Here we are, the last chapter. I'm so blessed to have such wonderful readers. I started Shiver on a whim during a sleepless night and I cannot believe how far this story has come since then. Thank you for sticking with me…through hiatus after hiatus and terrible grammar, through the unfolding of a *gasp* much dreaded love triangle and the dissembling of an OTP of mine (heck maybe more than one). Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! I do hope this ending is all you could hope and more. I thought long and hard about this chapter, but I know that this is the way Heroes and Thieves would have to end. Coincidentally, taking into account my little addition of time to the MCU timeline, I am posting the chapter on the very day the last scene takes place. So, if you're anything like me, you can imagine its happening (or just happened or is about to happen) as you read it.
Heroes & Thieves
She Was Here
Ellie woke suddenly but peacefully. And even though she knew it must be time to wake, sleep clung to her like frost to a window. Had she meant to fall asleep? Ellie couldn't remember. She blinked, trying to do away with the watery blur marring her vision. Sleepy tears dribbled down her cheeks, but she didn't bother to wipe them away. Her arm, which rested above her head, was heavy and she was sluggish in lifting it. Eventually, her fingers found her eyes and she rubbed them vigorously, yawning loudly.
The dreams were still coming. Again and again until they had come and gone so often they played like silent picture shows, feeling ancient and familiar. If she had the ability, Ellie would have waved them away as apathetically as one would change channels on a television. The blood and the black no longer pierced her heart with fear. They were just images. Except now, as days passed, new images and new sounds had entered the fray. Rays of sunlight on a summer morning came creeping through a familiar window. The sounds of singing birds, both far away and nearby. And the feeling of someone's arms wrapped around her own. The longer she was alone the more prominent they became. Pounding into her like drum beats, rattling her rib cage and stirring her heart.
The bed she inhabited was still unfamiliar to her. When she moved, its springs groaned much too loudly. The sheet wrapped around her was warm enough to make her sweat, and its rough texture irritated her skin some. Still, escape from the frigid air outside its folds was preferable.
Gray light filtered in from the window at the center of the wall across from her. As her vision cleared, Ellie guessed it was late morning.
Must be…She thought, still unwilling to draw herself out of bed. Despite her best efforts, sleep lingered, filling her brain and hanging heavily from the circles under her eyes. She could hear the steady drip drop of water from a faucet and muffled voices somewhere nearby.
Neighbors, the word appeared in the haze as if revealed by a glaring spotlight, before vanishing into the fog once more.
Where am I now-again?
She tried to pinpoint the answer, but it flitted around her conscious like a butterfly; it's shapes and colors easy enough to identify, but any detail just out of reach.
Ellie rolled onto her side. She pressed her palm into the mattress. Wake Up, Ellie. Gotta…wake up.
She applied more pressure, lifting herself into a sitting position. The blanket slid from her shoulder and the shock of cold was enough to force her senses into clarity.
Looking around the room, she tried to remember where exactly she was. A narrow door sat to her right, kept guard by three separate locks. The room was cramped, but it made no difference to Ellie, who had few material possessions to fill it. To her left sat a small enclave. Inside it, a mirror hung on the wall over an old sink. A chest of drawers sat next to it and a small desk lay under the window. Outside, she could hear the faint sound of foot traffic below.
Ah, that's right. Amsterdam.
It was the fourth strange bed she had occupied in seven weeks. Since striking a deal with the Rising Tide, Ellie had been on the move. As stipulated in their agreement, she had begun to send pieces of information to Michael Matson and his fellows. After each message had been received by those he deemed trustworthy, Ellie would flee to another location, never truly convinced that she was safe from detection. She liked Michael Matson, and she truly believed him to be a man that would do anything to protect his creation. However, she harbored no such comforts when it came to the men and women he worked with. He could very well be unknowingly handing her intel to members of SHIELD. And, for as much as The Rising Tide had been able to uncover, thanks to the shreds of documents she had provided them, Ellie knew there would always be stretches of shadow they could not uncover. Her little army of hackers were battling an enemy that lived and thrived in the underground. The very thought made her uneasy.
In order to keep herself safe, Ellie had left Paris the very day she had met Matson, heading south and into the countryside before moving on to Spain. After spending several days there, she made her way east, entirely unsure of where exactly she was heading. She had heard tell that there were still places in the world where SHIELD's power could not reach. She would need to do more digging and most likely search out new allies, before she would feel free from detection.
When she arrived in Amsterdam, however, Ellie found herself quite unwilling to leave. The difficulty of travel played no small part in her "hesitation." It was December now, winters chilling hold over the country left the security and efficiency of plane travel questionable, trains were trafficked beyond her level of patience and renting a car was just another dangerous feat. Ellie's experience in driving through snow was nonexistent and she didn't want to risk getting into a wreck. It would mean relying on a bevy of strangers, something she was unwilling to do.
So she stayed confined to the city like many others, pretending to be nothing more than a wandering tourist. How long she would stay, she couldn't be sure. She would have felt more pressure to move, were it not for the charms of the city. Using the money she had at her disposal, she acquired a weekly slot in a small multi-unit apartment building. It was a few short blocks from the river and main roads. Her room, apartment H, sat on the third floor facing the street. The women's bathroom was on the second, but she didn't mind the short trips up and down the stairs. The people in her building were unobtrusive, but friendly enough. Some, like the neighbors to her left, had been living there for years. Others had come and gone more quickly.
Ellie rose from the bed, gathered the blanket around her shoulders and walked to the window. Leaning over the desk, she lifted back the curtain and peered outside.
Snow blanketed the streets and the trees that lined the block. Ellie leaned in closer to look down the street, her brow furrowing in confusion. Even though she had been correct and it was undoubtedly midday, the streets were all but empty.
She had grown used to heavy foot traffic outside her window. In fact, she had grown quite attached to it. When she was feeling lonely she would sit on the fire escape just outside her window and watch people travel down below her, listening to fractured conversations and drawing comfort from the mediocre everydayness of the people's lives down below.
Her eyes scanned the street, searching for the crowds, until her eyes spotted a flurry of green wrapped around a lamp post. It was a garland.
Oh. Ellie realized, It's Christmas Day.
She had been awake most of the night. How does it go? Twas the night before Christmas…something about nothing stirring? Except the girl with the plans to destroy the gargantuan corrupted homeland defense organization?
After writing and editing all the night long, she had sent out what was to be the fourth piece of the puzzle that The Rising Tide had been assembling for her. When she had finalized the work, she had contacted Matson's latest hacker prodigies, a duo known only to her as Miles and Skye. After reciting to them the proper instructions, she signed off of the forum. She had fallen into bed not long after that.
At 5 AM. She remembered, standing up. And it's now…12:28. Not bad.
In truth, Ellie had felt a fleeting twinge of sadness for Michael Matson. His little grassroots endeavor had become something else entirely since their first meeting. Those that claimed loyalty to him had become much more than a rag tag group of hackers. They had gobbled up the bait she had dangled above them and done exactly what she had hoped they would do. The information had proven to be a potent weapon. News of SHIELD's appalling secrecy and questionable policies was beginning to reach the public. Gutsy hackers were working speedily to share information with anyone who would listen, sparking an apparent rise in competition for battling organizations of espionage. Soon enough, SHIELD's precious order would be hit one too many times. The walls would topple and chaos would reign free.
Turning away from the street, Ellie let the blanket drop to the floor. She searched the room for her bag. After locating it, she dug around looking for something to wear. She pulled a grey t shirt from the bottom of the bag, gave it a quick whiff and, once approving it, slipped it over her head. A charcoal sweater followed. And then dark, slim jeans. Her boots were hiding under the bed and once she had put those on as well, she fumbled into her trench coat. Thinking of the snow outside, she reached for the scarf draped over the back of her chair.
She touched it, rubbing the fabric between her fingers. An image flashed in her mind. One of it's previous owner. A tiny grin stretched her lips. He wore it so well.
She shook her head, letting her hand fall away. Don't start.
Walking over to the sink, she cranked the faucet and splashed her face with icy water. She made quick work of her makeup and ran a brush through her hair.
Muttering reminders to herself, she pulled a pair of leather gloves onto her hands and headed out the door. Leaving the scarf behind.
For Ellie, there were few simple pleasures in life that could a swell of joy from almost nothing. The crackling of leaves during long walks through Central Park. The smell of old books. The feel of a beautiful dress against her bare skin.
She was no stranger to the phenomena of snow, but she was having difficulty remembering the last time she had the fortune to witness such a beautiful event. She had just missed the storm, and the streets were covered with mounds of fresh snow.
She was virtually alone on the banks of the Amstel. As she walked along, she took in the wintery Christmas Day. A glimmering candle occupied every window and decorations of green and red and gold lined every building. Music could be heard from several homes and shops where parties were underway and meals were being cooked.
Ellie took a hard right turn and wandered up one of the bridges that crossed over the river. She stopped at the center and allowed her arms to sink through several inches of snow that topped the railings. She looked out over the river and watching her smoky breath sliver from her mouth and into the air.
The water was almost completely frozen over. Locals had been talking giddily of the New Year, when the frost would completely overwhelm the surface and they would be free to ice skate up and down and back again.
She stood on the bridge for some time. However it didn't take long for a knowing thought at the back of her head to come crawling into the open.
Merry Christmas, Ellie.
The voice, low and sweet, hit her like speeding train.
"Steve…" she said aloud.
Unable to stop herself, she reached into her pocket and pulled out one of the two cell phones she carried with her.
It was the one she had used for years. The one she should have done away with months ago. The one that held far too many memories and even more liabilities. Flipping through the contacts, she found what she was looking for. His number. And his name.
Forgetting to breathe, Ellie tapped her thumb across the screen until her message was completed.
Before she could send it however, she felt compelled to pause.
It's strange, she thought. Of all the names on her phone, his was the only one that did not include a last name to follow the first. From the moment she had met him, he had always been just Steve. Bashful, handsome, sweet as pie Steve. Even after days of heroic tales, endless news reels and cheering crowds, Ellie never saw him as Captain America. He was her hero before she even knew heroes without iron suits and patented tech existed. She felt infinitely fortunate to have known the man behind the shield.
A sting not unlike one felt at the news of an untimely death surged through her. It was, however, in an instant soaked up by an entirely new sensation and she was filled with warmth akin to the kind protruding from a well-lit hearth. And, like floating embers, she was overcome with small specks of memories. One she had not realized she had still been holding on to.
For several minutes she played them in her head like silent pictures. As each frame fluttered by, she felt the pain inside of her lessen. Until at last she came to the final one: where she watched him go a second time.
And Ellie realized without despair that the time had come to say goodbye.
You have to let him go. She thought. For his sake. And yours.
She opened her eyes and gazed down at the phone in her hand. Tipping her hand towards the icy water below, she watched as the device slid from her grasp and fell away.
It plunged into the slushy water with a bubbling plunk and vanished from her sight.
Ellie stood, watching the small ripples as they expanded pasts the small shards of ice that floated around it.
She smiled, wiping her eyes.
New Year's Eve, 2013.
"Happy New Year!"
Ellie smiled half heartedly and waved back at the people who had seen her sitting on the fire escape. She watched the spirited group make their way down the down, the grin still lingering unbeknownst to her.
As more and more people began to crowd the streets, Ellie looked down at her watch. It was almost 10:30.
She had entertained the idea of going out herself, slipping into a party and reveling a good jolt of celebration. However, the morning news thought otherwise.
Word of Iron Man's recent troubles on the East Coast had reached the rest of the world. The Rising Tide had posted several warnings soon after. SHIELD was beginning to crack down on them. Something to do with a code name: Extremis. The hunt for possible leaks had been expanded and three known members of the Rising Tide had already been taken in. Ellie had recognized one of the names.
Seeing that name of the screen, sparked within her the fear that had been dampened by the infectious good will of the season. She knew she had been foolish to stay in one place for so long. The sooner she could leave Amsterdam the better.
It was decided. She would leave in the morning.
Which means I have a lot to do. She thought, painful anxiety riddling her chest. I need to get rid of all the extra crap. I need to get a new phone. I need to dispose of this computer. I need to pack. I need…
"I need a drink." She said aloud. After she was able to convince herself that there was nothing pressing she could accomplish at such a late hour, she slipped into a change of clothes and joined the celebrations outside.
It was astounding, Ellie thought, how a little effort and an eye for observation could help render her practically invisible to all those around her. Several blocks down the riverside, she had crept into a bar and crashed what she soon realized was a private party. She floated around the room much like a fly on a wall for some time, occasionally sipping at a drink or two, letting the amber liquid flow through her veins and attempt to warm her chilly spirits.
Ellie found she did not possess the will to engage anyone in conversation. That and, she feared she was so out of the loop on current events and pop culture, she may garner too much attention.
Is this what my life will be like from now on? She thought. She was neither repulsed nor concerned with the notion, simply curious. It was difficult to imagine she could ever properly return to a life of parties and drunken socializing. Even relaxing in a place she could call home and catching up on films and television seemed too far gone.
Before she came around to an answer, Ellie was distracted by something outside. She could see flurries of snow in the air. It's snowing!
Abandoning her drink at the bar, she pulled her scarf around her neck and weaved through the crowds; heading for the exit.
She pushed the door open and let it fall shut behind her. Once it did, the noises from inside were muffled almost completely and she was left in the silence. Golden light from the bar and the lamps that lined the street were caught by the flakes of falling snow and they fell like embers from a fire.
Ellie smiled, breathing in the icy air and letting it fill her empty lungs.
Yes, she thought. If this is to be my fall, the least I can do is take some other bastards down with me. It will be worth it. Everything.
A raucous cheer from inside, pulled her from her thoughts. She could make out the beginning of a countdown. The New Year was upon her.
Best be on my way, she thought. Lots of packing to do.
As she walked back, she passed several bright and busy establishments. The countdown seemed to be following her and as she watched the snow falling from the black sky above, she joined in.
20, 19, 18, 17, 16…
The shadows of a snow covered tree caught her eye and she slowed some, commiting the image to memory.
11, 10, 9, 8-
"8." She said aloud, stuttering. She halted.
That…for second-it felt like. Her eyes slipped shut and a chilly wind slid past her. A second later a bracing shiver crawled up her spine.
All breath left her in a smoky puff and she shook her head, once again having to chastise her foolish heart.
It can't hurt…just to look.
As Ellie turned around, the countdown ended and a simultaneous cheer erupted from all angles, flooding the street.
And there stood Loki, dressed in the same suit he was wearing when she had first met him, no more than twenty feet from her.
It had not been very long since they had last seen each other. Yet now that they were so close, it seemed as though it had been decades. Suddenly the very notion that they had been apart seemed unfathomable, how had they survived for so long without each other?
"I knew it was you." Ellie said, smiling.
He smiled too. "Hello, Ellie."
When Loki spoke her name he sounded ravenous. Ravenous for her. For her taste and her touch. Just as she was for him.
"How on earth did you-?" Ellie began, overjoyed but dumbfounded.
"You didn't honestly believe all the prisons of Asgard could keep me contained, did you?" Loki interjected, gleaming with twisted pride. As he spoke, he swaggered over towards her and Ellie could see a familiar spark in his dark eyes. It made her stomach flip flop and, though it was a feeling akin to her fear, she knew better.
She stayed rooted to her spot, demanding silently that he come to her. The closer he got, the more Ellie was able to soak in. There was a scar on his face, just under his left eye, one that hadn't been there before. He looked strung out, as though he had just fought a great battle.
"You're a bit damaged." She noted, worried.
"Doesn't matter," He said, taking her face in his hands and kissing her hard. Ellie responded in kind, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him even closer. The bite of winter evaporated around them and Ellie felt a familiar heat in her belly. Loki's hand slipped into her hair, gripping it tightly.
Ellie beamed, her freckled face flushed and she pulled away.
"So," She said, unable to shake her grin. "What happens now?"
Loki's toothy smile faltered and Ellie felt the ice creeping in again. Did he just come to say goodbye? He escaped from prison…I suppose he can't stay. So, he'll leave? Again?
"It will only be a matter of time before they discover that the body lingering in the cell is not mine." Loki said, looking up at the sky.
"So you're leaving." Ellie said, not wanting to hear the words come from his mouth a second time. She looked away, wanting to flee before hearing another word.
"With you," Loki said. "If you would have me."
Ellie turned to face him. "What?"
"I want you with me." Loki said, without a hint of a trick in his eye.
Ellie felt her heart nearly burst in her chest. A giddy sound escaped her and she nearly leapt into his arms.
"Where!?" She asked, breathless.
His wicked smile returned. "Anywhere."
Ellie laughed, shaking her head. Was she dreaming? This seemed all too much like a dream. Did she fall asleep gazing at the snow?
"There are worlds beyond these lifeless stars, Ellie. I can show you each and every one of them." He said, waving his arm in the air as if beckoning to the night sky.
"You're serious." Ellie said, excitement spilling from her.
"I promise you, Ellie." He said, his gaze drawing her in. "I will never again give you reason to doubt me."
Left speechless by his words, Ellie felt her knees go weak.
"Will you come?" He pressed, almost begging her.
Ellie looked up at the sky. She had not realized that the snow had stopped. The clouds were beginning to part and she could see slivers of starlight. They seemed brighter than ever before, as if beckoning to her.
"I've loved the stars too fondly to fear the night." Ellie whispered, recalling the words.
Loki smiled. "Such poetry."
"Not mine." Ellie admitted, forgetting his keen senses. "I can't remember who said it first."
"Then you are a thief." He laughed, kissing her temple affectionately.
Ellie smiled, surprisingly thrilled at the label. "And you are a trickster."
"Such a fine pair we make."
He held out his hand.
Ellie looked upon it, wrestling with trepidation and euphoria. She thought about what she would leave behind. A little room that was not her own, a small collection of belongings and a plan for vengeance. It all seemed so trite now, so worthless.
Nothing else seemed to matter. No single thought could call her to a home she never truly felt existed on this earth.
This was it. This was what she had dreamed of. Her whole life had been spent looking for an answer and now, after years of loneliness, uncertainty and heartache, she knew. It was more than anything she could have dreamed up, more than a sky dripping stars, more than a warm bed or a life full of successes. She was in love. It was a love so selfish, she was willing to leave behind all the anger and rage she had been bottling up for so long. She knew it would be dangerous to go with him. She could very well be heading straight for a grisly fate. But did it matter? The true test of a life was not it's length, but it's depth. And here she stood on the edge of a grand adventure. Would she jump? Or would she cling to that edge, alone and unfulfilled?
Reaching out, Ellie placed her hand into Loki's. It was, as it had always been, a perfect fit.
She looked into his eyes, her heart quaking at the familiar spark she had ignited in them.
He drew her to him, his free arm falling to her waist as if he were preparing for a dance.
And at last, there were no more goodbyes.
I took the stars from my eyes, and then I made a map
And knew that somehow I could find my way back.
I heard your heart beating, you were in the darkness too
So I stayed in the darkness with you.
Cosmic Love, Florence + The Machine
Again, I can't thank you enough for reading this story and the one before it (and all those little ones in between) I would love to hear any final thoughts you may have. Thank you so much.
…And AH-HA! Did you really think this would be the end? With another Thor movie out and about? No way! Coming Soonish: Into Eternity, the final little story. It will follow the events of Thor: The Dark World. I have another fic in line before this one (A Thranduil/OC fic) so I won't really be diving into the last part of this little trilogy for a month or two. But it is coming! No goodbyes indeed!