Chapter 19: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
For the first time in a long time, the thrum of magic swirling in his breast was content. Less insistent and demanding, it had settled into a low hum of approval; validation. The sensation increased every time his cool gaze landed on the young woman sitting in the corner, wide brown eyes staring into the air as she lost herself to her thoughts.
The urge to insert his presence in the void she stared off into was strong. He wanted to know what she was thinking – what was the cause of melancholy radiating in the small downturn curl of her lips? Hands itched to cradle her face to his, to dispel whatever dark thoughts plagued her and replace them with his lips to hers. He wanted to be the epicenter of her focus, always; the planet which she orbited. He’d fill her head with visions of himself as it was her own visage that haunted him. She had become the sole focus of his thoughts and as much as it soothed him on deep, hidden levels he refused to analyze, it mostly just infuriated him.
Therefore, Loki refrained from such gestures of concern, determined not to fall prey to that weakness. In truth, he had already well and truly fallen but was resolute in manipulating their bond for his gain alone. Should she benefit as well… Well, that was merely but a pleasant side effect, he maintained. Even to his ear, though, it rang a hollow quip.
Closing his eyes, he turned away from his little siren and focused inward. It was no use. Where he would once seek the quiet solitude of silence within his own mind, her presence now tainted, an effect of their solidified bond. Theory had prepared him for the possibility but the Soul Bond was not a practice commonly used amongst Asgardians these days so his knowledge on the workings of it was disturbingly limited and theoretical at best. Not to mention that experiencing the effects firsthand left him in a state of near constant rattled curiosity. There’d been no preparation for such a bond no matter what prideful, foolhardy things he’d told himself beforehand and his ego had blinded him to the real changes such a connection would wreak.
Ignoring his new, growing concerns, Loki focused and was able to discern a small, blooming warmth which represented her life force now entwined with his own, spreading within his breast like a drop of ink in clear water. The nature of that water would be forever changed; it’s color permanently stained. She was now a blight upon him and there could be no erasing.
Sealing the bond had been a convenient means to an end. When he’d realized the true nature of his connection to Isabella and the idea to seal the bond occurred to him, he’d been confident in his ability to dominate the connection, subjecting it to his will. But as the bond twisted and melted into him, searing into his very being, he wondered at his own motivations for solidifying a union he only had scant facts about. How deeply had the bond already been embedded within him – enough to twist his own logic to justify it’s purpose? Perhaps he’d been lying to himself just as he had been to Isabella…
His whole life had been built on such lies.
For centuries, Loki had felt the icy chill of his true parentage, unknowing of the reason for the frost upon his heart. He’d spoken of it once to Thor when they were but kids, though Thor had been quick to laugh at Loki’s innocent question.
“Does your heart feel chill also, brother?” Loki had asked him, frowning when Thor had looked confused for a moment before laughing.
“But of course not, Loki,” Thor had chuckled. “Don your cloak if your little heart is so cold.”
Odin had been less amused with Loki’s question.
“Do not ever speak of your coldness again, Loki. I forbid it,” the All-Father had decreed, the weight of his stare forcing Loki’s gaze to the floor. As a boy he’d felt scolded, though unsure of what had earned him the censure.
Frigga had consoled him, a true mother in his heart even after he’d learned their lack of shared blood. “Hush now, Loki,” she hugged him after Odin had stormed off, inexplicably angry at his son’s simple inquiry. Her gentle hands swept his dark hair from his forehead and her kind smile almost thawed his ice. “Being different is not bad. Take pride in your differences from your brother, my son, for what makes you different also makes you stronger.”
Her words were but a small comfort and Loki vowed never to mention his cold nature to anyone ever again. But it still existed within him. As he aged, he felt the chill of winter snow swirling within him growing, a blizzard upon the horizon. It was a constant reminder that he was different from his people. From his own family. And while he had brief moments of warmth throughout the centuries, usually a result of combat or fleeting lust, not once had he ever had the sensation of it from within. It was always external influences barely grazing the surface of him.
Isabella’s presence – their bond – thawed him from the inside out as nothing else ever had. Heat, almost to a painful degree, ignited at their every touch, even their simple glances. There had been a time when he’d longed to touch such fire but now it confounded him. Why had she come to him – with her warmth and soft curves, her fire and inviting eyes – after all this time? Why now when he’d set himself on a path from which there could be no turning back from? Why now when he had finally convinced himself he had no need for such warmth and sentiment? When he had finally accepted that the cold would be all he knew, he’d embraced his desolate nature and scorned those he’d once called his own… Only to have her plucked before him purely to test his own will. Her warmth seeped into him like a raging infection for which there was no cure, leaving him near delirious with desire, making him question all he knew.
But why now? The timing could not have been coincidental. Such a bond had to have been instigated and it was not of his own doing, certainly not of Isabella’s, so how had it come to be? As he’d fallen, cast adrift from the Biforst, he’d been at his weakest. All of his focus had been centered on keeping himself alive as he fell through the vacuum of space and it was amidst that distraction the bond had entangled him, catching him unawares and ensnaring him. By the time he and Isabella had come face to face, it was already too late. They were both fated. Or doomed. It was all the same to him.
Someone had known all along. Known he had not perished in the wake of the Bifrost’s destruction; known him well enough to strike at his most vulnerable so that he would be unable to interpret the Soul Bond for what it was, therefore not dismissing it out of hand, giving it valuable time to worm itself through his defenses. The root of it the seed had taken well before he had recognized the fruit and it was unable to be plucked; it would’ve only served to sprout once more for it was now embedded within him.
Someone had known what path he had chosen and knew there could be only one way to dissuade him from such a harrowing course. Someone had been desperate to save what little of his soul remained untainted and had acted swiftly, with great intent and care.
This person… He could not know for certain, of course, but he suspected. A binding of souls – especially a bond that had stretched through the void of space to find its match – was no easy feat. It would take a great source of power and will to perform such magic; it bespoke of a personal investment no stranger would uptake out of the kindness of their heart and there was only one person on that world and the next Loki had shared such a connection with. A mother would go to great lengths for her child, Loki thought wryly.
He had learned from the best after all, he supposed, and it would seem Frigga was determined to continue teaching her wayward son.
But no matter. The how and why would be answered in time but all that mattered now was that it did. After all this time, he did feel warmth where there had once only been desolate cold. Despite the fact that this warmth – his Isabella – complicated things, he did seal the bond with her. Whether through the bond corrupting his own motives in a subtle force to protect itself or through his own desire, they were bound and neither one of them would ever be alone again. Never abandoned and not ever forsaken.
And if the Mad Titan thought he could take her from him then Loki would organize a swift and permanent meeting for Thanos with his old lover Death. Even bound to Isabella he would have found a way to stay the course. Midgard was for the taking and he would seize it even if he had to pay lip-service to Thanos for the meantime. Eventually, he’d have gained enough power on his own so that he could usurp the titan and claim the stones and gauntlet as his own. All it would have taken for this temporary alliance to fulfill it’s benefit to Loki was a little bit of time but time was a luxury he no longer was afforded.
Thanos had somehow found a way to corrupt the mindspell – perhaps a failsafe he’d built into the scepter suspecting Loki had never been sincere in their bargain. He had declared his intentions for Isabella, thus forcing Loki’s hand by drawing a line in the sand he was unable to cross. Loki was willing to kill countless people in the path of gaining his kingdom, but Isabella would not be one of them. An attack on her was now an attack on him, his very essence tied and embedded to the girl. Though he assured himself it would only be temporary, Loki now resolved to set aside his plans of ruling Midgard and focus on this new threat. In order to rule, one must take out the opposition and it hardly mattered to him that he must change adversaries for the time being. They would all kneel to him in the end anyway.
Thanos knew of Isabella and his meaning was clear; he’d sought to kill his siren but all he’d succeeded in doing was making a speedier foe of Loki. Even if it lost him the force of the Chitauri army, Loki would serve the Mad Titan no more. Isabella’s safety was now his own and therefore above contestation. It was self-preservation.
Besides, he was not born to serve. Agreeing to the Mad Titan’s terms of service had left a bitter taste in Loki’s mouth no matter the necessity. Freeing himself from the obligation of fake servitude earlier than anticipated was a bounty to be grateful for. The complication Isabella’s existence had set him free. He was born to rule. No longer would he bow for scraps at the Mad Titan’s boot. It was time for Loki to rise and take that which he coveted for no one would hand over power; no, power only went to those strong and clever enough to seize it.
Resolved, Loki turned back to that corner of his mind Isabella resided. He reached out to her confusing but pleasant warmth and mentally sighed as it spread throughout his body. As unexpected as Isabella had been, he rather basked in their ill-begotten connection. The foreign sensation of having someone embedded so deeply within him that he need not fear their motives was a dangerous boon. He knew to not underestimate her – her will iron hot against the cold blaze of his apathy – but what a pleasant burn she was. For the time being, he’d relish her fire and let it consume him as he in turn would consume her.
“Loki,” her voice drifted over his skin like a winter breeze. It took him a moment to realize that it was not her whispering in his head but that she’d actually called out to him.
He repressed a shiver of pleasure and opened his eyes, fixing her with a cool, indifferent gaze. To his annoyance, and satisfaction, she was not fooled. As surely as her presence burgeoned within him, he was acutely aware that it was mutual. She had to have felt him reaching for her. Felt his conflicting emotions regarding their union even if, ultimately, a victorious pleasure had won out.
Not responding verbally, he tilted his head in a gesture that bespoke his attention.
She studied him a moment, frowning as though uncertain which of her many questions she should ask first. “Where are we going?” she finally asked, her body subconsciously drifting closer to him. Their bond was young and untried, they would both be compelled to stay close to the other to cultivate it.
Her curiosity had been steadily growing since they’d made their getaway from the helicarrier and her little friends. To her credit, she’d held her tongue for sometime.
“Only concerned with the destination and not our journey, are we?” he taunted.
Her frown took on a glint of a glare. “Do you really need to answer all of my questions with one of your own?”
“How else would I have any fun?” he returned with his most charming smile.
Success. Her glare hardened but she couldn’t hide her flicker of humor. There could be no more hiding between them, not anymore.
Before she could retort, amusing as it would’ve been, Loki gave her another non-answer. “We have affairs to settle before the fruition of my plans.”
“Care to elaborate?” she asked, a pointed brow raised.
A smile flirted around his lips but he remained silent.
“Freakin’ hell, it really is like pulling teeth with you, isn’t it?” she huffed. “I don’t appreciate secrets, Loki.”
Amused again, he gave a lazy, catlike quirk of his head as he studied her. “Then why do you insist on keeping them?” he returned, well aware of some hidden agenda behind her accepting the bond. More so than saving her brother, she sought to manipulate their bond much as he did in order to possibly save Midgard… in order to save Loki from himself. Her moral intentions would almost be adorable if not for the fact that they be spelled a lack of self-preservation that now presented a danger to Loki.
Instead of getting defensive, Bella rolled her eyes and almost smiled again, the slow tendril of her lips more self-effacing than amused. “As if I’m foolish enough to think I could keep anything from the God of Mischief,” she muttered.
“Just foolish enough it would appear,” he returned dryly, the barest hint of insult coloring the observation.
Inching closer yet, Bella gave him a hard look. “Care to explain that?” she demanded.
“Sheathe your claws,” he sneered, vague amusement changing to defensiveness as easily as the wind sifted through the pines. “You know exactly what I mean.”
Considering his words, the fist of anger squeezing her gut loosened and Loki felt the wash of her awareness. “There. You see?” he said, his own anger fizzling to mere vague annoyance. “You can hide your true thoughts from your band of merry misfits – from your precious brother. You can even deny them to yourself. But there is no hiding from me, Isabella. There is nowhere on this world or the next you can go where I will not find you; your every instinct betrays you to me.”
His voice dipped low and rich like thick maple syrup smothering her senses. A skill he’d long cultivated, his silver-tongue turned the near threatening words into a silken caress, beguiling his siren and inviting her in. His brother had always lacked the subtle grace of persuasion, choosing instead to focus his feeble mind on physical strength and his perceived might.
But Loki knew where real power lied, not in the mere strength of his sword arm but in the prowess of his keen words. The subtle grace of manipulation that defeated a foe long before they realized they were under siege.
So he used that strength now, determined to ensnare his siren in his web and at his mercy. Dark yearning unfurled deep in his stomach at the mental image conjured, a hollow ache that cried out to be filled as he longed to fill her.
Isabella’s eyes widened, pupils dilating. She lulled closer to him still, her head bobbing lightly as though she’d imbibed too much of the mulled wine his mother was so fond of serving during feasts. Loki saw the small, pink sliver of her tongue dart out to wet her lips like she was thirsty yet and his own eyes unfocused before narrowing in singular attention on her mouth. Her lips parted and a whisper sigh of longing slipped from her and into him, breathing fire into his chest, scorching through his every limb.
There could be no telling who moved first, which of them narrowed the distance between them until all but a scarce slip of parchment could slip between. His own thoughts and intentions scattered, lost like leaves to the wind crinkling to crumbs.
“We are both betrayed by our nature,” Isabella murmured, her lips barely grazing his own. “And you are just as exposed as I am.”
White hot fury seared through his desire, corrupting it into something vicious. Loki’s jaw clenched and a fist curled at his side. Before thought could even register the motion, his hand was lifted back and poised to fly, a knee-jerk reaction to such blatant insolence and challenge.
She didn’t so much as flinch as his fist soared down, her breath even against his lips as her wide, cinnamon eyes burned, daring him to strike her if he had the gall.
Fingers unfurling at the last minute, Loki’s hand did not pause though it shifted intentions. It flew into her hair and re-curled around her tresses, gripping them on just the edge of too tight as he pulled her impudent mouth to his and sealed his lips over her own. Anger and frustration burned just as bright as arousal. Loki took his vexation out on her supple lips, slipping his wicked tongue into her mouth and silently groaning when she answered it with her own.
They kissed as some waged war, neither willing to cease their assault and both refusing to retreat. Each time he advanced, she surged forward to answer until there was no place left for either of them to go. Had he slipped his hands to her waist and hauled her astride him or had she crawled onto his lap, locking her ankles around his back to pull him to her? Was it his hips that shifted up to press his aching length to the welcoming heat between her legs, separated only by the dense cloth of their clothes? Or had it been her thighs splaying open in invitation as she rolled down on him, her soft breathy moan of wonder falling from her lips like a feather touching ground in the midst of a hurricane…?
Did it even matter?
When he pushed, she pulled and when she gasped, he groaned. Call and response, neither backed down and the fire within his breast setting his heart aflame flared higher as he realized it would always be this way between them. It was not in him to surrender and she was far too stubborn for defeat. Where once he’d been convinced he would value submissiveness above all else in a life mate, a woman malleable and who would always yield to his will, now he knew better and saw the truth he’d always denied to himself.
Of what good could a woman easily swayed and tamed by complacency be to him? A man of his intellect needed challenge, thirsted for the drive of confrontation even so much as he was enraged by it.
What good was lukewarm affection when Loki could reach out and touch fire? True, he ran the risk of being burned and consumed by it, but how delicious the danger was and wasn’t perfection worth a little risk?
Their thundering kissing flowed into a softer embrace, his siren seamlessly transitioning her touch as she tasted his realization. Gripping hands turned gentle, sweeping instead clawing, reverent instead of greedy. Tender lips pulled away and when Loki inhaled, new life was breathed into him.
Fear and uncertainty bloomed somewhere deep in his mind though were largely drowned out when Isabella’s small hand unknotted from his hair and gave a gossamer wings kiss to his cheek.
His lips trembled and his hands fisted her hips, to pull her closer yet or push her away, he could not say which.
“What have you done to me?” he breathed and was instantly furious with himself for giving voice to his uncertainty.
Young though she may be, Isabella’s eyes glittered at him knowingly. Weak, he’d used to taunt her. Her humanity and morality very obvious flaws in the armor she sought to shield herself in. But there in that moment, the truth could not be denied; he was the weak one.
“You’ve done it to yourself, Loki,” she said knowingly.
Weakness turned to anger just as quickly as denial.
Surging to his feet, Isabella tumbled unceremoniously to the floor at the abrupt movement. A twinge of something fluttered in his chest when she looked up at him, her wide eyes tightening in hurt. Just as quickly as he picked up the strong wave of self-loathing radiating within her, it was gone, replaced by the cooler, aloof tones of understanding. Acceptance. As if his actions were not fooling her and she’d decided to call his bluff by refusing to rise to the bait.
Damned if that did not enrage him even more.
He snuffed out that damned twinge of guilt in the face of it, thin lips curling into a sneer it took more effort than he’d like to admit to maintain.
“Get up,” he ordered, looking down his nose at her. “We have affairs to settle.”
“So you’ve hinted at,” she said, ignoring his haughty tone and rising to her feet with more dignity than he would’ve thought her capable of given the situation. “Yet you’ve refused to give me any more information on the matter.”
She refused to look at him and Loki felt the loss of her stare like a jagged stone in his throat. Her idle hands swatted the dirt covering her legs with surprising vehemency, her hurt and anger being taken out on herself rather than him. Fingers itched to reach out and cover hers, stop her furious slapping and pull her to him again to savor the way her body curved into his taller one, but he remained resolute in his stiffness.
Instead, he turned from her and spying his fallen scepter he occupied his hands with retrieving it. The metal was cool beneath his still trembling fingers and the mind stone’s blue glow flared ever so slightly in welcome as he tightened his grip on it.
“I find myself in need of a new army,” he said lightly, finally deigning to give her some information though he refused to turn and look at her as he spoke. He would give her crumbs, just enough to satisfy her curiosity but not enough to risk his ultimate schemes for revenge and power. Midgard would not be spared, not even for her. Especially not for her.
Her confusion and worry clashed into him, her unspoken question clear.
“Your unresolved past may very well prove more useful to me than you know, Isabella,” he said, his light tone belying the words.
His mind was spinning as new plots replaced old. He needed an army and he needed to ensure Isabella’s safety as she now was a reflection of himself. Thanos was as of yet unreachable to him and he would have to handle the Mad Titan with great finesse. He was not a foe to be underestimated and Loki’s revenge on him would have to be meticulously planned to bar any chance of failure.
But there was another threat to his siren, one much closer and easier handled. A threat he had not forgotten even if the red-headed parasite had made her escape…
Thor had been right to warn his new friends to be wary of talking about Isabella’s affairs in front of him while she suffered through her icy change. Silent and unassuming he may have appeared, Loki had been far from cowed and was no fool. Information was a powerful weapon and he had gained much of it from those unwitting fools.
Isabella needed to be kept safe and he needed an army.
It was time to head to Volterra and see to both.
Today was a day of great victory for Aro.
For years he had coveted his old friend’s talented coven. Carlisle Cullen had intrigued him from the very start of their acquaintance. A strangely moral vampire, Carlisle had equally amazed and amused him. There was no denying the vampire’s control and compassion but Aro had always marveled over why he would even desire to maintain it when he would always be on the fringes of humanity, forever barred from the life he so coveted.
It wasn’t so much the man’s refusal to drink human blood that had confounded Aro nor even the constant temptation to it inflicted by Carlisle’s profession dealing with their natural food source. No, Aro had always wondered over the man’s willingness to taunt himself with what he will never have. Living his life in service to those he could never join though it was what his little dead heart yearned for the most.
The effort and indignity of such a life Carlisle had chosen for he and his little family was exhausting. Living in a constant charade and suppression, wanting nothing more than to reclaim their humanity while simultaneously being subjected to the humans and forced to witness that which they will never have… Why in the world would any vampire deign to exist in such torment?
“Value the humans as much as you please,” Aro had told Carlisle many years ago when the vampire prepared to end his stay with the Volturi coven. “Drink whatever blood you choose, it matters very little to me. But know this, old friend – the existence you seek does not exist without a cost. Be prepared to pay the price when the time comes.”
That time had finally arrived.
When the nomad Victoria had filed suit against his old friend for the loss of her mate, Aro had been dubious. It was not like Carlisle and his pseudo family to resort to violence no matter the threat. Ever the peacekeeper, Aro thought amusedly.
One touch was all it took to confirm the accusation and lay bear another sin of the Cullen Coven. They had brought forth a human girl into their fold, exposing the existence of their kind and knowingly broken their most sacred law.
And they had abandoned her on her own with such dangerous knowledge.
It was unacceptable not to mention terribly cruel of the self-proclaimed humanitarians. How the girl had survived alone in the world they had brought her in, where she was woefully outmatched and had no means to ensure her survival… Even Aro was not so cruel.
Kill or be turned. That was the law and that is what he now sought to uphold.
Caius was particularly tickled when Felix, Demetri and Jane had arrived with the Cullen Coven in tow, heads bowed in guilt even while their backs remained stiff with defiance. Poor little Cullens knew Aro had well and truly caught them but fought to maintain their pious nature.
Carlisle had been silenced when he’d tried to speak, Aro having no patience for the man’s philosophical debates. He sought the truth now and was eager to sentence the so-called family to the judgment they all knew Aro had already reached.
In turn, he touched the hands of every member of the family and with each press of his finger to the back of their hands, their fates were sealed.
Silence had hung in the hall like a guillotine poised to fall.
“You should have heeded my words all those years ago, old friend,” he’d told Carlisle.
Carlisle slumped, his hand squeezing his mate’s in false comfort.
No other words were needed. They all knew he relished this victory over them, particularly as they’d been the ones to damn themselves.
Before a formal sentencing, however, Aro had been determined to handle an unforeseen complication. The girl. Isabella Swan. She’d all but disappeared from the Earth, a ghost he half question even existed. But if what he had seen in the minds of the Cullens and the nomad was true, Aro knew the girl had the potential to be a powerful shield upon her change, rendering all those with gifts opposed to the Volturi rule powerless.
He had to have her. He would have her.
The mind-reader had hissed like an adorable kitten at Aro’s thoughts, but he’d paid the boy no mind. He’d been the true catalyst for their current predicament, after all, and if the boy was honest with himself he’d accept that he was the true villain in their tale.
You reap what you sow, young Edward, Aro had thought at the boy, amused when the hissing turned into defiant growls.
So Aro remained, determined to find the allusive Isabella Swan and eager to sentence the Cullens into indentured servitude to his coven. Once the dust settled, the Volturi’s power would be resolute and unquestioned.
If only he could find the girl…
But upon embarking upon his search, he found the girl impossible to pin down. With the death of her parents she’d all but scattered to the wind and Aro’s frustration grew each day with their lack of success. The only silver lining was the utter horror on the faces of his new prisoners when he’d let slip Isabella’s recent history.
What had they expected, though? Leaving a revenge thirsty mate alive and abandoning their most vulnerable member, the one they’d have for a mate, daughter, sister respectively? They’d practically invited disaster to fall upon the girl as surely as if they’d torn her parents to shreds themselves.
Eventually their incessant lamenting became too much even for Marcus, the most sedated and detached of his brothers, so Aro had called upon Alec to silence them since they could not control themselves. Really, his respect for Carlisle had dissolved the more he saw him interact with his coven members. If the man could not control those under him, then Aro would do it for him.
When Demetri had finally gotten a pin on the lovely Isabella, Aro had been ecstatic. Once she was on the tracker’s radar, there could be no escape and her accrual within his guard was assured.
Turns out, his sense of victory had been premature.
Few of the guards sent to retrieve the girl had come back, telling tale of the one called Iron Man appearing and battling them with surprising ease for a human. Almost as if he’d had inside knowledge of their physical make and had prepared specifically for them. For all their superious strength and senses, it was a very clear remainder that vampires were not, in fact, immortal.
Humans and their technology. They were a marvel to be sure, but Aro was even more convinced of the danger posed to him and his kind as the centuries progressed and the humans crawled themselves out of the Dark Ages.
A knock interrupted his musings.
“Enter,” he bid quietly.
Quiet footsteps heralded the slim form of a woman he well knew, not personally, but with the intimacy of many other’s thoughts.
“Hello,” her calm voice washed over him like a winter breeze. “I hear you’ve been looking for me…?”
Belatedly, Aro registered the slow, solemn thump of a beating heart and smiled.
“Bellissima Isabella,” he all but purred, hungry red eyes drinking in the form of the human he’d long sought.
A day of great victory, indeed.
(A/N): Really hope you enjoyed this chapter since I know the wait was terribly long… Let me know what you thought and don’t forget to check out Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Superhero Fest going on now!