Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 29 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

The afternoon was fine and clear and Loki was curled beneath an oak in the gardens which had been a favoured reading spot of his for a long time. The fine weather was one reason he wasn't in the library, the other was the plate of apple slices resting on the grass nearby. No food in the library, and he'd been hungry. He had left a note for Jane, in case she came looking for him there either for company or help with Malekith. Over the last few days he had helped her with wording several times, but never actually been in the same room as the elf. Most of the rest of the time he'd been absorbed in studying either Asgardian history or dvergmál, the magic of the dwarves.

Jane did turn up, eventually; she stretched out full-length on the grass, propped up on her elbows, and inspected first Loki and then what was left of his apple slices. 'You look comfortable,' she said, then indicated the plate. 'Acid, salt, or magic? To keep them that fresh?'

Loki looked at his apple slices. 'I think it's just apple,' he said, although he didn't actually know if the servants did anything to preserve it. Salt he would probably taste though. 'Would you like some?'

'Just curious. And thank you.' She took a slice - just one, which might have been either token acceptance or actually a reasonable snack from her perspective, he honestly wasn't sure - and rubbed her other hand across her eye as if she were tired or headachey. 'And thanks for the advice on Malekith.'

'How are things going with him?' Loki asked, slipping a bookmark between the pages he'd been reading and setting the book aside.

Jane grimaced. 'I'm not sure I'm competent to evaluate that. Stressful.'

Loki took an apple slice of his own before answering. 'I'm not sure there's much to evaluate aside from its effect on you. And you'd know that better than anyone.'

'Maybe,' she said, breaking her apple slice in two and staring at it for a moment before biting one piece. 'In that case, I'm going with stressful. Although I'd kind of like to get him to say something useful instead of just creepy, before I go.'

'Questioning him hasn't been working well, I take it?' He frowned, apparently his wording hadn't been that good. Although Malekith was an elf, slipping between cracks in wording was what they did.

Jane looked away. 'I... think I'm just not that good at it. Even with Birchta there.'

'Holda's mother?' Having a magic user present for advice made sense and Birchta was a magic user. On the other hand dealing with captive elves was definitely not her job and he had no idea why Jane would know her anyway.


There didn't seem to be any elaboration forthcoming. Jane really did look very tired, Loki noted with concern. 'I know I said asking a magic user was a good idea, but why her specifically?'

'Because she - oh, I never mentioned that, did I. I figured a counselor was a good idea, after the whole... issue. With him. More so now that he's still here.'

Loki looked at her, then around at his handlers. 'You asked for one? But you're not -'

Jane blinked, then gave him an odd smile. 'Crazy? Maybe not. Really, really shaken up by having my mind messed with? Yes, and decided I needed professional help dealing with it.'

'Oh. You didn't seem like you'd need help dealing with your own feelings.' It felt embarrassing, although Jane didn't seem bothered by it, to have weakness revealed to him so casually. Shouldn't she hide it? Maybe it didn't matter when his own was on display so thoroughly.

She shrugged. 'Maybe the idea of mind control still doesn't bother you, but...'

'That's not what I meant. Of course it bothers me when it's you.' Loki sighed and leant back against the oak.

Jane's head came up; she looked baffled, as if she was trying to figure him out and not making much progress. 'You said you weren't even sure you'd call it wrong if the Chitauri had done it to you.'

'He hurt you.'

'Yes, but-'

'You're my friend. And he hurt you.'

Jane just looked at him for a long moment, then took a deep breath and said, 'Thank you.' After a brief pause, 'I'm not completely sure whether to be touched or disturbed, but still.'

'I'd prefer touched? I'm not sure why you'd be disturbed at the idea that I don't like people mind controlling you.' He'd really prefer she didn't decide this was creepy and run off again. Maybe he should have changed the subject.

'I - no, I appreciate that part. I still... really don't like mind control on general principle. And yes, before you ask, whatever's making Malekith obedient worries me too.'

'Does it help that it isn't mind control?' He held one hand out. 'It's more akin to these.'

Her eyes rested on the bracelet for a moment, then came up to meet his. 'And makes him obedient?'

'It carries compulsions against certain actions. These are...very minor. Far more so than they could have been. A few parts of the palace - not even all the ones I'm prohibited from - are off limits by compulsion. It carries the sleep compulsion that can be triggered. I was a little surprised they didn't include one against attacking people.' But he would have fought it, when he lost control, and sleep had been kinder if a bit less safe than having him raging against a barrier between mind and body. 'Malekith's carries much much heavier ones.'

Jane was biting her lip. She wanted to be reassured, he thought. She just didn't quite look like she was. 'And... more complicated? I guess?'

'In a sense. The compulsions are more complicated, the bracelet has more diverse functions.' He turned to look at her. 'Why? Are you worried because you don't like mind control, or because you're afraid it isn't strong enough?'

He saw her go pale before she dropped down with her head on her arms. 'Yes and - maybe both. I think he's just being difficult.'

'What happened?' He reached over to touch her shoulder lightly, before drawing back.

She shivered, without raising her head. Loki didn't think it was at him. 'I quote, "Do you truly think you're free of me?"' A somewhat shaky sigh. 'It sounds stupid, doesn't it.'

'No.' Loki was feeling a bit chilled himself. 'I think - he's just saying that. But it's not stupid to be unsettled. Words have power. You could bind him to tell the truth, but a phrase like that could mean anything. You're not free of him because he's here and you have to deal with him against your will. That's probably all it is.'

Jane lifted her head to shoot him a grateful look. Which seemed odd suddenly; surely Birchta would have told her the same things from a practical standpoint, let alone as part of the professional emotional responses are to be accepted and examined, not dismissed approach. 'I don't... have to talk to him. But he'd still be here.'

'There's no helping that.' She could order him to go somewhere else, but then she'd still be responsible for anything he did there. Loki considered saying she shouldn't take anything Malekith said to heart - and then wondered whether it would be safe to ignore anything Malekith said, either.

'I know.' She sighed and then, unexpectedly, giggled. 'The difference in cultural assumptions has been interesting. Birchta's great, but - well, I don't know, maybe there are counselors on Midgard who would come out with "it's generally considered therapeutic to see your enemies brought low." It's just not something I was expecting to hear.'

'Do mortals generally not find that therapeutic?' Loki asked. Well, given how she'd reacted to having Malekith under her control maybe they didn't.

'No!' Jane paused. 'Maybe. It can be satisfying, I guess, but being too vindictive is... also not really healthy... and it's usually not going to be an option. The criminal justice system is slow, mostly for good reasons... and really with a lot of what people get therapy over, there isn't necessarily an enemy, or not one who's done anything they can actually be prosecuted for. Sometimes it's more a matter of... needing somebody from outside the tangle who's trained to figure out knots.'

'Oh. Well. That too.' No one was likely to suggest that he should get to see Thor brought low, although he might enjoy it (even if he wouldn't reallyleave Thor in that situation). 'Vengeance is normal though. Even for mortals. I did notice what Thor's friends called themselves.'

'I admit it's a normal impulse. I'm just used to its being more discouraged.' Jane stared at his tree for a moment - or possibly just into space that happened to have the tree in it, she didn't look very focused on it. 'You know, now you've got me wondering if SHIELD has people who actually do say that kind of thing.'

'Your society contains few warriors. Maybe it's to be expected,' Loki said, and then wondered whether that assessment would insult her. She wasn't a warrior though.

'Maybe that's it. The whole military thing is a little alien to me, honestly, and -' She snorted. 'That sounded sillier in context than it was really supposed to.'

He grinned at her. 'I can believe that.'

Jane smiled back, and her eyes didn't look quite so tired. 'Both parts, I bet.'

'Yes.' He looked up, pensively. 'Asgard is very military. But we haven't been at war since before I...shortly after I was born.' He laughed. 'Thor found it most frustrating, being brought up as a warrior with nothing he needed to fight.' And Loki himself had always felt he should be more of a warrior, but in retrospect wasn't sure why that would have been a good or necessary thing. They hadn't been at war.

'It keeps sounding to me like he found more than enough to fight, but it... must have been different. I only found out recently just how long the war had been.'

'I don't think I really knew. It always sounded like it had been forever as if the natural state of frost giants was being at war with...everyone, really. But I suppose you mean you thought it was shorter?'

'Ah - yes.' Jane smiled a bit ruefully. 'Though I can see where it would look like forever if it started back before Asgard exactly had recorded history. And it makes more sense of a number of things. I guess I'd just assumed, because of where the names survived and being told it ended when they were kicked off Earth, that it had been a lot more localised. It's hard to comprehend a war going on longer than my entire species.'

'Jotuns have been enemies for a very long time,' Loki said bleakly. It wasn't as if he hadn't known, or even as if he and Jane hadn't discussed things close to the topic before. But it reminded him of why Jotuns were hated, and that he still didn't know how many Asgardians now knew what he was. If it was widely known, they were taking it all remarkably well.

Jane lowered her eyes, but only for a few seconds before she met his again - and reached out, only to realise she wasn't quite close enough to reach his shoulder and drop her outstretched arm to the grass with a somewhat sheepish roll of her eyes. 'Your reaction was one of the parts that made more sense,' she admitted.

'If people still don't know then I don't dare tell them.' Although what the consequences of them knowing would be he didn't know. Maybe they'd just assume everything had been inevitable. Probably they wouldn't hurt him, but what would they do?

'I read through more of that history book,' Jane said. 'It mentions King Buri's theory too. I, um, got the impression the author was trying desperately to be tactful, possibly only because he was royalty, but I'm starting to wonder if the legend on Earth about his being licked out of a block of ice by a cow was a garbled version of people... not being tactful.'

'...Which tells me that people considered being licked into being by a cow equivalent to descent from Jotuns?'

Jane covered her eyes for a moment. 'I think the ice would be more relevant than the cow, but I'm not sure that really helps. The same set of stories has humans being made out of trees, though.'

'Possibly they were just making random things up then,' Loki suggested.

'Some other regions went for clay. I don't know if trees or ice are that much stranger.' She shook her head. 'Sorry. Ah - your friends do know. If you were wondering.'

'I suppose I'd thought that if Thor told you he probably told them,' Loki answered. 'It doesn't surprise me too much that they'd follow his lead in how to respond and just ignore it.' Which was probably the best thing they could do. It wasn't as if hewanted people to treat him like a monster.

'Right... well... I'm told he made a very embarrassing speech to them about it, after Odin told him. I haven't ventured to ask exactly what he said.'

'...I don't want to know.' Loki covered his eyes and tried not to think of the many ways a speech from Thor could be embarrassing.

'I sometimes think embarrassment just got left out of his personality.' Jane, at least, sounded like she still had a sense of humour about the results, but also possibly a bit wistful.

Loki snorted. 'I think I just normally feel it for him.'

Jane's mouth quirked. 'That sounds deeply frustrating.'

'Extremely.' Loki dropped his hand and smiled back at her slightly. 'And I can't ask him to stop because he has no idea what he's doing that would be embarrassing in the first place.'

'I can see that.' The humour dropped away, and Jane looked pensive and uncomfortable for a moment before going on. 'Anyway, what I meant to say before is... I don't... I can't, really, agree with calling Jotuns monsters like Thor says he used to believe, or debased like you said, but - I have a little better idea where your reaction is coming from now. And why you're worried about other people's. And I'm sorry if I wasn't taking that seriously enough before.'

'Thank you.' He smiled at her, not amusement this time but reassurance. 'I...don't know how else to think of Jotuns, though. They tried to kill your race. And the Asgardians. They tried to kill me.' He looked away as he said that.

Jane swallowed. 'Is that why you don't think much of humans, either?' In an odd contrast to her words, she pushed up off the ground as she spoke and came over to sit beside him against the great oak. 'When we spend so much time fighting each other.'

'I-I can hardly criticise you for being too warlike,' said Loki, feeling rather off balance. 'Compared to Asgard. But you do seem rather self-destructive. As a race, I mean, not you.'

'I've had a few moments,' Jane said under her breath. More distinctly, 'We haven't tended to see the whole species as a unit, so much. Although a lot of science fiction writers have speculated about unifying in the face of - some other conflict. Or even just contrast.'

'Do you think it's likely?' Loki asked.

'I don't know.' She leaned her head back against the tree, and the bark caught at her hair. 'Maybe to some degree. Probably not like Asgard, though.'

Probably not. They hadn't reacted well to the attempt to impose an absolute monarchy on them. 'You used to worship us,' he said, absently. 'I've heard stories. It always sounded like your natural reaction to having us show up.'

Jane made a slightly choked noise and then cleared her throat. Loki suspected she was making an effort not to laugh at him. 'Oh. Ah... yes. I've heard. Is that what you were expecting?'

'...I'm starting to think Asgardian stories aren't very reliable,' he answered ruefully.

Jane rubbed a hand over her mouth. 'I'm not actually sure they were wrong. Just... a little out of date. We still have the names, from the north of Europe, and some of the relationships. Knowing how long it really was, and some of the parallels in different sets of gods, I'm starting to think the lines about some of you having a ridiculous number of names because of visiting all the peoples of Earth were plain fact.'

'Hmm. Thor and I certainly weren't there. I suspect Odin got around a fair amount.'

'Odin is one of the ones they say that about. There are stories about you and Thor, or at least people with your names, but they only sometimes sound like either of you.' She paused. 'Are you named after anybody?'

'Not that I know of.'

'Just a thought.' She looked over with a small smile. 'Of course, some of the stories also hint at an ongoing habit of pulling our legs. Which might also explain a lot.'

That didn't seem implausible, but Loki wasn't sure how much it really explained. The question was shelved, however, by Fandral coming upon them with a sudden 'Aha!' He turned at once and called back the way he'd come, 'I've found him.'

Jane arched an eyebrow. 'Hello to you too,' she said, and to Loki, 'Did I wander into a very leisurely game of hide and seek?'

'No. We're about to be swarmed,' Loki said. He really hoped Thor wasn't with them, that they weren't about to spring that on him without warning.

Fandral laughingly but gracefully apologised to Jane with a more elaborate greeting than was strictly necessary. Volstagg, Hogun, and Sif converged on them, as expected, bringing with them an atmosphere that was cheerful enough to suit the weather but not precisely restful. Thor did not, which left Loki wondering where he actually was. The image of him waiting for news was at once satisfying, unsettling, and... probably unlikely.

He greeted them and stood up, since it was awkward to have a conversation with people several feet above your head. 'And what do you intend to do with me now you've found me?' he asked Fandral with a smile.

'We were going to ask you that,' Fandral said amiably. 'You hadn't sent for us in a few days, so we thought we would look for you.'

'I've been busy.' Loki glanced at his book, but he'd put it down to talk to Jane, and he could probably do with a break. 'But I'm free for the moment, if you had somewhere you wanted to go.' It was only after he'd said it that Loki realised he had left the decision up to them. Falling back into old habits - if he didn't make the decisions he couldn't make the wrong one and risk having it rejected or laughed at.

'We'd made no specific plans yet,' said Volstagg, 'not knowing if it was intentional.'

'A long ride or walk is always a choice, I think,' Sif put in. 'For anything with its own schedule I suppose we'd have to petition a bit earlier than the same afternoon.'

Loki had actually spoken to Holda about the possibility of going to concerts and similar with them, before being completely distracted from the idea. But Sif was right about that requiring advanced planning. 'Let's ride, then,' he said, then glanced at Jane. 'If you'll be all right with that?'

'Sure, why not? Although I really don't mind if you want to go without having me slow you down.' Jane picked herself up from the base of the tree as she spoke and brushed bark out of her hair.

Hogun looked at her more closely now that she was somewhere around eye level and asked, 'Are you well?' then turned to Loki and gestured at her. 'Is she well?'

'I'm fine,' Jane said, 'and why are you asking him - okay, don't answer that.'

'She's fine,' Loki answered. If she didn't want to discuss her worries about Malekith with them that was her concern. 'And I'd like you to come,' he added to Jane.

She smiled at him. 'Sounds like fun.'

Despite being more defaulted to than chosen, riding was hardly a bad option. Atorka was ecstatic. And Loki's studies of the past few days gave him a new appreciation for the landscape, even as they made him itch to be able to see into the groundwork spells. Volstagg asked if he had time for a long enough ride to require dinner, and Loki decided that he did and then, to chip away at the habit he'd noted, proposed that they ride for the mountains, or at least the foothills. All their mounts were surefooted, but Blidtfari was from mountain stock and would be at less of a disadvantage on that terrain.

It was a pleasant ride, and the sort of thing they normally did while at home. Their choice of pastimes outside of Asgard was normally more exciting. 'You've been staying in Asgard a lot lately,' Loki remarked, at one point. 'Not bored yet?'

They exchanged a four-way uncomfortable look. 'Perhaps a little,' Fandral admitted. Then, because it was Fandral and what manifested as relentless charm outside their group was an inability to know when to quit within it, 'Are you? I am of course aware you'd prefer to have your freedom, but you've always seemed more content to pursue your studies here.'

'Which included finding his own way to other worlds,' Jane reminded him. Blandly. Almost blandly. She might have been needling Fandral, just a bit.

'Are you content to hone your talents in the sparring ring and then not use them outside it? I have a lot to study, yes, but it's not an end in itself,' Loki responded, drawing himself up a little.

'Ah. Well then-' Fandral had to urge his horse forward to catch up as Atorka's enthusiasm carried her ahead despite the rocks. 'Does that mean you'll come with us again when you can?'

Loki hesitated. Did he want to rejoin them? Did he need to decide yet, when he wasn't free? He had enjoyed their adventures - in between being frustrated that he always wound up doing the parts that weren't going to make good stories later. Or not getting much attention even when he didthink he'd pulled off something impressive. Thor had said he'd try to do better, but he wasn't going to change Asgard's ideas about what made a tale worth hearing. 'By the time that's a possibility you'll probably be used to managing without me.'

Sif turned back to huff at him. They'd gone far enough by now for the air to grow cooler, and her breath clouded it like smoke. 'You talk as if we'd want to. The question was not if we'd survive without you.'

'I expect you'll survive. You might find it less fun when you can't push setting things up and working on back up plans onto someone else,' Loki snapped back.

They all looked taken aback, except for Jane, which only annoyed him more. 'I thought you liked strategising,' Volstagg said at last.

'Not when everyone treats it as optional. Or as an encumbrance preventing them from doing whatever they might find more fun.' Atorka gathered herself under him, becoming alert but moving, if anything, more quietly and carefully. Becoming battle-ready as she sensed Loki's anger.

'Well, you are frequently something of a killjoy,' said Fandral, which made Jane splutter, 'but that doesn't mean you're wrong.'

'That's it! You can go and find someone else to blame for being right.' Loki pushed Atorka into a gallop, leaving his friends behind. It was only the realisation he was leaving his attendants behind after promising not to that made him rein her in and turn back around.

There seemed to have been some minor chaos in his brief absence. Hogun was between him and the rest, looking more irritated than usual, and reined in as soon as he turned. Fandral appeared to have fallen off his horse.

Loki wasn't sure what to make of that. He'd been prepared to have to face them down, but they were hardly presenting a united front. 'You may as well admit you were all thinking it,' he said. Although he sort of appreciated that someone had hit Fandral for him.

'It's better than being irritating for no reason whatsoever,' Sif replied. 'Not that you don't have your moments.'

'I'm starting to see why you put up with my foot-in-mouth moments,' Jane called to him.

'If I counted up all of Fandral's you'd think he had more feet than Sleipnir,' Loki called back. Atorka trotted back over to them. The moment was...over. Maybe. He was still annoyed, but they'd dealt with Fandral for him and no one else seemed to be angry. Which would just make it awkward.

'Have we been doing that so often?' Volstagg asked as Loki rejoined them and Fandral dusted himself off.

Loki sighed. They mocked and insulted one another, he even joined in with it. A true warrior wouldn't be hurt by it, would brush it off the way they all did, which made saying they'd hurt him or getting angry an admission of weakness. It felt like an argument he couldn't win. Maybe he should have it anyway, while they were listening, and let them think him weak. 'Yes. All of you.' It was not a particularly definite beginning.

'I beg your pardon,' Fandral said, remounting. 'I didn't realise it was such a sensitive point.'

Sif sighed. 'Loki, would you like me to pull him off his horse again? I don't mind, it's tempting so much more often than this...'

'Hey!' Fandral tried going around away from her, which was not likely to help if Sif actually put her mind to unhorsing him.

'I still can't believe you did it the first time,' Jane muttered.

Sif looked puzzled at her. 'I thought you would have, given the chance.'

Were they taking this seriously? He couldn't even tell. 'All of you be quiet,' Loki shouted and then paused, licking his lips and wondering what he wanted to follow that up with. 'Yes being told I make your journeys less enjoyable is a sensitive pointeven if you do admit I'm right straight afterwards. Trying to get everyone back alive is a thankless task - and I mean that in the most literal way possible - when half of you seem to think dying gloriously is the whole point until a few minutes before you need me to stop it from happening.'

Most of them looked thunderstruck, as if they had somehow never considered this as a possible problem before. Which Loki supposed might actually be true. It did not make him feel better. Jane looked startled herself, but as if it had been a pleasantsurprise.

'You don't make them less enjoyable,' Fandral said after that first moment of stunned silence. 'And I beg your pardon for the impression.'

'The impression,' Loki said tightly. 'Was you saying exactly that a few minutes ago.'

'I said you were sometimes a killjoy,' Fandral said, 'not that we don't enjoy your company overall.'

'An extremely obvious distinction,' Loki said sarcastically.

'I thought so,' Fandral said, starting to sound irritated as well.

'Fandral, you are not helping,' said Volstagg, then looked at Loki. 'We are not - how shall I put this. We are not asking you to rejoin us solely because you are helpful.'

'I do realise that.' The temptation was to be angry with Volstagg too, as if anything one of them did reflected on all of them. But Fandral was the only one to have upset him, and just because he had similar problems with all of them didn't mean it was helpful to consider them as an undifferentiated mass. If only because they were more intimidating considered that way. 'For one thing you are spending time with me in a situation where I am not especially useful. But, as Fandral says, I was generally regarded as making things less enjoyable. And being in that role was making things less enjoyable for me. I do not, actually, want to simply go back to how things were. Even if you would be glad to.' Good. Calm and to the point. Holda would be proud.

'Oh, for-' Fandral began, and then, for once, fell silent. Volstagg was starting to look worried, Hogun sour but possibly at everyone rather than at Loki specifically.

'I suppose we would have,' Sif said baldly, after a moment. 'It wouldn't have worked, though.'

'No. It wouldn't.' Loki wasn't sure whether to feel regretful - he had been friends with them for a long time, and at least he'd known his role even if he hadn't liked it - relieved that things would change, or afraid that maybe they'd decide to do without him altogether after all. Or point out that he should be grateful they wanted anything to do with him at this point. No. He could manage without them. He wasn't going to back down.

'I didn't know you thought yourself unwanted,' she said, turning Kambur to jog closer to Atorka. 'Nor,' she added irritably, 'constantly saving our necks against our will.'

'And now you do.' Loki met her eyes challengingly. If she wanted to dispute either of those things she could do it, he wasn't answering arguments she hadn't made.

'And I suppose you came along because you thought us a lot of incompetents who would lose you your brother?' she snapped.

'Sif,' Volstagg said.

She turned her head and let her next breath stream out between her teeth. 'No. You are nearly as arrogant as Thor in your own way sometimes, but not fool enough to forget we've survived without you. And I know you have more often than not been the one to point out unpleasant truths and perhaps we've blamed you for them. But we miss both your skills and your company, whatever you think. What do you want?'

He didn't know. He shouldn't have started this when he didn't know what to ask for. He wanted them not to say things that hurt him, but how could he say that when those were the same things they said to each other? He wanted to be appreciated, but not for compliments to be the price they paid not to have him angry with them. 'If you appreciate my skills then no more jokes about them. No more unfavourable comparisons between magic and weapons. Not even,' he added, with a sharp glance at Fandral. 'If you don't really mean them.'

'Your tongue is as sharp as his,' Volstagg grumbled.

'But on some subjects it's always one against five.'

'You must have expected that, though,' Hogun put in.

Loki glared at him. 'So I should have studied something other than magic to fit in better?'

'I don't see how that follows.'

'You are saying that I must have expected it to be five against one on the subject of whether weapons are better than magic. How else could I have avoided it?'

'You are doing what you prefer,' Hogun countered. 'Since when do you care what we think?'

Unfair. How was he meant to counter that, when Hogun got to the heart of the matter. He shouldn't care. Was meant to be stronger, less sensitive. He dropped his gaze, pulling in on himself. 'Sif asked what I wanted.'

'He's your friend,' Jane said, sounding rather exasperated. 'There's a major difference between doing something he cares about whether you like it or not, and not caring if you respect him.'

Loki glanced at her, embarrassed and grateful for the defence at the same time.

'I respect him,' said Hogun, 'and most of his decisions. I thought he chose magic and stealth knowing and not caring they gave less of glory than open battle.'

'I'm not asking you to change all Asgard!' Loki answered, voice rising, and stopped to swallow before continuing more measuredly. 'I knew, yes, that I was never going to be the hero of anyone's tales, but not that...that my friends would say so to my face. That I didn't deserve to be, that it wasn't simply a fact of how Asgard was but how it should be and a fault in me for being that way. That magic users are not heroes because they are not brave, or not honourable.' He looked away again, this time because maybe he'd proved them right, in the end.

'Please tell me that's not really the general opinion,' Jane said, frowning.

'No one thinks Loki a coward,' Fandral said impatiently. 'For all the time he spends on magic, he's deadlier than most with nine kinds of blade, and it is not only his illusions that stand in danger. Although that is disturbing enough to watch, I will note.'

So now he was acceptably brave specifically in spite of the time he spent on magic. Because he also used a physical weapon, no matter that he didn't consider it his primary mode of attack or his most interesting skill. And Fandral probably thought that was a compliment. It was hard to think of a response beyond yelling something obscene and galloping off at this point, which would be neither mature nor helpful.

He took a deep breath anyway. 'Sif? If you wouldn't mind pushing him off his horse again, perhaps we can have a sensible conversation while he picks himself up.' Still not terribly mature, perhaps. But probably an improvement on the first plan.

Sif turned from Loki to Fandral, who looked incredulous and tried to circle away from her. 'Oh, come on, I was trying to-' Sif got him by the collar and dragged him off the horse, then let him drop. 'Oof.'

'He's right about your skill in proportion to training time, though,' Sif said, reaching over for Fandral's reins to soothe his now very annoyed horse. 'It is both impressive and deeply irritating.'

'Ah.' That actually was a compliment, and not a backhanded one, which was both calming and unsettling in a different way. 'Thank you.'

'Sometimes I don't know how he got the reputation for charm.' Sif moved away to give Fandral room to remount. 'But as I think that's what he was trying to say, I'm afraid this time we'll have to ask what you objected to.'

'Are you serious?' Jane asked.

'I object to the implication that I'm not cowardly because I use knives. They're a useful weapon. Not a proof of my worth.' At least Jane seemed to get it. Maybe he should just stick to talking to her.

'I said you spent too much time facing danger in battle to be mistaken for a coward! How exactly did that warrant telling Sif to throw me from my horse?'

'The part where you assume it's only fighting, and specifically the way you do, that counts as not being a coward,' Jane said, before Loki could decide he didn't have the patience for this. 'Frankly, you're starting to annoy me too.'

Fandral opened his mouth in automatic protest halfway through, and then appeared to stop and think. 'Ah.'

Well. It was good Fandral appeared to be getting it, but it just figured it would take someone else saying it to get through. 'Precisely.'

Fandral took a deep breath and blew it out again. 'Then I beg your pardon, both of you. I did not intend to insult you and I regret it.'

'So, returning to my earlier point, perhaps you could see your way to not doing it again in future?' Loki asked. Possibly he should forgive Fandral, but he really didn't feel like it right now.

Fandral looked at him for a long moment, unsmiling, and then said, 'Very well.'

'And the rest of you?' Loki asked, looking at Sif, Hogun and Volstagg. For a moment he felt like he was standing on a cliff edge - or the edge of the Bifrost. What am I doing? They know I'm a monster, isn't it enough that they accept that? What am I going to do if they say no? I'm already an outsider in the group, how much more of one am I going to be for negotiating with them like this and making them watch everything they say? They're just going to forget about this, and then whether I say anything or not next time they joke about magic users it's going to be worse than keeping quiet would have been. Why set things up so they'll feel put upon and I'll wind up feeling betrayed? He bit his tongue, trying to keep a tight hold on the sudden panic. He'd asked. He could wait for an answer without second guessing himself. Or at least without doing so out loud.

Volstagg was starting to look concerned, which made Loki wonder how much was showing on his face against his will. 'We're not seeking to make you unhappy,' he said, and added with a glance at Jane, 'Nor do we believe that only warriors have worth.'

'Then don't,' he told Volstagg. 'Am I really asking so much of you?'

'I am trying to determine that,' Volstagg replied on a huff. 'Jokes and barbs are one thing, and if I cannot see what else we'd say to you at times, I suppose supports your point. But it seems you are also offended if we speak as though you are a warrior first.'

'I'm not asking you not to tease me at all...I don't think I could manage not to tease you. Although I don't think I've ever managed to say something that stung for more than a moment.' He wondered suddenly if he had. He'd always hidden his own hurt, had any of them been doing the same? 'And if I have then I will try not to if anyone wishes it.'

'I will try,' said Volstagg. 'And Hogun generally pretends not to have a sense of humour anyway, so you can likely take him for granted.' (Hogun inclined his head at this point, without changing expression in the slightest, which was probably on purpose.) 'But-' He paused, evidently searching for phrasing.

'But if you're further offended when we're not trying to annoy you,' Sif broke in, when Loki would have given him more time yet, 'you had better say something - complain, or lose your temper. Really anything other than stew about it and -' She broke off, teeth coming together with a click. 'I do not deny its uses, but surely you need not go at everything sideways.'

'I didn't think I'd dealt with this sideways so much as not dealt with it at all,' he answered, slightly puzzled. 'And I will try to say something, in future.' They'd listened this time, after all, although part of him was still expecting something else, some way in which this conversation had failed.

'Oh.' Sif looked a bit puzzled in her turn, then shrugged. 'Well, we could have missed it.'

Did she think he must have been settling riddles for them? At this point he wanted to know less than he wanted to gracefully disentangle himself from this conversation, now that he'd got what he'd asked for and before anything went wrong. 'I don't think it likely. But it isn't important now.'

'If you say so.' Sif offered him a smile, although her drawn-together eyebrows left her looking rather uncertain about the whole thing. 'In that case - do you have anything in mind, for where to go with a bit more planning? Or should we start by getting you a copy of the schedule Thor collected to choose events for Jane?' She rose up in her saddle, gazing at a cloud-bank in the distance. 'Maybe skiing, if that's snow.'

'A copy of the schedule would probably be good.' And would give him a chance to run things past Holda in advance, instead of having to bring up the fact that he had to each time they were deciding what to do. He let himself relax. 'And that does look like snow.'

'I'd been wondering if you ski here,' Jane remarked, coming up alongside them to look at the clouds with interest.

'I don't believe it occurred to any of us that you would ski,' said Fandral. 'The area where you were living did not exactly seem suited to it.'

Jane started laughing. 'Well, I haven't always lived there. But there is actually pretty good skiing in the area. Sort of in the area. The mountains are within a day's drive.'

'Skiing sounds like a good plan, then,' Loki remarked. One where Jane would not be the novice among the more experienced Asgardians. 'I take it skiing didn't make it into the stories about us?'

''Well, it sort of did,' she said, giving him a look that was somewhere between amused and uncertain, which worried him a little, and then - perplexingly - an identical one to Sif. 'The stories have two deities associated with skiing, actually. But one of them is a frost giantess and the other is supposed to be Sif's son.'

Sif sputtered and then started laughing. 'I can see why you had doubts.'

Loki took a moment to be baffled by the idea of a frost giantess as a goddess, and then was distracted by the mental image of a frost giant skiing. Not that they wouldn't, maybe, they lived on a world of ice and snow, but he'd never imagined one on skiis before. 'Yes,' he agreed, and then started laughing as well.

They weren't the only ones, either, and the group's mirth was contagious enough that some of Loki's normally quiet handlers were giggling. 'When we've all recovered from the thought of Sif being maternal,' said Fandral after a few minutes, setting Sif herself off again, 'why don't we go and check the trails?'

Loki glanced at his handlers, but it wasn't that late in the afternoon yet. 'Yes. Let's do that.'

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 29 of 37

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