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The Ant and the Boot

Stronger than I Believed.

The shackles upon my wrists meant nothing to me. Even that they took away my scepter, my link to the Tesseract, didn't faze me. These actions did nothing because I knew they would come, so wouldn't disturb my plan. As I walked through the halls, primarily made of thick metal and pristinely cleaned, I peered through the windows, my eyes sweeping over the faces I passed. They regarded me with suspicion, anger. Fear. The fear rolled off them so potently that I could almost smell it on them.

Good. I wanted them to be afraid. I wanted them so nervous that their nerves would fray and split, rotting them from the inside out. After they had worked themselves up into a frenzy all I would have to do is give them a little... push.

I saw his face for the first time while he was standing in a lab, leaning over some project on a table. He looked unassuming, but I could see the anger buried deep in his eyes. He was already uneasy, trapped in a facility that was too small and too fragile for his condition, which made that anger just that much closer to the surface. All that rage would have to come out eventually.

I smiled at him. Yes, I knew that he was. I knew the beast that he pretended he was not.

I passed the soldier, too. Not Stark. Not even my brother, probably purposefully kept hidden away. The soldier's eyes were hard, almost hateful. A man out of time, filled with righteous anger and honor in a world that was not righteous or honorable. How weary must he be already of this strange place he now lived in? I saw the way he looked at Stark, his eyes almost as hateful as the eyes he looked at me with now. He despised this world he sought to protect. How long could he pretend to still love it?

They brought me to a large container, fitted with layers of metal and shatterproof glass. The doors were even thicker, their locks designed so even the hardest blow wouldn't break them open.

The beast's cage. And they had lent it to me, leaving him exposed and uncontrolled. Perfect.

Unfortunately, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't so because she was there, standing outside of my cage. She still wore that white dress that flowed freely around her bare feet, her hair no longer caught up in small crystals but allowed to flow freely down her back, around her face. Her hands were held slightly out to the side, as if she were bracing herself to take flight.

[i]Dove[/i]. That was some kind of earthly bird, wasn't it? Yes, a pure white bird, a symbol of peace and innocence, with a soft song and soft feathers.

Was she so aptly named for her looks as an infant, or was it done just so the universe could taunt me?

The man standing next to her was a lesson in contracts, and a man I had already met before. I smiled slowly, looking into his one good eye. He was tall, dark, wearing black with his hands clasped firmly behind his back. There was no peace to be found in him. He dealt in the weapons of war, feeding their battles men and supplies. A visionary, some might say, but I saw him for the warmonger that he really was.

“Dove, come,” Natasha ordered, her voice cold and unchanging. Natasha's blue eyes watched me, hard as ice, a strange difference to her fiery hair. The young woman came, the fear hidden from her face, though her mask was unnaturally neutral. Whatever thoughts shifted behind her light eyes, she was loathe to let me see them.

“Yes, Agent Romanov?” the girl said, standing tall. Too tall. There was tension in her posture. She was nervous after all.

Natasha stepped back away from me as did her other guards, leaving me standing alone at the mouth of the cage. Director Fury, the darkly clad warmonger, pressed a release and the vaulted door swung open behind me with a hiss. I turned, looking into the brightly lit, barren box.

“Uncuff him,” Natasha ordered coolly, handing Dove a key that was square and filled with veins. The girl took it in her delicate eyes. I caught the question in her eyes as I turned back.

“You sat with him for the ride here and he didn't kill you,” Natasha explained quickly. “Nor are you a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. Therefore you're the least likely person in this room for him to try and kill.”

Dove remained silent, though her features hardened in resolve. She approached me head bowed, pushing her silken hair over her shoulder. She did not look at me as she undid my binds.

I looked up at Natasha. She was watching me, not the girl, trying to gauge my reaction. I looked at her and smiled. I could push her to her limits, just as I had the others.

Once the binds on my wrists released, dropping into Dove's hands, I looked down into the face of the girl, my smile broadening. I flexed my free hands and cupped the girl's soft cheek, turning her face up to look at me. Her eyes went wide, her body stiff. She couldn't hide her fear from me once I touched her.

“Thank you, Dovesary,” I said lightly, running my thumb over her pale skin.

The click of guns over Dove's shoulder told me that my ploy had its desired effect. I backed away from the girl slowly, entering my cage. I still smiled, though. Looking up to meet the face of Natasha.

“You chose correctly, Agent Romanov,” I told her. Her eyes narrowed, gun still leveled at my head.

With a heavy grind, the vault door swung shut.

[center]***[/center]

He had touched me.

I kicked myself for breaking my mask, for showing weakness. I had told myself that I would be like stone, not look into his eyes that seemed too human or touch his skin that was too cold. I had done that, too, staying firm even as fear and confusion roiled in my stomach.

Then he had touched me, and all of that had shattered like a paper thin layer of glass struck by a falling stone.

I regained my composure, closing my eyes for a moment then opening them slowly. Natasha rested my hands on my shoulder, leading me away as Director Fury moved to confront Loki, standing face to face with the thick glass.

“I have to go,” Natasha whispered in my ear, “I need to see the doctor. You can find your way back to your room?”

[i]Doctor?[/i] “Yes, I can.”

“Good. I'll see you soon to debrief, I promise.”

She left me then, walking quickly away down a side hallway. I watched her go, then turned back to the cage, to Loki. He was watching Fury, a smile breaking open his features with dangerous light. Fury was speaking to him, but Loki seemed to only become more pleased the angrier he became.

[i]Whatever he's doing, Fury is playing right into Loki's game,[/i] I thought watching the words pass between them.

“We have no quarrel with your people,” Fury said, staring down the demigod who stood complacently within his cage. Loki simply smiled.

“An ant has no quarrel with a boot,” he replied.

Fury ground his teeth, then pressed a button and continued speaking. I watched in horror as the floor underneath Loki's cage opened up, wind coming up in a howling gale from the miles and miles of space below. Any words Fury said were swallowed up by the howling wind until he pressed a button and closed it again.

“Ant,” he said, gesturing to Loki, “Boot,” he gestured to the button.

I think the message got across well enough.

Loki's laugh rolled through the room as he strolled lazily over the metal floor, spreading his arms wide.

“It's an impressive cage,” he laughed, looking at Fury, “Not built I think, for me.”

“Built for something a lot stronger than you,” Fury retorted. He was tense, his hands clenched into fists. I stood by, watching curiously.

“Oh, I've heard,” Loki said, his tone becoming smooth as silk. He looked up at the ceiling of his vault where a camera hung. “A mindless beast that makes play he's still a man.”

Loki turned back to Fury, coming to stand so close to the glass he was almost pressing against it.

“How desperate are you that you call upon such lost creatures to defend you?”

I didn't want to hear Loki's words anymore. They seemed to bite with a savage glee that I had never experienced, dripping with honey and venom at the same time. I turned to leave, but even as I left his eyes caught me, ensnaring me in a cage of emerald that burned with vengeful fire.

[center]***[/center]

Director Fury left me alone and I stood, examining the empty cell and the blank walls. I tapped my fingers against the cage, testing it. Then, when nothing happened, I slammed my fist into the glass.

The cage jolted down by half a foot, the sound of released gas hissing in the air outside.

I backed away from the glass and after a few minutes the cage returned to its natural position, whatever levers that had dropped the cage down lifting it back up again. I sat down at the back, placing my arms on my knees and resting my head against the glass. My armor was heavy and stifling, so I willed it away, returning to the suit I had worn at the gala. My armor would be unnecessary, anyway, and if I happened to need it I could will it back to me.

I almost appeared as one of them now. I wondered how that made them feel.

She returned so soundlessly that it wasn't until she had returned reached the control panel that I noticed her approaching, I looked up, expecting Natasha. I knew she would come; she cared far too fondly for Agent Barton, and she would go to any lengths to have him returned to her.
It wasn't Natasha. Not yet. Instead it was her, standing quietly in a white shirt and cloth pants that were a shade of light gray. Her feet were still bare. Even dressed so casually she still held that strange air that I believed only belonged to Asgardian women.

My eyes narrowed, regarding her in silence. Natasha had made another move.

“Yes, girl?” I asked. I didn't rise. I waited for her to act, watching for a crack in her armor.

“It's late. I was instructed to bring you food,” she said tersely. Her posture, her expression – both betrayed nothing.

“How thoughtful of you mortals,” I smiled slightly, though I looked at the camera in my cell and not at her. Natasha was watching me I'm sure. I was surprised that the girl wasn't escorted with guards, even on such a small errand. Was Natasha really so confident that I would leave her unharmed that she would send her unattended?

Apparently yes. Dove lifted a tray, apparently set aside a moment before by the control panel, and walked to the side of the vault. The door opened with that same combination of hissing and grinding and she stepped in, holding the tray steadily between her two hands. The door resealed shut behind her with a heavy clang, leaving her trapped inside with me.

At this point I stood – I wanted to be able to look down on her, maybe to make her feel small, to break that calm that she clung to – and crossed to her, standing over her and smiling. She remained unmoved, handing me the tray of food. It was real food, not a prisoner's meal, and smelled of spices and rich meat. I accepted it, though set the tray aside so I could edge closer to her.

I could almost [i]feel[/i] Natasha, Fury, my brother, all of them tensing up as they watched, waiting to see what I would do to this innocent. But Dove herself didn't stir, head raised high and proud though refusing to meet my gaze.

“How does it make you feel, Dovesary, to be brought here to this place where you can't escape, can't go home? How do you feel to be separated from your family, wondering what state they have been left in? Do you feel scared? Alone? Trapped? Angry? Helpless?”

I leaned close to her, trying to see the flicker of emotion in her eyes.

“Do you hate me?” I whispered, clasping my hands behind my back.

“No,” she replied, shaking her head, “I don't hate you. I'm not afraid of you, either.”

I laughed, taking her chin in my hand and drawing her face upward. “Do you want me to scare you?”

She met my gaze for the first time, her eyes even brighter in the fluorescent lighting. Her gaze was firm, steady, defiant. Like that first time I had seen her, when she stood up to me at the gala.

“I won't be frightened by you,” she said, “Not even now.”

Then, as I stood frozen by wonder, she leaned forward and softly kissed my cheek.

Notes

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear what you think (also I'm fueled by comments), so please leave me some comments in the comments section with your thoughts.

Have a great day, and see you in the next chapter!

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