Of Fire and Ice

I’m taking it slow
Feeding my flame
Shuffling the cards of your game
And just in time
In the right place
Suddenly I will play my ace

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9. Chapter Nine

The sound of helicopter blades faded in and out through most of the afternoon. Instead of returning to the lodge with its many comforts, Bridget led Loki south and revoked the cane. So that he was forced to fight the slippery forest floor on his own. They seemed to be walking downward at a permanent incline. He could not be sure how far they had traveled and how much farther they had to go before reaching her cabin. He was confident that they would find them before then.

Bridget was quiet for a long time. She had taken his only knife and the stick from him so that he had no weapons, but he hated to admit that she had been right. He wanted to know what she wanted him for. He still couldn’t trust her, but her death would only bring him more pleasure if she betrayed him first.

Finally, a clearing appeared ahead of them. The sky had gone quiet for the time being, but the helicopters had been getting closer and closer over the past hour. Bridget seemed to pay them no mind. She continued forward, caring little for the possible spies, and even less for his lack of strength.

They reached the clearing a few minutes later, and the feeling of impending trouble hit him right in the gut. The sky above the meadow was open and visible. The forest was too silent, and the moment his feet reached the snow dusted grass, they found their ways barred.

A group of men and women in black were standing in the clearing with the guns raised. He didn’t know how he had missed them. He saw the clearing ahead and it appeared empty, though vulnerable. And the next moment they were there.

“You’re surrounded,” one of the men said, pointing his gun in their direction. Both of them had stopped the moment the intruders appeared, but they had made no moves. “Drop your weapons and put your hands where I can see them.” He heard the sound of Bridget’s low, threatening laugh, as it raised the hair on the back of his neck. She laughed as if she had known all along that they were there, and that she had intended for them to find her from the start. “Drop the weapon,” the man repeated. She moved the stick around in her hands.

“How did they find us?” Loki asked her.

“I let them find us,” she replied, confirming his suspicions. But then she swung the wooden stick around and struck the man on the side of the face. The soldiers jumped into action. He heard the sound of gunfire and another agent went down at the end of her stick. “Prince!” he heard her shout, and the silver knife darted across the snow in his direction. Once he was armed, it made dodging the agents a little easier.

But Loki decided it might be more fun to watch than join in. So he used the knife to keep them away, but once the number of agents dwindled he leaned back against a tree and watched her. She was a far more skilled fighter than he gave her credit for. She was nimble like a cat and as graceful as a dancer. And she seemed to have a good grasp of her magic. He wasn’t sure how, but it impressed him nonetheless.

Finally, she dropped to her knees in the snow as the last agent pressed his gun to her forehead. Loki stood straight and began to walk toward them in the clearing.

“Don’t move or I’ll shoot her,” the agent warned as he approached. But Bridget lifted her fingers in his direction. A shimmer of green light overtook his body as her enchantment lifted. The man’s eyes darted between the two of them, but he was obviously more startled by the sight of Loki in the woods.

“Go ahead,” Loki purred. “She is of no use to me.” Even from the distance, he could see the fire begin to glow under her skin. The snow around her began to melt rapidly. The agent was nervous, and his fingers shook from fear and cold. “But I should warn you—if you pull that trigger, you’ll burn with us.”

The man’s eyes darted to the woman again and Loki took that as his chance to leap forward. The gun jolted in his direction and the sound of gunfire snapped loudly through the trees. Bridget thrust her arms forward into the man’s chest, sending him back onto the earth, where she slammed her palm against his head and sent him into a comatose state.

“Are you hit?” she asked as she breathed heavily. The pain on Loki’s arm was growing and he could feel blood spread beneath his jacket. He pressed his hand against the wound and hissed through his teeth.

“Grazed,” he told her. She struggled to her feet and failed, falling back down into the snow. He stepped over to her, holding his hand against the bleeding wound. “Why did you let them see us?” he asked. She was still breathing heavily.

“Because I knew they would eventually,” she explained.

“And you didn’t lift your enchantment on me. They didn’t see my face. They were more interested in you than me.”

“SHIELD has been searching for me for a long, long time.”

He reached down, placed her arm in his, and pulled her back up to her feet. She leaned against him and overheated him nearly the moment they touched.

“You should calm your nerves,” he told her, pulling her across the clearing. “Before you set the entire forest ablaze.”

“I need a moment to recover,” she told him, and then she dropped to the snow again.

He held his wounded arm and looked down in disgust. Serum or not, she wasn’t as strong as he thought. He had been shot, yet she was the one sitting in the snow, weak and pathetic.

“You don’t have a moment to recover. I’ve been injured and we need to leave this place before more of them come.”

“Give me your hand,” she told him. The sound of helicopter blades began to beat on the air again. Closer this time.

“No,” he replied.

“Your hand, Loki,” she demanded. She looked up at him again and her eyes burned into him. Her irises were solid black and filled with venom. “No.” He leaned down to her so that their faces were inches apart and his blood dripped into the melting snow at her hands.

“I do not take orders from humans.”

She let out that half-crazed laugh again. Her hand shot out from beneath the melting snow, and she struck him on the arm. Her long fingers gripped the wound so hard he had no time to fight off her attack. In an instant, his vision was flooded with green light and the air was sucked out of his lungs. He could feel pressure on his entire body that seemed to squeeze him to his very bones. His eyes forcibly shut and he let out an involuntary shout of surprise.

But then the sensation lifted and he stumbled backward, landing on the ground and struggling to catch his breath. He could hear her laughing from where she sat just out of his reach, but he opened his eyes as she rose above him. She stepped toward him, no longer glowing and weakened. She had tricked him. He watched as a shimmering green light took over her body and then a new woman stood before him. The Black Widow stared down at him, but her eyes were still as dark as midnight.

The sky behind her was blue, the sun was warm, birds were singing in the distance. The sound of cars and humanity were loud in the air and the helicopters were gone. It was still cold but the air did not sting as it had before. There was no snow on the grass. The trees were bare and empty of leaves. There were no evergreens that he could see.

“What have you done to me?” he asked as he slowly returned to his feet, still clutching at his bleeding arm.

“You have your tricks, I have mine,” she repeated. “As I said, you should have spent more time on your studies. Then maybe you wouldn’t have to ask about my tricks.”

He laughed as he regained his balance and leaned forward. It was his body, he noticed. She had only changed her own appearance.

“You’re going to have to teach me that trick,” he told her. She returned the smile.

“You scratch my back, I scratch yours.” He stood up straight and looked around at the new location. Just beyond the coppice of leafy trees was a metropolis. Two buildings stood just beyond a moat of water.

“Where are we?” he asked her.

“Washington DC. Home of SHIELD headquarters,” she informed him. He turned around to face her, anger flashed in his green eyes.

“Why?” he snapped.

“You’re about to scratch my back.” She struck her hand out again, but this time, he felt unconsciousness take hold of him and he hit the grass with a thud.

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