Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 2 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

A few days later, Jane found her way to the palace library all by herself (or rather, by dint of asking guards - navigation by asking complete strangers still counted as on her own, whereas getting a friend to guide her did not). She checked with the librarians - or library guards, or whatever they were called here - and then spent a few minutes wandering among the shelves and simply breathing in the atmosphere of old books before pulling one down from the shelf.

Disappointment squashed her library-glee, and she checked she was out of sight of the front desks before letting her head fall forward against a shelf. She looked again. The book was in a different language. It wasn't even in an alphabet she recognised. How stupid could she be? Sure, it sounded like everybody was speaking English, but Thor had told her it was really something called the Alltongue. Which didn't make a great deal of sense to her, but neither did aliens who hadn't been to Earth for several centuries and spoke approximately modern English.

Great. She had free run of a gorgeous library full of books she'd never seen before, and absolutely nothing to read.

'Greetings, Jane Foster. I see Thor has lost no time in bringing you here.' The voice was closer than Jane expected and soft with something that might be regret or loss. Loki was leaning on a nearby bookshelf, watching her with eyes that were sunken and faintly glazed — he looked unhealthy, the bones of his face standing out too sharply. He wore dark green and black, but no armor or even stiff fabric, giving him a weirdly casual appearance except for two heavy, intricately engraved silver bracelets.

Jane didn't quite jump; she froze. Her thoughts tangled between where was he, how did he get this close?! and what happened, is he sick? Thor had mentioned Loki wasn't well, but she'd sort of assumed he meant mentally. Had he looked that gaunt in the handful of images in the news? Were the soft clothes the equivalent of a hospital gown? She swallowed. Breathed. 'Loki.' Prince Loki? She never called Thor by his title and he never suggested it. She was not exactly on the same kind of terms with Loki. Too late now. '...Hi.'

'How is Dr Selvig?' he asked, as if asking after a mutual acquaintance. There was nothing malicious in his voice, if anything he sounded concerned.

Jane gaped at him. How could he - how dare he sound like - was this some kind of joke? 'What?'

'You knew him, did you not? I thought you might know how he was. He was only mortal but he saw into the secrets of the universe.' Loki's expression was almost ecstatic but with a haunted look behind it, as if remembering something both wonderful and terrible. 'I wondered how he felt, after being cut off from that.'

'I know him,' Jane said. Loki sounded... completely sincere. Erik had mentioned the fascination of the tesseract. He'd sounded... wistful and repulsed at the same time. At one point he'd admitted that he missed 'her' - the tesseract - and sometimes wished he could work with it again, but after the whole mind-control thing, he wasn't sure if he was glad or sorry there wouldn't be a chance. 'He's, um... recovering. He didn't mind the secrets of the universe part.' Where were Loki's promised minders? What was he likely to do if she said something tactless about objecting to the mind control, and could they stop him in time?

Loki nodded, looking down and away so that she couldn't see his expression. 'You'll be able to read your book now,' he said.

Jane blinked. 'What?' she asked again, looking down automatically. The book... was in English. It had definitely not been. 'Okay, thank you, but what did you do?'

Loki smiled, amused but not unfriendly. It was rather disconcerting given...just about everything. 'The books here translate to all known languages. But they need the one holding them to speak so they have something to respond to.'

'Oh.' Jane blinked a few times. That was... almost logical. 'That's amazing.'

'It's quite simple,' said Loki. 'That your signs and books do not do this causes a huge amount of needless confusion.'

It was just as well she was a few days post-trip, because she found laughter rising in her chest instead of irritation. Well, mostly instead of irritation. It did come out with a little bit of a huff. 'Well, I think people are working on it with some of the electronic displays.'

'Mortal technology is cruder than I realised, but at least you are attempting to apply it reasonably,' Loki offered after a moment's thought. Possibly it was meant as a peace offering.

'Well, most of us don't do magic,' Jane said, and watched in surprise as Loki's faint smile and thoughtful expression transmuted into something closed and rather hard. She added warily, 'What?'

'If you think your pitiful race can manage without magic you are sadly mistaken,' he hissed. 'Your world is a broken place. All your technology is mired in a struggle against your own inadequacies which it only highlights as you run in a thousand directions with nothing to give purpose to your achievements.'

A dark-skinned woman who had been browsing a nearby bookshelf looked up, suddenly alert, left hand moving to touch a bracelet on her right wrist.

Jane caught the other woman's motion only out of the corner of her eye, but something about its purposefulness reassured her. She still backed up a few steps. The bracelet, she noticed as she glanced reflexively that way, looked a lot like Loki's and not, now that she thought about it, much like anybody else's jewelry. 'We're managing just fine,' she said defensively, then let out an exasperated sigh as various world problems instantly crowded into her mind. 'Or anyway, I don't think our real problems include a, a lack of magical purpose.' Loki still looked - he probably wouldn't appreciate thunderous. 'I'm not saying magic couldn't be useful, I'm saying we haven't got it.'

Loki nodded, stiffly, and took a deep breath. His own eyes flicked to the woman, who smiled reassuringly at him and moved her hand away from the bracelet.

'I would have used it for you,' he said, hopelessly. 'I would have taken care of my subjects.'

He sounded so disappointed. Like he'd actually convinced himself he was trying to conquer them for their own good. Which was chilling, but not as much now that he'd been stopped and...taken home for treatment, apparently. Jane almost felt sorry for him herself; she guessed she could see why family members, who'd loved him literally for ages and were powerful enough to keep him from being a threat, would want to go easy on him. 'We don't want to be your subjects,' she said. 'But thanks for the thought. I think.'

'You should be grateful I'd even consider helping your wretched species from the hole it has dug for itself!' he shouted, lips drawn back from his teeth. Jane jolted back and her shoulderblades hit the bookshelf. 'You tell yourselves you want freedom, but if you would only let go of that lie you would see how little you need it!' He grabbed at her, eyes wild, and she had no way out- 'You have no right —'

He slumped sideways, folding to the floor with his eyes closed, breathing evening out as if in sleep.

Jane's terror gave way with surprising speed to a different kind of alarm, and she dropped nervously down to her knees, still clutching the book reflexively and not quite close enough to touch him without leaning awkwardly over. She looked up at the woman with the bracelet, relieved to see she was coming over if not by the grave expression. 'What happened to him? Did he... have a stroke or something?' Did that even translate?

The woman bent down, touching the bracelet around Loki's left wrist, and then gently moved him into a more comfortable position. 'I sent him to sleep,' she said. 'I'm sorry I didn't act sooner. Are you hurt?'

Jane sat back on her heels and took a deep breath, feeling shaky. 'I'm fine. I'm... fine.' She managed to release the book and rub her arm and shoulder. She could still feel where his long cold fingers had been, but it didn't actually hurt. She didn't think he'd gripped hard enough to bruise. 'Yeah. Fine.' A shaky smile. 'I guess it would make your job easier if I didn't provoke him, huh?'

Other attendants were arriving from where they had been unobtrusively scattered around the library. The woman smiled ruefully. 'It's impractical to prevent him ever hearing opinions that contradict his own,' she said.

Jane was beginning to feel a little embarrassed by the crowd, although she thought she probably shouldn't be. 'You have a point there. Um... thank you. What's your name? I'm Jane Foster,' she added. She'd been announced as Thor's guest at avery crowded feast, although it probably had notreally included the entire population of Asgard. Anyway, even the guests of honor at conferences wore name tags.

'Birla Ketilsdottir,' said the woman. 'I'm pleased to meet you.' She didn't sound insincere, but now that she was sure Jane was unhurt she did have a slight air of waiting to get back to her patient.

'Likewise.' Jane got back to her feet, carefully swallowing a nervous but completely inappropriate giggle as she remembered hearing Loki had kept demanding people kneel to him and thought this couldn't be what he had in mind. She edged carefully out of the crowd and only glanced back over her shoulder twice.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 2 of 37

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