Fate and Destiny
(Sequel to Nexus and Necklace of Songs)
By: Lalaith Quetzalli
What's the true difference between fate and destiny? Or are they the same thing? Is the future written in stone, to stand through time or in sand, to be washed away by the change of the tide. How much can the actions of a handful of individuals change the world... the universe even?
I've Heard that Song Before
What do you do when you have memories of a time that hasn't yet passed?
I've been through a great many things in my life, most of them quite extraordinary. When I was a little eleven-year-old girl, sitting among roses in my garden, a little girl who knew next to nothing of the world... I met a boy... It sounds so cliché: girl met a boy, perhaps they fell in love... yet it's said that reality will always surpass fiction. In any case, this little girl met a little boy... who was no boy at all. I realized it from the moment I first laid eyes on him. There was a depth to his eyes, which belied the youthful appearance of the boy he was showing.
I was right, that image he'd first showed me was nothing but an illusion, a projection of the child he'd been... nearly a thousand years prior! For he was Loki, son of Odin and Frigg, youngest prince of Asgard, God of Mischief and Lies (and some might say, Magic as well), the Trickster, Silvertongue, Sky-Treader, Shadow-Walker. I've always believed that first meeting changed us both, to the core... or maybe, maybe we were always meant to be as we became, but we had to meet in order for that to be possible. Would that mean we were fated to meet? To be together? Was it our destiny?
What is the difference between fate and destiny? I've done some exhaustive research in the topic, not just because of my studies (I have three Master Degrees: in European History and Folklore, European Mythology and Literature); the topic was of personal interest to me, mostly due to my own personal history: being a reincarnated soul and all.
It was something I still had some trouble wrapping my head around, sometimes. The fact that I'd had another life before my current one. That I'd lived and died before... then again, in my current life I've lived, died and lived again... should that make it easier or harder to deal with everything? Maybe it's not a matter of making anything easier or harder. Things simply are what they are and I've learnt to take them on as they come. There's nothing else I can do.
Of course, according to what Lady Frigg explained to me, many souls are reincarnated, they just don't know it. It's easier that way. I'm a very special case... or, I suppose, we are; my love and I. We're a special case because we're a match, a perfect pair, soulmates, meant to be together to the end of time. A pair like that cannot be apart once they've found one another, or so legend claims. If one dies, so does the other... it's how it'd always been, how it was supposed to be: until the day I died, and my match didn't.
It wasn't exactly on him, I knew he'd wanted to die, had gone down a pretty dark path of self destruction. But his family, his brother Thor, but especially his father, Odin, had refused to let him go. The only way of stopping him, in the end, had been to make him forget what he'd lost, make him forget me... and that had brought on a whole other host of consequences. Not the least of which was the fact that it wasn't only Loki who forgot, but everyone; people remembered bad things my love had done, but not why, and that made them think he'd done them merely to be cruel. Also, when Loki forgot me, he forgot everything connected to me, including the truth of his origins, and how much his family loved him despite the fact that they weren't so by blood. The consequences of that particular fact would haunt him for a long time...
So, it is said that a match cannot be apart. It's why when one dies, the other soon follows... except, in our case, he didn't. It'd always been believed that a match couldn't be reborn until both halves had crossed over. Though some might argue that since Loki didn't die, and he could still be expected to live several millennia more, that was why I was reborn, so I could join him. So we could be a true match, both on the same side. Did that happen because we needed to be together, regardless of where? Because I had to be reborn whether he was with me or not? Was it my choice or someone else's? (It's not like I remember what happened while I was on the Other Side, it's enough or a miracle that I remember my life as Tinúviel...).
Was it Fate or Destiny that brought me back to my love? That brought us together once again? Or was it nothing like that at all and simply coincidence? Chance? Kismet? How much of our lives is shaped by our own choices and how much has been decided since before we were ever born?
Written in the stars... Woven in the tapestries of fate... Set in stone... There are some many terms to express when something has been written, when it's Fate... Some also say that the future isn't written in stone, that nothing is certain, we have our own choices, free will, which is it? Maybe it's none, maybe it's both, perhaps one day I shall know...
xXx 3 rd Person POV xXx
It was a late afternoon in June. It had been a long day, extremely long, as far as some people were concerned. What should have been a day of triumph had somehow turned into a mess of epic proportions before the sunset.
Two men and a woman entered the townhouse without a word. One of them in particular was feeling the very strong urge to get to his family, to hold them, as if doing so would somehow erase everything that had gone wrong that day.
They were just reaching the sitting room when a new song came on the radio, and a child's voice was heard:
"Mama, sing!" The voice belonged to a blue-eyed, black-haired seven-year-old boy currently sitting on the floor, with some coloring books and a box of crayons in every color of the rainbow.
The aforementioned mother was a young woman with hazel eyes and auburn hair in very loose ringlets, she didn't seem to be more than 21, at most. She smiled softly at the boy from her perch on a window-seat, from where she'd view to the small garden in the backyard. The roses climbing to reach just beneath the window. She'd always had trouble telling the little boy no, everyone knew that, so it was no surprise when her voice joined Helen Forrest's in the song:
"It seems to me I've heard that song before
It's from an old familiar score
I know it well, that melody
It's funny how a theme recalls a favorite dream
A dream that brought you so close to me..."
"I know each word because I've heard that song before
The lyrics said "Forever more"
Forever more's a memory
Please have them play it again
And I'll remember just when
I heard that lovely song before..."
She was just finishing the last note when a shadow fell over her. She didn't ask any questions, she didn't need to, truth was she'd known he was coming from the moment the little group had stepped onto the property. She just turned her head in time to meet his lips in a kiss. Him, her husband, her match, the jade-green eyed, raven-black-haired love of her life...
"Auntie Sia! Uncle Howie!" The little boy called brightly.
"Hey little man!" The dark haired, dark-eyed man in the three-piece suit, called brightly.
Even with that, the young woman could sense the tension in him, in all of him. She turned her eyes to her husband, there was no need for any questions. He just shook his head.
"How bad was it?" She asked quietly.
"Pretty much how we expected." He replied softly. "Erskine is dead, as are a few other soldiers and agents. Carter is hurt, though thankfully nothing life-threatening." He shook his head. "Even knowing what was coming wasn't enough. The explosion, I think, threw us all off our game, Abraham was shot before we could do anything to stop it. And everything else... it'd have taken magic to do anything at that point."
And they were still trying to stay mostly under the radar. Howard was the only one who knew for sure what they could do, and that they weren't quite human... and he was doing his best to protect them. With the government what it was, and particularly with the war, other people might not be as kind towards them. They'd either be seen as a threat, or as weapons, and neither of them would ever allow that.
"What else?" She asked softly.
"Well, as you can expect, the higher ups didn't like it." He went on. "They were told to place their hopes, and their money, in this project, and now Erskine's gone, as is his formula. All that's left is what's even now running through Roger's veins..."
"How is Steve?" His wife's voice softened at that.
She hadn't know the young man for long, but there was something about him that called to her maternal instincts; maybe it was how small he looked, how fragile (nevermind that she'd known all along he wouldn't be staying like that).
"Devastated, of course." He nodded. "But I convinced him it wasn't a good idea to linger. He'll be joining a troupé and work on morale and selling war-bonds... It might not be what he was hoping for, but with him being all that's left of Project Rebirth, there's no way the higher ups will ever allow him at the front-lines, not with the chance of all that 'work' being lost; and if he stayed then he'd have ended becoming nothing more than a lab-rat."
"And that couldn't be allowed." She agreed completely with her husband. "Wait a second." She did a double-take. "So you're technically the reason why Captain America will be spending the next several months as a dancing girl?"
She couldn't help it, she dissolved into giggles.
That certainly called everyone's attention, as they all turned to look at the young couple. But they weren't laughing, and as she looked into their faces, the youngest woman in the group realized there was something else going on:
"What is it?" She asked seriously, looking straight at her husband.
"You know how the world works, as well as I do..." He murmured softly. "The higher-ups would not let Rogers go without getting something else in return..."
"What have you promised them?" She wanted to know straight out.
"Our aid in the war." He didn't even try lying to her, or avoiding the answer; he'd never do that to her. "Sia is mostly going as a pilot, but I'm being inducted into the SSR as an Agent." He let out a breath. "They don't know what I am, what we are, what we can truly do... but they know we can do things. Things that may prove valuable to them."
"So we're going back to Europe then." She concluded.
After spending months traveling in as much secrecy as possible, doing their best to get to the States before the war fully broke out (when it'd have been next to impossible); they were going back to where things were at their worst. But it was for a good reason, or so she told herself. Rogers wasn't yet ready to become who he was supposed to be. They were doing the right thing... or so she hoped. She wasn't quite sure how things would have worked if they'd never ended stranded in that time... or maybe they'd been meant to end up right there all along...
It was absolutely insane, and even Howard didn't know the whole story, but the 'Serrure' Family' weren't from around there. Particularly, not from that time...
To the world she was Arianna Stark-Serrure, the younger half-sister of mechanical engineer, prodigal genius and founder of Stark Industries: Howard Stark. The public version of the story was that after the death of his parents, Howard had discovered that he'd a little sister somewhere in Europe. He'd found her just after the start of WWII and had sent for her; had ended bringing her whole family to the US in order to keep them safe. There was Luke Serrure, 26, an English man of Norwegian descent and Arianna's husband of three years; his son (of a relationship before Arianna): seven-year-old Hakon; and Luke's younger sister: 24 year-old Sia.
Of course there were some that didn't quite buy the story. One particular tabloid had claimed that the child was probably Howard Stark's bastard son and he'd concocted the story of a half sister in order to keep the one who might be his only heir close... the story hadn't lasted long, once it became quite obvious how much like Luke, little Hakon looked (and nothing like Howard, or even Arianna).
The truth was a tad more fantastical than that. Howard had first heard the name Luke Serrure when he'd received a recommendation for some changes in the designs of the war-planes his company was producing. They were bold changes, yet once put in practice, it had been proven that it was genius. It'd taken several months (and a few more discreet suggestions made), before Howard had managed to track the one making them. A worker at the factory in New York, relatively new (less than a year). He'd learned all he could about them; the family of English immigrants who'd arrived to the country in September of the previous year. He'd also realized that not one, but two of them worked in that factory. The other adult member of the family: Arianna Serrure, played the piano in a little club several blocks from the factory, for some extra cash.
Even after finding them it had taken him a long while to convince Serrure to meet with him; but Howard hadn't made it to where he was by giving up, or allowing people to tell him no. It was completely by accident that he'd found out the family weren't quite normal. He hadn't been actually looking for them at the moment, when he'd found Arianna and Hakon playing in a little park. Howard had born witness when a mugger had approached them, he'd tried to use the boy as leverage when Arianna fought back; only to cry out and run away screaming about ice-devils and some other nonsense seconds later. Howard, honestly worried about the little boy and his mother, had gone towards them. Reaching them just in time to see the boy's blue-skin and red-and-black eyes. He'd frozen in shock.
"What do you want with us?" Arianna had asked him, scooping the boy in her arms instantly and giving a step back.
Howard couldn't have missed the way her free hand slipped into her pocket, quite possibly searching for a weapon of some kind.
"I promise I mean no harm." Howard rushed to say, raising both hands in what he hoped would be enough to prove his sincerity. "I was just passing by..."
"I know exactly who you are, Mr. Stark, so do not try and lie to me!" She snapped to him, holding her boy tighter against her chest.
"I hope you do not think I am the kind of man who would hurt innocents just to get what I want, ma'am." He told her politely. "While it is, indeed, true that I've been trying to get your husband to meet me. And, as must be obvious, I know already who you are. I promise I wasn't stalking you or anything. I was on my way to buy coffee when I saw you two, and then the mugger. I worried that something might happen, and no one would know."
The streets were quite empty, with most people working and children at school. Arianna was the kind to stay at home most of time, but after going out to pay some bills she'd decided to spend some time in the small park. She knew Hakon grew tired of being inside their tiny apartment all the time, and she hated not being able to give him more... but she was doing her best for him, they all were.
"I see." She knew he was telling the truth, and wasn't so paranoid as to take the leftover fear and anger over what had almost happened, out on him.
"Might I offer to buy you a cup of coffee, and maybe some chocolate for the little one?" Howard asked politely.
Arianna didn't like coffee, but she knew that Howard was just trying to be polite.
"I know you saw... him." Arianna stated, avoiding saying anything too-revealing. "What are you going to do with that information?"
"Nothing at all!" Howard hurried to assure her. "I'd never do anything to hurt an innocent child. I might be a cut-throat businessman, ma'am; but I assure you that's just on the business-table... or when it comes to a man who's an absolute genius and keeps refusing to meet with me..."
"Touché." Arianna had to give it to him, he was charming.
So she had decided to give him a chance. They'd had a drink together (in the end both her and Hakon had had chocolate-milk, to Howard's coffee); for which Luke and Sia had eventually joined them, as they came out of work. At first the other two had been tense, worried about what might have caused that particular meeting. Arianna had explained them the truth, holding nothing back, and while Serrure still didn't like bringing more attention that absolute necessary upon his family, he decided to give Howard what he wanted.
He'd thought that was all it would be. The rich businessman getting what he wanted, and then he'd move on, satisfied that he'd 'won', so-to-speak. He'd been wrong. By the next week Luke was working side by side with him, helping design new and better planes; Sia acting as their PA.
None of them were quite sure how, when and why Arianna had ended becoming Howard's little half-sister... It'd helped, allowing Howard to justify granting his protection to the family, to make sure no one would ever find out the truth about them, would never persecute them for who and what they were... and especially the little boy...
That was the first part of the core of their 'little' secret, the fact that Luke, Arianna, Hakon and Sia Serrure were in reality Loki, God of Mischief and Lies (and Magic); his match and consort Nightingale (once the Ljósálfar princess Tinúviel, died and reborn as the human Silbhé Salani), Goddess of Devotion and Compassion; their adopted son Hakon (who was, by birth, the youngest son of Loki's half-brother Helblindi, the King of Jotunheim); and Sif, an Asgardian warrior-lady, the Goddess of War.
The other half of their secret concerned the fact that none of them, not even Nightingale when she was still human (long story) had been born in that time. They actually belonged to the future: the year 2016, to be precise.
It was absolutely insane, and even they did not understand the whole of it. In early summer of '15 they'd promised Phil (Agent Phil Coulson, of SHIELD) that they'd help him against Centipede. They saw it as necessary, seeing how Phil had faked his death and everyone except his own team and his girlfriend: Darcy Lewis, believed him to have died in a mission. It was too dangerous for the truth to be revealed in that moment. Loki and Nightingale hadn't liked it, but they'd promised to help him, realizing the seriousness of the situation. Sif had joined them at some point, wanting to reconnect with her dearest friends (though Loki claimed she was simply bored without Thor and his half-insane quests).
They'd been doing missions for Phil (and sometimes for Fury) for months when something had happened... they didn't actually remember what. The memories of all of them from that particular day, and the ones leading to it, were a bit scrambled. They had gone... somewhere. They assumed it hadn't actually had anything to do with the missions, seeing how Hakon had been with them. Though they still had no idea what exactly had happened that had made them all end up in 1941, in the middle of Norway of all places!
It'd taken them nearly six months to make it across Northern Europe to England, and then to New York in a ship. With what she knew of history (and while in grad school she'd specialized in the 10th and 11th centuries, she still knew quite a bit of the 20th), Nightingale had decided they would be safer there than anywhere else. Of course, when she'd decided that she hadn't taken Howard Stark into consideration, or the mess he'd make of their lives... (then again, he was Tony's father, they probably should have expected something...).
It'd been almost a year to the day since Howard had taken the group in. He'd never asked them any question about their origins, or their secrets. Not even why Hakon's skin had turned blue or why the would-be mugger had run off screaming that day. There were other things he'd found out since, like the fact that they all were special, each in their own ways. Still, Howard never asked, though he certainly had done his best to keep them safe.
"I'm sorry, sister..." Stark murmured right then.
She didn't need to ask what he was apologizing for. The last thing he'd ever wanted was for them to end up in danger, and going to Europe, serving in the war, would most definitely put them in danger; but there was little else they could do. And not only because it was probably the only way to make the higher ups leave Steve alone... if they'd really wanted they could have simply disappeared and let Howard deal with the consequences (he probably would have suggested it, if he thought even for a second that they might consider the option). But, deep down, Nightingale believed that there had to be a reason for them to be there, in that place, in that time, for Howard to have found them, and everything else... it couldn't be just cosmic accident. (There was also the fact that even after two years of discreet trips to every magical enclave on and off planet Loki had been unable to find any records of actual time-travel, or a method that might get them safely back to their time; thus far it looked like they might be taking the 'long way there' so to speak).
"You have nothing to apologize for, brother." She murmured quietly, embracing him. "Things are what they are, and we must do the best we can with the hand we're dealt."
It'd taken some time, for her to get used to having a brother, she'd never had one. But Howard was a good man... odd as it'd been to realize it, with the things Tony had once told them about his father. Something just didn't seem to fit... but Nightingale and Loki both had decided to push that aside for the time being, they'd deal with it in a few years.
xXx Nightingale's POV xXx
In the morning Howard, Sia, Luke, Hakon and I met Col. Chester Phillips and Agent Margaret 'Peggy' Carter of the Strategic Scientific Reserve in a private airstrip. A small plane (good for a dozen people at most) was waiting for us already.
"Really Stark?" Phillips scoffed. "We're going to war, not on a family vacation!"
"You want me and my sister to work for your organization." My husband stepped forward. "Well, this is how it's going to happen. I won't let my family be on the other side of the ocean while I'm fighting your war."
"You do realize that where we're going, the danger will be much higher than here?" Phillips tried to reason with him. "Mrs. Serrure and your child will be much safer here."
"Hakon and I will never be safer than we are with Luke." I stated (I'd never been the kind to let others speak for me... or over me), then went on before something else could be said. "I won't be a bother, sir. I am a trained nurse. Put me to work. I promise I will make myself useful. As long as I can keep my son around to take care of him and continue with his home-schooling in my free time. I will do what I can to help as well."
"Very well." Phillips eventually agreed.
He didn't like it, that much was obvious enough; but we both knew they always needed people with medical training in wars; also, while he didn't quite know what it was that my match could do exactly, he suspected he wasn't quite normal, that neither of us were; and would be an asset in the war efforts. Then, of course, there was Sif; while no one was aware of her proficiency as a warrior-lady (and they might not take it well, considering the point of view men of the decade had when it came to women and what their 'place' was), she'd become quite a skilled pilot in the last year; Howard himself had taught her. She was one of the two best civilian pilots they could count on (the other being Howard himself); bottom line: they needed her.
So, with that in mind, we climbed on the plane. It was small, top-of-the-line, the most innovative design Howard and Luke had come up with thus far. It was also Sia's plane, a gift from Howard, it was called Inanna; after the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility and warfare... and both my love and I knew there was something behind that name, behind the reason for it, but the mere thought of Sif and Howard made us both decide we'd rather not think about it any more than absolutely necessary.
Personally, I knew that my almost-sister had spent a lot of time with Howard during the previous winter, and she'd spent more than a few nights in his bed; but by the spring it'd all seemed to be over. They'd gone back to being friends, co-workers and quasi-siblings-in-law. I had no idea what had happened exactly, and chose not to ask. It was Sif's life after all, she was entitled to her own choices. Of course, I'd always be there for her if she needed me.
We got to London that same day, but didn't stay there for long. Like Colonel Phillips had stated before, the SSR had been reassigned, they were taking the battle to HYDRA. Luke and Sia had been officially named Agents of the Reserve and been teamed up with Peggy Carter. While they were rarely in the front-lines, they aided the army in every way they could.
It didn't take long for Peggy to learn that neither 'Serrure sibling' was what most would consider 'normal'; since she found that out when they used said 'gifts' to save her life during a particularly hard mission on the French border, she didn't exactly mind. She also knew better than to let others see through the human facades we'd created for ourselves. It was for all that, that she soon became dear to us all, one of our closest friends since our arrival to the 1940s, almost family.
For my part, I was given a nurse's uniform and joined the rest of the volunteers. At first it was odd to them, not only because Hakon was with me whenever he couldn't be with his father, aunt or uncle; but also... I knew what they thought when they looked at me: a woman-child, one who looked much too small and fragile to be anywhere near a war. I managed to earn their respect, though, when they realized I wasn't the kind to shy away from hard duties, from the gory things. No matter how difficult a patient was, how badly hurt, how awful he looked, nothing would make me back down.
The only problem perhaps was my empathy. I'd heard several people say it, how I felt too much, as if the patients' pain was my own... they didn't realize that, in essence, it was. Of course, it wasn't like their pain took over me, or like it crippled me; I was quite capable of working around it, but that didn't stop me from feeling it. It was part of me, in my very nature as a light-elf (or the reincarnation of one). It was something that had been a part of me my whole life, even before I knew anything about power, or reincarnation; I just hadn't understood it before.
Also, as everyone had soon discovered, I was well-versed in almost a dozen languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Irish, Greek, Norse, Russian and Latin. That helped whenever soldiers from different countries came together and there happened to be no interpreter available. In no time I was being called into meetings with the higher ups (apparently the fact that both my husband and sister were SSR Agents made them believe I was trustworthy enough to listen to their strategies and the like).
In the last days of October we were in Italy. Both Luke and Sia were away on duty, while I was supervising my son's 'schoolwork'. He was very bright, always applying himself. I had no doubt that he would get far in whatever he wished to do.
He'd just finished and had begun asking me for a chance to do some coloring, when I felt as if someone had just kicked me in the mouth of my stomach. I lost my breath completely, gasping.
"Mama!" Hakon cried out, worriedly.
"Arianna..." Peggy began, worried.
She'd been sitting with us (probably to distract herself from what was going on).
"Sit with him, please." I asked her quietly.
It was taking a great effort to even speak. Energy was being drawn from me so fast I felt dizzy. I hadn't felt that bad in a lifetime... in fact the last time... the last time I'd felt that bad had been back in my previous life, during a revolt in Vanaheim. My match hadn't been injured, though Thor and many others had; and my love had been forced to call on a lot of power to keep them safe. So much his own reserves hadn't been enough, he'd needed mine...
That gave me the answer I needed. I wasn't an elf by birth, but after my ' human death' and resurrection (with some help from my eldest), I'd changed. I looked mostly human, but my body had changed in many ways (some might even call me a hybrid). One very important detail was that I could connect with nature, much as the Ljósálfar; perhaps not to the same depth they could, as I had back when I'd been Tinúviel; but still.
Making sure no one was looking at me I slipped out of the tent and into the small wooded area nearby. There, I slipped my shoes and socks off and then knelt on the dirt-ground, pressing both palms into the earth. After that it was instinctive, as I kept drawing on the energy. It never really got to my core, my body acting as a sort of conduit, giving my love more energy to use. It wasn't too much more, but it seemed to give him the edge he needed, something I was thankful for.
It was a while, possibly an hour, possibly more, before it all stopped. My Maverick was no longer drawing on my power, and while I wouldn't be able to say that he was exactly safe, the danger seemed to have passed, for the time being. I'd also gotten a sense of him being on his way, before the contact between us cut off.
With that in mind I took a deep breath, then got on my feet, dusted myself, put my socks and shoes back on, and after making sure I looked alright, I rushed back. I found Hakon sitting at the same table, drawing something with his crayons (a gift from Howard).
"Mama look!" He called out brightly when he saw me. "I made you a picture!"
It was a very cute drawing, it consisted of stick figures that I imagined represented all of us, near the edge of the woods. Where we'd been playing a few days before; before his papa and aunt had left with the army. That thought brought me abruptly back to the present.
"It's a lovely drawing, baby." I told him kindly. "You're becoming quite an artist. Right now I need you to go stay with Mr. Baggio."
"Nonnino?" He inquired, confused.
Donato Baggio was an Italian, the oldest man on the base, a veteran from WWI and the cook. He was a very kind man, somewhat scarred from his time in the war, but none of us really minded that. He hadn't liked hearing he wouldn't be able to serve his country again in the front, but had been happy enough to cook for the young soldiers who had to fight. He was also the one who watched over Hakon when the rest of us were busy (particularly since the mess-hall and kitchens were on the other side of the base from the infirmary, which made it less likely that my boy would end up seeing something disturbing).
"Yes, my darling boy." I nodded, kissing his brow. "Mama has to work and you need to go stay with Mr. Baggio until I go get you, alright?"
"Alright mama." He was very obedient, even when he didn't fully understand why things had to be a certain way. "I'll show ninnano my drawing!"
With that he rushed out of the tent where I taught him, and where Col. Phillips and some of his underlings would do paperwork when necessary, running to what passed for a mess hall. Donato wouldn't ask any questions and just accept Hakon. Perhaps he might even continue teaching him Italian, as he'd been doing for the last few weeks.
"What is going on Arianna?" Peggy asked seriously once Hakon was gone.
"I cannot tell you how I know this Peggy, but trust me when I tell you that the soldiers are on their way back, and we need to be ready." I told her.
She might have seen something in my face, or heard something in my tone, in the end she didn't doubt me, and asked one single question:
"How bad is it?" She inquired.
Truth was, I didn't actually know. I knew my match wasn't badly injured, because I wasn't feeling any particularly strong phantom pains. Then again, he'd fought so hard, which meant that something had most definitely happened, and it hadn't been good... also, I could still remember what was supposed to happen around then...
"Bad." Was all I could honestly tell her.
Instead of saying anything else I decided to be proactive, rushing to the infirmary. Once there I went straight to the head of nurses.
"Signora Labriola." I said solemnly.
"What's wrong, paserotta (sparrow)?" She asked.
The woman had taken to calling me sparrow since shortly after meeting me, saying I looked like a little bird moving from one side of the infirmary to the other, never stopping, never resting. My family had found it extremely funny, with Sif actually commenting that maybe there was some kind of curse on me that made people compare me with birds: there was Nightingale, of course, sparrow... and a group of students at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Children had called me Canary once (though, I suppose, that one ought not count, since it'd been nothing but a mistake, they'd confused me with someone else, an old friend of Professor X).
"The soldiers are coming, they're in a bad way, and we need to be ready." I told her, simply and directly, she wasn't one for beating around the bush.
She didn't ask questions, if anyone had realized by that point that I wasn't exactly normal it was her, but as long as I used what made me different to help, she'd never question me. Instead she just stood and began giving orders.
In a matter of seconds everyone was moving. As many cots were being set as could be held inside the tents, equipment in every single station, medicines and everything else. All nurses were also ready for the first patients.
We'd just finished setting up everything when the soldiers began arriving. And they didn't stop for what seemed like a very long time. Until every single bed was filled. In some cases with two patients at the same time (when said patients had less grievous wounds and could be treated while sitting up). Some of the higher ups seemed quite surprised, when realizing we'd apparently been ready, but Labriola had stated, in a very authoritative manner, that a good nurse (and a good woman) was always ready for anything, and then sent them away where they wouldn't bother her and 'her girls'.
We'd been working for about a quarter of an hour, I'd been working mostly on minor wounds (even with all the trust they might give me, I was still the newest girl there); and then suddenly I heard one of the nurses cry out. Followed by quiet cursing.
"He's bleeding out!" Someone said.
My reaction was instinctive, before I fully processed what I was doing I'd passed the roll of bandages I was about to used to finish with a soldier's forearm, and was rushing to the opposite end of the infirmary. It was obvious enough what was going on. A wound high on the soldier's thigh. The nurse had tried to clean it up and ended pulling whatever it was that had been blocking the blood-flow. The man's femoral artery had been nicked at the very least, probably almost severed... he didn't have long.
I made the decision in a fraction of a second (either that or I'd made it long before, it'd just taken being faced with such a situation to realize it). I stepped beside the man, placing my own hands over the bleeding gash.
"Paserotta, you need to take your hands away." Labriola told me, taking over from the other, less experienced nurse. "This man will die unless we do something quick."
"He's already dead." Another nurse, the oldest in the camp, said bluntly.
"No he's not, not as long as I can do something about it." I stated stubbornly.
I could hear her scoff, turning away.
"Paserotta...?" It was obvious she could see I was bracing myself for something.
"I trust you, Labriola." I told her softly. "I hope you'll do the same."
I didn't wait anymore, the soldier simply didn't have the time. I focused and called on my magic, pushing it straight into the wound. I began feeling the effects quite fast, I hadn't yet recovered fully from all the energy my Maverick had called on, but there was just no way I was letting that man die if I could do something about it.
Labriola didn't say a word, she just watch as blood-vessels, muscle and skin knit back together. She stopped me eventually, and while I didn't realize it at the time, she'd done so right before the injury finished healing, just enough to make sure it wouldn't disappear completely; which would have been much harder to explain. As it was it'd be a matter of convincing those around us that nurse Abbot had simply made a mistake; that she was new and had gotten scared, believing the injury to be worse than it actually was. It wasn't that hard to believe, especially with all the injured and dying around us.
It was late, when I finally made it to my family tent, even after almost draining myself to the limit. I'd been careful to only use my powers the bare minimum necessary, and only on those who might have died otherwise. Labriola had kept an eye on me, making sure to stop me at the right time to make sure others wouldn't notice anything strange. She, and quite probably a few others, had noticed I was doing 'something', but I believed I could trust them. In the end, we were all on the same side.
After that I'd gone straight to the showers, while we couldn't actually stay long there, I'd spent up to my last allotted minute scrubbing at my hands and arms until they were almost raw... and even then I felt like I could still see red on them. The blood of all the soldiers I'd touched, of those I'd saved, and those I hadn't. It was war, I knew that, but despite having lived two lifetimes, neither of them in complete peace, I'd never been surrounded by so much blood, so much death.
As I sat on the ground, beneath the shower, I looked at my hands in silence and remembered the last time they'd looked so red. They'd hadn't looked exactly like that, in my life as a Ljósálfar I'd been a bit taller, yet at the same time lighter, my skin not quite so pale... but the point remained.
*My Nightingale...* Ever since arriving to the past, my love had made a point of only using our assumed names (both to keep us safe, and so we wouldn't confuse Hakon), which meant that he only ever called me Nightingale when we were lost in passion, or in the privacy of our minds. *Is everything alright?*
*Yes, I...* I let out a breath, accepting that it was pointless to lie to him. *I'll be alright.*
He didn't ask me what was going on, he knew. I'd no doubt he must have been able to see everything that went through my head.
It took me a while to pull myself together but eventually, and with no small help from my love, I did. I then met him in our tent, where he was laying beside our little boy, who was sleeping peacefully. I was so thankful that I'd sent him with Baggio before the soldiers arrived.
No questions were asked, by either of us. Even if neither of us knew the exact details, we each knew how bad the other had had it. The time would come to discuss the details, or not (though, all things considered, it was likely we'd end up sharing memories, either voluntarily or by mere accident, sooner or later).
So we didn't talk about the day we'd had, we just kissed, said our good-nights and went to sleep with our little boy sandwiched between us, a reminder of the reasons why we couldn't give up, no matter how hard things might get.
I hadn't failed to notice the absence of one of our dearest friends, our sister in every way that mattered. Sif had gone with Loki and the soldiers, yet she hadn't returned. She wasn't among the injured, wasn't dead or captured, I knew that much; yet she was still absent. Which meant that, whatever she was doing, it was important. I'd be finding out sooner or later.
xXx 3 rd Person POV xXx
In the middle of the night, a figure was stalking through the forest in absolute silence, and making using of every single stealth trick in the handbook. Dressed in somewhat modified camos, with a dark thick leather jacket on top, Sif used the shadows to her advantage as she kept out of sight of the enemy soldiers doing their rounds.
It'd been a long day, but she'd finally made it to the very place where the war prisoners had been taken: HYDRA's base, several miles beyond enemy lines. It was the deal she'd made with Loki before the situation turned critical. He'd get as many soldiers as he could out and back to base, and she'd follow those that couldn't be rescued. Obviously, in order to make a rescue, they first needed to know where to go, that was what she was there for. A part of her (the part of her that was Sif, goddess of war, more than Sia Serrure, Howard's former PA and Agent of the SSR) had actually contemplated attempting a rescue on her own, but there were just too many enemies. Even with all her Asgardian advantages, there was a chance she wouldn't be enough... and that was just considering the soldiers and their odd weaponry; she had no idea what HYDRA's leader: Johann Schmidt, might be capable of (to be fair, no one did).
So she stalked. She made rounds around the factory, doing her best to memorize the layout, to learn the patterns of their guards and anything else she could that might prove useful when someone actually arrived ready to execute a rescue. Because someone had to come, there was no way they could leave that many soldiers to the tender mercies of the enemy, right? Sif was afraid to admit she wasn't actually sure, but since the thought was so awful, she chose to do what one of her dearest friends, Nightingale (Arianna, she'd to remember to always call her Arianna in public, it'd be simply too dangerous to do otherwise) would do, and that was believe. A rescue would come, it had to.
No one, not even Sif, were aware of the other figure walking through the forest that night. Then again, that particular figure didn't quite exist among the living, not in that moment and thus was not visible unless it was by her own choice. The figure was female, tall and slim, wearing a long, thick, black woolen cloak that dragged several inches behind her bare feet, hood pulled up to cover her head completely and shadow her face. No one tried to stop her as she stepped out of the forest, into the factory and through several hallways, even when she passed a number of HYDRA soldiers, there was no reaction, she was invisible to them all.
The female never stopped, never hesitated, only once through her walk did she react to the people around her. A short man in a labcoat, stepping out of what looked like a laboratory; she actually stopped as he passed her, and for all of one second it looked like she might do something, say something, perhaps even go after him. But in the end she didn't, she just ignored him and stepped into the lab.
There was a single person left in the lab. A young man, in his mid-twenties perhaps, with short, messy dark hair, dark eyes and half-ruined fatigues. The figure bent down, pale lips close to his ear, and a single curly lock of obsidian black hair escaping from her hood:
"Soldier..." She whispered softly. "Wake up soldier..."
"I'm Sergeant Barnes, James Buchanan Barnes, 3 2 5 5..." He broke off from his usual mantra the moment he realized the radical change in company. "Who are you...?"
Very slowly the man, Sgt. James Barnes, sat up. He looked down at his arms, then at the cot he'd been lying on, and got what was probably the shock of his life: a body, his body, lying down on the cot, strapped to it.
"Just what is going on here?!" He demanded, turning to face the figure. "Am I dreaming?"
"I suppose it's a way of looking at it." She stated evenly. "This is not quite a dream, soldier; but it's not the reality you know either. We're at a point between both, between life and death..."
She waved her hands around, and suddenly the two of them were no longer in the lab, they were standing in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mist.
"Who are you lady?" He asked yet again.
"I am Beauty, and Death, and Grief, and Faith..." She murmured softly. "Names are irrelevant. It doesn't really matter who I am, or where I come from, soldier. What matters is what's brought me here on this night?"
"And what's brought you here exactly?"
"You, soldier. At this moment you're standing on the edge of a knife. You're straddling the line, and it's up to you whether you live or die..."
"What hope is there for me?"
"There are those who'd rather you live soldier, but in the end the choice is only yours."
"I'm not important, no one needs me."
"Oh but you're wrong about that. The world needs you, more than you, or it knows... however, I'm not here to talk to you about the world. Are you familiar with the concept of soulmates?"
"Soulmates? Like one-true-love and all that jazz?"
"That's one kind, but not the only. There are two kinds of soulmates, soldier. The platonic ones, those who are meant to be your truest friends, your family by choice. And then there is your romantic soulmate, your perfect partner, your match..."
"What does that have to do with anything?" He didn't understand.
"Your soulmates, soldier, would rather have you alive than dead." She stopped him before he could interrupt. "Do not misunderstand me, I am not here to do some sort of emotional blackmail. Like I said, the decision is yours. I'm only here to make sure you do a fully informed decision."
"Inform me then."
"Your brother and your match, would rather have you alive. You must know that, were you to choose death, they will mourn you, but they will go on. They will go on with their lives, make their own choices, as is their right. And one day, when the End finally comes, you will all meet on the Other Side, in perfect peace." She made a pause, giving him time to fully consider that, before continuing: "Should you choose to stay... it will not be easy. This war you're in has but begun. You will have to fight, there will be victories and loses, joy and pain. You will suffer a great deal, probably more than many other mortals ever have or will... but should you choose to live you will get the chance to follow your brother as he goes through every trial the Fates have put in his path, and you will have a match, a valiant woman who will stand by you every step of the way."
"But if I die, they won't die? I mean, they can go on without me?"
"They have the potential, yes. Though, as always, it's their choice in the end."
"What's the real difference then? Whether I live or die, I'll see them again. And if I die I won't have to keep hurting, and suffering... I will not risk losing them..."
"You will also miss on all the good things life has to offer. Death... death cannot offer you anything soldier. Nothing other than peace, that is. You will see them again, yes; but things like passion... everything that forms mortal love, it's irrelevant on the other side. The pain and suffering will cease, yes; but so will the joy, the passion, the excitement be gone. Life might not be perfect, but it's not completely awful either. Then again, to be able to appreciate the light, there must be some darkness for it to shine in; to be able to notice beauty, there most be some ugliness as well. It's all a matter of balance."
For just a fraction of a second, the half-light that surrounded them, and which seemed to have no obvious origin, appeared to hit her in just the perfect angle for him to catch the slightest glance at her face. Porcelain skin, one half perfectly unmarked, the other covered in terrible scars...
"What will your choice be then, soldier?" She asked him then.
He didn't answer immediately, he was having a hard time getting his head around it; and yet... and yet he'd known, from the very beginning, what the answer would be. Even before she'd said anything about the pros and cons of each choice. He didn't need to ask who his brother was, it was as obvious to him as his own name. James had no idea how badly things might get (and, judging by her words, they would get pretty bad still), but if Steve needed him, there was no way James... Bucky, would ever leave him hanging. And his match... he'd no idea who that might be, but if there truly was a romantic soulmate somewhere out there, waiting for him, a perfect match... he wanted to find her. He needed to...
The hooded female smiled at him, it was something he knew, even if he couldn't quite see her expression. Apparently he didn't actually need to voice an answer, she knew already; a part of him wondered if she'd known from the very start...
"It was your choice, soldier." She reminded him. "Always your choice..."
Yeah, a choice he'd made, probably before he was even aware of it...
He wasn't fully aware either as he lay back down, the lab slowly reforming around him, the hard cot underneath him, the straps tight around each of his limbs, and his middle. As the haze of whatever drugs they'd given him returned, a part of him began wondering if that meeting had happened at all, or it'd been nothing more than an hallucination.
'I suppose it doesn't matter...' He thought to himself. 'All that matters it that I need to live... for Steve and... for her...'
No one paid any attention to the hooded figure as it walked away, vanishing into the shadows before the first sun-rays appeared on the horizon.