Published: August 8, 2012
Natasha didn't even have time to process what was happening before they were interrupted by flashing lights and blaring alarms which had begun to sound all over the hallways. The placid mechanical voice of Jarvis, the robotic security sentinel, echoed around them, alerting everyone within earshot to an intruder on the floor. All was confusion and chaos.
"Damn," Loki hissed, pulling away from her.
"What's going on? I thought you were hidden from the security systems," Natasha whispered urgently, hoping her words wouldn't be picked up by a listening Tony Stark, or any other SHIELD operative, for that matter.
"My apologies. It appears I let my guard down while I was
" he allowed his eyes to roam over her for a moment. "
Inwardly, Natasha cursed herself. This was a foolish, dangerous situation she had allowed herself to get into. Aside from the obvious idiocy of getting entangled with the most heinous war criminal the Earth had perhaps ever known, she had entrusted her safety and secrecy to someone elsesomeone who had a track record of being untrustworthy. And though this particular lapse in judgment was clearly unintentional on his part, she still couldn't help but resent his loss of control on the situation, as well as her own.
"Then I'd say it's time for one of your signature escape plans."
He grinned at her, an unsettling smile that reminded her at once who she was dealing with.
"As you wish."
Suddenly she was drowning, or something very much like it, as she lost all sensation in her body to coldness that surrounded and engulfed her. The world around her seemed to have gone dim and breathing became difficult. Reverting immediately to her instinctual responses, she pulled her gun on Loki. Everything felt as if it was occurring in slow motion, her responses slowed, her senses dulled, but she fought to hold back the darkness. Gritting her teeth and trying to clear her mind, she summoned up a single word.
"Stop fighting it," Loki scowled. "You asked for this. I'm trying to help you, as mad as that may be, but I can't keep you shrouded if you continue to try and ward off my efforts."
"Just let my magic do its work. Otherwise I'm leaving and you can explain everything to your friends. I imagine they'll be interested in the secrets you've been keeping."
Reluctantly, Natasha holstered her gun and tried to relax, allowing herself to succumb to the icy dark of Loki's enchantments. Instantly, she found that breathing became easier and the numbing coldness abated at once.
"There," he sighed in relief. "Thank you for your cooperation. It is far easier to sustain this way."
"How secure is this? Are we hidden from cameras? Eyesight? Can we be heard?"
"This is only a bit of mischief, to get us out of immediate danger. We won't be detected easily, except perhaps by your keen-eyed friend, but I'd rather not test his prowess. I was assuming you had some sort of quarters here? Somewhere less
Natasha almost laughed out loud, something she didn't frequently subscribe to, until she noticed how serious Loki was. He wouldn't understand the cliché in his statement; he was quite literally just trying to get away from the prying eyes of security cameras for tactical reasons. Clearing her throat to rid herself of suppressed laughter, she nodded and showed him a backlit display on her wrist cuff, hallways and rooms displayed in fine and intricate lines which glowed to life at the tap of a button. She indicated her room to him on the screen, hoping it would be enough to get them out of dodge. He was not as intimately familiar with the layout of the hallways as she was, but the intelligent spark in his clever eyes left her with no doubts that he would find it as easily as she could herself.
He held out a hand to her, and in the darkness of the shroud it was warm, surprisingly warm. Gripping her hand in his firmly, he pulled her into the shadows in the corner of the room. She could hear footsteps approaching and her heart hammered in her chest as she hoped wildly that Loki was not distracted again. She was used to running and hidingboth were skill sets necessary to her careerbut never in her own territory, from her own men.
Next to her, the Asgardian reached out his free hand and gestured toward the black widow spider with long, deft fingers, causing the insect to glow and shimmer slightly as she moved. He then dropped his arm to his side and turned to step into the shadows, guiding Natasha along with him, stepping out into empty space where Natasha was positive solid walls had stood only moments ago. The last thing Natasha heard was the muffled sound of Tony Stark's voice as he hastened into the room they had just left.
"The spider? The spider set off my alarms? Back to the lab, Banner. I've gotta make some calls to the local pest control office. Apparently I have some technology that would be of great interest to them
When they emerged from the shadows once again, it was in the relative safety of Natasha's small apartment. She shivered visibly as the shroud dissipated rom her body, leaving her with a feeling akin to the sting of bitter winds after emerging from icy waters.
"My apologies," Loki offered, noticing the reaction. "My conjurings seem to have a somewhat more pronounced effect on mortal physique."
"Yeah, well. We're away from prying eyes now?"
"Yes. I believe Mr. Stark shall find himself a bit preoccupied at present trying to recover the past three hours of lost security footage." A mischievous grin tugged at the corners of Loki's mouth. "We have time before anyone figures it out."
"Good," Natasha nodded. In a blur of sudden motion, her foot connected with his chest, landing him sprawled on his back across an armchair. He raised his head to find himself facing down the barrel of Natasha's gun. "Then we have time to answer a few questions."
Loki sighed dramatically, allowing his head to fall back once more.
"Is there any scenario with you that doesn't end in this outcome? I mean, really. Was there anything I could have possibly done that would result in anything less than your gun being leveled at my head? I'm noticing a pattern of extreme reactions."
"You kissed me."
"You kissed me as well," he replied, mocking her disgust of the word.
"I've done worse in the line of duty." Noticing his smirk, she added, "I've also done much better." She couldn't help but feel satisfaction at the annoyance which flashed across his face.
"I could have left you," he hissed. "Left you to explain yourself out of very incriminating circumstances."
"Circumstances which you created!"
"Does that surprise anyone? Regardless, I can think of a few individuals who would be very interested to know what you were doing in the dark with public enemy number one."
"I'd tell them the truth," she replied coolly and unaffectedly. "That I was being assaulted."
"Oh? Is that the truth, Miss Romanov?" He rose from the chair, and Natasha was struck again by just how tall he was, how impressively intimidating. Evil or not, there was no question when he stood that here was a princea king. "Is that the whole truth? Let's not kid ourselves into believing there are heroes and villains here. Yes, we kissed. And if no alarms had interrupted, if we had remained there, undiscovered
then what would we have done next?"
He was very close to her again now, his voice a soft, dangerous purr. Natasha realized too late that her gun was in his hands and she was completely defenseless. Her eyes widened and his narrowed in a mocking grin. Natasha's mind raced with a million different scenarios and possibilities, but they were interrupted at once by a knock on the door.
"Natasha? Tasha, are you in there?"
"Clint," she hissed under her breath, making the name sound like a curse.
"He's not very fond of me," Loki muttered with an edge of nervousness to his voice. "Perhaps I should--"
"Neither am I," Natasha growled. "But you're not going anywhere. Make yourself hidden and as soon as I get rid of him, we are going to finish this conversation. No more interruptions."
"Your wish is my command." His voice dripped with sarcasm as he fell into a mock bow.
Natasha rolled her eyes as she turned to answer the door.
"Clint," she addressed her visitor. "What are you doing here?"
"I had to come check on you. To make sure you were okay."
"I'm not your responsibility anymore, Clint. Not on or off of the case. We had this discussion."
"I know that!"
Taken aback by the ferocity of his own response, he sighed, running a hand through his short and bristling hair. When he spoke again, it was softer, gentler. His eyes shone with genuine concern, and Natasha cursed him silently for being so hard to hate.
I was worried. I am worried. About you, Natasha."
"I told you, Clint, I'm not protecting you from anything except myself. I can't be what you want from me, and"
"No, not that." he waved her off. "This isn't about my hurt feelings. It has nothing to do with me."
"Then what does it have to do with?" She allowed a note of exasperation to enter her voice. She could feel a steady gaze on her back, uncomfortably aware that Loki was observing the entire affair with much interest from whatever hiding spot he had designed.
Clint's face turned grave.
"I'm positive Loki left those spiderwebs. And I would bet my skill as an archer that he's the one who set off that alarm. I think he's trying to get to you, and I have no idea why. But it doesn't sit well with me."
"You're overreacting, Clint. Parlor tricks are one thing, but Stark would know if someone really managed to get in here and cause any sort of damage." She could imagine all too clearly the self-satifsfied smirk on Loki's face at that comment.
"Look," he said, taking her hands in his as he gazed intensely into her eyes. "We are dealing with forces and abilities we don't fully understand. You have less faith in Stark than any of us, and you know darn well that something got past him. I know in my gut who it was and what he's after, and it terrifies me. Just let us protect you."
"I can take care of myself." She wasn't entirely sure it was the truth, but it was the only thing she could say to keep herself from telling him everything. And the last thing she needed right now was to bring him into this.
Clint didn't look any more convinced than she was, but he knew better than to try and start a fight with Natasha Romanov. People who did that sort of thing usually woke up with no memory of it, or with very painful ones.
"Fine," he conceded. "I just hope you're not letting your
opinions of me cloud your judgment. This is about your safety, not your pride."
"You've seen me handle worse than this," she offered a hint of a smile.
"Yes, but never alone. Not like this." His eyes filled with pain and his voice dropped to a husky whisper as he continued. "I know what he can do, Tasha. We're dealing with gods.
And you're only human."
With that he turned and left, glancing back over his shoulder only once as he broke into a nimble stride down the hallway. Natasha closed the door as soon as he was out of sight, turning back around to find herself suddenly face-to-face with Loki once more.
"Did you mean it?" He asked her at once.
"Mean what? I'm not in the mood for mind games."
"That you can take care of yourself. Do you see me as just a challenge to be eliminated?"
"What am I supposed to see you as?"
"That's not a yes."
"It isn't a no." She brushed past him, going to retrieve her gun where Loki had left it in the corner of her room just so she wouldn't have to look into those mesmerizing eyes of his.
"I must know, Natasha."
"You can call me Agent Romanov," she returned icily.
"Then you can call me Loki Odinson, Prince of Asgard."
She gave him an exasperated sigh.
"Natasha will be fine."
He snickered delightedly at this. It was all a game to him. Everything was, she realized.
"Then, Natasha," he pressed, grinning widely. "I must know."
"Know what, Loki? I don't have time for this."
"What you think of me. And be thorough, I have all the time in the world."
She was utterly at a loss to respond. A million possibilities entered her mindwhether to abruptly denounce him as a monster and a murderer, and to have the end of it right there, or to sweet-talk him and discern his purpose, or to tell him from start to finish all the crimes he had done to her and those she cared about and watch him squirm. To her credit, she decided at last to simply be honest.
"What do I think of you? I want to hate you. I want to despise you with every fiber of my being. I want to tell you how many ways you've hurt me and wish them all back on you again. I want to hold against you all of the lives you've ended and the injuries you've caused, and I want to think you a monster."
"Is that all?" The subtle irony in his voice was not lost on her.
"No," she admitted. "I want to tell myself to turn you in right now and send you back to wherever you came from and let them sort you out. I want to turn away from you right now and tell myself I never want to see you again."
"But I can't do any of those things."
"Why not?" His voice burned with curiosity. "I have done everything you accuse me of, and a million others you could never conceive of. I am a traitor to every side I've ever joined. II am a killer and a monster, just as you said. Why can you not hate me for these things?"
She brought herself to look into his eyes again, and this time they were as Natasha had never seen them. She had seen malice in those eyes, or insanity, or brilliance, even contemplation and cunning. But never had she ever seen Loki of Asgard confused.
"Because if I hate you for those things
then I would have to hate myself."
Loki tilted his head to one side, regarding her keenly for a moment before he responded.
"If you cannot hate me, then what is your alternative?" he asked.
"I'm still trying to find that out," she replied, beginning to wonder whether honesty had really been the best policy.
"Well then," he murmured softly, tracing his fingers lightly along her arm. "Perhaps I can help."
This time the kiss was slow and deliberate. This time Natasha returned it, slipping her arms behind him and leaning into his powerful embrace.
She didn't think about strategy, or detection, or answers, or mind games. She didn't think about manipulation or struggle or of past crimes and offenses.
And for once, she didn't think for a second about drawing her gun.