Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 30 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Overlapping Spacesl

Thor burst in on Jane the following morning with the news that it had indeed snowed, and they could both go skiing with everyone, including Loki. He was so expansively happy about it that she kept half expecting him to burst into song over breakfast.

When they emerged outdoors to a warm and sunny day, Jane paused in confusion, and Thor said, 'It fell mostly in the mountains.'

'I kind of figured that part, actually,' she said, looking toward them in the distance. 'But did you go all the way out there before dawn just to see?'

Thor blinked at her. 'Of course.'

Jane laughed rather helplessly and hugged him. 'Right. Of course.'

'You'll need warmer clothing, I think.' And on that practical note, he whisked her off for another startling interaction with customised garment manufacture and vanished for the duration himself, only to return with a pair of his own childhood skis. By this point Jane simply accepted that they were centuries old and still in perfect condition.

She wound up decked in layers, the outermost being a rust-brown, incredibly soft wool. A cloak of the same material was rolled up to be carried out to the mountains, as she was already going to be more than warm enough for the city. Jane wasn't entirely sure she could ski in one anyway, no matter how much Asgardians in general liked capes, but it would be good to have during rests.

The stable was busy when she and Thor arrived; Loki and their other friends, apparently not much less eager for an early start than Thor, had saddled all their own horses as well as Blidtfari and Bokki, harnessed two more to a cart, and were rearranging the equipment and packed meals inside.

"We have arrived!" Thor announced, rather unnecessarily, and added their skis to the mix. Sif laughed at him; Loki looked slightly nervous, which didn't stop Thor from beaming at either of them.

Loki rearranged the skis again, perhaps largely to avoid Thor's gaze, and the smile waned, just a bit. Fandral stepped boldly into the conversational breach. 'You wear Asgardian clothing well, Jane. Are you comfortable?'

'Very.' She looked down at herself. 'I'm a little surprised I'm not roasting here, though.'

'Oh, the fabric is enchanted,' Volstagg assured her.

Jane couldn't help laughing. 'I should have known. What is it, though? Somebody said wool, but I've never felt wool quite like this.'

'Mammoth!' Thor said, sounding cheerful again. 'The best wool there is.'

Jane stared at him. 'Are you serious?'

Loki looked up. 'You don't have mammoths? I thought they were imported from Midgard originally.'

'We used to, but they went extinct!' Somehow they seemed bizarrely appropriate for Asgard, though, even if she probably shouldn't be picturing them in flocks like sheep. If you sheared a mammoth, did it look like an elephant afterward?

'I'm sure we could send you some if you want them back,' Thor offered. 'I wouldn't want to transport them by tesseract, but they will have finished testing the Bifrost repairs by the time you go.'

'Maybe we should show you the mammoth farms sometime,' Loki said. 'They're not that interesting, though.'

'I-' Jane started laughing again. Nearly two months here and they were still blowing her mind on a casual basis. 'I'd like to see. I wasn't ever expecting to see a mammoth.' Let alone wear its wool. 'I am not the person to talk to about reintroducing them to Earth, though,' she added to Thor, 'although it's really nice of you to offer.'

'Who is?' Thor asked.

Jane paused over that one. 'You know, I'm really not sure. I'll, uh, ask around.'

'I think we're ready to go,' Loki said, stopping rearranging skiis and walking over to Atorka.

'Excellent,' said Thor, with more enthusiasm than seemed precisely required by either Jane's comment or Loki's. He lifted Jane onto Blidtfari, who seemed as content with this unorthodox form of mounting as anything else, and they set out for the mountains.

Evidently all the snow had dumped itself on the windward side of the mountains. The temperature had dropped sharply with the arrival of the storm and stayed that way, and the texture of the snow was perfect. It was just as well that Jane had had a chance to see some of the routes the previous day, though they hadn't ridden the downhill trails. She'd wondered if the Asgardian idea of a bunny trail would be a black diamond on Earth; this was not actually the case, as beginners still had to learn coordination and control, but the difficulty level skyrocketed after that even without accounting for the fact that going up was essentially a winding cross-country trail rather than a lift. (Thor periodically provided lift services; Loki was the only one to decline every time.) Jane took things more carefully and with less abandon than the rest and was the only one to make it through the morning without any spectacular wipeouts.

They broke for an early lunch (with Loki's minders, who had up to that point been staying with the horses near the base of the slopes and occasionally applauding) and then set off on a longer and more leisurely cross-country trek, which she gathered was actually the preference here and suited her just fine as well. It turned out to be a very rough trail, though, and after keeping up for over an hour with only minimal assistance at literally rocky areas, Jane recognised that she was approaching her limit. When they reached the foot of Hogun's favourite mountain, she stared up the long slope and said, 'You know, I think I'm too worn out for this, why don't the rest of you go on?'

'We can go elsewhere,' Hogun said.

'No, really, it's fine. I do remember how to get back.' The rocks wouldn't even be that tricky; there had been a way around, just one that was apparently deemed less convenient.

'I could take you back,' Loki offered. He looked a bit worn out himself.

'That would be great, actually,' Jane said, smiling at him. They managed to override a few more courtesy protests and start back while the rest of the group proceeded noisily uphill. She did catch Thor looking back over his shoulder at them; she waved with determined cheer and blew him a kiss.

Loki's head twitched slightly, as if he'd started to look back as well and then stopped himself. 'He was...cheerful,' he said.

Jane gave him a wry smile. 'He was practically giddy that you were okay with, well, both of you going.'

'He's very excitable sometimes.' Loki's expression was fond, slightly exasperated and uncertain at once. 'I'm not sure why he was so happy about seeing me though.'

'Because he misses you?' Jane looked up at him. 'Having argued last time you saw each other doesn't really seem to be very quelling.'

'I suppose not. But I wasn't expecting him to be ecstatic about it.'

'He woke me up this morning booming about it,' Jane informed him, and had to stop for a moment because she didn't have enough breath to laugh and ski at the same time. She pushed off again and added, 'It was sweet, although I assume he'll calm down about it eventually.'

'It's going to be hard to get used to if he doesn't.'

'It can't possibly be sustainable.' She paused. 'Even for Thor.'

Loki smiled at her. 'Even for him.'

'So how does his schedule of events look to you?' she asked. 'Aside from the hog rodeos and so on. I got the impression a while ago that you'd introduced him to a lot of the general categories.'

'We can certainly avoid hog rodeos. Did you want to avoid concerts? I know you found them loud.' Loki shook his head. 'He seems to have made a comprehensive list of everything going on in Asgard, I assume even Thor wasn't intending to actually do all of it.'

'I don't think he can be in more than one place at a time, at least,' Jane said. The follow-up joke, if Loki had his magic at the time, would be that that was his department, although she wasn't sure it would actually allow him to pay attention to two completely separate sets of events. 'And we tried another concert that he assured me was much quieter. It turned out,' she said ruefully, 'to be nearly inaudible. Are there any musical genres somewhere in between?'

'There are ones that aren't especially loud or quiet, but I can't promise they won't have loud and quiet parts. Did you enjoy the poetry reading you went to?'

Loud or quiet parts were fine. She just had trouble appreciating music that struck her as an unrelenting wall of sound, although the effect of a full-body massage had been interesting, or that was so quiet she had to hold her breath to hear it, although what she had heard had been beautiful. 'Yes, I did, although I'm not sure how it was like the hog rodeo except in the most general sense of being performed for an audience.'

Loki started laughing at that. 'That would be the similarity.'

'You -' She considered a raspberry, but her lips were cold enough she wasn't sure she could pull it off. She shook her head instead, laughing. 'Seriously, that was it?' Well, it was nice to know Loki and his friends shared the same occasionally dorkysense of humour.

'I'm only assuming it was what the others had in mind,' Loki answered, before starting to laugh again.

Jane grinned at him. 'It really was fun, though. I wasn't sure how well poetry was going to work out with the Alltongue - I mean, my not actually speaking it, and the importance of sound as well as meaning. Anyway, I'm sure I missed some elements, but it was a very multilayered experience.'

'I've been reading some poetry lately that's hard enough to understand without translation issues,' Loki said, looking pensive. 'I'm glad our modern poetry works for you.'

Jane looked over at him, intrigued. 'Now I'm curious. You've been reading older poetry then? Do you still get changes in idiom with the Alltongue, or is it lost references, or what?'

'Lost references, I think. And heavy use of metaphors that were standard at the time but not so much now. It doesn't help that some of it might not have been written down for thousands of years after being composed. Buri thought, or hoped maybe, that some of it predated writing by that long.'

The founding of Asgard would have to be some very old poetry, presumably. 'That's right, his theories were partly literary, weren't they?'

'There's one poem he wrote about called The Bright Lady and the Gold. It's about a group of people on a perilous journey, but it's not clear where they're going or why. Buri thought it was an account of the Aesir and their journey to Asgard.' Loki paused and glanced at Jane. 'If he's right I might have a theory of my own. They meet the Bright Lady while travelling on narrow bridges over a sea of swords and snakes. They start to despair, unsure they will ever find solid ground again and no longer knowing the way back, when they meet the Bright Lady. She tells them…something. A whole embedded poem about stars in a different style, I have no idea if that was originally what she told them, but it leaves them astonished. By her magic she takes them to solid land and they fall to their knees in adoration of her. They take her with them on their journey, but many of them love her so much they forget to eat and sleep in the joy of her presence and some die of it.'

There was something hazily familiar in that; Jane couldn't put her finger on it but felt she should. Fascination too deep to shake and people pining away over the unreachable resonated with human stories too, but the stars?

'Then they meet the Gold Lady,' Loki was saying, 'who binds the Bright Lady's eyes and mouth and makes her a servant in penance for the deaths she caused, and who seems to become their leader after that. Buri thought they were travelling through Alfheim and the Bright Lady was an elf who enchanted them, before Idunn, the Gold Lady, rescued them. But…I think the narrow bridges might be the elf paths. I think they found the tesseract.'

He said tesseract and it was like turning a puzzle-piece upside down and seeing all at once how it fit. 'Oh,' she mouthed. She managed to get some voice into the next sentence. 'Oh. And you must be the first person in a very long time to have experienced both of those.' The elf paths and the tesseract herself - itself - unshielded.

'Yes.' Loki looked haunted for a moment. 'If I'm right they'd been in the void, wandering for who knows how long even with the protection of the elf paths, and then they were confronted with the tesseract's visions. It's no wonder some of them succumbed completely.'

Jane thought about her own brief, whirling journey with the tesseract and shuddered. It had been amazing. Dazzling. But that had been brief and protected and she'd still ended up off balance and alarmingly volatile. Walking indefinitely through the night sky as it appeared around the Bifrost, or something even stranger, surrounded by unknown dangers and with no apparent way out...? 'It must have been exhausting.' And Loki would knowthat, too, wouldn't he.

'Yes.' Loki shook himself and pulled ahead of her a little. 'It means something very important though. There is someone who knows what the Aesir originally were.'

'Someone-?' Jane asked, puzzled, and then, 'Right. Sorry. You want to ask the tesseract?' She still had trouble thinking of it as a mind, in spite of first hearing about it from Erik.

'It's the only one who could possibly answer. I doubt anyone is going to let me near it, however.'

Jane sped up slightly to come alongside of him again. 'Probably not real soon. I think there's a general wariness of letting it talk to anybody, really.' And his theory did not seem likely to reduce that.

'It doesn't mean any harm. Even in the poem the Bright Lady does take them to safety. It doesn't intend to entrance people.' Loki sighed. 'But none of that inspires confidence when it comes to exposing people to it, does it?'

'Not especially. It's great if it means well, but if it can't help entrancing people and we don't know how to avoid...' She trailed off. 'Although it sounds like you might have ideas about that.' Or at least about what made people more vulnerable. Exhaustion, maybe; stripped emotional defenses; preferring not to go back to a miserable reality?

'Not definite ones. But Dr Selvig was able to install a shut off when it does want to open, despite his own fascination with it. And Barton barely seemed interested, which may actually have protected him in itself. Maybe mortals are just less vulnerable, or maybe they were more...'

'I don't know Agent Barton that well, but I'm not sure visions in starlight are really his thing, no,' Jane said, half under her breath but after the very quiet concert pretty sure Loki would hear her anyway. How had Erik managed that? Going against both the tesseract's will while enraptured by it and Loki's while mind-controlled into sharing his goals? 'More what?'

'...stable.' Loki shot her an irritated look for making him say it, but a bit wry too. 'It probably helps.'

'Ah. Sorry.' She'd sort of guessed that earlier, but then got distracted. 'I could see that.'

'I am curious about Dr Selvig's methods, though. He seemed completely susceptible, although not to the extent of forgetting to eat or sleep.'

'It was still on his mind a few weeks later,' she said pensively. That... probably wasn't breaking a confidence. It was hardly likely to surprise Loki, anyway. And whatever SHIELD's security concerns, they had to be aware Loki knew more about that particular situation than they did. 'But, well, it wasn't all there was to the situation. Obviously.'

'No. But if anything his mental defences would have been lower.' He looked a bit nervous about saying that.

'Because of the mind control.' She probably shouldn't feel sorry for Loki over being nervous about bringing it up. Thinking about it still made her stomach churn. You're my friend. And he hurt you. Not that she wanted to model her reactions on Loki's - which would be a terrible idea - and Malekith seemed to have been entirely in control of his own decisions at the time, but it still left her feeling guilty sometimes about making friends with Erik's tormentor.

Well, she'd done it anyway. And yelling at him wouldn't help. She offered a faint, wry smile. 'I'm not going to blow up at you about it now. I don't think.'

'Thank you.' Loki was quiet for a little while, frowning in thought. 'If it is mortals that are less susceptible, maybe you should try.'

'Ah-' It was a tempting thought. That probably wasn't a good thing. 'I don't know.'

'You're curious too, though.' Loki smiled at her conspiratorially.

'Some,' she admitted, 'but I'm really not sure it'd be a good idea.' She smiled wryly. 'And it sounds like I'd probably get distracted and just come back going on about stars.'

'That is a possibility. Maybe we need to find less curious people to talk to it. Or at least ones curious about history rather than stars.'

'And maybe come up with some kind of safety measures.' Mechanisms, psychological screening, maybe even just systematically dragging the scholars away for food, sleep, and re-evaluation. 'Especially if you're introducing the historians to it on the basis of a poem where people get caught up in it and die.'

Loki winced. 'That does seem likely to put off volunteers.'

'Only some of them. You'd be amazed what kind of risks some academics will take.' This was probably not the time to bring up Dr. Banner's outbreak of self-experimentation. 'Or, ah, maybe you wouldn't. But still. Systematic precautions would probably go a long way.'

'The tesseract's usual shielding is probably dvergmál if Idunn created it. Maybe my studies there will turn something up,' Loki said thoughtfully.

'That sounds plausible.' Cross-referencing the literature with the spellwork and structure of Asgard itself seemed to be something of a standard method, and again, Loki's unique experience (sometimes thankfully so) might open up new interpretations. Though the tesseract's shielding, if not its personality, might be better understood. 'Is that still going well?'

'Yes. Although it's going to be a while before I have the background to really understand Idunn's Garden.' He was smiling, slightly wistfully.

'You're looking forward to it, though, aren't you. Not just getting there, the whole process.' She knew that feeling - though, she thought, with less sense of identity and homecoming bound up in it. And he'd have time.

'Very much so,' he agreed.

'I'm glad.'

'You're looking forward to creating your own Bifrost, aren't you? Now that you have the co-ordinates.'

Jane grinned. 'Very much so. If I can pull it off.' She did occasionally wonder whether Asgard genuinely wouldn't mind, or just thought it was completely hopeless. She suspected some of its engineers fell into the latter category. But she had hardly hidden her interest, even if she hadn't often stated the goal out loud. And they'd let her watch at all stages, from the tail end of the crystalised light assembly to the completion and testing now in progress. Maybe it wasn't so much wouldn't mind as wanting their protégé planet to succeed.

'Surprisingly, I'm expecting you to manage it,' Loki answered, with a grin of his own.

'That means a lot, you know.'

Loki looked down slightly, still smiling. 'Everything I could say to that is ridiculously sentimental.'

Jane mostly swallowed a fond laugh but did smile brightly back at him. 'I'll have to come visit that way, eventually.'

'I want to see that, if only for the look on everyone's faces.'

Jane did laugh at that. 'Not my primary goal, but probably fun.'

They reached the horses again eventually; Jane finally tried out her cloak once she was still, and Atorka, predictably, greeted Loki by trying to snuggle. Jane caught some of Loki's minders exchanging pleased looks behind his back when he went rummaging through the remaining food.

The next evening featured a concert that took place mostly within Jane's comfort range - Thor confided gleefully that he and Loki had actually discussed the selection of it, and Jane declined to risk diluting this fraternal triumph by mentioning that she'd thought he had reserved places at it (admittedly, only half as many) shortly after the second musical attempt - and the next another poetry recital. Loki went abruptly alert halfway through one performance and explained during the next break that the poem had switched to the characteristic structure of incantations at that point, which was a perfectly valid artistic choice but sometimes hazardous. Apparently there was a risk of accidentally doing magic on the audience - which was likely to annoy them and exhaust the artist - or making them think you meant to. There had also been rare incidents of someone actually trying to enchant a crowd that way, and on the way home Loki elaborated at length on these instances, why it was invariably a terrible idea even if it appeared to be working at first, and the ways in which alert magicians in the audience had heroically or comedically foiled them. Jane rather thought he was enjoying that part the most.

Thor swept her off to bed afterward in a state of joy that was reflected in high scudding clouds and electricity in the air, and she fell asleep to the occasional contented growl of thunder.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 30 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>