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13 November 2014 @ 09:06 am
The Ice Demon and the Hydra, part 5  

The hunt began in Greece. Allied Command wanted Germany to look to the Mediterranean, so this would be a good diversion, and the other Hydra sites were difficult to reach as a major storm blew across the north.

They landed at Malta to prepare, and Steve found himself hurried past ancient ruins to the local HQ. In an interior room, he joined Colonel Phillips, Agent Carter, Colonel Mulaney, and Lukas around a map of Greece.

Mulaney, it turned out, was in contact with British troops on the ground in Greece - those men having blown up a major bridge on the rail line in the country in one of the most dramatic acts of sabotage Steve had heard of.

"The bridge was here," Colonel Mulaney took a pointer and indicated a spot on the large map spread over the table. "It was their main route from the Balkans to Athens."

"Thermopylae," Lukas murmured. "Does no one learn in two thousand years?"

Mulaney gave him a surprised look. "You know history?"

"Am I the only one?" Lukas retorted.

Mulaney cleared his throat. "In any case, this is the only standard gauge track in the entire country - if they're transporting material from the Balkans, the factory has to be on the main line."

"Or near it," Peggy observed. "We have seen them build their own track."

"Yes, of course," Mulaney agreed with a nod. "But the Greek resistance would see significant rail building. They are well-organized, if not overly unified. In any case, this factory you're looking for only makes sense to me if it was meant to create weapons to send south. But after Montgomery beat Rommel at El Alamein, and the rail line was cut, their production can only go back north. Which seems tremendously inefficient - are you certain it is still in operation?"

"Of course, it is operating," Lukas interrupted. "This is not for the Reich. Schmidt is stock-piling for his own forces."

Mulaney was stunned. "He's in rebellion against Berlin? Doesn't that help us? Can't we negotiate--"

"No," Lukas declared in a tone so forbidding they all fell silent, "you cannot negotiate with a mortal who believes himself a god."

More diplomatic in tone, Steve added, "He's right, Colonel. Schmidt is no better than Hitler. Maybe worse. We can't negotiate with him."

"And these weapons he's making," Phillips added, shaking his head, "have to be stopped. They're nothing you've ever seen before."

Mulaney nodded understanding. "Understood. Well, my men on the ground report that the rail traffic continues south as far as it can and ends up about here." He pointed again to another point north and west of the destroyed rail bridge. "There's a facility here. It was a stone quarry, but appears to be much more now." He flipped through some papers and pulled out a hand-drawn map. "This is from verbal reports -- a narrow valley, hills with low cover, and the factory itself inside the valley with a rail spur."

"Parachute in. Meet up with your men on the ground," Phillips said pullling the basic map in front of him and then pushing it to Carter as if it was mostly useless. "Blow it to hell."

"My men there, with the local resistance, could take care of it," Mulaney offered.

"No, Colonel," Phillips said. "Your men have no idea what Hydra is - they aren't the usual SS that SOE deals with. SSR is tasked with this. Right, Captain?"

"Yes, sir," Steve agreed promptly. "We'll take care of it."

That evening, as the squad wasn't due to depart for a full twenty-four hours while Mulaney contacted his men in Greece, the men took advantage of the unexpected break, smoking their cigarettes and drinking beer after dinner.

Loki, who had no interest in cigarettes, drinking, or being social, wandered away to go up in the old tower to check out the view. As the night crept in and the stars came out, it seemed as if the war was far away. The moon came up, to shine on the sea.

Rogers found him. "Hey, Lukas. You weren't at supper."

"I ate elsewhere," Loki answered. Now that he'd recovered his strength, the humans needed the food more than he did.

Rogers glanced at him, as if he guessed that was a lie, but didn't press. Instead, he looked out at the view himself. "Looking for the open air?"

Turning his eyes back to the sea, Loki nodded. After a moment, he added, "If I look at the harbor just right, it could be Arendelle. With the moon on the water and the causeway to the castle just to that side."

"Sounds pretty."

"It's a lovely place. Or was, before the war."

"It will be again."

Loki glanced at him and couldn't help a smile. "Such confidence. You remind me of my brother."

"You have a brother?" Rogers asked and smiled back. "Why, I think that's the first personal information you've offered, Lukas, I feel flattered."

Loki rolled his eyes. "As if I know that much about you, Rogers."

He snorted. "Bucky would gleefully tell you anything you wanted to know, even if I wasn't an open book. You just don't ask."

Loki had to admit that was true. He didn't ask, because he didn't actually want to know. He knew too much about these men - these mortals - already. But he couldn't say that he expected them all to die, and answered simply, "I'm used to being alone, Rogers."

Rogers frowned, looking concerned. "You don't have to be. You're part of the team. You can be with us more than just to eat and sleep." His frown deepened. "Except you don't. I don't seem to need a lot of sleep, but I do need to eat. But you give away half your meals."

Loki grimaced, not having realized anyone was paying attention. "No sense in it going to waste." Loki shrugged. "The food is so terrible and I am not often hungry. Not that I was ever a gluttonous eater." Some of his earliest memories of his mother involved her trying to get him to eat more. Frigga had told him that he couldn't leave the table until he finished his plate, and so he'd learned his first sleight of hand on his own to give half his plate to the hounds under the table. That hadn't lasted too long since Thor had caught him at it. The best part was remembering how he'd punched Thor in the face for ratting him out.

Rogers broke into the memory with a soft question, "Because they starved you."

Recalled to the present, Loki fixed his gaze out on the water and his hands tightened on the parapet. "That doesn't help, no."

"Still, you need to keep up your strength, right?" Rogers asked. "Make sure you eat something. But I wanted to ask you about the plan. You didn't mention whether you'd parachuted before."

Loki considered whether to lie about it, but decided not to bother, "No. I have not."

"I didn't think so. Tomorrow I'll have Duggan go over the procedure. It's pretty basic."

"I am not concerned." That was the pure truth. The parachute was so his human companions wouldn't realize he didn't need one. He couldn't fly himself, but he could control a fall easily enough by putting his own mass slightly out of phase with gravitational acceleration so the two did not interact. He might not even need to do that, depending on their altitude, since his body was far tougher than a mortal's. It would take a significant fall to seriously injure him. He had always been aggravated that Thor could fly and he could not, especially when he felt there had to be some way to fly with seiðr. But so far he hadn't found the trick to it. Falling like a leaf was still falling, not flying.

"So you don't like flying, but jumping out of an airplane is okay?" Rogers teased gently and shook his head. "That's backwards."

"The sooner I am on the ground the better I like it."

Rogers laughed. "All right. Fair enough. Get some rest and something to eat, would you?"

"You need not be concerned for me, Rogers. I am more capable than our first meeting would indicate."

"First of all, it's Steve," he corrected, with a warm smile. "I think after that first meeting, we're past that kind of formality. And second, I know you're capable. I think you're very much more capable than you're letting on. But third, since I did see that hellhole of our first meeting, I can't help but be concerned. That's what friends do, right?" He didn't wait for an answer, gripping Loki's shoulder with a hand that felt a lot like Thor's, and then he went down the stairs.

Loki watched him go, fighting the warmth that gathered in his chest at the words, and finally letting out a sigh. His effort to put some distance between himself and the others already seemed doomed.

The next day Loki had his lesson from Duggan in parachuting and pretended to listen attentively. Then he was called to Phillips, and entered the office curiously.

Phillips was behind his desk, with Carter at the door. She shut it behind Loki, leaving all three of them in the old stone room with only narrow windows to let in light at the ceiling. Maps of Italy, Malta, Greece and North Africa were pinned to the walls, marked with pins in some places.

"Have a seat, Mister Onsdag," Phillips said.

"Or should we say, Mister Wednesday?" Carter asked, her voice a light tease. Loki lifted a brow at her.

"You discovered what it means?"

"It's an alias. We get that," Phillips said. "But you told Agent Carter you'd tell us who the hell you are when we were out of Britain."

Loki crossed his leg, ankle on the opposite knee, so he could fold his hands on his other knee, and smile. "It is an alias, yes. But my real name is not something I will share." He was still shrouding himself, so he wouldn't speak his name aloud and draw attention. "Lukas Onsdag will have to do." His smile widened at the matching annoyed expressions on Phillips and Carter's faces at his refusal.

"Can you at least explain the Ice Demon?" Carter asked. "We did some digging - there are stories of the Ice Demon back three hundred years."

"A folk tale," Loki answered easily, prepared for this discussion. "Pagan superstition. As I'm sure you already guessed. But one very handy for a nation under occupation and a queen who was imprisoned in her own castle."

"And yet, you were there, when she escaped. You were captured. The rumor is you were hit by a tank shell, but obviously didn't die, before Schmidt got his hands on you," Carter declared, as if laying down her trump card. "Is that true?"

He could obfuscate some more, but he had promised her he would tell them something, so he chuckled. "A tank? My, that improved in the telling. But yes, my healing is not a product of Hydra. There is power in the royal family. Not all develop anything useful, but some do."

"So descent from a demon or god is a story to explain where it comes from."

"And how do you know it isn't true?" Loki retorted with stiff offense. "It is not a legend, Agent Carter. It is history."

She looked a bit surprised by his anger and added hastily, "I'm sorry, I meant no offense. So, a supernatural healing ability. Anything else?" Carter asked.

Here, he had to be careful. Nothing immortal or god-like, and no magic. "Endurance. Reflexes. Cold doesn't bother me."

Carter and Phillips exchanged a look. "That all?" Phillips asked.

"I don't need to eat or sleep much," he added, with a shrug since Rogers had undoubtedly told them that already.

"And that was enough for Schmidt to keep you a prisoner for two years?" Carter asked with some doubt clouding her brown eyes.

"I had an ability without a serum. He wanted to learn how it works and take it," he answered flatly. He blinked back flashes of captivity - Schmidt and Zola, their hands on him; the strange nightmarish slowness to everything caused by the poison they had learned would keep him in a weakened stupor.

His chest seemed too tight, and he stood up in some vain effort to leave the tightness in the chair. "I am done with this."

Peggy watched Lukas walk out, his eyes like pits to hell at the reminder of where he'd been. She regretted mentioning his captivity, not intending him to be upset enough to flee the room.

Phillips frowned after him. "Did we learn anything?" he asked. "Because I'm thinking we didn't learn squat."

"We did confirm that it's his blood, not from a serum."

"I can't plan ops to take advantage of what he can do, if I don't know what he can do," Phillips grumped. "You'd think he'd know that, as much as he wants revenge."

"Colonel, he spent two years with a madman torturing him for his secrets. Can we really blame him when he wants to keep them to himself?" Peggy asked. "We'll find out the truth, when he believes we won't bolt him to a table for experiments."

Phillips grunted what was probably agreement. "All right. We'll see how this one goes. He'll reveal himself; he's enjoying playing with us too much not to pull the curtain back eventually." He tossed his pen back in the ink well. "Mission is a go, Agent Carter. Wheels up at 1700 hours."

She nodded sharply. "Yes, sir."

Steve was standing, hanging onto a strap affixed to the ceiling as the plane headed eastward. The other Commandos were seated on the benches lining the bulkheads, olive fatigues unmarked, gear at their feet ready to be put on. Lukas stood opposite to him, looking more at ease with flying now, though he still looked toward the front and the cockpit windows with more intensity than the black night probably deserved.

Peggy stood up from her co-pilot chair and dug something out of the bag she had slung over her uniform. She pulled out to transponders. "This is for you," she handed Steve one and smiled into his eyes, teasing, "Try not to let it get destroyed this time. If you miss the primary evac, activate this and head for the secondary site. And this," she handed it to Lukas, "is a spare. Just in case the captain loses his. Again."

Lukas tucked his on the inside pocket of his jacket. "I will take care of it."

From the front the pilot reported, "Thirty minutes to drop. Coming in over land."

"Everyone gear up," Steve ordered. He was already wearing his and let Bucky check the straps one more time, and then went to make sure Lukas was properly kitted as he tightened the straps across his chest.

Each had a small pack with the necessities for themselves, ammo, and then whatever part of the mission they were carrying. Explosives, detonators, grenades, and one squad radio. Steve of course had his shield strapped to his left arm, in addition to the standard weapons, and he wasn't the only one with a non-regulation weapon. Lukas had two knives strapped to his forearms beneath his jacket sleeves - they were nearly impossible to detect even when Steve knew they were there. Steve had no idea where he'd found the sheaths, but he seemed to know what he was doing with them.

"I see the first signal fire," the pilot reported. "We are go for drop. Ten minutes."

"Everyone, check your neighbor's chutes!" Steve ordered. "Let's not make stupid mistakes."

His eyes met Peggy's. Her lips smiled. "Good hunting, Captain. To you and all your men."

"Thank you, ma'am. We'll see you soon." He saluted her sharply and turned to open the back ramp, beneath the tail.

In moments, the wind whipped through the cabin, until the pressure equalized and it was cold but bearable.

Everyone checked their chutes and Bucky and Duggan both gave thumbs up. "Sarge, in position!" Steve told Duggan who got ready. Then, they all stood and lined up, while Steve looked to the front to watch Peggy, who held up her arm while she listened to the pilot.

Steve could just barely hear the pilot, but he saw her drop her arm and he ordered, "Duggan, go! Morita, go. Everybody, go, go, go"

Bucky gave him the thumbs up and jumped, leaving just Steve and Lukas. "You ready?" Steve called, wondering if Lukas had a problem with jumping out of airplanes after all.

But Lukas grinned at him. "Ready, Rogers."

"STEVE!" he shouted the correction as Lukas headed to the edge. "I told you to call me Steve!"

Then the grin became a smirk. "Steven." He jumped off the edge. Shaking his head, Steve lifted a hand to Peggy and threw himself after the rest of them.

Loki waited to pull the cord, wondering if he even needed to. In the darkness, as long as he didn't open the chute he was nearly invisible already.

The feel of the air against his skin was cool and pleasant, and the freedom of it felt perfect - he was free, open air all around him, the stars above him. It was exhilarating to fall, to feel the gathering acceleration of gravity grab him and hurl him at the planet.

Then he heard a yell and glanced up to see Rogers falling toward him. He was gesturing for Loki to pull the ripcord, and from the set to his jaw he was about thirty seconds from grabbing Loki to share their parachute. The fool was going to get himself killed, thinking Loki was in danger.

Loki held up a hand to indicate he didn't need help and stay back, and pulled the cord with a sigh. The parachute opened properly and yanked him to a slower floating speed. He looked upward, urging the chute to one side with a conjured gust of wind, to see Rogers' sail also spread above him, glowing against the stars. Looking down again, the slower descent was good for looking at the ground if not nearly so exhilarating as the fall had been. Monty had gotten himself stuck on the only tree in a hundred meters and that made him laugh as he floated down. But he saw no others - no Greeks, or occupiers here yet. No, that was an error. There, to the east, there was movement on the ridge.

He touched down lightly and immediately gathered his chute up to hide the blinding glare of the white fabric.

Rogers landed more heavily, having to roll on the ground and he stood up and ran for Loki. "Are you all right?" he asked. "I thought you might be in trouble up there. You pulled late."

Loki shrugged. "No, no trouble. I saw people there, heading our way."

"Hope that's our ride," Rogers said. He whistled softly for the team to gather, as Monty was cut down.

It was a few tense minutes, especially with Monty's chute spread out on the tree so there wasn't much doubt there were Allies there. But a voice called out, "Hitler's a big wanker, right?"

Half the Commandos snickered, and Monty called back, "Not exactly the call sign, mate."

"Oh, for fuck's sake, "the queen's bees are in her knees.""

"I think that was supposed to be the other way around, but close enough," Steve said, with a laugh. "Captain Rogers with the SSR."

They all exchanged names and the Special Op Captain Harrison shook hands with Rogers. "The road's this way."

They scouted the Hydra facility in the early morning, the SOE team taking Steve, Lukas, and Bucky to watch as a train of four cars arrived. Two cars were full of something that rattled like scrap metal perhaps, but the other two were slatted cattle cars full of people herded out of the cars and into the factory.

Steve exchanged a grim look with Bucky. Prisoners. That mean they couldn't just bomb the place to the ground. They'd have to free the prisoners.

Lukas cocked his head, listening to something. "They are Russian. Or perhaps Ukrainian. I'd need to hear more, but they're from the Eastern front."

Steve shook his head. They hadn't heard a lot from the Eastern Front, but what they'd heard was mostly terrible - thousands and thousands dead, starvation, prisoners, entire towns obliterated. "If they're mostly soldiers we can liberate them and then they'll help destroy the factory, just like Austria."

"We need to hurry," Lukas observed, and explained at Steve's quizzical face. "They didn't bring any food for these prisoners. Hydra has already denuded the locals of most of their supplies. The prisoners already look weak, if we wait too long, they'll starve."

"Well, this gets better and better," Bucky muttered. "Cannot wait to take these rats down."

Steve nodded. "No kidding. Let's go, I've seen enough."

They squirmed off the ridge and out of there.

They planned the assault for first light, when the prisoners would still be bunked down, and the guards should be at their least alert.

While the plan had originally been to have Loki hang back as befit his supposed civilian status, Loki had nearly put a dagger in all of them to make the point that he could take care of himself. Duggan had tried to get him to carry a machine gun which Loki had disdained with a sneer and he'd taken a pistol only because he had to carry something. He'd also grabbed four grenades and extra explosives because he could discharge those at a distance.

But he was much happier grabbing the truck as it went at the gate and riding the undercarriage inside. And at first it went well - perimeter security seemed to be Italian and somewhat under-equipped. The Commandos blew the gate and ran into the courtyard.

But then the more elite Hydra guards heard the commotion and poured out fo the main building, some of them with their disintegrating guns. Cloaking himself in invisibility so not even his allies could see him, Loki crouched next to one of the trucks and grabbed the dark energy housed in one of those weapons, ripping it free of its containment to explode. This produced a fantastic bomb that not only killed its wielder but slammed into anyone within five meters. It only took two or three before Hydra soldiers realized their weapons were blowing up and threw them down in panic, to get picked off by Barnes and Jones on the wall.

Then there were no more easy ones and the smoke grew thick, as Hydra retreated, and Rogers started running, throwing his shield to make sure they didn't close the heavy inner doors. Loki was quick to follow, letting the invisibility disperse as he stood. The shield slammed into the closing door, wedging it open, and Rogers reached for it.

But Hydra was above, in the tower, with a view of the gate and they fired. Loki saw the bullets, tracked four of them would hit Steve, since there was no way he could pull the shield and turn in time. Barnes was firing at the tower, taking out the defenders, but the gun had already fired.

Rogers turned, hearing someone else yell, and he ducked, but the bullets weren't headed for his head.

And Loki was too far to tackle him down. There was only one thing to do.

He stood in the way.

He had just enough time to strengthen his aura so the impact jolted him back, but didn't damage his clothes. He wasn't wearing his armor or he wouldn't have bothered with even that much.

"Lukas, oh my God!" Rogers grabbed his shoulder, supporting him in case he collapsed.

"I'm fine," Loki shrugged him off. "We need to get to the prisoners."

Rogers' blue eyes were wide and stared in disbelief. "But they hit you, I saw them hit you."

Loki snorted and jerked his jacket to display the lack of holes and blood. "Nothing hit me. Barnes got them in time. Come on."

Frowning in confusion, Rogers realized it wasn't the time to argue and headed back to the door hastily.

Behind him, Loki opened his hand and dropped the one bullet he'd caught with the others that had crumpled against his aura and fallen to the dirt.

Inside, Loki was the only one who could talk to the prisoners and get them herded out. The sight of the conditions reaffirmed his commitment to ending Hydra, no matter what. He would not keep a chicken as these people had been kept, worked and starved.

Then, prisoners removed, Hydra soldiers either taken prisoner themselves or dead, Loki found his way to the factory floor where a large battery fueled by the tesseract was waiting, used to charge the other weapons they were building.

Rogers found him there. "We blowing this place to hell, or what?"

Loki held his three sticks of dynamite. "We are. Everyone else clear?"

"Bucky and Duggan are ushering them out." Rogers glanced at him. "You saved my life."

"You are mistaken. Do you have a timer?"

Rogers shook his head. "I could get one from Dernier."

"No. We'll just have to run." Loki set the three sticks on top of the battery, and then handed one of his grenades to Rogers, and took another himself. "We can't be more than ten meters or the grenade will explode too early. It needs to land next to the dynamite."

"That's going to make a boom."

"Why are people always stating the obvious?" Loki asked impatiently and yanked the pin out. Primitive devices that were irrelevant when he could spark the thing himself, but he had to play by mortal rules and it was irritatingly inefficient.

They backed away, as far as they could and still have clear routes both to the exit and throw their grenades.

Loki's was, of course, a perfect throw - he could throw daggers at a dragon eyeball at five times this distance. And Rogers' was good, too, landing quite close and then they both turned and ran for the exit.

It exploded with a preliminary bang of the grenades, and then a deeper whump of the dynamite and Rogers threw his shield over both of them as the shockwave slammed into them.

Loki helped brace the shield and waited, knowing that wasn't the battery yet. He might have to pull on it with seiðr manually... then it exploded.

Intense heat and shock washed over them, machinery was slammed out and the walls collapsed, and half the roof was vaporised. Loki huddled with Rogers underneath the shield as the explosion ripped everything apart all around them. With his other hand he extended his aura out to a bubble to strengthen the vibranium - the alloy was strong but this pressure and heat might melt it and the shrapnel was an even greater threat.

Then it was over. Steve lowered the shield and straightened warily. "Holy mother of god," he whispered looking at the devastation. The entire main building of the factory was utterly destroyed from ceiling girders to foundry machines - steel twisted and broken, small fires still burning, debris piled up like snowdrifts.

Loki stood up and surveyed it with a smile of satisfaction. "One down, six to go."

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