Over the Edge
Loki was having fun.
He couldn't help but smirk as he gleefully watched Thor meeting his match against a man in a metal suit. Then Captain America dived in and tried to break up the fight. Loki shook his head as Thor charged at the newcomer, roaring like a bull.
'Typical of Thor to settle fights with weapons over words,' he thought.
Loki watched the Captain take on a defensive stance. Just when he thought Mjolnir would certainly crush the shield, a powerful rebound took him by surprise. Luckily he was up on a rocky ledge, so Loki wasn't knocked flat by the surge of energy.
Only the three men stood upright in a field of flattened trees. Finally, they got over their petty squabble and turned their attention back to Loki.
The trickster frowned as he found himself back in cuffs. 'I guess the fun's over.'
He wished that skirmish in the forest had lasted forever, but that bit of entertainment was only a brief relief from the impending doom he felt. Loki knew full well what he was getting himself into. He knew he would be hated and challenged.
'I can't turn back now,' he always thought doggedly to himself. 'I have to be king. It's the only way to set things right.'
Still, something else threatened to make him lose his mind: not thoughts of the future, but those of the past.
During the Quinjet ride back to the Helicarrier, Loki felt a bitter tinge as he remembered the last time he had been on Asgard.
'I was a war criminal there, and I am one here. Nothing has changed. There's no turning back...it's much too late for that. I must continue my plan.'
But what plan? He had none. He had no idea what to do next. He could play on the Avengers' tense alliance, make them seethe with disorder and chaos. But how long could that last? Loki saw for himself what each member was capable of. Together they could move mountains.
'What am I so worried about?' he berated himself. 'They are a force weakened by differences and distrust. Surely the Chitauri and I can scatter them, as easily as stones thrown at a flock of birds.'
But each reassurance he made in his mind seemed more feeble than the last. Loki didn't even know if he could trust himself.
When they arrived, Steve, Tony and Thor were told to meet at the bridge. Loki was promptly handed over to S.H.I.E.L.D. guards. Thor hardly had time to glance back before following his new comrades. Loki glared down at the guards but kept a cold, dignified silence as he allowed himself to be escorted.
His smug expression thinly masked the panic and uncertainty that grew inside him. Dread washed over him like a sickening wave, making him feel weak and light-headed. How he willed himself to keep moving, he did not know. He was taken to a cylindrical glass prison, where he was sure he had no hope of escaping.
Director Fury came in minutes later. Loki knew that from the many cameras watching him, others were listening. He cleverly deduced that the cage wasn't built for him, and that Fury was a man with secrets to hide.
To cut the talk short, Fury curled his lip in disdain. "Let me know if 'real power' wants a magazine or something."
Loki watched him leave with a cutting glare. Once he was left to himself he slowly paced around, deep in thought.
'I could use Dr. Banner to my advantage. He's nothing more than a bomb waiting to go off in this floating fortress. If I could just wait for the right time-'
Suddenly a voice cut off his thoughts. "You are a fool...to think you still have a chance of coming out on top."
Loki whirled around, but saw no one. It sounded too clear to be his imagination. Or was it? He wasn't sure. The deep and menacing voice certainly wasn't his own. His shout rang with accusation. "Who said that?"
Still, he saw no one. Only a mocking laugh answered him. Anger flared in Loki's chest.
"Show yourself, coward!"
"Ha! Big talk, for someone who prefers to slink in the shadows. I will never forget the day that my own son proved to be traitorous scum. The day I 'met my death at the hands of a son of Odin.'"
Loki stiffened in shock. "Laufey..." That last sentence, full of mockery, had pierced him like a shard of ice.
"I should have killed you properly the moment you were born," Laufey growled. "You were small and weak. Better off as food for the wolves than as an heir of Jotunheim."
Loki shut his eyes and pressed both hands to his temples. "Go away...you're not here. You're dead."
Even with his ears muffled, he still heard Laufey's voice loud and clear, and dripping with scorn.
"You will never succeed. Everything you've done, everything you are, is an utter failure."
"Shut up!" Loki snarled. "I want nothing more to do with you!"
From his spot in the main control area, Coulson raised his eyebrow. "What's up with Loki?"
Natasha raised her eyes from her own computer screen. She had been pouring over Clint's S.H.I.E.L.D. files, searching for his wheareabouts. She looked over at Coulson's screen, watching Loki shout at no one in particular.
She shrugged dismissively and returned to her browsing. "Dunno. Haven't we already established that he's off his rocker?"
"Yeah, but this is taking it to another level." Coulson frowned as he watched Loki clutch his head, as if in agony. "Watch him for me, will you, Nat?"
She nodded and bit back a sigh. The Russian spy took Coulson's place, while he went off to be with his childhood idol. Through the lens of the security camera, Natasha could see pain and confusion written all over Loki's face. She scrutinized the screen, narrowing her eyes distrustfully.
'This better not be some cheap trick.'
Loki blew out a shaky sigh of relief when he no longer heard Laufey. An involuntary shiver ran down his spine. He massaged the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache settle in.
'I've got to think straight. I can't let this...distraction get the better of me.'
"You'll never get what you want, trickster."
"That silver tongue of yours won't help you at all."
"Looks like your only true ally has failed you too."
Three different voices, sudden and uninvited, assaulted his ears. And he recognized them all.
"Fandral, Volstagg, Sif..."
Sif's voice was scornful and taunting. "I've proved to Asgard that my sex does not stop me from being a strong warrior. I earned respect and trust. And you? You've proved nothing, and you've earned nothing."
"Except, perhaps, that you are a pathetic trickster whom no one likes and no one trusts."
Volstagg's laugh reverberated. "Good one, Fandral."
Stung by these jibes, Loki looked all around him, circling like a cornered animal. He continued to see no one, and it enraged him to no end. His head reeled with confusion and anger.
"What is this sorcery? Come out and face me!"
All he got in reply were their laughs. Just like how they always used to in Thor's company. It felt like a merciless onslaught, a storm of unseen hail that brought him down to his knees.
His heartbeat stopped for a second. He recognized that solemn voice anywhere. "Odin...?"
"I was wrong to take you in, to think I could raise you to do good for Asgard. You have only brought chaos, grief and strife. You are a disappointment. A failure."
The words rang in his head like a bell and pierced his heart like a sword. He opened his mouth to speak, to deny what Odin said only to realize that it was the truth.
Tears pulled at the corners of his eyes. Words came weakly from his clenched throat. "I...I did it all for you! I never really want to be king...not even one of this world. I only wanted to be Thor's equal, to make you proud."
"I could never be proud of you, Loki. I shouldn't have saved you during the war. You were doomed from the start. I should have left you to die...to save you and the realms from years of torment and misery."
A tear ran down Loki's cheek. "No...you don't really think that. Do you?"
But Odin did not answer. Thor did.
"Father's right. You do seem quite miserable, 'brother.'"
Loki blinked hard. He could've sworn that Thor was somewhere else in the Helicarrier. But his booming laugh sounded as real as ever. "Your desire to be my equal is a futile one. I will always be better than you. Why should I even call you that, when we are not related by blood?"
"You're not brothers?" Fandral interjected. "No wonder we can never bring ourselves to like Loki."
"I have many friends and a good heart," Thor went on. "Like Sif said, you have nothing. Including a chance to defeat me and my new comrades on Earth."
"It would be much easier for you to just give up. Permanently."
"Do us all a favor and disappear!"
"Your greatest and final magic trick!"
Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, Thor and Laufey. Even the servant who had served the wine before Thor's coronation. They all laughed at him. He couldn't tell who said what. They were all talking at once, all their voices filling his head, driving him insane. He clutched both hands to his head, tormented by jeers only he could hear. He hit his forehead against the glass wall and stumbled to his knees.
"Please, no more!" Loki cried.
"Then get out of our sight, you monster!" They shouted.
Then Frigga's soft voice dispelled the rest. "I loved you, Loki. Perhaps even my love couldn't save you from what you've done." She wasn't laughing, nor did she sound amused. Just sad, very sad. On the verge of tears. "I wish I never knew you. All those years of lovingly raising you as my own son...it comes back to hurt me when I see you now. It's better...if I just forgot you completely."
That hurt Loki to the core, far more than the rest. No spear, spell or blade could pierce his heart as deeply as Frigga's words. "If you say so, Mother..." he whispered hoarsely.
Loki pulled out a knife hidden in one of his gauntlets. The blade was forged from Asgardian metal, a rare ore that slipped past S.H.I.E.L.D. security. He gripped it tightly until his knuckles were white. He heard the voices again, rising in crescendo the harder he gripped his knife. He squeezed his eyes shut. His ears were ringing, his head was pounding. He felt like he could explode.
'Too much...it's all too much. I can't go on. I have to end this!'
He uttered a strangled sob and plunged the knife into his chest. He felt the leather of his clothes give way. The blade sunk again and again, across his chest, shoulders, arms and stomach. He didn't care where he hit. Blood spurted from the gashes he made. He felt pain everywhere. And somehow that comforted him. He heard them cheering him on. He just wanted the voices to end. He wanted his life to end.
Natasha couldn't believe what she was seeing. Shocked as she was, she remained skeptical.
'Could this be an act? Is he doing it to attract attention and lure any of us into a trap?'
Somehow, deep down, her gut instinct told her otherwise. She saw the pain and desperation etched in his face. She knew that look well. She saw how aggressively and ruthlessly he pushed the knife into himself. He went at a frenzy, with dangerous abandon. A pang of alarm jolted in her chest. This wasn't for show. This was for real.
Natasha had to act fast. Tearing her eyes from the screen, she dashed out of the control area.
"Coulson, give me high-level access!" she called.
"What for-?" Then he saw it. "Oh my God. Director, Loki's attempting suicide! Romanoff's gonna step in."
The other Avengers saw what Loki was doing. Thor instantly bolted from where he sat, but Fury called for everyone to stay put.
"Let Romanoff take care of this." He hesitated before saying, "She knows what she's doing."
It took Thor a long time to settle down and be coaxed to remain calm. Everyone continued to watch the screens with held breaths and apprehension.
Natasha dashed in to find Loki bleeding and...crying? She had no time to stop and wonder. Throwing all caution to the wind, she threw open the prison door.
She caught Loki's arm in an experienced wristlock. His strength could easily overpower hers, had he not been surprised by her sudden appearance. Taking advantage of his brief daze, she grabbed the knife and tossed it away.
He bared his teeth and seized her by the hair. "Bitch! What do you think you're-"
She slapped him across the face as hard as she could. She doubted it hurt much to him. A red mark hardly blossomed on his cheek. But it seemed to have the desired effect. Loki let go of her hair. He stumbled back a step, more from sheer surprise than the actual force of her slap. His eyes darted around, as if disoriented, before they finally focused on her. Shock replaced most of his anger.
"...Did you just hit me?"
She almost rolled her eyes at how ridiculous that sounded. 'Of course I did. You're not untouchable.' "I was calming you down."
Natasha glanced at the bloody knife on the floor. 'We need better security,' she thought wryly.
There was another problem, one that was bigger and more personal.
The Russian spy turned back to Loki. "Sit down."
He surprised Natasha by obeying her firm command. He lowered himself, so that her bold gaze seemed to pin him down. Then she took a seat next to him. Her arm almost brushed his own. Her gaze scanned his body in a brisk sweep. Blood seeped through and stained his clothes. He caught a glimpse of concern in her eyes.
"It's fine," Loki mumbled. "I heal quickly."
Silence reigned over the two. They were so quiet that Natasha could hear drops of his blood falling to the floor in slow, uneven intervals. She sneaked a glance at him. True to his word, his wounds were sealing shut at an alarming rate.
'No wonder the Captain had such a hard time with him.'
Natasha realized that the prison door was still left open. But Loki made no move to escape. He sat there, looking defeated and dejected.
His ragged whisper finally broke the silence. "Why did you stop me? This is the thanks I get for doing you all a favor?"
"Your death doesn't end the threat. That army from space will come here, whether you're dead or not."
Loki glared bitterly at the white floor.
She sighed. He might've taken that as a callous remark. "Practicalities aside, I want you alive not just for answers. I want you alive to just...stay alive."
That seemed to take him by surprise. Then he narrowed his eyes at her. "I don't believe that. You must want me alive for something. This is a trick. An ulterior motive you hide so cleverly behind your words."
"That's what you think. But what do you feel?"
He expected a denial, made to counter his accusation with an equal level of eloquence. But there was none. Her reply was frank and straightforward. He could not deny what he felt in his heart. Natasha could have chosen to simply let him die. She wasn't obligated in any way to stop the knife and save his life.
"...You are not lying," he finally murmured.
He furrowed his brow in confusion. "But why? What makes you say that?"
She hesitated, considering her answer carefully. She was no psychiatrist, therapist or professional counselor. She knew that he had issues, but who was she to sort them out when she had her own? If Nataha told him her reason, she would uncover a part of her life she had been trying to bury for so long. This was different. Loki was about to go over the edge, and she pulled him back. If she was ever going to convince him, the only way was for him to take a look through her eyes.
Natasha stared beyond the glass wall. "I say that because...I saw myself in you."
Agent Barton's mission was simple: find Russia's most dangerous spy and eliminate her. No one said it would be easy, though. He armed himself with the best, sharpest arrows made to bring down the nation's most dangerous criminals.
Clint was in for a surprise. He found her quite easily in the busy metropolis of New York City. From his perch on the rooftop he saw her lone figure, shrouded by pouring rain but easily detectable. She made no effort to hide or defend herself.
Furrowing his brow skeptically, Clint notched an arrow and drew his bow. He held it taut, waiting for the spy to make a move. She didn't. She just stood there. Clint kept his position, his arrow aimed right where it would pierce her heart at blank point. Nothing changed. Clint squinted through his shades. He realized that she was inviting him to shoot. She knew he had been there all along.
From where she stood, Natasha met his gaze with eyes that bore a worn, resigned look beyond her years.
'Fine. If you won't shoot, I will.'
Natasha pulled out a revolver and pressed the barrel under her chin. She closed her eyes, accepting her fate. Only Clint's call prevented her from pulling the trigger.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?"
"Doing you a favor," she replied in heavily accented English. "And you should be doing your job."
He crossed his arms. "This isn't like you. You don't seem like the kind of person to give up."
Natasha lowered the gun from her chin. But she didn't put it away. Rain continued to pour, making their uniforms sleek and tight against their bodies. Natasha's red hair hung limply over her eyes and clung to her pale skin. "You thought wrong," she said. "I've lived a long life. I've seen and done terrible things. I should have been dead a long time ago."
On impulse he suddenly said, "Why not join us?"
Natasha gave him a look of slight surprise. "You mean...join S.H.I.E.L.D.?"
He nodded, then found himself unsure of his words. "Defect from Russia and fight for the States instead. You've got valuable information...and extraordinary skills."
At the back of his head, Clint knew he was being foolish. She was right, he was supposed to kill her. But he knew in his heart that this was the right thing to do. He sensed much sadness in her. Though she didn't look much older than him, years of suffering, those of people she killed and her own, weighed heavily on her shoulders. Natasha had enough of it. That he understood. But that wasn't the right answer.
Natasha's whisper was almost lost amid the rain. "Could I really do that? Wipe the red from my ledger?"
Clint hesitated. Then he stepped forward and put a hand on her gun. "I don't know. But we could give you a new one."
That struck a chord in Natasha. She gazed at him with newfound admiration. Slowly and willingly, she surrendered the gun to Clint. But that wasn't all. She surrendered her allegiance to the KGB, her connection to the Red Room, her past life filled with deceit and falsehood.
She didn't have to end her life. She could start over again, because someone was kind enough to give her a second chance.
Natasha finished her story. Loki had been listening with rapt attention. Since Agent Barton was possessed, he gave the trickster snippets of valuable intel on the Avengers. But not all of it. Loki was hearing this from Natasha for the first time.
"Is it love, Agent Romanoff?"
She shook her head. "I owe him a debt. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. He and I have worked together for many years now. We're close friends, confidants...but nothing more than that. I understand where you would get that assumption."
She blew out a sigh. "Enough about me. I know how you feel, Loki. What I'm trying to say is that offing yourself...is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."
Loki almost let out a bitter laugh. "This? Temporary?"
"I'm not terribly religious, nor have I placed faith in any god. But a Russian Orthodox priest once said to me, 'Until the soul leaves the body, I firmly believe that no one is past the point of return.' I've come to believe that. It's not too late to change. You have a second chance."
"You really think so?"
Natasha eyed him with a steady gaze. "Look, I barely know you. I have no idea of the full extent of any family problems you may have. But I know this: there are people who care for you. Like Thor. He's worried sick about you, even when your bond with him isn't at its best right now. Killing yourself won't help anything. It's totally selfish and senseless."
"Then what should I do, Agent Romanoff?"
"Don't give up. There is a way out, trust me. You're smart; you'll figure out some way to turn the tables on this space army. You know it inside and out. Just tell S.H.I.E.L.D. and we'll be ready."
Hope flickered in his dull, tired eyes, making them come alive since his banishment from Asgard. "You're willing...to have me on your side?"
"What better way to do that than fight alongside us?" She flashed him a small, knowing smile. "That's how I earned my way into S.H.I.E.L.D. I had to prove it. You can do it too."
He was speechless for a moment, noticing how beautiful she looked when she smiled. He returned the smile meekly. Well...allow me to apologize for calling you a bitch earlier."
'That's a start,' Natasha thought with amusement. "Apology accepted. And I'm sorry for slapping you."
He shrugged. "It's all right. I needed it."
Natasha rose to her feet. "Now let's get you to the bridge and tell Fury everything you know."
As she led him out of the prison, many guards flanked them in case Loki suddenly decided to change his mind and attack. But he didn't.
He turned to look at her. "Agent Romanoff?"
"Thank you for saving my life."
She nodded her head. "You're welcome."
He came to greatly admire and respect the Russian spy. Perhaps he was wrong to underestimate mortals after all. She simply captivated him. He was taken by her strength, her beauty...or everything about her.
At the end of all this, he hoped to at least hold her hand, if not kiss her. She deserved it, and more. Loki could no longer hear the voices in his head, all thanks to Natasha.