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13 November 2014 @ 12:38 pm
The Ice Demon and the Hydra, part 9  

The pub they'd spent that night of R&R in was now a bombed-out ruin, missing most of its roof, one collapsed wall, and burnt debris scattered over what was left. There was still an oily, sooty puddle on the floor from the fire brigade and the place smelled of smoke, though the fire had been out for days. The place seemed to fit Steve's mood perfectly. He kicked a broken bit of lamp out of his way and righted the least damaged stool to sit at what remained of the bar.

It was time to face facts. Bucky was dead. He had to be, after that fall. And so was Lukas, who had bravely but stupidly plunged after him, somehow crazy enough to believe he could survive a thousand foot plunge off a train bridge and still help Bucky. Steve hadn't grabbed them. He hadn't been fast enough, or smart enough, or strong enough to save them. He'd only been able to watch them both fall.

He took out his flask, looked around for a glass but of course they were all broken or melted, and settled for swallowing the brandy out of the flask. Of course it didn't do much for him anymore - the quick burn of the alcohol faded quickly, but it was better than nothing.

He heard footsteps and identified them as Peggy, coming to console him, probably. Or try to get him to put his grief aside and go back to being a soldier. Chin up, and all that. Get through the war and grieve later, when there was more time.

"Steve," she greeted softly.

"Zola doesn't seem a fair exchange," Steve said, not looking at her. "Not for Bucky. Or Lukas. That Hydra toad isn't worth their lives. Schmidt himself isn't worth it. Lukas was that monster's prisoner for almost two years, Peggy, tortured and starved and I don't know what all, and to die falling from a damned train…"


"Or Bucky who was always there for me, always pulling me out of one stupid scrape after another…"

"Steven," she repeated more forcefully to get his attention. He turned to look at her finally, and she smiled.

"We just received word," she said. "They're alive."

That was… unexpected. Impossible. "But… how? They fell from the train, Peggy. That was a couple hundred feet into ice and rock…"

"I don't know, though I doubt such a fall could kill someone who survived a tank shell in his face. Though, I should warn you, this is a medical airlift, so I presume Sergeant Barnes is injured. But they're both on the way here."

"When?" Steve asked. "I need to meet them."

"ETA is 0530," she told him and her smile widened as he overturned his stool and tripped over it in his haste to stand up and go to the airfield. "Steve, wait! There's a jeep outside, waiting for us."

That got him to pause. She had gotten it ready, because she knew he'd want to go. Because Bucky and Lukas were alive. He seized her shoulders overcome for amoment by excitement. "They're alive!" He kissed her cheek. "Thank you! Peggy, they're alive!"

"I know." She was laughing at him, but he didn't care. "Come on."

It took them almost as long to get to the airfield in the dark, as it did the airplane to reach the airfield, especially when the car had to pass through the curfew checkpoints. They all sent him and Peggy on their way, but it was time Steve begrudged.

First light was glimmering in the sky when the radio control where they were waiting got the crackling report that the plane was on approach. There were numerous ambulances on standby, Steve realized once he went outside-- Bucky wasn't the only one injured who was coming back to Britain.

The plane landed and Steve started toward them, but Peggy called him back. "Captain. Let them unload."

So, shifting his weight impatiently, he waited and watched as the stretchers were unloaded. Medical corps was there to determine who would go where, taking reports from the stretcher carriers.

He worried he might miss them in the confusion, since all the patients on the stretchers looked alike, but it turned out to be not that difficult. He could barely see in the early morning gloom, nothing of faces, but it didn't matter - he recognized the coiled grace of that lean silhouette alighting from the plane under his own power. "Lukas!" He rushed over. "Lukas!" He heard Peggy chase after him but didn't stop, finding both Lukas and the stretcher he was standing next to.

And his feet stopped. "Oh, god, Bucky?"

Because Bucky was on that stretcher, unconscious, and pale. But that wasn't what shocked him -- it was the way his left arm ended at the elbow, and the rest of that arm was wrapped in thick bandages all the way across his torso and his neck.

"Is he-- Is he going to live?" Steve asked hesitantly, not sure he wanted to know. "He looks really bad..."

To his shock, Lukas snorted. "He caught some illness. I thought he was well enough to travel, but apparently something in Italy caused a resurgence."

"What- what happened?" Steve asked. "To his arm I mean?"

"His arm took the brunt of the fall. It shattered," Lukas explained. "I had to remove it to stop the bleeding."

"Did a good job cauterizing it, too," one of the attendants put in. "We couldn't have done it better in hospital. He owes you his life."

"Well, I'm not so certain of that," Lukas demurred, frowning at Bucky.

"No, he does," Steve insisted. "You saved him. And you, you're okay?"

Lukas shrugged. "I am unhurt. They were reluctant to let me go on the airplane, so I might have implied I was being recalled by the Intelligence service." He glanced at Peggy, smirking.

"If you want to join us, Mister Onsdag, we would be glad to have you," she returned smoothly.

"I'm sure you would."

The attendant broke in, "I gotta take him now."

"Okay," Steve leaned over Bucky. "Hey, pal, I'll see you soon, okay?"

They wheeled him away and Peggy addressed Lukas, "We have a car if you want to join us?"

He accepted, and in the walk back, when they were alone, Steve asked, "So, uh, how the hell did you manage not to get hurt jumping off the train without a parachute?"

Lukas smirked at him. "Steven, I have never needed a parachute."

"How?" Peggy asked. "That's impossible."

"I shunt the acceleration of my fall into another dimension," he answered, and when neither she nor Steve understood what he said, he rolled his eyes. "That's why I didn't bother to tell you. Rabbits," he muttered. "You're all still rabbits." Lukas leaned back and folded his fingers together. "So, while I was attempting to get Barnes out of Austria, I hope you had better luck with your mission to get Zola."

"I did," Steve nodded. "I got him. Extracted him. And he's where we're headed to debrief you."

Lukas stilled. For a moment, Steve could feel the tension pouring off of him, even though there was nothing in his expression to indicated that he thought anything about that at all. His voice when he spoke was light, almost joking, and yet also very certainly he meant every word. "You mean he's still alive? How have you not pulled all the information from him and hung his corpse from the city walls yet?"

Peggy and Steve exchanged a glance, before laughing a bit uneasily. "We… don't do that anymore," Peggy said.

"Pity. But tell me, Agent Carter, why is he still alive?"

"Because he has a lot of information but, so far, he's refusing to give most of it up," she answered. "The Colonel is interrogating him. And he seems quite the coward, and he'll talk endlessly, but he won't give up Schmidt or the base."

Steve shook his head in disgust. "He tried that with me, and I finally had to gag him, to shut him up. But he's smart."

"I'll have to visit him," Lukas said. His voice was calm, pleasant even, but there was something about it that sent a chill down Steve's back. It was a promise of violent and painful retribution that reminded Steve that Zola had been one of Lukas' torturers.

"I don't know that Command will allow that," Peggy said, not buying his attitude either. "Fearing that you'll kill him." Her lips made a more sympathetic smile. "Understandably so, but he's too important of an asset for you to kill him. I'm sorry, Lukas."

His eyes went hooded as his face smoothed out to unreadable, and he leaned back in his chair as though he was relaxed and letting it go. "Well, when you finally tire of his games, let me know. I could interrogate him, and he won't be able to lie to me."

"You can make your offer to the Colonel," she said. "But I doubt it'll be necessary."

"It will be," Lukas declared with chill confidence.

His anger at Zola's continued existence cast a pall over their conversation as they returned to base.

But that couldn't last in the face of the other Commandos' exuberant delight to see him walk in alive, and the news that Bucky was alive, too. They all bought him multiple rounds of beer to celebrate, and he smiled and seemed glad to be back, joining in their songs until it was very late.

Everyone was getting sleepy, most taking off to find their racks. At the door, on his own way out, Steve glanced back to see Lukas had nodded off in the corner over a book.

Steve smiled, glad to see he was back and getting some rest after a no doubt difficult journey to bring Bucky back to Allied lines alive. Then he left the mess hall to find out where Bucky had been taken and go see how he was doing.

Loki crept through the base corridors, cloaked in invisibility illusion, searching for what Phillips had forbidden him to see. But the guards were sleepy here deep in Allied territory in the middle of the night, and Loki hardly needed illusion at all to pass them.

He looked through the narrow window and spied his target in the plain room. There was a table and two chairs, cot, and small toilet - perfect for keeping a prisoner housed for quite a while and interrogate him at will.

Touching the door he felt there was no current in it that would block him, and gathered seiðr to push his molecules between those of the door in a short-range form of teleportation.

Silently he padded to the other side of the table, from where Zola was seated, wakeful and worried, and then let the illusion fall away.

The sight of Zola's rabbit-y little face filled Loki with rage, but he clenched his fists and tamped down his anger with the promise that it would be much more satisfying to carry through his plan than rip the weasel's head off.

Zola started violently when his gaze lifted and he saw his visitor.

Loki inclined his head slightly. "Herr Doktor Zola, guten abend."

"How – how did you get in here?"

Smiling slightly, Loki remained still – both things calculated to make people very nervous. "Oh, but I am not here. If anyone should look in the window, they will not see me. I am reading the Iliad – in Greek of course – in the mess hall. In full view of everyone. I thought it would be best to have our conversation in private." He let his smile widen to show teeth, and approached the table. "We have much to discuss."

"What is it you want?" Zola demanded, stuttering only a little with fear. He had to know what Loki wanted - vengeance - but he was being a little brave. That would make this much more fun.

Loki held tight to his calm. "My friend Colonel Phillips, and his superiors, want to know about Schmidt and Hydra. They are prepared to offer you a great many things in exchange for your cooperation. You – they say – are a scientist, quite brilliant, and they believe you can be persuaded to change masters for some luxuries like frequent food and your own laboratory someday."

Loki paced slowly around the table. "But I know you are loyal. Now exactly why you are loyal to a mortal who thinks he's a god, when he is not, I do not--"

"He will make himself a god. You will see. He will destroy this earth and a new one will rise in its place--"

Loki snorted a laugh. "Spare me the Hydra propaganda, Herr Zola. I heard plenty of it when you - " he curled his hand around Zola's throat from behind and pulled, making him give a strangled yelp, and Loki leaned down and whispered in his ear, "tortured me. Did you not think of the danger of offending a demon, Herr Zola? Did you not think there would be retribution?"

"I was – I was only following his orders. I had to," Zola protested hoarsely.

Loki released him and returned to the front of the table so he wouldn't rip out Zola's throat in fury. "Do you know how much I loathe that phrase – I was following orders? Because I myself despise following, and I never follow orders if I don't wish it. I do what I want, and that is my way. Those who do not choose, those who only follow – they are weak."

"Or they have no choice."

"No, no, Herr Zola, you are wrong. There is always choice, even to do nothing is a choice, and you chose to do far more than nothing. In the old days, do you know what I did with those who offended me?" Aware of Zola's nervous gaze on him, Loki wandered back behind him again slowly. "There once was a priest who tried to exorcise the demon from me. But I think if you want to exorcise a demon you should at least know your declensions. So I wrapped my hand around his neck like this – " he demonstrated again, making Zola jump in his chair a little. His pulse beat under Loki's touch like a little bird's heart, and he was sweating. "And I broke his neck and I threw his corpse in a ravine. But the best part," he bent close to whisper in Zola's ear, "was hearing him pray for mercy and help, and his god was nowhere to be found."

He released Zola again and flicked his eyes toward the window in the door to check if anyone was there. His untended double in the mess was still reading but someone would eventually notice that he never shifted position or reacted to anything in the room. He had to move this along. Pity, he wanted to draw out Zolas' fear and suffering much, much longer.

Returning to the other side of the table, he looked down. "Let me lay out my problem, Herr Zola. I want you dead. I want to break every bone in your little body, and pull your heart of your chest with my hand. And make no mistake, I am not one of these humans. You serve a mere human insane enough to believe he's a god; I am a god. And the old gods are not kind. You are an ant and I will step on you. So you have one chance to tell me where Schmidt and the tesseract are, or I crush your skull in my hand with less remorse than squeezing a grape." He leaned forward and his smile widened. "If you lie to me, I shall know. It is … something of a specialty."

"I – I – "

"Tick tock, doctor. Your life hangs by a thread."

"I never wanted to hurt you, but you don't understand, Schmidt -"

Lok prowled behind him, stopping to twine a finger in the collar of his shirt and jerk it back. "You seem to fear him more than you fear me, that is a mistake, Herr Zola. Everything Schmidt wants, I already am. I am immortal, and I am without remorse, or ethics, or humanity. I could have ruled this planet two hundred years ago, if I had wanted, because there is nothing on this meager little world that can stop me." Faster than any mortal eyes could see, he pulled his dagger and slammed it into the table – right through Zola's hand. With his other hand tight over Zola's mouth as he heaved a breath, trying to scream.

"Give me Schmidt, little man," he hissed. "Or you die right here, right now."

Zola stared at the blade through his hand with huge eyes, startled and scared by the violence and the pain, unable to catch his breath until Loki peeled his hand off Zola's mouth and the scientist panted.

"Birchenwald, in Austria. There, our secret base."

Loki gestured a map woven of light onto the surface of the table. "Show me."

The sight of the map enraptured Zola, and he tried to touch it, having it disappear with a flash. Loki sighed impatiently and cast it again.

Free hand shaking above the map, Zola indicated a spot. "There."

Even if the very air hadn't vibrated with the lie, Loki would still know it wasn't true. It was possible someone else would have believed him, though Loki thought Phillips would probably also know it was a lie. An attempt to throw him off, now that the immediate fear of the attack had faded.

Loki asked, bored, "Is that your choice, then? I put a blade through your hand and still you lie to me?" He pulled his dagger out and Zola let out a cry, as the wound began to bleed. He held the blade to the light, examining the edge; he'd missed the bones but the tip had broken off a bit slamming into the metal crosspiece underneath the table. Damn. He was going to have to fix that. "Do you remember how many tubes and needles you had in me, Zola? I do. Shall we see if you can survive this blade put in the same places?"

Zola's eyes widened behind his glasses in sheer terror. "No, no, I mean here," Zola pointed to a different place a hundred miles away. "Here. The map – it is confusing a moment, but this is the place." He cradled his hand with the other. "Do you have a bandage?" Now that he thought he'd done what would save his life, he expected tending. A return on the bargain. Fool.

"No." Loki memorized the new location, knowing it was now true, and then banished the image of the map. "Good. Now I will use that knowledge and kill Schmidt. His very existence offends me – he believes he is so different, so superior, and yet he does not see he is exactly like every other mortal on this planet, clawing for an advantage, burning your own kind, to achieve some sort of transient glory and power, when in a few short years it will be for nothing. And his is worse, making himself into what he is not. It is an abomination."

Loki regarded Zola calmly now that he had what he wanted. "Yet you... you are worse. Perhaps I see too much of myself in you, but I know you are a dangerous man, Herr Doctor Zola. Left here, you will eventually betray my friends and do great harm. But that is not why you will die. No, you and Schmidt will die because Arendelle is under my protection and you invaded it, and butchered my people."

Zola leaned back, terror lighting his eyes again. "But you said – you promised--"

Loki laughed once, sharply. "Poor foolish little mortal. You know who I am. Did you believe the god of lies?"

"But I know more! I have information--"

"Of course you do. The difference between me and Colonel Phillips is that I don't care about your information. That is why I will do this for him, so you don't manipulate him with it. Schmidt is a maniac, but you, Zola, you are a disease. This Realm is better without you in it; of that I have no doubt at all."

He grabbed Zola around the throat one last time, and in a second it was done. The corpse slumped on the table and Loki regarded him coolly. He felt no particular satisfaction, but no regret either.

Then he put his dagger away, and slipped from the room to "wake up" back in the mess hall, pretend to read for a few more minutes, and then rise to
fetch himself a drink. Making sure he remained in view at all times, he sat down with Jones and Dernier to speak French with them. Speaking in French reminding him of the years he'd lived in Paris. It had been an exciting time – one could feel a restlessness in the air, of some oncoming storm. He'd prodded some students into higher mathematics, while admiring the art and music emerging in this vigor. But too much attention had made him nervous that Asgard might track him through the eddies of his passing if he made waves too large. This time, he didn't particularly care. He would do as he pleased, help the mortals, and maybe when he had the tesseract in his hand, he would keep it for himself.

With the tesseract, I could stop this war. Put an end to the fighting. No one could stop me. I could make a better world than this one.

When the alarm rang and soldiers started dashing about, he hid a smile. Someone had found the body.

It took less than an hour for Phillips to call him to the office. "Shut the door, Mister Wednesday."

Loki shut the door and sat on the hard little chair across from Phillips. "So. Doctor Zola was found dead a few minutes ago."

Loki made his voice as dry as he could. "What a loss."

Phillips tapped his papers together, before laying them flat again and smoothing his hands across the surface. He glanced up and looked Loki in the eye. "Did you do it?"

"I was in the mess reading and telling stories about Louis XIV over terrible ale. Everyone saw me."

"Which isn't exactly a 'no'," Phillips observed.

Loki leaned back and crossed his ankles. "Of course I did it. But you are the only one who will ever know that, Colonel."

"Why? Why did you kill him? Revenge? He was a valuable--"

Loki held up a hand and Phillips stopped his complaints as if he'd run into a wall. "That is exactly why, Colonel. You thought he was valuable, but he was not. He was rubbish-- No, worse, he was poison. He would have poisoned your Realm, as sure as Schmidt wants to watch it burn. You do not take vipers to your bosom; you cut off their heads."

"You – you could have said this before. Warned us--"

"You and your superiors would still have thought you could control him. Or believed the technological brilliance would be worth the risk. But there is no technology worth the cancer he would spread. So I took care of it."

"I... I know ethics in war are a slippery thing, but cold-blooded murder of prisoners... I can't condone this," Phillips rubbed a hand over his face, looking weary.

Loki folded his hands together and pondered what to say, and decided only the truth would do, at this point. "I am a thousand years old, Colonel Phillips." Phillips' dark eyes flipped to Loki's face, astonished. Loki continued, "My true name is Loki of Asgard, and I have been both a demon and a god to your kind. Whatever your kind name me, my powers and knowledge exceed anything on this world." He held out a palm and it was a child's trick to conjure green flame for Phillips to stare at. "I have walked the streets of Boston when they were dirt, I have crossed the Gobi desert by camel, I have taught mathematics to a prince of China, and drunk wine with Robespierre. I tell you this so you understand: I have seen much and known many people. Zola was one of the most purely evil men I have ever met. He hid that evil in affability and cowardice, looking meek, but he believed in Schmidt and Hydra. In the end, he would have wrapped you in bonds of corruption so tight you would have no choice but do his will. And you – your people – would not have seen it until it was too late. You need not condone my action -- whether you do or not is immaterial to me – but I want you to understand he was a threat himself, not merely because he served Schmidt."

Phillips blinked, looking vaguely at the surface of his desk, mulling that all over. Then with his practicality asserting itself, he dismissed most of it as irrelevant and stated, "You were protecting us."

Loki inclined his head in agreement. "Yes." Then admitted, "Not to say there was no vengeance, because I was never going to let him live after what he did to me. But it was also to protect others from his poison. When I first came, I intended to avenge Arendelle alone. And I surely will face more censure interfering as much as I have beyond its borders, but my desire to help has grown beyond revenge."

Phillips lifted his brows curiously. "Censure?"

"I came against orders," Loki admitted. "I was not supposed to interfere at all." Then he shrugged and smirked, "I tend to do what I want."

Phillips glanced up at that, lips twitching in an unwilling smile, that faded for a sigh. "But now, we have no lead for Schmidt's whereabouts..."

Loki's smirk widened to a laugh. "Did you think I killed him before he told me that? No. I know where the secret base is." He stood. "It's time we cut off the biggest head of the Hydra beast, Colonel."

"Yes, it is," Phillips agreed. "To the strategy room then." As they headed for the door, Phillips glanced at him and frowned in deep skepticism. "A thousand years old. Really?"


Phillips grunted, unimpressed, and Loki had to laugh.

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