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15 November 2018 @ 04:30 pm
The Ice Demon and the Red Skull 5  
Part Five



Lukas had been surly after Natasha left, and had dismissed Steve’s attempt to get him to have lunch with an irritable “I’m not eating that garbage.”

Steve heaved a sigh. “Come on, we’re going back. Natasha can take care of herself, and we’re going to Paris. Don’t you want to see Paris when it’s free?”

“We have no time to see it, if we follow their schedule and get on the death trap to DC.”

Now Steve understood. They were flying commercial, not a quinjet. “Airplanes. That’s what this is about.”

Lukas looked like he wanted to deny it at first, but then he looked away. His thumb absently rubbed at his opposite inner wrist in a gesture Steve remembered all too well. “I saw the plane they expect us to fly to Paris,” he admitted. “I’m not sure I can do it. The thought of it is making me feel ill.”

Steve frowned. This reaction sounded more extreme than what he’d felt before, and Steve had to wonder if this had more to do with what else was going on in his head than any true fear of flying. “Why don’t you call Doctor Samson? See if he has some advice. I’ll go over there,” he jerked his head toward the tourist information booth, “and ask about trains to Paris.”

“You would be willing to take the train?”

Steve didn’t know why Lukas sounded so doubtful. “Of course I would. But we’ll still have to fly to Washington, so you get some tips from the doctor while I change our schedule.”

“No,” Lukas gave an abrupt shake of his head. “That’s absurd. I’m not a child. I can do it.”

Steve might have bought it as more than just stubborn pride except he knew how much of that Lukas had, and that he was perfectly capable of throwing himself into an airplane even if he spent the whole trip sick with anxiety.

“The thing is, you don’t have to. And the better thing is, our time is our own. We can spend it on trains if we want. What are they gonna do? Not pay us?” he joked, and Lukas found a smile at that.

The train was pleasant and fast, and it let Lukas relax more than a small plane would have. It was still slower than a plane so they had to get different transatlantic flights, and Steve made the case on the phone with Coulson for first class since Lukas was so stressed about flying. He'd offered to pay for it himself when Coulson was reluctant, and that had seemed to shame him into pushing for it. Steve felt the cost was ridiculous, but everything in this time was and SHIELD still owed them.

They had a few hours to kill in Paris once they arrived and spent it as tourists. Lukas told him about being there centuries ago just before the Revolution and they reminisced about the war when they had missed Paris. Lukas pulled him through the outside wall of Notre Dame into a service corridor, and Steve wanted to object except the line to get in was long and they needed to get to the airport.

It was beautiful inside. He saw Lukas inhale deeply in the chapel, closing his eyes. It seemed to help, and he seemed reinvigorated afterward. It wasn't the religion, Steve was sure, but more the age of it that settled him. Perhaps because this was a place that had changed so little.

It made Steve think that maybe he needed to find a place for himself that felt like somewhere he remembered, too. It wasn't fair to put all that on Bucky and Peggy, nor was it wise since he was likely to outlive them both. So, a place, but one that was already historical and would be kept as it was into the future, not torn down and developed into a new skyscraper.

He'd have to think on it, but in the meantime he padded after Lukas in the cathedral and admired the art and the age of it.

But all too quickly the minutes they had alloted were over and they had to leave and head for the airport.

As the planes came into view from their taxi, he glanced at Lukas. "Okay?"

Lukas gave a shrug. "I will manage. I wish we had a quinjet, though. Those air craft are much more convenient."

"Next time. Probably it's still cheaper than first class since I doubt Coulson will spring for that again."

Lukas chuckled with appreciation. "Not when he is such a fan of yours."

"Yours too," Steve protested.

"He doesn't have my toaster," Lukas teased, and Steve rolled his eyes. But he had pulled on Coulson's admiration for them, he had to admit at least to himself.

But as he stretched out his legs in his wide seat for the long flight back, he'd do it again.

**









On United Airlines flight 313, somewhere over the Atlantic, Captain Anders had a moment’s warning from the plane’s radar, and the flight engineer exclaimed something, but Anders saw only the converted C-17 suddenly swing into view from port, straight in front of them.


“Holy shit!” His hands tightened on the controls thinking he needed to evade. Old instincts from his Navy pilot days kicked in and his heart was suddenly pounding, but he was calm.

A sound on his headset crackled through “United 313, this is SHIELD 142. Maintain course and speed. DO you copy?”

He flicked his headset to engage. “Copy, SHIELD 142, This is captian Anders, United 313. What the hell are you doing?”


There was a pause and the voice was more clearly a dry feminine one as it responded, “SHIELD requires two of your passengers, United 313. Captain Rogers and Mister Onsdag. In 2A and 2B. Put them on the line.”

Extremely confused by all this, he exchanged a look with his co-pilot and asked, uneasily, “I’m going to need some authorization, SHIELD 142, to break the in-flight security door.”

“Stand by.”

A moment later the comm crackled again, and this time a male voice. “This is President Ellis, Captain. Do you recognize my voice?”

“Yes, sir,” Anders replied, straightening reflexively.

“Good. Then get those two men forward for SHIELD. The country - hell, the world -- needs them.”

“Yes, sir,” Anders answered. What else could he say? He swallowed and looked to the co-pilot. “Tell Shelly to bring them in.”

The co-pilot got up and went to unlock the door.

The female voice said, a bit drily, “I trust that satisfies your objection, Captain Anders?”

He answered, “We’re getting them. Stand by.”

In the cabin, Shelly Donahue, head flight attendant, heard the order, and was also very confused, but went to the row where the two men were in business class, wearing headphones, watching the screens in the back of their seats. She bent close to the fairer haired one in 2B, while 2A sensed her presence and looked at her, nudging his companion. They both removed their earbuds.

She leaned down to not disturb those in nearby seats, “You both are urgently requested to come to the radio. There’s some kind of emergency.”




Steve heard the stewardess - flight attendant, he fixed in his mind - and frowned. An emergency that needed them.

“Perhaps it is Natalya,” Lukas suggested and started to rise.

That made Steve rise too and they both followed the stewardess - flight attendant -- forward to the galley and past that to the closed door. She touched a control. “This is Shelly. I have the two here. Outside.”

The door opened, and one of the uniformed pilots stood there. He gave Steve and LUkas a quick look, before turning aside and letting them in. “You’re wanted. By that.” He gestured to the front.

At first Steve didn’t see it, until he gaped, realizing that was a plane no more than a hundred yards ahead of them. “What the hell are they doing?”

“Looking for you, apparently,” the co-pilot said drily.

Lukas huffed a laugh. “SHIELD, so dramatic.”

The pilot in the front seat turned around. “You two Rogers and Onsdag? They want to- talk to you.”

With the air of someone who was pretty done with bullshit he handed an extra headset to Steve, while the flight engineer handed another to Lukas. Steve put it on. “This is Rogers.”

A woman’s voice answered, crisp and military. “THis is Agent May of sHIELD, Captain Rogers. I’ve been sent to fetch you and Mister Onsdag.”

“Uh, we’re in an airplane headed to DC, Agent May. Arrival time is about three hours.” His voice went up slightly in a question and the pilot nodded.

“Time is not something we have a luxury of, Captain Rogers. There’s a … situation. DIrector Fury and Agent Hill were nearly killed,” May said, picking her words with care. “We need you and Mister Onsdag right away.”

Steve looked to Lukas, who was unimpresed. Steve doubted they'd be called like this if it weren't important, but it was a puzzle what the quinjet was for. “And we’d be glad to help, Agent May, but--- I don’t know what you want us to do?”

“Is Captain Anders still on the line?” she asked.

Anders said, “I’m here. Go ahead, Agent May.”

“Your instructions are to descend to five thousand feet, captain. Maintain heading and speed. Captain Rogers and Mister Onsdag will transfer from your plane to mine, through your forward door.”

“Are you insane?” Anders blurted. “You want me to open my door? In flight?”

She retorted crisply, “You have Captain America and the ICe Demon on your plane, Captain Anders.” Anders wide-eyed gaze swung around to stare at Steve at the news. He’d had no idea, obviously. Agent May continued, “And the Earth just had an unfriendly visitor arrive on this planet."

That got Steve’s attention, and he exchanged a glance with Lukas. “Say again, Agent May. We have an alien on Earth?”

“A very unfriendly visitor, Captain,” she answered. “We need advice and we need it now.”

“Understood,” Steve answered.

But Lukas gave an unfriendly smile and asked, "And what is our proof of this claim, Agent May? I don't know you, I don't know your loyalties, and I am disinclined to risk myself and Steve Rogers on the say-so of someone who might be a Hydra agent."

There was a pause, as Agent May considered how to counter his suspicion and said, “Stand by.”

The captain turned his head and offered, “I did just have the president tell me to get you.”

Steve would’ve gone along, hearing that, but Lukas remained unyielding, folding his arms as he waited for proof he would accept.

The radio hissed and then clicked. A familiar voice broke in, “This is Agent Coulson. Do you hear me?”

steve answered, “I hear you, Agent Coulson.”

“Agent May’s one of the good ones, she has my trust. Mister Onsdag, Captain Rogers, this is a situation, and we need you. Right away. Over.”

Steve looked to Lukas, who gave a nod,and Steveanswered, “Understood, Coulson. We’re on our way.”

“Good. See you soon. Over and out.”

Lukas clicked on his comm. “So, Agent May, what is the plan?”

She’d apparently thought about it and answered promptly, “I will position my plane beneath, as long as you descend and keep your course, this will turn out just fine,” she answered.

“Just fine?” Anders repeated incredulously. “At five thousand feet. You want them to jump out and land on your fuselage? What if they miss? I don’t have parachutes.”

“My understanding is they would survive.”

Steve shrugged under Anders’ gaze. “We’ve done it before.”

“We can swim,” Lukas said, “Agent May, I need more information on this alien invader.”

“When you’re aboard and we’re on the way, I’ll give you the briefing,” she answered. “Descend and hold course, United 313.” The airplane before them sank out of view, descending first.

“Five thousand feet?” Captain Anders said, more to himself. “All right then. Jerry, put it in. Descending to five-zero-zero-zero. Check fuel.”

Jerry said, “Fuel status good. We’ve got plenty to make DC.” He added more to himself, “Well, at least that altitude depressurization won’t rip us up.”

“You two really going to jump out?” Anders asked, glancing up, as he pushed the stick to make the plane start to descend.

“I’ve done stupider things,” Lukas answered lightly, but Steve wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. The crew didn’t seem to be either, but didn’t question him either.






Steve watched as Lukas took the microphone away from Shelly and said in a voice that probably needed no help, “Your attention please, my fellow passengers. I am not the captain, but I do have an important announcement.”

He hesitated, and Steve had to fight back a smile. He was actually enjoying this, standing in front of a plane full of passengers.

Lukas went on, “The keen eyed among you may have noticed that we have started to descend. Now, you need not be alarmed; the aeroplane is not in danger. In fact you all are having a tremendously lucky day -- you are on the same craft as Captain America and the Ice Demon.” He paused and then sounded a little disappointed in only a few shocked reactions. “Ah, Steven, how soon they forget. But in any case, unfortunately, SHIELD has urgently requested our presence, and the middle Atlantic is rather poorly equipped for landing places, so we will have to transfer to the SHIELD quinjet beneath us the more exciting way.

“In order to do that, we will need your cooperation. We are going to have to open the forward door.” He tapped the overhead bin. “As Shelly told you at the beginning of our journey, the oxygen masks will drop automatically with the shift in pressure, but don’t worry, we’ll be at such a low altitude you’ll be fine with the door open. Steven and I will leave the plane, the door will be resealed, and you all will continue your merry way to Washington, while we go off and deal with… something classified.”

He looked back at the stunned and confused faces, and smiled. “Next time, we will know better than to fly commercial. Thank you for your cooperation and I do apologize for the unusual situation, but at least you’ll all have something interesting to post on your social media accounts, yes? Shelly, back to you.” He handed the microphone to the flight attendant.

She cleared her throat. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is an unusual situation. We do anticipate a strong wind in the cabin as the door is opened, so at this time, you must put away all loose items: in a case, in the overhead bin, or securely into the seat pocket in front of you, so no small items will be swept about and cause injury. Please be seated, with your seat belts fastened and put your trays in the locked position. The sooner we do this, the sooner we will be on our way. Thank you all for you cooperation. Crew will come through and take all service items and trash.”

At her words, the flight crew sprang into action in the galleys, as the passengers started to talk among themselves, somewhat agitated, but not panicked until a man’s voice said loudly, “Open the door? Are you crazy? We’ll explode!”

Shelly took a deep breath to head for him, but Lukas touched her shoulder. “Allow me.”

He headed down the aisle. “I am Lukas Onsdag, you are?”

The man otok a moment to manage the calm question. “Bruce… Silverton.”

“Well, Mister Silverton, you are wrong. Opening the door will not cause anything to explode. At a higher alititude where the air is thinner, yes, it becomes more dangerous because the air outside the craft is much thinner and all the air inside wants to go there immediately. But at five thousand feet the difference is not so great. It will be windy, but after a moment, the air will settle and it will be fine. But here, let me assure you that no harm will come to anyone on this craft. Because I won’t let it.” He held out his palm and a golden-green fire formed there, first a tiny candle flame but then growing to something as large as a grapefruit.

Silverton’s eyes bugged out, and everyone watching gasped. “What -- what kind of trick is that?” Silverton demanded.

Lukas smiled and let the flames dance between both palms “Not a trick. Power. I am the Ice Demon. The comic book character is fictional, but I am real. I have defended this world for a very long time, Mister Silverton. You are safe in my hands, I promise.” He said the last a little louder, holding the fire higher so more could see, and then dispersed it with a shake of his fingers. “So now, put away your things and get ready to watch something extraordinary.”

To Steve’s surprise, it worked. The deliberate theatricality of his reassurance and demonstration of power, immediately seemed to make people more excited about getting ready, as if they were about to watch a show. So they put away their stuff, let the crew take all the trash, while Steve helped Shelly with the mechanism to keep the slide from inflating when the door was opened.

Meanwhile, the plane was descending and Lukas prowled the main cabin, being reassuring and posing for selfies. Steve wanted to shake his head at it, amazed by how comfortable he seemed doing it, and reminded himself that Lukas was actually hundreds of years old, it was just Steve had met him at a particularly difficult time. But it was good he seemed to be recovering himself after his captivity.

Then, it was time.

Steve pulled his shield out of the case in the overhead bin and slung it over his head. “I’ll need it,” he explained to Lukas’ raised brows.

“I said nothing,” Lukas protested, with a fleeting grin.

In the cockpit the captain and Agent May finalized their positions relative to each other and they were ready to go. Lukas fought him for the dubious honor of opening the door and won, on account of being better able to survive if he was sucked out and fell, but Steve still insisted they belt him in. Using seat belt extenders, Steve wrapped the make-shift harness around him and then gripped his shoulders, to look in his face. “DOn’t do anythign stupid.”

Lukas tossed his hair and smirked. “Oh, Steven, it’s an adventure. HOld onto something.”

Shelly pulled the phone down to announce. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to open the door. Brace yourselves and close your eyes.”

Pulling the lever up, Lukas appeared to be straining and Steve nearly went to help him, but then the seal broke with a loud hiss. Instantly the air in the plane rushed toward the gap, that grew into a strong wind and a few blowing papers as the door cracked oven. Steve held on to the bulkhead galley, keeping watch.

There was one last near hurricane force blow, and then, the airflow reversed and cold wind swirled into the cabin from the open door. A few papers, a pen, and plastic cups escaped, but that was all.

Lukas had braced himself against the fuselage and as soon as he’d pushed the door out of the way, stood on the edge and looked.

“Well, that is a long way down,” he observed dryly and narrowed his eyes. “Do not jump, Steven. If you are too far from the fuselage the air flow will pull you toward the jet intakes. That would be … unfortunate.”

Steve detached himself and moved up to peer over the edge himself, murmuring to Lukas, “Oh, God, what the hell is out there they think this is a good idea?”

“Invading alien, she said. Whatever that means.” He glanced upward, thin line forming between his eyebrows. “I did sense something, a strange sort of shimmer through reality, but not enough to track it. Well, there’s nothing for it, but do it, I suppose, I will go first. Shelly, tell Agent May that I am prepared to go.”

Shelly spoke into the phone and then, white-knuckled, reported, “She says, go when ready. She’ll track your fall. I don’t think you should do this.”

The grin he turned to her was more reckless than reassuring, and he said, “Who wants to be boring?” He stepped off the edge and let himself fall. He didn’t shift his acceleration, wanting to gain some distance from the plane and test the fall for Steve.

The airflow grabbed him and threw him behind the plane instead, tumbling through the air. Spreading out arms and legs, he righted himself, and squinted against the air resistance to spot the quinjet. Agent May was clever enough it appeared to have positioned herself to rise to catch him, rather than fly too close and possibly miss him. It rose up beneath him, seeming too fast and too small a target against the endless blue of the ocean below.

But right on target, the jet grew larger beneath him, and he slammed hard into the top of the fuselage. Scrambling for a handhold as he bounced and slid toward the back, he touched the burning heat of the engine, yanking his hand away in reflex, and slipping farther back. But one boot caught the back of the opposite engine, able to better brace himself, slowing him enough to grab one of the maintenance holds just before he nearly fell off the back. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he kicked the outer hull and felt the jet shake and grumble as the lower ramp opened.

The most dangerous part was holding himself on the edge and swinging himself onto the ramp. A man, hooked in for safety, was at the top and offered a hand to bring him inside.

OUt of the wind, Loki shook himself briskly. “Well, that was invigorating.”

“Safe aboard?” a female voice called from the cockpit.

Loki hurried forward. “Agent May?” She turned back to glance at him, tipping her head in acknowledgment. “Lukas Onsdag, pleasure to not be swimming in the Atlantic right now. I commend your flight skills. However, I need to speak to Steven before he drops.”

She nodded toward a headset hanging on the back of the seat. “Use that.”

He put it on. “This is Lukas Onsdag, safely aboard, Captain. I need to speak to Steven.”

“One moment.”

Then Steven came on the line. “Rogers. So you made it?”

“Of course, or I wouldn’t be speaking to you, would I? I wanted to warn you that the engine casings are extremely hot, so try to avoid those. If you can land near the canopy it would work better. Strap the shield to your forearm and use that to help direct you.”

“Understood.”

“I will be at the back to help reel you in. Do not try to go to the quinjet, let Agent May manuever to fetch you. Go when ready.”

Loki realized the foolishness of standing there, watching through the large windows at the front of the quinjet as Steve tumbled out of the airliner. His heart seized with anxiety and he had to grip the back of the copilot’s seat to force himself to not take the controls himself.

May smoothly maneuvered the jet into position, as Steve oriented himself and used his shield to give himself more drag and slow his fall. When he saw he was close, he swapped the shield beneath him to allow the vibranium to take much of the impact.

The quinjet roof thumped. “Got him!” May announced, as if Loki couldn’t tell that hismelf. He turned and rushed for the back, able to track the faint thumps above as Steve worked his way to the open ramp.

Brown boots dropped into view as the dark-skinned SHIELD agent headed back onto the ramp with a rope. Within a minute Steve was safely aboard, and the agent punched the ramp closed. “All aboard, we’re clear, May.”

“Understood. We are underway.”

At which point, Loki realized the quinjet was heading… north? Why were they headed north?

*

Agent May had her subordinate Agent Trippler take the stick while she gestured them to the computer station. “I have video to show you,” she introduced. “This was taken from our SHIELD research facility.” Her business-like voice paused and she warned, “You won’t like it.”

Loki gathered close with Steve to watch the video screen.

At first he didn’t understand what he was seeing; the angle seemed bad, and the picture was dark and flickered with their poor frame speed, but then… it resolved into a large dim room, equipment, and something glowing with a familiar blue light.

The tesseract.

But before he could snap something irritated about its possession, the image suddenly flared, as if it exploded, the image shook, and…

“Portal,” he murmured. That was what he’d felt. Someone-- SHIELD -- had made a portal, with the tesseract. A portal that had let in something, going by shadow visible within the glow.

The brilliance faded away, and the figure within stood up.

He knew that shape. The hairless head in silhouette.

HIs core froze up, chest seizing shut on his breath, and all he could think was helpless denial: nonononononono….

A hand gripped his shoulder firmly, grounding him back in the present. “Red Skull,” Steve said aloud, not taking his gaze off the screen, as Schmidt walked off the platform. “Wait, stop it,” he told Agent May, who paused the video. “How… how can this be?” he whispered. “He was dead. We saw him… he disintegrated. He was gone, damn it.”

Loki shook his head in slow dismay. “No. He didn’t die. Obviously.” He made an abortive gesture, more like a jerk of his hand, toward the screen.

“Then how?” Steve asked. “Maybe he’s a … copy?”

“No,” Loki answered. “I don’t think so. Well, he might be, but … I think I was wrong about what happened. I learned about the tesseract in the last few years, in Asgard. I know what it truly is.” No thanks to Odin Allfather, who had never told him. No, he’d had to piece it together out fo the lore, even though Odin knew exactly what the tesseract was.

"What do you mean? what is it?” Steve asked.

“It isn’t just power. Schmidt used it as a battery but it's always been so much more than that. It’s…” he examined the bluish glow of the tesseract trying to think of the term in English. He should have read more of their current scientific understanding. “The universe. No, that is too broad. It has a power over making holes in it. Portals.”

“Wormholes?” Agent May tried.

“Yes, that’s what you’d call the structure it creates. But I mean it has power over what the tunnel is made within.” He remembered the Rabbit book and snapped his fingers at how the word had been translated, “space-time. Yes, the tesseract is what’s known in the lore as the Space gem. So perhaps, what happened is instead of being ripped apart, as it appeared to us, Schmidt was transported somewhere else in the universe, and has somehow found his way back.”

“That’s swell,” Steve said dryly.

“If I had been more… aware,” Loki murmured. “I would have known he had transported away. But I thought he was dead and everyone was safe.”

“I saw it,” Steve reminded him. “It looked as if he was being burnt from the inside, Lukas. I don’t know what mystical transportation would look like, but it wasn’t that.”

“He didn’t use it correctly, but still. I could have been using this time to track him wherever he landed. And kill him.” He said the words boldly, while inside a worm of doubt wondered if he’d even have tried. The thought of confrontation stirred and pinched him on the insides, and he wanted to be sick at the reminder of his own fragile cowardice.

His hands were tightly fisted on his thighs, gathering the fabric into tight creases. He didn’t notice until Steve touched his shoulder.

“Hey, you’re not in this alone,” Steve said. “And it’s not your fault.”

Loki was not in the least mollified by that. He stood up, paced away and then back. “Give us the rest,” he demanded of May.

She’d been listening, her expression neutral but with tight focus to her gaze of memorizing every word. Giving a nod, she touched the controls to advance the video.

Schmidt fought the guards, with ease, using some sort of weapon that Loki didn’t see clearly. But he did see Selvig salute as he took the tesseract, and then another familiar face, but sapphire blue eyes.

“Barton,” he blurted in recognition, before his eyes narrowed at the sight of Barton firing at his own people.

May nodded, tightly. “Red Skull did something to him, some sort of mind-control.”

“Thrall,” Loki snarled. “He put my friend in thrall. I will rip him to pieces for this.” Tempted to smash all the delicate electronics he whirled around to stalk to the back of the plane, hands clenched while rage boiled through him.

More calmly, Steve asked, “What more?”

“They escaped,” she answered. “Both Agent Hill and Commander Fury were injured, but survived. We’ll meet them soon. We know Schmidt commandeered another quinjet but it disapeared.”

“Along with the tesseract,” Steve guessed.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “He has it.”

“Does Natalya know about Barton?” Loki demanded. “Has she been told?” May frowned in confusion.

“Romanoff,” Steve helpfully added, reminding Loki that Natalya was not the name her co-workers used.

“Ah.” Loki could practically see the nickname filed away for later consideration in her eyes. May went on, “I know she was pulled from Russia and is supposed to meet us, as well.”

“Meet us, where?” Loki demanded. “Where are we going if not Washington?”

She answered, “The Helicarrier.”

Loki glanced at Steve, who shared his ignorance. They knew what an air craft carrier was, but “helicarrier” sounded special and Loki had no knowledge of it.

May saw their confusion and her smile was slight, but warm. “You’ll see.”

to part six