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13 November 2014 @ 12:11 pm
The Ice Demon and the Hydra, part 8  

It was frigid on this rock promontory on the side of the mountain. Winter had these mountains in a tight grip, and it hadn't been a fun climb into position, or for Bucky to shoot the lines into the rock wall on the far side of the ravine with his bare hands trembling. But finally everything was set, and Jones on the radio reported confirmation that their target was aboard this train.

"I will go first," Lukas volunteered and grabbed the hand-grip slider from Duggan with an impressive confidence.

Steve opened his mouth to object, because it was his plan and he should go first, but Lukas leveled a look at him that kept him quiet.

"This has got to be the dumbest thing I've ever done," Bucky muttered, taking another of the hand-grips for the zip line. "In my life." Steve would've asked him if he wanted to switch with Jones, but realized it was just Bucky doing his usual grumbling.

"Ready…" Morita said, tracking the train. "At the curve."

Lukas put the hand grips on the line and waited at the edge of the cliff, his eyes on the train as well. Steve had little doubt that Lukas was doing the same calculations Steve was, to insure their arrival above the train was exactly right.

"Ready, little more…"

Lukas jumped before he heard anybody say go, on his own time, hurling himself into the air with both hands on the grips across the line.

Steve followed, squinting in the sudden rush of frigid wind against his face. He looked for the train - four cars, traveling slowly on the big curve, and coming up fast as the line took them across the gorge.

Behind him he heard Bucky yell something the wind snatched away, and smiled as Bucky kept yelling all the way down the line, as if he was on a wild ride at the pier.

But ahead, the train was coming up under them and Lukas let go, dropping easily to the roof of the second car of the train like a raven alighting on a branch. Steve himself was not so lucky, landing harder on the third car, and he turned his head just in time to see Bucky land on the last car. He gave Steve a thumbs up and started scooting across the top toward Steve.

As planned, Lukas headed to the forward-most car, better able to deal with the cold outside, while Steve lowered himself into the gap between first and second, to start going backward to check each car. Bucky followed him inside.

They were attacked immediately and separated, Steve was thankful for his shield that kept off the firepower of the Hydra supersoldier's weapon. He and Bucky tag-teamed to finish it, until they were beset again.

Everything exploded, and Steve pushed himself up, bleary-eyed. There was a giant hole in the side of the car, and neither attacker nor Bucky was in sight.

Bucky. Grabbing his shield and sliding it automatically into place, he looked out the hole.

Bucky was clinging to a railing, dangling off the side of the train. Oh, God.

"I'm coming!" he yelled. "Hold on." He felt his way across the torn car siding, with little to hold onto, but desperate to get closer.

Just a little more, he could stretch and grab Bucky's hand...

Steve inched a little closer to where Bucky was hanging. "Here take my hand!"

Bucky reached for Steve's hand, but was still too far. Just a little more…

Then, the railing tore away, and Bucky fell.

Steve yelled his name and lunged to catch him, but he was plummeting, too far, too fast. It seemed like Bucky took everything as he fell, leaving Steve feeling empty with shock.

"Rogers!" another voice shouted, dragged his attention upward, reluctantly. He saw Lukas on the roof of the train car, at the edge where the side had been ripped away, and by his horrified expression, he'd seen Bucky fall, too. "Take Zola!" Lukas yelled at Steve and then…

He launched himself from the train.

He didn't jump, he dove headfirst. Steve watched him fall, mouth agape, but the dark despair that had filled him watching Bucky fall, seemed to get lighter as Lukas fell. He ought to fear that Lukas had just jumped to his death, but Lukas had strange powers and clearly didn't believe he was going to die. A brighter hope kindled in Steve's chest, that somehow that crazy bastard, whatever the hell he was, could find and save Bucky. If anyone could, he could. It was Bucky's only chance, and Steve resolved to hold onto hope as long as he could.

That was incredibly stupid.

That was Loki's thought as he jumped from the train. He was supposed to be chasing Schmidt and the tesseract, not going after a mortal who had probably died hitting the ground thirty seconds ago. But seeing Barnes fall, he'd remembered how Barnes had invited him to come sit with them and had asked Loki about Howard Stark's flying car, and somehow that had turned into a three hour discussion on Science For Rabbits. It had been rare that anyone had ever wanted to discuss the things Loki was interested in, and even though it was pretty simple stuff, Loki had found he liked teaching Barnes.

So he had impetuously jumped after him. Because that wasn't stupid or ridiculous, at all. Pure sentimental drivel, was what it was, inspired by Rogers' brash foolish heroics. But he'd done it anyway. Because Rogers'[ brash stupid heroics had saved Loki's life, and Loki would repay that debt. Barnes would certainly die if Loki didn't jump after him, and Loki had enough healing he could, possibly, keep him alive. If he wasn't already dead.

Loki wove the seiðr to siphon off the gathering force of his fall so he wouldn't hit the ground too hard himself and for a moment, it felt as if he was flying. Of course, he wasn't, he was still falling, but it was as close as he could get. Well, there was shapeshifting to a flying form, but true shapeshifting was always more trouble than it was worth.

The ground was still coming up quickly with some rather painful-looking rocks in his landing area, and he pushed himself to a clearer area with a gust of wind. He landed on a snow drift, and rolled to rid himself of his acquired energy from the fall.

Climbing to his feet, he tested everything to check that he was uninjured and then tilted his head back to check the position of the train trestles and the moon.

Then, direction figured, he started to walk swiftly down the narrow canyon toward where Barnes must be.

The ravine was mostly snow and rock, with few trees to block his view. Even so it took a few more minutes than he thought he should need to find Barnes, since he had fallen into the river, through the layer of ice on the top. If he hadn't been moaning, Loki might never have known he was there.

But he heard a soft sound above the whine of the wind and approached the water, careful of his footing on the icy-covered rocks.

There, a black shape against the white snow, where the icy water had shoved him against the rocks along the opposite bank. Loki didn't want to get wet and swiftly twined seiðr into a narrow bridge of ice across.

Then, he knelt beside Barnes and reached for him to pull him from the water, hesitating when he saw the blood in the water and staining the snow. But there was nothing for it -- the cold was suppressing the blood flow and shock, but he was also going to freeze to death if Loki didn't get him out of the water. The only reason the water was flowing at all must be a geothermal spring somewhere upstream keeping the water temperature slightly above freezing in this ravine. But Barnes was lucky, because if it had been all ice, he'd already be dead.

Loki glanced up at the train trestle, and back down to his friend, amazed that he wasn't dead anyway. And he was going to injure Barnes pulling him from the water.

But he was hopefully numb and mostly unconscious, and it had to be done.

Very carefully, feeling for bones that shifted wrongly in his ribs, Loki grasped him under the arms and pulled him up. It felt a little strange to be using his full strength, lifting Barnes right out of the water, and it was stranger still that Barnes' eyes opened and looked right at him at the moment when Loki was holding him like a baby, feet dangling off the ground.

Then Barnes' eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp.

But holding him up definitely revealed that among the dripping and the pallor, there were several immediate injuries that needed tending. His left arm was shattered at the elbow and below, white bones protruding. A quick probe with seiðr gave back the rather discouraging list of injuries: Legs, shoulder, ribs, pelvis, and head -- it was astonishing he was still alive.

"Let's get you warm, shall we?" he murmured. "Don't die on me, Barnes."

He carried Barnes to the side of the ravine where slabs of granite had fallen in some distant slide, leaving one slab leaning against the canyon wall, and an open space beneath it atop another. It was poor shelter, but it would have to do for now. He laid Barnes atop the flat rock as much underneath the low, makeshift roof as he could.

There was no fuel to sustain a fire in this tree-less frozen ravine, so Loki glanced at his unconscious companion and held out a hand to warm the stone above and below them. Then, since he was already using seiðr as if he was alone, he pulled the water out of Barnes' clothes, deciding that was the easiest way to get him drier.

Unfortunately that started to make him bleed more, blood pooling beneath his shattered arm and the white bone, but he also stirred, moaning with the pain.

"So, now I have to keep you from bleeding out. This is a problem."

The arm was so badly mangled, having taken a lot of the force of the fall, that as Loki examined it, he shook his head. "I am no expert, my friend, but I cannot leave it as it is and I cannot heal it before you die. The only way I see to do this is to remove it and cauterize what's left. Not ideal, I know, but I think it's the only way. But we can't have you awake during this, can we?"

He put his fingers on Barnes' forehead and twined the seiðr into his mind, forcing him back into deep sleep. Then, moving more quickly, he pulled his dagger and held it before him, and with the same spell he'd used on the stone, but at a far higher level, heated the blade.

The metal blade glowed red, not quite the heat of forging so that it would deform, but hot enough to sear mortal flesh. Then, acting swiftly, he pared off the worst of the damage and cauterized the ends of the vessels at mid-bicep to halt the bleeding. He reset the dislocated shoulder as well with a swift jerk, to halt the continued nerve damage from that.

Rather to his surprise, Barnes didn't die during all this trauma, his blood pressure fell but didn't plummet, and his heart remained strong, even when his breathing faltered and then resumed itself.

Then, though healing humans with seiðr was not exactly a practiced skill of his, he sent some into Barnes and started knitting the fracture in his fragile skull until the wound stopped bleeding and he didn't sense any damage there anymore. He tried to grab more threads to work on Barnes' leg, but they slipped his grasp and he slumped against the stone. It would have to be enough for now. He hadn't done so much fine work in a long time, and his head ached like a dragon was roasting it for dinner.

His eyes were closed for only a moment, or so he thought, when Barnes stirred with a groan. Loki's eyes shot open, surprised that Barnes was returning to consciousness. Stubborn human.

Loki leaned close so Barnes could see his face as his eyes flickered open. At first the pain overwhelmed him, making him gasp and turn pale when he tried to move anything, but after holding himself still, he opened his eyes again and saw Loki.

"Lukas…" he whispered, frowning in confusion.

"Yes, I'm here with you. Hush, now, Barnes. Rest." He touched Barnes forehead to push him back down into sleep again. And he resisted, trying to keep his eyes open and parting his lips to issue some protest, but Loki pushed harder, until sleep fell on him like a rock.

Loki hastily checked that his heart was still beating, and then let out short breath of relief. "Oops. You're a little tougher than you seem, James."

Glancing upward, he saw that they'd already fallen into the mountain's shadow, and though the sky would remain light for a time, sunset was not that far off. He should take this time and look for better shelter.

Ironically, the place they had jumped off the mountain was close, a distance down the ravine and straight up. But the rest of the team had all been under orders to pack and go to the extraction point, so they were long gone. He'd have to find another way out.

As this was still a heavily German-controlled area, he would have to be careful. According to the map, the lower valley would open up into some farm villages, and those would probably be crawling with military. This close to the Hydra base, Schmidt would probably have some of his spies around as well. As they had discovered, Hydra was not only a bunch of blank-faced minions, but infiltrators as well.

He glanced at Barnes and shook his head, mostly at himself. "Two hundred years ago, I would never be in this position. I would have let you die, because that's what mortals do. There are always so many of you dying for so little purpose, and yet here I am trying to keep you alive. I am utterly, irretrievably mad."

He was talking to someone unable to respond - that right there was a good indicator of madness.

"But there's no helping it, I suppose. Or that I need to carry you to better shelter for the night."

Before he picked up Barnes, he used the jacket sleeves to tie Barnes' amputated arm across his body to keep that more still, and then, knowing there was nothing to do but to do it, he scooped Barnes up across both arms. His weight was not a problem, but his height and bulk in conjunction with the injuries that Loki was trying not to make worse, made it tremendously awkward. He nudged Barnes' head against his shoulder as best he could to prevent it from hanging back, and hiked him up against his body more, to make them more one mass rather than two separate ones.

"I had to carry Thor like this once. You are far less of a burden," he told Barnes as he started walking westward, stepping with care through the snow to the river. He was going to walk on the ice of the riverbank. It would be slippery and risked falling in, since the ice was just a crust, but nothing he couldn't handle. It would be less exhausting than forcing his way through the snow and leaving trails.

Except for the muffled burble of the river and the soft sounds of Loki's footsteps, all was silent. There were a few faint rustling noises of animals, and cracking ice when he listened. But mostly all he heard was Barnes breathing against him, short shallow but regular breaths, and his heart seemed strong.

Once he heard an airplane's engines and looked up, but whoever they were, flew to the north side of the canyon out of sight, so he couldn't see even which side they belonged to. He lowered his head again, with a sigh. Not that he could have attracted the attention of an Allied plane -- well, he could but probably not in a manner the pilot would understand or survive.

"Really, I find myself in the difficult position of both too much power and not enough, James," he murmured. "I am not powerful enough to do what truly needs doing with these enemies, and yet it is difficult to hide and play mortal. If I had the tesseract back in my grip, though, everything would be different. I could walk right into Berlin and end the war. Schmidt still has no true understanding of what he possesses. Which is good for the rest of us, of course, but it is maddening to me that he uses it as a battery. It can alter the very fabric of existence, and he thinks so small. Pathetic."

When he slipped on the ice, losing his footing briefly, he should possibly pay more attention to his surroundings and stop chattering to a silent Barnes who couldn't hear him or answer.

He kept an eye on the surrounding cliff walls, searching for caves that might be useful, but found nothing worth taking the time to investigate.

The sun slipped low enough to peer briefly around the southern rim and shine up the valley, right at him. Which made him even more visible against the snow, and he pulled a glamour over them that was not full invisibility as that was difficult to maintain with both of them, but would give back a muddled image like a mirage. One would have to look closely to notice, and most humans rarely looked at anything close enough.

The river dumped over a short falls and widened into a broader valley. He stood at the top of the falls on a stone and looked down. Ordinarily he'd jump, but with a glance at Barnes figured he should find a better way down. He found a deer trail in the snow that became a faint human trail to get down. Beneath the falls in the valley, there were more trees and bushes, the sun seemed warmer, and even though the winter still lay heavily over the land, he saw his first distant smoke farther to the west of what was probably the village.

But the sun was setting and he needed shelter for Barnes before that. His skin was too cold, and if his cells froze, there would be little Loki could do about it.

There was what looked to be the closest farm, a small house and several outbuildings in the middle of some abandoned fields. And it did not seem to be occupied as there was no smoke coming from it, so he turned his feet in that direction and started straight for it, trusting to the illusion to keep from being noticed.

At closer inspection the small house was clearly empty - the door sat ajar as if Loki was not the first to seek its interior. The inside had been looted, though it seemed only valuables and metal had been taken, since the wooden furniture and ceramic dishware remained by the kitchen area. A rabbit was nesting in the corner and startled by the sudden arrivals, ran for the door before Loki could stop it.

He laid Barnes on the table, since the mattress looked more like a giant mouse nest than anything a human should sleep on and went to pull the door shut. There was a ladder to a loft and he went to check it, finding it full of sleepy birds but also a closed chest that turned out to be full of women's clothes and blankets, and they were only a little moth-eaten. He brought the chest down to use the contents to pad the table and lay the blankets on Barnes. Then weighing the risk of smoke being seen and someone investigating, versus keeping his friend warm through the night, he crushed the chest with his foot and put a few pieces in the hearth and sparked a fire.

Gathering snow into one of the bowls he set it by the fire to melt, and an examination of what was left in the kitchen told him all the food was long gone. Luckily that was not urgent yet since Barnes had eaten this morning. He didn't plan for them to stay here very long.

Tasks finished for the moment, he sat in the rickety chair and stretched out his legs with a sigh.

Barnes started to stir a bit later, woken by the warmth. He moaned and twisted his body in renewed pain, and Loki scooted his chair closer so Barnes could see him easily.

His eyes flickered open and found Loki.

"Rest, Barnes."

Barnes eyes squinted in confusion as he remembered. "The train…" he said hoarsely.

"Yes, you fell and hurt yourself quite badly," Loki told him.

"I should be dead," Barnes whispered.

Which was probably true. Loki was still impressed he had survived long enough for Loki to get to him. But he smiled. "Some are too stubborn to die easily. As they are too stubborn to rest."

"Everything hurts," he whispered, body shuddering with the pain.

"I'll tend it," Loki promised. "Go to sleep, James."

Barnes' mouth lifted a little. "Ah, was wondering when… you'd give in."

"To what?" Loki asked curiously.

"You said… James."

Loki hadn't even realized he'd used "James" and his smile widened. "You caught me. James," he said it again, liking the sound of it. "Now close your eyes and rest. We're safe here for the night."

He set his hand on Barnes' forehead and this time more gently coaxed him back into sleep away from the pain.

Taking up another strand of seiðr, he probed Barnes' pelvis, finding that the break somehow had improved, not grown worse as Loki expected after the hours of carrying him. "Hm. That is curious. I think you were not as unaffected by Hydra experiments as was assumed. Perhaps that is why you survived the fall at all."

He laid seiðr in the fracture to encourage it to knit a little faster, when sound from outside the small house made him lift his head sharply. Boots in the snow. Coming nearer.

Well, that took less time than I thought. They really were close. Damn.

He glanced at Barnes worriedly and checked his knife sheaths, and then shifted his chair around so the table wouldn't block him if he had to move. He twitched the end of the blanket over Barnes' head and waited, crossing his ankles in front of him.

The footsteps outside grew closer and the soft murmuring they thought he couldn't hear, and then the door was yanked open.

Cold, evening air swirled inside, disrupting the warmth and two men entered, wearing woolen greatcoats and fur hats. There were two more outside on guard. One had a pistol pointed at Loki the instant the door opened, and the commander probably had another but he wasn't holding it, so it was irrelevant.

"Good evening," Loki greeted. "Do you seek shelter? The night will be cold." His German took them by surprise but not quite enough to let him play himself off as a local.

"Silence!" The commander ordered. "You are not from here."

Loki lifted his brows. "By your accent neither are you."

"You are an American spy."

"I am not American!" Loki objected. "Do I sound American? No wonder you're stuck in a village in the middle of nowhere, with that much skillful deduction," he rolled his eyes in scorn.

"We serve the Reich."

"Oh?" Loki asked with some false disappointment. "Not…" he paused and said, "Hail Hydra."

And they both gave it away, answering promptly. "Hail Hydra." They stared at him in shock. "You?"

For a moment Loki considered keeping up the lie, but really, there was no part of him that wanted to pretend to be one of them for a second longer than he had to. "I need transportation. My partner is wounded."

"There is a truck," the officer began, before he asked, squinting suspiciously. "Do you have proof you are not an enemy spy?"

Loki rose to his feet. "No. Of course not. How would I have proof of that?"

They glanced at each other, perplexed, and Loki seized his chance. In one gesture, he pulled the knives into his hands and threw them: the first for the one with the gun, right in the eye, killing him instantly, and the second in the throat.

They collapsed like felled trees, and Loki swooped down to retrieve the knives, rising quickly into the doorway to throw them again. One was a clean throw, the second had started to move and the blade slipped across his throat but didn't lodge, spraying blood all over the snow.

He looked around quickly for more, in case, but saw no one - just their canvas topped truck out there on the track of the narrow lane that went to the village. He retrieved his knives and pulled the other two bodies into the cabin.

"Did I say we would be safe tonight?" Loki murmured ducking back inside. "I might have been slightly mistaken. We need to go." He stripped off the coat of the larger of the two, to wrap it around Barnes, and jammed the hat over his head. Pulling the Hydra pin off the other one to have as a token, he took the pistol for Barnes just in case.

When he and Barnes were outside, he turned his wrist to point his palm at the cabin as best he could, while not dropping his companion, and threw a spark through the door to land on the table where Barnes had been lying. It caught, and he grinned. Very shortly the entire house would be on fire from floorboards to roof.

He set Barnes down on the back seat of the jeep, strapped him in as best he could, and slid himself into the driver's seat.

"Horseless carriages," he muttered. "You would think they could also have horseless carriages that drive themselves. At least a horse knows how to find the path on its own. What is the point of this vehicle? No one has explained it to me, but it's incredibly stupid and primitive."

He had, at least, watched enough of its operation to know what to do. The spark that lit the primitive combustion chamber and the resulting piston action turned the wheels. But when the engine started it wouldn't go, even when he pushed on the go pedal, until he remembered the gearing mechanism.

The car jumped forward and died.

Loki swore loudly and smacked the dashboard as if that would make it go. Then he inhaled a deep breath, resolving he was not going to act like Thor-- he would act, not react, and do this thoughtfully.

Calming down helped, and he got everything working in the right order so the jeep lurched forward and then continued. It was, however, going the wrong way, so he turned it around. The wheels spun uselessly in the snowy ditch to one side until Loki had to get out and push it back up onto the track, muttering darkly about useless vehicles that one had to push to use.

But after, when it was all heading in the right direction with the breeze on his face, he started to understand the appeal of the vehicle. It bumped along, steering and speed at his control, and the car hummed and growled.

As he approached the village there were other troops visible, and he smiled and wove seiðr into an illusion of the same four soldiers who had come to investigate, with large woolen greatcoats and fur hats.

The few other military troops there raised hands and a few saluted as the vehicle passed, and Loki lifted a hand in return in brief acknowledgment. He kept driving through the main road of the village, past the small church, and when there was milling about in confusion and pointing that the farmhouse was now smoking heavily, he grinned and laid another spark in a barn as he passed. It would catch fire soon, and with any luck spread to the German trucks near it.

"Ah, I do love attacking them," he confessed to Barnes aloud. "They make the most delightful sounds trying vainly to control the situation."

He kept driving right out of the village and continued westward. He wished he could see their faces as the four soldiers took off, and hopefully the fire at the farmhouse would burn the bodies well enough to hide that they weren't actually in the car.

But the vehicle had inadequate fuel to go too far, and Loki didn't want to be stranded in the middle of nothingness. He needed another village or some shelter for Barnes, now that the night had nearly fallen.

The night would help him escape, and he could see well enough by moon and stars that he didn't need the vehicle's lights, but he was worried about Barnes through the night, though at least now he had a warmer coat and a blanket. There was little other traffic, only the most important people allowed to break curfew, but Loki kept going, hoping to find a safer place for Barnes to recover.

Barnes stirred, moaning and Loki thought he'd better take a look. It was dark out still, with sunrise still hours away. He didn't really consider the temperature though until he pulled over to the side of the road and saw Barnes was shivering.

Loki grimaced and tucked the blankets around him more snugly, but that seemed to serve only to wake him more. His eyes opened and flicked urgently around as if he couldn't see Loki's face nearby. "Lukas?" he called, sounding distressed.

"James, I'm here." Loki conjured a tiny light in his hand so Barnes could see him better. His visible relief at seeing Loki made Loki smile and pat his good shoulder once. "We had to leave the cabin in a bit of a rush. Let me put you back to sleep for the rest of our journey tonight, since I have no other medicines for you."

"No," Barnes shook his head once. "Water?"

There was a canteen in the gear in the jeep and Loki opened it and held Barnes' head and shoulders up to sip at it. He turned ashen pale shifting his shoulder and hurt arm, hissing in pain.

And then, he made the unfortunate choice of looking down at the blankets which covered him and perhaps tried to move his injured arm. "What-- Lukas, my arm-- it feels--"

Loki did not want to have that conversation right now. He put his other hand on Barnes' forehead. "Sleep, James."

"Wait, no-"

But Loki put him to sleep, a little rougher than perhaps he should have, but he had little idea what to say to Barnes about such an injury. About what he'd done, since he was now wondering if it had truly been necessary. Barnes had accelerated healing, he probably wouldn't have died. Not that he was ever going to tell Barnes that, but Loki needed some time to get his head around it. He thought it had been necessary, and he thought he would do it the same way again, but… still. There was a niggling doubt that perhaps he had acted too hastily, that perhaps Barnes might have survived without removing his damaged arm. But he would never know, not really. It was an uncomfortable though, to look on Barnes and feel that doubt that maybe he had been too hasty. That maybe Barnes had only one hand now because of Loki, not because he fell from a train and nearly died.

As long as Barnes didn't die perhaps that would make some amends.

He found another abandoned farmhouse - its people abandoned or fled or just gone to huddle with relatives while the war raged and the young men were all away.

Hiding the car - now close to running out of fuel anyway - in the barn, he scoped out the house. This one was larger, having two floors and though it had been stripped of valuables and food, it had been closed up with more care. There was an actual bed that was not a vermin infested mattress to put Barnes on, and the house was cold and still, but warmer than the outside.

Loki hoped that the shelter for the rest of the night would be enough to help, but as dawn broke over the broad farming valley, Barnes fell into a feverish delirium that Loki's sleep spell could ease only for a short time. So he knew they were going nowhere for a little while.

He kept the bedroom warmer by keeping some of the bricks in the hearth hot, in lieu of an actual fire that would release smoke. There was no shortage of water, and he found some jars of jam that served as easy food to spoon into Barnes whenever he stirred. And in between he worked on Barnes' pelvis fracture and leg, getting them back on track healing properly.

The third day, he was resting - sleeping - in the chair beside the bed when a hoarse voice asked, "Lukas? Where the hell are we?"

Loki's eyes popped open and he looked to see that Barnes was, in fact, alert again. He recognized Loki and though he seemed weary, his forehead seemed a more normal temperature when Loki touched it.

"We are in a farmhouse, hiding behind enemy lines," Loki explained. "You've been ill."

"I remember--" Barnes' voice faltered and he glanced down at the sling supporting the stump of his arm. "Oh. What happened?"

Loki took a deep breath and explained in a level tone as gently as he could, "Do you remember the train?"

"I remember. I… fell."

"I jumped after you," Loki explained. "You were badly hurt, and I had to -- your arm was broken in multiple places and it was torn and bleeding. I couldn't fix it. I - I am sorry. I probably should have found another way," he admitted softly. "I just-- you were so hurt, I had to decide and--"

"Hey." Barnes cut in, and Loki glanced up, fearing condemnation, or hate, or anger that Loki had made this decision to mutilate him without his permission.

"You saved my life," Barnes said. He reached his hand across the bed toward Loki. "Thank you."

"But you--" Loki objected half-heartedly, gesturing to the missing arm. "That can't be--"

"No, of course, it's not what I wanted, and it hurts like a son of a bitch," Barnes said. "But I'm alive. And as soon as we get out of fucking Germany, I'm going home."

"But I thought you and Steven…"

Barnes shook his head and smiled a bit wryly. "He's the one who wanted to go to war, be a soldier, fight the good fight. You should've seen him, that scrawny kid who never backed down. I had to haul his skinny ass out of so many fights… But he's the one who wanted to go and got denied. And me? I'm good at it, but I didn't want to go. I knew it'd be shit. Got my call-up and went, because I ain't no yellowbelly and I hate Nazis too, especially after what they did, but now I've got my exit pass. I want some simple life, some house like this, a pretty wife, maybe a daughter…"

"I had a daughter," the words slipped out of Loki's mouth softly, before he could call them back. Pulled from him by Barnes' wistful voice that reminded him of when things had been happier, more like home.

"Had?" Barnes repeated.

"She died. Long ago." He thought of Elsa's bright blue eyes dimming into death. He hadn't seen it, but he had always known what it would look like. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I apologize, I did not intend to change the subject. But I will do this for you, James-- I will promise to get you out of here safe and alive, so you can go home and start looking for that better life for yourself, after the war ends."

"Hey, you don't owe me," Barnes said. "I owe you. And not just for not letting me bleed to death, cuz I know I was hurt worse than this. You did something, didn't you?"

Loki glanced away. "No, not very much, a--"

Barnes cut him off, having none of that. "Bullshit. I remember everything hurt like hell. Now, I ache but it's healing, except for the arm. And you kept touching my forehead and then, nothing. You put me to sleep. So what the hell did you do?"

Loki didn't want to answer and agree that yes he had done this, but there was no hiding it anymore. "I accelerated your healing. And yes, I put you to sleep several times since it was the only way I had to block your pain."

Barnes considered that. "Well, thanks. I won't tell anyone, if that's what you're worried about," he promised. "It's just another piece of the secret isn't it? Is there more?"

"Some," Loki admitted. "I have not shared everything, not of who I am or what I can do."

"That's okay," Barnes told him, much to Loki's surprise. "You tell me when you want. What you want. You don't owe me nothing, Lukas. So. Now that I know that you can heal people just by touching them, which is amazing -- what's the plan?"

Loki was glad to change the subject. "I think, as well as you are doing, it would be wise to continue to hide here a few days more. By then your leg should be knitted and you'll be able to walk. Get your strength up and then…"

"We walk out of Germany?" Barnes asked, eyebrows up incredulous. "Are you fucking serious?"

Loki grinned. "No. Not walk. We need to steal an airplane."


Really, Barnes' horror at that idea was too funny. "We need to get out of here in a hurry, once we go. The Allies are moving east, but not swift enough for us. We need to reach France or perhaps south to Italy would be better still."

"Are you crazy? They'll shoot us down."

Loki eyed him and said dryly, "You have a disturbing lack of enthusiasm for my plan."

"Because it's nuts!"

Their eyes met, and they both started to laugh, at least until Barnes held his ribs, gasping and turning pale.

As there seemed no hurry to go, Loki set aside two more days for Barnes to heal and gain his strength back. He started to hobble around the house, and Loki felt more comfortable leaving him with the pistol while he went to scavenge food from neighboring houses. He found a bottle of apple brandy which was more welcome than the food.

Barnes' leg and pelvis bones were healing well, but his arm continued to pain him greatly. Loki didn't know what to do about that, if anything; Barnes reassured him it would go away, but Loki was doubtful, when it lingered. He decided he might as well look at it, now that Barnes already knew about his power. "Sit up and let me see the arm."

He undid the sling, checked the shoulder which was healing well, and then the amputation site at the end of his humerus, finding it clear of infection. It would have been difficult to believe it had happened only a few days ago, if Loki hadn't been the one who had done it. There was nothing on the surface which indicated ongoing problems.

Barnes watched him, intrigued by Loki doing this for the first time he was awake. "So this is how you do it?"

"There is a… substance, the underlying fabric of the universe, which I learned to manipulate at a young age," Loki explained absently, while he probed the end to see where the problem was. Ah, the blood vessels and such were cauterized, but the nerves were not, sending signals of alarm and distress. He held out his hand, peering deeply into the injury, and spun the threads to heal again, soothing the raw and broken ends.

Barnes let out a soft sigh, and sagged backward in relief. "Oh, God, that feels… amazing. I didn't realize how much it had hurt until it didn't…"

"I should have done it before. You can tell me, James, if something is still bothering you."

"You've done so much already."

Loki shook his head. "James. This time since you and I were rescued from Austria have helped me more than you will ever understand." He held out a palm and conjured a small blue flame that sprouted tendrils of ice that crept over his hand and formed spikes. Barnes gasped and his eyes widened with sudden understanding.

"It was you all along," he whispered. "The Ice Demon."

"Yes. That's what they called me when I first came to this world." He pulled the ice into fanciful spires, concentrating, so he wouldn't have to look at James' face. "It is an easy thing when you have power to believe you are a god. In that, I understand Schmidt all too well. But you and Rogers kept me tethered to humanity, in a way that I wouldn't have been, consumed by rage and revenge."

He dispersed the ice with a flick of his fingers, sending the moisture back into the air as water vapor, and lifted his eyes to see what Barnes thought of this. He was, as Loki expected, stunned, but he wasn't afraid, and after a moment, he nodded slowly. "So where are you really from?"

"It doesn't matter. A place far away. It's not home. Not anymore." He thought wistfully of Frigga and even of Thor, but shoved the thoughts away. They'd left him to rot in Schmidt's captivity, doing nothing to help him. Asgard wasn't home, and it hadn't been since they'd told him he wasn't even Aesir. He was on his own.

Barnes smiled. "So we're your friends? That what you're saying?"

"If… that's all right with--" Loki faltered into uncertainty, cursing his tongue for failing him in these times when he no longer knew how to behave and what to say, when the words became too important for speech.

Barnes reached his good hand to seize Loki's. "Hell yes," he said warmly, then added with earnest honesty. "And I promise to keep your secret. I know it was difficult for you to trust me with it."

Loki's lips twisted wryly. "I'm afraid there is no keeping that a secret," he gestured to Barnes, meaning his arm and the rest of his body nearly all healed from his terrible fall. "Either you did it yourself, altered by Schmidt and Hydra, or I did it. Or both. I doubt it was all me, James, I think you had some benefit from that serum they gave you."

Barnes' brow lowered and he grimaced, nodding a slow acceptance, much to Loki's surprise. He'd expected Barnes to be more shocked. "You suspected?"

"Nothing overt, but yeah, I didn't seem to be getting tired as quickly as I used to. Little stuff. But yeah. I thought there was something."

He fell silent for a long moment until Loki thought maybe he'd forgotten anyone else was in the room. But then his gaze shifted to the sling. "You think maybe it'll grow my hand back?"

Loki wanted to be able to say yes, even though he was nearly certain the answer was no. He blinked and said, "There is a slim possibility, as I don't know the limits of this, but no, my experience with those who heal as I do is that loss of limbs or organs--" he thought of Odin and added, "like an eye, do not reform."

Barnes nodded, disappointed, but not very surprised. "Yeah, kinda thought as much." He pondered a bit more and added with a flashing grin, "You know, it's because I thought I might be a little different was why I caught onto you casually plucking bullets out of the air."

"I never did that!" Loki protested, laughing.

"I notice you're not saying you can't… Jesus, you're such a freak."

Anyone else saying that Loki would've been hurt, but with Barnes, he knew the mortal was teasing and didn't mean it in a hurtful way. Loki folded his arms and glared at him in mock offense. "So are you. If you're feeling so much more chipper, we should be on our way tomorrow. Before Steven gives up on us for dead."

Barnes snorted. "I'm surprised he hasn't come crashing through the door looking for us. But yes, I'm ready as I'll ever be, I think."

Loki discovered that it was very fun to use his powers openly. He didn't have to worry about Barnes knowing, since already knew, and his slack-jawed amazement was gratifying as their jeep was admitted to the German airfield with salutes as if he was Himmler himself coming to inspect them.

"Who the hell am I supposed to be?" Barnes demanded in a whisper, leaning forward to whisper to his "driver".

"Colonel of the SS," Loki answered, flashing a grin at him over his shoulder.

"Holy shit."

Loki snickered to himself but warned more seriously, "Do try to keep up appearances, Colonel. The illusion will hold, but if you do too much wrong they'll still know we're impostors."

They pulled up and Loki went to arrange immediate transport to "Berlin" with the air supervisor, easily able to cow him with news of the colonel's injury and urgent need to report. They seemed resistant to believe him, until Loki palmed the Hydra badge before the commandant, and suddenly he was all obedience and they had their flight.

It was a plane not too different from the one that had taken them to Britain the first time, though at least this one smelled better. He escorted his injured colonel in the tidy black and silver uniform up inside the fuselage.

The plane stood at a strong tilt to the back, and he offered a surreptitious steadying hand to Barnes as an officious young pilot trainee escorted them forward with a great many apologies for the state of the aircraft and its lack of proper amenities.

I think I will kill you first, Loki promised the young man silently with an inward smile. So concerned about whether the colonel will have schnapps in the middle of this horrific slaughter. No mercy. Not for any of you.

Barnes sat down as other officers came aboard with their assistants, and Loki and Barnes endured all the formalities, as Loki wondered whether they would get away with this long enough to make their move.

Finally, the hatch was closed, with two officious young men to serve the six officers, and the three in the cockpit and one aft gunner. Barnes' eyes met his as the planes engines sputtered to life and his hand clenched around the armrest.

Then the plane went level and began to taxi, and it was Loki's turn to grip the arm rests. Surely these clumsy heavy things would eventually fail to get off the ground, or would slam straight back down. I did not spend a week getting James back on his feet to lose him now to the humans' inability to build proper flyers.

The plane launched into the air with a shaking roar like a belching dragon, and for an instant Loki thought of his dragon teacher on Vanaheim. She'd been an old one and canny. He wondered what she'd think of Midgardians especially their clumsy flying machines.

Then they lurched into the air, and the engines strained and Loki was sure they were going to crash… lift was never going to keep this tin can in the air.

But they leveled off to the short flight to Berlin and Loki knew the time was now. He stood up.

"Sir," the officious young man rose from his seat to meet him, "Excuse me, sir, but you need to stay seated for the duration of the--"

"The Colonel wants a drink. And a cigarette."

The young man turned around to find the drink, while the officer seated behind Bucky and next to where Loki was now standing, pawed his jacket to find a cigarette. So he wasn't watching as Loki stabbed the officious young man in the back with a dagger, and then pulled it out and threw it in the next one's throat. Conjuring another into his hand he cut the throat of the one looking for a cigarette, and was already in motion as the others finally started shouting in alarm.

Fools. They had no chance, not really. Only one managed to fire his weapon, point blank right at Loki's chest. He jerked back from the force of the blow, but then smirked as the captain stared as the uniform melted away to show Loki's Asgardian combat suit.

"What-- what are you?" he whispered.

"I am the Ice Demon of Arendelle and you are all dead men." He didn't wait either; striking like a viper to take down the last of the men on his end of the plane. They realized they couldn't shoot him and so they came at him hand-to-hand, as if that would somehow succeed where firearms would not. But Loki had been trained by the best with hundreds of years of experience, not to mention training with weapons-masters of Earth in his century of wandering. He didn't even have to use his blades to kill them all - he dispatched two with his bare hands and one with his foot.

Meanwhile behind him, he heard Barnes warn the cockpit crew, "Don't." Because he had his pistol and one handed or not, he could still use a gun with lethal effectiveness.

"Course 165, Ein-seis-funf. Now. Pronto," Barnes ordered. "Change course or I blow your heads off and set it myself."

Loki turned in time to see the navigator try to rush Barnes and get whacked in the head with Barnes' weapon so hard he dropped like a stone. Without changing expression, looking as deadly serious as Loki had seen him, he asked, "Anyone else feel like being a hero? Nein? Then change the course."

Loki stalked up the aisle, stepping over the bodies with a casual disregard, and Barnes glanced at him and his eyebrows shot up. "What the hell is that outfit?"

"My armor."

"Impressive. Ridiculous, and yet impressive. Can you tell these two morons to change the course? They're acting like they don't understand me."

Loki smiled at the pilot and co-pilot who were both looking at him. "I just killed everyone else on this plane," he told them in German, continuing to smile. "If you want to live, you do as he says. You will take us where we wish to go and be taken prisoner by the Allies. Otherwise you die."

"We… we could crash the plane," the co-pilot stammered. "We will all die."

"No, my friend. We won't. Only you will."

"What-- what sort of creature are you?" the pilot demanded.

"The kind that will enjoy watching you die."

Apparently even Barnes was a bit concerned by Loki's level of malice and cautioned, without taking his eyes from the two Germans, "Lukas. They're going to do it, of course. They're not entirely stupid."

"Ja, ja, we will take you."

"And Britain will take us prisoner?" the copilot asked. "Not Russia? We hear very bad things from Russia."

"Yes, Britain and America," Barnes confirmed. "Not Russians."

With trembling hands the pilots swung the plane around into a heading south instead, to head over the mountains to Italy.

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