- Alternate Universe
This is a sequel to Families.
Vili sighed, rubbing his head. Cleaning up after his brother was giving him a headache. Thor wasn’t doing too badly as the public head of the remaining Asgardians. Assisted by his friend and shield mate, Doctor Bruce Banner, he had received permission from Norway to settle their people there for the time being. They had landed the spaceship on a field a few miles from the next human settlement and had lived in it until they had managed to build some simply longhouses around it, assisted a lot by the mages. Vili had been involved in politics long enough to be aware that their assistance in the fight to protect Midgard, the cooperation of their mages in defence and healing, even after the fight, and their insistence on being self-sufficient had played a major role in the government’s decision. Doctor Banner wasn’t an invaluable asset there. Thor listened to his advice and took his insights into account. Vili was a bit worried that Loki might get jealous at that, since his own advice of any less aggressive approach had been rejected in the past, but for now he seemed more relieved to have the fight with Thanos over with and to return of some form of stability.
But Vili knew that more needed to be done. Midgard was a good place for them to get their bearings, to heal and grief for what they had lost but it was not the best place for them to settle permanently. Part of it was the different life expectancy of humans and Asgardians. The humans who had accepted them here would be dead long before the Asgardian children they had managed to get to safety were grown. Asgard, like many other Realms aside from Midgard, was used to dealing with unchanging leadership, the same person being head of state for centuries, sometimes millennia at a time. Here on Midgard, it changed every few years, sometimes along with the policies and attitudes. He was unsure how well Asgardians would take to this, which would feel like instability to many of them, especially in the wake of what they had suffered.
Right now, the Asgardians were thankful but how long would it be until their sense of superiority, born out of their past victories over all the other realms and unfortunately fostered by Odin, reasserted itself? How would Midgard react, especially since the ones who had made the decision to accept them and who had seen how they had helped Midgard would no longer be in power, would likely not even be alive any longer? No, they needed to find their own place before that.
He started pacing up and down in the room on the ship which he had claimed as his office.
There was also the matter of their relationship with the other Realms to consider. Thor might not be aware of it, since it had been the status quo as far back as he could remember, but the peace between them and Asgard had been because Asgard had subjugated them all. He doubted very much that they would be willing to leave the treaties Asgard had enforced as victor in place, so they would need to negotiate new alliances with most if not all of them. He was strongly considering taking Loki along to visit the other Realms. He was used to travelling, even without the Bifrost and had a quick mind. It would also give him an opportunity to start rebuilding the familial ties between Loki and the rest of the family and teaching him about his heritage and would serve to keep him from getting bored. He shuddered. Asgard had learned that Loki being bored was a recipe for trouble. Thor would have to visit the Realms for the final signing of the different treaties but it was hardly unusual for the negotiation to be made by others beforehand. Right now, Thor was also needed here more, as a figure of hope for their people, a promise of a stable, prosperous future.
He dropped back into his seat. Travelling to the different Realms would also give him an opportunity to covertly start looking for Thor’s biological mother, to see if his suspicion about his paternity was correct. “What was her name again?” he muttered under his breath.
“Who are you looking for?” Heimdall asked from the doorway.
Vili looked at him over his shoulder, considering what to answer, then finally admitted: “Thor’s mother.”
“Frigga,” Heimdall replied.
Vili snorted. “I’m talking about the woman – or person of a different gender – who gave birth to him. We both know that wasn’t Frigga.”
Heimdall looked up and down the corridor, checking that there was no one else there, then stepped into the room and closed the door. “Why would you need to know her name?” he asked.
“I want to investigate a suspicion,” Vili replied.
“You want to look into Thor’s true parentage.” It was a statement, not a question. “Is that truly necessary? It is unlikely to ever come up.”
Vili gave him a look. “Right, because relying on it never coming up worked out so well with Loki and his parentage. We do not know who all knows and what might come up in the coming years. For the sake of Asgard, we need to be prepared for all eventualities.” Then, knowing the tense relationship between Heimdall and Loki, he added: “Actually, I intend to look into both Thor’s and Loki’s parentage.”
Heimdall stared at him for a long moment, not speaking and not moving. “Jörd,” he said at last.
“Her name is Jörd,” Heimdall said.
Vili smiled slowly. “Good. Now it’s just a matter of deciding where to start.”
Loki slowly made his way into what was basically the royal council chamber, no matter how much simpler it was than the one of Asgard had been. It still seemed unreal to him. Asgard was destroyed, Odin dead and he was as official a member as Thor’s council had currently, along with a Valkyrie and the human form of the Hulk. Never mind that he’d yet to hear any serious protest about his position of the other Asgardians. Granted, that might be partially because many of the warriors, who often looked down on him for his use of magic on the battlefield, had been wiped out by Hela and the remaining Asgardians were aware that they owed much of their current comfort to magic.
He wondered why Vili had asked them here. The council chamber saw little regular use. Most of the time, they simply discussed everyday business over a meal. The council chamber had mostly been used to strategize before Thanos came and to plan their approach for trying to get refuge for their people of Midgard.
The others were already there, sitting around the table. Well, Valkyrie had her chair pushed away from the table so she could sprawl more casually, a bottle dangling from her hand. Banner looked like he didn’t really know what he was doing there, though he had volunteered to stay with them and help them figure out their stay on Midgard. Thor was sitting at the head of the table, looking at Vili expectantly. Heimdall…, well, he looked as unfathomable as usual. Loki nodded in greeted and sat down on his chair on Thor’s left, beside Vili and opposite Banner.
“What did you wish to discuss, Uncle?” Thor asked.
“Things have settled down nicely here, so I figured we can start working on long-term plans,” Vili said. “To that end, I believe we should check with the other realms, see where we stand with them.”
Thor frowned. “You think they would break their alliances with us?”
“Well, we can’t exactly uphold our end of the treaties at the moment,” Vili pointed out. “Some of them were also connected to Odin himself. I would like to visit them to talk with their leaders, to let them know that Asgard is still there, even without the planet. We might need to renegotiate here and there, get some more assistance for the rebuilding of Asgard or offer incentives for upholding the treaties.”
Thor was still frowning. Loki figured it was still hard for him to understand that some of the realms might figure that they would be better served without Asgard. He had got a look at some of the treaties while he had been posing as Odin and some of them had not exactly seemed like alliances between equal partners.
“It makes sense, Thor,” Banner said. “You said yourself that you needed to figure out that Asgard is not a place but a people. They need to know that the planet might be gone, but Asgard isn’t.”
Thor smiled at him. “I guess you are right.” Turning back to his uncle, he asked: “But how will we get there without the Bifrost?”
“There are other ways between the realms,” Vili said. He nodded to Loki. “Something I believe your brother is familiar with.”
Loki felt himself flinch, expecting a reprimand but Vili just seemed amused.
“You are needed here, for our people and as counterpart for the governments of Midgard,” Vilii said. “I have often served as ambassador for your father, so if you agree, I could visit the other realms in your stead.”
“I would be grateful,” Thor said. Loki was a bit surprised. It seemed Thor had grown up considerably since the first attempt to crown him. Back then, he would have never agreed to stay behind to deal with the ‘boring’ tasks of governing Asgard.
“I would also like to take Loki along,” Vili continued. “I think he might enjoy it and it’s not an unusual role for a prince not expected to take the throne.” He laughed. “And perhaps I can even show him a thing or two.”
Loki turned to stare at him. He wanted to take him along? He trusted him enough to allow him to be involved in the negotiations?
Thor hesitated. “I’m sure he’d enjoy it but I don’t like losing both of your council at the same time.”
“It would just be a few days at a time,” Vili said. “I intend to return here between every visit, to tell you about what we have learned and to give you time to consider your next steps with each of them.”
Thor looked at his brother. “I’m not going to order you to go with him.” His lips twitched. “I doubt it would go well for me if I tried. Is that something you would like to do?”
Loki looked around, taking in everyone’s expression. None of them seemed about to protest. Vili was even the one to have suggestion his involvement. “Yes, I’d like to go with him.”
Clint sat down on the roof of his barn. It wasn’t as high up as some of the other places he’d like to go to to think but he needed the peace and distance to try and wrap his head around everything that had happened. Even now, weeks later, he was still trying to understand it, now that he was thinking clearly again.
After what had happened with Loki, his family and this farm had been his refuge. Here, he could pretend it that all of it had not happened or that it had happened to someone else, not to him. He had been filled by this nervous energy but had channelled in into work on the farm and there was always more than enough of that. Now, after what he had learned from Doctor Strange when he had come to Wakanda to see him, he figured that the nervous energy had been the remaining influence of the sceptre. As he and the other still official Avengers had explained it during his hearing, Nat knocking him out had only freed him from Loki’s control but had not ended what the sceptre had done to his mind. He had, in fact, been left open to pretty much any outside mental influence.
And then he’d been exposed to Maximoff. Clint shuddered, remembering the way he had doted on her, like she were his child, the way he had abandoned his actual children and his wife for her sake, just because she’d been on house arrest for getting people killed on a failed mission. Her influence had also completely derailed his budding friendship with Tony. He’d known that Phil and Fury had a soft spot for him, so he had been willing to give him a chance. They’d never talked about it but, even considering their very different background, there’d been an understanding between them. Neither of them was exactly good at making friends, too used to questioning people’s motive, though for different reasons. But then Maximoff had started influencing him. They still didn’t know if it had been on purpose. She claimed it had been but he didn’t trust her. He couldn’t believe he had ever trusted a HYDRA agent. In a way, he felt worse about being under her influence than under Loki’s. With Loki, he knew exactly when he had taken control of his mind. With Maximoff, it was less clear cut. Had it started when they had first encountered them? Before or after her brother’s death?
He had been surprised that Tony, Rhodey and Vision had testified in his favour at the hearing, especially after his comment of the Raft. He’d felt the need to apologize to them after the hearing, for both his actions and his words. They had accepted his apology but things remained tense between them.
And his relationship with them wasn’t the only one that had suffered. Cooper and Lila didn’t understand what had happened, why their daddy had just up and vanished during what was supposed to be their family vacation, to attack friends, end up in prison and then spend months on the run. Laura had tried to explain that it had not been his fault, that something had made him abandon them, but that didn’t change that their trust in him had been shaken. That was probably the worst part for him. He’d promised himself to be a good father to them, to not break their trust, to do better than his own father. And now this.
It probably didn’t help that Laura, for all that she tried to explain what had happened to their children, was also still hurting. She tried to hide it from their children but he knew all too well how perceptive children were.
He remembered their first encounter after Doctor Strange had freed him from the sceptre’s influence and had brought his back to the US, to the UN in New York where he had been held until his hearing.
He had been fidgeting nervously since he had been informed that his wife was there to see him, sitting down and standing back up, unable to stay still, something that rarely happened to him. Then the door had finally opened and an agent had led her inside. “Hey, Laura.” He’d wanted to slap himself at once. Really, this was the first thing he said after seeing her again after all that had happened?
“Clint,” Laura had replied, staring at him, holding herself stiffly.
Clint had just stared at her, at a loss what to do. He had wanted to pull her close and hold her but she hadn’t look like she’d have appreciated that. But what could he say? Apologize? Point out that he had not been completely responsible for his actions? “I…”
She’d finally sighed. “They told me… They told me. Explained what they figured out.”
She’d allowed him to come back home after he had been acquitted at his hearing but it didn’t quite feel like he was home – and not just because they were not back to sharing a bed. They were all hurting and things didn’t seem about to improve.
He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. It was time he faced reality and stopped lying to himself.
Laura was waiting for him on the porch. “Hey.”
“Hey. Are the kids in bed?” When she nodded, he sighed again. “Good. I think we should talk. This isn’t… this isn’t working, not like this. Is it?”
“No,” Laura agreed softly.
“I think we both, or rather all four of us, need some time and space to heal. After the hearing, I got an offer to return to SHIELD, though I’m not yet cleared to go on missions outside the US or on the mission in general, right now. I would still be close enough to visit regularly but we’ll have space.”
“Space and resources to get professional help,” Laura said.
Clint grimaced. He hated shrinks. But he could see where she was coming from. “We’ll get help.”