Night of the Wolf
When your past comes back to haunt you, kick it in the teeth and tell it don't come around here no more~ Loki
Hunter found he was sweating beneath his jacket as he followed Lang, Snagi, Mort, and Crusher back to their old hideout at the abandoned warehouse six blocks away on 35th Street. The building still looked the same, he thought inanely, with its boarded up windows, peeling paint, and graffiti on the walls. The sidewalk in front of the warehouse was cracked with weeds growing out of it, and there was orange wire fencing in front of it as an attempt to warn people away and keep out the bums and addicts. Not that it worked, since Fenris made their headquarters here.
The boys, who ranged in age from twelve to fifteen, slipped through a back alley then climbed over the fence and through the door to the receiving room, which they had picked the lock to long ago, but left the rusty padlock dangling for show. Inside the warehouse was lit with several camping lanterns and floor lamps stolen from various furniture outlets. There were packing crates shoved together as a table, bare mattresses and pillows scattered on the floor along with surplus Army blankets. In a corner was a rickety table which a black cloth was draped. Upon it was a votive candle, a dish filled with scraps of food and above it presided a stone snarling wolf's head mounted on a circle of Norse runes. This was the gang's altar and totem—Fenris the Hel-Wolf, Eater of Gods.
The air was stale and smelled of mildew, grease, and old urine. Hunter felt his stomach churn at the smell, he had forgotten after three years of being in a real home off the streets the scent of poverty and uncleanliness. He fought to keep down his dinner, glancing about with wary eyes. Not much had changed since he used to run with the Pack. Yet Hunter himself was changed beyond all recognition from the street thief who used to pick pockets and break and enter for a living. When Loki had offered to adopt him, Hunter had taken the chance to reinvent himself and never regretted it.
But it would seem no matter how hard he tried, his past would never stay buried. It always showed up like a bad stomach virus to plague him.
Still, he wouldn't let his old "friends" intimidate him. He wasn't the same boy he used to be, who had nothing and no one except being part of Fenris, he reminded himself. He spun and looked Lang, whose name in Chinese meant "wolf", though Hunter was sure that wasn't his real name, but a street handle, right in the eye and said, "So, what was so important that you had to talk to me, Lang? I told you before . . . I'm no longer your Pack."
Lang glared at him. "That's where you're wrong. You might have left but I didn't give permission for it. And I'm still the Leader of this Pack, little Fire Hunter." He shoved Hunter hard in the shoulder.
Hunter stiffened. "You may be Leader, Lang, but I'm not your Beta," he snapped. His hands came up automatically into fists. "You want to fight, then come on! Let's do it . . . and we'll see who really Leads this Pack."
"You think you can take me?"
"I don't think, I know," Hunter retorted. In the three years since he had been adopted he had spent time studying fighting techniques with his Avenger uncles, and he knew a lot more than he had when he had last run with Fenris. "Now what do you want, Lang? I don't have all night."
"Aww, does the wittle baby have a curfew?" sneered Snagi.
"Yeah will your daddy whip your ass if you come home late?" mocked Crusher.
Hunter's jaw clenched. "My father is nothing like yours," he snarled. Loki had never raised a hand to any of them that Hunter knew of. Which was unheard of back in the place he used to come from, where all the members of the Pack often sported bruises and cuts from their dad, stepdad, or mom's boyfriend's fists.
"Cool it, wolves," ordered Lang in a cold tone, and the others cringed and backed off. He had not gained his reputation as a vicious fighter by being nice. He turned to the altar and bowed, saying reverently, "Thank you, Lord Fenris, for allowing this Hunt to be a success . . . and bringing back our lone wolf into the Pack. Fenris rules!"
The declaration was echoed by the other members. Hunter had to bite his lip to keep from automatically repeating the familiar phrase.
Lang turned back to Hunter. "Lord Fenris made it possible to bring you back here for a reason, Beta. He still owns your loyalty."
"You're wrong. I'm a Laufeyson, that's my family now."
"Are they? Like hell! Your rich geek dad would dump you like a hot potato if he knew the truth about what you are, Hunter Huo!"
"He knows. I told him," Hunter said flatly. That was true . . . although there were a few things Hunter had been too ashamed to mention. "He said the past was done. So don't think you can scare me by threatening to go to my dad with some fake story."
Lang crossed his arms over his chest, his dark eyes colder than hoarfrost. "I think you're lying. But even if you're not, it doesn't matter. You saw a chance to get in good with a mark and you took it."
"What? No!" the other objected.
Lang laughed humorlessly. "You were always good at infiltration, Hunter, admit it. At first I had my doubts, but then I realized something. You're perfectly placed to get the money we need to pay off Peculiar Pete for the last run we did for him."
"Lang, I told you before, that dog is bad news not get involved with his smack runs," Hunter pointed out.
"And I told you, I make the decisions for this Pack, not you, Beta!" Lang spat.
"Fine! But don't expect me to save your ass," Hunter growled.
Lang's finger stabbed him in the chest. "You owe me, Huo! If not for me, you'd have been in the pen years ago after that job went south in the mall. I took you in and hid you and made you one of us. Now I'm calling in my marker."
Hunter shook his head. While he knew the older boy did speak the truth, he also knew he couldn't go down that dark road again. Yet it seemed that shadows followed him wherever he went. "I paid a long time ago, Lang."
"Not enough. But hey, if you won't do it for loyalty, I have another reason. If you don't help us I'll find that pansy friend of yours and cut him a few holes. Or those little kids you say are your new family."
Fear coiled in his gut. "Stay away from my family and my friend, Lang! I'll kill you if you hurt them!"
"You don't have the guts, puppy! All you're good at is lying, running, and hiding. And if you know what's good for you, you'll listen to what I have to say."
"Then quit jabbering and talk!" Hunter hissed. In his pocket, his phone vibrated. He had a feeling his father was calling him but didn't dare reveal he had a phone. Lang or Snagi would surely steal it.
"Here's what I want you to do. I need $250 before Monday to pay Pete for this latest run. I know your geek dad is loaded. Bring the money and put it in this box on the corner."
"Two hundred and fifty dollars?" Hunter repeated. It might as well be a thousand.
"That's pocket change to your old man," sneered Mort.
Hunter refrained from saying that it was peanuts to the drug dealer too. "Why are you running smack anyway? Pete never asked you before."
"That was before he almost got caught in a sting that went down last week. He can't be seen with anything or going anywhere suspicious. So he hired us."
"Your funeral, man," Hunter snorted.
"Yours too. If we go down, so do you," Lang pointed out.
"How do you figure that?"
"Everyone knows what you used to be. So it wouldn't be any stretch for us to frame you easy. We'd all swear you were in on it if we're caught . . . and I'd make sure to point the finger at you, traitor."
"You miserable son of a—" Hunter lost it then and swore at the other boy in terms he was sure the other would understand.
"Not only that, but we'd be sure to put the squeeze on your little happy family too. Lots of accidents can happen when nobody's looking."
Hunter lunged at the other boy, his fists swinging.
But Lang dodged and whistled and suddenly Hunter felt his arms grabbed by Snagi, Mort, Crusher and two other gangers he didn't recognize. He struggled futilely but in the end he was overwhelmed. "Go f%$# yourself!" he spat, before taking several punches to the stomach and ribs.
"You forget, traitor, what it means to disobey your Leader," Lang sneered.
Hunter nearly crumpled to the floor. "Coward!" he rasped. "Six on one!"
"Pack justice is swift and harsh," recited Lang. The others howled in glee.
"This isn't justice!" Hunter gasped.
"Isn't it? It's our justice—the justice you forgot in your cushy house in Greenwich Village. You can run but Fenris always finds you!" Lang declared triumphantly. "And if you won't serve willingly, Beta, we'll make you—by taking away everything you have. We'll see if your new daddy still wants you once he knows the truth about everything you've ever done . . .about the son that caused the death of Rasper." Lang moved to grab Hunter by the shirt and haul him upright, practically spitting in his face. "You thought we'd forgotten, didn't you? But Fenris never forgets! And you left Rasper to die that night while you ran away and hid!"
Hunter trembled. "No! It wasn't how it happened! The Skull Crushers stabbed him and I went to try and find help. What else could I do? They would have killed me too."
"Good! Better you die a wolf than live a traitor!" Lang barked and then punched him hard in the chest.
Hunter cried out but was helpless to do anything else.
Tears trickled down his cheeks.
"Let him go," Lang ordered abruptly.
The hands released him and Hunter went to his knees on the floor, gasping for breath, spots dancing before his eyes. His hands cradled his midsection.
Lang's boot appeared in his line of vision. "Now . . . unless you want us to go to the coppers and implicate you in Rasper's death . . . and your geek dad find out he's harbored a killer all this time, you'll do what we want. I bet your old man and all those fancy uncles you got won't want to be near you once they find out you've been lying to them all this time. Once a delinquent always a delinquent!"
Sickened, Hunter rolled over and sat up. His head hanging, he whispered, "No. . ." The words bitter as bile in his throat, he answered, "Okay. I'll do it. But after . . . we're done . . ."
Lang smirked evilly. "I'll be the judge of that. For now . . . bring me the dough. Monday night nine o'clock sharp. And don't think you can renege on the deal. Anyone comes with you . . . they die. So unless you want another body added to the count . . ."
Defeated, he shook his head. "You . . . have my word . . ." he hissed, each syllable seeping from him like blood from a wound deep inside.
He had been wrong. Sometimes the past couldn't be put aside. Much less forgiven.
He stumbled to his feet and the gang members fell about him to either side, escorting him back to where it had begun.
"Remember!" Lang whispered, his eyes glinting red in the moonlight.
Then Fenris was gone, back into the shadows from whence they had come. Shivering, Hunter found the half-full birdbath in Jake's yard and used a corner of his shirt to clean himself up so Loki wouldn't notice. Lang knew better than to leave marks that could be seen.
In his pocket his phone vibrated. He slipped it out, and saw two texts flashing.
Hunter, come home now! It's 9:05. ~Dad
He texted back, Sorry, fell asleep on Jake's couch. BBS.
Wrapping his arms about his chest, he walked slowly back home, hurting and scared. This is all your fault. All your fault. You should have known you could never escape the shadows. They always call you home. Always.
When he entered the house, he found Loki sitting on the couch, reading his tablet. "Sorry I'm late," he said quickly, not meeting the green-eyed gaze. He didn't dare. Though Loki had said otherwise, Hunter was never quite sure that he believed the Asgardian couldn't read minds.
"Why didn't you answer your phone?"
"Left it in the kitchen." He replied with a rather surly tone in his voice. "What's with the third degree, Dad? I'm home now."
Loki frowned. "Watch the attitude," he ordered softly. He would tolerate some sass from his little zoo, as Clint sometimes called the children, but outright disrespect was not permitted.
"M' tired," Hunter mumbled, hiding a yawn. "Can I go now?"
Loki sighed. "Go to bed, but tomorrow we're going to have a talk about remembering to let me know if you're going to be late or not."
"Whatever, Dad," he made himself say with a hint of impudence, wanting to get away from Loki as quickly as he could, before he succumbed to the temptation to throw himself into the Mischief Maker's arms.
"Go to bed," his father ordered. "Before your mouth gets you grounded."
Hunter bolted up the stairs, thinking woefully that his mouth and his past had earned him a lot worse than a grounding this time.
Once again he had become the delinquent, the thief who could not be trusted, and soon enough he would commit a crime that no one, not even the reformed God of Mischief, would forgive.
He fumbled his way into the bathroom, used cold washcloths and arnica on his bruises then threw the evidence in the bottom of his wastebasket. Tomorrow he'd get rid of it in the dumpster. His mouth twisted. No, he hadn't forgotten how to cover his tracks.
He pulled on his T-shirt and then closed the light and slid beneath the sheets, where he tossed and turned, his mind in turmoil, tears trickling down his cheeks. A part of him wanted very badly to run to his father and confess everything, but he knew that was never an option.
Loki thought he had changed. But there were some sins that could never be washed away, and with this next deed he would brand himself a traitor to the Laufeyson name forever.
The next morning
Over a second cup of coffee, Loki detailed the upcoming release for Asgardian Quest 2 to Tony, Thor, and Steve, as well as explaining how Belle's problem with Voss had been solved. He didn't mention how he had implemented his own brand of Asgardian justice to the boy, knowing that Stark and Rogers probably wouldn't approve, but he was surprised when Tony stated, "You know, Loki, if you really want to make sure Voss and his dad toe the mark let me put in a word or two to my stock holders about how Voss isn't as reliable as he seems."
"You'd do that?" Loki asked, astonished.
"Sure I would! That's my niece that little arrogant bum was tormenting. And I know Voss Sr.—he's an arrogant jerk so I'd have no problem whispering in my shareholders ears that they ought to blackball Voss. The jerk's needed a set down for a while now, and this is just the excuse I need to do it."
"That is quite bold of you, Man of Iron," Thor approved. "Has the contest been judged yet, Loki?"
"Yeah we want to see if Belle wins," Steve said.
"I think the final results will be in this Monday," Loki answered. "Belle made it to the semi-finales so she has a good chance."
"We're all rooting for her," Tony declared. He eyed the mischievous god with concern. "You look kind of . . . stressed, Loki. Everything okay with the rest of your zoo?"
The Master of Mischief sighed. "Yes, the other kids are fine. Except recently Hunter has been giving me an attitude. Not his usual sass, though. He's been pushing it and I can't figure out why."
"He's what—twelve? I remember going through a phase when I was that age," Tony chuckled. "Sassed my old man to death and earned myself a few whacks. I'm sure you've been there too, Mischief Maker."
"Several times," Loki admitted. "But . . . this is . . . I don't know. I can't put my finger on it but it doesn't seem like the normal rebellious phase. For one thing, he hasn't tried to insist on doing something I've forbidden, or argued with me about any specific thing. He's just snippy and short tempered."
"Perhaps I can talk to him, Loki," Thor suggested.
"You're welcome to, brother. Before he gets on my last nerve and ends up grounded for Easter vacation."
It pained him to admit that Thor might get through to his obstreperous son where he couldn't, but right now he knew that someone needed to.
"I'll come over and take Hunter to a ball game," Thor said. "Perhaps there we can talk."
"Good idea." Loki said. "Well, I'd best get to the office. Stark, let me know what happens when you put Operation Take Down Voss into action."
"I'll text you," Tony grinned.
Hunter had put the fifty dollars he had received for his birthday in an envelope to give to Lang. He had been saving to buy a new video game, but now that plan was shot. Yet he still needed two hundred dollars and wasn't sure how to get it. He wasn't skilled enough to hack into Loki's bank account, and he knew that picking the pocket of the god was out of the question. None of them could sneak up on Loki, it was a running debate between the siblings whether he really did have eyes in the back of his head.
As the deadline drew nearer, Hunter grew more and more anxious. And more inclined to rebellion. That Saturday, he deliberately left his earbuds off and began blasting his favorite rock radio station. The staccato beat and depressing lyrics of Nine Inch Nails suited his mood perfectly.
The thumping bass caused Max and Nate to cover their ears downstairs and Aleta howled, "Daddy! It's too loud! I can't hear Beauty and the Beast!"
"Turn it down, Hunter!" Sam yelled crossly. "I'm trying to study!"
Loki suppressed an annoyed curse. Nine Hells, this is really too much! He teleported upstairs to knock on the door of his eldest son's room, wincing as the music assaulted his tender ear drums.
"Hunter David Laufeyson! Lower the music!" he yelled.
But the music was so loud he didn't hear his father.
" . . .Bow down before the one you serve,
You're going to get what you deserve . . ."
While the lyrics were catchy and Loki even found them amusing in a way, he wasn't about to put up with this kind of thing occurring on a regular basis. He opened the door and stuck his head in.
Hunter was sitting on his bed, playing with a baseball, tossing it up in the air and catching it.
Loki frowned and snapped his fingers. Immediately the noise ceased.
"Hey! I was listening to that, Dad!"
"You need to put your earbuds in, son. I don't want to need hearing aides at my age," Loki said with a hint of disapproval.
"At your age?" Hunter stared at him. "Umm . . . you're like two thousand."
"Two thousand and seven, to be exact." Loki corrected. "Your point?"
Hunter shot him a truculent glance. "Why can't I just listen to what I want?"
Loki leaned against the doorjamb. "I have no problem with what you were listening to—it was how. The whole house doesn't want to hear your death metal music. So quit giving me a hard time and put your earbuds in."
"I . . . don't know where they are," he admitted sullenly.
"Maybe if you cleaned up in here, you'd find them," his father suggested. He gestured to the messy bed, the gaming console controllers strewn all over the floor, empty plastic cups and laundry overflowing. "I can barely see the floor."
"Aww! It's not that bad!"
"I beg to differ. You don't live in a hovel," Loki told him firmly.
The boy glanced away. "Dad, you're such a—"
"Don't finish that sentence, young man," Loki warned, his emerald eyes flashing. "Because if you do you'll be spending the rest of tomorrow night cleaning this demolition zone and not going to the baseball game with Uncle Thor."
"What baseball game?" Hunter asked.
"The one he's taking you to," Loki replied.
"Me and who else?"
"Just you two this time," his father said. "If you quit sassing me and do what I say."
Hunter seemed to wilt under the disapproving Look he was getting, and he hung his head and murmured, "'Kay. Sorry. Can I still listen to Head Like A Hole?"
"Is that what it's called?" Loki raised an eyebrow. "Sounded more like some kind of cult for some god to me. Put these in." He held out a pair of earbuds.
"Thanks, Dad!" Hunter managed a smile and took the earbuds and attached them to his clock stereo and then put them into his ears.
"And try to clean up some of this mess after school tomorrow. Before you get bugs."
"Okay," his son agreed, then turned the stereo back on.
Loki teleported back downstairs, thinking that he wasn't quite sure why Hunter had seemed to regress back to the angry boy he had first adopted three years ago. Was this what he had to look forward to with all his children? Norns help me!
The snatch of song he had heard replayed itself in his head, and the mischievous god smirked as the lyrics awoke an imp of a prankster inside him. But he would have to wait to put that little plan into action.
Back in his room, Hunter contemplated the good fortune that had finally come his way. Going to a Yankees game with Thor was one way he could pick up the rest of the money he needed, all he had to do was work the crowd at the game between intermissions and he would soon have the cash. Then he could tell Lang to bite him and put paid to that chapter of his life once and for all. And best of all, no one in his family would ever know how he had betrayed them, and the secret he carried would remain hidden.
Then he did something he hadn't done in years. He went to his knees on the carpet and prayed to Fenris Wolf, thanking him for showing him the way to serve both him and his new family.
A/N: The Muse is on fire, Loki fans! 4 chapters in 4 days-whoo hoo! Who can't wait to see what happens next?