A/N: For some unknown reason, I decided to write this little preview in the third person, even though the sequel is still written in Natalie's POV. So, you know. There's that.
Also! This might be a little confusing in the beginning. Things will clear up, just bear with me. :)
Loki Laufeyson closed his eyes, tilting his head back and taking his first breath of free air in five years. He leaned back on his hands, his feet dangling from the edge of the world. Or, more accurately, over the edge of the roof of Stark Tower.
Natalie always loved it up here. He was beginning to see the attraction.
The air reeked of car exhaust and filth, mortal pollution stinking up the planet, and yet, he never thought he'd smelt something so beautiful in his whole life. The air was rotten and sour and filthy; but it was outside, it was free. The world was his for the taking once again; figuratively speaking, of course.
Cold air shifted the air around him; not that he particularly felt it. He was a Frost Giant, after all; the cold did not affect him in the slightest. He opened his eyes again and looked at the city below, the city he had almost destroyed. Twice. It still looked shining and new. The world was determined to keep spinning on, no matter what he did to stop it. No matter the chaos and carnage he wreaked, nothing could stop these ridiculous mortals.
And most stubborn of them all, the one most determined to keep moving forwards no matter the cost, to never look back, was Natalie herself. Loki would never understand that girl; their minds were linked together so tightly, their thoughts so bound and woven together that it was sometimes hard to distinguish them apart.
And he still had no idea how in the hell she worked.
For five years now, she had worked to forget what had happened the last time he was out in the free world, the last time he had escaped. For five years, she had done everything within her power to forget what he had done. To forgive him his many wrongs; to forgive him for the lives that he had taken. And, after five years, she had succeeded. She rarely thought of April, not anymore. Time healed all wounds, after all; and when she did think of her, there was no longer any malice, any anger towards him in these thoughts. She had accepted it. She had forgiven it, to the best of her abilities.
A strange one, indeed.
"Hey, hey, hey," A voice said behind him in a sing-song tone as light footsteps skipped across the roof. Natalie folded herself into a seat beside him, kicking her flip-flops off and dangling her now-bare feet over the roof, wiggling her toes. She rarely felt the cold anymore, either, not these days; though it could still affect her, could still damage her, if it was severe enough. She knew this, was full aware of it, and had caught many a fever because she had ignored it, but still she acted stubbornly oblivious. Loki had learned to stop arguing about it; it was pointless, anyway. She never listened.
"Greetings," he answered casually. Natalie gave him a wide, toothy grin.
"Enjoying the view?" She asked, as bright and cheerful as ever. These days, it seemed, nothing could stop her oddly sunny disposition. Loki allowed her to have it; it amused him, to see her so happy about such small things. Simple mind, simple pleasures, he supposed.
"I heard that!" She protested, her head whipping to him, brown hair flicking across her half-tanned features. He chuckled quietly and closed his eyes again, turning his face up to the sun.
Pretending that she had not spoken, that she had only asked about the view and said nothing else, he answered: "It is rather beautiful."
Natalie kept her eyes narrowed on him for a moment, but she let it drop. "Worth it?" She prodded, elbowing him playfully.
He rolled his eyes. He knew what she was asking; if it was 'worth' all of the misery, all of the damage to his pride, for him to get here, to this point in time, into the free air once more. It had taken a great deal for Natalie to convince Odin that Loki was repentant, that there was nothing he could do whether or not he was in his prison, that she would keep him in line no matter where he went. That it was simply 'more humane' to allow him this freedom on Midguard.
It did not always feel like freedom. The Avengers, he knew, would be watching his every move. He would be monitored constantly. And of course, there was always Natalie and that infernal mental connection the two of them had; she was such a huge presence in his life now, her thoughts and emotions always pressing up against his own, crowding themselves inside his head, meshing between his brain and hers. Like two different colors of clay, blended together; should someone cut it in half, kill one of them and not the other, or remove their connection entirely, then the colors would stay blended. They would not revert to their original state; parts of her would remain with him, and parts of him would remain with her.
And yet… he found that this was one restriction of his freedom that he could bear. Natalie, though convinced she was a monster, was in fact a good person; good enough, at least. If he had to choose someone to stay in his head for the rest of their lives… well, he did not think that he could bear the idea with anyone but her; and he could only tolerate her because of the many years that they had spent this way.
But… even with this permanent bond between them. Even with this mortal knowing his every thought, his darkest secrets. Even with the Avengers constantly watching him, even with their burning stare continually on his back… He was outside. He was out of that darkened prison cell, with its weak grey light and shadowed insides. He was no longer bound by four unseen walls.
He could breathe again.
He was free again.
He looked at Natalie for a moment, with her blissful smile and her hair streaming about messily in the wind. He turned away. "Aye," he answered at last. "It was worth it."
"Good." Natalie said primly, nodding once. Her legs kicked back and forth, still dangling from the edge. Her mother would kill her if she saw her like this, that close to the edge; Anna Rose Frost had a rather unnatural fear of heights. Cameron, on the other hand, would be more concerned with Loki sitting next to her, so close to her, than he would be about how high up they were. Cameron was not as forgiving as his daughter was.
But that was to be expected; most mortals were not like Natalie Frost.
Said Frost pulled herself to her feet, tucking her hair behind her ear as she did so. Loki half-turned to look at her, to watch her as she wedged her small feet back into her flip-flops again. She extended a hand to help him up. "Come on. We should get back inside."
He looked to her hand for only a moment. Then, slowly, he turned away, eyes distant. "I'll be along," he promised her softly.
He felt Natalie half-smile behind him. She understood, of course, why he wished to stay, why he wished for a few more moments in the open-if-polluted air.
"Sure thing," She agreed, turning away, closing off her thoughts to him so as to give him what small degree of privacy she could. Loki waited for her to go back into the Tower before pulling his legs up, closer to him, draping his arms over his knees.
He was still uncertain as to what he was supposed to do now; he could not take over Midguard. That much had been made painfully clear to him. As much as he may wish to rule, as much as he may wish to wear the crown… it was now an impossible task; Natalie had more than made certain of that. She despised bloodshed, loathed the killing of an innocent. To go against her, to do something that she hated so much… it was now unthinkable. It would damage her; and thus it would damage them both.
So what was he now, if he did not have that goal to reach for? What, exactly, was he supposed to do?
"You're supposed to die, my little Laufeyson."
Ice exploded behind Loki's eyes as shock froze him in place. For a second, the entire world was still, the planet coming to an abrupt, lurching standstill, making his stomach lurch with it. For just a second, he was entirely petrified, unable to move, to breathe, to think…
And then he was on his feet. He wasn't thinking, not anymore, he was just running, running as fast as his legs could carry him, without any concern for Natalie or the Avengers or anyone else. Running along the roof's edge, only a hair's breadth away from plunging over to the inevitable fall below…
But that voice, and those words, had crept into his ears, burrowed inside and sent terrible parasites skittering inside of his mind, devouring all light and joy and reason, drawing forth fear and terror and the worst inside of him. And he knew that he could only run, could do nothing but run, because he knew that voice, he recognized that voice…
Hollow, lilting, musical laughter crossed the distance between him and the speaker as Loki's shadow suddenly rose up to greet him, a stream of darkness that flowed out and upright, forming a wall in front of him. It happened so quickly that he did not have time to change direction; but instead ran directly into it, falling onto his rear on the ground. He scrambled backwards, trying to get to his feet, but suddenly it was there; the speaker, the master of the shadows, the monster born of darkness, a creature unlike any other…
Loki's heart pounded in his chest, throwing itself against his ribcage as terror seized hold of him. But the creature simply smiled down at him.
"Hello, Loki," it said; its eyes were hidden beneath a black hood, its hideous face hidden in shadows, with nothing but its sharp teeth showing. A cloak swished and sashayed around it, flowing down from the creature's shoulders and masking the rest of its form, making height and build unintelligible. That did not matter; he knew what it was. He knew precisely what it looked like.
Loki scrabbled away, trying to flee from this nightmare creature, this voice that he knew so well, with its sick, twisted laughter and musically taunting voice… But the shadows swarmed him, gripped him in strong arms and held him fast… And only now did a vague degree of sense return to him, and he remembered Natalie. He remembered how he needed her, remembered how important she was, remembered that he could not survive without her, that their minds were now so gravely intertwined that to be without her would destroy him…
The creature saw these worries, spotted them floating around in his head, and it laughed quietly. "Oh, don't worry about your mortal, my Little Giant. She is already dead."
No. No, it was not possible. Loki clawed at the voices in the back of his mind, Natalie's voices, the whispers that continually followed him, wherever he went. Her thoughts and feelings and emotions, still there, still pressed up against his…
The creature laughed again as Loki broke through all mental barriers between himself and Natalie, screaming for her to run, to flee, to get away as quickly as she could and never return… but then, of course, he saw everything through her eyes; and he could see where she was standing now, where the shadows were also holding her captive… the creature stepped to the side so that Loki could see Natalie with his own eyes. She was directly behind the Shadow's Master, darkness wrapped around her waist and ankles and wrists and mouth, thin tendrils of shadow holding her aloft, suspended in the air…
Loki struggled and writhed against his own shadowed bonds… but of course, they held fast. He had known that they would. The creature laughed again, softly.
"No, Loki. Do not fear what I shall do to her. Did I not tell you? Your mortal is already dead."
The creature walked over to Natalie Frost, who, typical to herself, gave it a death glare to end all death glares. Fire crackled in her eyes, despite her helplessness.
Loki had an abrupt flash of a memory, an invasive thought that may have originated from his own mind, but was nonetheless unwelcome. He remembered the look that April had given to him as he had approached her, as he had whispered cruel secrets into her ear… and he remembered the helplessness on Natalie's face as he did these terrible things…
And now, here he was, where she had been. Unable to stop it in spite of his power, unable to stop this, unable to do anything but watch.
And it was hell.
The monster of shadow ran its pale, thin hand over Natalie's cheek, stroking it gently, its toothy smile curling upwards in perverse delight. Loki could see darkness swirling at the creature's fingertips, a black spark igniting and sinking deep into Natalie's skin… she flinched away, writhing inside of a silent scream… then fell limp as Loki struggled again.
Natalie looked up to him, seeming abruptly weak and exhausted… her thoughts in the back of his turned sluggish, slow… The Shadow's Master continued to smile as its magic took hold inside of Natalie, as it completed its hideous work…
The transformation was slow, at first; the laugh lines around Natalie's eyes, which had not existed before, started to become thick creases, long and crinkled and cracked… her skin became more weathered, her hair turning grey streak by silver streak… the creature laughed quietly as Natalie's trembling hands transformed into those of an old woman's, wrinkled and pale as death. Fear was in Frost's eyes as she looked to Loki, death shadowing her.
"Did you really think that this could last?" The creature asked of Loki. "That the two of you could continue living as though nothing was wrong, as though one day you would not lose her? As though, one day, the only thoughts in your head would not be your own?"
Natalie's skin was clinging to her bones by now. She was wheezing, aging faster and faster… no matter how tightly Loki clung to her thoughts in his mind, they slipped through his fingers. It was as though he were tightly grasping a fistful of sand; it was impossible to save all but a few grains of memory, golden and beautiful in theory, but only small, pebbled rocks if you looked closely enough…
And then Natalie slumped over inside of the shadows that bound her… she began to crumble away, to rot into dust, scattering into nothingness… and Loki was left with the silence in his mind, an emptiness where she had once been in his thoughts, where he had once been in hers…
There was nothing.
Nothing but the cold abyss.
There was nothing left. No Natalie Frost, none of her thoughts, her sarcasm, her memories… an entire half of Loki had vanished without a trace, and he was left, weak-kneed and trembling from head to toe… his head was screaming with agony, the absence of an ache, ringing with hollow funeral bells…
His breathing came in gasps; he was empty, poured out and left in the dark, alone, with nothing but an echo of her name, whispered in disbelief, to remind him that she had ever existed, that she had ever been real… five years… five years was not enough, he should have had more, Natalie should have been alive for more…
The creature laughed again, that twisted, wretched, miserable sound… Loki was released by the shadows, but where could he go? No where, no where but on his knees, falling to the ground, clutching his head in his hands and trying to fill the emptiness with something, anything…
The creature's laughter took on that role, creeping in through his ears and pouring itself into his brain, filling it with blackness and shadows, with hollow darkness and twisted cruelty… bleaching out his thoughts until he could no longer remember anything of Natalie, could no longer remember her face, her smile, her laugh, her fury or her eyes… all he could remember was being alone, alone forever, because that was all he would ever be now…
"I've done you a favor, Loki," the creature told him in a dancing tone. "Your mortal was going to die one day, anyway; sooner it be now, when you have some hope of forgetting her."
Hope? What hope was there? What was this foreign concept? Natalie was dead. And he would soon follow; this creature would leave nothing alive. There was no hope around the Master of Shadows, no hope of life or light. He was certain of this. For he knew this monster, this foul being of shadow. He had met it once before, and it had haunted his nightmares ever since…
That was it.
This was all a…a dream.
Loki's eyes crackled as they whipped up to the creature. It must have known of this sudden revelation, but it did nothing but smirk at him as he forced his eyes to close. He focused inwards, focused in on himself, searching for himself in the darkness…
And he jolted awake.
Air rushed into his lungs as he gasped, sitting upright, his hands trembling, his heart pounding. His eyes whipped back and forth, scanning the area, searching for potential threats, for the creature, for where, exactly, he was… Disoriented and alone, he trembled inside of the pallid light that streamed down on him, not knowing where he was…
But slowly, slowly, memory and logic and time returned to him. His past slotted into place in his mind, the truth bleeding through the cracks of the dream…
He scanned his mind quickly, listening in to the whispers in the back of his head… a small, quiet sigh of relief escaped through his lips without his permission. Natalie was there, of course. She was alive, she was young, she was healthy. She, too, was currently immersed in dreams, fast asleep at her own home, curled up on the couch with her dog sleeping at her feet. Alive. Safe. Home.
But still mortal.
Loki banished the thoughts from his mind as he tried to ascertain where, exactly, he was. He gaze turned to the ceiling, to the grey, feeble light that shone dimly on him and the area surrounding him. But of course; he was still on Asgard. Still inside of his prison cell. Not free.
And it had been one year, not five, since he had escaped. Since he had killed April Blackthorn. Since Natalie had made their mental connection permanent. Only a year.
She still had not quite forgiven him. He still had not quite forgiven her. The happy, bright, cheerful Natalie Frost of his dream had been nothing more than a careless fantasy. The ease with which she moved around him, with which she smiled at him, had been a lie. Their current relationship was… strained, at best. Though she was trying to change that, he was not. Let them be as they would be. The entire dream seemed like a nightmare now; even in the beginning, when everything had seemed sunny and cheerful and bright. When he had been a slave to Natalie's happiness, when he had thought he was happy to be so. The entire dream had been foul; even before the creature had arrived.
At the memory, he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. His heart was still moving a few beats too quickly, and he tried to slow it down. That monster had not returned. And hopefully, it never would.
He was safe. Imprisoned, perhaps. Bound to a mortal, perhaps. But he was alive, he was breathing, and that creature wasn't here, and so he was safe.
His eyes flickered open, and there it was, sitting in front of him.
He scrabbled backwards, fear in his eyes as he pressed up against the darkness that lingered just outside of his grey place of light; he hurried back towards that light before the dark could swallow him whole, before the shadows could pull him in with their thin, smoking tendrils, before they could burn and cut and slice and reduce him to ash and dust.
But here, in the light, was the real monster, watching him with hidden eyes, the master of darkness and the child of shadow… Loki watched it warily, uncertain of what to do, his heart pounding…
But of course… this was another dream.
He did not try to wake; not yet, not right away. If this was a dream, then this monster could not hurt him.
Slowly, he allowed himself to settle back into his seat, watching it with careful eyes. He folded his hands in his lap, meeting its stare as best he could without actually seeing its eyes; there was still nothing visible underneath its black hood but the smile, that sadistic little smile that showed gleaming white, sharp teeth.
"This is not real," He said aloud; more to himself than the creature. It laughed quietly, leaning back on its pale, bone-white hands.
"Nope!" It answered cheerily. "But you of all people know that this is no reason not to fear. Dreams are not always petty illusions, you know. And illusions are not always dreams."
Despite how Loki had never felt cold a day in his life, a shiver ran down his spine, rattling his bones. Yes, he knew that dreams were not always dreams, knew that the illusions given by sleep could frequently foretell something else; particularly where this vile being was concerned. Nightmares followed it, nightmares preceded it, and death lurked in between.
He swallowed and allowed the subject to change, pushing it away with feather-light fingers. "And why are you here, now? What do you want of me?"
He saw its face for a brief moment; just long enough for it to give him a strange, almost disappointed look, its face screwed up in disapproval. "Now, really, Loki. You'd think that you would have learned." Another chill gripped the Norse god of Mischief, though he kept his face cool and neutral.
"What do I always want, my Little Giant?" The smile was back, teeth flashing brilliant, blinding white. "Blood. Always blood. Death and chaos and destruction. And I have chosen a nice little world to bring it down on this time."
"Asgard is well defended," He threatened, but he knew it was hollow and flat. Nothing was 'well defended' against this… this thing. Nothing.
It laughed; that pealing, ringing, sharp laugh this time, piercing through his ears and digging fierce claws into his bones. "Oh, Asgard is certainly an option. But why waste an opportunity, when Midguard has offered one so grand?"
Loki's heart leapt up into his throat. Natalie, curled up and sleeping on the couch, rolled onto her other side, snoring softly. Blissfully unaware that her world was being threatened, that it was about to crumble around her, that it was about to taste fire and ash and ruin…
But… if this was a dream… then she could already be dead…
No. No, he would feel it if that was the case. Loki's eyes narrowed on the creature. "And what opportunity might that be?" He asked, danger lingering over every venomous word… and yet, before this thing, that danger seemed small and insignificant. It could slaughter him without a second's thought. Pure power radiated from it, strong and fierce and foul.
"What else?" Its voice went high-pitched as it all but squealed in delight. Pale hands clapped together in an expression of utter ecstasy. "The Avengers, of course! With all of their lovely little powers and dangerously large egos, thinking themselves unstoppable, untouchable! How can I resist stepping in? How can I resist breaking spirits that high?"
Loki's hands kept trembling. He did not care for the Avengers, not in the slightest; but Natalie did. And Midguard was her home. It mattered to her; and thus, he had no choice but for it to matter to him as well. It was a horrible fact of life, something he despised, but it was a fact nonetheless.
And, of course, if this monster went after Midguard… Natalie would most certainly fall with it. She would not run. Even if she were able to run, she would not. She would stand by her planet, and she would die with it. She would burn right beside it.
Still, Loki pretended to relax, to act as though nothing was wrong. It was natural, for him to turn to deception before anything else. No matter how pointless that deception was. "You know as well as I how little I care for Midguard. Do as you wish."
It grinned. "Said the Norse god of Lies." It purred in response. Loki turned harsh green eyes towards it; fear was still gripping him, crushing his lungs, eating away at him from the inside out… his gaze was tortured as he tried to glare at it.
"The Avengers are stronger than you believe," he threatened, but if his earlier threat had been flat, this one was downright dead. The Avengers could be great warriors; but in the end, they were only mortals. And Natalie… Natalie was no exception.
"Are they?" The nightmare creature asked in a coo. Honey-sweet words oozed around him, thick and sugary, pouring inside of his ears and choking into his throat. "You yourself called them 'lost creatures'. What has changed in this time to convince you otherwise?" Another laugh. Sickening. Childlike. Sadistic. "You know better than to lie to me. And yet you insist on doing so." It shook its head slowly, then stood and walked over to him… it ran gentle fingers through his hair, but he recoiled as though they were tongues of flame. It chuckled softly.
"You know…" It said, lowering itself so that its lips were directly next to his ear, smiling a wicked smile, laughing a wicked laugh and spilling wicked whispers into his thoughts. "You always were my favorite little plaything…"
Loki couldn't stop the trembling. Couldn't stop the terror. He knew that this creature was not here, that this was a dream, that this was not real… but nothing could keep him from recoiling away from that creature, the thing which monsters had nightmares about; he would know, after all, being a monster himself… and what with this being his nightmare…
"But who knows?" It shrugged, standing and walking away, into the darkness. That darkness embraced the creature like an old friend, and the creature vanished into smoke; but its voice still lingered and echoed in the empty air. "I may not see you for a very long time. I may give you a few more years; there are some lovely inhabited planets in Midguard's realm. Perhaps I shall 'visit' them before I take yours… take hers." A final laugh; and now its voice was distant, far-off… the farther the better, as far as he was concerned… "Or maybe I'll come tomorrow." Its words still lilted in the air, no matter how soft. "Or maybe, just maybe…" Despite how far away it sounded, he could have sworn that he felt its breath on his skin, next to his ear…
"This is all a dream, after all…"
Loki woke for the second time.
He stared up at the grey light above him, lying flat on his back, his spine pressing against stone as he lay on the ground. His heart was pumping thick, viscous lead through his veins, his blood heavy and dense, holding him against the ground. His breathing was quick and rapid, and he was all but gasping; but not a single breath found his lungs. A dream. It was a dream. It had to be a dream, it had to be nothing more, it could be nothing more. The universe could not possibly be such a cruel place as to bring that monster back into his life…
He laughed; it was a mad sound, half-hysterical, and his eyes burned as it slipped out of his mouth. Natalie was truly polluting him.
After all, since when had he ever doubted the cruelty of the universe?
A/N: Reviews are much loved!
Sequel is now up and can be found in my profile! See you there! ;)