AN: Violence, blood, physical injuries, and character death in this chapter. Background knowledge about Asgard from Thor: The Dark World is also used.
Remembrance of Things Past
Part Forty-Six: In My Time of Dying
And then she wakes up.
Light encompasses her, blinding and white. She squints into the glare, straining to sit only to realize she's already sitting. A room begins to materialize around her, first the hard plastic chair in which she sits and then a long table. She sees two people, one at either, but nothing else and no one else, just she, the table, and the two people, two men, both gruff, stern, and dead like her.
Fury and Odin.
The surroundings clarify into the conference room in S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in New York, the room in which she first met Odin. He had appealed to her then to help Loki, to save him from Doom. Looking at Odin now, Natasha realizes that he is about to do the same thing again, the look on his face, the power and the plea, familiar.
There is good in him, Ms. Romanov.
He simply needs a guide to help him find his way.
Natasha turns from Odin to Fury. He looks as he ever had, no burns to his skin here, but his expression is no longer stiff and guarded, the mask of the master spy of S.H.I.E.L.D. Instead Natasha sees respect and regret and a clear regard for her in his eyes. She never knew if Fury liked her while they were alive or if he merely tolerated her, knowing her use. Maybe if she had let herself, she could have known, but she kept him at a distance, wary of all with power over her.
Just another thing to add to her list of regrets.
I knew how he felt about me. And I used it. To survive.
He cared for you, and you traded him for information.
Shifting in her seat, Natasha glances around the room and quirks a brow. "So Hell is a conference room?"
Fury smirks at her question, the denial of emotion so characteristic of them. "We're not in Hell. Surprisingly, given what we've done."
"So where are we?"
Fury shrugs. "I'm not quite sure myself. I was… somewhere. And then I was here."
Natasha looks at Odin, tension beginning to stiffen her spine. "Why?"
Fury leans back in his chair. His gaze flickers from her to Odin, and he grins. "Because the God King of Asgard can't talk worth a damn."
Natasha eyes Odin as he glares at Fury. If Fury looks the same as he had in life, Odin looks better, stronger than when Natasha saw him last, but of course when Natasha saw him last, he had just given his life to Frigga and then sucked the energy from the Destroyer and the Casket of Ancient Winters out of Loki and into his own body. But even before then, in Asgard as she pleaded with him to give her the Casket, Odin seemed old, worn, and thin. But he exudes power now, again the true God King of Asgard, strong enough to pull Fury and her into this space for whatever end.
Odin glares a moment longer before meeting her gaze. When he does, she asks, "Why am I here?"
"You are here, Ms. Romanov, because Loki refused to hear what I had to say. Yet someone must."
"Why me? Why not Frigga? Or Thor?"
The rancor fades from his face at her question, replaced by the same mixture of respect and regret and something of a regard for her that she had seen in Fury's eye. "They are not dying. You I can reach more easily than they."
She grasps his implication before he finishes. "Is Loki—"
"He is not dead and was not. Those that are not conscious may touch the realm of the dead as well, especially if they are as adept at navigating worlds as Loki."
The relief at his revelation does little to lessen the tension she feels. Odin had died for Loki, reaching him with his sacrifice in a way that he never had in life. For Loki to ignore his message meant the presence of lies or manipulation, something that he would reject. And possibly something that she would reject, too. Her eyes dart to Fury again.
When they do, Fury smiles. "A bit heavy-handed as far as manipulations go. I told him to go for Coulson instead, that you always liked him better, but he said there wasn't time."
"Why not?" she asks. "What's going on?"
Fury looks past her and arches a brow. Natasha turns and looks at Odin as well. The look on his face is grim, and she feels dread at the sight of it. He folds his hands onto the table, hesitates a moment, and then says, "Ms. Romanov, what do you know of a man named Thanos?"
What will happen now? Now that Thanos knows you've failed?
Something far worse than Hell.
Natasha straightens, the memory of the Doge's Palace flashing before her. Odin sees the recognition on her face and continues. "Thanos has been searching for Loki ever since Loki failed to retrieve for him the Tesseract. This I knew in life and acted as I felt best."
Odin will not give Loki the Casket.
He hears whispers of the name Thanos, of his power and his hatred for Loki, and this troubles him.
Odin pauses, remembering, she is sure, the consequences of that decision, her theft of the Casket, the death of Frigga and then his own. Natasha swallows, her eyes on Odin. "I never meant—"
"I seek no apology, Ms. Romanov. Nor should you offer one. I knew who you were and how you thought when I sought you for aid. I knew how you would react to my decision." He pauses again and the corner of his mouth quirks into a smile. "It is Frigga who surprised me."
Odin is king and therefore must consider the people of the Nine Realms in his decisions.
I, however, need only consider my sons.
Odin allows himself another moment of reflection before continuing. "In life, I knew little. But in death, I know more."
Fury responds to her question. "You see differently here, Natasha. Sometimes literally." He lifts his eye patch. Where before had been scars, Natasha now sees a perfect eye, one that gleams as it regards her. Before she can process this twist, the room flickers and light encompasses it once more, this time a glowing green.
"We haven't much time," Odin says. "Frigga calls to you, but you must listen, Ms. Romanov. In his search for Loki, Thanos crossed paths with Doom. Doom sought information with which to defeat Loki. Thanos provided this, though for a cost."
The cost of knowledge. I may yet recover from this cost.
The same, however, cannot be said for you.
"Doom is but a tool. His desire for revenge has been seized by Thanos for his own ends."
He offered me release from my desolation, for a price of course.
The room shivers again. Fury disappears, as does the table. Beyond the room, Natasha hears the howl of an alarm; the chair shakes beneath her. Odin leans forward and grabs Natasha's hand, grounding her with him. "Thanos moves now against Asgard. He senses weakness. I am gone, and Thor is untested as King. I ask again for your aid. Warn Thor. Help Loki. Do not let his rage—"
Yet Odin, too, disappears. The glow intensifies; the alarm increases in pitch. The chair jerks to the side and then vanishes, and Natasha tumbles to the ground, the room and her too swallowed by black.
Alive. Alive. Alive.
Alive. Alive. Alive.
"Are you all right?"
Alive. Alive. Alive.
Darcy feels Clint's hand on her face, rough and warm. She lies on something hard and cold. Snot drips down her face and her tongue sticks to the roof of her mouth, dry from the scream she couldn't scream when the ship fell from the sky.
Clint shakes her, once, gently. "Darcy?"
She opens her mouth and croaks, "Alive…"
Clint laughs then, the sound breathy and light. He cups her cheek, and she hears him breathe, the inhale shaky and the exhale slow, before he moves away. Opening her eyes, Darcy sees shelves poking out of the floor (the ceiling now, the ship overturned) like stalactites in a cave. They throw stark shadows against the walls, the only illumination now from the emergency lights. Sitting, Darcy sees Clint kneeling beside Bruce, his hand on his neck checking for a pulse. Crates lie all around them, some intact, others broken and their contents scattered, having fallen from the shelves as the Carrier fell.
As it crashed.
From a gazillion feet in the air.
She only gets the word out, but Clint understands the question. He looks back at her, then past her. She follows his gaze and finds Loki facedown on the ceiling ground behind her. He kept the ship up, and when he couldn't do that, he kept them up, keeping them alive.
"Is he dead?" Clint asks.
Swallowing, Darcy crawls over to Loki. She leans down and thinks about checking for a pulse, but she discards the idea because he might not have a pulse or a heart, just magic god batteries or a green ball of energy inside him, and her hands are shaking too much to try to find anything beneath his heavy armor. Instead, she listens for breath and eventually catches the soft passage of air into and out of his lungs over the pounding of her heart.
"He's alive," she says, flopping down beside him. She watches as Clint stands and makes his way toward her. She tries to stand too to meet him, but her legs feel like jello shots, warm and wriggly, and she plops again onto the floor. Clint increases his pace, his brow creased in concern.
"I'm fine," she says, waving him off. "Fine. Fine. I'm fine, Clint. I—"
Her mouth snaps shut on the last fine. She looks at Clint as he kneels before her, and she feels her eyes gradually widen. Pain flares in her back, and the sensation recalls the robot firing at her and the man who had stood beside her in line for coffee that morning and how he had been shot in the head. Darcy clamps down on her knees to try to still the shaking, but she only shakes harder, prompting Clint forward. He lays his hands on her shoulders.
At his touch, the dam bursts within her.
"I thought I was fine. I thought I was. I thought I was." She shakes her head.
He raises a hand to her face and strokes his thumb against her cheek. "You are. You will be."
She grabs his hand and squeezes as the wave roils within her. "'Cowboy up'? 'Let's kick some ass'? I can't even fire a gun, Clint, and— and people died, and they, they—" She waves her free hand, looking for Jane, but she doesn't see her or Natasha or Frigga. "Where's Jane?"
"Frigga took them away after we landed."
Because of the blood. Natasha and her throat and Jane and her gunshot and the man in the line and the woman with the freckles and—
"Darcy." Clint jars her, drawing her back to the present. She looks at him and blinks away the tears as he says, "Just breathe. In and out, okay? In and out."
Just breathe and drive. Don't worry about how fast you're going or what I'm doing.
Just drive and get us there safely.
Clint breathes in and out, long, slow exchanges of air. Darcy tries to follow, staring at his nose, his ear, his left eye. His focus calms her now as it did in Galisteo when they fled from Doom, as it did before in the lab when Darcy fled the fighting after she couldn't find Jane. Neither moment fazed him; neither does this one. He is calm and strong, but people had said he'd been broken, broken by Loki, and it seemed that he had; Darcy recalls how lost he looked in the hospital bed in Stark Tower, pale and shaking and overwhelmed by what Loki had done to him and what he had done as a result, but Clint put himself back together, he had done it, they said that she had, but she hadn't, he had confronted the thing he hated and he had faced the thing he feared, he had made himself, he did it all, all of this, fighting and crashing and dying, and he did it, all of it, just as he was, no special powers, nothing but courage and will, and Darcy understands now what Loki had meant when he looked at Clint and said, And yet you wondered why I chose you, she understands now, Clint so strong that he saved even a god from himself.
Not with this.
And without thinking, she says, "I love you."
Clint blinks; his gaze sharpens upon her, like the hawk for which he is named. Darcy shifts at the intensity of his stare; as she does, her hand brushes against Loki's shoulder. She fights the impulse to close her eyes at the touch or crawl away or kick her own ass for saying this, this private thing, this thing that should be said only after careful consideration and talks with Jane and possibly Natasha too, but not with Loki, never with Loki, not near him or by him or before him, yet she just did and maybe he was unconscious, or is unconscious, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, she knows it doesn't matter, but she did it anyway, why did she do it, why?
Darcy clears her throat and tries to salvage the damage. "Worst timing ever. I know. I'll probably regret saying it tomorrow. Or ten minutes from now. Or now." Her eyes flit to Loki, she can't help herself, and Clint tenses. Darcy releases his hand and moves to stand. When Clint doesn't stop her, she tries not to interpret the gesture as rejection. "It's adrenaline. Or almost dying. Or something." She shakes her head and resists a glance at Clint. "We should go find them, right? Jane and Natasha. Make sure they're okay. That they're, you know, alive."
Still without looking at Clint, she starts to pick her way past the crates and boxes, moving toward the entrance smashed by the Hulk, fleeing, again, death and doom, but this time of her own making.
High above Asgard, Sif watches the realm burn. The path the Carrier took as it fell carved a dark scar across the city, the gleaming golden world that she had forsaken. Her eyes chart the geography of the destruction, and the breath catches in her throat as she recognizes the section upon which the ship fell, the place she'd visited hundreds of times over hundreds of years, first dragging Loki along and then Hogun when he came to Asgard before being dragged by Fandral and, later, Thor. Volstagg had wanted a house close to the bakers, to be near his favorite pastime, he had said, aside from smashing heads of course. Now the Carrier spans the quarter, belching smoke into the sky.
Panic rising within her, Sif releases her grip on Tony, who had flown she, Steve, and James out of the crashing ship. Steve calls for her as she falls, but Sif does not respond, instead twisting through the air and diving down through the sky. She lands on a roof, tumbles and slides down the sooty side of the building, hitting the street at a run.
On the ground, she hears screams and cries of pain. People call out to her as she races by, recognizing her, looking to her for guidance and aid, but she does not stop. She knows the city guard amasses, beginning to follow their protocols for relief and defense. They will help those in need. She, now, needs to know. She needs to know if the man who had trained her lived, the man who had supported her, had welcomed her into his home time and time again, who had pushed her to bring Heimdall along, to save him from the endless solitude of the Bifrost, and who had pushed her to reveal her feelings to Thor, to love and live as he loved and lived.
She needs to know if Volstagg lived.
In the distance the shield of protection encompasses the palace, engaged from the Bifrost by Heimdall. Sif wonders where her brother is now, whether he, too, runs for the Carrier, or if he mans the Bifrost still, searching the stars for further threat.
As if he knows, and of course he knows, he always knows, knows Sif and her heart, Heimdall steps from between two buildings fifty feet before her. She skids to a stop, reaching out to steady herself against his steadfast arms.
"Heimdall, do you know? Does Volstagg—"
He looks at her. In his eyes, she sees her brother, not the guardian. Lifting a hand, he lays it on her shoulder, and the gesture confirms to her that Volstagg is dead. Sif makes to move past him, still needing to see, but Heimdall holds her fast.
"You desire to help your friend," he says when she opens her mouth to protest. "As do I. But he is not our priority."
Sif takes a step back at the callous response. "Heimdall…"
He dips his head low as a section of the guard passes them by. "Few know the Midgardians, Sif. Asgard has fallen under attack. Who will the people look upon to blame, as foe to fight to defend their city?"
Realization strikes her, cold and heavy. "Steve…" She had left him, James, and Tony, still unconscious in his suit, floating above the city. Of course, they would land. Perhaps they would follow; Steve would want to, wishing to help her and her city. How would people react to him? To James and his metal arm? To Tony and his strange suit?
Heimdall squeezes her shoulder. "They are not lost. He is not lost. Not yet."
He is gone. But he is not lost.
He releases her then. With a last look, Sif turns and races back in the direction she had come. Steve would not strike first. He would try to reason with the guard, her people. But would James? She thinks for a moment as she runs. He would do as Steve did, at first, until a guardsman raised his spear too high or until one pushed Steve, trying to bind him for questioning.
Then all Hel would break loose.
Sif takes two steps and jumps, grabbing the edge of a roof and hoisting herself up. There, she surveys the land, searching for commotion, for where Steve and James may have landed. She hears a clash, a clang of metal upon metal, before her, four or five streets down, near to where she fell. Charging hard, Sif leaps across the divide between buildings, landing, rolling, rising, and running again, leaping across the next street too, and it is then she hears the sounds of fighting, of the Iron suit firing, of grunts of pain and cries of alarm, the subjects nearby withdrawing to their homes. Her heart clenches at the sounds. She knows the prowess of Steve and the capability of Tony, she has heard the stories about James and his skills, yet all were against mortals, none against gods.
As she jumps across the third street, Sif hears Steve scream. Something smashes into a building; Sif sees the roof tremble from the impact. Fighting resumes as she charges across the roof and then a gun opens fire, from James, she knows, the only one with a gun. Sif hurdles the last divide, trying not to think, she must not think, there is still time, there is still time. She takes two steps and then soars into the air, flipping and diving down to the avenue below. As she falls, she sees soldiers in a clump around two figures and another group surrounding a third.
Sif lands on her feet between the two groups. The street shudders from the impact and some of the guard already cease fighting, recognizing her and awaiting their orders. Rising from her crouch, she yells out, "Cease your fighting by order of the queen!"
The Aesir brigade snaps to attention, all save one, Vali, who still fights with the lone figure to her left. Sif pushes past the standing soldiers, steps over three more bleeding in the street. She sees a flash of metal, James, his arm lifted to punch Vali. Grabbing his arm, Sif pulls him back; he twists and reaches for her throat, his eyes dark and empty. She bats his hand away, yanking, as she does, on his metal arm, pirouetting them both to shove him back against the wall of the nearest building. She holds him fast, her hand on his chest.
Movement from the corner of her eye catches her attention. "Vali, I ordered you to lay down arms. Do you defy me?"
Vali looks from her to James, who struggles against her hold. His metal hand clamps down on her arm and starts to squeeze. The grip hurts. Sif fears if he continues he'll fracture a bone, but she does not relent, either her hold on him or her glare at Vali.
After another moment, Vali straightens and lowers his spear. "No, Lady Sif. I merely sought to defend the realm."
Sif feels a jolt of electricity from James. Gritting her teeth, she says, "Then protect the Midgardians you see and slay the machines."
Vali blinks at her order. "Machines, Lady Sif?"
"Like this," she yells, turning back to James and wrenching his metal arm off her with her free hand. "But white. White and without faces. These you slay. Do you comprehend?"
Vali peers at the arm. "Yes, Lady Sif."
"Then go. Inform the others." She watches, her hand still on James, as the brigade leaves; six remain, four on the ground where James had fought and two others in the middle. Unconscious, she hopes, and not dead. Turning to James, she meets his eyes. He has ceased his struggle, but he glares at her, his eyes still dark, yet no longer empty, instead full of rage. "Who are you?" she asks.
He does not respond. His metal arm shifts. Sif does, too, waiting for him to try to strike her before she takes him down. Then his eyes dart past her and fixes on something, likely Steve. Some of the tension fades from his body and he draws in a deep breath. "James," he says, looking back at her. "I'm James Barnes. Bucky."
"That remains to be seen."
She eyes him a moment longer before releasing him, before stepping back to confront what she has not wanted to confront since her arrival. Yet the sight before her as she turns is not yet her doom. Steve kneels over Tony, who lies on the ground, his left leg twisted at a strange angle, his left crushed beneath the elbow. Relief floods through her at the sight of Steve, fixing her fast. She swallows hard, her throat constricting as she watches Steve move. She feels James watching her, and others too, doors and windows opening now that the fighting has ceased. Turning to the nearest window, away from James and Steve, Sif spies a small boy. "Do you know how to find the house of healers?" she asks him.
He nods, his eyes wide and locked on James.
"Go. Return with one here."
He is gone. But he is not lost.
"There may yet be life to save."
The cries of his people pierce his ears, yet Thor continues on, striding into the grassy plains beyond the city. He recalls the tale that Loki told of his fight in Switzerland against Doom, how the man fell hundreds of feet yet still lived. He must find Doom before he can help the realm; he must see with his own eyes that the threat is gone and that Asgard is safe once more.
Labored breathing up ahead captures his attention; the grass nearby rustles. Thor eases forward, Mjolnir in his hand. Parting the grass, he steps into a small circle smashed flat by Doom as he fell. He lies on his back and blood oozes from his mouth and nose as he tries to breathe. Doom freezes when he sees Thor, but only for a moment. Then he closes his eyes and tries to laugh. The sound is wet and ragged.
"Have you come to kill me, Odinson?"
Thor stops a few feet from Doom. He watches as Doom cracks open one eye to regard him. "Do you desire death?" he asks, his voice quiet.
Doom ponders the question a moment before replying. "It comes for us all." His expression is grim beneath the blood. "I am no exception."
"True," Thor acknowledges as he closes the distance between them, the man clearly not a threat, at least not to him. He kneels down. Hesitating only a moment, he places Mjolnir beside Doom's head. Then he says, "Death does come for us all. But how it comes this you can decide."
Doom looks at him. Thor sees no fear in his eyes, but no defiance either. Only resignation and a touch of curiosity as to what he will do.
In response to the silent query, Thor says, "I will grant you a quick death if you answer my question."
"And if I don't?"
"I will take you back to Asgard and leave your fate to Loki."
Doom looks away then, and Thor wonders if this signifies fear. He watches as Doom shifts on the ground, perhaps in an attempt to crawl away, but he collapses back onto the grass, releasing a fresh flow of blood from his mouth. Thor thinks he should feel pity for the man, but the stench of death blows fast from Asgard and instead his hand tightens on Mjolnir.
"By now, Natasha has died or has been saved. In either case, Loki will desire retribution. What do you imagine he will do to you in order to exact it?"
Doom meets his eyes. "I don't need to imagine. I know."
At that, Thor raises a brow. "Yes. Your claimed knowledge of his time in the Void."
Doom studies him a moment, his eyes narrowed. Thor tries not to see Loki in the gaze, in the keen curiosity and the search for advantage, but he does. "Is this what you seek, Odinson? To know what Loki did?" He pauses then and smiles, the move ghoulish and bloody. "You don't trust your brother to tell you the truth?"
"I don't. Nor do I trust you to tell such tales. But I do not need to know what he did. I only need to know the name of the one who gave you this information about him."
The revelation quiets Doom. His eyes flit to the hammer and then to Thor and then beyond Thor to the sky above, tinted now with dark and stars. He swallows and his tongue darts out to lick his lips, leaving a bloody smear. "Why?"
"My reason does not matter." Thor lifts Mjolnir and brandishes the weapon before Doom. "My mercy does."
Doom hesitates. He closes his eyes and sucks in another wet breath. Thor waits and, after another moment, Doom relinquishes the name.
"Farbauti. The Queen of Jotunheim." He opens his eyes and looks at Thor. "She is my source." He pauses and the bloody grin returns. "I can't imagine why."
You can't kill an entire race.
Thor's eyes widen. The gasp of shock catches in his chest.
I'm not your brother. I never was.
He did tell you my true parentage, did he not?
Farbauti, wife of Laufey.
Thor swallows down his shock. He feels Doom watch him, his gaze intent upon his reaction. The intensity dulls the shock and heightens in its stead his suspicion.
On second thought, mercy is for the weak.
Are you ever not going to fall for that?
Doom lifts his chin and stares at Thor, defiance now in his gaze. "Well, Odinson. I fulfilled my end of the bargain. It is time for you to fulfill yours."
Thor looks at Doom. He wonders whether he manipulates with the truth or with a lie. Loki usually selects truth, the darkest bit with which to cut. He does not have enough experience yet to discern the truth with Doom.
In his silence, Doom cocks a brow. The move causes Thor to smile, not the smile of mercy or of a genial king, but one from the son of Odin and the brother of Loki. "Did you not know?" he asks, reaching for Doom. He spins Mjolnir in his hand, preparing to lift off for the palace and the dungeons. "This is Asgard. The realm eternal. Death makes no home here. It will not come for you today."
Maria kicks at the door to the escape pod, jammed in the crash landing from the Carrier. On the fifth kick, the door gives, and she crawls out into a new world.
The rocks beneath her hand resemble Earth rocks, but the sky above is like nothing she has ever seen, the stars and galaxies no longer cool and distant, but so close that Maria feels like she can touch them if she lifted her hand. She saw the portal open as she ran for the escape pod; she saw the gleam of golden towers and spires beyond. She surmises then that she's on Asgard, given the threats made by Doom, but she sees no golden spires here, no structures of any kind, just rocks and sky and her.
Standing by the pod, she breathes in the air, purer here than on Earth, particularly in New York. Though she had an interest in seeing the realm, this isn't how she wanted to arrive, running from her ship as it fell from the sky. Fury, at least, had kept the bird up, but Maria couldn't even do that, not even with four gods on board. Perhaps the Council had been right to doubt her ability to lead. Maybe Steve would have been a better choice after all.
Maria closes her eyes and swallows down the doubt. The team had stood by her. They wouldn't have done that if they didn't feel her capable. Especially Natasha. Given all the heat Maria had given her about Loki and Winter, Natasha wouldn't have hesitated to voice her own doubts about Maria. Yet she hadn't. Natasha had believed in her. The least Maria can do is the same. They had lost, they had fallen, but they would regroup and do what they do best.
They would avenge.
Lifting her hand to her ear, Maria tries the comm, but she hears only static. She considers returning to the pod for parts to boost the signal when movement to her right catches her attention. She twists, reaching for her gun, as a man walks around the escape pod, an alien, as big as the Hulk, but the skin she glimpses around the armor is not green, but purple, punctuated by two eyes of a bright, blinding blue.
The being moves toward her and Maria fires her gun, but the bullets make no more of an impression on him had they been feathers. She turns to run, but his hand lashes out and grabs her by the neck.
"The first sacrifice," he says. His voice is an earthquake rumble, as dark as the barrel of her gun. Then he tenses and the world for Maria goes—
To be continued. Feedback is glorious and gives me life. :D