Amora laughs, and then drags him closer by his hair. "You would do well to get in my good graces, Odinson."
Loki almost spits on her.
"What if I gave you back your mind?" Amora asks, letting go of his hair and leaning back in her chair. "What if I fixed what Thanos broke? Made you whole once more? Would lending me Thor be really so high a price for that?"
A small part of Loki hesitates.
How can it not?
To be free of Thanos' hold over him, to be himself once more, to be without the threat of death, it is all Loki wishes for.
"No," he says firmly.
"You condemn yourself to a slow death then."
Loki looks away.
He knows that.
It doesn't make his answer any less true.
He will not make Thor a slave, just so he can be free.
"As I said, loyal to a fault." Amora sighs, and Lorelei's charm smothers Loki's mind once more. "Go, your mistress calls for you."
Loki stumbles to his feet, his mind already filled with Lorelei's sweet demands for love and affection.
It is worth it.
This enslavement is worth Thor's freedom.
For Thor will find them, eventually.
Loki just hopes it's before Clint dies of old age.
The air around Natasha is thick with black smoke, she can't even see an inch in front of her. There's enough inky gas to choke her – she knows, it's happened before – but it doesn't. In fact, she breathes just fine. Which is the thing that tells her this isn't really real. Whether it's a dream or spell…now that's the tricky part.
Assess the situation and turn it to your advantage, her training tells her.
Don't be reckless, Phil's voice cuts in. The paperwork would be murder on my wrist.
She finds herself smiling. Very well, a combination of the two it is then. She steps confidently forward and lets the fog hug itself around her. It feels both as fluid as water and as sticky as jam.
(she hates jam)
"This is all very unnecessary," she tells the nothingness.
In response it thickens and almost crushes her. Hmmm, interesting. So, this is a spell. Her dreams are never so slow. But who would want to bespell her with such a mundane trick?
You see, she's had spells cast at her before and they always follow a distinct pattern; flashbacks to the Red Room, lots of blood, and her victims screaming for her pain.
Seeing as none of this has occurred yet, Natasha is a bit thrown.
So, it's with a more than a little surprise that she quite literally stumbles into a clearing. She looks around and finds a perfect circle of grass surrounded by the smoke. She glances up and see blue sky. Huh. Eye of the storm it is then.
She's caught between rolling her eyes and reaching for a weapon when something moves to her left.
A huddled mess of bones and black cloth shuffle closer and then growl.
She blinks. "Loki?"
Loki growls deeper – and she can feel the sharp glassed edges of his psyche cutting into her mind.
Something is wrong, very wrong. It's been weeks since Clint and Loki were kidnapped. Weeks with no demands and only Thor's 'Amora' to go off of.
"Loki, where are you?" she asks.
Loki bares his teeth and snaps at her.
She frowns. "I can't help you if you don't let me."
A woman's lusty laugh echoes around them. Loki whines and curls into a ball. The woman glides out from the smoke. Her dark blue dress is somehow modest and yet leaves nothing to the imagination.
She grins, teeth flashing like a shark, and lays a possessive hand on Loki's head. "Poor dear. He's only doing this at my behest."
"Amora," Natasha states.
"I see Thor hasn't been negligent in his disclosures." Amora runs a hand through her red hair, mouth slightly open, eyes dilated.
Natasha snorts and raises an eyebrow.
Amora shrugs, her seductress charm turning off instantly. "Can't blame a girl for trying."
"Oh, I can and do."
"Such a silly little girl you are. So…quaint."
"I've been called worse."
"I know. Loki's told me a great deal about you, whore."
Natasha gives that low blow all the attention it deserves.
"What deal do you want for them?" she asks the enchantress.
Amora giggles. "Nothing really. A trifle."
Natasha resists the urge to fold her arms across her chest.
"A date with Thor," Amora says, grabbing a handful of Loki's hair. The huddle mass chokes out another growl. Amora tightens her grip and shakes Loki. "Hush, dear, the freemen are talking here."
Natasha keeps her hands and stance at a loose ease, even though her hackles burn at the blatant insinuation of Loki (and Clint's) slavery. Instead, she draws in a slow, deep breath and raises an eyebrow.
"Thor is his own man," she says to the enchantress. No way is she making deals for any of her teammates without their say so. "Ask him yourself."
Amora studies her manicured nails. "I would, but I don't think Thor's in the right mind frame for negotiations."
"I wonder why."
Amora scowls. "Sarcasm is said to be the lowest form of wit, whore."
"And your insults do nothing to showcase you either." Natasha sighs, resting her hands on her hips. "Let's skip the posturing. If you can bring me into this dreamscape, why not Thor?"
Amora kicks Loki. "Because a certain busybody decided to enchant him with counter spells against me."
Good job, Loki, Natasha silently cheers. "Then meet us at the General Park. WE can negotiate there."
"Any of your SHIELD mice show up and I'll flay their skin from their bones."
Graphic, but potent. "None of your allies either."
"Agreed," Amora purrs, suddenly inches from Natasha's left ear, her breath hot against Natasha's skin.
Natasha doesn't even blink. "Give us five hours and we'll be there."
"Two hours, little one." Amora saunters back to Loki. "End this, Changeling."
Natasha bolts up as the dim walls of her room come into focus. She shakes the lingering sleepiness from her mind and pages Phil. She flips back her covers and proceeds to change out of her pajamas and into her black uniform.
It doesn't take a minute for her handler to answer by calling her phone. "Agent Romanoff."
"The enemy's made contact and wants to negotiate with Thor and I." She toes on her boots. "Terms are: General Park, no backup for either of us."
"…you trust her to be upfront?"
"Never. Get Strange on this. Pronto." She walks into the predawn hallway. "I'll get the team to the Helicarrier."
"Do that, Agent," Phil commands, and hangs up.
She glances up at the ceiling. "Jarvis, wake the others. Tell them Amora has made contact and that we're due for a debriefing at the Helicarrier."
Right away, Agent Romanoff.
"Thank you," she says, because intelligence suggests Jarvis might be more sentient than perceived and it never hurts to err on the side of caution.
"It's a trap," Stark mutters, his hair still slightly messy from sleep. He's got his sunglasses on – whether to hide a hangover or lack of sleep, is anyone's guess. "You all know that, right? Please, tell me you know that. This is just them messing with us and trying to get more hostages."
"We still have to look at every option presented, Tony," Rogers says, his eyes intense as only Captain America can be.
"Captain Rogers is right," Phil says before Stark can get another word in. "I've contacted Dr. Strange and he's agreed to monitor the situation while the negotiations are in progress."
"This has 'bad idea' written all over it," Stark pouts, slumping lower and leaning his head on the back of his chair. "Brucie, tell them."
Dr. Banner sends his friend an admonishing look.
"And, Thor, didn't you say you'd been brainwashed by this Amora chick before?" Stark asks.
Thor nods. "Aye. But that was centuries ago, and Loki has ensured it will never happen again."
"Oh?" Rogers asks, leaning forward. "How? Would it be possible for us to replicate?"
Thor grimaces. "It is a…painful and intricate spell."
The Asgardian stands, pulls back his long hair, and reveals a shimmering blue tattoo on the back of his neck.
Stark – the one closest to Thor – glances over, jerks, and sits up straight. "Is that thing carved into you?"
"Aye." Thor lets his hair fall back over it and sits down again. He clasps his hands before on the table. "It is the only way to make sure none could remove it with a counter spell. Loki came up with it himself."
"So, that option is out for us right now," Dr. Banner inserts. "Do we still think Dr. Strange's precautions will be enough?"
Phil soldiers on. "This is the only contact we've had. It would be foolish to ignore it. We'll have to take the chance."
"Whatever, Agent." Stark rests his folded hands on his stomach. "Don't come crying to me when Nat gets brainwashed and kidnapped."
"I would protect her," Thor insists, speaking for the first time in the meeting.
"And if Amora makes her hold a gun to her head? Makes you come along or else Nat shoots herself?"
Thor looks down.
"Exactly," Stark says.
"You saying you won't get us back, Stark?" Natasha needles.
Stark pulls down his sunglasses and looks at her. "I care about my teammates, Agent Romanoff. If you want, I can inject you both with a nanite tracker. Jarvis'll never lose you then."
"A tracker?" Phil prompts.
"Perfectly dissolvable within a month," Stark reassures him.
"Regardless of any safeguards, I am going to meet Amora," Thor interrupts flatly.
Natasha swallows a sigh. Sometimes, she hates that Thor is a foreign dignitary, and royalty to boot. It makes corralling his more impetuous decisions that much harder – kind of like having a classified document, but in an unsecure location. It makes her twitchy, not knowing what direction Thor will take and what the ramifications will be.
"And Agent Romanoff will be joining you," Phil agrees. "Stark, I'd like you to chip them. I don't trust this Enchantress farther than Hulk can throw her."
Stark blinks at the rather obvious joke, grins, and grabs Dr. Banner's arm. "Come on, Brucie. Let's go get those lil' bots ready for their undercover mission."
Natasha waits until the others have filed out after them before she turns to Phil. "Think this will work?"
He offers her a wane smile. "Nothing better to do today."
She nods. "I'll get them back."
"See that you and Thor also come back."
The park is still mostly empty when she and Thor arrive. The wind, which has been strong all day, picks up and pushes up against her back, almost pushing her off the sidewalk and onto the park grass. At once, Natasha notes the lack of any animals or wind. It's as if everything is holding its breath in anticipation. She wonders if it is Dr. Strange's doing or Amora's.
Thor twirls his hammer once. "Reveal yourself, Amora."
A twitter of innocent laughter and Amora shimmers into existence beside Thor. She fairly plasters herself against his side. One hand reaches up to run her fingers through his blonde hair, while the other lays itself flat against his back. "My love, how good it is to see you."
"Amora," Thor says, a hard edge to his tone.
She pouts. "So serious. Must we skip the pleasantries? It has been centuries since we last saw one another."
Thor remains stiff.
"Of very well," Amora sighs, stepping back. She flourishes a hand and a picnic setting pops up – complete with red and white checkered blanket and wineglasses. "To business then. And don't think I haven't noticed your little sorcerer's spells."
Thor raises an eyebrow.
"It's…quaint." She sways her hips as she glides over to the picnic. "Come, love, let us enter into treaty."
Thor stalks after her and sits straight-backed on the edge of the blanket.
Natasha opts to stand off to the side.
Amora twists open the red wine and pours a lavish amount into each crystal glass. "I presume the woman has told you my terms."
"I would you expound on them, nonetheless. They are most vague."
She quirks a half smile. "My, aren't we suspicious."
"With good reason."
"Perhaps." She sips daintily from her glass. "Very well. I shall release your brother and the human. In return, you will go on a series of dates with me."
"Dates. I thought it was to be one?"
She shrugs. "I thought it over and decided the risk deserved more compensation."
Thor drinks from his own glass, silent as he eyes her.
"Oh, come now, my dear. It's hardly the throne of Asgard I'm asking for. Just a few dates."
"Define 'dates', if you would."
Her grip on her glass tightens, though her smile remains at ease. "I thought we would do the usual Midgardian tradition. A coffee shop here, an ice-cream shop there, perhaps the mall, and a walk along the lake, which, of course, ends with a kiss. What say you? Simple enough?"
Thor ponders his wine. "Simple indeed. And your companion?"
"Is boring me. You know how it is, dearest."
"Indeed…Why the kisses?"
"On a first date?"
Amora's lips curl into a scowl before she smooths them into a smile again. "You with to negotiate on this clause?"
Thor shakes his head. "Nay, it is acceptable, sufficed it is not a prerequisite to more…intimate dalliances."
"And if it is?"
Thor's brow furrows as he frowns. "It would quite presumptuous of you to ask such of me."
"Really?" Amora bites into a small sandwich triangle. "Would it be so much to ask, in return for your brother and your companion's safety?"
Thor sighs. "Is this the price you ask then?"
Natasha's pretty sure Loki will have conniptions when he finds out his older brother basically agreed to sleep with one of his captors (maybe rapists). "Thor…"
"Please, Lady Romanoff," Thor glances back at her, his eyes sad. "Allow me to finalize this."
Amora glares at her.
Natasha glares right back, imagining sticking a knife through her eye.
"Amora," Thor says, bringing the enchantress's attention back on him. "Is this what you are asking for?"
Amora toys with her dress and then rolls her eyes. "No. I won't make you be a martyr. When you come to me, it will of your own free will. The dates will be enough."
"Very well." Thor reaches out. "It is agreed."
Amora places her hand in his larger one. "It is agreed."
A blue light flashes between their hands, probably sealing the deal magically. Amora stands abruptly. Thor follows suit at a much more sedate pace. She snaps her fingers.
Loki and Clint appear in her place – the former a crumpled form, the latter blinking in a dazed manner.
Natasha activates her communication device. "Coulson, we have them. Bring medical."
And she liiives!
Oh my goodness, it's been months. I'm sure many of you were beginning to despair of me ever updating this story. Sorry, Life's been pretty hectic for me.
I hope you like this chapter.