I am so sorry that this chapter has taken so long to write. I fractured three fingers on my right hand and now I have nerve damage in two of them, and I'm in constant pain.
I've had to wait until the medication I was prescribed took the edge off before I could even consider writing, and then I had a bad reaction to them and ended up in a daze all the time unable to feel any of my extremities, and sometimes losing the feeling across my entire body. It's not fun when your legs and arms suddenly quit on you, it made daily life a living hell. I had to ween myself off of them and I returned to my original state of constant pain.
I will get it sorted out eventually, and this chapter is a peace-offering to all of you wonderful readers. I hope it's good enough, I took such a long break from writing this that by the time I wrote this my usual insecurities about this story not being good enough took over and I feel afraid to continue writing.
Despite that, I hope you all enjoy this 3-4 times longer chapter, and I promise to at least try to continue writing, although obviously updates will no longer be every day.
Notes 01: Eisa and Einmyria are said to be Loki's daughters, their mother being Glot (or Glow), a dwarrowdam (dwarf-maiden) from Svartálfaheimr (Svartalfheim). Others say that Loki and Logi (God of Fire) were mixed up, but considering that both Loki and Logi were Gods of Fire, and had the same temperament, I personally believe they may have been the same person, also, it's not certain if Glot, or Glow, was actually a dwarf, since the Dvergar (Dwarves) were also known as Dark Elves...which brings to mind an alternate branching off of Light Elves, known as the Ljósálfr from Alfheimr (Alfheim) and confuses things even more. *sigh*
Notes 02: This is probably the hardest chapter I've had to write. I started to confuse myself with my own personal theory of magical belief/ability/rules and the way the possibilities of a person's future increases power etcetera. If it doesn't sound complete, please let me know. I've re-read it over and over again, but I think my mind is automatically filling in areas that I think I've written. I've sat on this chapter for nearly four months now, and if I don't post it now, I never will.
«´¨`•° Capturing Starlight °•´¨`»
¨'°ºO cнapтёґ тшёйту-ойёOº°'¨
The robe Loki is dressed in is light, airy and silky, but Thor hates it. He frowns grumpily as he strips it off Loki's prone form and dresses him in soft sleep pants and a long-sleeved sleep top instead, bunching up the silver cloth and throwing it to a far corner of the room. He places Loki gently in bed and arranges him on his back, with his hands resting against his stomach and his hair curled at his side in a braid, with the accessories taken from his dark hair left in a messy pile on the dresser.
Only then does Thor reluctantly shower quickly and dress for bed. He is in such a rush, he forgets he still wears the cartoon-printed shower cap and slides into bed, blinking at the sound of crinkling plastic, and yanking the cap off his head, throwing it across the room, before curling around Loki and falling asleep, one hand pressed against Loki's chest, above his heart.
Morning comes far too quickly, and when Thor awakens, he still feels the pull of Morpheus. He's moved during the night, and now Loki is cradled in his arms, his head tucked beneath Thor's chin.
Thor doesn't want to move. He has missed his brother for far too long. Overlooked him, even when they were together, and he wishes, wants, needs so badly to know that Loki will be alright that he doesn't want to let go of him.
However, his body has its own needs, and so eventually Thor untangles himself from around Loki, and lays his brother back on the bed, tucking the blanket around him, and leaves to complete his morning ablutions. When he's dressed he cares for Loki, dressing him, and carrying him to the empty lounge and digging out everything he needs to make his usual apple smoothie for Loki. Some of the pieces of equipment are slightly different, but Thor figures out how it all works soon enough.
The first whirr of the blender draws Tony out from his room, and he stumbles blearily into the kitchen part of the downstairs open-plan area, dropping himself at the table with a groan, slumping down until his head lays sideways against the granite counter top.
"'S too early for this noise," he mumbles, yawning.
Thor snorts and continues blending in quick bursts, stopping only to add honey and a bit of cream to the mix. He pours the end result into a plastic jug and searches the drawers in the kitchen until he finds a baster similar to the one at the tower.
It takes him around half an hour to slowly feed the mixture to Loki, and by the time he's done, Tony is wide awake and Bruce has joined them. Surprisingly, there's no sign of Clint, Natasha, or Steve, especially since they've always been early risers, but by mid-morning all three of them stumble inside, dressed in workout clothes, wearing running shoes, and absolutely dripping in sweat.
"Oh gross!" Tony exclaims, waving a hand at them as though to get rid of a stench. He gets three glares in return, and Thor snorts in amusement as he finishes a large bowl of muesli, sitting on the couch next to Loki's laid out form.
"At least we're keeping in shape," Steve needles Tony, stripping his shirt off and using it to wipe away the excess moisture from his forehead and neck.
Natasha stretches, and Clint bounces on the spot, both of them obviously winding down.
"Yeah," Clint adds, "and you could join us."
"What, and mess with perfection?" Tony exclaims in a very fake tone of horror.
Natasha rolls her eyes. "Is there coffee?"
Bruce nods. "Yeah. Made it extra strong though," he warns.
"Perfect," Natasha grins fiercely, as though she's about to go hunting. She grabs the largest mug she can find, adds honey, and fills it to just below the brim, almost emptying the coffee pot completely, before taking it to her room.
Fifteen minutes later, Clint and Steve return within moments of each other, showered and dressed. Natasha follows five minutes after them, empty mug in hand, and they join Bruce, Tony, Thor and Loki in the lounge.
"Does anyone else feel worried at how well we're taking Loki's kidnapping and return?" Clint asks, brows furrowed as he tries to muster up some real worry instead of feeling calm and collected. It's not as though his feelings are muted, it's just that he can't seem to make himself fret over something as uncontrollable as Loki's children appearing out of nowhere capable of things that he can't prepare for. It would just take up energy and give him a headache.
"I slept with my suit last night, and by slept, I mean it was actually in the bed with me – does that count?" Tony quips. He's unwilling to admit out loud that he'd left the suit beside the bed for the first half of the night, but had felt exposed and uncomfortable until he could sleep with his hand on the case.
"I feel as though that warrants a pithy comeback, but I'm just too..." Bruce yawns, "tired."
"Thor?" Steve turns concerned eyes to the other blond, who's cradling Loki in his arms, Loki's head tucked protectively under Thor's bearded chin. "I know Vali and Hela must have come as a surprise to you. Is the amulet helping at all?"
Thor's jaw tightens, but he doesn't say anything, and instead curls his arms tighter around Loki's prone form.
Steve sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. Not even the calming influence of the blue amulet can override his inherent character traits – one of which was a tendency to feel responsible and emotionally connected to his team-mates rather intensely, with a deep sense of protectiveness in regards to their well-being.
The morning passes mostly in silence, with only the hum of the television breaking the quiet air. No-one is paying much attention to the news, but there is a sense of wary anticipation filling the air, and each of them feel unwilling to leave the sight of their team-mates
It's just before noon when Vali appears silently in the room, standing beside Loki.
Thor bares his teeth in a snarl for a fraction of a second before realising they're not under attack, and he nods at Vali, who nods back, a small smile on his face.
"You came alone," Thor observes.
Vali shrugs and moves until he's standing with his back to the wall, leaning against the side of the couch Thor and Loki are on. He purposefully doesn't look at the others as they tighten in a circle, sitting on the closest chairs, or, in Natasha's case, standing beside the door closest to Vali, leaning in faux relaxation against the frame.
"Trouble in paradise?" Tony needles slyly.
Vali deliberately and pointedly rolls his eyes and snorts. "You wish," he sneers in Tony's direction before clenching his jaw and letting out one long breath, just short of a sigh. "Some of the others wanted to come along, and they're making a fuss.
There's something almost mutinous in the way Vali releases this information, his body tense, arms crossed, eyes narrowed but avoiding them all except for Loki's sleeping form.
"Others?" Natasha asks, a glint in her eye. Clint recognises it, it means Natasha's been reading up on things, and her mind has just made a bunch of connections.
Before anyone else can say anything, Hela appears, just as silently, with no obvious means of arrival. Clutched tightly to her chest is a child, roughly six years old, with long brown hair in impossibly perfect ringlets and milk white skin, wearing a long cloak that masks their figure from the neck down.
Vali's glaring, and Hela's staring back at him fiercely. "You shouldn't have brought her here," Vali hisses, slashing downward with one hand.
Hela places the girl on the floor and steps with her to Loki's side. "She's not staying," Hela states flatly.
"Then why did you bring her?"
"Eisa," Hela bends down, ignoring her brother, "he is fine."
The girl leans forward and places a gentle kiss on Loki's smooth brow. "You promise they won't hurt him?" Eisa begs plaintively, golden eyes glaring daggers at each of the Avengers in turn.
"They have not done so yet, have they?"
Eisa shakes her head and reaches under her cloak, bringing out a silvery bangle with a glowing blue gem twisted inside a delicate wire shell. She passes it to Hela, who carefully unclasps it and snaps it into place around Loki's closest wrist, the seam vanishing after a flash of blue, and the gem dims to a dull dark blue-tinted ember of colour.
Thor frowns, and the others make an array of aborted moves, from Natasha's twitch of her fingers, to Bruce's' small lurch forward, but they manage to control themselves as nothing else happens.
"Come then, you must return," Hela's gentle, but the child shakes her head and clenches her eyes closed, hiding her face in the long, silky sweep of Loki's braided hair.
"Are you really prepared to leave Einmyria all by herself?" Hela strokes Eisa's hair, and slowly pulls her away from Loki's prone form.
"No..." Eisa's voice is so quiet, the team can barely hear her over the almost silent sounds of their own breathing.
"Come on then, you can let the others know that he is fine, unharmed since we last saw him," Hela coaxes. "You must trust your work," Hela continues, "or do you believe you and Einmyria may have made a mistake?"
Eisa shakes her head. "No," she says glumly, and slowly Eisa pulls away from Loki, leaning back against Hela. One breath later both of them are gone.
"Who was the kid?" Clint asks.
Vali's jaw tics repeatedly, and there's an almost audible grinding sound before Vali speaks. "Eisa. She's the youngest of us."
"She's not much more than a toddler," Tony frowns. "How can she be Loki's?"
Vali shakes his head. "Her mother is a Dvergar, a dwarf, they age even more slowly than us when blood is mixed between races. Eisa and Einmyria – her twin – are nearly a hundred years old, which would make them maybe... six in your human years."
"Dwarves are real?" Steve asks, brows raising, he blushes when everyone else turns a disbelieving eye his way. "What?" he asks defensively.
"Norse gods, aliens and magic don't phase you – but dwarves do?" Tony asks, incredulous.
"No..." Steve responds a bit uncertainly.
"What does that bracelet do?" Clint asks, lips thinning as he stares warily at the faint blue glow emanating from the centre of the darkened gem. "It looks just like our necklaces."
Vali snorts again. "Of course it does," he snarks. "Eisa and Einmyria made them – well, Eisa made them and Einmyria helped with some of the spellwork."
"Seriously?" Tony raises an eyebrow sceptically. "That little girl?"
Vali's eyes narrow and he glares at the other man. "Eisa is second only to the Silvertongue in matters of magic such as these, with Einmyria a very close second to her," he growls, almost literally, the air dropping a few degrees around him, sending a chill throughout the room.
Hela seems to choose that precise moment to return, and she sends a glare Vali's way. "Cease that now, brother," she commands, voice lowering.
Vali huffs and looks away, and the air returns to normal.
"Are you just going to avoid the question?" Clint presses again, leaning forward a fraction, a frown beginning to spread across his face.
The blond teen huffs. "Have you figured out what the necklaces do yet?" he shoots back, teeth bared in challenge.
Hela sighs, deliberately, loudly, pointedly. "It is hard to believe you are the eldest of us all, brother," she states blandly, and Vali winces.
"What do the necklaces do, anyway?" Steve asks, breaking the sudden silence that falls over the room.
"Have you truly no idea?" Hela asks, looking honestly curious.
The five Avengers trade looks, but none of them answer, for different reasons, but the silence speaks for itself.
"Do you know what a 'possibility' is?" Hela asks.
"Figuratively speaking?" Tony quips.
Hela inclines her head. "Close."
"Enlighten us," Tony grins, eyes beginning to sparkle with the anticipation of knowledge.
"The Silvertongue," Hela begins, ignoring Vali's exasperated sigh, "is an impossible possibility unto himself. Had be been raised where he had been born, he would not have become a form of paradox."
"What on Earth are you talking about?" Bruce asks, brows furrowed.
"Every being in creation that is capable of choice creates a circle of power through their actions, choices and the possibility of action and the possibility of choice that opens before them. A man who works every day in the same place, living by the same routine, doing the same deeds over and over again will have less power, less possible futures, fewer possibilities open before him than a traveller who seeks out new things, new people, and whose choices are unpredictable and likely to be far more varied.
"This is because one who lives the same day over again will most likely repeat that day, yet one who does new things and seeks new experiences has many, many more choices, or possibilities before him that he is likely to choose from, creating a greater circle of power.
"Think of it this way. The man with fewer possibilities can be compared to a small plant with a handful of roots that penetrate the soil only shallowly. However the traveller can be compared to a great oak, whose many, many roots are deep and spread far.
"Both are simple examples. One creates a small well of power, akin to most of the beings across the realms, whereas the other creates a deep, large lake.
"Some, due to the nature of their conception, abilities, realm, time, family, might, magic or wit, will, simply by being themselves, naturally create a greater amount of power, due to the vast array of choice and possibility laid before them.
"Did you know that the Silvertongue is of Jotun descent?"
There's a ripple of contemplation and unease that Hela ignores as she waits.
Thor nods after a few moments. "Aye. It was not known in the past, but it is common knowledge now."
"Do you know of his ability to be both male and female?" Hela continues blandly, a half-smile curving the corners of her lips.
Steve blinks and swallows. "What?" he asks, blinking a few more times. Clint looks as confused as he feels, and Natasha's eyes are narrowed. Tony and Bruce trade pained glances, and Thor grimaces.
"I see," Hela nods. "Vali was carried and birthed by the Silvertongue. The rest of us were fathered by him."
A ripple of unease and shock spreads throughout the room for different reasons. Vali glowers at the mixed looks he garners from Steve, Natasha and Clint, and growls under his breath at the twin expressions of sympathy from Bruce and Thor, as though they know the circumstances of his conception, which makes Vali narrow his eyes.
It wasn't possible, was it?
Only Tony seems calm, although there's a glint in his eye that most of his friends would barely recognise, one which mirrored the same glint in his eyes as he took down Obadiah Stane.
"All Jotnar are, by nature, dual-sexed and dual-gendered. They can choose to become one or the other, simply by wishing it so," Hela explains, "and all are capable of mothering and fathering children. The difference with the Silvertongue is this: he did not know of his heritage when he became pregnant with Vali."
"What has that got to do with all of this?" Steve asks, trying to wrap his head around things, and not quite succeeding.
Hela cocks her head to the side, staring at Steve for a moment. "Ah," she says finally. "You have never encountered gender-fluid beings, have you?"
All the Avengers, minus Thor, shake their heads and Vali snorts but holds his tongue.
Turning to Tony, Hela steps forward and taps one long finger against the blue gem sitting against his chest, just above the arc reactor. "Do you know what magic is, Man of Iron?"
There's a pause, then Tony shrugs. "It's just science that I haven't discovered the rules for," he quips.
"Not quite," Hela takes a step back again, a faint smile curling her lips. "The very core of magic is this – Belief equals Ability."
"Isn't that contradictory?" Bruce asks. "I mean," he continues awkwardly when Hela's two-toned gaze meets his, "if that was true, we'd never have defeated Loki when he and the Chitauri attacked. All he'd have to do was believe that he could not be beaten and his magic would make that true...right?"
Hela's lips twitched. "Astute," she complimented. "I do not mean the belief that you can stand up against an army and win simply by wishing it so. What I mean is that at the core of all magic is this one rule. In order to do something, one must first believe that it can be done," she states succinctly.
At Bruce's contemplating frown and Tony's interested look, she continues. "As an example, if a magician or sorcerer or mage wished to create a fire out of air, he or she must first believe that it can be done. If there is too much doubt, the magic will work against its purpose and there will be no fire.
"By that same rule, if one does not know that something is impossible, then the possibility for its creation, implementation or evolution then exists, simply because magic contains all possibilities, both positive and negative."
"The Silvertongue is an impossible possibility because he is male, yet has mothered a child, is female, yet has fathered a child. He is Jotun, yet is an Æsir, his own skin being one of the reasons for his impossibilities, because unlike the rest of the Jotnar race, who can shift into either sex or gender at will, the Silvertongue sheds and becomes all forms equally. He is both bird and fish, deer and wolf, fly, snake and cat," Vali spoke wistfully, eyes distant.
Hela inclines her head in agreement. "The Silvertongue is unique, for other reasons, but mostly because he can take the form of any race, and when he does, he does not wear their skin above his own, no, he becomes them, which should be impossible, and yet...and yet he never knew it was impossible, and so under the steel of his belief and the fire of his will, he made the possibility exist, and then became the possibility, embodying it, binding it as a rule in magic."
"I take it that's impressive?" Bruce asks hesitantly.
"The Silvertongue rewrote one of the laws of the universe," Vali says dryly, "simply because he didn't know something should have been impossible. I'd call that impressive in any tongue."
"How the hell do we still exist?" Tony bites out angrily. "According to you, if some whack-job with magic wants something enough and believes it can happen – it will? So how the hell have we survived this far without imploding?"
"Among other reasons stands this; I have never met an unselfish race," Hela states blandly, as though that is the answer to everything.
Tony wipes a hand down over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose in a move he'd seen Bruce do over and over again, but had never really appreciated until now. "I get it," he grouses, "if given a and/or situation to an individual, that individual is more likely to seek self-advancement, be it through power, riches or revenge, but will rarely look out on a wider scale."
"I'm lost," Clint pipes up. "Seriously, this is all going way over my head. I get it, kinda, I mean, about the belief and ability needing to be there, but the rest of it is a little bit too esoteric for me," he finishes, with Thor's nodding approval and Steve's hesitant, short nod. Natasha is as calm as ever, and there's a gleam in her eyes that says she's understood everything that's been discussed so far.
Hela frowns thoughtfully. "In each gem, there is a shard of shared magic," she begins slowly, weighing her words with concentrated precision. "As the children of the Silvertongue, we have inherited his brand of magic, and a part of his...power."
"Which is vast and unlike any other magical source we've ever come across before," Vali adds.
"True," Hela agrees with a nod. "We are all powerful on our own, but, when our blood is joined, mixed, we discovered something...unexpected."
"Oh?" Tony cocks his head to the side, eyes dark and expectant. Around him the others wait silently, waiting for the flow of information to continue, not daring to interrupt for fear of losing the source of their answers.
"We had already discovered the Silvertongue's peculiar status as an impossible possibility, a paradox of a kind, and we discovered that this unheard of before situation actually meant that in his very blood, the blood that he passed along to us. He gave us the ability to warp reality, to recreate its rules on rare occasions, and to actually force creation to concede to our wills...but only when our blood mixed together, and only when Vali's blood is mixed with ours.
"We believe that together we become a physical nexus for the reality of the Silvertongue's continuation of possibility. Every deed, every thought that he has further fuels our ability...and the closer we are to him, the greater our abilities become." Hela pauses at this before sighing and admitting, "This is one of the reasons for our removal of him from your care. We have bound our blood together with his, in the hope that all of us will be strengthened."
Thor face darkens. "Do you know the reason for the removal of Loki from your lives, or rather, your removal from his by my fa- the All-Father?"
Hela and Vali trade hesitant, cautious glances. After a long, silent moment, Vali nods. "Hela knows the most," he offers grudgingly, "and she's shared some of it, but we know for a fact that the Deceiver knows something about the Silvertongue's capacity for power, and that this sharing of power should work both ways...leading him to remove us from Loki's mind and care, and vice versa."
"You mean Loki doesn't know about you?" Clint asks, eyes hooded and sharp, calculations running through his mind about risk assessment and sentimental attachments. There's something here, he knows, just on the tip of his tongue, something that's tickling the edges of his memory...something about when Loki held his mind...
Vali nods and shrugs. "Not any more."
"But...couldn't you just tell him?" Clint presses.
Vali turns his gaze to Loki's supine form. "Twice, we have tried directly informing him through intermediaries. The knowledge simply slides from his mind, unable to take hold. Between one blink and the next he remembers nothing. We are unable to speak to him of his status ourselves, and the magical construct we created to inform the Silvertongue of...our relation dissolved into its component parts before we could try a third time, and the geas binds us from informing him directly. We have tried to find a way around the blood geas...but it is hard to know who we can trust."
"Does that mean you trust us?" Steve asks guilelessly.
Vali blinks, turning to face the other blond, his gaze turning pensive. "To a limited extent, through necessity only," he admits.
"You have a saying, do you not? 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'," Hela states, one brow raised.
"So what, we're friends now?" Tony asks with a laugh, a dark edge to it.
"There is much that you have spoken of that I do not comprehend," Thor says grimly, eyes dark, lips pulled taut, his arms crossed over his chest, legs firmly apart. He's a solid presence, and all eyes turn to him. "It seems as though many of my beliefs have been broken, and now, even though you are family – of a kind – I cannot find it within myself to trust you, not with my brother's well-being, or to have good intentions."
Thor shakes his head sharply. "No. We can be allies, certainly, for against my fa- the All-father," he corrects himself again, "we would need all the help we could find...even if we do not trust them."
"Do you intend to fight the Deceiver?" Vali asks cautiously, staring intently into Thor's eyes, as to gauge the truth.
Thor's jaw tics, his eyes narrow, and something hard and unforgiving gleams in their bitter blue depths. "For my brother, for Loki, I find there is not much I would not do," he starts, "and aye, that includes bringing war to the door of the All-Father. However," he finishes, voice lowering with a pained sigh, "I do not intend to do anything other than care for my brother until he is himself once more. He, above all else, is my priority."
"Agreed," come the mixed tones of both Vali and Hela.
"I would have thought you more keen to fight than to care for the Silvertongue," Vali says airily, almost completely hiding the dark undertone in his words. It was perhaps unfortunate for him that Natasha, Tony and Bruce were too cynical to miss the undercurrents to the way Vali spoke to Thor.
Thor grimaces. "Aye. Mayhap once that would have been true. I have been taught many harsh lessons in recent times."
"And yet," Vali opens his arms, hands held palms facing outwards, an odd move that seemed half reflexive, or maybe learned and often done, "you appear to have journeyed through the fire and found yourself forged anew, sharper and stronger than before."
Thor blinks at the odd phrase, but he nods in agreement. "Aye."
"It is time to leave," Hela says suddenly, and immediately Vali turns to her, one brow raised. Hela shakes her head, red and black hair shifting suddenly, and in-between one breath and the next, Vali nods and vanishes. "We will return in three days," Hela's eyes are unfocused and she disappears before anyone can speak.
"Well...anyone else's brains feel like mush?" Clint half-jokes into the suddenly relieved atmosphere, feeling like something heavy had just been removed from the room, the very air itself becoming easier to breathe through, even though they hadn't really noticed the difference before.
"Interesting..." Natasha says, tapping one elegant finger against her lips, her eyes focused intently on the place Hela was standing.
"What?" Clint asks.
Natasha's lips curl, slowly, revealing white teeth, bared almost like a wolf's, and Clint remembers the last time she'd smiled like that. A heartbeat later the expression had vanished and Natasha left the room.
"I'll be in my workshop," Tony says, grabbing Bruce by the wrist and ignoring his yelp as he drags the smaller man out of the room.
"Well," Steve says, sitting awkwardly, not knowing what to say next.
"Anyone want a drink?" Clint asks, stretching and pushing down the urge to needle Natasha and find out what clever conclusions she'd reached.
Thor sits heavily on the floor beside Loki's head. "Ale would be good," he sighs.
"Ale? Right. A couple of beers coming up," Clint waits until he's in the kitchen before he allows the odd feelings pulled to the surface to roll over him, letting his subconscious mind sort through everything as he automatically searches through the fridge for the biggest, strongest three bottles he could find. Even if Steve couldn't get drunk, it didn't mean he couldn't enjoy a nice cold one after the experience they'd just had.
Clint's placing two of the three beers onto the counter when he freezes as his mind pulls things together.
When he'd been under Loki's control there had been a moment when Loki had been meditating or something and it looked like he'd been hit by an invisible presence, he'd covered his stomach even though it was his head that was knocked to the side.
Clint shakes his head. Surely not?