Loki was not, and never had been, a good man. For that matter, whether or not he’d ever been a good boy was debatable. His mother would argue that he had, but she would very likely be the only one. Well, except for Thor, perhaps, but that was because he was an idiot who could drown in three inches of nostalgia. Like he didn’t remember every time Loki had humiliated him. Maybe he didn’t, for all that he kept falling for the same trick over and over again.
It made Loki’s late nights studying the arts of illusion, misdirection, and lying seem redundant. Almost. Not everyone was as dense as his big brother.
No. Loki had never been a good man. He had, however, been a free man.
Free to run or hide. Free to explore the nooks and crannies of Asgard, to uncover her secrets in ways few cared to do. Free to walk hidden paths between the Nine Realms and even farther flung territories, where his people did not and had never ruled, to play games, make deals, have adventures, take risks. To be. To exist as his own creature.
He had been free. He had.
But on one of those little secret excursions, he had discovered something that had made even his flippant, slippery heart clench with fear. A ravening plague, spreading across the stars. The death of half of everything on the horizon.
Loki was not a good man. What cause did he have to care for all the sundry others in the universe? There were too many. It was too much to ask.
But Asgard—His home, even though the had long ago realized the blood in his veins originated on very different soil. That was different.
Asgard, he could help. Asgard could survive.
But it had to be strong. It had to have strong allies. None of this barely-held peace, this enemy eternally at their gates. It needed strong leadership. Not his brother’s simplistic view and longing for the glory of war.
Loki was not a good man. But he was one who could get things done.
Before he knew it, he had burned all his bridges behind him. In one case, a literal bridge that was literally broken.
And he fell.
And he fell.
And he fell right into the hands of the one he had feared enough to do this. Broken enough for poison to drip into the cracks. No one knew where he was, no one could know where he was, except, perhaps, Heimdal, and Loki sincerely doubted Heimdal cared. No one was coming for him. No one was looking for him. No rescue was forthcoming.
He was alone.
Asgardians were considered gods for a reason. Their bodies and minds were much more resilient than the average mortal’s. But Thanos’s people had been titans, and there was a reason for that, too.
Thanos enjoyed breaking him.
And Loki turned his lies on himself. A skilled master of games always had one gifted opponent, even alone. Hadn’t he wanted to rule? To command? To see a world, any world, prostrate at his feet? To be given the recognition and praise of which he was so worth?
To pull something, anything, out of the fire?
(If he had spent less time learning how to spin lies and more on how to see the truth, he might not have believed it. A better, wiser, man would have. But Loki was not a good man. And he was very skilled in his craft.)
So, his new master put a weapon in his hands, and he went off to conquer a world.
Danny was used to rude awakenings. He was used to those rude awakenings being full body chills and ghosts, not someone knocking on his door.
Blearily, he pulled himself out from under the blankets. Quasi-military government facility or not, the beds were comfortable. Maybe Mom or Dad had gotten themselves locked out of their room? Or Jazz—No, not Jazz, she hadn’t come with them. She was at college, not being flown places by Mom and Dad’s suspiciously generous new consulting job.
At least it wasn’t the GIW.
He stood on tiptoe (curse his perpetually short body) to peer out the peephole. His parents’ buff, one-eyed, and incredibly imposing new boss stood in front of the door, hands on his hips, slightly sweeping back his long dark coat. If Danny listened carefully, he could hear two other people near the door, and… was that an alarm? Yes. Faint, but present, was a warning klaxon.
Okay. Danny would bet his right arm that something had gone horribly wrong with whatever his parents were consulting on. Didn’t explain why the boss was in front of his door.
Unless they’d gotten the rooms mixed up, somehow?
Ugh. Danny wasn’t paid enough to deal with this.
He opened the door. “What-?”
“Phantom,” intoned eyepatch guy with great solemnity.
Danny immediately tried to close the door. The guy stuck his foot in the jamb, and, sure, Danny could have crushed it, but that would be a jerk move. He didn’t think this guy was going for a pirate look, after all.
“We need your help.”
“I’m not sure what you think I can help you with,” yelled Danny over the beating of the helicopter blades. He’d remained stubbornly in human form. “My parents are the scientists. This sounds like a science thing. Not a punching-people thing.”
“We spoke to them earlier,” said Fury, “and we have plenty of scientists working on the theories they brought up. You’re the one with practical experience.”
“Practical experience in what?”
“Interdimensional portals,” said the woman, who had yet to introduce herself.
As if this whole thing wasn’t already giving him a bad feeling. “My parents built an interdimensional portal. Again, you should be talking to them. They’re the ones you’re paying.”
“We could pay you, too,” said Fury, “but we assumed you would want to avoid letting your parents know about this, as you’re still a minor and they have control of your bank accounts.”
Danny stared flatly. “This is blackmail.”
“We aren’t threatening you,” pointed out the woman.
“Emotional blackmail,” said Danny, glaring, daring her to challenge him on whether or not he actually knew what blackmail was.
In the meantime, the helicopter landed. Danny unbuckled and hopped out, trailing slightly awkwardly behind Fury and the woman. He didn’t want to stand out, but he suspected that, being the only kid here and being in the general vicinity of Fury, who radiated authority, that was a lost cause.
“This is Agent Coulson. Coulson, this is Phantom.”
Danny’s mouth went dry(er) at how casual the introduction was. His eyes went nervously to all the other people running around the field. With all the noise, it was unlikely anyone had heard, but still…
“Can you not? Secret identity and all? Unless you’ve told everyone here already, which, rude.”
Fury sighed. “How bad is it?” he asked Coulson.
“We’re not sure,” said Coulson. “That’s the problem. Big fan of your work, by the way,” he added as an aside to Danny. He glanced at the woman. “Agent Hill.”
“Background?” asked Fury as he led the way into the building.
“The first energy surge was four hours ago. Dr. Selvig’s equipment picked it up – He’s the head scientist on this project.”
“Dr. Selvig isn’t authorized to test,” said Fury. “We wanted to run his plans by the Fentons.”
“He wasn’t testing. He wasn’t even in the room. He called it ‘spontaneous advancement.’”
“It turned itself on?”
“What are the energy levels?” asked Fury before Hill’s question could be answered.
“Climbing,” said Coulson.
“Mr. Fenton,” said Fury, “any comments?”
“Look, I don’t even know what this thing that you built looks like or what it’s a door to.” Danny frowned as a thought occurred to him. “You’re not expecting me to fight whatever comes out of it, are you? Because, unless you’ve got a ghost portal down there, I can’t make guarantees.”
“It’s called the Tesseract,” said Coulson. “It’s supposed to be a connection to the other side of space. A source of unlimited energy. At least,” there was a note of humor in his voice despite the evacuation taking place around them, “that’s what the scientists say.”
“A door to space?” asked Danny, firmly shoving down his excitement at the prospect. “Like, a Stargate?” It was no good, he could practically feel himself sparkling. He took a firm grip of his core and reminded himself he might need to fight before the end of the day.
“Well, no,” said Coulson. “It’s this little… cube… thing.” He made a shape with his hands.
“Oh,” said Danny, mind still whirring. “You know, if it’s really a tesseract, it isn’t a cube in just three dimensions, so bigger things could come out of it than you’d think.” He’d seen some weird portals in the Ghost Zone.
“Well, right now, we’re just getting energy.” They entered a large room with an extremely sci-fi setup. It looked like they were planning to shoot some kind of laser across the room onto a platform surrounded by strange-looking panels. There were men with guns scattered around in what was probably a well thought out formation Danny couldn’t see. There was also a dude with a bow sitting up in the rafters. He frowned down at Danny as he noticed Danny noticing him.
“What do we know?”
Danny allowed himself to be distracted by the centerpiece of the room, a piece of machinery built around what was indeed a little cube thing. He tilted his head and approached, trying to get a better view of it around the people in lab coats and protective gear currently swarming it. He caught mention of radiation a grimaced.
It was unlikely to kill him, but, really, everyone here should probably be wearing more PPE. You never knew what was going to come out of an interdimensional portal, after all. Except trouble. Trouble was a pretty safe bet.
It was pretty. Blue. Reminded him a little of a blue raspberry ice pop. Part of him wanted to lick it. Which was stupid. He didn’t want to wind up half what-ever-lived-on-the-other-side on top of his regular ghost nonsense.
Danny jumped and turned, refocusing on the adults, who had multiplied while he’d been daydreaming. The guy with the bow had joined them.
“Mr. Fenton? Like the Doctors Fenton I spoke to earlier?” asked Selvig.
This, of course, was when everything decided to explode. Sort of.
The blue cube shot out a beam of energy that had more than a little in common with the Fenton Bazooka’s portal setting. The beam terminated on the platform, a portal rapidly forming.
Danny slid into a fighting stance, and barely even noticed as blue energy washed over the room, throwing many less-prepared people back.
Something shaped like a man stepped through the portal.
Danny did not break his stance. Still. “An alien,” he whispered, eyes wide. If they were friendly, maybe they’d answer his questions about space. If they weren’t friendly, maybe they’d answer his questions about space after Danny beat them up.
(Danny did not go ghost. Did not even think about going ghost. There were too many people here, and the space was too open.)
Fury attempted to negotiate. Danny approved. Not everything that came through an interdimensional portal was necessarily evil.
Except this guy apparently was. Go figure. He could also deflect bullets and was very good with throwing knives, which led to Danny having to pull several of the gun guys out of their own line of fire as well as the alien’s line of knife. Who would have thought an alien’s weapon of choice would be throwing knives? The energy-blasting spear was much more in line with his expectations.
The bow guy proved to be more competent than the gun guys. This didn’t really surprise Danny. Bow guy sort of had to be competent. Otherwise, no way would they let him go around with a bow. Like, seriously. A bow.
Even so, bow guy was fighting an alien and—
“You have heart,” said the alien, raising the spear.
Danny pushed bow guy out of the way, and his mind fuzzed out.
(The human part of it, anyway.)
Loki didn’t know what a child was doing here, and he didn’t particularly care. The boy would do for a hostage, at least. He had a mission he had to fulfil, or else…
“Please don’t,” he said turning with a shadow of his usual lazy affect, vaguely insulted that the human thought he could be sneaker that him, “I still need that.”
The human went on and on, apparently burdened with the delusion that he was on the same level as Loki.
Loki was burdened with other things. A glorious purpose. Glad tidings. Freedom. What could be better than freedom?
“A world free from what?” asked the human.
“From freedom,” said Loki, and wasn’t that what he believed, now? Wasn’t that what he’d been shown? “Freedom is life’s great lie.” He would know. He was an excellent liar. “Once you accept that, in your heart—” He batted away an arrow and tsked. “Shield me, boy,” he demanded. Had Thanos misrepresented the scepter’s powers? Or was the boy merely—
A dome of green surrounded him and the boy, thrumming with magic the likes of which he had only seen once, in a tome thrice forbidden.
“Oh,” said Loki, almost purring. “You are interesting. What are you?”
“Half human, half ghost,” replied the boy, tersely.
Loki had never heard of such a creature. No matter. He’d be sure to make good use of him.
“Grab the scientist,” he said, nodding at the balding man who had been with his brother when he’d fought the Destroyer in the desert.
Loki wanted the archer. He seemed interesting. Useful.
Fenton was under thrall. Phantom knew what that felt like. A hundred feet under red water, trying not to drown, whispers everywhere. Pulling. Pushing. Prodding.
This was different, but the principle was the same.
Neither half of him could truly ‘fight’ the other. Fenton and Phantom were a single entity. Not two in lockstep. Even so.
Fenton grabbed onto Dr. Selvig, as ordered. Phantom made sure that was all they did.
“What are you doing, boy?” snapped Loki. “Follow me! Bring the scientist.”
And so, they followed.
Loki breathed. Acquiring Barton had been the right choice. The boy was powerful, but, perhaps because of his unique biology, did not have Barton’s presence of mind, and couldn’t have led him to such wonderful allies.
These weren’t truly his allies. Nor were they subjects. They were…
Loki forced himself to breathe. He just had to follow the mission. Follow the mission, let Thanos’s army through. He’d been promised this world. He would have this world.
And then he could be… His mind stuttered over the next word, and he shook his head, trying to drive out the painful buzz of Thanos’s herald and mouthpiece trying to contact him.
He looked up at the drones bustling around, all according to his will. Except the boy, who stared at him, somehow managing to be both utterly blank and challenging at the same time.
He was alone, here.
He was alone.
But what did it matter? Bad men always wound up alone, and Loki… Loki could never be a good man.