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15 November 2018 @ 04:43 pm
The Ice Demon and the Red Skull 7  
part seven




“Loki? What do you think?” Thor asked. Loki folded his arms and turned away, rolling his eyes. “Brother, come, we must--”

“Oh what do you know anyway?” Tony interrupted. “Come here, lord about--”

Natasha stopped listening because Loki was turning back to listen, unfolding his arms to stand straight again. The look on his face was so flat it drew her attention, as if he were determined not to react to anything.

“Loki?” she interrupted. He folded his arms and turned away, rolling his eyes as he had just done. And as much as the gesture was habitual with him, it had been exactly the same, which tingled against the back of her neck that something else was happening. She approached him, and he stepped back an equal distance and still didn’t speak. His eyes didn't quite look at her either.

She lunged and her hand passed through nothing. His image flared with green light and vanished.

The men were all stunned into silence as she proved they’d all just been arguing with an illusion.

And Tony with a look on his face that knew exactly what he would find, reached out to clasp his hand around the handle of the scepter. His hand passed through it, and the image shimmered away to nothing.

Lukas and the scepter were gone. She wasn’t sure when he had left, but it probably didn’t matter, because if he wasn’t there, there was only one place he would be. Her eyes met Thor’s, seeing the horrified realization there. “Oh, hell.”

He beat her to the door.

And then an explosion rocked the carrier.

*

Loki entered the holding area, noticing the open-ness of the space, the catwalk against the walls, before his eyes settled on the brightly lit, transparent cylinder in the middle.

He saw the long black coat hanging down his back, the scarlet hue of the skin at the back of his head. He was standing in that cell. He wasn’t dead.

Loki’s hand tightened on the scepter with the desire to wrap him in seidr and pull him apart.

No, get the intel, then kill him. Just like with Zola. Play him, get his secrets, and kill him after. If he dies too soon, we lose. Something else is in play. Schmidt didn't get here on his own.

But he didn't want to be interrupted, so he held out a hand and sent seidr to short out the power to the cameras. Then with a deliberate breath, his face held still, he approached the cell across the little bridge.

Schmidt folded his arms and watched. "I knew you would come," Schmidt declared.

"Of course. This is between me and you," Loki returned. "The mortals are irrelevant."

"They are. You know they will fail. They are nothing, just locusts to be swept away by the coming storm."

"But you are not the storm are you?" Loki said smirking. "No. You are the storm's servant."

Schmidt's jaw tightened at the well-struck hit. "I will rule this planet--" he started, and Loki laughed sharply enough to cut him off.

"All you will ever rule is the interior of this cage. And your reign will be quite short, I promise you. Because you have not reckoned with a god's vengeance, and I will have it."

"So take it now, Demon," Schmidt taunted. "There is no one else here. If you are so certain of your vengeance, why wait?"

Loki cocked his head and let a thin smile form. "With all my questions unaanswered? I think not. But if you tell me about where you went and the one who holds your leash, I could be ... quick."

Schmidt moved nearer to Loki on the other side of the glass. "There is nothing I will do to you that will be quick, my demon. You will be my pet, and you will serve me in every way." He licked his lips lasciviously, and Loki's stomach seized, his gorge rose, and with it, his rage.

His hand struck the glass, nails pressed into the surface as if he could claw his way inside.

Schmidt tilted his head back and laughed. "So weak," he chided. "You belong to me, Loki of Asgard."

Hearing his true name in the mouth of this creature was like poison in his ear.

"I am a god, you are nothing," Loki insisted. "Mortal with delusions of grandeur, I will see you dead."

Schmidt's composure was unbroken. "You will kneel to me."

"Never," Loki hissed. "I will have my vengeance."

"I will have you wear nothing but chains, flay your skin, and drain your blood, and I will do it again and again, until you beg to kneel before me. You will not stop me, because I have grown strong, while you are weak."

Loki squeezed his eyes shut, trying to banish the memories that flashed before him at the words, while pushing down the panic that clawed at his throat.

This was a mistake, I should never have come. Natalya was right.

But he forced his eyes back open to meet Schmidt's triumphant grin. "You will die," Loki promised through gritted teeth. "You will die, right now."

Loki whirled away from Schmidt's face and stalked back to the control panel. There was a big red button labeled 'EMERGENCY RELEASE' to send the clear cell plummeting to the ground.

"Shall we see if you truly are a god?" he taunted Schmidt and let his hand hover over the button, smirking at him. He finally looked a bit concerned that he'd pushed too hard.

Loki enjoyed Schmidt's concern, letting it ease the jagged shards inside him, taunting him with closing his hand on the button and drawing it back.

He knew he couldn't do it more than once-- either he'd have to push the button or leave. It was tempting to drop him but it was a fact he wasn't positive Schmidt would die from the fall and Loki didn't want to chase him down again. So that meant kill him personally.

Which also meant-- damn him -- he had to stay alive to be interrogated.

He had just turned to announce to Schmidt that today was his lucky day and Loki wasn't going to murder him quite yet, when the floor rocked under his feet. He grabbed the console to keep upright as the entire carrier shuddered and tilted starboard.

An explosion.

Schmidt laughed and Loki turned, pointing the scepter at him. "What did you do?"

Schmidt laughed again. "You lose, demon. You will always lose."

The sound of pounding feet and the outer hatch opening drew Loki's head back around, expecting SHIELD pouring in to guard the prisoner or his own deception finally discovered.

Two agents in SHIELD armor entered, one with a sidearm and the other with a very large unfamiliar gun. "Hail Hydra!" he shouted and fired the gun right at Loki, before he'd even lifted the scepter to aim.

The force hurled him back into the wall and when he gathered himself back together, every cell in his body seemed on fire.

he couldn't move, not even a twitch as a familiar scarlet-hued head came over him. "You could have sat at my feet, demon, pity." A hand slid down his abdomen to grab him between the legs. Loki's hand shot out of its own accord, hitting Schmidt across the jaw.

In retaliation, Schmidt's fist moved and pain exploded in Loki's head.

Darkness smothered him.

*

Thor ran, outpacing Natasha as the carrier lurched and alarms screamed. He wondered what he would find and feared the worst. Yet he was still not prepared to slam his way into the cell and see Schmidt, free, two armed SHIELD agents at his side, with Loki on the floor of the cell, unmoving.

"Loki!" Thor called.

Schmidt stood before the operation console and looked over at the shout. He held the scepter in his hand. "Save him or stop me, Odinson. Choose."

His hand slammed on the big red button, machinery clunked, and the cylinder plummeted downward.

"LOKi!" Thor bellowed and hurtled himself at the falling cell, not able to stop it before it was gone. A blast of cold air in its wake blew back against him and when he glanced up, Schmidt was gone.

Looking down, the cylinder was in free fall in the air and without hesitation, Thor threw himself after, calling Mjolnir to him as he fell.

Loki was inside that glass jar, definitely unconscious -- not dead, no, Thor would not allow that, he was only hurt - and Thor would catch the cell and get him out of there.

Mjolnir thwacked itself into his hand and he seized it, urging more speed, catching up to the falling cylinder. The top was smooth metal, with nothing to grab The walls were also too smooth, and it was too large to wrap his arms around.

Peering inside he saw Loki, still limp on the floor. What had that monster done to him?

There was not a handhold on the entire cylinder. He tried to grab the lower edge, Mjolnir pointed upward, and managed only to tip the cylinder over.

"NO!" he yelled, as it tumbled out of his grip, and Loki's limp form slid along the glass before falling to what had been the ceiling, and then around again as it began to flip end-over-end.

He grabbed for it again, but in the air with nothing to brace himself against, he succeeded only in flipping it again. The ground was getting much closer and he knew he was running out of time.

A strange whirring noise, like the hum of a giant bumblebee was his warning, as a figure in red and gold was suddenly putting his body square in front of the tumbling cell and the two clanged together.

"Need a hand, Point Break?" the mechanically-altered and amplified voice of Stark was loud against the wind. He didn't wait for Thor to answer either, dropping beneath the cell now that he'd straightened it. "Ready? Hold it steady I'll push."

The sound of Stark's thrusters grew in power as he halted Loki's fall and began reversing it. 'Yes! Man of Iron, you've done it!"

"Tell your brother he needs to cut back on the snacks, he weighs a ton," Stark said, presumably in jest as Loki had gained no significant mass since the day he'd left Asgard the first time, nearly three centuries past.

But he held his tongue and together they guided the cell back toward the Helicarrer, which was now listing dangerously in the air and struggling to stay aloft.

"Gonna have to go fix that," Stark said. "Can you get open this can yourself once we get in the launch bay?"

Thor had no idea if he could but he answered, "Yes. Go."

They manuevered the cylinder into the cavernous space alongside where the ships were brought up on an elevator to the deck, and with a crash it fell on its side on the deck.

Loki was sprawled on the curved glass, looking pale, but after a moment his fingers moved and Thor let out a breath of relief. He was alive.

"Good luck," Stark wished and darted away.

"Man of Iron, Thank you!" Thor shouted after him, but he was gone. Thor turned back to the cylinder wondering how to open it. He might be able to smash it open with the hammer, but that seemed risky. He didn't know how much force he might need to break it, and sending shards into Loki seemed a bad idea. Best to open it the way it was meant to open.

But there seemed to be no obvious mechanism, as if it were not meant to open once it was sent away.

"Loki!" He tapped the glass with Mjolnir, not seeking to break it. "Loki!"


His eyelids fluttered and after a moment, with more cajoling by Thor, he woke up. The smooth curved surface gave him a bit of trouble, so he looked like a newborn calf struggling to get up on all fours, but soon he was sitting.He blinked and took in his surroundings with a dazed look on his face, as he put a hand to his head. "What happened?"


"Schmidt dropped you, and Stark and I retrieved the container. However i cannot find the mechanism to open it," Thor explained. "What were you doing in there?" he demanded, frustration boiling over. "He might have killed you!"

Loki was not impressed with his anger. "Well, no, he wouldn't have except for the two traitors who helped him. I assume they escaped?"

Thor shrugged. "Probably. Now help me figure out how this opens to get you out of there."

"Give me a moment, the inside of my head feels like Mjolnir's forging and I think I might vomit." He shut his eyes, brow lined, and inhaled a slow breath. Then, Loki held up a hand and pressed it against the clear wall of his prison.

Thor thought it might vanish, or he would push himself through it, but instead thin cracks formed outward from his hand, dividing and racing across the surface.

No, Thor realized, not cracks. Ice. He was freezing the clear substance the cell was made from. The hangar itself started to chill, Thor's breath puffing like smoke as the cylinder grew colder.

"Hit it with Mjolnir" Loki instructed. "Not with all your might, but some effort."

Loki scooted to one end and covered his head with his hands. Thor slammed the hammer onto the cylinder, and it shattered like pottery dropped on the floor. Thor dropped Mjolnir, to seize Loki by the arms and bodily haul him free and into a hug. then shook him by the shoulders. "Never do that again. Never. Are you listening? I have now watched you almost die twice, and I will not have it!"

"It wasn't a lot of fun for me either," Loki muttered against his shoulder. He brought his hands up and pushed. "You're stifling, get off."

Freed, Loki stretched gingerly and rolled his head, but thankfully appeared to be in one piece, and then ran a hand through his hair to push it off his face. "We should meet the others on the bridge and see what else is happening."

*

The odd slant to the deck shifted upward again and the persistent whine and tremor of engines past capacity smoothed out, before they reached the bridge.

It was still a mess of blinking lights and dead consoles with people trying to repair it. Fury stood in the middle, with Hill nearby taking reports. "Sir," she murmured, spying them entering and Fury turned to fix his single eye on Loki.

"I hear our prisoner escaped thanks to you," Fury accused him.

His fault. Schmidt had escaped because of him. Because Loki had failed, because he was weak. He tasted bile in his throat, at the recollection of the confrontation. Schmidt's hand...

Rage was easier, and pushed away the vile memories. It was a cold fire in his veins and Loki narrowed his eyes. "Don't blame me for your organization being infested with vermin." Thor put what was supposed to be a quelling hand on his shoulder, but Loki shrugged him off to stalk closer to Fury. His hands itched to call his daggers. "Two of your own freed him, and hit me with a weapon that seemed designed to harm me. So choose your words with greater care lest you make yourself my enemy as well."

He glared at Fury, who said nothing until Hill said, "Sir, the quinjet escaped from our custody. Our agents. This is on us."

"But we got one back," a welcome voice said from behind him and Loki turned to see Natasha enter. She looked a bit winded, a bruise developing on her face, and her red hair more disheveled than he was used to seeing, but she walked with confidence in her black suit. "I stopped Barton. He's here, in medical, and I think I got him free of the conditioning."

"How?" Loki asked. He ahdn't been sure he could free Barton from the scepter's influence, and for Natalya to manage on her own, without no powers, seemed unlikely.

She grimaced. "We fought and I slammed his head into the railing. His eyes were clear after that, but I put him out just in case. You should check on him, but I think he's back."

That good news helped ease the tension inside him a small amount. At least one of them had managed to do something useful. "Good, glad to hear it."

Natasha frowned at him, curious at his tone, and he wished she didn't know him so well.

Luckily she had no chance to ask him about it, before a bigger group walked in: Steven with Banner, Stark, and Coulson nearby. Stark was wearing most of his Iron Man suit, clanking on the deck.

"Hey, good to see you got out of the can," Stark called to Loki.

"Man of Iron helped retrieve the canister from falling," Thor explained.

"Ah, then I owe you my thanks. Again." Loki offered his hand.

"You do get into trouble a lot," Stark observed dryly.

"You fell in that--" Steve started, appalled to find out what had happened.

"That cell designed for me," Banner cut in with a glance at Fury. "Don't think I didn't notice."

"For dangerous people," Fury insisted. "Which are only a problem because of you." He glowered at Loki and Steve.

Steve squared his shoulders to object, and probably point out that it hadbeen the government that had created the super soldier in the first place. But Loki got in first. "Because mortals scramble for advantage over each other and cause untold suffering, again and again. You play with powers you know nothing about to create weapons you cannot control and then, you blame me when you pay the price for this arrogance. This," he waved a hand around the dim and flickering bridge, but meaning all of it, "is your doing, not mine."

Fury grimaced and admitted, voice growing testy, "Yes, we were going to build an arsenal with the Tesseract. I never put all my chips on that number, though, because I was playing something even riskier. There was an idea called the Avengers Initiative." He circled Loki, addressing Steve and Stark and Banner more directly. "The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could."

"To have superpowers on a leash," Loki spat and stalked out, letting the hatch slam behind him with a decisive thump.

Natalya caught up with him in the corridor. "Lukas!"

He rounded on her. "I grow very tired of SHIELD, Natalya," he warned.

"I know, I know," she tried to touch his arm but he stayed out of reach, not wanting to be soothed, and she let her hand fall again. "We need to work together to defeat Schmidt."

He barked a laugh. "Schmidt is going to be the least of our problems when he opens that portal, of that I am certain."

Her lips tightened, thoughts racing behind those beautiful eyes. "Let's go check on Clint. Salvage something out of all this."

He nodded and gestured her to lead the way.

*

In the moment of silence after Lukas had left, followed by Natasha, Steve sat down at the conference table. Helping Tony restart the engine and fighting the Hydra and scepter'd minions to keep the Helicarrier from crashing had been tiring, but not nearly as tiring as knowing Red Skull had escaped, again, and Lukas had been proven right about traitors in their midst.

"He's wrong, you know," Coulson said. "It really was to bring you all together. To become a team to defend us."

Tony rubbed a hand over his face. "Phil, I like you so don't take this the wrong way, but tesseract weapons, Hydra everywhere, secrets on top of secrets, makes him pretty right."

This wasn't getting anywhere. Steve remembered the war: him and Lukas and Peggy and the colonel planning the next mission. His gut tightened with the loss, that those days were gone, and he shoved it down. There was no time for that. "We're here now. We all want the same thing," Steve pointed out. "We find Schmidt, stop the invasion. Lukas wants that, too."

"So how do we find him?" Thor asked reasonably.

"He needs a power source to jumpstart the tesseract," Banner said.

"Make a list," Steve suggested. "Eastern seaboard, power plants--"

Tony interjected, "He made it personal." Everyone looked at him, as he paced around the table, tossing some candies from his pocket in his hand.

"Well, yeah, Schmidt's pretty damn personal for me," Steve said with a bark of a laugh.

Tony pointed at him with his free hand. "Yes, for you. For Lukas. For me, even. That's not an accident. You two stopped him before, from what? exactly? Bombs, I know, but--"

A shiver of forboding slipped down Steve's spine and he saw where Tony was going with this. "He had bombs for Berlin, for London, and the ship itself was fixed on New York before we brought it down. He was going to destroy New York."

Tony nodded as if he'd already known. "Manhattan. Stark Tower. And fifty gigajoules in a brand new ARC reactor powering the building. He's going to New York."

Steve got to his feet, nearly knocking over his chair. "Everyone, suit up. We go in fifteen." He looked at Coulson who was trying not to look pleased. "Tell Natasha and Lukas." Standing in front of Fury he said, "I need a quinjet."

"It's yours, Cap," Fury answered, hands tucked behind his back and his face somber.

*

to part eight