Disclaimer: The Avengers universe and all its characters belong to Marvel. Likewise with Harry Potter.
Technical disclaimer: I am not a physicist, nor a chemist, nor a citizen of New York City or even the United States of America, and definitely do not have intimate knowledge of US military. I am also not British (or even am a native speaker of the English language), so please don't look for British-esque in Harry's speech pattern. I am simply a writer who's playing around with ideas, plots, characters, and MacGuffins stuffs. So please, please, please don't try to bring a microscope to the the chemical, physiological, logistic, and militaristic details of this chapter (or whole story really), because it most definitely will fall apart under your scrutiny. I am simply trying to have fun writing and I hope you can have fun reading too.
Beta: Michelle T.
Chapter 6: The Chase
"The tranqs weren't for James Evans, Steve. The tranqs were for Natasha."
- Nick Fury, Mirror Mirror chapter 5 -
Natasha was on fire.
Almost literally. The fire started first from her lungs, where she inhaled the Benzodiazepine, then spreaded out through her musculatures and Thoracic veins, then down to her arteries. Then up to her brain, until she thought she saw blood in her eyes.
It lasted for, at most, two minutes. It felt like hours.
Her body tethered on the verge of unconsciousness. She did not let it take the plummet. Then the pain passed. And it was all Natasha could do to command her body to retain its rigid pose instead of lazing under the absence of the pain.
James Evans did not appear to notice, so preoccupied was he with whatever magic he was doing.
Benzodiazepine. A simple but potent chemical-based tranquilizer. It was the basis of many other far more complicated chemical tranquilizers. This was the one simple fact that dictated the physical conditioning protocols of all high-level, high-risk espionage SHIELD agents to always have a counter solution jacked up and ready in their bodies. Natasha's was in the right arm, under layers of skin and muscles, a small surgical silicate tube, feeding a sporadic stream of counteragents as needed into her system. On the exact second the Benzodiazepine entered through her nostrils and down her inhalation tube, her own chemical safeguards were on their way to counteract the effect.
The principle was simple. Chemical tranquilizers sedated by numbing and-or paralyzing the target's nervous system, as well as introducing a freezing effect on the musculature. The counteragents fixed this by administering a severe, physical shock into the paralyzed systems - one huge-ass injection of pain right to the back of her cranium where the brain made sense of sensation signals - literally shocking the system back to work, much like defibrillation for the heart.
When Nick ordered the Benzodiazepine shot, he had done this with the full knowledge of how the tranq needles would affect Natasha. The act was fully intentional.
And that was why, two minutes in after the tranq needles exploded, releasing the drug into gas form, Natasha was no longer petrified by whatever Evans did to her. They didn't know if Evans's petrifying ability worked on the same principle. Nick took a gamble. It paid off... for now.
So there she was, carried by SHIELD's current number one target as he hightailed out of the site, trying to keep her body limp and unresponsive as it was when it was still under Evans's spell.
There was a cracking sound, then the room along with one furious Asgardian thunder god disappeared, replaced by a New York skyline viewed from a dizzying height. All of a sudden, James Evans was standing on top of a helicopter signal pole. The electric light on the tip of the pole winked in and out.
Natasha's stomach bottomed out the exact second she realized the helicopter pole they were standing on was the pole on top the Empire States Building, and down below was a thousand and two hundred fifty foot fall to the ground. The effect was visceral and spontaneous. It took all she had to prevent her body from kicking out on instinct at the sudden and dizzying height. The wind whipped and roared around them at that height, concealing the minutes of her reflexive trembling.
Another crack, and suddenly Empire State Building view on New York skyline was replaced by the interior of a dark and slightly musty apartment. The quiet that followed the wind howls was unsettling in its abruptness.
Instantaneous teleportation. Natasha thought, trying to keep her mind busy and away from her body's trained reflex to move. So that was how he'd approached her so quickly and silently in that corporate building across from Hogwarts Museum.
Gently, James Evans laid her down on the soft surface of what must either be a bed or a very large recliner. She can smell the dust and dampness of disuse in the air. In the dark, he fumbled with something. There was a clicking sound. Then the room was flooded in light.
James Evans stood directly above her, one hand still on the dangling switch of the chandelier-themed electric light. He looked her in the eye. Natasha froze up, nervous that he was going to call her on her ruse.
Did he figure out she was no longer constrained by his paralysis spell? Could he? Was he waiting? Was he baiting her? Maybe. Maybe not. This was shadow play, subtle mind-and-daggers game between fellow espionage agents and wet-workers, of which Evans must have been one. Natasha might have lost to him earlier, but the game had not ended yet. After all, this was not the first time she partook the game tied up in ropes and apparently at the mercy of others.
Wait. She must wait, bide her time until opportunity presented itself.
This was the one chance she had, to lie in wait for the perfect moment when he had his attention elsewhere... and strike. A perfect blow that would take him out in one go, immortal or not. One chance. She had gone toe-to-toe with him earlier and it hadn't worked. A repeat would bring no different result.
Then the moment passed. Evans walked away from her and towards the locked windows. He opened them, one by one, and let the night wind come in. The breeze caressed her face, wet and smelling of an incoming rain.
"My apologies." He said as he clicked the shutter off on the last window. "I haven't used this place for the last... decade or so. It's gotten quite stuffy in here. Well, nothing a little bit of wind won't fix. I hope you don't mind."
Outside the windows was the view of a long identical-brick-houses neighborhood, ending with the neighborhood roundabout. Immediately and simply out of trained reflex, Natasha thought of possible escape plans.
"I own the whole block." Evans said with a snort, as if he could read Natasha's thoughts off her face. Well, there went her escape plan then. He probably had the whole placed rigged to the roofs. It was what Natasha would have done in his place, if she'd used this apartment as either a safe house or an impromptu prison in the past. Getting out of here without triggering whatever he had in store was about as nice as a cat-in-hell's chance.
Evans stood there for a moment, quiet, looking out the opened windows, thinking something through. Then he sucked in a long, loud breath, making the kind of breathy, wheezy sound that suggested he'd made a decision he wasn't entirely comfortable with. He turned to her, green eyes almost glowing in the warm electric chandelier light.
"I must apologize. I dislike doing this on principle. I wouldn't, if your... employer... weren't so competent." He paused here, smiling a quirky smile. "... or didn't have a hard-headed superpowered beefcake on their payroll. That as well."
Then the smile vanished. "But since they did, and I had to retreat before I even fully knew what was going on and why they... you... were there on my doorstep, with guns trained on my head, I don't have much of a choice any more."
There was a table by the window, and on that table was a vintage 1960 HMV gramophone box. Evans opened the box with one hand, while his other hand leafed through a stack of vinyl records. "I'm going to have to do something neither of us will enjoy." He said as he pulled one out, popped it on the turntable. Then he pulled the stylus arm down, and wheeled the crank. A second later, Michael Crawford's 'Put on your Sunday clothes' came blaring from the horn, crooning in 1960s trendy melody of a glamorous city and the wide open world of a young and virgin America. The entire time, he had his back facing her. It took all of Natasha's will to refrain from immediately bolting up from where she lay and promptly took advantage of this rare opportunity. But no! She went against him earlier with an M98 and a tungsten-carbide dagger and lost. This time, she had nothing on her but a clip of tranquilizer needles concealed in the inside of her suit. She didn't need superpowers to know how that fight would turn out. She needed something more. She needed...
… the perfect moment.
"I'm going to take a look into your mind." Evans said, matter-of-factly. He walked around her to the back. He pulled at something; whatever it was she was resting on turned out to be a recliner after all, because the back of it was raising up as Evans turned the wheel until she was no longer lying down but sitting up at a slanting hundred degree.
He sat down beside her on a stool, close, but not touching. "My kind call this Legilimency, the art of mental intrusion. I guess you'd call it telepathy. Semantics. I'm not really interested in those. But you know what is interesting?"
He paused, as if he was waiting for her answer... or maybe for the question to sink in.
"It's the mind." Evans tapped his temple with a finger. "The non-magical ones." So he really was a magician. Natasha supposed she should get used to the 'adacadabra talk' now that there were two of them running around in New York. "My kind would say that non-magical folk had little in defense against a Legilimency intrusion. But I've seen differently. I've seen the contrast. On average, I would say the non-magical have far better organized minds. Your boss, the big, brooding Mr. Fury, is a fine example of it. Against someone like him, I would have preferred normal eye contact... and I would have come to him first, but... your gun was bigger, and your crosshair was on my head. So out of concern for my own safety, I had to come to you and not him."
Don't you dare tense up, Natasha told herself. Don't you dare get your ass busted here. This is not the time yet.
"I gleaned... some... from your own surveillance system. But a mind as tricky as his? And through your com system? It's a shame that after all those years of practice, I'm still not very good at it. If I had tried harder, I would have fried the man's mind. So I didn't, and here we are."
There was another pause, and the silence between them filled with the sounds of music. Then Evans leaned forward. "Relax." He said as he put a hand on her temple. His eyes were green and glowing up close.
Now? Is it now? Is it now? Natasha's mind shrieked, the lick of nervous tension straining against her professional coolness. One push of the button on the inside of her wrist and the tranq needle will be in her hand, ready for action. A chemical cocktail several times stronger than Benzodiazepine. James Evans had used his 'magic trick' to prevent the tranqs from getting to him earlier. That meant that he was affected by it. A tranquilizer needle can be a very potent weapon, but it must be used at exactly the right moment, not a second early, not a second late. There must be no margin for error... not against someone of James Evans's caliber.
"Focus on the music. It will hurt only a little. I have no doubt your mind is no less twisted and complex than your boss. Let's not make this difficult for the both of us." Natasha's fingers clenched tight. The tips of her fingers caressed the button on her wrist. "You won't remember any of this afterwards. It will all be just... a dream."
He was very close now. His face and green witch eyes blotted out everything. Their closeness gave the act undue intimacy.
The needle was in her hand. The muscles in her arm twisted, preparing to deliver. Then...
… the room itself shook with an echoing 'wuuuumph' sound, as if someone was beating a great bronze drum somewhere far away, and the sound was the ghost... no... the premonition of the thunders following it. Something shook. Shock waves in the air. The tranq needle noiselessly fell from her hand. Something in Natasha screamed out at the lost opportunity. The gramophone fell off the table. 'Put on your Sunday clothes' cut in the middle, thrashing in stilted notes of Sunday shine and Parasol and a world of smiles. The electric lights winked in and out.
Evans jerked up from his sitting position, eyes towards the opened windows, which were glowing a faint red. He said not a thing. No cliche', 'that's impossible'. The only thing he did was raise an eyebrow. A look passed through his face. Surprise. Annoyance.
He brought up his hand.
In the split second after, the windows exploded and in came the very familiar face of an Asgardian thunder god, flushed red with either fury or exertion.
"Eva..." Thor started, but that was as far as he got. He'd come in right in front of Evans's outstretched hand. The wizard simply snapped his fingers, and just like that, a bubble popped into being, swallowing and petrifying Thor up right on the spot.
"I'll admit that you get points for perseverance." Said James Evans, as if he was commenting on the weather and not on a raging superpowered thunder god. "But you aren't terribly smart, are you? Did you really think I'd be caught off guard a second time just like that?" That freakishly overpowered made-in-China frying pan was still jacked up on his belt, and with a flick and twist, it was out, swinging in the air. He reared back, like a baseball batter preparing for a hard pitch—"I have no doubt we will be seeing each other again, very soon... but for now... good night."—and swung. The butt of the frying pan collided with Thor's face with a resounding bang. From her spot, Natasha watched the thunder god's head oscillated comically. She almost expected to see little yellow birds chirping and flying in circles around his head. Then he fell with a meaty thud.
Evans turned to her, sheathing his frying pan. "Let's go." He said, picking her up again. "He won't be out for long. I have no doubt I have put little deterrence in his plan to chase me down... for whatever cause it is in that head of his. Ahh, young people..." And he was right. Over Evans's shoulders, Natasha saw Thor stirring on the ground.
Then a crack, and the interior of the apartment vanished before her eyes.
"He's gone!" Captain America announced from his position, standing in front of the tracker map they had reserved for James Evans alone. Nick Fury leaned over from his personal station. The good captain was right. The black dot had disappeared from the Queens neighborhood. The place where it used to be, a blue dot hovered.
"Thor..." Nick muttered, his irritation buckling under a veneer of calm and collected demeanor. It seemed SHIELD trackers on the thunder god himself were still in perfect working order. He switched channels on his headset. The moment the line cleared, he started. "Stark. How's progress with Loki?"
On the other side, he heard something like an 'aww shucks'. "Things are tough, big guy." Tony Stark's voice came through loud and clear. "Apparently, Loki's thralls know what they're doing. I can't boot his peeping programs off the mainframe as fast as they multiply themselves. They're going at it like cyber bunnies, and it's not even funny. It doesn't help that he already decimated SHIELD's cyber warfare suites the last time he visited us on the Helicarrier. I'm going to need an hour... at least..."
An hour? That would be... problematic.
Nick turned back to the tracker map. James Evans's black dot had reappeared in the Bronx, in a zone marked as industrial interest. Immediately Thor's blue dot started moving towards the black dot in what must be breakneck speed outside this room. In the blink of an eye, he'd already crossed the canal separating the two boroughs.
"Have you tried shutting down Thor's line?"
"Tried it. Three times." Nick could almost hear the wince in Stark's voice. The full-time billionaire part-time superhero provided no further explanation. Nick didn't need it. Of course. The com set SHIELD provided for Thor was custom-built and ready to take a beating, physically and digitally. Too bad Loki had found a way around it and commandeered the whole thing, no doubt issuing false orders to Thor using SHIELD's voice, and now he, Nick Motherfucking Fury, was left at the other end of the stick, trying to yank the whole thing back and beat the God of Mischief over the head with it.
On the tracker map, Thor's blue dot jumped Evans's black one. They tangled.
"Power's gone out in an entire block in the Eastern side of the Bronx. Readings are off the charts sir." His assistant announced, rather unnecessarily he might add. It wasn't like all Nick did was glower with his one eye and deliver hammy Quentin-Tarantino-esque lines.
He watched the electric and digital signature readings go on and off as the two dots tangoed some more before stopping abruptly the moment the black dot disappeared. It reappeared on the other side of town, some hundred miles away. Immediately, the blue dot gave chase. The cycle continued.
Teleportation. He thought, and made another mental note on his increasingly long list of James Evans's powers.
"What shall we do?" Asked Steve, turning fully to him.
Nick crossed his arms. "We wait." He said simply to the astonishment of his audience. He was never known as one to sit aside idly when there was action to be had. Absolutely unruffled by the stares he was getting, he tapped his headset.
"Stark, you there?"
"Uh... yeah! Yeah, I'm here." He can hear the surprise in Tony Stark's voice.
"You can stop butting head with Loki over my dataframe."
"Yeah, got i... what?"
"You heard me. Let Loki have free rein over Thor."
"Wait a minute, Nick." Steve Rogers jumped in. "Tony said he'd only need an hour. I'm sure we can..."
Ahh... count on Captain America to always be the good boy scout of the group. But that was what he liked about the old hero—his earnestness. Tony Stark, on the other hand, was as quiet as stone on his end of the line. For all the buffooneries he performed, Stark was sly as a fox. Even now, Nick had no doubt he was quickly figuring out the plan in his mind.
"Look at it." He said, stopping Steve in the middle, pointing a hand at the tracker map. On it, the black dot had teleported again, and the blue dot hot on its heels. "Notice anything?"
"Evans's not getting out of the city. He's been jumping like a bunny all over town. But he doesn't set a foot outside." Came the answer, predictably, from Stark over the com channel and into the headsets of everyone in the mobile quarter. From a small onsite camera, Stark had the same view of the tactical map as anyone in the room.
"That's right. You know what that means?" Without waiting for replies, he answered his own question. "That means Evans knows he's tailed. He knows we can track him." He watched realization dawned on many faces. "But he doesn't know how. If he did, he would have neutralized it then hightailed out of the city by now, and came back for us when we don't expect him."
Though Nick had no solid proof—seeing that their enquiry into Evans over the grid must have triggered off something for their initial field operation to be put to the axe so quickly—he had a hunch Evans wasn't entirely confident in his tech ability. His innate power was a direct counterforce of technology. Though there were definite variables based on the readings they were getting, that one fact they knew about him was bound to have put barriers to any attempt of Evans to educate and update himself on current tech. Following that line of thought, it would make sense that though he'd figured they had tailed him somehow, even through his traceless teleportation, but didn't actually know how exactly they were doing it.
And wouldn't that be a bind for an immortal with too many secrets to keep?
Nick put himself in Evans's shoes. He squinted his eyes, as though he couldn't see. Evans wore glasses, and those weren't for show. He slouched a bit, detaching himself from the ramrod military posture of Nick Fury. He was James P. Evans. He was an immortal with a lot of tricks up his sleeve, but he was also forced on the defensive. He could move around the place, but they could track him. He didn't know how far their tracker went, or how it even worked to begin with. He couldn't teleport to a safe house real far away to shake them. Chances were, he would shake them only as far as he could throw himself, buy himself some breathing room that would hurt in the long run, and that would only reveal another of his carefully prepared havens to whoever was on his tail. Safe houses? How many did he have? Many. He was an immortal. It didn't hurt to be prepared and he certainly had the time, resources, and motives for doing so. But many was still a number, and number ran out.
On the monitor screen, a squad team moved into the apartment building clocks he just vacated. They were in his room, touching his stuffs, finding clues and more clues of his powers. His gramophone and carbon records lay in pieces on the floor. He was annoyed. At his age, he sometimes became attached to the little things. But more than that, there was disquiet. This was the first time something like this happened. CIA and the Secret Services certainly did not have this kind of... brute superpowered personnel... to send after him. These people were... different... for a lack of better words. They were prepared, and they knew things about him that their predecessors didn't. Their measures showed.
No, he can't run away. He decided. If he did now, he would be forced to go on the run for a long, long time. Sure he could simply teleported himself away to a sufficient distance that would give him enough time, dig the girl's brain for information on her employer at his leisure, then struck back at them when he was prepared. But time for him would also mean time for them, and information he had on them could also mean ready traps for them to spring on him.
The risk was there. And the fact that they somehow could track him while others before them couldn't.
No. Best finish things now, before it could get even bigger, and messier. He would keep the safe houses as they were supposed to, as contingency plans, and only made use of them when he absolutely needed to. First, he needed to figure out how they were tracking and just how far their range went. Figure that out, and he would have a lot more room to move in.
"What are we waiting for?" Steve came in in the middle of his thinking.
For Loki's move. But he didn't say that out loud. Nick looked up, silent for a second, then he said to the attendants. "Turn on the cable." Diversion tactics. What were they waiting for? He didn't know. There was something missing in his read into James Evans's mind, if it could be read at all. The man was an alien, and an immortal, whom they had just discovered for a very short time. For all his efforts in simulating his possible thought patterns, his mind could be a complete mystery, as the man himself was. Nick might be a very good tactician, but they simply had too little time and preparation for someone like James Evans.
However, there was one thing Nick knew for sure. James Evans wasn't moving out of the city. Something was keeping him here.
The screen lit up up with reports from several channels. Scott Pelley of CBS Evening News came in with breaking news of a series of blackouts and electronic equipment failures all over the city, which then prompted speculation of cyber sabotage works. On another, Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News reported what seemed to be gas tank explosions in several locations in Queens, inciting panic and nine-one-one stampede. Other channels reiterated the same messages.
"That's not good." Stark commented.
"Send the signal." Nick said to the assistants. "We're taking over the local stations. Tell them to put a lid on it."
"The local stations... the senator..." The chief assistant started, plain nervousness all over his face.
"Won't like it, I know. I'll deal with the senator." Nick cut in. "What we don't need right now is the press in on this. Send the signal. And while you wait for their responses, hack their networks, put them off air, immediately."
The press wasn't the only one he had to worry about. National security, central intelligence, and the city police force, and more. They would all want their noses in on the matter. Within thirty minutes, James Evans had put down five percent of the city electricity grid, and Thor behind him hardly left buildings and city infrastructure in one piece. Their chase left a trail of carnage all over New York.
For now, SHIELD could put a screen on things and told the others to go mind their business. But Nick could see a politically painful tomorrow morning. This city, after all, had seen its share of terrorist scare, and since then, it hadn't had the confident swagger it once had.
There wasn't a lot Nick could do about that. There wasn't a lot he could do right now, in fact. The Minicarier was forced to a hover in central New York sky. It was meant for target chases, but this one particular target was one it couldn't chase after. SHIELD ground forces were similarly held immobile, seeing that there was no way for them to win a foot race against a teleporting literal wizard. It was a very frustrating place to be, unable to go after the target, unable to engage in direct actions.
"Big guy, your diversion is not going to work for long." Tony Stark in his ears, on a private line. The others one were still distracted by the blaring TV cast.
Oh, didn't he know it. He needed to do something, before things spiraled out of control. He knew without a doubt that on the other line, Loki must be thinking similar thoughts, only without the pressure of having to answer to others aside from himself. Eventually, Evans would wear Thor down. In return, Loki would do something, soon, that would change the game entirely. He would be looking to end this chase and nail James Evans to a spot before that point where Thor fell behind and turned into easy prey to Evans's mind trick. In turn, Nick too needed to have a response ready.
It was a three-party speed chest now.
"It is inevitable that they will meet." He repeated his statement from the debrief meeting earlier in the day. "Our goal is not to stop them. Our goal is to influence how they meet. James Evans is not the final target. The final target... is Loki."
Then it occurred to him as he stood hunched over the digi-map tracking James Evans's movements. There was a pattern to it. With a few clicks, he ordered the map to show all jumps the immortals had made. Little black circles started polka-dotting the map interface. A clear blank started showing. A particular zone Evans was avoiding.
The museum. Evans's museum, which he had owned for decades on paper, and probably far longer in real life. The very one SHIELD force had not been able to penetrate.
"Fury..." Stark, again. It figured this would occur to him at the same time it would to Nick. "You have to warn them."
He did. With a flip, he switched on his connection. "This is director Fury." He spoke into his mouth piece. "All SHIELD personnels en route to Hogwarts museum. I repeat, our target has changed to Hogwarts museum. Form a perimeter surrounding the museum. Do not approach without further instruction."
There was a move in military tactic, an ideal response to guerilla warfare, which was basically what James Evans was doing now: a strike to the heart. But it wouldn't fall to him to deliver that strike.
"You bastard..." Stark growled, a rare hint of real anger in his voice.
"If you go now, you might get there in time." He said to Stark over his headset. "I'm not the one who's going to do it, Stark. I don't know what exactly he will do." But he knew the gist of it.
"What's going on?" Steve Rogers cut in, a wary look on his face. He had learned to be extra cautious around the director SHIELD, out of the realization that Nick Fury's ideas of peacekeeping was radically different from his own.
Before Nick could answer him though, the chief assistant butted in.
"Sir, something's happened." The assistant said as a warning. "We just got a report inhouse. A reserved warhead in Fort Drum military has been compromised. The coordinate is set to Hewitt-Cooper street, James Evans's museum."
In layman's terms, Loki just launched a rocket at James Evans's museum. It took a second for the statement to sink in, his other assistants because they were simply unprepared for such an event, Captain America because he hadn't yet fully adapted to the speech of the twenty-first century.
Ah, there we go. Nick thought to himself amidst the surprise and repressed panic going on around him. So that was Loki's move. A heavy hand, but he supposed the God of Mischief wanted to make a statement for James Evans's attention, or simply took this as a chance to troll them all.
"Think you can outfly a rocket, Stark?" He said over the headset, then to his gaping assistants. "Our plan does not change. Set coordinate for Hogwarts museum."
Many miles away, a certain wizard jerked to a stop on top of an old brick-work apartment building, looked up at the dark skies where something was streaking through in bright orange gold light.
"That..." For the first time ever, Natasha heard the note of true and utter shock in James Evans's voice, like a breath cut in half, the sign of something deeply disturbed.
What? What happened? In her mind, she could only think of two possible culprits, SHIELD... or Loki. She sincerely hoped it was the former. She was already in a very thorny situation, trapped with an opponent she couldn't outmatch unless the right opportunity come by while her clock ticked away to inevitable discovery. She didn't need another wizard on her plate.
James Evans couldn't stop long, because the next thing she knew, Thor was right behind them, zipping through the air and howling James Evans's name. The man... god... thing... didn't know the meaning of fatigue, not even after more than thirty jumps around the city.
But something was different this time, Evans stood still, not running away, his eyes up to the skies where the light streak was growing brighter and brighter by the second, until even Natasha, at her awkward angle, started to get some idea as to what it could be... but that...
Her thought stopped there. Thor slammed into them like a bull from behind, shoving both her and Evans off the ledge of the building, his hands grappling the wizard in a bid to stop further attempts to teleport away. They free-fell from six hundred feet up, tangling and twisting in the air. Evans's body went lax right around Natasha, moving in the same deadly, sinewy grace that had beaten her in their hand-to-hand faceoff earlier. He maneuvered his hand right in front of Thor's face. The next word to escape his mouth was a growl, a spit, suddenly full to boiling with a rage completely out of place for Evans's till-now cool and collected demeanor.
Something moved in the word, in the syllables, like a spider that reached out from the heart of its web and struck. It sounded ugly, poisonous, like a bile rising up from the back of his throat. The sound of it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up straight.
Evans's hand in front of Thor's face glowed red. There was a another 'wummpph', right before Thor pulled away, screaming in shock and pain. The sound of it...
Natasha had never thought Thor could ever sound like that.
But they were still falling, and the vertigo was getting to her. Evans wasn't teleporting away. He let himself fall, pulling her with him. The hand holding her to him shook. She felt the the dampness of sweat coming through her catsuit. His wet, heavy pants blotted out the wind howl of their fall, as if Evans too couldn't believe what he just did.
At the last possible moment, he teleported away.
They reappeared on another rooftop, and as soon as the ground stopped shaking and wavering, the hands let go. She fell to the ground, sprawling. The landscape rolled in her vision, familiar under the yellow glow of streetlights.
Hewitt-Cooper street. They were on the rooftop of the Museum of Exotic Arts and Hogwarts Archive.
From the corner of her eyes, she watched Evans walked to the center of the roof. He made a complicated gesture. Immediately, something glowing appeared on the cement ground. It looked like a glyph, or a rune of some kind, if Natasha was into that type of fantasy stuff, which she wasn't, mind. But that wasn't the end of it. Evans followed up with a series of hooks and twists with his fingers and palms, looking to Natasha's eyes like he was delivering some particularly creative expletives in sign language. The whole rooftop lit up with strange symbols that wouldn't look out of place in a video game. A circle, glowing a pale blue, drew itself around them.
It was then that the light streak they had seen earlier came into view. Natasha's breath caught in her throat. It was true. Somebody had launched a rocket at them.
SHIELD? She knew they were ruthless in the pursuit of their cause, but she couldn't find it in herself to believe that the organization she had pretty much swore her life to would do something as reckless as launching a rocket at downtown Manhattan. Then who else?
Loki. It could only be him.
She glanced left. Evans was still busy 'swearing' with his fingers and his mouth at the cement ground. She chanced it, moving a finger upward, curling into the inside of her palm, reaching her wrist where a row of discrete buttons lay embedded in the cloth. She fumbled, read them by touch, found the one she wanted, pressed.
The back-up communication chip behind her right earlobe sprung to life. She knew she was lucky. It was a known fact that all electronic gadgets were in danger of Evans's tech-negating ability. However, it seemed the more high-tech, tiny-sized devices needed a much larger burst of power to go kapoof, as was shown in the last thirty minutes. The fact that the chip was offline the whole time and bordered on biotech itself probably also played a part.
Immediately, chatters came streaming into her ears. The sounds were distorted, clear proof that even it didn't escape unscathed from Evans's anti-tech magic. She had tapped onto the mainframe of their communication system and what she was hearing was the sound of SHIELD ground force congregating in a hundred feet diameter of the museum building, but nothing on the approaching warhead. It wasn't SHIELD then.
She released a breath she didn't know she was holding. In the black skies above, the rocket approached. Natasha's heart hammered. Everything in her that started from the day the child Natasha began her assassin career screamed for her to move, to stand up and run, to survive, but there was something holding it back. Her professional assassin and espionage agent training.
It was not yet time. It told her. Evans wasn't running.
So she lay there and watched the burning dot in the skies grow bigger and bigger, until she can see the bony white aircraft aluminum casing that housed the explosive. She counted down, pacing along the beats of her heart.
Her ear-chip blew out. Blood dribbled down the side of her head. Evans was still 'swearing'.
She can feel the heat, but the silence was worse. The silence made everything clearer. Was this it? Was this how it was going to end?
She can see the warhead very clearly now, and it was close. She kept her eyes open. She wanted to see it coming.
A great sound pressed down on her eardrums, so large it felt as though her head was going to burst. But it wasn't the scream of warhead detonation. Bright light filled her eyes until it hurt to keep them open. She didn't let herself look away.
She can see the warhead, a mere twenty or so feet above them, trapped in a sheer gold bubble, glowing, burning. It imploded, detonating from within. Flames danced within the bubble, and though she could feel her tongue go dry in her mouth and her hair singeing, none of that flame was getting out. Only the sound of air itself burning—like a hungry beast denied its meal, it raged.
In the light, Evans was standing with both his hands up, fingers spread, looking as if he was physically holding the explosion in. That might really be the case, because she can see his hands shaking, his skin glistening with sweat.
It went on for maybe five minutes until the bubble swallowed the flames whole. It felt like a century. When the light died away and skies went dark again, Evans collapsed on his knees.
Natasha curled her hand. A tranquilize needle fell snugly into her palm.
It was time. Here was her chance.
But someone else cut her to the chase.
"Fascinating." The voice froze her, liquid ice, shockingly painful after the heat of the implosion. From the corner of her eyes, she saw him.
Loki, standing in front of the opened door leading down the museum top floor, smiling in childlike curiosity.
End Chapter 5
1. Uh... this chapter didn't end up even remotely similar to how I thought it would be, all in the name of carrying the underlying logical structure of how SHIELD and Loki managed to corner Harry. So no, I didn't send him flying across the city. It's just an off-screen chase. Also, it was supposed to come out four days ago, but then Tet happened and Dragon Age Origins happened... so... I was distracted.
2. Kevin Choi. yes, Kevin Choi, you, who just graduated from UC Davis and who told me he would like to become a professor of political science. The same guy who goes about advertising his 'shortness' and how 'superior' it is all over the internet (and never actually clarifying whether you were talking about your height or your length *trollface*). I know you are here. You can't help yourself. I want you to know that this story, Mirror Mirror, began because of you. There, I just proved that I so can write humorous stories too (though this chapter is not funny at all, more serious. Well, we are entering a serious business kinda part of the story so any intended humor ill-inserted here would be awkward at the least).
3. Initially there was going to be no on-screen Loki in this chapter yet. The chapter turned out longer than I thought it would be, and I made it a rule to choppity-chop at around 5000, so that the update schedule of other fics (Tis Femina of Naruto fandom, Book Air of Legend of Korra fandom, and Cognates of Heavens of Dragon Age / Lord of the Rings fandom) won't be affected. So at 5000 mark I was about to take up my chopping knife and leave Harry and Loki's first meeting to chapter 6. Then I remembered I promised to eat my typewriter if there was going to be no Loki screentime in this chapter, and since I didn't have a good-enough sauce to go with my vintage Underwood beauty, I decided to be a good author and turned in another two hours so that Loki and Harry can finally meet.
4. This part is written on the behalf of Rosetta at Home. It has nothing to do with my stories or my writings or even myself. It is simply a plea for anyone who's willing to pay a little attention to the welfare of the community, a little cyber volunteer work, if you will (So you don't have to read it if you're not interested. But please, it only takes five minutes, and I'm pretty sure you've already spent hours reading what I write so what's five more minutes?).
Donate your computer processing power to Rosetta at Home!
Rosetta at Home: is a distributed computing project to solve the mystery of how the human protein strings fold, and from there discover the key to curing all diseases, including AIDS, cancer, flu, autoimmune disorders.
In layman's terms, no supercomputer is up to the task of calculating all the possible ways a human protein strings can fold into itself (like the ways a shoestring dropping into a carton box would look like, the possibilities are endless), so this project has to be done communally by a large group of computers. Rosetta at Home is a software that only works when your computer is idle or is using a very small percentage of the processing power (e.g. when you go to class and forget to turn down your laptop, when you fall asleep while writing your midterm essays, while you are reading the news from your office computer, etc...) to compute protein folding and find the 'golden folds'.
This project has gone on for some years now, organized by Baker Laboratory of the University of Washington. I got into it when a friend introduced it to me partly because I felt this was a very small thing I could do (I figure if my laptop can run Mass Effect 3 on high quality then Rosetta should be no big deal) that would help a lot of people, and partly because someone dear to me was hanging on to her life. My little sister who has a severe case of Lupus, an autoimmune disorder. I've been crunching the program for some months now and though I didn't let myself hope that I would see the day when my sister benefits from the fruits of Rosetta, only that perhaps other people later on could benefit from it (Fyi, one out of ten Americans run the risk of having lupus).
But it actually happened. A few days ago, the team started on the designing process of proteins that are meant as cures for a number of diseases, autoimmune disorders among them.
So there, that's the reason as to why I'm writing this to you now. If you have a loved one afflicted with diseases with no cure, if you yourself are afflicted, if you have seen other afflicted people and are touched, donate your computer processing power to Rosetta.
They don't ask you to do anything great. They don't ask you for your time. They don't ask you for your money. They simply ask for the time that you would have thrown away anyway on your computer. That's all. It is a very simple act that would save a lot of people.
The program is small, with no bugs nor trojans, no advertising, no phishing, no unwanted proposition for sibling programs, no credit card number required, no hidden deal. The only problem I've ever had with it is that sometimes it becomes a little overzealous and cause my laptop to slow down. A bit of tweaking around, limiting the amount of CPU usage it can access should solve this problem.
Currently, there are around 350,000 computers with Rosetta installed. Honestly speaking, I've seen indie shops with more followers on facebook and twitter than that (fyi, there are more people reading my writings than that too). The reason for its unpopularity is that the people who run Rosetta...
…. are complete dumbasses when it comes to PR. (If you are a member of the Rosetta team reading this, I mean it, guys!)
They may be brilliants doctors and scientists whose IQ probably doubles mine, but when it came to putting together an explanation or a presentation for their brain baby, they …
…. epic failed...
Yes, they are your typical socially hopeless people of science. Reading their explanations about the project is like reading a legal treaty written in Sur'keshian (if you don't know what Sur'keshian is, it's the language of the planet Sur'kesh, Pranas System, Annos Basin, Milky way, home to the Salarians, a species of amphibian aliens who are too smart for their own good but unfortunately only lives up to 40 years).
Their latest presentation clip is even worse. I think I fell asleep in the first minute. I'm not sure. My brain was a bit hazy at the time.
Anyway, my point is: please go check them out, and give them a chance. I'm throwing them some free PR, and they sure can use it.
And if you, the one reading this, are a member of the Rosetta team, tell your fellow Salarians disguised as humans to hire a human PR major to help out, maybe even hoodwink them into working for you for free. I'm sure your colossus IQ point can think of something. But get professional help...