Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 13 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

Loki woke feeling much refreshed, if still somewhat confused. It was a fine day, with a light early morning mist that would burn off soon leaving the day sunny but not too hot. A day to be outside, and much as he enjoyed studying, Loki wanted to be somewhere he didn't have to think too much for a while and let the tangle of his thoughts settle a bit. He told Holda he wanted to go riding, somewhere other than the Bifrost, and on a horse that wasn't a placid one used to children. It wasn't entirely a surprise when she agreed; some of his handlers could ride well and he did promise not to try to leave them behind.

More surprising, somehow, was being reunited with his own horse, Atorka, who nickered as soon as she saw him, shoved her nose under his armpit as soon as he got close, and generally expressed, 'Where did you disappear to for months? I missed you,' at him. He rubbed her ears until she decided he wasn't going anywhere for a while and then set about tacking her up.

They rode along one of the beaches that was out of sight of the Bifrost, mostly because it was easier for his handlers to keep track of him there than in the woodland. The sea air seemed to blow cobwebs out of his head and Loki returned from the ride happy and slightly flushed with the exercise. It was while he was rubbing down Atorka — who was enjoying the attention so much she kept getting in the way — that he caught sight of Jane returning her own horse.

One of the stablehands came up to take the small mare, although Jane did pet her ears and neck. (There had been a perfunctory offer to take over or assist with Atorka, but purely as a courtesy. Loki, like Odin, rarely gave up his horse to another's care so quickly unless he was running late or bleeding.) Jane looked around and saw Loki, and came over grinning. 'You look happy,' she said. 'The horse looks ecstatic.'

Loki laughed. 'I think she missed me,' he said, as Atorka gave a little snuffle that might be agreement. 'I didn't realise how much I'd missed her.'

'Atorka, right?' Jane asked. At his mildly surprised look, she added, 'You mentioned wishing for her occasionally in Alfheim.'

'You have a good memory,' he answered. Atorka nudged him and he returned to rubbing her down. 'Yes, this is Atorka. And she would have been very useful in Alfheim on occasion.'

Having successfully secured Loki's attention, Atorka peered over at Jane, presumably to see what was so interesting about this stranger. Jane submitted to having her hair and shoulder sniffed. 'Sounds like you both had a very good morning.'

'You should come riding with us some time,' Loki suggested, half serious and half mischievous. The difference between Jane's quiet little roan and Atorka's rangy black courser build was rather apparent.

Jane laughed. 'I've heard how you ride. You could literally go circles around me and Blidtfari. Although I suppose at least it would be more interesting for her than going to the Bifrost and waiting.'

'How did you ever keep up in a fox hunt?'

'Rode double with Thor. Bokki gave me the oddest look afterward, I think he forgot I was there.' A wry smile. 'Either that or it was because I nearly fell over on the way down.'

The chances of Thor's horse noticing Jane's added weight did seem rather slight. Loki smiled as he moved to put the cloth away, Atorka having finally let him finish her last leg. 'I don't think we're close enough for me to propose that as a solution.'

'Probably not,' Jane said, watching in amusement as Atorka shadowed him, as if he might sneak off while storing the cloth, 'but thanks for the thought. You'd just have to come back and find me periodically, I'm sure I wouldn't have gone too far.'

'We could go to one of the beaches. That's where I was this morning - it's hard to lose sight of someone there.' Loki lead Atorka into her stable, checked she had food and water, and then patted her nose before leaving. Unfortunately bolting the door proved impossible with a horse already halfway through it after him. 'Atorka, you stay here. I'll be back tomorrow.'

Atorka neighed loudly in protest, directly into his ear. Loki gave Jane a rueful glance that confirmed she was trying very hard not to laugh, and not having much success. 'She may take some convincing,' she said.

'Unfortunately the Alltongue doesn't translate into horse,' said Loki. He patted Atorka's neck, then gave her a friendly swat on the shoulder. 'Get in, Atorka.'

Atorka obeyed this time - backing up with perfect grace while favouring Loki with a look that was equal parts reproach and expectation. 'Although I think even I can translate that expression as "you had better come back and see me,"' said Jane. Atorka whickered.

Loki bolted the door and gave Atorka a last pat. 'I will,' he said. Then he turned to Jane and asked, 'How was your morning?'

'It was good. Heimdall's trying to help with the reference frames, although I think he's in the position of understanding it almost too intuitively to explain.' She glanced up for some reason, then added, 'And he says there's supposed to be a meteor shower tomorrow that might be visible in daylight.'

'Will you be watching it with Thor?'

'He doesn't know about it yet, but probably.'

Loki nodded, having expected that answer. Then he glanced up himself, although in his case to check the position of the sun. 'Would you care to join me in the gardens for some lunch?' he asked.

Jane smiled at him. 'Sure, thanks. I do have to leave in a couple of hours so you should probably stop me if I start trying to graph the askreisa with pebbles, though.'

'We could pick up a notepad if you think your graphing impulses will be too much for you.'

Jane grinned. 'That might be safer.'

Lunch and a notepad (an Asgardian notepad, with properly thick pages and a translation function) having been acquired they wandered into the gardens. The spot Loki picked wasn't the one where he and Jane had eaten before (and thinking of that made him sincerely hope Thor didn't show up looking for her again, he was trying not to think about how he felt about Thor right now). 'Where are you going after lunch?' he asked, setting up his table and watching out of the corner of his eye as his handlers did the same with theirs.

Jane unfolded her lunch somewhat more gracefully than the first time. 'Ah,' she said, looking sideways at him and sounding slightly puzzled by the prospect, 'a poetry recital.'

Loki couldn't help laughing. Granted Thor quite liked narrative poetry, he wasn't sure it would be Jane's sort of entertainment. Actually, Loki quite liked poetry as long as he wasn't the one having to write it (and he wouldn't mind writing it so much if he wasn't so bad at it).

Jane grinned and relaxed slightly, at which point it occurred to him that she might have been worried about poetry as a sore point. 'I'm assured it will be a grand time and only the slightest bit like a rodeo,' she said. 'Everyone is refusing to tell me in what way it will be like a rodeo.'

'It's probably best left as a surprise.'

'I see how it is!' Jane made a face at him and rather spoilt it by laughing. 'My best current hypothesis involves the presence of cats. But I'm afraid that's based on Midgardian stereotypes.'

It must be, because Loki had no idea why anyone would take cats to a poetry reading. It wasn't as if the cats would appreciate the poetry. 'Did you go to poetry readings on Midgard?' Maybe Jane did like them, then.

'Um, only a couple of times. Once in college when I was rooming with an English major, and one last year by accident.'

Loki picked up some bread and ham from his table. 'How do you go to a poetry recital by accident?'

'Well, I was trying to buy coffee,' said Jane, as if this were an actual explanation. At his mystified look, she evidently realised it wasn't. 'There was one going on in the coffee shop. Maybe improv.'

That left Loki not much wiser, especially since the last word didn't seem to be translating. Coffee was a drink that some of the people Clint had hired had been very insistent about having, and that had apparently incited Thor to mug smashing. Now it seemed places selling it sometimes combined its sale with poetry recitations. And possibly the presence of cats. 'Is coffee very important to Midgardian culture?'

Jane broke down into giggles at that. 'Some of it. Um, mostly informally...' She got control of herself, still grinning. 'It smells good, tastes good - well, it's kind of an acquired taste in some cases - and it's a relatively mild stimulant, so it's popular socially and with people who mess with their sleep schedules, which is a lot of us. And coffee shops are a good place to meet up.'

'Ah.' Coffee might be interesting to try, although he realised his handlers weren't going to be keen on him taking stimulants, mild or otherwise.

Jane looked at him curiously. 'I'm... actually kind of surprised you didn't run into it.'

'I didn't try it. Maybe I would have done if I'd realised it was a simulant, but I was a little busy for trying Midgardian food and drink.'

Jane paused. 'Ah, come to think of it, maybe that's just as well.'

Loki considered that for a moment. The tesseract had been...somewhat stimulating in itself, and when he considered his behaviour from the outside... 'You do have a point,' he said, putting a hand over his eyes and not quite sure whether he felt more like laughing or crying.

'Sorry,' Jane said, sounding concerned, and he felt a light touch to his arm. 'You just didn't look like you needed less rest.'

He did laugh, after all, at that. 'Dr Selvig said the same thing. Although not in relation to coffee.'

Jane looked startled, and then her mouth twitched. 'That does sound like him.'

'It would be surprising if it sounded like somebody who didn't say it,' said Loki, relaxing and taking some more food.

Jane took a breath as if to speak, then didn't for a long moment. 'I guess so.'

Loki looked at her quizzically, then shrugged it off. Jane would tell him if she wanted to.

She didn't, for several minutes. But eventually she said, 'He mentioned he felt... more like himself than you'd think, under mind control. It's still a weird thought.'

'Of course he was himself. I recruited him for his abilities,' said Loki, puzzled.

'Abilities, sure, but you... changed him.'

'Not really. Did SHIELD change you when they hired you? I just didn't have time to convince him gradually. People still remain themselves after a change of heart.'

'I'm not especially fond of SHIELD, actually, but they didn't force me to betray my planet, either,' Jane said, a bit more sharply than she usually spoke to him. 'And are the puns really necessary?'

'Midgard would have been fine. They promised.' Loki looked at her, considering the annoyance in her expression. 'I didn't do him any harm. But I will avoid puns if it upsets you.'

She stared at him for a moment. 'Never mind about the puns. You... actually believe that, don't you.'

Loki considered leaving for a moment. If there were more things he was wrong or confused about he wondered if he actually wanted to know. But, no, he had to work out what was true or he was never going to get better. 'Which part was wrong?' he asked, resigned.

'I-' Jane's voice choked off. 'I have problems with the first part, too, but you don't think forcibly changing someone's mind to make them do what you want counts as harm?'

'I didn't have time for persuasion. It only condensed the process.'

Jane set down her peach, blinking hard, and fumbled it slightly. 'Would you - would you think that was okay, if somebody did it to you?'

The Chitauri had had plenty of time, and had decided not to use shortcuts that were vulnerable to failure when the subject was hit. He wasn't sure if what they did counted as persuasion, but a spell would have been no worse. And they'd shown him...the truth? It had seemed simpler a month ago, when he'd been sure of that. It's probably safe to start by ruling out the Chitauri, he remembered Jane saying.

'I'd rather they didn't,' he admitted. 'But I - don't know if it would be wrong of them. I just wouldn't like it.'

'That's... really disturbing.' She had sat back and drawn her knees up, hugging them as if the garden were freezing.

'Isn't changing my mind the point?' he asked with a glance at his handlers.

'Not like that!'

'It's terrifying. To think that who you will become is not who you are, and who you were seems like a complete stranger. But it doesn't take a spell for it to happen, and regardless, who you are now is always the one who feels real. So does it really make a difference how you were made to see things differently, or whether you wanted to? The freedom to choose that is always an illusion.' Loki's voice was low, cadence even.

Jane shuddered. 'Yes. It makes a difference.' She rose suddenly, shaking. 'I'm sorry.' She wasn't looking at him. 'I'll - see you later.' She fled the garden, literally running by the time she reached the gate.

Loki swallowed the impulse to call her back. He'd upset her, clearly, and he wasn't sure how to fix it so it was better to let her go. Even if he didn't see how this scared her more than his shouting at her. He'd just have to hope she'd eventually come back.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 13 of 37

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