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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6. Chapter Six

The bed was too short and uncomfortable. So that Loki’s feet stuck out of the bottom, and no matter what he did with the blankets he always ended up with nearly half of them exposed to the air. It took him a long time to succumb to the sleep his body was aching for. Even though he had spent so much time under Bridget’s sleeping enchantment, he still felt exhausted. But his dreams were filled with darkness, and not the impenetrable emptiness he had hoped for. He dreamt of torture and fire, his brother, Odin, and worst of all he dreamt of Frigga and the pain he had seen in her eyes when he last saw her.

He woke before the sun and found that he could no longer sleep if he tried. He stood from the small uncomfortable bed and walked to the other side of the loft and out over the railing. The sky passed the glass window panes began to lighten just beyond the silhouette of mountains and trees. The snow had stopped falling and left behind a thick blanket of white powder on the floor of the forest below.

The fire was still roaring in the hearth below, but he felt very little of the heat in the loft. Bridget was seated before it, crouched as she gazed into the flames, lost in her own thoughts. She only moved when she occasionally struck the burning logs with the end of an iron poker to give the flames more fuel to burn. She held a mug gently in her free hand. The steam was thick in the chilled air, but she made no move to drink it. She was already dressed for the day in the clothes she’d been wearing when she appeared to him in the woods.

“Is it customary for you to be awake at this hour?” he asked as he stepped down the narrow wooden staircase. She turned her head just slightly to acknowledge that she had heard him, but she took a moment longer to speak.

“It is customary for me to be awake at all hours,” she told him in a soft breath.

“I would have fared better myself if I had been given a more comfortable bed.” She smiled and lifted the mug to her lips.

“I think you would have found it uncomfortably warm.”

“Better uncomfortably warm than a bed that’s too short.”

“There are clothes for you on the sofa. They’re not much, but they will keep you warm until we get to town.” A small pile of clothing had been folded neatly and placed on the cushions of the couch for him. She had her back to him again; a vulnerable position. Either that or she was just far too trusting. He figured either option was ignorant.

“Breakfast is in the microwave. I suggest you eat quickly because I would like to leave as soon as possible. We have to get what we need and get out before anyone starts asking questions.”

“If SHIELD is looking for us, don’t you think we’ll be recognized?” She stood up and smiled.

“You have your tricks, and I have mine. Get dressed, eat, and meet me out front. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Loki took the clothes into the other room to change. He decided to forgo breakfast entirely. He couldn’t stomach another one of her frozen meals, and the thought of it alone made his stomach queasy.

She had brought clothing that was better tailored to his size. The jacket was large like hers was and seemed to put warmth before style. He dressed as quickly as he could and met her in the living room. She was shoveling old ashes into the flames to kill the fire.

“How are we going to travel unnoticed?” he asked as she stood to her feet and returned the shovel to its former place beside the mantle.

“We’ll travel by foot. Cars are too noisy and leave track marks. I hope you like the cold, son of Laufey.”

She turned toward the front door, and he followed behind. His dark eyebrows furrowed in question, but she stayed silent as she shut off the lights and opened the door. He followed her out into the cold morning. The air met them with a wave of ice, stinging his skin and nose. No birds sang in the trees to greet them. The forest seemed to hush as they headed down the snow-covered driveway and onto a lonesome road that wouldn’t even have looked like a road if it wasn’t for the absence of trees.

“How do you know my true lineage?” he asked after a long while of crunching through the crust of snow.

She carried a heavy wooden walking stick and a pack on her back. Her flame red hair was pinned out of her face, but the hood rested on her shoulders so that her curls were wild and vibrant against the white landscape. She fit in well with the forest, he decided. It was as if she belonged there.

“I know a lot of things,” was her response. Her stride did not slow, but he could hear her breathing and could see the puffs of white mist escape from her lips in short bursts.

“There are only a handful of those who know the truth of what I am. I would like to know which of them divulged that information to you.”

“That is for me to know. You will find out if I feel like telling you.”

“I don’t like it when information is kept from me. If you wish for me to help you, it would be in your best interest to refrain from withholding it. I make a great ally but an even greater enemy.” She stopped along the path and turned to face him. The tip of her nose had turned pink the cold. And though she seemed so perfectly at place in the woods, she seemed so out of place in the cold.

“Give me your hands,” she instructed as she leaned the walking stick against her shoulders and held out both of her hands, palms toward the sky. He hesitated; remembering the feel of his skin boiling beneath those hands.

“Why?” he questioned.

“I can’t tell you everything you wish to know. Not yet. My reason is for my own safety. I know who you are and what you’re capable of, Loki. You take as much knowledge as you need in order to protect yourself. You are brilliant and sly. But I keep as much information to myself as I can in order to protect ME. But if you want an answer to one of your many questions place your hands in mine and close your eyes.”

He reluctantly slid his hands into hers, and they were surprisingly warm. Not boiling. He welcomed the feel of her bare skin against his cold hands, but he refused to close his eyes. She smiled with genuine amusement.

“You’re as stubborn as your brother,” she said.

In a moment of shimmering green light, the redhead was no longer standing before him. It was just a woman with mousey brown hair and no discernable features. She looked more accustomed to the cold. She was small, with a hood over her head, but her eyes were still that dark black emptiness that he was beginning to know so well.

“You’re a shapeshifter,” he said.

“Asgard isn’t the only place blessed with magic, Prince,” she said.
She released his hands and returned to her walk along the path. He looked down at his own hands and found that they were different from the ones he had known. He reached up to touch his fingers to his face.

“I changed you too,” she said as she walked ahead of him. “Now hurry or we’ll freeze to death before we get there.”

“And just how is it that you’ve come to this knowledge?” he asked as he fought to keep up with her strides.

“I know a lot of things,” she said, using her go-to answer for most of his questions.

“Magic isn’t bound to Asgard, but it’s bound to time. It takes years, thousands of years, to learn how to change one’s form.”

“Unless you’ve had a good teacher,” she retorted. “Frigga is good. She’s good with magic. She always has been. She’s a good teacher, but she’s not great. There are others. Asgardians with much more extensive knowledge. Frigga had other obligations while she studied. If she had dedicated her life to the magical arts, she might have learned more. But she would not be Queen, and she would not be a mother. And the same goes for you. If you had spent more time learning and studying rather than following your brother’s foolish schemes or wondering why daddy didn’t love you, then you might have made a great enchanter.”

He reached out and grasped her firmly by the wrist, spinning her to face him. Her new face was taut. Her lips were set in a straight line and her eyes burned like black coals. He held her wrist up above her head. She did not fight him, but her skin began to warm beneath his touch.

“So there’s another,” he said slowly as she stared up at him. “You’re not alone. You have a teacher. An Asgardian. Someone powerful. That’s how you managed to divert the Bifrost. You don’t need me to help you acquire a cure for your—affliction. It’s Asgard you want.”

“I want—to live,” she said. “The throne of Asgard has very little value to me.”

“And what of your teacher?”

“My teacher wants to go home.”

“Yet you put your trust in me? You think I will help you? Either of you?”

“Who better than Asgard’s greatest enemy? You are powerful, Loki. You are as sharp as a blade and as cunning as a fox. You have been weakened, but it is only temporary. You said so yourself, though in different words. You make a great enemy, but an even greater ally.”

“I have no allies, and what makes you think that I will offer you what you want when the throne is mine?”

“I expect nothing from you once you have what you want. That’s why I’m getting your help now while I’m more powerful than you. Once I get what I want—I’ll help you get what you want.”

“And why should I trust you?”

“Because you have no other choice. If SHIELD gets their hands on you, you will die. Despite their promises to your brother. You will be taken prisoner, and you will suffer. I have a way to get you back to Asgard, and you need me for that.”

“What if I refuse?”

“Go ahead. I’m taking you to town. I’ll lift my illusion. Go turn yourself in. Or perhaps go into hiding. Let’s see how long you last in this world. But if you lose me now you lose me forever. And you will lose any chance you had of getting back to Asgard with your magic and your dignity.”

“And when you are no longer more powerful than me—what then? Will you show your back to me as you have already? Will you leave yourself open and vulnerable when I can kill you with the flick of my wrist?” She smiled at him.

“You won’t,” she said. Then she slid her hand away from his and continued on her path.

“So much trust in someone so untrustworthy,” he said as he followed along. She just laughed in response.

“You remind me of my husband,” she told him. “And when he put his hands on me the way that you did just now—I had him killed.”

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