Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 28 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

When the conversation sounded like it was going to turn to lessons right then, Jane tore her gaze from the unexpectedly familiar false stars above and excused herself. She wasn't entirely sure if Frigga had planned to run her off - it was entirely possible she wouldn't understand enough for it to be any kind of a breach of secrecy. They'd been very generous with the information about the Bifrost, but this felt far more private. Maybe she should have left earlier. Before Loki started crying, maybe. It had been more his question anyway, whatever it might end up meaning to her.

The sound of water and birdsong faded away behind her well before the first switchback. The past several weeks in Asgard had made her fitter than usual, but she was still breathing hard long before she reached the top of the stairs, and she knew her calves were going to feel it the next day. (Loki, despite Frigga's worries, hadn't seemed to grow any tireder coming down.) When the door came in sight, she stopped and leaned down to rub at the back of her ankle. She suspected Frigga and Loki's conversation wouldn't run as long as either of them would like, given the time, but they might have lunch together after they came up and start again.

She probably had an hour, though, and the stairway was quiet and strangely peaceful, old rock curling around cool air. She sat down and leaned against the stone wall, finding it unexpectedly comfortable, and let her mind wander.

She had quite lost track of time when Odin's voice said above her, 'I was not expecting to find you here.'

Jane jumped and nearly fell over sideways as she turned around to face him. She grabbed at the rough wall, and Odin's swiftly outstretched hand dropped. 'I wasn't expecting you either,' she said. 'Ah, how are you feeling?'

'Invigorated,' said Odin, looking at her thoughtfully.

Jane was beginning to feel called on to explain herself, even though he hadn't quite asked. 'Frigga and Loki are still down there,' she said. 'She told him he should be one of the garden's watchers, and... he asked if she could go ahead and start teaching him the theory. I thought I should go.'

Odin nodded slightly, looking down the stairs. 'And you stopped here to wait for them?'

Jane looked down as well. She had actually planned to be somewhere else by the time they came up - nowhere too unpredictable, but not where they'd have to run across her. 'I mostly stopped here to think.'

'Should I join them?'

She looked up, startled. 'You're asking me?'

Odin's mouth twisted slightly. 'You have somewhat more recent information. I can see and hear in the Odinsleep, but not everything.'

'Ah.' Jane looked back along the stairs, feeling awkward. 'Well...'

Odin shifted, and when she looked up, much to her surprise he was seating himself on the step next to her. 'Perhaps it would, after all, be best not to interrupt.' A faint smile, still rueful but not as bitterly so. 'It was unbecoming to try to lay the decision on you.'

After a moment, Jane said, 'I actually have no idea how to respond to that.'

Odin shook his head. 'Accept it as an apology, and tell me what you were thinking about, if the thoughts are ones you'd wish to share?'

'Heh-' Jane accepted a certain level of surreality for the day - which apparently applied more to the King of Asgard deciding to sit on the steps and ask what she was thinking than to living gardens and skyscapes made of jewels - and leaned against the wall again. 'A bunch of things. Bridge physics. Mind control. Why Frigga let me go down to Idunn's garden at all.'

'You asked her.'

'I asked if she would explain some of the transformation spells for Loki! Not take me to visit the - the spells that make Asgard what it is. That are apparently so secret less than twenty people know about them even when you've gone over the traditional number. I suspect it would take longer than my lifetime to fully understand them, but still.'

Odin chuckled quietly. 'You asked her for Loki's sake, yes. Most of Asgard has heard of Idunn's garden, although most assume it to have been a normal garden - normal for an accomplished magician, at least. It is generally known and accepted that we would be less than we are without our home. The connection is more obscure.' He shrugged. 'We have reason to trust you. And you offered trust to Thor with less reason than this.'

Jane gave him a dubious look. 'I was desperate and doing something I knew was stupid,' she said. 'Even if it did turn out well.' She turned away, staring at her hands. 'And of course I don't want to do anything to Asgard, but - we've seen I don't necessarily have a lot of resistance if somebody tries poking around in my head.'

'You did exceptionally well,' said Odin. 'I can direct you to case studies if you want a clearer idea of the usual results.'

'Erm.' Jane considered that. Briefly. 'Not... right now, thanks. Maybe I could ask for a summary later.'

'As you will.'

She wasn't sure she wanted to ask, but she did, and hated how plaintive she sounded. 'Does this come up a lot?'

Odin shook his head slightly. 'The incidents accumulate over time. There have been enough to account for some of the mistrust offered to skilled magicians.'

'Great,' Jane muttered, then felt sheepish about it. 'Some of the mistrust? Loki was complaining more about magic being seen as utilitarian and taken for granted. I think he likes talking to me partly because it can still blow my mind.'

Odin shot her an amused glance at her last point. 'Views vary. Both among individuals, and among different types of magic. Mental influences and illusion are regarded with the greatest suspicion, for reasons that are probably obvious to you. A warrior's power is as subject to abuse, but lacks the sense of mystery.'

Jane shivered a little. She'd have less chance of standing up to any Asgardian physically than she'd managed with Malekith, but there was still the crawling feeling of when she'd been under his influence and hadn't known.

'Loki, to be blunt, had his trustworthiness also taken for granted for most of his life. And while his sense of irony is occasionally lacking, I think he would balk at complaining of mistrust he had actually earned.'

Jane wasn't entirely sure about that, but at any rate it didn't seem to be as much of a long-term sore point. At least from his side. Thor... Thor, she thought, really wanted to forgive and forget, but there wasn't any forgetting and it probably wouldn't be a great idea in this case anyway. 'I think he's likely to get called on that, if he does. I think he might have been surprised Frigga trusted him with the garden, too.'

'She's been planning to recruit him for it for some time. Though I am not sure I'd have chosen to... suggest ways for him to be useful, at this time.'

Jane gave him a puzzled look. 'He seemed to like the idea. Sometimes it's nice to have a sense of purpose.' Odin was still looking pensive. 'Am I missing something here?'

Odin clasped his hands on his knees, gazing down the stairs. 'Perhaps I am,' he said, which left Jane no less confused than before. 'The garden is certainly something I would expect him to appreciate.' He glanced at her. 'You can see why we believe Idunn was a dwarf.'

Jane let the earlier subject drop in favor of a brighter set of suspicions. 'Because of the stars?'

Odin's expression grew unexpectedly curious. 'Because it's a garden made of jewels. What about the stars?'

'I thought they seemed familiar.' She was suddenly tempted again to get up this second and run either up or back down the stairs. Would they let her take a picture? 'There are Earth constellations in there, I think. Along with some other stars, although some of that could be better vision - isn't Nidavellir opposite Earth?' The obvious struck her abruptly, and she slumped, forehead against the heels of her hands. 'Argh. No. That long ago, they wouldn't look remotely the same.' Coincidence, or just runaway pattern-matching?'

'They move,' said Odin.

Jane's head came up abruptly. 'The stars in the garden?' she asked, she had to be sure... At Odin's nod, she jumped to her feet. 'Oh, that could beperfect. Is there any chance I'll be allowed down there again?'

'There is.' Odin looked thoroughly amused at this point. 'I will take you there myself, later, if you explain your sudden enthusiasm.'

'I think if I can-' Jane broke off abruptly as motion farther down caught her eye: Frigga and Loki had come into view and immediately halted as well. She'd lost track of time again.

Frigga started climbing again, swiftly, and Odin stood up to meet her as she flung herself up the last few steps and into his arms. 'You look well,' she said, under her breath but still audible to Jane. 'You really must stop alarming us like this.'

'I-' Odin sounded like he might argue the point; he was briefly silenced by a kiss and then, in a slightly different tone, said only, 'I know.'

Loki halted, still a few steps down, watching Odin with a mixture of relief and wariness.

Odin looked past Frigga. 'Loki.' A pause, then wryly, 'This was not an intentional ambush.'

'I am glad to see you well,' Loki responded stiffly.

'Thank you.' Odin's response was not stiff, even rather warm, and he inclined his head in basically the same way he greeted Thor sometimes - but he was watching Loki intently, and Jane wasn't sure it was exactly reassuring, either. Even if it might only mean Odin had no idea what to say to his son.

Loki's minders had clustered a few steps down from him and were trying to shift toward the walls, presumably to give less of an impression of hemming him in with his father. Jane moved a couple of steps down herself, as sharing one with Odin and Frigga was beginning to feel crowded, and gave up on Odin adding anything further. 'So, how did it go?'

'It was fascinating.' Loki looked at her, expression brightening. 'I don't think I could explain it even if I was allowed to. But I might be able to answer some questions.'

'Do I have to guess which ones to ask first?' Jane realised she was bouncing on her toes; Loki's renewed enthusiasm for the garden had set her off again. Oh well, they were obviously not going to manage a heart-to-heart right now anyway, and would probably rather she didn't hang around for one if they did. 'I think it might solve my reference frame problem, too.'

'I was going to start with the genetic ones,' Loki said, eyes following her bouncing with a slightly puzzled look. 'But now I'm curious about what you've discovered.'

Jane managed to put her heels down and keep them there. 'I think I recognised part of the starscape. Odin says it updates, or at least, it moves. If that's showing stars as visible from Earth - or more to the point, the transition between Earth and Nidavellir...'

'Your co-ordinates. I didn't even notice,' Loki glanced back down the stairs. 'I'd be able to tell you whether it was or not, I've been through that transition before.'

'That would be great,' Jane said happily. The words were out before the memory of his looking sharply down from the false sky caught up with her. 'If you don't mind.'

He looked at her, frowning slightly. 'Why would I mind? We could go now, it wouldn't take long just to look. If we may?' The last part was directed to Odin.

Odin's eyebrows were up, but he evidently decided this counted as Jane having explained herself. 'By all means, go ahead.' He glanced upward. 'I suppose I should go tell Thor I'm awake.'

Loki bowed to Odin and Frigga and then turned to walk down the steps, through the ranks of his attendants who waited for him and Jane to pass before closing in behind them.

At some point, Jane was pretty sure she was going to regret going up and down most of these stairs an extra time. At the moment she didn't care. 'Neither of you two has the faintest idea how to start a conversation with the other, do you...'

Loki was actually looking rather tired himself, although he'd been looking tired most of the day and it was hard to tell if he was getting worse. 'Do you think so?' he asked, eyes on the stairs ahead of them.

'Pretty sure, yeah.' She glanced back upward. 'He asked me if he ought to go down and talk to you. And then apologised for it. Also kind of a clue.'

Loki didn't answer that for a while. 'He's supposed to know what he's doing,' he said, finally.

'I'm not saying he shouldn't.' But apparently nine thousand years of experience didn't necessarily make you good at everything.

'Only that he doesn't?' Loki turned back to smile at her slightly.

Jane grinned wryly at him. 'Yes, that.'

'I suppose one of us will come up with something eventually.' Loki reached the end of the stairs paused for a moment, hand resting on the wall.

'I'd think so.' What, she actually couldn't guess either, and it was probably going to be painfully awkward at first anyway. Jane stopped beside him, listening to the soft sounds of the garden making their way out through the short level stretch of corridor.

Loki pulled away from the wall and walked forward, stopping when they rounded the corner and the garden appeared in front of them, expression awed. Then he walked forward, onto the mother of pearl path, and stopped to look up at the sky. 'You're right,' he said, voice soft. 'That's the transition. I've navigated through it often enough...come here and I'll point out the askreisa.'

Jane came up beside him. 'Fantastic.' A quick glance from the stars to his upturned face. 'This is also making me wonder just how many times you've been back and forth to Midgard...'

'Not that often. Although it's rather easier than Jotunheim.' He pointed, looking down at her afterwards to see whether she could follow from her slightly lower vantage point.

She nodded without quite taking her eyes off the bright, out-of-place star he'd pointed to. Not really out of place, she supposed. But not part of the sky she knew, and intense like the askreisa visible from the Bifrost. 'Because of the people or other factors?'

'Mostly the people. First trolls, then Jotuns? Dwarves and mortals are easier.'

He'd had some trouble with humans at the end there, but she could easily imagine him wandering around without getting into nearly so much trouble, especially if he knew where he was going in the first place and showed up somewhat better prepared than Thor. Besides, it had to be easier than popping up somewhere your home had been at war with for all of recorded history. 'I'll take your word for it. I actually have no idea what trolls are really like. I mean, I know some of them visited with the elves - other elves,' she corrected herself, 'but as the whole group seemed to be treating it like a masquerade ball...'

'That's not so different from how they behave in their own home. They were playing with us, yes, but to many of them physical appearance is changeable even in their own lands. They don't need it to recognise one another, so it makes no more difference than changing clothes.' His finger moved steadily across the sky, pausing at each of the askreisa as he spoke. 'Trolls are one of the more varied species. Some are like wolves or snakes, others sharp-toothed and huge. Some are hollow from the back and have cow tails, and it's rumoured they can become mortal. Dwarves change form less, I think they consider it frivolous to waste time designing a glamour instead of something lasting, but even there you can be surprised.'

Idunn had certainly gone in for lasting. Jane realised she was having nearly no doubts that the starscape was accurate enough to work out the navigation if Odin would let her take a picture, or spend enough time here with other instruments for adequate measurements. 'The only person anybody told me was a dwarf was taller than I was expecting...'

'How tall were you expecting them to be?'

She glanced up at him, suddenly suspecting he was going to end up laughing at her. 'Shorter than me. The general mental image I'm familiar with for dwarves from stories is... I don't know, four feet tall and heavily bearded.'

Loki shook his head, smiling at her. 'Dwarves are as tall as Asgardians, pale and dark haired. Part of the reason I always found dwarves and mortals easier to deal with than trolls and Jotuns is because I can pass for both.' He stopped there, as he caught up with what he'd just said, and then he did start laughing, pressing his fingers over his mouth as if to stop it while laughter bubbled helplessly from between them.

There was maybe still a nervous edge to Loki's laughter, but not a maniacal one, and it was contagious enough to make Jane smile at him. (And obviously his sense of irony wasn't entirely missing.) 'Okay, I wouldn't have guessed that one. Although I suppose it makes sense with either origin theory...' And he'd said he thought he had answers to some of the genetic questions, before she got him sidetracked.

Loki waved a hand apologetically at her and took a few moments to stop laughing and answer. 'Yes. Most Asgardians are blond, but there was a lot of interbreeding with the Vanir. The spell only changes enough to confer the benefits of being Asgardian, and to allow interbreeding with other Asgardians, otherwise it leaves as much of the original genotype in place as possible. Genetic diversity was part of the reason for crossbreeding in the first place.'

'That makes sense. Well, I know enough biology to be aware it would probably give an actual biologist more headaches and more questions, but it makes sense for the goal, especially with the small starting population.'

'It does raise quite a few questions,' Loki agreed. 'But I only have the short version so far.'

'I was not complaining,' Jane said, laughing. 'This is amazing.'

'Yes.' He looked around the garden and then glanced back at the passage. 'We should probably go back up,' he said reluctantly.

'We did say we'd be quick,' Jane agreed, giving the underground sky a last look before heading toward the stairs.

The long climb back upward was even more tiring than the first time - the company was nice, but made Jane rather less inclined to admit wanting to stop for a rest. Although Loki kindly didn't comment on it if she was slowing down.

When they reached the step where she'd rested before, white-gold runescript suddenly flickered to light on the wall. Jane stopped and looked at it, then at Loki. 'I think it's for you.'

Loki stepped past her and looked at it, then looked down. 'For both of us. An invitation to lunch.'

'Oh.' She touched his arm lightly. 'Well. Do you want to go?'

'Not really, no. Do you?'

'Mm. Honestly, at this point I'd rather talk to you, but Odin might be expecting more of an explanation about the starscape.' Although obviously Loki would be the one he was hoping would show up. 'Not to push, but at least you could be pretty sure he wouldn't pass out on you.'

'I haven't had any sudden inspiration on how to start a conversation with him. Not have I been inspired with a sudden desire for Asgard's most awkward lunch.'

'I was thinking all that,' she waved a hand generally downward, 'might provide a topic. At least you know you can talk to Frigga about it, though I have to admit it wasn't helping much with Odin before.'

Loki's eyes followed her hand and for a moment his expression softened, but he still answered, 'I think I've done enough for one day. You can go, since you owe him an explanation.'

'All right.' They were going to look disappointed, she was going to half-apologise, and they were going to try to make sure she knew she didn't have to without talking about it too much. And it probably would be less awkward than if Loki did come. 'See you later?'

'Yes.' He smiled at her, expression almost mischievous. 'Good luck.'

The runes faded quietly away. Jane's eyebrows shot up as she turned to start climbing again. 'Thanks. Have a good afternoon.'

That was a little premature for goodbye, actually - there was still a small stretch of steps to get out of the cellars. The air was warmer above, and the light shifted from grey-white back to gold that felt like sunlight and wasn't. Loki asked for the history book, which she'd half forgotten she was still carrying and which she was hardly going to read over lunch anyway, and Birla shot her a faint sympathetic smile as they parted ways. Jane smiled back, a little, and shook her head. It wasn't going to bethat bad. And she could ask about making a copy of Idunn's star map.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 28 of 37

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