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13 November 2015 @ 03:16 pm
The Ice Demon and the Spider 5/?  


Natasha listened and didn't attempt to chase after the assailant. She'd been right; the bait had been too obvious and their opponent too smart for that.

It was her first time hearing his voice for herself on her earpiece. His accent was English with very little local influence, as if he'd gone to school in England or at least spent several years there. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, he seemed determined to get SHIELD out of Arendelle. Did he dislike foreigners in general, or did he have a disagreement with SHIELD in particular?

She made a mental note to request some background on any individuals who had run up against SHIELD in the last fifteen years in Britain. Perhaps their target was one of them, and that was why Fury was so willing to let this one play out, even with the danger to their own team.

But the target wasn't returning to the square for awhile, so she paid her bill and left the cafe.

In her hotel room, she flopped on the bed and played the video back. She'd set it to record in Ward's direction, while she faced the other way. Their target had made Jones' position and had known Ward couldn't identify him, so he likely had been near Ward at some point. He hadn't done anything to give it away to Jones, who'd been watching, but since Jones had just been caught on an empty rooftop, Natasha wasn't impressed with his observational skills.

She kept her finger on the fast forward, slowing only when younger adult men – since that had not been an old voice – walked in front of Ward's bench. Eliminating those too short or too fat, left six possibles and she didn't think any of them were the one.

Frowning, she ran the video again. Maybe he'd made Jones before she'd started recording. She fast forwarded through Ward sitting on the bench, pretending to read a book, but then stopped and ran it back. The pedestrian had just hesitated.

Not in front of Ward, but behind him, at the water's edge.

Male, tall and slender. She zoomed in on the paused image; it lost definition and he was silhouetted by the sun, but she could see dark clothes and hair, contrasting with a gleam of light skin.

It's you, isn't it? She examined the image and nodded, knowing it was.

She played back the scene again, concentrating on that passer-by. He had an easy saunter of long legs that had hesitated when he'd been directly behind Ward, and he had turned his head in the direction of the buildings a few steps later, on the edge of frame, as something caught his eye. That was when he'd made Jones.

She paused it as his face turned toward her, but the backlight was too strong to make out much.

Well played putting the sun behind you. You're good, but you're not perfect. You hesitated. And I bet you hesitated with Jones. You went up there to kill him and you hit him instead.

Did he fear escalation? At the least it suggested he didn't want to draw the attention of local law enforcement, who might be willing to look past an over-excited self-appointed defender, but not murder.

Maybe he was law enforcement. Former military or intelligence training, now in police work. She'd have to look into it, especially now that she had some idea what he looked like.

The question was whether he was willing to escalate if SHIELD didn't leave, or if he would be content to harass until he provoked SHIELD into a response, either to retaliate himself or perhaps to have them deported if they stepped out of line.

She heard Sitwell's report, "Jones has a concussion, but he'll live. Assailant got the scope, knife, and a clip. Not the rifle itself, thank God. And his wallet. Why does he keep stealing the wallets? Just to piss me off?"

She smiled at that, because maybe the reason was simply to inconvenience them.

Either way, he'd won his little victory over Jones, but he'd also given away some of his identity. He'd slip again, or get overconfident, and she'd find him.

* * *

Loki presented himself to the shop as Sophie and Helga closed up shop. He presented his bottle of wine, hoping the gesture was correct, and smiled at Helga as they were introduced properly. Helga frowned at him, disapproving that her mother had adopted this stray, but her natural curiosity soon asserted itself and they were having a lively conversation about her school.

At their townhouse, Sophie unlocked the door and invited him inside. As she and her daughter passed within, Loki watched as both reached to touch a round, flat white object affixed to the wall inside the door. It was a reflexive gesture as they passed inside, and apparently one of long standing, but not a tradition Loki recalled.

He paused to look at it more closely. It was, in fact, a small white dinner plate, plain except for a splotch of purple paint. He frowned, until understanding dawned: it was meant to be a plum.

A plum on a plate. The grin spread irrepressible across his face. Of course.

Helga came back to see what had caught his attention. "You don't have one?" she asked.

"Not in Genovia," he answered. "What does it mean?"

She shrugged. "For the Ice Demon. We put a real plum out at Christmas, but the rest of the time it's something we do to thank him for preserving Arendelle."

"Why does Arendelle think he helped anything? A lot of people died because of him," Loki couldn't resist saying.

Helga turned shocked eyes on him. "Because of him? Why would you say that?"

"That is what I heard," Loki said. "That some blame him for bringing the attack here. Or not doing more to defend it."

"Maybe some do?" she said. "Nobody I've heard. I think most people realize he was probably less than the stories say. The Ice Demon was just a man and a story, not a real supernatural being. It's the twenty-first century, I think we're less gullible now," Helga said with charming sincerity, and Loki devoutly wished for his powers so he could show her real magic. She went on, "But it wasn't his fault the Nazis invaded. Only stupid people would believe that; the Nazis invaded everybody. Besides, Queen Birgitte always said he saved her -- there's a recording at the museum where you can hear her say it. Everybody knows he was one of the Howling Commandos and he and Captain America gave their lives to end the Red Skull's bombs. We learned that in school. He was a hero, whatever else he was."

He found himself without anything to say. He'd lived with the spectre of their hatred for so long this absolution didn't seem real. She was so certain in her generous assessment. Deluded perhaps. Victim of Birgitte's post-war propaganda.

"Come in," Sophie beckoned him. The flat was small but comfortable and spotless. He saw big boots, for men's feet, but out of the way as if not often used.

Helga noticed the direction of his gaze. "Dad works on one of the platforms. So he's gone months at a time."

"Two more weeks and he's home," Sophie said, cheerfully. "We're going to our house up north for the rest of the summer."

Helga made a face, lacking in enthusiasm, as her mother bustled into the kitchen.

"You are not fond of the idea?" he asked.

"I'm glad to see Dad, but it's so boring," she complained with a heavy sigh.

"Do you good to get off that phone of yours," Sophie chided. "Luke, have a seat, please."

Helga ended up showing him the internet on her phone, as it gradually came out that he knew nothing about it. She teased and rolled her eyes a lot at his ignorance, but was a good teacher. It was a fairly simple system of data storage and retrieval, but definitely a step in advancement since the war.

He was about to ask to look up Shield, but then Sophie called them to dinner.

In the dining room he noticed a miniature table and chair sitting on the sideboard-- the symbolic empty place at the table. So that had spread as well.

For a moment, the temptation was very strong to reveal that he was the one that was for, but he decided it wasn't really about him. They were admiring a phantom, a hero, someone who had never really existed. The Savior of Arendelle was like the Loki of the Eddas, a figure of legend but not him anymore, if it had ever been more than an unfortunate pairing of names in the first place.

So he kept his silence and glanced at the tiny chair, amused by the idea of how small a being would have to be to sit there. Really he ought to be a offended that he was expected to sit there and he should have words with whoever designed it.

It was a lovely dinner with dishes similar to those he remembered and Sophie watched pleased as he devoured everything. "You've eaten it all before?"

"A little different, but yes. It was delicious, and reminded me of better times," he answered, thinking of dinners with Elsa and Anna.

Sophie smiled. "That is a great compliment, Luke."

After a pleasant evening, Sophie invited him to come back to the shop and she would pay him to restock for her, and he left them. Now that he knew how to use the internet, he pick-pocketed a tourist for her phone and accessed the wireless – the wifi – at one of the cafes to do a little research.

SHIELD.

It was mostly an American organization, now under the aegis of the "World Council", an international organization formed by treaty. It sounded terribly one-sided, with all the power being American, and Loki glowered at the screen, understanding the unbalance was not to Arendelle's favor. It seemed to depend upon the self-described benevolence of SHIELD's intentions, and Loki was far too suspicious and cynical of humans to believe it.

But they were not openly evil, as Hydra had been, and they did have a legitimate purpose in investigating where the Bifrost had hit, since they had interest in rare technologies and "unusual events."

He put his chin on his hand, thinking. Maybe they were not the enemy. But at the same time, did he want them poking at his secrets? As Midgard advanced, the world would draw attention from other worlds beyond, announcing themselves present and ready.

So they should stop running around, sniffing at things they didn't understand.

He should discourage them from the Bifrost, then. That was his next target. The people were immaterial, they were only here because of the Bifrost mark; if he could damage it to uselessness perhaps they would go away.

Course decided, he turned the phone off and put it into his pocket to keep it for later.

Back in his little room at the university, he lined up the bullets from Jones' gun on the desk and started to take them apart to get at the explosive powder within.

(part six)