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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7. Chapter Seven

The walk from the lodge to town seemed to take up the majority of the morning. Loki began to wish that he had eaten before leaving. Even a short meal of reheated frozen product was better than hiking through the woods on an empty human stomach. Bridget seemed to have no problem with hunger or thirst as they walked, but she complained about the cold often enough to irritate him.

The town appeared in the afternoon. It was a line of buildings behind the trees, where smoke rose from chimneys and cars drove up and down the lane. It was small enough so that Loki doubted SHIELD would be looking for him there, but it was also unwelcoming and disappointingly devoid of human luxury.

“Your name is Anthony,” Bridget said as they began the trek down from their path to the road below. “You’re a city boy, and the locals don’t care for you. You’re only ever seen in town when wooing women. The residents usually ignore you. We go in, get our supplies, and then we leave.”

“And who are you?” he asked her.

“One of your conquests.”

“Of course.” She shot him a jeer before hurrying down the trail that led to town.

As they walked side by side Loki considered abandoning her. He knew that if he did not stay close to her, the illusion would fade, and SHIELD would find him quickly. It was possible her magic was keeping him hidden from other eyes as well. If he had his magic, he would have left her long ago, but at that moment, he was still cold, hungry, and powerless. So he did as she instructed and kept his mouth shut as she led him into a local general store.

They had eyes on them from the moment they stepped inside. A bell jingled above the door, and Bridget ignored the looks from the man behind the counter, and the blonde woman browsing the shelves. She took a basket and began filling it with odds and ends. Loki only watched, keeping his eyes on the strangers. The man behind the counter paid him no attention at all, but the blonde woman kept her eyes on him until he disappeared down an aisle.

“If you brought me here to appeal to my humanity,” he started. She shushed him.

“There’s nothing appealing about humanity. Not anymore,” she whispered. “And if there is at all—you won’t find it here.”

“Where would I find it?” She turned her eyes on him.

“Children. They’re all that’s left that’s worth fighting for,” she said. “Like the ones you massacred in New York.” Then she continued down the aisle, collecting things in her basket without paying much attention to what they were.

“You think I don’t like children?” he asked as he walked along behind her.

“I wouldn’t know.”

“I have children. Did you know that?”

“Are they children, or monsters?”

He reached out and ripped the basket from her hands. It crashed to the floor, sending cans and packaged goods rolling down the linoleum floor. He yanked her against him, jolting her back against his chest to hold her firmly in place. He could smell the scent of those burning evergreens in her false brown hair.

“Children,” he said sternly. “My children. It would be wise of you to be cautious of your words.”

“Forgive me, your majesty,” she said as she bent down and reached for the basket and fallen items. “Sometimes I forget how protective parents are of their offspring. It’s been so long since I was a mother.” She returned to her feet and then began to locate the fallen items. The blonde woman stood at the end of the aisle, watching.

“You have children?” he asked. They turned the next aisle, and Bridget removed a can of vegetables from a shelf, reading it over quietly.

“I had a son once. A long time ago,” she finally told him.

“What happened to him?”

“He was murdered.”

She set the can back on the shelf and continued. He decided not to question her further. Not because he wasn’t curious, not because the subject would cause her pain, only because the blonde woman had appeared at the end of the aisle again. She was busying ringing up her groceries, but he could tell by the stance of her shoulders that she was listening.

The man at the counter watched them cautiously as they approached. He finished with the woman and she began to leave. She stopped herself at the door, turned around as if to say something, but then quickly shut her mouth and scurried out of the store. Loki watched her go, wondering if it were the face he was wearing or something else.

“Been a long time since you’ve been out to the lodge,” the man behind the counter said. Bridget nudged Loki in the ribs with her elbow to draw his attention from the strange woman. He grimaced at the old man.

“Yes,” he replied quietly. Bridget shot him a glare as she emptied the small basket onto the counter for the man to ring up.

“I heard you were seeing your PR.”

“That’s me,” Bridget interjected. “Bridget O’Dubshelaine pleased to meet you.”

She reached out to shake the man’s hand, and he studied her curiously. But he asked no more questions, and she hurried to pack the contents of the basket into her pack. She paid it with a card that bore that unfamiliar name.

“Have a nice night,” the man said slowly as they headed toward the door. She shoved Loki out onto the street and nodded a polite goodbye.

“I was going to get you clothes,” she spoke as the door shut and she slung the pack onto her back. “But you went and made a fool of yourself.”

“You’re the one gave me a recognizable face. Whose face did you give me?” he retorted.

“How was I supposed to know who he sees now? He’s infamous for bringing women here.”

“And how would you know that?”

“You think I didn’t thoroughly investigate this person before I stole his home?”

“Obviously not thorough enough.”

“Just bite your tongue. We’re being followed,” she snapped.

“By whom?” he asked. She reached out to take his hand, playing with the idea that they were just a visiting couple. He searched around, wondering if it was the blonde woman again, but he couldn't see her.

“Strangers. I’ve been watching this town long enough to know every face. There are two tails on us.”

“You think it’s SHIELD?”

“It’s difficult to say. The entire world is on high alert. You don’t have your face, but you’re a familiar man in a strange town who talks of murdered children and monsters while manhandling his supposed girlfriend. We should have stayed silent.”

“You should not have burned so hotly.”

“One thing you should know about me, Prince. I have a temper. And you seem to have an unnatural gift for waking it.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“We’ll find you better clothes another time. Let’s just lose them in the woods before they start asking questions.”

Loki followed along with her plan to make them believe they were a couple. But he couldn't get his mind off of the woman who stared into his eyes as if she saw Loki instead of whatever face Bridget had given him.

"The woman," he finally spoke. "She recognized me." Bridget shrugged and smiled.

"Perhaps you broke her heart. Or at least, the man whose face you've stolen."

"No," he uttered with a shake of his head. "I think she recognized ME."

Bridget kept her eyes forward and her stride long. "Don't be ridiculous," she said, but he didn't think she believed he was wrong.

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