Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 32 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

Malekith hadn't had an apple.

Jane had thought she was in amazingly good shape after almost two months in Asgard, but she was gulping for breath after Loki's sprint down the hall and couldn't tell him Malekith hadn't had an apple. If he'd even believe her. If it would get through when he was this upset. (If, in fact, she was right and Malekith hadn't just somehow hidden it from her.) She wanted to kick herself over Malekith, but there wasn't time, and she couldn't make herself be sorry instead of guiltily relieved he was gone. She wanted to try to calm Loki down but she couldn't talk. It crossed her mind that maybe she should be more worried that he'd turned himself loose (and how?) and seemed to be kidnapping her, than about his emotional state, but he looked more scared than she was.

They'd blown past at least two pairs of guards on the way; she could only assume Loki had made them invisible or something, because there was no reaction at all. The guards did move now that the doors were open, but Loki towed her directly toward a familiar-looking cylinder. Wrenched it open, and the room blazed with light.



The light was also sound was also song. Joyous welcome and a ferocious exultation in being, reaching, moving. Enlightenment, siren song, a sense of answers to every question hanging just within reach. Starlight and space, endless light-years like a leisurely aching stretch. She suddenly understood Erik's fascination, suddenly understood how people could forget the rest of their lives caught up in this.

Loki reached for it, his hand closing reverently over the cube. There was a sense of joy, like running for the sheer pleasure of moving, as the tesseract responded, but then something tangled. 'Away,' Loki murmured. 'It doesn't matter, just...just away.'

Jane came back to her senses, sort of, with a wrench and reached for his hand. She shied away at the last second from touching the tesseract itself and grabbed his wrist instead. 'Loki, listen. Malekith didn't have an apple.' Don't go anywhere, she thought at the tesseract, somewhat hopelessly. It seemed so enthusiastic about it. Please.

Loki stared at her, and then down at his hand, expression dazed, horrified and disbelieving. 'I saw it. He threw it to me...I was trying to save it and it rotted in the frost.'

Jane squeezed his wrist hard. He was shaking - she probably was too. 'I didn't see it. Anyway, aren't Idunn's apples actually metal? How could they rot?'

A wave of bright impatience from the tesseract swamped her, and she could feel the air - no, feel space twist like a wrung-out washcloth.

Loki looked at her, eyes wide and confused, before the sudden light bleached out his expression. He gasped as they were pulled into - somewhere, perhaps the void, although all Jane could see was the light of the tesseract - and wrapped his free arm around her, holding on as if they might be separated. She could feel him breathing, sharp and shallow.

The tesseract sang its satisfaction. Jane wasn't sure whether to sing with it or panic. There was a sense of rushing motion and stillness at the same time, and she squeezed her eyes shut and still all she could see was light. She was clinging to Loki by the arm with the sore wrist, and she still had no idea where they were going. She tried to speak and there was no sound, only more light.

On bewildered instinct, she slid her hand over his and touched the tesseract itself.

It was hot. It burned briefly and then the pain ended, and the light climbed up her hand and suffused her. If she opened her eyes she should be blue-white and blazing like the cube, part of the tesseract and able to reach across the universe and touch a star or planet or anything she pleased in an eyeblink.

Go back, she thought, and the tesseract refused, or she simply knew it was impossible. She could go anywhere - the other endpoint wasn't chosen yet, a near-infinite set of possibilities outdone in bewilderment only by the mechanism and principles that allowed the beginning of a wormhole, a fold in space without knowing where the other end of the fold was. But the ends couldn't be the same place: she couldn't go back.

Home, then. She fastened on that idea; Loki ought to go home, but if he couldn't, she might as well. She fixed her mind on her laboratory - the latest one, as she'd left it, carefully neatened up although she was sure someone else would be using it while she was gone.

There was a twist, an opening, and sound came back with a roar as they were suddenly standing before a yawning, spinning portal in her lab. Half a dozen shrill noises sliced through the racket of the tesseract's portal itself - instruments alerted to off-the-scale readings, at least two of SHIELD's intruder alerts - and she abruptly remembered that the portal hadn't been stable when Loki came through it before and realised the tesseract was off-balance now after the uncertainty mid-trip. She started thinking calm and close and a mixture of its own intuitions and the math she knew to close down the connection before it could become destructive again.

Loki let go of her so fast it almost counted as pushing her away, backing across the lab until there was a wall behind him, eyes darting across the surfaces almost blindly. 'SHIELD. This is...why? Why did you want me imprisoned?'

'I don't-' It was hard to think about anything besides the tesseract and the reeling portal. 'This is my lab. It's the first place I thought of!'

There were booted feet tromping outside the door, and the tesseract glowing under and through her hand gave a jolt of happy recognition just before she heard a familiar voice insisting, 'Let me through, I can - I can shut it down! Done it before...'

The door burst open. Through a haze of light Jane saw soldiers come in and point guns at Loki - she wasn't sure how she saw that, because at least some of it was behind her - and then another hand came down on the tesseract. Erik.

Loki stepped away from the wall - he looked unsteady, almost reeling, but moving with determination. He spread a hand and ice swept across the floor, not in the frantic waves he'd used against Malekith, but in lines, whorls and runes, painting a design across the floor in translucent white. The guns pointing at Loki crumpled in on themselves, like aluminium cans that had been stamped on.

'Easy,' Erik told the tesseract. 'Remember some of us are fragile.' The words were the least of what he was communicating with it, though. Jane could feel his connection with it, like an echo.

It really liked him, which suggested there was more to its affections than simply who was willing to open it up and travel across the universe. (She got a sense of indignation and of course from it at that thought.) And its excitement damped a bit; the feeling of being made of light receded from her arm and hand, leaving a brief scalding heat under her palm before that faded too - and the portal folded in on itself and winked out.

Jane breathed, relief making her even shakier than the adrenaline, and then hugged Erik hard around the neck. And then said, 'Oh, God,' and let go of him almost as fast to turn toward Loki, still facing off against wary soldiers with crumpled guns, and still blue with the outward sweep of ice. The runes were slick under her shoes and somebody grabbed her arm before she made it more than two steps.

Ice suddenly closed around the legs of the person holding her and Loki took a step towards her, stretching out a hand. He looked wary, hunted, other hand held cupped as if magic was pooled in it like water.

Oh, boy. Jane shot the agent an apologetic look and said, very quietly, 'I think you'd better let go.' To her relief, he did, and she picked her way across toward Loki. 'Could everybody,' she said, as loudly as she could without shouting, 'please just calm down for now. Please.' She'd said that part already. And based on her previous trip by tesseract she suspected there was some irony there. She had to stay calm herself but she could feel her heart pounding.

Now, she'd heard frost giants were ice-cold and she'd heard they could cause frostbite instantly with a touch, which were obviously not at all the same thing. She took a breath, gambled on logic, and closed her hand on Loki's outstretched one.

He was cold, but not instant frostbite cold. More like picking up snow in her bare hand. And his hand warmed under hers, the blue fading away where she was touching it. He blinked down at her, eyes deep red instead of their usual light green. 'You're not hurt.'

'You're nothing on dry ice,' she said. Then, not sure if the idiom translated, 'Solid carbon dioxide. Um, never mind. Yeah, I'm okay.' He still cared if she got hurt. He seemed to be listening, at least a little. Processing the unexpected. Hopefully that meant they could get through this withoutanybody getting hurt.

More footsteps could be heard outside the door, and Erik quickly walked over to it and opened it. 'There's anti-gun magic going on, and you don't want to scare the intruder. Let us handle it,' he said.

'Magic,' said a sceptical voice from outside the door. Sort of familiar; it took a moment for Jane to identify it as Maria Hill's. 'Great. I hope you're not compromised again.' Jane winced at that. Hill pushed the door farther open to look past Erik, saw Loki, and her lips thinned. She did come in, but she holstered her sidearm and signaled the people behind her to keep theirs down. 'What's going on here?'

'We are trying to avoid any more of a, an interplanetary incident than we're already having,' Jane said. 'I hope.' She looked up at Loki.

He blinked again, but he looked less like a hunted animal now. 'It wasn't my idea to come here,' he reminded her, sounding rather more like himself.

'I know. That part was my fault. I wanted to get back to Asgard,' she added, mostly for the benefit of the rest of the listeners, 'but the tesseract doesn't seem to do short-distance hops and once it got started we had to go somewhere.'

'Well, thank you so much for thinking of us,' Hill said, very dryly. 'You know, I could have sworn you were going on vacation to Asgard and there wasn't anything in the documentation about performing experiments on the tesseract with Loki.'

'We weren't experimenting.' Loki looked over Jane's head at the currently dormant tesseract, the blue fading from his body. Suddenly his armour appeared, coming out of nowhere to replace the soft clothes he'd been wearing. He stood up straighter in it, although it might have been the need to balance the horns. 'And since I'm unwelcome here I won't trouble you further.'

'Loki,' Jane said quickly. She tugged Loki's hand down, because her arm was starting to get tired, and he let her. 'Look,' she said quietly. 'I have no idea what you're going to do now, but - I didn't see any apple. Golden or rotted or otherwise. I can't say Malekith couldn't have gotten to them, because I have no idea what all he can do, but all I saw him do was gesture dramatically and then disappear.' If Malekith had somehow damaged Idunn's Garden... she winced. She wasn't sure she'd expect to be very welcome in Asgard after that, but they would still want Loki back if he'd go. Although they presumably wouldn't want him loose and at full power anywhere.

'I saw it. I held it.' His eyes kept darting between her and the other people in the room, trying to watch them all at once. 'I can't stay here. I won't be imprisoned by mortals.'

Jane looked around at the crumpled guns. 'Uh, no, that really doesn't seem likely.' She'd seen Loki grasp at air. But there wasn't any solid evidence which of them was right, was there, except that Malekith certainly couldn't have been running around Idunn's Garden during his sentence and if he'd been able to get at it that fast immediately afterward, she thought he must have had access before and therefore it wasn't Loki's fault. Or hers. Probably. She wasn't even sure if that was the right tack to take. 'But where are you planning to go?'

'...I don't know.' He looked uncertainly at the crumpled guns, then at the door again.

'I think...' I really think you should go home. She glanced at the tesseract. 'I'm not totally sure what happened last time, but I'm not sure we should try to go anywhere without a destination again.'

'I don't think you should go anywhere, and I'm going to tell her so,' Erik said firmly. 'Mostly I think one of you should tell the rest of us what's going on.'

Jane shot him a grateful look - for speaking up, for dealing with the tesseract (which was still humming happily), for not yet seeming to be mad at her - and then wondered if she should hope Loki hadn't noticed. 'I can try, but it's a little complicated.' She paused to try to assemble her thoughts, shot Loki an apologetic look, and began, 'Loki's been in psychiatric care in Asgard and is actually doing a lot better.' If he'd rather not have had that explained... well, it was likely to be a problem if SHIELD thought Asgard just wasn't doing anything about him, so hopefully he'd put up with it. 'We had a problem with... um, an elf.' She could try to explain Malekith in greater detail later if she had to. 'Loki thinks the elf did some serious damage to Asgard and it's his fault. I'm not really sure about either part. He is kind of trying to exile himself, which I personally think is a bad idea.'

'Not that that concerns any of you,' Loki added, with a haughty look at the assembled people.

'Not helping,' Jane said under her breath.

Hill tipped her chin up, looking at Loki. 'Why you're here does concern us. What you're planning to do here definitely does. I notice you haven't killed anybody this time, which corroborates 'doing better,' and I'd personally like to keep things that way.'

'As I said earlier, I never planned to be here,' Loki answered. 'I have no interest in doing anything but leaving, however I seem to be prevented from doing that.'

'Well, you've put us in something of an awkward position.' Hill glanced at Jane. 'Or Dr Foster has, if you like. We don't actually want to imprison you here and it's... demonstrably not practical. But there would be some serious diplomatic problems with encouraging you to hare off who knows where with the tesseract.' She looked over at Erik. 'Leaving aside the apparent technical difficulties.'

'If you don't intend to either imprison me or let me go you really are in an awkward situation.'

'Not that this isn't awkward,' said Jane, 'but since you haven't decided where you're going anyway,' and she was not bringing up elf paths to Nidavellir, 'and since travel by tesseract apparently makes people irritable,' which she hoped SHIELD would take as a reason not to be antagonistic and Loki as a reason to watch his temper, 'could we maybe...' Her eyes were drawn to motion among the people just outside the door. 'Take a couple hours and...' Was that who she thought it was? 'Just... try to... settle down. First.'

That was definitely Bruce Banner weaving through the over-crowded room. 'Well,' he said to Loki. 'Fancy seeing you here.'

Loki's hands came up and then he realised magic would be a bad idea and lowered them again. 'I wish I could say I was surprised to see you,' he said, sounding resigned.

Bruce tilted his head toward Jane. 'So is settling down the plan? I'm usually for it.'

'Your presence isn't actually making it easier,' Loki told him, looking decidedly wary.

Bruce smiled faintly. 'I'm not actually planning to start anything.'

'Neither am I. However, I am still surrounded by people with guns.'

Bruce looked around at the pieces of crumpled metal, some still in hand and some laid on the floor, and his eyebrows went up. 'For all the good that's doing anybody.'

'Fine,' Hill said, apparently reaching a decision. 'You, out.' The nearest group of soldiers picked up their damaged weapons where necessary and filed out, although the ones outside the door didn't back off. 'Dr Foster, what are you trying to suggest?'

'I'm not exactly sure,' Jane said with a sigh. 'Something besides this.' This was really a terrible place to have brought Loki, but she still couldn't think of a better choice. 'I could show him around my lab. With less people in it.' At Hill's wince, she said dryly, 'None of the secrets you're keeping about it are anything he doesn't know.'

'I don't suppose suggesting a hot drink and a nap is going to get approval?' Erik put in.

Loki gave him a rather startled look. 'The drink would be...appreciated. I don't intend to sleep here, though.'

'You might be too tall for the break room couch, anyway,' Jane quipped, putting a hand on Loki's arm again a little hesitantly. Erik's gruff practicality was probably the most helpful thing anybody had come up with so far. She shot Hill a pleading look and went on, 'I'm too worked up for coffee right now, but maybe we could go with hot chocolate.'

Hill shut her eyes for a moment and sighed through her nose. 'This is looking like the best option,' she said evenly. 'We'll... stand down. And officially request that you stay put for the time being.' She backed off, speaking quietly into a comm; Jane thought she caught 'Not actually hostile. This time.'

Loki was trembling slightly, probably with exhaustion rather than fear. He looked away from Bruce long enough to meet Jane's eyes. 'What now?' he asked in an undertone.

Jane let out a long breath. 'I was thinking we could go sit down, introduce you to weird Midgardian beverages that I hope you'll like,' Asgard evidently hadn't picked up chocolate even if they'd checked out South America at some point, 'and maybe hold off on the life-altering decisions until a little later.' She took a half-step toward the door, hoping he'd come along. And that nobody would object to their getting into a less closely secured area with comfier furniture and no instruments.

'That might not be a bad idea.' Loki followed with surprising willingness - or perhaps not surprising, given that he almost collapsed into a chair when they arrived.

Jane sighed with relief, squeezed his shoulders lightly (without leaning over him enough to run into the horns), and went for the hot chocolate mix. 'Erik? ...Bruce?' she asked, as they'd both drifted after.

'I'm sticking to chamomile tea for now,' Bruce said, straight-faced. 'You can try him on that if he doesn't like the cocoa.'

'I'm not here to be experimented on,' Loki murmured.

'I'm fine,' Erik answered.

'It's just a drink,' Jane said. She did fix herself a mug and curled up with it as soon as she'd handed the other to Loki. 'In case you want something less... sticky.'

'We do have chamomile in Asgard. But I am trying things, they are not being tried on me.'

'Fair enough. Sorry.'

He took the hot chocolate and tasted it cautiously, then took a rather larger mouthful. 'This is good.'

A small smile. 'Glad you like it.' Jane glanced up at Bruce. 'Please don't hover. You're starting to make me nervous.'

'Seems a little weird to just leave you.' But what was he going to do if anything did go wrong? She liked Bruce, she really did. He was a brilliant scientist, had a snarky sense of humour, and shared some of her misgivings about working for SHIELD. But he still didn't entirely trust himself as the Hulk. Especially indoors around a lot of delicate objects or people. Was this really going to help, when he and Loki were probably putting each other on edge?

'You could at least sit down or something. Talk science. Go over what you did to my instruments, I'm still getting some of them recalibrated,' she suggested, half-joking, and then shut her eyes for a moment. 'But I honestly don't think there's going to be a problem. Or not the kind of problem you'd be a lot of help with.'

She could feel Bruce looking at her, probably trying to decide how much sense she was making. And then he said, 'I'll take your word for that. They're going to leave people around the tesseract, though.'

She nodded and opened her eyes to smile at him a little before he left.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 32 of 37

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