sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2012-10-04 05:27 am

Better to Reign in Hell 4/4

Title: Better To Reign In Hell 4/4
Summary: Loki has been lied to.
See Chapter 1 Header for Warnings and Notes

Chapter Three


The plan went perfectly, at first. The men from town drew the attention of the guardhouse quickly, and Loki watched as sentries abandoned their posts, as even men obviously off-duty picked up weapons and ran the other way. It was simple to bend the fragile wire fence enough to enter, and there was no-one to stop him as he trotted through the rain towards the center, towards the helm. One of his doubles had come this way when he'd escaped, and he retraced his steps straight through, to where the helm still lay uncovered to the sky.

And there it was, glowing in the darkness, practically singing as the rain pelted it. One last piece of Asgard, with enough power to sustain him here in this unmagical realm --

"Hello, Loki."

Loki looked up. The son of Coul was standing behind the helm, gun upraised. This close to the helm he could probably deflect harm, but it was a gamble. And he had not come this far to be thwarted by any Midgardian man.

"Son of Coul," he said. "I expected you to be on the walls with your men."

"Defending the garrison?" Coul's son asked. "You threw a bunch of innocent locals at a small army of highly trained SHIELD operatives. Little unfair, don't you think?"

"I think so, sir," said a voice above. He didn't have to look to know it was the archer. "I think it's unfair enough to warrant a bolt in the head."

"Easy, Hawkeye," Coul's son said. "Not just yet."

"They chose it themselves," Loki said. "Those men. They are greedy for fame."

"You sure do know how to see the worst in a person," Hawkeye replied.

"I find people often show their worst rather easily. But I was not so merciless as all that."

"Oh?" Coul's son asked.

"You are like me, I think. Not that you aren't a killer," Loki said, taking another step forward. Coul's son fired at his feet, and mud spat up at him. "I am sure you have the propensity in you for great violence, should the need arise. But you prefer to avoid brute force, do you not? Brains over brawn. Those highly trained soldiers of yours. They will not fire to kill, will they? Not without your word. Neither will your archer. That one is loyal to a fault."

"Thank you," the archer said. "Sir?"

"Not yet."

"Mind you," Loki continued, and Coul's son fired again before he could take another step, "I did not expect you to sort out what I planned quite so quickly."

"Well," he replied, "I'm like you."

"Indeed. Which is why I think you will let me take this."

"I can't allow that kind of power in your kind of hands."

"What, these?" Loki asked, holding his hands up. The sleeves of his coat rode down, showing the tattoos. The gesture distracted the son of Coul just enough for Loki to send tendrils into his mind, to measure out at least some of his passions, the desires that lurked closest to the surface. "What do you suppose I intend to do? Rule Midgard? I could, I suppose, but you seem a rather contentious race. More trouble than you're worth."

"Why do you want the artifact?"

"Because it belongs to me. Because without it these hands are all I have. Because it is the last evidence I have that once I was respected. Once I was a prince, Coul's son, did you know that?"

"We figured that out, yes."

"I can offer you a trade for it."

"You don't have anything we want," Hawkeye said.

"With that, I could."

"And we couldn't contain you," Coul's son added.

"No. But I do have something you value quite highly, Coul's son. I have knowledge. And I know what it is you search for."

"What's that?"

"Your avatar," Loki said, and he could hear what Coul's son was thinking. "The great warrior who sleeps -- they tell stories about that, I think? The mythical king who will awaken when his people need him? I have an affinity for ice, you see," he continued. He could see the son of Coul considering it. "I can show you where your avatar lies. All I require is the helm."

"You know, I'd take you up on that," Coul's son said, "but I've heard you're a liar."

"Oh, indeed. But not about this."

"You're lying right now."

"Think about it," Loki said. "You could be the one to find him. You could pull him from his sleep and his glory would reflect in you. He would bring you prestige and power. Isn't that what you want, in your heart? To find the Captain?"

Overhead, lightning flashed. He couldn't suppress a startle.

"'Fraid of a little thunder?" Hawkeye asked.

"I'm not overly fond of what follows," Loki replied. He pointed at the helm. "Give it to me."


"Give it to me and anything you ask is yours. The Captain. Power. Glory. Command." He lowered his voice. "The archer. If you liked."

"No," Coul's son repeated. The rain fell heavier, and more lightning split the sky.

"Give it to me or we all may die," Loki tried.

"Sir, the disturbance -- "

"I'm aware, Hawkeye," Coul's son said. Loki risked a look up; before he could look down again, a hand had grabbed his throat. The Son of Coul could move fast, when he wished. The gun hovered in front of his face.

"Tell me what's coming," Coul's son said.

"I could not say," Loki replied. "Perhaps my brother. Perhaps an emissary. Either way they will tear this realm apart to find me."


Loki gave him a thin smile. "Politics."

There hadn't been any noise before, just lightning and swirling clouds. Now, however, a roar broke over the rain, a bellow of thunder that seemed to go on and on, as a dark hole opened in the sky and wind whipped the mud all around them.

Even the Son of Coul looked up, and Loki took his chance.

He jerked out of his grasp and ducked as fast as he could, but the gun didn't fire. The Son of Coul grabbed for his shirt as he darted forward, but his reach wasn't quite long enough, and with a triumphant yelp Loki plucked the helm off the little pedestal of earth. An arrow buried itself in his shoulder but he hardly felt it through the thrill in his veins. He pulled the helm down over his wet hair hurriedly, and was pulling the arrow out when the ground shook. Mud flew everywhere, and a massive, metallic object fell from the sky, landing with a spatter of mud and unfolding with a terrible series of shrill creaks.

The Son of Coul was off to Loki's right, the archer above him; in front of all of them stood the Destroyer. The weapon -- Loki knew from hearsay, though not from his father -- that had helped to win the last war against Jotunheim. A slayer of his people. A monster.

He could feel power crackling around him even as he lifted his face to the sky.


"You're on government property," Coul's son said, and Loki turned his head sharply. He was talking to the Destroyer. He looked...annoyed. "Please identify yourself."

Loki could see the flame building deep in its chest, and he acted without thinking. A little spinning green disc flew out of his hand, Jane's mirror that he'd stolen from her dresser, and just as the Destroyer fired the mirror cut through it, reflecting the flame and knocking the monster back into the scaffolding. It crashed through it, tangling in the thin, flexible white walls, and the entire structure gave a groan.

"Clint -- down, now!" the Son of Coul shouted. He grabbed Loki's arm and began to drag him away, through the twisted remains of the collapsing building, as Hawkeye leapt from the scaffolding and scrambled after them. They ducked through an opening, heading for the cars beyond, between the guardhouse and the fence. A bolt of flame nearly took Hawkeye out as he vaulted debris and skidded to a stop behind a car. Coul's son dragged Loki behind another one, pulling them both down against the door.

"Orders, sir?" Hawkeye barked. "Because I say if it wants the hostile that's a quick way to end this."

"He is not here for me," Loki called back. "He is here to stop you from defending me."

"What did you just do?" Coul's son hissed at him.

"Mirrors reflect light," Loki said with a shrug.

"That wasn't light -- "

"I may have enchanted it. Told you the helm would help," Loki said smugly.

There was a crash behind them, and the Destroyer turned, momentarily distracted; an arrow whistled through the air and landed in its side, exploding. The Destroyer staggered, but didn't fall.

"Oh, fun," Loki said. "If you run, it will only -- "

Then he realised what the crash had been: a truck, bursting through the barrier at the south gate. It skewed around, halted next to them, and blew its horn.

"GET IN!" Erikselvig yelled from the window.

"Are you mad?" Loki yelled back. "Leave! It's not safe!"

"Lucky, come on!" Darcy shouted. Another arrow knocked the Destroyer back a step.

"Archer!" Loki called. "Give me your weapon!"

"Now who's crazy!" Hawkeye yelled from behind the other car.

"Do it, Clint!" Coul's son shouted.

The quiver and bows came flying over the car and Hawkeye followed a second later, just in time to escape the Destroyer's flames. Loki caught the weapons as the car flew sideways. He took a chance and ran for it, leaping into the back next to Darcy.

"Nice hat!" she said.

"Head down," he ordered, pushing her to the floor as Jane took off at a speed that was enviable if not entirely stable. Loki turned to see Coul's son and the archer running for cover, and the men on the walls opening fire. He wasn't sure where his own little army had gone, but hopefully they'd scattered.

"What the fuck is it?" Darcy demanded, peering at the monster. A gout of flame barely missed the back wheels. The Destroyer was following them, slow but determined, ignoring the soldiers attacking it.

"The Destroyer," Loki said grimly, strapping the quiver against his back. He drew an arrow, studied it -- a round head, no point -- and crouched by the little hatch between the open air and the seats in the front of the truck.

"A gate lies to the west," he said, and Jane nodded. "I would say to leave me there, but it will chase you, not me."

"So it will," said a new voice, and Jane and Erikselvig stared down. A tiny machine next to the wheel had crackled to life, dials spinning madly. "Come home now, brother, and spare Midgard this chaos. When you leave Midgard, the Destroyer will be called off."

"Who is that?" Erikselvig asked.

"I will not," Loki shouted back. "Come and face me yourself, if you dare, and I shall drive you back too!"

"All I want is for you to be safe at home," Thor insisted. "I sit on the throne of Asgard now, brother. It is simple; Heimdall will bring you home. Come back to us."

"I will not be your hostage!"

"We have no need of hostages. Jotunheim has fallen."

Loki screamed in rage, but behind him Darcy screamed in fear. He turned and straightened without hesitating, legs spread wide for balance, and nocked an arrow on the bow. He whispered to the metal, to the spark inside it, and his hands glowed. Little green lines traced their way up the bow.

He waited until the Destroyer was mid-stride, the best approximation such a heavy machine could do of running, and then let the arrow fly. It traced a green-white trail through the darkness, and struck the monster in its throat.

It made a terrible hissing noise, reaching up to clutch at the arrow.

Then it exploded.

Shrapnel scythed through the air, and Loki pulled Darcy down with him again. He could hear a shard hit the wheel, even before the truck spun out of control, nearly throwing them clear. Jane brought it to a stop and Loki leapt down, spreading his arms to the sky.

"You've slain my kin," he said, the rain falling in his eyes. "You sit on the throne of Asgard and are the conqueror of Jotunheim, Thor. Leave me be."

The clouds swirled. Thunder rolled.


He pulled another arrow and nocked it, aiming straight up. This one had a point on it, and he put all of his soul into the spell he cast around it. Black tendrils entwined it, slithering up his arms and down his legs as well, and he let the arrow loose.

It flew upward, as true as it could, blackness trailing behind it, the hardest, most unyielding, most demanding magic he could summon driving it forward. It felt like half his soul went with it; he couldn't see it land, but he could feel it strike the bifrost gate. He felt the Rainbow Bridge crack and fail, shattered fragments falling away, but he didn't know if Thor or Heimdall fell with it. He fancied he heard a bellow of anger before he came back to himself in the desert.

The rain and thunder abruptly ceased, and the clouds began to clear. He heard Darcy panting in the truck, and the roll of wheels on gravel as a car approached. The remains of the Destroyer lay nearby, the heart of it crackling as it cooled.

Loki kicked at a large chunk of it near his foot, then bent to pick up a fragment underneath, no bigger than a coin. He walked back to the truck and handed it to Darcy. Nearby, the Son of Coul and Hawkeye the archer were getting out of the car.

"Keep it," he said to Darcy. "The metal is magic."

"Why?" she asked.

"For your service," he said. "You are fine warriors, all of you," he added, as Jane and Erikselvig stumbled out as well. "A great skald will write an epic of this day."

"Is it dead?" Jane asked.

Loki looked to the Destroyer. Coul's son was crouched over the heart of it, using a cooled piece of metal to pry the machinery out.

"Too late," he said. "It was a weapon to be used against Jotunheim. Jotunheim has already fallen."

"Hey!" the archer yelled, running up to them. Loki slung the quiver off his back and offered it, along with the bow. They were snatched out of his hands ungraciously, and Hawkeye began running his hands up and down the bow.

"What'd you do to it?" he asked.

"Nothing I have not undone as well," Loki replied. "A fair weapon, Hawkeye. My thanks for the use of it."

"Yeah, well, next time get your own," the archer replied, as Coul's son approached.

"Son of Coul, captain of the guards," Loki said with a smile. "You may have the Destroyer as my gift to you. It is a weapon of considerable power, and I know how fond Midgardians are of their weapons. Do not speak lest I silence you," he added, holding up a hand as Coul's son opened his mouth. "You have the Destroyer. Your work here is not in vain. You cannot have me as well. Take what's given."

"That's an awful lot of power you've got on your head," Coul's son replied. "We're not in the business of stockpiling weapons. We're in the business of protecting the country. Right now, there are people who think you're what we need to protect it from."

Loki looked up at the sky, clear now, with stars and a sliver of moon.

"And my brother may find a single Jotun easily," he said to himself thoughtfully. "Very well. I am Loki Ofmidgard, and I will make you an oath, son of Coul."

He took his hand -- Coul's son gave him a warning look, but didn't flinch -- and folded it between his own.

"I am no longer Jotun, and I relinquish that form," he said, feeling his hands warm even as the desert chill broke over him for the first time. "It is not in my nature to swear to do no harm, but I will do no harm as would concern your people. Give me my helm and my freedom and I will serve Midgard as I did Asgard, and with more good spirit."

Coul's son gave him a skeptical look.

"You may accept the oath, but you cannot make me come with you," Loki added. "Might as well."

Coul's son nodded. "That's an acceptable compromise. But you shouldn't be so sure we can't beat you -- so don't try anything."

"In that case, my oath is made. My honor's a little tarnished, but I swear on yours," Loki said with a grin. "Now. I must leave, and you must stay, and give Jane back what you took -- "

"Stole!" Jane yelped.

"Borrowed," Coul's son said. "Yes, of course. Dr. Foster, we'd like to speak to you about that..."

Loki watched Coul's son walk away from him, over to where Jane was vibrating with renewed indignation. Erikselvig joined her. Hawkeye was still busy testing his bow, practically crooning to it, and Darcy was sitting in the back of the truck, studying the little chunk of metal interestedly.

Loki stepped back once, twice, and let himself fade away.


It took a few days to break down SOHQ 112. There was a lot to be done: security had to file their action reports, and the scientists had to turn in their final research. The sad remains of the structure itself had to be salvaged and sifted through -- fortunately most of Dr. Foster's tech had come through intact, but Coulson had to give up a team for half a day to help her get it set up again. The wrecked cars and scaffolding had to be hauled away for study, the Destroyer secured and the area scoured for remains. Coulson pretended not to know that the Lewis kid had a little chunk. She'd signed an official secrets act. As far as they could tell, the metal was good old-fashioned steel, anyway. It was the machinery inside it that interested SHIELD.

They had internet a few hours after the attack, but they didn't have encryption, so all he could tell Fury was "It's handled" and send Sitwell back to the Helicarrier, currently docked in New York, with a flashdrive containing his final report.

Finally, though, the site was clear. The last agents had joined a caravan heading to the airport; dust was already blowing into the crash site, and Hawkeye was waiting for him, sitting on the hood of the last remaining car. A large crate in the back held the mechanical portions of the Destroyer. They were driving it to New York, probably a three-day trip but safer than putting it in the air. And it was three more days between now and the time when he would, he was sure, be royally chewed out by Fury for failing to secure Loki or the artifact.

"What are you going to tell the Director?" Hawkeye asked, as Coulson got into the car. Hawkeye slid in through the open window, the showoff.

"About Loki?" Coulson asked.

"No, about the doughnuts in the diner."

"I'm going to tell him, first, that I exercised my diplomatic authority to strike a nonagression pact with a foreign national seeking refuge. And second, I'm going to give him this," Coulson said, passing over a small black box. "Just because we couldn't move the artifact doesn't mean we couldn't do anything to it."

"He's going to notice a microchip."

"Not a nanochip, he isn't. At least, for a while," Coulson said, starting the car. "Guess where he is now?"

Hawkeye fiddled with the box, but there was a keypad lock on it. "I can hack this."

"Go for it."

"Come on."

Coulson shot him a smile. "Where do people go when they want to see the bright lights?"


"He's arriving soon. It should be relatively easy to keep track of him in New York, even if he does find the chip."

"What's he want with New York?"

Coulson shrugged. "We'll find out."

Hawkeye fell silent, looking out the window. Coulson took his phone out of his pocket, eyes never leaving the road, and plugged it into the cord extending from the stereo.

"Your call," he said to Hawkeye, who picked up the phone, punched in the passkey, and scrolled through the playlists. The gigs of swing and classical, and some of the pop, was Coulson's; he kept a stock of blues and hideous punk in a couple of playlists for Hawkeye, but never listened to it unless Hawkeye decided they should.

After a few minutes, Hawkeye gently set the phone back in the console without setting anything to play.

"We won't get any NPR for a while," Coulson pointed out. "You're going to have to wait for your talk shows."

"So," Hawkeye said, ignoring him, "do we discuss the fact that a couple'a days ago a god offered me to you body and soul, or are we going to ignore that one?"

Coulson adjusted his grip on the steering wheel.

"I got good ears, boss."

"He offered me a lot of things. We weren't completely wrong," Coulson said, eyes on the road. "He is something of a con man. I put that in report. I don't think he could deliver most of those things to me even if I wanted them. But if I'd let him hook me, it wouldn't be his fault."

"How do you figure?"

He'd been thinking about it for four days already, long enough to sort it out in his head, but apparently Hawkeye hadn't spared a thought for it until now. Or -- no, it was more likely he'd been waiting for a point where they couldn't get away from each other.

"Because the best way to rob someone is to play on their greed. He offered me power. If I stood there and said sure, bring it on, and gave him the helm, and he shorted me, who's worse -- him or me?"

"But you didn't say yes."

"Because I knew where that would lead."

"He might be a con but he did tempt you with things you wanted. Things he couldn't have known from context."

Coulson felt his jaw tighten, the muscle twitch. "Such as?"

"If you think I haven't figured out that SHIELD is back in the arctic looking for the downed bomber, your opinion of me could use some work," Hawkeye said. "Add to that I've seen the Captain America action figure you keep in your desk..."

"Have you told anyone?"

"About the action figure?"


"You know I wouldn't say anything. If Fury wants to keep me out of it, I can play dumb with the best of them. I wouldn't even be telling you I know if I didn't think it was kind of important. Look, I'm not asking if everything he offered you was something you want or if he was taking random stabs in the dark. I'm just asking if I can ask."

Coulson made a quiet, thoughtful sound.

"No," he said.

"I can't ask?"

"You can't ask. But I'll tell you this, just in case you were in any doubt: I wouldn't accept any person under duress from a god. Particularly not you."

"Oh," Hawkeye said. "Okay."

He was quiet for a minute, considering this, and then turned back to Coulson, narrowing his eyes. "You are a sneaky son of a bitch."

"I knew that wouldn't take you long," Coulson said, amused.

"Can we discuss this? In detail? With diagrams?"

"You're about to be assigned to a long-term security operation," Coulson replied. "I can't give you the details yet, but you'll be at a stationary facility outside of New York. I won't be there. Well, not much, if at all. And if all goes well, I may be in transit soon."

"You have a phone. I've seen you use it."

"I don't think AT&T gives good coverage in the arctic. Besides, I'm not initiating anything with you by telephone," Coulson said, hoping he didn't sound as flustered as he felt. "You'll be supervising the operation in New York. Level seven clearance and a raise in pay."

Hawkeye stared at him. "You're an L7."

"Yes, I am."

"So we'll be equals. Please tell me you haven't been waiting on me to shift my lazy ass up the chain of command."

"No, but it does afford a certain level of legitimacy. Look, wheels are spinning. Things are in motion."

"Things you can't talk about."

"Not even to you."

"What's the upshot?" Hawkeye asked.

"The upshot is that this is how life functions in this job, and you know that. Things we can't tell people. Times we have to wait. Take the new mission, do it well, and when everything's calmed down in three or four months, with any luck, you'll be pulled out."

"And without luck?"

"L7s have a lot of latitude. And I have a lot of vacation time saved up."

Hawkeye turned back to the road. "Three or four months, huh?"

"I promise you'll be much too busy to pine."

"You think I pine?"

"I've seen you in the throes of a new relationship. You are an olympic level piner. If they gave out scholarships for pining, you would have a four-year, full-ride -- "

"Fine, I get it."

"You are like a winter forest full of pine -- "


Coulson smiled a little.

"You're an ass," Hawkeye said. "I can say that, now that we're peers."

"I never noticed you holding back before."

"Now I feel secure in my assertion. My asssertion."

"Yes, thank you, Hawkeye."

"You're seriously not going to call me Clint?"

He'd used Clint's name before. Not often; usually he was Hawkeye, Barton, or Agent Barton, in ascending order of how much trouble he was in. Formerly, "Clint" had been reserved mainly for moments they were either in imminent danger of dying or one of them was nearly there. It'd happened a few times.

"Clint," he said, trying it out, and glanced at him. Clint was grinning.

"We got three days between here and New York," Clint said, slouching down in his seat and putting his sunglasses on, turning back to face front. He picked up the phone again, picked out some swing, and settled in. "That's long enough to get a start on you."

Coulson checked the GPS -- eighteen hundred miles to New York. Another hundred or so if they detoured to Chicago, but he wasn't sure it was worth the Blues Brothers joke.

In the seat, Clint sat quietly, content to let the lack-of-scenery pass, and waited. Coulson gave up on thinking for now, and got lost in the road and the music.


Eighteen hundred miles away, at the Port Authority terminal in New York, a dark-haired young man climbed off a bus.

It hadn't been a pleasant ride, but he'd suffered worse on hunts and in battle. He'd seen quite a lot of this realm now. And nobody sat next to him, no matter how full the bus was. Loki smiled a little.

He'd picked up odds and ends, and a sack to carry them in, along the way. Some were stolen, like the snacks in their shiny little packages and the music box, the one like Darcy's, that played so many wonderfully complicated and devastatingly shallow Midgardian tunes. Other things in the bag were given freely, like the "magazines" full of shiny photographs and interesting insights into the Midgardian condition that an old woman had given him once she was finished with them.

He didn't particularly need clothing; he could fashion any he liked, and he had to cloak himself in illusion anyway, to hide his helm from view. Most often he chose to wear the tough blue trousers and the yellow "Fluttershy" shirt that Darcy had given him, now in much better repair than it had been towards the end.

Once he was free of the hall in which the buses congregated, he lifted his head and breathed deep. The air was rich with smells: Midgardians by the million, cats and dogs and rats and mice, fresh food and rotting. Electricity. Power.

And the water, very close by, where he would find what he was looking for. He'd decided, during the long bus journey, that there was one thing he needed more than anything else in Midgard.

It wasn't difficult to reach the water's edge, which was surrounded by old buildings and wide stretches of paved land. There were few grass or trees, but birds were still plentiful: gulls, sparrows, starlings, ducks. And crows.

He sat for ages, watching them pick their way along the docks, tossing out little crumbs from the food he'd acquired until one came close. She was young -- old enough to know how a crow should act, young enough not to be too wary yet. Young enough to be curious. To be trained.

"Yes, you will do," he said, as she took a crumb from his fingers. He touched her head once, lightly, and she left the ground, flapping up to sit on his shoulder.

"Come now, my lovely little spy," he added, rising from his crouch and stroking her glossy black feathers gently. "We have much to do in this realm."


Thanks for reading, everyone! And just in case you thought Loki in a Fluttershy shirt was as funny as I did, have a look at Jean's awesome art for the story!

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