A/N: Welcome, one and all! This is an Age of Ultron fanfiction, set about six months or so before the events of the movie. There are a few fun twists and turns here that I don't want to spoil too soon, so I'll let you jump right in. But if you get confused, don't fear! Just hop to the bottom of the chapter (it's not very long) and all will be explained! For now, enjoy!
The room was quiet. Columns rose up in a dimly glowing maze, flickering fires in their braziers throwing more shadow than the light they cast. Everything was hammered, brushed gold, even the man sitting upon the curving throne, dressed in armor that looked odd upon his thin frame, as if he were trying to fill it with only the power of his will. His pale hand gripped a golden staff and the other cradled his head, his hair escaping his fingers in black tendrils that gleamed in the firelight. He looked as if he could be sleeping. Or hiding. Yes, hiding from a world that didn't want to see him, that didn't want to recognize what he was.
She approached the dais and mounted the steps, her footsteps making no sound on the gleaming marble. She wasn't really here. Some barely conscious part of her mind told her that, and yet she couldn't quite make herself believe it. It looked real. It certainly felt real. She reached the second step and stopped, one foot above, one foot below. The figure on the throne heaved his narrow shoulders, as if in a deep sigh. Then he looked up.
He wasn't at all the way she remembered him. His hair was longer. His face had furrows in it that she didn't recall. His eyes were red-not red-rimmed, not bloodshot, but true crimson all the way through. His skin wasn't pale, as she had thought, but blue, a deep azure swirled with patterns of raised lines. But his smile...that was exactly as she remembered: toothy, arrogant, cool and sure. The smile of a god.
The smile widened and his lips parted, his voice echoing in the empty hall and in her head.
"Hello, Miss Ripley."
Alice sat straight up in bed with a gasp, sucking in air as if coming up from underwater. She gripped her wrist, feeling the metal of her parents' wedding rings bite into her skin through the leather straps tying them together. Her heart stuttered and then settled in her chest. She took another breath, a little more controlled, and let go of her wrist, instead reaching out until her hand touched a warm shoulder-shaped lump in the dark. She let her hand rest there, breathing deeply. Bruce hadn't been there when she'd gone to bed. It was nice to know he hadn't passed out in the lab at least. He did that sometimes and it made her worry, even though she knew there was no use trying to stop him.
She squeezed his shoulder once and turned to get out of bed. He rolled over and mumbled sleepily, "Y'lright?"
She smiled and leaned down to press a kiss to his forehead.
"Yeah," she whispered, running her fingers through his curls, "Just want some tea. Go back to sleep."
He muttered something unintelligible and relaxed back into the pillows, his face smoothing as he slipped back into sleep. She waited a minute to be sure before she got up and padded out of the door, letting it close with a soft whoosh of air. She made her way on bare feet down the hall and into the elevator, punching the button for Floor 56, where the penthouse kitchen was. It was a long way up from the eighteenth floor where she and Bruce were staying, but the trip seemed to take almost no time. She barely even felt the elevator move as it came to a stop and chimed, the doors sliding open on the dimly lit lounge area. She padded to the kitchen and took down a pot from one of the cabinets, filling it with water before putting it on the stove. She pulled down the chai she kept mixed in a glass jar and a mug, setting them on the counter as she waited for the water to simmer. She glanced up.
The balcony on this floor took up most of one side of the building, on the other side of a wall of picture windows overlooking the New York skyline. It was still dark out, the lights of the city ever moving below. And someone stood out there on the balcony, the breeze tossing her blonde curls around her. The dream flashed again through Alice's mind and she shuddered. She hadn't had a bad dream about Loki in months, but it made sense now, considering the...well, she didn't want to call it a fight. It was more of a shocking realization that some people had not taken very well. Some people being Clint, mostly.
"He took hundreds of innocent lives! Does that mean nothing to you people?!"
To be fair, Tony hadn't been all that thrilled either, and Nat, of course, had sided with her best friend. Thor had been shouting, and when the wind started to pick up inside the Tower, Bruce had suggested they table the discussion until Steve came back from his mission. Clint had stormed off with Nat on his heels, Tony had locked himself in his workshop, and Bruce had disappeared into his lab, which had been the last Alice had seen of him until just a few sleepy minutes ago. Alice hadn't known what to say. She still didn't. After all, the others had a valid point. Loki had killed a lot of people. And he had mind-controlled Clint. Alice liked Clint. He was a good guy, his anger was not unwarranted.
But none of these things were Klara's fault. Sure, she'd looked after Loki on Asgard. She may have even gotten close to him, cared about him, not wanted an angry mob to kill him in cold blood. But was that any more or less than Thor? He was Loki's brother, albeit adopted, and he had made it pretty clear that he still cared about him. And nobody was calling Thor a traitor or questioning his loyalties. Who were they to judge, any of them?
Alice reached into the cabinet and pulled down a second mug.
It was so noisy here.
Not just here, in the city of New York, but everywhere Klara had been on Midgard seemed noisy, busy, frantic. As if the people knew their time was short and so were trying to be heard as quickly as possible, trying to make their mark on the universe before they were no longer able.
"He took hundreds of innocent lives! Does that mean nothing to you people?"
She shut her eyes and let the breeze sweep over her, taking in the strange smells of smoke and fuel and stale air. Even the smells were noisy. It hadn't been so in Greenwich. It was noisy there too, but the air at least was fresh. There was too much in New York, everything compressed together and pushed upward to fit.
Would she ever fit here? Was there room in this busy, noisy world for her? She felt small, smaller than usual. Midgard was larger than she had imagined it to be. Asgard had always felt safely contained, but Midgardians spread themselves to the farthest corners of their world. She felt like an imposition, even before...
She opened her eyes in surprise. Alice Ripley, the small Midgardian girl with the short brown hair and the big, dark eyes, was standing beside her, holding out a mug of steaming liquid. Klara took the mug out of polite habit and peered at its contents. It was a creamy brown and smelled like spice and comfort.
"It's tea," Miss Ripley said, taking a sip from her own mug, "In Kolkata, you learn to love it or you die of thirst. Luckily, I'm a fast learner."
She grinned at her own joke, something Klara imagined she did often. She had a face built for smiling. Klara took her own careful sip and her mouth exploded with flavors, even as the smooth texture slid easily down her throat to sit warm in her chest. The girl was watching her, waiting for a reaction, so Klara smiled, an expression that she didn't even have to force onto her face.
"Thank you," she said and meant it more than her words could convey. After all, the girl did not have to be here, especially not after the...unpleasantness earlier.
Miss Ripley shrugged her narrow, sun-browned shoulders and took another sip of her drink, gesturing toward the brightly lit city below.
Klara furrowed her brow for a moment, cupping her fingers around the warm mug. She recognized the term Midgardians used for travel fatigue. It reminded her fondly of Darcy Lewis and her enthusiasm for explaining Midgardian references and popular culture. It was difficult to be melancholy when Darcy was about. Klara missed her.
"The nights are shorter on Asgard," Klara said, gathering her thoughts, "And working odd hours at the palace was commonplace. One never knew when one might be needed."
"No one touches one of mine..."
Klara flinched and took another sip of her tea. She had not meant to think of him. Not now, not when things were so... difficult. But he snuck up on her at the strangest moments, his voice whispering in her ear at the most inconvenient times. Just as he would have done, had he...
Her hands were shaking. She clenched them tighter around the mug, trying to make them stop. She did not dare look up to see if Miss Ripley noticed. The girl didn't say anything for a long moment.
"I met him once, you know."
Klara blinked and looked up. The girl was leaning back against the balcony railing, one bare foot crossed over a flannel-clad calf, staring into her own mug.
"He was...charismatic, I guess would be the word for it," she continued, swirling the liquid in the bottom of her cup, "I mean, even when he was...I don't know. I guess what I'm trying to say is I get it, kind of. I mean, I'm the last person on Earth, or anywhere really, to throw stones in glass houses. Let's be honest, I'm sharing living quarters with a guy who could bring this whole building down on a bad day."
She looked up at Klara and smiled again at her attempted humor.
"The others," she said, gesturing back toward the quiet tower, "They'll come around. Clint's good people, he just-"
"I don't blame him," Klara said, looking down into her mug and realizing the steam was no longer rising.
"I know," Miss Ripley agreed, "I'm just saying...don't give up on us, alright? We're not always jerks and assholes."
Klara looked up, startled at the coarse language, but the girl didn't seem to notice. Instead, she was staring back toward the tower, her elbows sticking out over the railing, the wind ruffling her short hair. Klara looked back out over the city and sipped at the last of her tea. She could almost feel the unseen stars looking down on them.
"The stars knew not where their stations were..."
She shut her eyes and let the words blow away with the wind.
A/N: YAY! \o/ So, if you've made it all the way to the bottom here, you're probably either very excited or very confused. Allow me to explain: this fic is the highly anticipated sequel to, not just one, but two of my Marvel fics. That's right, folks, I full-on 'MCU'ed this bitch ;P
So, for clarification, if you haven't read "Worth Living For" (my Bruce/Alice "Avengers" fic, and its accompanying short sequel "Paradise Found") or "Clarity" (my Loki/Klara "Thor: The Dark World" fic), I highly recommend you read both of those first. They're not super long, and I believe it'll be worth it to you. You can try to read this on its own if you want, but it won't be nearly as fun that way :P
I've seriously been looking forward to this ever since I wrote "Clarity", so this is gonna be a lot of fun! Updates will be every Wednesday (barring unforeseen circumstances), so you can add that to your calendars. I'm so looking forward to sharing this story with you, I hope you enjoy!