Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 20 of 39

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It amused Loki to no end that in the absence of a proper adversary - himself - the Avengers quickly disassembled into a disparate collection of egos and priorities. The main point of these foolish exercises was to remind the six that they were a team.

Of the lot, Thor and Rogers were the only ones who approached the matter as anything less than a chore. Romanoff and Barton made like dutiful soldiers, but both obviously were happier operating in more solitary framework. Stark and Banner, however, were making an art of crafting clever excuses for avoiding their so-called duty.

"One of these days," Steve Rogers had once observed, "Stark's going to go with the old 'The dog ate my homework' excuse."

This time, Banner had successfully excluded himself from the outing. Stark was present, but acting out worse than a sullen teenager, and in the process, made himself more a nuisance than Loki. Loki, his thoughts occupied by Darcy and the possible identity of the killer, had been almost grateful to have the focus shifted from him.

Having spent several days in training exercises, and then squashing the latest pitiful scoundrel who had more weapons and aspirations than brains, the Avengers would (Loki hoped) now be free to go back to whatever they did when not forced to play together like children. Now they headed into the house to wait for a debriefing.

Romanoff, wisely, had found some excuse to vanish as soon as they entered the building, but the rest waited in the dining room, scattered around a large mahogany table. Within minutes, Thor and Stark were showcasing their charisma, vying for the conversation's center of attention. Loki eyed them wearily, thinking that if SHIELD had truly wanted to defeat him quickly, they could have forced him to listen to these two blowhards for a few hours. He would have genuinely surrendered and cast aside all glorious plans.

With Thor occupied, Loki edged his chair back and started to sneak away.

"Thor says you and the ladies went to something called Zozobra," said a voice at his side. Loki turned to find that Rogers was the speaker. The man hated him as much as the others, but was always compelled by irritating politeness to try and engage Loki in conversation.

Loki cast him a world-weary look. Undeterred, the man continued. "You know what I'd like to see? The balloon festival. Fiesta is what they call it, right? Down in Albuquerque. Director Fury showed me some photos of it on the Internet. I bet it's amazing in person. Will you be going to that?"

To his annoyance, Loki almost pointed out that the event took place in the wee hours of the morning, and nothing, short of multi-megaton explosives, was getting him out of bed that early. (Darcy had already advanced the idea; he'd said no.) He lifted his gaze to the ceiling, wishing he could flee to the old airplane cabin, his "lair" where no one besides Darcy ever dared disturbed his peace. Darcy, at least, had an intuitive sense for when he truly needed to be alone and unlike Thor, didn't take his need for solitude personally.

Before he did something appalling, like speak to Rogers, he got up and left the room. No one commented on his leaving which was rather disappointing because it meant they didn't think he was up to any mischief. He wasn't, but he had a reputation to maintain.

He walked down a hallway, past a bedroom that had been modified into an office, beds and nightstands replaced with computers and other technical apparatus. The agents in the room gave him dark and wary stares, but said nothing. He considered cloaking himself in invisibility and poking around the house, but decided to use his power to snoop in other ways. His headache tightened as he cast a spell of detection throughout the building.

Just a few paces away, in a kitchen, he picked up a hidden passage. The kitchen, recently remodeled, smelled of fresh paint and new tile grout. The cabinetry was cream-colored and the refrigerator and stove, red enamel and modern, but made to look vintage. No one was around and he strode up to a pantry door and pulled it open. He glanced back in the dining room's direction, calculated the distance between him and Thor, and then went down the stairs that the open door revealed.

The room below was a kind of bunker, recently constructed and reeking of steel, titanium, rubber and plastic. The faint rectangular outline of a light switch on the wall could be seen in the weak light from the stairwell, but he paid it no attention. He liked the dark. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, the magic from the detection spell resonating in every cell of his body. It was a simple spell, but magic nonetheless, and coursed through him like a soothing balm. Alone. Finally.

His respite wasn't to last. A few minutes later, familiar heavy footfalls thudded above in the kitchen and then down the stairs. "Loki?"

Thor paused at the bottom of the stairs, squinting into the darkness. "You could at least make an attempt," he said.

"An attempt at what?" Loki knew what Thor meant, but, honestly, if the big lout insisted on being so stubbornly thick-headed...

"It wouldn't hurt you to feign a measure of politeness."

"They loath me, and I them." Loki smiled brightly. "The only one not happy with the arrangement is you."

"Steve is a good man," Thor observed. "It would not hurt to have one ally."

Loki restrained himself from rubbing his forehead. His headache tightened in a band around his skull. They'd had a variation of this conversation many times before. He favored Thor with a mirthless smile. "Thor, brother, I would be forever in your debt if you might located me a dwarf."

"A dwarf?"

"To sew my mouth shut, so that I might have a suitable excuse for not speaking to these cretins."

"Loki," said Thor unhappily. "To what purpose, pushing everyone away? Even...Darcy."

Loki grew very still. "She is a silly girl." He didn't trust himself to say anything more.

"She is your friend, Loki."

"I have no need of friends."

Thor sighed and Loki realized that if he had an American dollar for every time he'd heard that sound, he'd be the richest man on Earth. "We return to New Mexico today," Thor said before he marched up the steps.

He watched Thor leave, but didn't move. Once Thor was out of sight, he turned his head slightly to the right and said, "Creeping about in the shadows, eavesdropping, despite its entertainment value, does tend to earn one a reputation as a sneak and a liar." He had not been aware of her presence until she gave herself away with an irritated sigh that mirrored his own when Thor arrived. The detection spell located hidden passages, not people.

"I'm a spy. It goes with the job description." Behind him, the shadows coalesced into Natasha. "Besides, I was here first. You and Thor barged in and put on your little drama."

Eyes once again on the doorway, he said, "I'm sorry. You weren't entertained?"

"Not a fan of reality TV." Her voice sounded closer, though he hadn't heard her move. "Thor's got it wrong, doesn't he?"

"Thor takes wrong to epic proportions," replied Loki, dryly.

"You're not Darcy's friend."

"I'm not?"

"Not unless friends stick their tongues in each other's mouths."

Loki shrugged. "They don't? I'm not familiar with all Midgard customs." He smirked over his shoulder at her. "You and Barton-?"

"Why'd you kiss her?"

"The first time?" Agent Romanoff knew full well why he had kissed Darcy on the way home from Zozobra. "She asked. It seemed the 'friendly' thing to do." He swept a long look over the walls before him, taking in the structural features. Steel, he thought vaguely, The bane of elves but never a problem for my kind. Why not? For some reason, the idea seemed mildly relevant to...something.

Behind him, he heard the faint sound of steel sliding through a leather holster, and the snick of a gun's safety. "Odd," he said. "I always thought defending a woman's honor fell to her father."

"I've read her file. Her parents don't give a shit." Her voice was even closer now. "Can bullets even kill your kind?"

"Thor? Unlikely. His skull is too thick." He looked down at his hands; quite recently a ruined mess, now whole and unscarred. "The high velocity rounds in your gun might penetrate mine, though." A spell came back to him, simple but lost until now. He moved his fingers, shaping the form and a bright globe of light lit the wall before him. "My brains, splattered like paint on the wall. That might do it."

"You'd let me do it." It was a statement, not a question.

"What I do for science," he said with exaggerated wistfulness.

He heard her huff of grim laughter. "Does she know?"

"Does she know what?" He turned and faced Natasha and the gun.

"Do you know?" She lowered the weapon, thumbed on the safety and slid it back into the holster, her penetrating gaze sweeping his face.

He stared sadly at the weapon. "You needs be more specific. My facility with riddles ran off with my memories."

"Your injuries, when you came back here, looked like somebody was trying damned hard to kill you."

"Odin can be enthusiastic." Natasha smirked knowingly at his answer and he looked away, a memory skittering from his grasp. His eyes once again went to the gun. "A key aspect of science is testing one's hypothesis."

"I'm not giving you what you want."

He smiled cheerlessly. "It's what Barton would want."

"He wants your head on his wall. But trophies aren't much fun unless you shoot them yourself. I'm not stealing his kill."

"But how will we know if bullets work?" he said with impish charm.

At this Natasha almost rolled her eyes. "Assuming you're not screwing with Darcy–"

"To paraphrase one of your past presidents, 'I have never had sexual relations with that woman,'" he drawled.

"-maybe you should rethink your death wish. "

"You care about me," he said, sarcastically, "I'm flattered."

"Don't be. Me and the rest of the Avengers are already planning your death party. It'll be the blow-out of the century."

"Really? Will there be cake? Ice cream?"

"Pony rides and a little bouncy castle." She strolled past him, stopping and turning in the doorway. "But Darcy won't be there, because the 'silly girl' will be home mourning you. If there's any empathy left in your reptile brain, maybe you should consider that the next time you consider throwing yourself off a bridge, metaphorical or literal."

He laughed, the sound bouncing off the bunker's metal walls. "Weren't you warning her off me a few short days ago?" Assuming he knew the topic, he hadn't bothered to spy on her conversation with Darcy.

"She's a lot smarter than she acts. She's a pretty shrewd observer of the world around her, but she's young, just a kid."

"Ah," said Loki, wryly, "Whilst you are a veritable ancient."

She ignored his mocking. "I can't warn her off you because that's not possible at this point. But I can let her know what she's getting herself into."

Effortlessly, he affected his innocent expression, but he quickly surmised what she meant. She had told Darcy that by associating with Loki, she elevated herself from humble science assistant to a pawn in SHIELD's game. It seemed an odd admission for Natasha. Was it part of the game or merely a rare spot of genuine concern for a younger, inexperience woman?

He leaned against the doorframe, eyes on Natasha's posterior (it was a nice view) as she climbed the stairs and wondered if Darcy would forgive him for his harsh words and why it mattered.

"I could never hurt you," he had said with complete sincerity. Frustrated by his growing attraction, he sometimes envisioned pushing her away, with violence if necessary, but could never follow through with action.

His thoughts took an especially shameful turn the night they'd returned from Zozobra. He eyed her, sitting across from him at the kitchen table, her blue eyes shadowed by weariness and a bit too much alcohol. She made a jest about SHIELD that carried a strong undercurrent of truth and he smiled, a retort on his lips. The easy bond of friendship tightened between them like a violin string and sang out a note, perfectly in tune. Unfortunately, the tone struck discord with the black and malevolent thing inside him and it struggled, snarling, trying to break free.

The darkness spoke: It would be so easy.

Give her what she wants. Take her back to her room, and kiss her sweetly.

Then bind all sound in the room. Kiss her again and hold her down on the bed, rough enough to shake loose the ghost that haunts her. Use her, then leave her, broken and alone.

She'll never shadow your steps again. Likely she'll never speak of what happened, not to Thor or Jane, for the shame, because it was she who invited the monster into her bed.

Darcy had blinked owlishly at him through her glasses, sensing his dark mood, but still too trusting to flee. Self hatred boiled like hot lead in his stomach and he looked away. Is this what he had become? A horror who would visit such misery on the one being in the universe who wanted him for himself?

Rape had never been his flavor of mischief, but to contemplate such a thing against Darcy, when he so frequently imagined the bloody vengeance he would wreak on the one who had assaulted her years before? That was a bitter and cruel irony.

am a monster. I belong in darkness. Alone.

Another voice, offered a quieter counterpoint. Thoughts are not actions. Darcy is unharmed. Jane still lives.

But sunk deep in recrimination, Loki ignored that voice. I should remain alone.

The monster nonetheless wandered into her room soon after, and with the bedclothes between them, pulled her to him. Even beneath the covers, she burned hot with the fire of companionship and her heat lulled him to sleep. With her at his side, the nightmares never came and he could finally sleep.

The following day, in a moment of stupid jealousy, the monster finally hurt her. "Thor's not the boss of me," she had said and he knew that. But he had already worked himself into a blind lather, certain that she had sided with Thor over him.

The ugly thing inside him struck out with words, a far more potent weapon than violence. He smiled in grim admiration. She was no defenseless maiden, that one. She'd taken her injury, fueled her retort with pain and paid him back in kind.

He was no stranger to the scorn, scolding and disappointment of others, but had anyone before ever bitten with such an obvious truth? His kind, immortal, eternally beautiful and gifted with tremendous power, were driven by the same base desires as weakling mortals. Of course, he saw himself above such things.

We all think our cause is just and grounded in hard logic, don't we?

More of that damnable clarity imposed by Darcy's bright presence in his life. So what now? Oblivion still called, the weight of millennia sat heavy on his shoulders; he felt as worn and weak as an elderly mortal. He doubted they would kill him, but he had been serious about testing Natasha's bullets. The tug of new schemes, however, grew stronger each day as he recovered more and more of himself, and this mortal world, with its complexities, fascinated him.

He could do it; move forward without the complication of Darcy, alone as he had always been. The shadows beckoned, the habitual paths that he'd followed for so long were opening. With Darcy, her light blinded him, knocked him off balance; he staggered about, trying to find familiar footing. With her, he had to think of someone else, as expressed by the kiss before Natasha, the public declaration that yes, Darcy mattered to him, and that SHIELD should make her safety a priority.

Alone, he would have no such concerns.

But with Darcy, the weight sloughed from his brain, like a horse shedding a thick winter's coat to reveal the sleek animal beneath, thoughts now free to race in strange new directions. Intriguing options revealed themselves, roads not taken, as the Midgard poet wrote. With her, he was inspired.

He paused at the base of the steps, familiar darkness behind him, and the light from the kitchen before him. His eyes shut for a few seconds and when he opened them, he had made his decision.

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 20 of 39

<< Previous     Home     Next >>