Chapter 14: Hammer Time
Some saw the world in black and white. Others looked around and viewed it in muted tones of grey, combining both the good and bad knowing that one could not exist without the other.
Clint Barton saw the world in a haze of blue. He felt smothered by it, like someone had pulled blue transparent plastic wrap over his face, tainting his vision, suffocating him even as some vague part of him fought the clinging hold. The more he fought against it, the stronger the wrap became until he was all but snuffed out. Cast aside, relegated to the deepest recesses of his mind as he watched events play out like he was watching a badly filmed 8mm movie.
There were moments, however, where the blue fog would pull ever so slightly back and he caught a glimpse of color. A woman obscured by the blue veil, yet at times when he pictured her just a flash from the corner of his mind, he saw her hair shining the vibrant ferocity of fire. Red – a faint voice in the back of his mind whispered. Fire, passion… love.
Other times, it was a different face that haunted him. A recent memory of a crumpled woman at his feet, felled by his own hand. Her face appeared to him often and the expression in those chocolate brown eyes haunted him like a knife to his gut, slowly twisting. Desolation, complete and utter desolation filled those eyes to the brim as they stared up at him and yet…
There was love there too. Forgiving and familial. Just the memory of those eyes gave Clint the sensation of taking a rich sip of hot chocolate. Warmth flooded through his limbs, breathing in new life like his entire body had fallen asleep but was now feeling the pins and needles of awareness.
For a moment, the blue veil retreated and a thin whisper escaped his lips.
A small voice answered him, an echo of a now distant memory dancing beyond the edge of his grasp… “Hawkeye.”
The images fluttered like a dandelion scattered to a winter’s breeze. The hints of color… of feelings just at the tip of the horizon dimmed and once more, the world was tainted in blue mist.
His sister was lost to him as he again became shrouded in the blue fog, a heavy cloak pulling him beneath the waves of awareness.
A storm was brewing.
Across from him, Loki was a picture of practiced ease and Thor studied his wayward brother with the critical eye of one deciphering a riddle. He knew the nonchalance to be a front to hide the well of his true emotions and wondered what it was Loki was truly feeling at this moment – the moment of their reunion. Fear? Happiness? Resentment?
Thor knew those very emotions were what swelled within his own breast. It was a gathering storm he knew he must tame if he wanted the answers he and his people sought.
“Loki, what have you done?” the accusation fell from his lips, falling with a heavy thud as though he had plunked Mjolnir on the dirt between them.
He regretted the words the instant his brother’s lips twisted in a mild scoff and bitterness glinted in his eyes. Whatever window of opportunity there’d been to appeal with reason was slammed shut by his haste words and Thor fought the sinking feeling in his gut that his brother would be forever lost to him.
“Nice to see you as well, brother,” Loki greeted him with the cool nod.
Fighting his anger at the flippant greeting, Thor gritted his teeth and ground out, “Do I look to be in a gaming mood? You fell – fell from the Bifrost and we thought you dead. I thought you dead.”
“And did you mourn me?”
Thor frowned. “Of course I did. We all did. Our mother, our father-”
“Your father,” Loki cut in, rising from where Thor had tossed him upon landing on the rocky edge of a small mountain. “He did tell you, did he not? Of my true parentage.”
Unable to hold Loki’s accusing and angry gaze, Thor looked away and thought upon the night his brother had fallen and the dark confession their father had laid bare. He’d understood Odin’s reasoning but could well see justification for Loki’s anger as well. What had started out as a lie to protect a child turned black and dark the longer it festered, turning the well-meaning love of a parent into a wide chasm between father and son. Loki had come of age a long many years ago and should’ve been told the truth then. To have discovered his life had been a well crafted lie – that he was of the same heritage from what their people told children as horror stories…
Yes, Thor could well understand Loki’s rage. Yet he still recognized Odin’s attempt to protect the son of his heart, if not his blood, from such knowledge. Where Thor had once looked upon the All-Father as a righteous and infallible king, he now saw a tired man who was not perfect but attempted his best for his people and for his family.
“It matters not,” Thor said resolutely, his deep voice vibrating with sincerity. “We were raised as brothers – fought beside one another as brothers. You are my brother, Loki. Do you not remember that?”
“I remember a shadow,” Loki hissed, eyes glittering in the dark night. “I remember living in the shade of your glory while being fed lies from my infancy. Raised to be a king only to be cast aside – thrown away by those who would call me family. You yourself let me fall.”
Frowning, Thor reeled back, the memory of gripping Loki’s hand as he dangled off the jagged edge of the broken Bifrost bridge leaping to the forefront of his mind. He had held onto Loki’s hand with all of his might, pleading for his brother to hold on. It hadn’t been until Odin had joined them, denying Loki’s questionable tactics at peace-rearing, that Loki himself had let go and fallen into the dark abyss of the wormhole created by the Bifrost’s destruction.
As he stared at his brother now, Thor was struck by how Loki seemed to remember the ill begotten events so differently. Perhaps his brother’s own selfish but still untainted affections had led him to try to destroy the Frost Giants in a show of loyalty in a visceral demonstration of forsaking his lineage? Like the offerings of old made in Odin’s name; an act to prove himself worthy of the throne of Asgard and thus earn their father’s love.
Had Loki been trying to prove himself after learning the truth in some misguided demonstration of loyalty? Even as he’d struck a mortal Thor with a killing blow their last visit upon Midgard, there’d been a hesitance.
Internally scoffing, Thor swept those thoughts aside, unsure of their veracity and fearful of them being only wishful thinking.
“You have brought yourself to these depths, Loki. Not I nor any other. Tell me – what is it you hope to accomplish here?”
“Is it not obvious?” Loki asked, smirking. “I mean to rule them, these mortals. A pathetic fiefdom they may be, but I will unite this lump you treasure under the glory of my rule.”
“So you take the world I hold dear in recompense for your imagined slights?” Thor said in disbelief. “You cannot believe your own lies, Loki. Please – I beg of you – give up this foolish plan. Relinquish this lustful vengeance and come home. Come home, Loki.”
“Home,” Loki muttered scathingly. “What you call home is now but a prison to me – a hellish nightmare that I would rather see burn than ever return to.”
Thor reeled back at the utter disdain radiating from his brother. The darkness of his fury had clearly twisted Loki’s perception and altered his view on the things he’d once treasured. He feared that same darkness had claimed his brother for good, snuffing out any light in his heart.
Yet, Thor’s mind flickered with another recent memory. Heimdall had taken post at the edge of the broken Bifrost, his far reaching gaze surveying the worlds they were temporarily cut off from. It’d been him who had notified them of Loki’s actions and as Odin scrambled for dwindling scraps of magic to send Thor to Midgard in order to contain his brother and secure the tesseract, Thor had joined the guardian at his post.
“What see you of Loki, Heimdall?” Thor had greeted not mere minutes before Odin had sent him to Midgard.
“I fear madness has claimed him,” Heimdall had told him, his wise voice heavy even as he maintained his vision upon the wayward prince worlds away. “He has stolen the tesseract and tainted Gungnir. He uses the spear to control the mortals around him, bending them to his will in his quest to enslave them.”
Thor’s head had fallen, thankful to not see his once beloved brother committing such heinous acts yet fearful in the knowledge he would witness them in person soon.
“But he is not without hope,” Heimdall said, his voice a fluttering whisper on the edge of space.
Thor frowned, lifting his head and fixing the ancient guardian with a questioning look.
“Darkness has all but claimed him,” Heimdall acknowledged. “But a small, flickering spot of light remains. Protect the light; nurture it until it sparks an all-consuming glow. It is the key to Loki’s redemption.”
“What light, Heimdall? What is it that you speak of?”
A pause and his father’s guards descended to take him to the throne room where Odin had gathered the last of their resources to send him to Loki.
Thor feared Heimdall would not answer – perhaps there was no way to give voice to one – and the small chance he had of saving his brother would go unnamed.
But as he yielded to the guards and started to turn, Heimdall spoke so quietly, Thor doubted any other but him heard.
“Her name is Isabella.”
The name had haunted him as he dogged the steps of the guards; it’d echoed in his heart as Odin bid him to save Loki where he himself could not.
“And will you see Midgard burn as well, brother? Just another casualty in your schemes of power?” Thor spoke quietly, his eyes studying Loki as he carefully continued, “Will you see Isabella burn with it?”
The effect was instant. Everything about Loki halted, his body tightening like a taut string prone to snap. A hand rose to his chest, absently rubbing as his gaze went distant.
Just as easily as his defenses were lowered, they were raised back up. Loki’s eyes turned into two hard diamonds glittering as he fixed Thor with a harsh glare. “Oh well played, brother. Well played indeed. I believe you’ve mistaken me for yourself, though. I am not the one with a penchant for mortal woman,” he stopped, a truly vicious smirk twisting his lips. “How is little Jane Foster?” he asked in mock civility. “Perhaps I should pay her a visit and -”
“Bite your tongue,” Thor raged, storming forward and grabbing Loki by the lapel of his jacket.
Loki snickered. “So predictable,” he taunted.
Gritting his teeth, Thor raised his hammer threateningly, but before he could do anything he was hit with a blast of energy. Tumbling backwards, his hold on Loki slipped and a man of metal landed between them, palm outstretched in warning.
“Easy there, Fabio. It’s nothing personal. Reindeer Games here is needed and no one invited you to the party.”
Thor brought a hand up to his busted lip. Feeling the small trickle of blood there, he smiled lightly. His grip tightened on his hammer. “You are mistaken, metal man. Loki is to come with me. He must face Asgardian justice.”
“I prefer the name Iron Man, though the suit isn’t made of iron. It’s actually a gold titanium alloy…”
“I care not what your armor is made of,” Thor scoffed. “You would do well not to interfere. Leave now. I will take Loki from your world and doing so will save the lives of many of your people.”
Far from appeasing the new player, Thor’s words did the opposite. There was a whirl of mechanic sounds as the metal man charged up to fire again.
“I only care about the life of one person right now,” the robotic man said, voice hard and demanding. “And for the time being, it seems hers is connected to his so I’ll only say this nicely once: stop trying to steal my toys.”
Uncaring of the implied threat, Thor raised his hammer. “Do not meddle in affairs you know nothing about.”
“I know that your cape makes you look like a Disney channel school girl dressed up for trick-o-treating. Tell me – do you and Loki take turns braiding each other’s hair while complaining about how your parents just don’t understand you?”
Gritting his teeth, Thor hurled his hammer at the metal warrior only for a shield to be tossed between them, effectively deflecting Mjolnir back into his hand.
“There’s really no need for that,” the newcomer decked in red, white and blue said reasonably. “I’m certain we all want the same thing.”
From the corner of his eye, Thor was aware of Loki moving back and leaning against a tree trunk, enjoying the spectacle.
“I seek to bring Loki to justice for his actions and to recover the tesseract; keep it from falling into the hands of those who mean harm.”
“Then prove it,” the man countered. “Put down the hammer.”
“Yeah, no – he loves his hammer,” the metal fiend shot in.
Too late. Thor’s impetuous anger took root again and he thundered, “You want me to put the hammer down?”
Lightning cracked the air around them.
“Now you’ve done it,” the Iron Man intoned before a crack of lightning hit him square in the chest.
The shield flew at Thor who easily dodged it and the trio engaged in a scuffle that felled the surrounding trees, ending with Thor releasing his might against said shield. The backlash had all three of them repelling backwards and in the end, only Loki remained standing a subtle distance away.
“Are you boys finished?” a cool, feminine voice interjected as each of them eyed each other warily.
Thor turned and eyed the woman who’d spoken. She was clad in black leather, her red hair short as it blew in the breeze. Though there was nothing alike in their looks, her bearing reminded him of the warrior Sif. A grudging respect stirred for the woman who eyed them as if they were nothing but errant children.
“No,” the Iron Man pouted.
“Oh really,” she crossed her arms across her chest. “Need I remind you who is suffering while you children engaging in this pissing contest?”
Thor frowned, his confusion rising as both his opponents lowered their eyes to the floor and accepted the reprimand. Even more baffling was Loki, who slowly eased closer, his hand once again at his chest and rubbing.
In the nearby distance, a female voice was faint, crying lightly on the wind.
He assumed the others heard it as well for their eyes cut to where the black outline of their transport was silhouetted in the moonlight.
A demand for an explanation was poised on Thor’s lips but before he could lobby about orders, Loki strode forward with a sharp hiss. He eyed each of them caustically before his eyes cut to the plane when a weak whimper of his name fell into the clearing.
“Loki,” the unseen female gasped beseechingly, an aching sorrow filling the word.
In response, Loki’s posture straightened. His hard eyes still glaring at each of them, he turned without a word and strode to the plane without a single glance back.
There was a moment of near stunned disbelief. Thor’s mind reeled at the implications, his feet carrying him to the plane without any conscious effort on his part. Vaguely, he was aware of the others following him.
The sight that greeted him upon entering the craft had his legs locking and eyes widening.
Perched on a bench was his brother. Beside him was a slender, attractive woman. She appeared to be injured. He guessed correctly that it’d been her cries they’d heard as even now, her lips quivered as though holding back pain-filled whimpers. Sweat puckered her brow as she shivered. There was barely enough room for air to come between them, the entire side of her body molded closely to his brother’s though they weren’t touching. Her head was tilted up and Loki’s was tilted down and to the side, meeting her eyes.
Though nothing was said between them, Thor was left with the distinct feeling he was interrupting a private moment between two lovers.
As he continued to watch in silence, the woman’s wide eyes fluttered closed and her head fell as if she lacked the strength to hold it up any longer. It landed on Loki’s shoulder in a gentle thud. The moment they made contact, her body sighed in relief. Her tense features eased and a relieved breath of air wooshed passed her lips as she rubbed her cheek against Loki’s shoulder like a cat showing affection.
Loki, too, was not unaffected.
The subtle tension underlying his every move siphoned away, his taut shoulders easing. There was relief in his entire bearing, though the stubborn superiority remained. Whereas the woman gave in, her body yielding into his brother’s, Loki remained staunchly stiff. While it was obvious he was more at ease, he remained uncompromising. His eyes stared at the top of the woman’s head, a barely perceptible softness to them, before they hardened once again and he turned his head away from her. Thor knew he was aware of his silent audience, but Loki did not deign to acknowledge them, his gaze riveted to the empty seat across from him.
He did not, however, move away from the woman. Nor did he remove her from his person.
That silent acceptance was enough for Thor to see the truth of Heimdall’s words. Madness had all but claimed his brother, yet still – in the twisted darkness of his festering hate – a small pinpoint of light existed. Loki may have set himself on a dark path, but he was not without hope. There was light yet to guide him home.
Unable to look away, Thor murmured the woman’s name. The single word held the weight of a thin prayer.
Isabella – the key to his brother’s redemption.
Huddled in the dark cold, Bella pulled her arms around herself and shivered.
A dim part of her was aware that she was unconscious – that the freezing, barren landscape was nothing more than a figment of her imagination. Somewhere she was lying, hopefully safe and under the care of her friends, lost to the waking world.
Memories that led up to the dark cold circled her, drifting like little snow flurries clinging to her hair…
Loki… Victoria… Being bitten… Loki…
And then a numbing cold snuffing out the fire of Victoria’s venom. Cold, she was so very cold.
A presence, a slow trickling warmth met her back and she was no longer alone.
Hands circled her, pulling her back into comforting heat. No words were spoken. Bella knew that Loki had found his way into her subconscious again and for once, she was thankful for his presence.
(A/N): As ever, thanks for your patience and for reading and reviewing. I love you more than Hulk loves to smash 😉
Glossary (in case some have forgotten what means what!):
Eyas – term for a baby hawk in falconery
Mjolnir – name of Thor’s hammer
Midagrd – Earth
Gungnir – name of Odin’s spear. Loki has turned it into the staff.
Heimdall – all-seeing and all-hearing guardian sentry of Asgard who stands on the rainbow bridge Bifrost to watch for any attacks to Asgard (played by Idris Elba in the movies).