Chapter Nine - Skyfall

Die Before I Wake

It has long since stopped being disorientating to wake up in Hel's realm. It is now more like waking up in an unfamiliar bed during a mission, something like a necessary evil.

"Are you awake?" A voice whined.

Clint grunted in response, and rolled into a standing position. Nodding to the woman now standing in front of him, he asked, "Did I die?"

"Nope!" Hel exclaimed. "I just pulled you here to make sure that whatever it was my father did to you wasn't going to be permanent."

Clint nodded in agreement. "How?"

Hel smiled mysteriously. "Well, Natasha was a big help, which is good. In fact, without her, I might not've been able to do anything!"

They stood still for a moment, as Hel chewed on her bottom lip. "Clint..."

"Yes?"

At that Hel smiled blindingly. "Your mission, should choose to accept it."

And Clint groaned internally. He knew better than to actually listen to her request to find a way to stream videos to her realm.

"Is to be my avatar for the length of the battle."

Clint's eyebrow rose in response.

"Oh don't look at me like that! You know as well as I do that -"

"Fine."

Hel stared at him incredulously, so he expounded. "You wouldn't ask me that without a good reason, so I know I can trust that there's a good reason for it."

Hel smiled at the one person she could call her friend. "Ok. Now you," she leaned forward to poke him in the chest, "need to wake up. And make sure your mind's in order after contact with my father's idea of redecorating."

Clint smirked dryly in response, and closed his eyes to begin the assent back to the living.

Eyes Wide Shut

It almost physically hurts Natasha to see Clint like this - unconscious but shaking like a druggie coming down from a high. It cuts at her, like shards of broken glass, because it is suddenly clear that there is nothing she can do. The most she can do is sit here and hope - pray, and isn't that a funny thought - that everything will be alright when Clint wakes up.

It doesn't take long, barely fifteen minutes after Loki escapes, for Clint to wake up into a rapidly fading, blurry-eyed, miraculously concussion-free state. And it is all she can do not start crying in relief because his blue-green eyes are no longer glowing unnaturally. So, instead, with that relief coloring her voice, she speaks softly as Clint shakes his head dazedly. "Clint, it's going to be alright."

Clint visibly flinches and squeezes his eyes shut. "You know that? Is that what you know? But I ... I gotta go in though. Gotta flush him out, make sure he's gone."

"You've gotta level out, and that'll take time." Natasha replied evenly, even though part of her wanted to start screaming hysterically.

Clint opened his eyes, and the deadness of his stare could've frozen magma. But it was the sound of old pains brought to the fore and resignation in his voice that truly caused her heart to halt and her hands want to tremble as she poured a glass of water.

"You don't understand. Have you ever had someone take out your brain and play with it? Take you out and stuff something else back in? Do you know what it's like to be unmade?" Clint said, his voice little more than a whisper. "To have them succeed?"

She replied, just as quietly, "You know that I do."

The cell was quiet, save for the noise made by Natasha unbuckling the restraints holding Clint down. Clint stared up at her for a few minutes, as if wondering whether or not she meant it, before swinging his lets over the edge of the bed, picking up the glass of water, and patting the space next to him in an indication for her to sit.

"Why am I back?" He asked quietly, once she was settled. "How'd you get him out?"

At that, Natasha smirked triumphantly. "Cognitive recalibration." She stated authoritatively. At Clint's questioning look, she lightly bumped his shoulder and explained conspiratorially. "I hit you really hard in the head."

It is faint, little more than a tiny twitch of his facial muscles, but Clint's lips quirk up into a semblance of a smile as he says thanks.

They are quiet for a few more moments before Clint swallows thickly, and asks, "Nat, how many agents did I -?"

"Don't." She says, firmly interrupting him. "Don't do that to yourself. That was Loki. That was monsters and alien sorcery and nothing we could have ever been trained for."

There is another pause, just for a beat or two, as Clint wonders if she's talking about the mind control, which, theoretically, any witch or wizard in their line of work could, should, be trained to at least defend against, or the fact that it was done by an alien god-like man. Speaking of which, "Loki, he got away?"

Natasha nodded. "Yeah. Don't suppose you know where?"

Clint slowly shakes his head. "Didn't need to. Didn't ever need to ask. But he'll make his play soon, though. Today."

"Then we've got to stop him."

"'We'?" Clint replied skeptically.

Natasha shrugged. "Whoever's left."

"Well..." Clint replied slowly, "If I put an arrow through Loki's eye socket, I'd sleep better I s'pose." 'Or stab him the kidney.' Clint thought viciously.

Natasha smiled wryly. "Now you sound like you."

Clint gave Natasha a searching once over in response. "But you don't. You're a spy, not a soldier. Now you want to wade into a war. Why? What did Loki do to you?"

"He didn't - I just ..." She pauses and this time the silence is filled with pain.

So Clint asks gently, "Natasha?"

She tries to be stoic, but her eyes hold all the pain only a past like theirs could have. "I've been compromised. I've got red in my ledger. I'd like to wipe it out."

They sit for a little while longer in companionable silence, before Natasha pushes him off the bed and all but orders him to clean up in the dinky bathroom attached to the cell.

Glacier

Clint isn't angry as he suits up. He doesn't feel even a speck of rage as he gets the plane ready to fly. He is cold, so cold, down to his very soul, and the heat of anger and the fires of rage cannot reach it, cannot thaw it. All he knows is that when he finally meets Loki, it will take all that he is not to send the Asgardian's soul straight to Hel for what he has done to Natasha, to Phil, to himself.

So when he tells the Captain that it would be his pleasure to play scout and kill as many of the things coming out of the portal, he means it with a dark thrill of vengeance. (Although he could've done without Stark's Legolas comment.)

Because that is what it means to be the Master of Death - Death's living avatar.

Nightmare

Staying calm in the face of a beating from a green giant is easy, all he must do is lay there and accept the fact that his body hurts, and movement is not an option. Staying calm in the face of a serene smile from a man who had once been under his control as that man calmly removed the tips of his arrows is about as easy as staying calm in the face of a rampaging bilgesnipe.

That is to say, the image terrified him.

"Did you know, Loki," The man said steadily, as if he wasn't facing the god who'd destroyed most of Manhattan and the man's life this past week. "That I have had my mind invaded by three people before you?" The man finished with a smile so pleasant it was demonic.

Loki felt a shiver go down his back at those words, but the man was still talking.

"The first time I knew of it I was fourteen, and one of my teachers tried to make me do something. Don't quite remember what. I was able to resist, though, and I was able to throw off the curse used in the attempt to control me. I killed him later, you know, "the man said conversationally, "turned out he'd been a traitor and attempting to murder me. Stabbed him when he tried, got to watch as his insides turned into soup from the potion that particular knife had been carrying. Now the second, the second was another teacher, my Headmaster in fact. See, he'd been twisting my mind around, trying to at least, for almost six years in an attempt to turn me into the perfect little puppet. It didn't work, and I didn't even get to kill him for it, seeing as someone else got to him first. But no matter. And let's see, the third, ahh, the third."

Here an unholy light entered the man's eyes, but still, calmly as ever, continued to clean his equipment. "The third, now he had truly ruined my life - killed my parents, my friends - the whole shebang. But see, now him, he tried to possess me, which, on principle, I despise. So, I poisoned him with Basilisk venom. Which, I don't know if you know, is an agonizing torture, regarded as pain incarnate to us mortal wizards. Oh, it can kill anyone - there is no antidote - but in wizards, their innate magic attempts to fight off the venom. So it's one of the first things to go. Imagine, dying in agony as your very cells degrade, only to have it compounded with the devastating pain of your magic disappearing at the same time. Imagine having your soul destroyed along with your body. And it takes almost five minutes for the victim to die. Luckily for you Loki, I don't have any of the venom in my possession, or else I'd be testing the effects on an Asgardian for the first time. And see, I can't even hurt you, because, besides Thor, who still wants to save you for reasons I literally do not know, there's Natasha, and Phil and everyone else who wants a piece of you."

Here the man paused, finally finished with his equipment, and squatted next to Loki.

Loki swallowed heavily, as the fear already curdling in his gut turned into what could only be termed abject terror. "What are you going to do?" Loki questioned thickly.

The man smiled kindly, and that made Loki's blood run cold. Because this man, this insane man, was Death crazed and amazingly, terrifyingly human.

"Oh," the man purred, "I'm not going to do anything, Loki. Not now, maybe not for a millennium, but know this Loki, one day I'll come for your soul." At that the man's smile turned demonic, and he stood to leave.

But just as he reached the stairs leading up to the Tessaract machine, he paused. "That is," he said thoughtfully, "unless you give me a reason not to. So you'd better hope I find a reason not to."


AN: *peeks out from behind firewall* Um, hello? Now, see I've got a good explanation for this. Between finals and 40 hour weeks at my job (yay holiday retail), I literally had no time or energy to write. Not to mention, my computer is barely alive, and internet is impossible to get at home, so there was no way to post anything, even if it was written. Although, I must say thank you to everyone who wished me luck with my finals – and I hope all of yours went well too!

Anyway, I hope this chapter makes up for it, although I must say that my updating schedule is moved back for this story. Unfortunately, biweekly updates are unlikely, and monthly are what I'm aiming for.

Now, reviews!

SwiftShadow – Hmm, no, he'll pop back up – probably next chappie!

Random – I usually don't do this in story, but as you're a guest reviewer, check out An Iron Magic by mortavida(?). It's an awesome Harry!Tony story, and their currently working on a sequel, too.

Anon – Yes, reactions will be seen, Avengers and American Ministry-wise! As for the magical showdown – not yet. I just couldn't get it to fit with the idea that popped into my head at 1 o'clock in the morning a week ago. Maybe for something else, because I do have a sort of mother hen!Clint going on. Suggestions?

Sanna Black Slytherin – Maybe. I still have to decide how I want the last of the movie to end.

ValeryaPotter – Harry might, but by now he's really more Clint than Harry, so it'll be rare!

Please don't forget to review!

~Je Mata!