Continuing Tales

Fallen Star

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Alydia Rackham

Part 12 of 27

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"Genius: the superhuman in man."

-Victor Hugo


Loki had never been one for romance—that had always been Thor's arena. Certainly, Loki had admired a few Asgardian women from afar, but since the shining Thor had always been nearby, the ladies' eyes had been on him, and not on the shadowy younger brother. Loki had always pardoned his brother, citing that he could not help it if he was charismatic and good-looking.

But once, at a banquet celebrating their father's awakening from the Sleep, Loki's attention was particularly captivated by the beauty of a young lady he had been admiring from a distance for several months—and tonight, Thor noticed. With his usual lack of discretion, Thor demanded to know what was keeping his brother so silent and fixed. Secretly grateful for this forced confidence—for he had been wishing for an outlet for his sentiments, and perhaps some advice—Loki cautiously remarked on his admired lady's loveliness, the elegance of her dress, and the way her hair looked like a long waterfall of living gold. Thor, who had apparently never truly noticed this girl in all his life, took a good, long look at her that moment.

And then he proceeded to pay her court during all the rest of the festivities.

For hours, Loki watched from a distance as his lady and his brother exchanged warm, flirtatious glances, quick banter and ringing laughter. Thor even got her to give him a lock of her unspeakably lovely hair. All the while, Loki's heart burned with a sick mixture of horror and something like hatred.

The next day, Loki did not make any appearance in court. He didn't even bother wearing anything that suited his rank. He wore dark trousers, a long black coat and a loose shirt, and he sat on a rock on the stony beach, feeling the spray on his face, and listening to the roar as the white-foamed surf rolled up onto the shore. Gray clouds hung low in the sky, and when the gulls cried, it made a lonely sound.

Loki sensed another presence—quiet and hesitant—behind him to his right. It was definitely not Thor. Slow footsteps sounded on the wet, round stones. Loki didn't look—but it didn't surprise him at all when he felt Balder sit right next to him on the stone.

"Hello, Loki," Balder said, his voice soft as a murmuring stream.

"Hello, Bird," Loki answered, using the nickname that he and Thor had given Balder almost instantly after his birth.

"You were not at dinner," Balder pointed out.

"You're very observant," Loki answered.

"Ha. It's rather hard to miss the gaping hole between Thor and Hogun," Balder answered. "What is wrong?"

Loki turned his head and looked at his brother. Balder was young and guileless—just two turns away from coming of age. He had a bright face—classically and handsomely-shaped, and ruddy. His radiant blue eyes seemed to reflect the light of the sky—and they always saw straight into the soul of whomever he spoke to. Yet his gaze never invaded, never brought awkwardness. Instead, it drew people near, and filled them with warmth. His long, curling golden hair tumbled to his shoulders, like spun sunlight. He had a quiet, listening presence, an aura of living stillness. He had no taste for learning the art of battle, or even picking up any sort of weapon. Instead, he often walked by himself in the high hills, amongst the fertile valleys, or the river countries, talking to the trees, singing to the birds. Yet, for all his wandering, he always seemed to be nearby if anyone wished to talk, or simply did not want to be alone. He had a brilliant, ready smile, and did not know a stranger. He made a point of befriending every newcomer to court, and always learning everyone's name. Loki knew it was no wonder that all of Asgard loved his little brother. Loki certainly did.

Now, Loki looked back into that penetrating blue gaze, then glanced down.

"Nothing is wrong," he lied, even though he knew it was just an exercise. Balder knew him too well.

However, Loki's little brother did not speak for several minutes. Finally, Balder took a deep breath and folded his arms over his chest.

"I wonder if Thor would like Lady Sif so well if she didn't have such golden hair."

Loki's heart clenched and he tightened his mouth.

"Why wouldn't he?" Loki muttered. Balder shrugged.

"I don't know. I certainly think it is beautiful, but I would rather that the lady be lovely in her heart."

Loki rolled his eyes.

"I doubt Thor knows anything about her heart," he muttered.

"I wonder if he would take the time to learn it," Balder mused.

"What—if she didn't have gold hair?" Loki frowned at him, confused. He canted his head. "Are you suggesting something?"

Balder looked at him in surprise.

"No. Are you?"

Loki lifted an eyebrow.

"What do you think I was suggesting?"

"I'm not sure," Balder confessed.

"That I ought to change her hair another color?" Loki asked. Balder's brow darkened.

"Were you thinking of doing that, Loki?"

"No," Loki stated. He glared out at the water. "Besides, I can't, even if I wanted to. I can't change another Aesir's appearance—only my own." He glanced down at his hands, rubbing his thumbs against each other. "Changing someone else's looks is a talent that Father did not pass down to me."

"Hm," Balder said lightly. "Well, I'm glad."

"Of what, exactly?"

"I wondered if you might be up to some mischief, since you weren't at dinner," Balder gave him a sparkling look. "But I see you're wiser than that."

"This time," Loki corrected, smiling crookedly. They fell silent for a moment. Then, Balder straightened.

"Would you come flying with me?" he asked. "I need someone to show me the way through the south canyons."

Loki hesitated, wanting to stay on the beach and brood. But he knew his younger brother was trying to stave off his foul humor, and he was grateful. So he managed a smile, and nodded.

"All right. I will go get ready."

So Loki went with his brother, and they exhausted themselves and came home late. That night, Loki slept better than he had anticipated, and the next day he awoke, dressed, ate, and kept to his own apartments for most of the morning. Everything was quiet, albeit solitary, for him for several hours.

Until she came.

Loki hardly recognized her when she came storming into his greeting room with a full body guard. She wore a long scarlet gown that swept the floor, her familiar eyes blazed—and her jet black hair tumbled loose down to her waist.

"Lady…Lady Sif?" Loki stammered, starting toward her, then stopping at the look of fury in her eyes. "What—"

"A bird came to my window and told me," Sif ground out. "That you are the one who transformed the color of my hair, because you were jealous of my attention to your brother."

Loki was floored. His face got hot.

"I…No," Loki shook his head. "I didn't do that."

"Of course you did!" Sif stormed. "Who else would do something like this?"

Loki's mind raced. He had played tricks on people before—enough to build up a reputation amongst the Aesir—so he could see why she might come to this conclusion. But Loki could not change someone else's appearance—it was beyond his ability. But who would?

And she had been told that he had done this—by a bird…?

No one knew of his jealousy except…




Impossible! He would never do something so petty…

Unless he had inherited Odin's ability to change others' appearance—and maybe—just maybe—he was trying to see if Thor would love Sif if she did not have such striking hair. Then, after proving his point, he would change it back…

But if Loki tried to explain all of that to Sif, she would never believe it. Who would ever believe that someone as innocent as Balder would be so meddlesome? Especially when Loki, known by all of them as the Mischief Maker, stood already accused?

Loki's heart sank. Deny it, and she would call him a coward. Acknowledge it, and she would hate him. Either way, to Sif, he was already guilty.

Something must have shown in his face—grief crossed his brow—because Sif's look of rage broke, and she stepped toward him with bright, soft eyes.

"Please, Loki?" she pleaded. "Please, can you change it back?"

He gazed long into her eyes, his heart twisting, then swallowed hard and spread his hands.

"I can't."

Her expression froze. Crystal tears fell. Then, she slapped him across the face. His head came around as her palm stung his cheek. He squeezed his eyes shut and did not watch as she whirled and left the room.

Then lo, during the next few days, just as Loki and Balder had discussed, Thor seemed to lose interest in Lady Sif. He called on her once or twice, but soon ceased, and when she sent him messages, he either sent a distracted reply or forgot altogether. When Loki had swallowed his fury and embarrassment and confusion long enough to speak, he confronted Thor about his treatment of her. But Thor retaliated, calling him a hypocrite, telling him he was acting childish and silly by turning Sif's hair black. He commanded him to return it to gold. Loki, sick and trapped, told him that was not in his power. This enraged Thor, and he would not speak to Loki for a long time. Loki and vowed to never talk of Sif to him again.

But the damage had been done. Sif had fallen in love with Thor. Loki could see it in her dark eyes whenever she was in Thor's company. Thor had declared to the Warriors Three that the lady just didn't suit him after all—she was not delicate enough. In fact, she was a rough-handed warrior, skilled in all manner of weaponry. He found this attractive in a friend, but not a wife. Seeing her practical value as a fighter, Thor drew her into his circle of elite soldiers, pleading her case before Odin to allow her, the first maiden ever, to fight in battle alongside him.

Sif soon became one of Asgard's finest, a brilliant strategist and leader in her own right. She won fame and glory in battle after battle, until all of Asgard—and even some of Midgard—knew her name.

Loki was the only one who knew she truly fought for Thor. She acted on his command alone, and never believed she had done well until he smiled on her.

But her hair never turned gold again.

And Loki remained, near and constant as Thor's shadow, silent and cold, his bitterness poisoning any feelings he had once had for this woman. It took a long while for Loki's anger at Thor to ease—but ease it did, as soon as Thor forgot a little and became open and affectionate toward Loki again. It was different with Loki's other brother. Ever after, though Balder assured him he had no idea what had happened, the wound of Loki's broken confidence remained raw. No matter how he tried, he could not forget that his little brother had done something intentionally wicked, and had let Loki take the blame.


In the haze of lavender twilight, as the wind blew over the sea, carrying the scent of salt and rain, Thor, bereft of Mjollnir, strode slowly out onto the Asbru bridge. He watched his feet make flashes of light and a ringing tone on the multi-colored bridge with each step he took. He glanced up and ahead of him, at the limitless space filled with galaxies and nebula and billions of stars. And there, at the end of the shattered bridge, he caught the glint of Heimdall's golden armor.

Thor walked slowly, heavily, and so it took a long time for him to reach the gatekeeper's side. When he did, he paused on the edge of the abyss, casting a look down at the jagged, fractured end he had created. He listened to the water as it tumbled over the edge—felt the wind on in his hair as the breeze blew out into space, then curled back toward Asgard after the shield sent it home.

"You have not come to inquire of me for a very long time, my prince," Heimdall noted, his voice even and low as he rested his right hand on the butt of his mighty sword.

"My mother said that each time I came back from speaking with you, I seemed sad," Thor answered. "She asked me to stop—or at least not come to you so frequently."

"The queen is a wise woman," Heimdall said. Thor took a deep breath and nodded.

"And has her suggestion made you happier?" Heimdall asked. Thor's eyes flickered across the distant stars.

"No," he confessed. "But perhaps it has made her happier."

A long silence stretched between them as the surf distantly rumbled.

"Do you still wish to know if I am watching Earth?" Heimdall finally asked. "Or did you only come to gaze at the stars?"

Thor took another breath—it was tighter this time—then nodded again.

"Tell me what you see."

"I will tell you, my prince," Heimdall answered. "If you will hear all of what I have to say."

Thor's brow furrowed, and he turned to study Heimdall's solemn profile.

"Tell me, Heimdall," he urged. "What has happened?"

"Upon your request," Heimdall began. "I often turned my gaze toward Earth after the breaking of the bridge, and I watched your mortal woman, the one called Jane. I saw her search, I saw her study—I saw her gain hope of seeing you again. But then, something odd began to catch my eye. A vacuum, a blur. Someone had come near to her—someone I could not quite see."

Thor turned toward the gatekeeper, watching him closely.

"Curious, I watched, and puzzled over this cloudy presence," Heimdall went on.
"At first, I thought it might be a danger to her—but she did not seem afraid, nor did the people around her. Their words sounded unusually muffled to me—and when the mortals paused so the stranger could answer, I could not hear his voice. I continued to watch, using all of my strength to penetrate the cloud this person had cast around himself that so muddled my power. But then, tonight, he revealed himself."

"On purpose?" Thor asked. Heimdall shook his head.

"No. I am confident he did not mean to."

Thor leaned toward him.

"Who is it?"

Heimdall turned his piercing golden eyes on him.

"It is your brother."

Thor's stomach flipped, and his fists clenched. He swayed where he stood, his face going cold and then hot.

"Loki," he choked.

"Yes," Heimdall said. Thor turned away, something burning his eyes. His heart hammered against his ribs.

"He is alive?"

"Yes," Heimdall said again. Thor pressed a hand to his mouth, swallowing hard once, then again, feeling as if something jagged stuck in his throat. He lowered his hand and took a gasping breath as a jolt traveled through him.

"He vowed he would find her," he said through his teeth, turning back toward Heimdall. "He told me he would go after Jane after he had destroyed Jotunheim—"

"My prince," Heimdall interrupted. "He has done her no harm. And it does not appear as though he means to."

"This is Loki we are talking about," Thor snarled.

"I know," Heimdall answered. "But if you could see what I saw, even for a moment, you would know that she is safe."

Thor hesitated, bewildered, a strange sensation twisting his gut.

"What did you see?"

Heimdall turned back toward the stars.

"I saw them standing in the clouds," Heimdall said quietly. "I saw them as clearly as I see you now, and I could hear each breath they took. I saw her feet resting on his feet, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her to his chest. Jane turned her gaze up toward me—but what she saw was a rain of stars that lit up her eyes. She smiled like a child, and never took her attention from the sky. But Loki did not turn his gaze upward at all. Always, he attended to her. He set his chin on the top of her head and closed his eyes, and held her hands to keep her warm. He spoke gently to her, and held her fast so she would not fall. And then he took her back down, through the clouds, and they landed atop a roof—the roof of a building where Jane does her searching. And for a moment, they stood and gazed at each other." Heimdall took a breath. "And then he hid himself from my sight again."

For a long while, Thor stared at the gatekeeper. Finally, he turned away, his vision clouding, his heart pulled in a thousand directions.

"I must trust you, Heimdall," Thor said, his voice breaking. "Are you…You are certain he will not harm her?"

"I am certain…" Heimdall said. "…that, somehow, he feels indebted to her. For it is hard to know, my prince, what happened to him after he fell from this bridge, and how broken his body may have been. It is possible that she saved his life." He paused a moment, then his voice deepened. "I have seen many worlds and many beings—long histories and wars and betrayals caused by cowards and traitors with guile in their hearts and vengeance in their hands. And I can say to you with honesty, my prince," he looked again at Thor. "That though I searched, I could see none of that in Loki. Not this time."

Thor stood for a long time, eyes closed, trying to even out his breathing.

"Keep watch over them, Heimdall," Thor said hoarsely. "And tell me if you see him again."

"I will obey," Heimdall answered—and Thor finally found the strength to turn away and stride back to Asgard.


"You're kidding me," Darcy gave Jane a look over the top of her glasses. "Because they're not letting you touch the Cube, that means you can't go to the bunker, hence none of us get to see Tony Stark now?"

Jane heaved a sigh and sat down at the lunch table in front of her sandwich.

"Don't rub it in, Darcy, please," she groaned, scooting up to the table. "I already feel sick enough about this whole thing."

"But that was like, the whole reason I came back," Darcy said, plopping down into the chair to Jane's right. "Aside from seeing Fenris again, of course." She gave him a bright smile.

"Of course," Fenris said, sitting down on Jane's left with a cup of tea. Jane glanced at him. He was wearing his usual clothes again—boots, jeans, a dark collared shirt—but that look in his eyes hadn't gone away. In fact, she caught it again when he glanced back at her and gave her a small smile.

"It can't be helped," Erik said, sitting down across from Jane and starting to butter toast. "When we agreed to this project, we also agreed to their terms. And if we can't go to the bunker, and that's the only place Stark is allowed to go, then we can't see him. At this point, anyway. But I wouldn't give up all hope that sometime we might—"

A distant rumble interrupted him. They all stopped what they were doing and glanced up. Then, all the silverware and glasses started rattling.

"Is that a plane?" Darcy asked. Jane's breathing sped up.

"If it is, it's flying really low…" Jane murmured.

The rumbling turned into a deep scream, making the walls and floor shake. Jane reached down and snatched Fenris' wrist. Erik jumped to his feet.

"What—" he started.

Then, something flashed out in the back parking—

And a tall, red-and-gold, shining metal man descended to the paving, energy radiating from his hands and feet that sent dust blasting away from him. He landed with a heavy thud. Jane leaped to her feet and whirled around. Fenris grabbed her, pushing her behind him—she could feel his fear in his touch.

"Fenris, it's okay," she gasped, taking hold of his elbow.

"It is a Destroyer—" Fenris snapped.

"No," Jane shook her head. "It's—"

"Iron Man," Darcy finished.

Jane broke away from Fenris and darted to the back door, hearing Darcy follow on her heels.

"Jane?" Fenris called, clearly confused. Jane didn't answer. She pushed the door open, the wind hit her face…

And she slowed, overpowered with awe, as she watched.

The helmed head turned toward her, the slitted glowing eyes fixing on her. Then, the red portions of the towering armor, like scales on a fish, began lifting and retracting, rippling back and away into hidden compartments. He held out his arms to the sides as the armor clattered and clacked, opening to reveal the gold and silver inner-workings beneath. The chest plate withdrew, the leg armor folded upward and clicked back into place, the shoulder coverings hid, and the helmet flipped open and back and disappeared. At last, the whole thing slipped off his arms, leaving him holding two handles, the rest of it open like a crayfish. He set it on the ground, and shoved the handles down—

And it all folded at one hinged point, closed and neatly latched. Then, a dark-haired, middle-aged man grasped the handle and picked it up, as if it were a briefcase he was taking to the office.

Jane stared at him. He was good-looking, with mussed hair and a short, interesting mustache and beard. He had quick black eyes and smile-lines, but an intensity in his heavy eyebrows. He was well-built, but shorter than Jane had imagined. He wore a slightly loose black body suit that allowed his chest piece through, and gloves and boots. Jane couldn't keep a baffled smile from her face.

"Sorry to drop in on you like this," he said lightly, striding toward her. "But those SHIELD bums said I wasn't going to get to see you, so I decided to take matters into my own hands."

"Tony Stark?" she managed. He gave her a grin and stuck out his hand.

"Jane Foster, I assume," he said. She shook his hand.

"It's a pleasure," he said. "Yeah, I've heard all about you."

"You…You have?" Jane stammered.

"Well, not enough," Stark admitted, shrugging one shoulder. "Just that you're beautiful and a genius. That's a good combination."

Jane tried not to blush or giggle. She didn't really succeed.

"And," Stark went on."I've heard that you've been keeping a guy here who's from another planet."

"Realm," a serpentine voice came from behind Jane. "They're known as realms."

Stark's gaze fixed on someone past Jane, and his expression completely changed.

"Right, realms," Stark said quietly. He raised his eyebrows. "Are you him?"

Jane glanced back. Fenris stood there by the door, arms crossed over his chest, looking at Stark as if he was watching a snake.

"I am," Fenris said. Stark put down his armor briefcase, and stepped past Darcy and Erik to stand in front of the taller man.

"It's truly an honor," Stark said sincerely. "And not that I'm not totally thrilled to see Miss Foster—but you're actually the one I came to see." He held out his hand, palm up. Fenris studied it for a moment, then his green eyes flicked up to Jane's. She nodded quickly. Then, Fenris looked back at Stark—and shook his hand. Stark grinned at him, then glanced back at Jane.

"Hey, I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, because I'm not, but this suit is killing me," he pulled on the collar. "Do you mind if we go inside where it's a little cooler?"

"Not at all," Jane said faintly, because that was all the volume she could muster. So, Tony Stark grabbed his suit-case, and the five of them trailed into her lab, both Darcy and Jane grinning like idiots.


Jane sat back in her chair, one leg tucked underneath her, and continued her study of Tony Stark. Tony sat directly across from her, in the corner of the couch, and leisurely draped one arm across the back, whilst taking a long drink of iced tea. A captivated Darcy sat on one end of the couch to Tony's left, and Erik sat to Tony's right. Fenris, however, had not strayed from Jane's side, and sat stiffly in a chair next to her, his hands folded in his lap.

"This is fantastic, thank you," Tony said to Jane, lifting the glass of tea, then setting it on the coffee table amidst all of the books. Then he took a deep breath and looked back and forth between Jane and Fenris. "Okay, I only have about a billion questions to ask you, and I have no idea where to start."

"Who are you?" Fenris asked. Tony blinked.

"Um, sure," he suddenly laughed. "Yeah, that would make sense. Well, I'm…I'm Anthony Stark, my dad's name was Howard—he was a genius. I kinda take after him. I'm an engineer, scientist, and otherwise known as the Iron Man. And…I don't think I caught your name."

Fenris waited a beat, not breaking eye contact with Tony.

"Fenris, son of Aerid," he finally said—and Jane could feel ice in his tone. "I was a guard on the Asbru Bridge."

"Um, that would be one of my billion questions—that Asbru Bridge thing," Tony pointed at him. Fenris' eyes narrowed.

"What is the Iron Man?"

Tony cleared his throat and leaned forward.

"It's me. But it's also a suit. It's this thing, here, that folded up," Tony said, tapping the case with his toe. "It's…It's an advanced prosthesis, really, armed with weapons. I use it to protect people, to stop the bad guys."

"How does it operate?" Fenris asked. Tony winced and glanced at Erik.

"It's a bit complicated…"

Fenris' eyes flashed.

"Do try to explain."

Tony sat there a moment, studying him, then slowly leaned back. His brow furrowed. Fenris tilted his head, allowing a small smile.

"See? This interests me so much. I do not know you, and you do not know me," he said smoothly. "But you behave just like the members of SHIELD, and so many other Midgardians, who act as if they do know me, and command me to tell them all about myself and my home and my passage to this realm." Fenris' voice hardened. "Yet they shut me out of their bunkers, rarely tell me their true names, and remain unwilling to part with any of their own secrets." Fenris shrugged. "As a result, I mistrust them, and give them nothing of what they truly want." He gave Tony an iron look. "So tell me, son of Howard," he said. "Why should I trust you?"

For a long, tense moment, Jane didn't breathe as the two men locked gazes, saying nothing. Tony's face was dead serious. Fenris' bore a minute, cold smile of challenge.

Then, suddenly, Tony shifted.

"Screw it," he muttered, stood up and stepped around the coffee table. Jane sat up, startled. Tony picked up a stack of books and moved them, then sat on the coffee table. He was now eye level with Jane and Fenris—but he looked only at Fenris, whose eyes had narrowed. Tony braced his left hand on his knee, and lifted the right to gesture as he spoke.

"I have several different sets of armor," he said. "And even though each of them has lots of different capabilities, they're the same in that they're all made of incredibly strong alloy of titanium and gold, and they're reinforced by force-fields."

Jane saw something spark behind Fenris' cold exterior. His gaze sharpened like a hawk's.

"Force-fields. You mean invisible shielding," Fenris noted. Tony nodded.

"Yep. Also, all my suits have a self-contained environments, all kinds of weapons systems, flight capability, and all sorts of communication devices and sensors."

"Such as?" Fenris asked.

"Radar, radio…" Tony explained.

Fenris frowned.

"Things that enable you to see far away, or in the dark," Tony amended. "Like—"

"By way of heat. Or echo," Fenris ventured.

"Aha—yeah, both," Tony said, snapping his fingers. "Um, I've also got jets in the boots and the repulsors in the gloves—you saw those. The ones in the hands are for steering, but I can use them for weapons."

Fenris glanced at him sideways. Jane hid her smile—Fenris' hands had begun to work—he rubbed his fingers together. There was no way he could disguise his interest now.

"How, exactly?" Fenris wondered.

"Um, I call them Pulse Bolts," Tony said. "They're concussive energy blasts that actually gain energy the further they travel. They're real bone-breakers. I can also shoot something like that out of my chest." He tapped his finger on the center of the glowing blue circle of his chest piece. Jane watched as Fenris' eyes locked on that chest piece—and his gaze flickered. When he spoke, his voice had changed.

"What is this magic?"

"What? No, it's not magic, it's an arc reactor," Tony said, glancing down at it. "It's a clean energy source. The first one I made wasn't powerful enough for my second suit, so I developed a new one. Then, it started poisoning me with palladium. So I had to develop a completely new element for a power source, which fit into my new suit, the Mark Six." Tony kicked his head back and gave a half smile. "It's pretty awesome. But it's not magic."

Fenris still stared at the reactor.

"Oh, yes it is," he stated, and held out his pale hand toward it.

The arc reactor's light blazed, and a high, musical hum issued from it. Tony sat up, ramrod straight, his eyes going wide. Jane felt a flash of terror, along with a strange heat against the skin of her chest—

And Fenris lowered his hand. The light on the reactor faded. Tony blinked.

"Holy…crap," Tony choked, his hand pressing against his reactor. He stared at Fenris. "What the heck was that?"

"What did you do?" Erik demanded, standing up.

"Are you okay?" Darcy gasped.

"I'm incredible," Tony declared, flexing his hands. "That just…I'm not sure what that was, but I think I felt every nerve in my body. Not in a bad way, though, just—" He frowned at Fenris. "What did you do?"

Fenris was looking at him differently now—like a puzzle with a few pieces he couldn't find.

"You have five small bits of metal imbedded in the tissue around your heart," he said. "That device is keeping them from killing you."

Now it was Tony's turn to gape.

"Okay, how did you know that?"

Fenris smiled.

"First, I want to know how it happened," he pointed at Tony's chest.

"Okay, fine," Tony grunted, shifting where he sat. "I'll do story time for a minute here, but then you've gotta tell me what you just did with your X-ray hand or whatever."

Fenris just waited. Nevertheless, Tony leaned forward, his eyes blazing, and began.

"I was in the Middle East demonstrating a new missile-launching technology—one that would take out several targets at once—and my convoy was attacked. I got out of the Hummer before it exploded and hid behind a rock. I tried to call for help, but a grenade landed right next to me in the sand…"


Fenris listened to Tony's story without interrupting once—though the two men, led by Fenris, moved to the couch to sit instead. The rest of them sat completely still, and Jane hardly breathed. She had heard Tony Stark's incredible story from the news, of course, and had done a little research of her own to satisfy her curiosity—but she had never imagined how many of the details had been left out or softened.

Like the fact that Tony had barely survived a meatball, morphine-induced surgery that removed half a dozen pieces of shrapnel from his chest cavity. That he had awakened to find a magnet imbedded in his chest, attached to a car battery—a horrifying device that nevertheless preserved his life—one that was invented by the doctor who had operated on him. A man named Yinsen. A man who became his friend.

How his captors had nearly drowned him after he refused to construct the Jericho missile for the terrorists. How he had sat there by the fire, realizing he was going to die.

Then, how the wise Yinsen had inspired him, motivated him, to pull out the best of his genius to find a way to escape. And how the two of them, out of scraps and wire, had first constructed the small arc reactor, and then the first tank-like Iron Man suit. How Yinsen had sacrificed his life for Tony's while buying him time to escape. How Tony had been found in the desert after a fiery exit from the compound, and how he had returned to the United States and built a new suit, only to be betrayed by the one he had looked to as a father for decades.

Fenris watched Tony's expressions and movements without wavering. He sat sideways on the couch, facing Tony, his left elbow propped on the back of it, his forefinger draped across his lips. At first, his gaze was sharp, critical, penetrating—distrustful and testing. Once in a while, he would lift an eyebrow.

But then, as Tony's storytelling went on, Jane saw a subtle change in his face. She doubted anyone else noticed it at first, but it intensified and softened at the same time. Also, Jane supposed that Tony hadn't had a rapt, un-interrupting audience in a very long time, for his disjointed speech became smoother, more connected, and his gestures pointed and focused. At last, when Tony came to the part about Obadiah Stane's betrayal and death, Fenris dropped his arm and linked his fingers together—and the hardness vanished from his brow.

When Tony finished, he tightened one side of his face in a characteristic wince, shrugged, and held out his hands for a second. Then he sat back, and waited. Fenris gazed back at him a moment, then sat up. Jane held her breath. Fenris' lips parted, he glanced down, then met Tony's eyes—

And began to teach him. He told him all about what he had done with his hand to discover the nature of Tony's reactor—how he could extend his own energy and connect it to the moving, living energy of the universe, which included both Tony's physical self and the magnetic battery. This, of course, fascinated Tony, and the two of them plunged into a detailed discussion of arc reactor technology, and the new element that Tony had created for the reactor. Jane managed to mentally keep up with the discussion, but Fenris was always two steps ahead of her.

Occasionally, Jane glanced at Erik and Darcy. Erik, his brow tight, listened as if his life depended on it—Jane knew he was completely absorbed. Darcy probably wasn't interested in the technical talk, but Jane knew that she loved watching people interact. Personally, Jane was enchanted by both.

Because from the subject of the arc reactor, the Asgardian and the Iron Man jumped to the subject of "tactile magic"—energy that did not have to be channeled through wires or conduits—and that subject led to Fenris' armor, and its vanishing capabilities and the reasons for it. And that led to Asgard.

Jane listened, a slow and delighted smile coming over her face, as the two men completely forgot everything else—including time—and dove headfirst into the most complicated and technical dialogue about wormholes, the advantages and disadvantages of traveling that way compared to faster-than-light travel, and the great and dangerous power of the bifrost. The concept of the bifrost kept Tony enraptured for at least an hour, and Fenris swiftly, but in great detail, lined it out from its elementary function to its most abstract possibility—and sometimes, Tony cut in with such specific questions and perfect observations that they shocked Fenris back. When Fenris was thus impressed, he would pause a moment, blink—and then escalate the talk to its next level of technicality, until even Jane had to chuckle in bafflement and stop trying to understand. But Tony Stark knew no such limit.

Later in the afternoon, Erik, Darcy and Jane got up to make supper, but they stayed as quiet as they could as they moved around the kitchenette, for Jane still wanted to hear the conversation.

Fenris and Tony stayed on the couch, entirely focused. With calculated gestures, Fenris explained the placement of the realms in the World Tree, and Tony memorized their names instantly. And as Jane brought them their food and they all sat down to eat, Fenris explained that Tony had harnessed a power to run his heart that Asgardians had within them—it was generated in Asgard by the Golden Apples of Idunn, and that they kept the Aesir young and alive for thousands of years. Fenris said that this power was part of their physical makeup, and manifested in different abilities—although he confessed that even the magic-master Prince Loki couldn't fully explain it.

After dinner, though, things shifted. Tony wiped his mouth on a napkin, took a drink and turned to Jane, and asked her to tell him all about her research. Instantly, she had both Tony and Fenris' undivided attention.

Flattered that Tony Stark would be actually interested in her research, she started at the beginning, with her very first discoveries, and led up to the present day. Tony didn't know much about astrophysics, and Fenris wasn't familiar with the terms, so a lively discussion picked up in which Jane both taught them and served as interpreter between Tony and Fenris concerning the laws of the stars and the passages between realms.

This discussion did two things: it clearly amused Erik, and it clearly bored Darcy. Out of the corner of her eye, Jane saw Darcy pick up a book and start to read it, and as the sky outside turned black, Darcy mumbled a goodnight and headed out to her trailer. Erik stayed for a good long time after, while she and Fenris alternated telling Tony about the planets known to Midgardians and those known only to those in Asgard, and how they operated in the same universe. However, around midnight or so, Erik stood up stiffly. Jane was in the middle of a sentence about how unique Earth's sun was when she felt Erik pat the back of her head and say goodnight. Jane didn't even miss a beat in what she was saying, and only absently noticed the door click as he left.

Finally, Tony leaned back and rubbed his eyes.

"Holy crap, it's two in the morning," he muttered, squinting down at his watch. Jane laughed and rubbed her face.

"Feels like I'm in college again," she commented. "Staying up late talking about geeky science stuff…"

"Hey, it's what makes the world go round," Tony answered. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "Well, my initial idea was to drop by and then fly home, but now I think I might fall asleep and run myself into the ground. Where's the nearest hotel where I can crash?"

"You can have my trailer," Jane yawned. "Darcy's got an extra bed in hers—I'll sleep there."

"Oh, my gosh—are you sure?" Tony sat up.

"Yes," Jane said firmly. "And I say that because I've been in this town's hotel. I wouldn't let my worst enemy stay there, let alone one of my friends." Jane's drowsiness snapped, and she realized how familiar she had just acted. But Tony just smiled—a real smile—and nodded at her.

"Thank you."

Jane felt Fenris watching her, but she didn't have time to analyze his gaze, for Tony spoke again.

"Hey, is the restroom back this way?" he asked, pointing.

"Yeah, go ahead," Jane nodded. Tony left, and Jane finally met Fenris' eyes. She canted her head at the sight of his calm, sparkling gaze.

"What?" she wondered.

"Are you sure he's from Midgard?" he asked softly. Jane just laughed, which elicited a grin from him.

The phone rang. Jane's smile fell from her face.

"Who would be calling in the middle of the night?" she muttered, getting up and striding toward it. She picked it up, worry flooding her, and pressed it to her ear.


"Miss Foster," said a deep voice she instantly recognized as Nick Fury's.


"Get your colleagues together—we're coming over."

"Why? What happened?" Jane's heartbeat sped up.

Fury paused, and when he spoke next, his voice was grave.

"We found out what this Cube does."

Fallen Star

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Alydia Rackham

Part 12 of 27

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