Vulnerable, Chapter 14

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They didn't let me go.

I wanted to scream, to hit, to kick, to rage at stupid Steve Rogers for not picking me to go with. I wanted to break something, anything. I wanted to shove Clint Barton for volunteering to take my place.

But the fact still stood: a dangerous mission to Boston to rescue the god of thunder was no place for a pregnant woman.

Yeah. Me. Pregnant.

Three months pregnant, to be exact.

Blondie had been the first to suggest the possibility a few hours after the meeting when it was decided to bring back Thor. She'd been keeping a list of all my symptoms for the past month or so, and when she showed the list to Dr. Jackson, I was immediately bustled off for testing.

Now I was pacing back and forth across my room, positively fuming. There was no way I could possibly be pregnant. No way at all. None. The human reproduction system just didn't work like that. It was a fact: in order to become pregnant, someone first has to have... well, that. And I hadn't. I had definitely not done that. Ever.

My eyes started to sting. I fell backwards and collapsed on my bed, burying my face in my hands. How would I even explain this to Loki? I couldn't even explain this to myself. He'd obviously assume I'd cheated on him, which I hadn't. He'd be furious. He'd want nothing to do with me ever again.

Something soft and warm leaped onto my lap and curled up there. I scratched Mercury's head miserably, letting tears flow free now. My friends and my husband were going on a mission without me, and I had to stay back here, doing nothing, and worrying constantly.

This was so messed up.

Someone knocked on my door. "Come in," I said, assuming it was Blondie.

I was wrong.

"So," Natasha drawled from the doorway. "Boy or girl?"

"They don't know," I said, grabbing a tissue from the bedside table. I snuck a quick glance at the mirror across the room. I looked terrible. "Said they won't be able to tell for a while."

"It's not exactly a secret; we all know about you and Loki sneaking out every night. I don't know why you're acting so surprised that this would result from that." She sidled over to the chair by the dresser and sat down.

"But we haven't done anything!" I spluttered at her. "He and I, we're still - well, I don't know about him, but I'm still-"

"Anyways," she cut in, "your personal life is not what I came to talk about. Rogers sent me down here to see if you wanted to go with to send them off tomorrow. It could be dangerous, though."

I shook my head, squeezing my eyes shut. "If it's dangerous... No. I have to start thinking of this now." I pointed to my stomach.

"Fair enough," she said with a shrug, standing to leave. Then, she paused half-way out the door. "Though, for the record, I've known you were pregnant for a while now. Woman's intuition."

And she left, shutting the door behind her with her hip.

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"This is the worst plan I have ever heard of," Loki muttered under his breath as the enormous train snaked to a stop behind them.

Tony shrugged off his worries easily. "Eh, we'll be fine."

For some reason, the god of mischief wasn't very reassured.

"This is where we get on," Clint reminded the other two, slinging his sheath of arrows back over his shoulders. Around them, station workers were loading the huge compartments with crates and boxes and jugs, ready to be shipped to other locations in the remnants of the United States. This train was also their way east.

Currently, the three of them were crouched behind a mountain of wooden crates full of fabric. At every minute, Loki expected them to be found and taken somewhere to be executed and the whole gig would be up. Sneaking on a national train in order to get to the Boston area and hopefully rescue Thor? When the idea was first proposed, Loki'd figured it was a joke.

But there they were.

"I'll go first," Tony offered, and before anyone had the chance to protest, he'd slipped away.

Clint didn't say anything, instead just nodding his head in the direction Tony had gone. Then he disappeared as well.

The train whistled, and a sound of hurried feet indicated that the workers were clearing off. His ride would be gone soon, but still, he hesitated. A nagging feeling in his gut told him that their mission wasn't going to end well. He could leave now, sneak off back to base.

He could leave his brother in the hands of two mortal idiots.

"Okay, then," he whispered to himself. He heard the squeal of wheels on the track, and he knew he couldn't wait any longer.

Loki flung himself around the side of the crate, coming into full view of anyone who happened to be looking. Thank Odin, the station was now empty.

Without another pause, he sprinted across the grimy platform, trying not to breathe in any smoke. It was more difficult than it seemed.

"Faster!" Tony urged from the door of the compartment, hand outstretched. With a tremendous groan, the train began to inch along the track, picking up speed with every second.

Loki launched himself into the air mid-stride, grabbed Tony's hand, and landed face-first on the metal floor. The heavy door slid shut with a thud behind them.

"Smooth," Clint drawled. He'd found the tallest stack of crates and was now perched on top of it, but he looked more like a giant vulture than a hawk. Ignoring him, Loki brushed off his trouser legs and moved to sit on a pile of boxes that had been fashioned into a chair.

Tony frowned. "You took my seat."'

Loki cocked an eyebrow, but otherwise ignored him.

The Iron Man huffed in annoyance and stalked off to the other side of the compartment. He began shuffling the crates around, probably to make himself a new, better than before throne.

Sighing to himself, Loki rolled his eyes. Immature as ever, Stark.

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The ride was gruelingly long. Apparently, the recipients of this fabric were in no rush to get it. After the second day, the three companions ran out of food. Loki attempted to transform some of the cloth from the crates into something edible, but failed – like, really failed.

Tony threw a fit and spent the rest of the journey in caffeine deprived, stony silence only broken by the occasional angry muttering from his place in the corner. Clint was, well, Clint, and he hardly budged from his perch. Once, the train hit a bump on the track and the crates toppled over, taking him with them, a stream of foul language spilling from his lips.

It wasn't a very fun trip, but Loki supposed it could have been worse – after all, Romanoff could have come with. He shuddered to even think of that scenario.

They arrived in Boston mid-morning on the third day, all eager to escape the dull, dim interior of their train. The first thing Tony suggested after they'd snuck past the station guards was to hit up a bar or two. He didn't stop whining about the firm 'no' Loki had given him until Clint threatened to impale him on an arrow if he didn't shut up.

Together, the three of them walked amongst the few citizens scurrying about through the miserable streets. It looked like a scene from that post-apocalyptic film Ande had made him watch years ago. The majority of the shop windows had been boarded up, but the glass was cracked and broken. A few posters had been plastered to the walls, mostly showing pictures of Johann Schmidt and slogans that were impossible to read because the ink had smeared. Trees and grass had been left untended, and were now just dead branches and dry dirt.

They had to dress to fit the part of a person living in the poverty of the city. Clothed in tattered coats and ragged, wooly scarves and hats, the soldiers manning the street corners paid them no mind. They slipped past them quickly, Loki in the lead.

Walking through this dreary city filled Loki with a sense of miserable nostalgia. He'd been to Boston once about fifteen years ago on vacation with Ande. It used to be such a busy, crowded city. Now there was nothing but charred remains of what once had been. And that's not even mentioning the bodies laying on the sidewalks, having died in their sleep. They had no family left to move their corpses.

It made Loki wonder: if he died then and there, would Tony and Clint bother bringing his body back to the headquarters?

He sort of doubted it.

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Harvard Law School, home of the finest law students this country has to offer. Well, had would be a more fitting word. It was an abandoned campus, the ghosts of students long gone the only inhabitants now.

This was where they would find Thor.

Nobody tried to stop them on our way in. Judging by the faded signs, it was like a tourist attraction: "Come see the fallen god of thunder! Only at Harvard!"

Loki clenched his fists to keep himself from tearing down the posters in a rage – that would be far too suspicious an act.

Most people came to pay their respects to him, though. He was an Avenger. He was their savior, their protector.

"You'd think they'd try and guard him a little better," Clint muttered.

"They doubtlessly believe that no one would be able to perform a rescue operation," Loki chimed in, speaking for the first time in hours. "They're too arrogant to think for one moment that they could be defeated. Rather like Stark."

Glowering, Tony pushed open the iron gates, and they gave way with a loud screech and a cloud of red dust from the rust.

Notching an arrow in the bow he'd concealed under his jacket, Clint whispered solemnly, "After you."

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Author's Note: I can't even begin to express how sorry I am about the wait for this. How long has it been? Five months? Six? And then, I only post a short chapter that probably doesn't even make sense.

Now, you may be wondering, "What the heck is she doing?! Reproduction doesn't work like that! Ande can't be pregnant!" And I don't blame you for asking that question. Seriously, though, I will explain everything. Everything. Just not in this chapter.

I feel like I owe an explanation to you guys. I have been so stumped on this story. So. Freaking. Stumped. In fact, I even started to hate this – the plot, the characters, everything. But still, I said that I would see this through to the end, and I will. Mark my words. This story will come to a (hopefully) satisfying close, no matter how long it takes. I have a sense of dedication to it, considering that it was my first multi-chaptered story.

I sincerely hope that you readers are still out there and will stick with me through this.

Again, I'm so sorry. Please review!

-S