Chapter 20: Unsuspected Harmony
Consciousness poised inwards, Loki used every ounce of his considerable power to focus on their connection. Though he remained along the fringes of the town known as Volterra, every part of his being was centered on the warmth he alone could feel emanating deep within the heart of the city. His Isabella – trapped within the lion’s den he himself had sent her to.
Vulnerable, the thought rose unbidden as he monitored her so closely he could see through her own mind’s eye the gluttonous greed in that so-called king’s red gaze as it swept over her; could feel the barely repressed shudder of revulsion Isabella had in response to it.
The parasite coveted what was his. Longed to claim his siren as his own.
For the first time, he admitted to himself the true strength of her call not only to himself, but others as well. True, he’d witnessed it well enough whilst she’d been among those meddling so-called heroes, but apparently even kings submitted to their desire to claim her. There would always be someone lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce; ready to take her from him. The realization was staggering in the simultaneous possessiveness and eagerness it sparked. Irrevocably bound together as they were, he could at least be assured life with Isabella would be anything but dull.
As it was, Isabella’s discomfort would be seen to soon enough. The vampires would bow to him and Loki would have an army once more. It would be trickier now that he could not rely on those the mind stone had claimed – clearly the Mad Titan had somehow managed to corrupt the mind-spell. Clever bit of magic, that. Now, Loki would have two foes to defeat, but if he played the game right, he could set them against each other instead. Let the Midgard heroes do his dirty work and take care of Thanos’s minions, then he could sweep in with the Cold Ones, steal the victory from them before the dust had even settled.
The scheme had been simple enough when hatched. He would conquer the vampire kings who so lusted after what was his and claim their guard as his own. But here now at the first step of execution, he found himself stymied and feeling uncertain in such a way he had not felt since being a young boy.
In hindsight, it was all very understandable and should have been anticipated. Their bond was newly forged, but possessed all the depth and strength of any weapon produced within the heart of Nidavellir. Unbeatable and unbreakable. Intellectually, he well knew there was nigh no other connection to rival what they now had. That very fact appealed to his vanity, even. They would always be more than those around him. A passive corner of his mind not obsessively analyzing their connection and monitoring Isabella’s well-being wondered if he would ever grow used to these new and damnably strong emotions the wretched woman spawned within his breast. For his sanity’s sake, he hoped so, but it was doubtful.
Even at the thought, that unfamiliar swell of feeling surged up within him again and his body tightened as he violently resisted the urge to go to her, to see her with his own physical eyes and not merely through the metaphysical sight he now compulsively applied.
“Have you fallen so far you can no longer recognize your own emotions as they set upon you?”
At the voice, Loki’s entire being froze, his fanatical monitoring of Isabella flickering until his attention wavered and broke away from her.
His head tilted to the side and when he saw her, his eyes fell to the ground, a telling admission of guilt he’d long since been able to quell when she’d set upon him with that particular gaze of knowing.
“Mother,” he breathed, somehow entirely not surprised by her presence.
Frigga was not truly there, of course. With the destruction of the Rainbow Bridge, she did not have the means of true travel to avail upon. But Loki had learned his tricks well from her. The sort of astral projection she’d taught him was difficult to maintain even across short distances, but that she had the strength to do so across the realms left him entirely nonplussed.
“My son,” she said, her tone equal parts censure and warmth.
Again, his eyes locked to the dirt.
“You’ve known from the start, haven’t you?”
He did not need to clarify his meaning, such was the way it had always been between them. Frigga had known even as he’d let go and fallen, as he severed his ties with Asgard, that he’d not perished as all others had assumed. Perhaps she had known what he was going to do before even he himself had.
“A mother knows her son well,” she acknowledged.
He turned to her fully, anger curled his lips though he managed not to sneer at her sentiment. Barely. “But you are not my mother. Nor am I your son,” he spat his venom upon her, guilt twisting at his heart as he did so.
His connection to Isabella flared and he could feel her tentatively reaching out to him in response to the sudden strength of his emotions. Concern bloomed from her, and he scoffed lightly as he gave her the mental equivalent of an eye-roll.
Even so, it was a strange feeling knowing she fretted over his well-being. The sensation dangerously heady.
He could hear her exasperated sigh in response as clearly as though she was standing right in front of him. Her attention wavered from him and returned to Aro who was insisting he show her to a room for the evening.
Perfect, he would call upon her soon and they would see to her – now his – vampires forthwith.
“You are and always will be my son, Loki,” Frigga said, her tone plain as her shimmering form moved beside him.
When he looked at her again, his eyes stung at the sheer beauty of her. Her form was vibrant and looked solid enough, but it hurt more than he was willing to admit knowing that should he reach out to her, his hand would pass through her own.
A more perfect metaphor for his life could not be found even if he had set out to try.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“Such a silly question,” she smiled, giving a gentle shake of her head as she regarded him in undisguised maternal amusement. “I have always been there for you in your hour of need.”
“I do not understand,” he confessed, his mind wandering back to Isabella in an attempt to distract himself from the lump steadily growing at the base of his throat.
“Feigning ignorance does not become you, Loki,” she chided. “Such games work well on others, but you have never used them with me. Now is not the time to start.”
“You instigated the soul bond, did you not?” he accused, switching gears completely as he turned to face her.
Her expression remained remarkably placid even as he towered over her, piercing her with a fierce glare he so often suffered others, but seldom had occasion to turn on her.
“I did,” she breathed. “You left me little choice.”
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” he hissed out.
Again, the look Frigga favored him with clearly bespoke her thoughts on his foolishness at such a question. “Loki,” she smiled, her look only a touch patronizing as her head tilted back to study him. “You have always required balance to prevent you from toppling into your vices. For a long while, Thor served you well in this manner, but with your perceived betrayal from him, I knew you would no longer heed your brother. No longer heed my own counsel.”
“I do not need a keeper,” he scoffed, the very insinuation an insult.
“Do you not?” she countered, and Loki fought the urge to flinch as her hand lifted to hover above his heart. “Then why have you accepted one? Why has your heart chosen to embrace the bond your mind still rallies against?”
Loki closed his eyes.
“And do not misconstrue, my boy,” she continued. “A keeper? Mayhaps a bit. But that is not what prompted me to spark the bond. That is not what I sought for you.”
He swallowed, his throat drier than usual. “Then what? If not someone to tame me, then what purpose have you chained me to another for?”
“Acceptance,” she breathed the word, her eyes smiling up at him even as he spied the sadness she sought to hide. “Understanding. These are things you have always longed for and yet, despite my best efforts, I failed in providing them. I have failed as your mother. I knew no other way to correct my oversight. You deserve to be happy, Loki.”
He shuddered, shame filling him at her words. For all his anger, he now realized not one drop of it had been reserved for her.
“And do not lie to yourself, Loki,” Frigga said firmly even as her voice grew thin. His eyes snapped open and he saw her image beginning to flicker, her eyes tightening as she clearly fought to maintain control to maintain her presence. “I provided the chains, but it was the both of you who cheerfully latched them around the other. So different and yet, so very alike the two of you are.”
The desire to reach out and hold her was harder to quell at the sight of her fading and he knew then – his birth and true lineage aside – Frigga would always remain the mother of his heart.
“You seek greatness in order to prove your worth to all those you believe doubt you, but in doing so you fail to see the truth, my son.”
“And what is that?”
Frigga smiled. “Greatness already dwells within you, dear boy. You just need the proper incentive to let it out.”
“Isabella,” he breathed, following her train of thought.
And if he thought her smile had been blinding before, then the one she gave now put the most radiant and brilliant star in all the realms to shame even as her image grew fainter.
“Come home, my son. Bring your mate home.”
With a rising sense of unease and swelling horror, Loki realized there was a growing part within him that wanted to do exactly that.
“I-” his throat closed and he took a halting, telling step away from her.
Shaking her head, Frigga smiled again, unconcerned by his apparent refusal. Loki watched, the sting of tears to his eyes as she finally drifted away from view like a ghost that had never been there.
“Stubborn,” her airy voice breathed on the wind moments after she disappeared. “Just like your father.”
For a moment, Loki was suspended under a tsunami of emotion, unable to pull himself out from under the swell. He didn’t know how long he stood there, helplessly drowning before he was able to rise above the tide. He gasped a breath, snapping out of it as he gave a yell of anger and frustration. His arms flexed at his sides as he released his impotent rage in an outpouring of magic that decimated the already barren landscape around him.
He lamented the moment of weakness, the lack of control, but there was no denying how the weight upon his chest eased at the release. No denying how even as his limbs yet trembled, he could now at last bear the brunt of his emotions, such as they were.
As it had earlier, he felt his bond to Isabella stir to life as she tentatively reached out to soothe him in his moment of need once more… And instead of the mental scoff he’d given her before, he allowed her presence to flood into him, accepting the warmth of her as she circled around him in the facsimile of a hug.
He did not return the embrace, but the tense line of his shoulders slowly eased and he seemed to sigh into her. He would never admit it to her, could hardly speak the truth of it to himself, but he knew Frigga was right. His priorities had shifted and it was largely stubbornness and residual resentment that propelled his foolish schemes forward now.
Slowly, he turned and began walking into Volterra. Deep within himself he still hovered at a crossroads, but ultimately he knew it hardly mattered which path he chose.
All roads would lead him to his siren, in the end.
When he came for her, she felt the difference within him immediately.
His presence had seeped into her being and the sensation made her mind itch. It left her with the feeling that an earthquake had rocked the foundation of their world several feet to the left and then jerked it back again, but when it settled, everything was just slightly out of place. Nothing fit exactly the same.
She didn’t know what had happened to him while waiting on the outskirts of Volterra for her to infiltrate the castle, but the tang of his emotions had been unusually strong in his absence. Even in this, the fledgling stages of their sealed bond, he’d been rather apt at watering down the bulk of his feeling so she would be unable to truly sense them. She knew what he felt well enough on the surface – anger, lust, fury – but she knew them as if reading flashcards he occasionally held up to her and he often flew from one to the next so quickly she could barely keep up.
Her own feelings had been rather volatile, too, since he’d informed her of their destination and new task, so perhaps that had given him the edge to hide so easily from her.
“Volterra?” she’d hissed. “Are you mad?!”
Loki had grinned. “Quite possibly.”
She’d spent the bulk of their travels to the Italian town trying to dissuade him from this course, much to his amusement and frustration alike. When they’d come to the hill overlooking the deceptively quiet town where she was to leave him and proceed on her own, she’d turned to him.
“How could you ask this of me? Knowing all that I’ve been through?” she whispered, resigned acceptance making her heart ache.
It was this admitted defeat that finally moved him.
Towering over her, Loki reached a surprisingly gentle hand to her chin, tilting her head back to hold his gaze. The touch of his skin to hers was distracting and already soothing away her fears.
“We are both bound to our pasts. They have made us who we are today,” he murmured, the words vibrating deep in his chest so profoundly she felt the weight of them against her own where she pressed against him. “I will free you from yours, Isabella, even as I harness it to guarantee our future.”
“They’ll be there, you know,” she confessed, the words thin and brittle.
How could they not be? Laurent and Victoria had brought their case to the Volturi so surely the first thing the kings would have done was bring in the offending coven for questioning.
“I suspect,” he confirmed.
“Victoria too, likely,” she added, and his fingers tensed against her jaw in a telling sign of anger. It made sense that she would’ve been rounded up in Germany. Everything had happened so fast that night, but Laurent had implied Victoria was be there alongside the guards. The Volturi would have wanted someone to blame for their failure and she doubted Victoria had escaped their wrath. “My entire past, somewhere in that castle waiting to confront me.”
“You deserve this confrontation. It is my gift,” he said.
She flinched as though he’d struck her. Betrayal was warm and hot in her throat as she fought tears. “A gift?” she spat.
“Until you face the ghosts of your past, you will never be free of them. They will follow and haunt you in this life and the next,” his long fingers gripped her chin tighter and lifting her head back to him once more. His eyes were hard, but not unkind. “Confront your vampires and let them face the havoc they sowed the day they crossed you. I know you have longed for this.”
He was right, of course. How he could be so right regarding her own history and so willfully blind with his own was staggering. She’d long yearned to bring the Cullens to justice for the pain they had brought her – to force them to answer for the loss of her parents. Her beautiful, innocent parents who had deserved better from their daughter. But she was scared, scared of confronting them and of what she would do once she did. Scared because she did not trust herself to remember what she’d always told Loki – that there was a fine line between vengeance and justice.
Sensing her conflict, he sighed. “Isabella. Do not be so quick to think the worst of me.”
“How can I not, when that’s what you insist on showing the world?” she countered, but she knew he understood she saw more than that. They both knew the true currents of the other – there could be no hiding that they each were more than what was presented to the world.
“I don’t want to do this, Loki,” she continued, the confession hardly a surprise. Reaching up, she grabbed his hand and pressed it more firmly to her cheek. “Please don’t make me do this.”
“I must,” he said. “You must.”
And so she had.
She’d marched straight to Aro’s office, slipping past all others undetected thanks to some of Loki’s handy spellwork, and channeling said bondmate – and a bit of Natasha as well if she was honest – Bella had managed to charm the king. She’d played coy with him, giving just enough information away to stroke not only his ego, but also his sick obsession with her (which quickly became apparent), guaranteeing her safety amongst his people. For the moment, at least.
The whole process had made her ill to the stomach. The way his eyes had unashamedly roved over her, and having to act oblivious to his dark intentions had left a slimy feeling crawling over her skin. He thought her to be charmingly clueless, she knew – inferior to him in every way. She doubted the king knew anything of her recent history, certainly not anything about her ties to the Avengers and Loki.
She was not the human he had been led to believe her to be. Not anymore.
He’d escorted her to a fancy suite of private chambers, amused by her slow pace throughout the halls and the way her eyes flickered nervously to the other vampires they’d passed. Their baleful and thirsty eyes had followed her. They resented her already, selfish creatures she knew vampires to be, and they would not suffer her presence long before someone snapped and shit hit the proverbial fan.
“Pay them no heed, my dear,” Aro tsked lightly, his pale hand placidly patting her own that rested over his arm as he escorted her. “You are here as my invited guest and as such shall not be harmed. I’m afraid our castle is in a bit of a disarray. Some of our guard crossed paths with the one known as Iron Man and our numbers have diminished far more than many are comfortable with. You humans and your technology – such a marvel.”
Volterra was beyond creepy, Bella decided, even as she internally smiled at knowing Tony had dealt such a blow to their ranks. She’d have to thank him later.
Locked up in her room, she still had the sensation of hungry eyes roving over her; still heard the deep inhales of vampires sampling her unique scent as she walked the halls.
Loki was half-mad to attempt this scheme of his, and she had to be worse for following him into it. But his silver tongue was hard to resist, as were the soft caressing touches he’d applied to her skin.
Maybe she was the mad one, then. Mad to have sealed their bond and mad to have so easily caved to his plans. Mad to trust that he would allow no harm to come to her amongst these vampires. Regardless, though, she did trust him. Inconceivably and irrevocably. The look that he had given her right before they’d parted, like she was some sort of gift he knew he didn’t deserve, hadn’t even thought to ask for, but was determined to keep regardless. It was a contradiction, she knew, but it was positively intoxicating.
He was danger wrapped up in the most alluring package she had ever seen and he’d been offered, of his own volition now, to only her. He was hers to have and hers to love. Because a growing part of her did love him. How could she not? How could she be bound so tightly and see the absolute truth of him and not, at least a little bit, love him.
This love of hers is what was driving her insane. It had pulled her into Loki’s war – his war with himself and his misplaced war to gain Midgard – and put her at odds with herself. She knew she had to stand by her convictions and stop Loki, but the world wasn’t black and white to her anymore. Loki had come into her life and bathed everything in vivid, beautiful, and confusing color and she knew she had to stop him just as much as she had to save him.
And then as she languished there in the castle while waiting for him and fighting with herself, she’d felt Loki’s emotions rise up and pummel her – such affection and sorrow. Anger and resentment. Always at conflict with himself. A contradiction that shouldn’t exist – for how could someone exist in such a state of constant upheaval? How could someone embrace the depths of the darkness within himself and not go mad?
It made her heart ache for him. Not in pity, because she knew how that would enrage him and make everything worse. Not pity, no, but she had felt such a strong swell of empathy. She, too, knew what it was like to live in a constant struggle of opposing emotions. Her path had gotten easier with Clint and the rest helping her, but who did Loki have?
He had no one but her.
So mindful of the rebuff from earlier, she’d tentatively tapped into their connection and reached out to him again. She was still learning the intricacies of what bound them together, but communicating this way came as naturally as breathing. Not with words, but just her presence. She’d simply wanted to wrap her arms around him. To take a moment and just be with him. No words, no arguments, no expectations. Just be.
And he’d let her. In a telling move that she knew he would later categorize as a moment of weakness, he’d held himself still and let her surround him in a metaphysical hug that had soothed them both.
It was not long after that he came to her at last, slipping into her room with nary a sound and the sensation of their emotional embrace still lingering around them. Something had changed, she knew it with an insight that struck her as an absolute fact. When he finally appeared, she’d sensed the new cracks that had split the foundation of his convictions and knew their future was that much more unsteady because of them.
She knew better than to acknowledge this new conflict within him, though.
Instead, she’d simply turned away from the window she’d been staring out and faced him. His expression was placid and unreadable, his posture tall and arrogant. He looked as he always had to her – strong and capable, and so handsome it was overbearing.
And yet at the same time, so very broken.
Her heart had been unable to take the sight. Something had happened while he’d been on the outskirts of the town lying in wait, but she would not ask. Would not put him into the position of feeling like he had to lie to her, even as he continued to lying to himself. Instead, she’d crossed the distance between them, for he would not deign to come to her. That would be an admission, after all; that would be yielding, and her so-called king would not ever be seen bowing to another’s whims. Probably not especially hers. At least, not yet. They were not there yet.
Whenever they stood before each other she was always struck by his height, which was silly because he was a Frost Giant, of all things, so of course he would be tall. She knew he was pleased by their height difference, enjoying the way she had to tilt her head back to gaze at him and the way he could look down at her. It wasn’t so insulting, because she knew that was just the way he was – domineering and stubborn. Confident in a way that straddled the line to arrogance, hopping from one to the other with the ease of one playing hopscotch.
Together again, she decided not to waste time with questions or talking, and simply gave in to the urge to hug him as she’d so desperately wanted to earlier. Her cheek rested against his chest and she could hear his heart beating, steady and sure against her. Finally, her body unwound and she could feel herself start to relax for the first time since she’d entered that godforsaken castle.
There were no expectations on her part, but her relief when his arms slowly, as though not entirely sure of the movement, came up and pressed her more firmly into him was staggering. Her eyes closed against the pricks of tears and finally, now that he was safe from even her gaze, his head fell down in submission to rest atop of hers.
They were on the cusp of war, neither knowing which side they stood on anymore, but for this brief moment they stood suspended in unsuspected harmony with each other.
(A/N): Thanks again for hanging in there after such a long hiatus…