LOST CREATURES XVIII
Author's Note: So it took me a while to muster the enthusiasm/screw my courage to the sticking place/man up/just get on with it and get around to watching Captain America. It wasn't actually quite as bad as I'd expected, being marginally less of the rampantly narcissistic piece of jingoistic, self-congratulatory, racially/nationally-stereotyped hubris that I'd feared it would be. Some of the story points, however, did necessitate a bit of a re-write to make this fic more or less movie-verse canon-compliant and one particular plot point I re-jigged is going to work out to be quite cool, so it was worth the two hours spent watching, I hope. Let me know what you think
All Hell breaks loose with a quiet whisper. Dies with a muted shout; the new arrivals are openly armed, but their weapons - incongruously beautiful though they are - are not raised. If Fury had to put a name to it - to that press of bodies, that disciplined anticipation and watchful, wary alertness, the carefully non-threatening stances . . . he'd call it a parade rest.
They seem vigilant, but not tense, and the Director wonders suspiciously at their ease; there aren't a lot of them, not more than a hundred or so. That they are armed with complicated, elegantly chased spears, bows and swords (and other, more difficult to identify weaponry) and yet seem supremely indifferent to the firepower - both ballistic and aeronautical - leveled at them sets his teeth on edge. He is not used to being disregarded so utterly, for all that he's on the bridge of a sea-resting battleship and thus viewing them by remote, rather than standing in front of them himself, armed with a handgun and prepared to howl his defiance at their presence.
That they stand of the deck of that battleship is a small, cold comfort; the ship is moving, and every moment he can draw out this strange detente puts a greater distance between the newcomers and New York. A greater distance means a greater safety, or at least the illusion of it. Though the foreigners' indifference to the movement of the ship makes that dream that much more fragile.
Damn, but Fury is getting sick of all these aliens popping up wherever and whenever they choose, ignoring the sovereignty of his country - hell, of his planet - with the sort of bored (and unthinking) disrespect Fury freely acknowledges is usually seen casually applied to insects.
And if there's ever a time when that worn-out simile is going to stop setting his teeth on edge, Fury has yet to see it.
Next to him, silently, the tall, straight-shouldered figure of Steve Rogers casts a comforting presence. Obviously, he'd made it on board on the last of the smaller jet-boats that had ferried supplies and personnel from the New York docks to the ship; the battleship itself had slipped mooring as soon as Loki was aboard, heading for open sea with every intent of swapping that for open sky as soon as remotely practical. Also just as obviously, Rogers had headed straight for the bridge as asked, rather than detouring past Loki's cell like a certain intrusive, irritatingly brilliant inventor. Fury doesn't even want to think where the human alter-ego of a certain green rage monster is, though he needs to know.
Beneath his carefully calm, impassive facade, Fury finds himself grateful for Rogers' stalwart presence, and even more grateful that the blond supersoldier has not yet had time to compare notes with the maverick inventor standing - helmet's facemask up, but still suited - just behind and to his left.
He knows how Stark feels about torture. He's pretty sure he can guess what Rogers -Captain America - likely thinks of it, given that both his first military action (and a disproportionate number of subsequent ones) was the liberation of prisoners from a HYDRA torture camp. What he wonders - in between assessing these alien newcomers - is if either of the two humans on his bridge realise just how comfortable their Asgardian comrade-in-arms is with that particular brand of violence, and precisely what effect that knowledge would have on the Avengers initiative.
He's buried the surveillance files of Loki's last incarceration so deep that nobody - not even a particularly gifted billionaire - should ever be able to dig them out again. He's buried them, but not before watching them.
"I was chained in the dark, bound by the entrails of one of my own creations, while poison was poured in my eyes to burn out the words of the seidr I'd supposedly read, with my mouth sewn shut to stop me speaking the chants I had created."
Yes, he'd watched the tapes, his outwardly passive expression covering the inner gut churning the surveillance tapes had caused. Watched them once, on screen. Watched them over and over again, in his nightmares. Listening to Thor's challenges, Loki's rebuttals . . . Loki was madness, pure and simple, and he lied. He must have lied, must always lie. It was what being called 'Silvertongue' meant, according to Thor; a gift for lying and manipulation. So that hadn't sat on his mind.
But the most damning comment on those tapes, the most stomach churning confession? Had come from Thor's own lips.
"You were eight years old!"
And that, most certainly, did play on the director's mind. Over and over again.
The still-magnificent New York skyline, battered though it was, had well and truly vanished over the horizon well before the alarms had signaled the later Bifrosts, and Fury couldn't help but wonder at the precision that had allowed this force to be landed on his deck despite that. What were they honing in on? The Asgardians?
"They don't look like Thor's people," Steve mused next to him, and Fury was mildly surprised to note he was correct. Both Thor, and the newly-arrived Hogun, (and, of course, Loki) looked at least superficially human, for all the striking physiques sported by the warriors. These . . . people . . . were bipedal - humanoid, certainly - but far too exotic to ever pass for natives on earth.
His first overwhelming impression was of paleness, of light. The newcomers were almost ethereal, despite their armaments. All you'd really need to add would be a sprinkling of pointy ears, a few fancy silk shirts, and top it off with a couple of overly complicated names, and you'd have your standard fantasy elf, Fury observed. Then his blood ran cold. Elves.
He wasn't aware that he - or Rogers - had spoken the idea out loud until Stark responded.
"If the myths are correct," The inventor observed, still unnaturally calm, still terrifying Fury with that calm, "they might well be. The Niu Heimar includes Alfheimr, which is supposedly the home world of the Ljosalfar. Our 'Elves' - at least the Tolkien-y ones - are modeled on stories of them. What?" He asked at the startled look Rogers directed his way. "Didn't anybody else do the homework?"
"There was homework?"
"Maybe not exactly, but 'self directed learning' is all the rage these days, Grandpa. Though I'm pretty sure 'know thy enemy' pre-dates even you."
"Hey, we all wrote reports on the invasion, and I read each and every one of the intelligence dossiers made up from them!"
"But you didn't do a simple google search for 'Loki'?"
Stark's banter - so expected, so usual, so Stark - threw Fury even more off-balance. The man wasn't reacting even remotely like he was supposed to and that added another element of risk, of threat into an already volatile mix. Fury found himself half-heartedly wishing he had the time to confront the inventor, to bring the inevitable fight to him.
But even that train of thought was utterly derailed by the sight of Thor striding out across the deck towards the newcomers, smile blindingly bright on his face and Mjolnir hanging unthreateningly from his belt.
"Well," Rogers observed, "I guess Thor at least considers them friendly."
"They did come on a Bifrost," Fury pointed out, forcing his mind back to the most pressing issue. "He probably knows them and might even have expected them." Damn him and his false promises! A single trip! Just Loki and a guard, just to 'test' the prototype! Not that we had any say in that, either!
"Doubt it," Stark shot down the idea at once. "The energy signature on this Bifrost was markedly different from the one Loki and that Hogun guy came in on. If I had to hazard a guess," he paused, frowning briefly. "And it is only a guess - I haven't fully analyzed the data - I'd say they came from a different starting point, a different world, entirely."
Further discussion was halted as soon as it became apparent who was walking out with the blond god. Looking utterly unassuming - and frankly harmless - Bruce Banner stood on the deck beside Thor, not a single hint of green about him. As behind him Stark chuckled and murmured something about 'successful placement', Fury couldn't help but admire the audacity of the Avengers' ploy. The most dangerous, indestructible team member, right where he could wreak the most havoc, should the . . . elves . . . prove hostile.
And from the look of them, from the way they turned to Thor and skipped over Banner, how they kept their weapons down and their posture relaxed . . . they'd never even see it coming.
A faint, feral grin chased itself across his features as Fury strode down from the bridge, Rogers next to him, to meet their . . . guests.
Fury chose to let it amuse him that the elves remained cautiously friendly towards Thor, but dismissive of the humans who come to stand beside him, himself among them. He certainly finds it encouraging that their weapons stay down, though he doesn't feel even the slightest obligation to meet the same standard; Hawkeye and a host of other ranged snipers have the group subtly well-covered, and the ship's self-destruct remote control is a heavy, comforting weight in the pocket of his own leather coat.
Despite that, the atmosphere is cordial, and Thor's booming laugh rings out as he arm-clasps one of the warriors in a greeting that is as much a show of strength as of any affection. They seem to be reminiscing about some sort of hunt - if a 'Bilgesnipe' is indeed an animal - undertaken on a diplomatic visit between their two worlds, and Fury pays them only half of his attention, the rest seeking out the actual leader of this 'delegation', rather than merely the figurehead talking to Thor.
It's hard to tell; they're all dressed similarly, and there seems to be no discriminators of rank, no single leader the others defer to . . .
Until suddenly, there is.
All it takes is one Asgardian taking his 'proper' place at his Prince's right hand, and it isn't even Hogun's presence that does it. His obligations, perhaps. His orders. But not his presence.
His overriding duty is to protect and serve Thor, the Crown Prince of Asgard. His current orders are to guard - to restrain - Loki during the Bifrost test. The taciturn warrior has simply chosen the most expedient way of doing both; as Fury bites down on a snarl, the Asgardian slings his shouldered burden carelessly to the deck beside him in an unconscious tangle of sharp angles and skin pulled taut against too many jutting bones all wrapped in frayed, ill-fitting clothes and heavy shackles. Behind him, the director feels his temper warp beneath his iron control. There is no way Loki - shackled, battered and unconscious post-torture though he is - should be here and not in his prison. Allies don't break each other's prisoners out of holding cells, dammit!
Loki stirs as he hits the cold metal, lifts his head with groan as his face spills clear of the hair that had covered it, and the effect is instantaneous. There is a sharp intake of breath from somewhere within the ranks of the elves as he is recognized.
A heartbeat later - in eerie, instantaneous unison, without a single verbal command - each and every one of them brings their weapons (both those overt and several that were previously hidden) to bear on the battered mischief god.
Well, at least they've got their priorities right, Fury noted grimly even as he shouted for everyone one to calm down, to stand down.
Once again, comments and constructive criticism much welcomed and greatly appreciated.