whole story. She knew nothing was over. What she didn't know was where to honestly lay her anger and rage and fear. She had a pretty good idea, though she let it fester at the feet of this Loki.
She made her way shakily through the dark apartment. The more lights that were on, the better the chances were that someone, or thing could see in through the curtains. Darkness was fine. Absently, she grabbed a cloth and wiped at an already pristine place on the otherwise cluttered dining table. It was David's seat. He liked things clean. He had been gone since the attack, when he was crushed under a thrown cab. She missed her brother, her rock, the only person that knew her. The only person left that UNDERSTOOD how dangerous she knew the universe really was, at least before the attack. At least before he was killed.
A sob choked in her throat. Killed was such a clean word. David was crushed, bloodied and torn apart. She had been told that it would have been a fast death. She didn't know about that. It was certainly cruel. If she had known. If only. She could have done something, maybe saved him. If she hadn't have frozen like a deer in headlights when the sky opened up. If she had been brave enough maybe she could have helped. Maybe....
This line of thinking was doing Sophie no good at all. She screamed to silence the noise in her head. Had anyone heard the scream? She listened for sound outside of the door. It sounded empty outside. Already, she could tell that this was going to be one of those "bad days". She should just get dressed.
In her room, she slid or attempted to slide into her black jersey wiggle skirt. More of a tussle really given that she had more wiggle to her than she did even two months ago. *sigh* It was a day for the LONG T shirt, even though that was the one with the almost aggressively low neckline. It should be a shift full of businessmen though, the cleavage would work to her advantage when it came to tips. Time to pull back her mess of hair to go to work.
Sophie walked down the sidewalk, clutching her coat and scarf around her against the chilly fall air. Ahead of her a small group of people were standing together, silently staring at the dark pre-dawn sky. She paused for a moment and joined them. The deep blue was clear. No stars were seen from the city, but more importantly, no unnatural hole was torn through the clarity above. She glanced at Stark Tower, being rebuilt and just visible above the closer buildings. Wordlessly, she continued on her way. New York had never been a quiet city before. Sometimes it was now.
The Doughnut Shop was just a block down from her apartment building. It was an older neighborhood establishment, whose menu of fresh doughnuts, bagels, coffee and lunchtime sandwiches that all seemed to have the word "salad" in the name. It was barley holding it's own against a tide of Starbucks. Don & Judy the elderly owners, couldn't afford and actually didn't need the staff that they already had, but they let Sophia pick up any shift that had room for her behind the counter. People still felt the need to take care of their neighbors after the alien attack. And they knew that Sophia was a bit more shell-shocked than others.
It worked out to about three or if lucky, four days a week. The five booth, eight stool shop never needed any more than two people up front for even the busiest of mornings. Her Midwest upbringing helped her greatly at the shop. When she inevitably called the white haired widowers and tie clad businessmen "Sir" they found their hands reaching back into their pockets to add to their tip. The women that she smiled at and called "Ma'am or Miss" seemed to forget to be upset by the tight skirts.
At the end of her shift, she hung up her apron in the kitchen. Don looked up from his doughnut trays and smiled at her.
"Sophie, I set a tray in the window for you. Eat lunch before you go home."
"Thank you. I'll go out front with it." She took the tray and slid into the back corner booth with it. "Hooray! I get to use the wifi!" She said to no one in particular.
In truth, she was just as happy about not having to go home and be alone in the darkened apartment. At the shop it was warm and light and there were people to feel safe around and some people that suddenly did not seem so safe.
The man in the suit that was so plain, it was obviously trying not to attract attention, he had been sitting in the front booth for most of the morning. Men in suits usually wore suits because they had jobs to go to. They didn't wear suits to sit around a doughnut shop. Sophie's heart began to pound.
Loki didn’t spend as much time in his cell as he thought he would. Just a few short weeks before he was summoned to confront the All-Father.
“I have been in contact with the governing powers of S.H.I.E.L.D. and they have agreed. Loki, you will be sent back to Midgard to repent for your actions. Until you have shown the mortals the same love and compassion that you show your Mother, you will not be allowed back to into the halls of Asgard.”
Loki could do nothing but gape as the All-Father spoke, slowly backing away as far as his shackles would allow. Thor stepped forward, taking the leads that held the one he once called brother. He lead Loki out of the throne room and back towards the Rainbow Bridge. An accompanying guard held the Tesseract device out to the princes, they grasped the handles and twisted. Off once again to Midgard and Loki’s fate.
Fury felt as though he was going to need some serious therapy and heavy doses of anti-psychotics to deal with everything that was happening. First an alien invasion by a guy that thought golden horns were a fashion statement and now the World Security Council with this insane idea. He needed a good stiff drink….or twelve.
He called Agent Hill into his office. “Hill, gather five agents and have them go over these files. They will be assigned as liaisons to the mentioned people. The Security Council cooked up an idea even worse than nuking Manhattan.”
Hill gave a nod and left the office. Fury allowed himself to flop into his chair. “Well shit.” Was all he could say at this point.
Agent Masters had been sitting in the café for over 4 hours now, casually sipping coffee or nibbling on a pastry. His target finally sat down at a table not far from him just after what this place would call a lunch rush. He stood from his seat and approached the subject. One Sophia Arbor whose brother was killed during the Chitauri invasion, leaving her struggling and without family. A person that has every reason to hate The Subject.
She tensed as he approached her table. ‘Good’ He thought ‘She has every reason to be wary’ Her file also mentioned something about her family being predisposed to certain genetic mutations, what they were no one was sure of.
Masters pulled out the chair opposite her and sat. “Miss Arbor, my name is Agent Masters with S.H.I.E.L.D. We were the people responsible for forming The Avengers. I am here with a proposal, in regards to Subject 86753-09 Code name Rudolph…..Please don’t ask where that came from. You might know him better as Loki, the self proclaimed god responsible for your brother’s death.” He went into detail about what would happen.
The Subject would live with her for two days a week then switch to another victims family for another two days and so on for ten days, five families total. The Subject would be there to witness the struggles that families go through on a daily basis without their loved ones present. Doing this S.H.I.E.L.D. and the ‘Higher Powers’ are hoping that it would reform The Subject to show remorse and kindness to other creatures.
“What do you say Miss Arbor, can we count you in?” Masters leaned back in his chair to wait for her answer.
After the word SHIELD, Sophie's body painfully tensed up. She almost couldn't hear him over the pounding of her heart. She couldn't run. He was between her and the door.
"OK Sophie, Be calm." she told herself between two ragged breaths.
Her hands slid off of the table and onto her lap. She twisted her rings around on her fingers, especially the one her father had given her before he died. It was a stone that jewelers called a London blue color in a simple platinum setting. She fidgeted while she tried to focus on what Agent Masters was saying. And what he might not be saying.
Suddenly, he was leaning back and waiting for her. He was so smug and in control in his bland suit, with his assured smirk, with his undoubted arsenal under his jacket. The fact that he had singled her out to supposedly play a part in this melodrama disgusted her. Was SHIELD trying to use her grief against her?
"NO! I want nothing to do with this or you! The whole thought is repulsive. I don't want SHIELD or this Loki in my home! How the hell is having him stare at me while I cry going to help anything? Will it bring David back or pay my bills? I don't even cry in front of my friends!!" Sophie spat the rant across the table at the unfazed Agent.
" I should mention that there could be a very substantial remittance in return for your cooperation. Enough for you to simply BUY your brother's apartment and not have to worry about the bills for awhile." Again, he waited for her answer.
Sophie clutched her hands together and tried to think calmly. That wasn't going to happen. She didn't know what to do. She was too alone to fight.
"If I go along with this," she said. " IF. It's 48 hours? Then everyone goes away and forgets that I exist, right? There is NO other reason SHIELD would ever show up again. No cameras in my face. No lengthy debriefings. No dossiers. Right? And I will need assurances that everyone will be safe. No one is getting hurt or exposed to danger, not my neighbors and not here. Especially not here. These are good people that have been taking care of me since I lost David and my job and everything. They need to be safe. And I need one question answered NOW."
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and asked in a quiet shaky voice, " Why me?"
"Miss Arbor, I believe you misunderstood me, it’s a rotation of families…..for as long as it takes The Subject to either show remorse or he needs to be removed for safety reasons." The Agent leaned forward to rest his arms against the table.
"The Subject has been stripped of his abilities and armed guards will be but a shout or button press away, should he become violent. The safety of those around can be guaranteed as long as you cooperate with us. As for your question….I do not know the answer, that is something you would have to ask Director Fury about. Whom you will meet once your shift here is over." Masters lowered his sunglasses to the tip of his nose to regard her trembling form.
"Do we have a deal, Miss Arbor?"
" I suppose we do." she sighed. " And I’m done with my shift. Let’s get this over with."
Masters stood by the entrance as she bussed her tray, leading her from the cafe to his vehicle around the corner. With traffic and construction delays it took them over an hour to arrive at a plain building, It seemed entirely forgettable and empty. Not at all what a government building should be.
They walked into the main entrance, stopping at a security desk to sign her in and verify her identity. Entering the elevator and riding it down to the deepest sub-level.
Masters led her to an unmarked door at the end of the hall, he opened it and told her to take a seat. “The Director will be with you shortly, good luck Miss. Arbor.”
At the agent's "Good luck Miss Arbor" Sophie's stomach sank straight to the ground. What did he mean by that? Did he look at her oddly? Was it sympathy or good will or just a banality? She couldn’t tell. This whole place was ominous. It felt closed in, like she was going to get buried in this basement. She never should have let herself feel so cornered that she agreed to this. Shit.
David could have told her how to deal with this. David would have just dealt with it FOR her. He would have come home, patted her on the shoulder and said, " Don't worry about a thing Sophie. I'll hit them with so many court orders they can't even think your name without going to jail. No one is going to get to you."
No one was around to protect her anymore though. Someone in this building had made that the case. With that thought her paranoia began to burn in her belly as anger.
Sophie checked her make-up in her compact and applied some lipstick, trying not to clench her jaw. She was obviously being watched by someone and no one was going to see her fidget like she was waiting outside of the Principal's office. Who did these people think they were, to drag her out of her life to sit and wait for them?
"Miss Arbor, Director Fury will see you now. Please step in" A thin pretty woman gestured Sophie through the now open door into a simple and functional office.
A stern man, wearing all black, including his eyepatch, sat at a large desk. Behind the desk was a full wall made out of what looked like a smoked glass mirror. They weren't even hiding the fact that there was an audience for this meeting.
Sophie sat in a chair opposite the desk without waiting to be asked and crossed her hands in her lap .
"Now Miss Arbor. Sophia?" Fury started.
She cut him off. " Miss Arbor."
Director Fury began again, hardly attempting to hide his exasperation. "OK then, Miss Arbor. I am Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. We are sorry to have pulled you away from your day, but..."
" You're sorry? Do you know what I did with my day today? I poured coffee and flirted with old men for tips." Sophie got out of her chair and bent all the way over Director Fury's desk, leaning on her elbows to make sure that he got at least one good eyeful of her cleavage. " If there's a coffee maker around here, I could put in another shift right now." Venom dripped from her voice.
Sophie held eye contact with the intimidating man and let a grin creep across her face before she straightened herself and sat back down.
"Now, if you please sir. Why did you decide that I need to be involved in this?"
Fury leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, regarding her outburst silently for a moment. “Miss Arbor we feel, after careful consideration, your situation is ideal for this trial program.”
He stood then, walked around his desk to lean against it directly in front of her. “To put it bluntly Miss Arbor, of the many that perished, you and a select few others are the only ones with no family left. Basically if something were to happen to you, there is no one that would come forward in righteous fury. Hence the reason you were chosen for this program. If the Subject can be reformed, Earth as a whole will receive more intergalactic backing than you can ever imagine. More resources and knowledge than we can comprehend.”
Fury stood again and walked over to the mirrored wall where he pressed a button, the glass cleared to reveal Loki chained and muzzled on the other side.
"Meet your new house guest, Miss Arbor. Subject 86753-09. Loki, fallen Prince of Asgard and man responsible for the death of your brother."
Sophia was almost relieved when she heard that the only reason SHIELD wanted her co-operation was because if she got herself killed no one would miss her. There could have been more terrifying things, she thought.
But when the glass cleared, all of the air was sucked out of her lungs. She could clearly see one of those more terrifying things. Loki.
He was tall and pale and looked almost as angry as she felt. Her eyes locked with the bright, arrogant ones above the muzzle. It seemed like he was going to stare right through her. Fury COULDN'T think there was anything redeemable about this man.
She broke the gaze with a shiver and returned her glare to Director Fury.
" Is it housetrained?"
Fury glanced at her. “Think of him as a big cat, you can show him where to go, but there is no guarantee he won’t piss on the carpet just to spite you. He's had his shots and still has his claws, none of us want to deal with his brother if we tried to neuter him.” He walked away from the window back to his desk, where he retrieved a key from a drawer. “This key opens the front door to your new apartment, completely secure. It was built by Tony Stark to dampen his magic capabilities. Across the hall is where Agents Romanoff and Barton will stay.They will be your handlers, you report in to them if something comes up or you need anything. The other people in the program will live on the floors below you as will the other handlers.” He dropped the key in her hand. “The program will officially begin next week, that gives you time to move your things and make arrangements. You will also be given a bank account that will have weekly deposits put towards it, use it as you see fit. Now I must also tell you that a few of the other people in the program may have to travel so the others will have to pick up the slack, meaning that the Subject may have to stay more than 48 hours with you.” Fury went and sat back behind his desk. “The Agents will give you your information packet and bank information when you arrive at the apartment, if you have any further questions they can be directed to your handlers. Enjoy the rest of your day Miss. Arbor.” Fury pulled out some paperwork, silently dismissing Sophie.