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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3. Chapter Three

The room was small and its size disturbed Loki more than he would like to admit. It was smaller than his cell in the dungeons of Asgard and held none of the same amenities. There was nothing inside of the small space but the black iron stove in the corner, the door, and a single small window just under the ceiling that was covered by a moth-eaten curtain.

The moment the woman shut the door he stood to his feet. He was colder than he ever remembered being. Even when he had visited the Frost Giants with his idiot brother, he had never been this cold. Whatever Odin had done to him had removed the ice from his veins. The heat of the fire was welcoming.

The cement floor was cold beneath his bare feet. He walked to the window and ripped back the old brown curtain, but the window was blocked from the outside. No light shone from behind the glass. It was as solid as a wall and impossible to open in his current weakened state. He muttered an oath under his breath and angrily marched to the door. He wrapped his hand around the cold handle and was surprised to find it unlocked.

He ripped it open so forcefully that the hinges creaked in protest. The next room was even smaller than the one he’d just left. There was nothing inside but a narrow staircase and a light bulb that swung as it hung from the ceiling. But it was dark. The only light came from the fire in the room behind him and the golden outline of the door at the top of the stairs. So he followed the golden light and, again, found the door unlocked.

The cellar door opened into a kitchen. The floor was made of pristine ceramic tiles that seemed to be warmed by the fire below. The countertops gleamed from unused cleanliness. The steel appliances appeared to have never been touched. The woman stood behind an island counter. Her gaze was on her hands where she held a single open file. She flipped the pages as if she had not noticed him, but he had made so much noise stomping and ripping doors open that it was impossible for her to have missed him.

“Where am I?” he asked harshly as he stepped across the warmed tiles to the carpeted floor in the open living space.

Full sofas surrounded a cobblestone hearth where a fire was roaring with an intensity much stronger than the one in the basement cell. Stuffed bookshelves were stacked high to the ceiling above. The head of a wild antlered beast hung proudly above the mantle. The wall beyond the room was made entirely of glass and looked out over the thick conifer trees and dark, frozen land. Snow fell from the black sky, illuminated only by the light of the house. He wondered how long he had been there since a thick layer of the stuff had already blanketed the ground.

“Tell me,” he snapped when she did not answer. “Where have you brought me?” He stepped toward the windows and looked out over the view, where nothing but the silent snowfall and silhouettes of black trees could be seen.

“Alaska,” she said with one flat word as she turned another page from her file. He spun around with alarm and question and witnessed her roll her eyes in irritation. “You’re in the United States. Well—according to the law. You can’t get much farther north in this country. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“And what did you bring me here for?” he asked as he approached the counter.

“To keep you safe.”

“From?” She looked up and met his green eyes.

“SHIELD. My guess is that they’re in a panic to find you. Let’s just say you didn’t land where you were supposed to. Your brother has probably already been made aware of your mishap. It’s only a matter of time before they find out where we are. Try not to get comfortable.”

“But why? Why do you have use of me?” She took her time as she reassembled the papers in her file and closed the folder. Then she slapped it down on the counter between them. Her dark eyes stared emotionless into his.

“I’m not a monster,” she said. He reached for the folder and opened it to the very first page. “It’s called Extremis. It was funded by a subdivision of Stark Industries before Stark went clean. It’s a super soldier serum, much like what was given to your Captain friend. Only it had unforeseen side effects. Those who’ve been injected are ticking bombs. There’s no telling when they go off or where. They get too hot, and the results mimic a small scale nuclear weapons strike. I do not intend to be nothing more than a shadow on a wall.”

Loki scanned the document as she spoke but found the words reflected most of what she said. The serum gave her particular strengths, but none that could explain all of her gifts. Nothing that suggested a user could push with nothing but their mind. Nothing that said she could force victims into a comatose state with the touch of her fingers and nothing he knew of in any realm gifted her with the ability to divert the Bifrost. He kept that to himself as he closed the file and looked up at her again. Then he smiled. He had discovered a weakness.

“You’re dying,” he said. She nodded.

“Yes,” she admitted.

“And how do you suppose I can help you?”

“What do humans do when they know they’re going to die? They turn to God. I just happen to have one standing in front of me.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you. Or is it you’ve forgotten? I’m as human as you are now.” She returned the cold and cruel smile.

“There is a saying in this realm that if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You don’t need to know how you can help me, but when you do, I’ll help you regain everything that was taken from you. I’ll help return you to Asgard for your throne. Do we have a deal?” She stuck out her hand and Loki sneered in response. “It’s either you help me or you go out there and try to survive in the wilderness with nothing but old tattered clothes. So what do you say? Do we have a deal or not?”

“You have the ability to return me to Asgard and return my power?”

“What I have or don’t have is none of your concern at this time. Help me first and I’ll show you just what I can do.”

Loki took a moment to think it over as he regarded this mysterious woman with her secrets and strange familiarity with him. He did not like being forced into a situation he had no control over or knowledge of. He did not like being deceived. But he knew the best way to gain the upper hand was to first gain her trust. She was going to die, whether by his hand or not, and he very much wanted to see that happen.

So he grinned and slid his cold hand into her warm one.

“We have a deal,” he said. Then he gripped her hand and slammed it down onto the tile countertop. She didn’t flinch, but let out a rush of air from her nose. Her nostrils flared; her eyebrows creased. He relished in the satisfaction from her reaction. “But if you betray me,” he spoke as he inched closer to her face and stared into her midnight eyes. “I will rip your beating heart from your chest, and while it still beats in my hand, I will force you to swallow it whole. You cannot cheat me because I am a God and you are an insect. And one way or another, I will always win.” She gave a genuine smile at his threat. Her eyes softened and her lips twisted.

“Who would have thought you were such a charmer, your majesty,” she said.

“Oh, you have no idea,” he replied as he released her hand and stood back. “So what am I to call my newest ally?”

“Bridget, and it would be in your best interest to remember it.”

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