Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 37 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

She had a lot of work to do. The Asgardians had taken a full year to repair their Bifrost; it took Jane nine to adapt and build one for nonmagical, Earth-based use.

Of course she kept visiting Asgard in the meantime. Thor kept visiting Earth, sometimes to fight and sometimes to see her or whisk her off. Jane almost got used to weekend trips to another planet. Loki continued his recovery and asked her to be there when the silver bracelets were taken off and his magic restored.

The Chitauri never came back to Earth. Thanos eventually made his way to Asgard searching for Loki, and Odin demonstrated that the tesseract was not the most dangerous object in his weapons vault. Jane only heard about it after the fact.

She talked to Erik and Bruce about physics and Tony Stark about materials engineering. She talked to Loki about magic and society, to Thor and later his parents about the political implications of the future King of Asgard marrying someone from another planet. To her mother about the prospect of living under an absolute monarchy and with a particularly exhausting royal family for some thousands of years. To Captain America, once, about the decision to have your body rewritten. Even though their reasons were different and she wasn't going through an untested process.

She had screaming fights on two occasions with Thor and Loki over the possibility that every year she delayed might take a century off her potential lifespan in Asgard. One was while she was still deciding and Loki silenced her, though nobody imagined the argument was really over, by asking if she thought Erik would take it, and if she'd want him to. (It was actually a serious question, and with age weighing rather more heavily on him than her first grey hairs did on Jane, Erik did take it - after Loki formally swore away any chance of being in line for the throne, which he said was true anyway and almost managed not to sound upset about. Clint did not, but the option was left open.) The second time was after she actually got engaged. But she refused to be rushed, and she wanted to finish the bridge while she was still human and still of Earth, not Asgard.

She did it, too, much of it built with her own hands and Stark's robots. There was not a crystalised photon to be seen, but she programmed the coordinates with Idunn's map and they tested it on every realm that humans could survive and that was willing to make the overture to Earth. The trip to Alfheim was very brief.

SHIELD finally released their veil of secrecy and Jane was cheered and feted and awarded a prize that had been newly invented just for her. She had a chance to endow her own.

Her bridge deposited her on the solid part of the Bifrost not in a roiling storm but in a swirl of multicoloured sparkles, an image that rarely failed to make her giggle when she imagined it happening to formidable SHIELD agents. Thor swept her off her feet almost before her weight was fully on them.

Loki was more circumspect, waiting until Thor let go to offer a briefer and more restrained hug, and a delighted, 'Congratulations. I knew you could do it.'

'Thank you both.' She couldn't stop grinning. That had been happening a lot lately.

Heimdall offered his own congratulations, and Thor set his hands on her waist again, beaming, and lifted her onto Bokki before mounting as well. (Loki had discovered an old tradition of riding double into the city with a prospective spouse from another world, mostly in records of both men and women who did not own horses borrowing them for the purpose. Jane was a far better rider than nine years before, but didn't mind the excuse.) 'We should return. There is a great deal to be done.' The relish with which Thor had taken to wedding planning had startled Jane and bemused the Avengers, but he heartily approved of celebration on general principles. 'And I believe Loki wants to consult with you on a few things before the honeymoon claims all your attention.'

'A few, yes,' Loki said, sounding unexpectedly nervous about it.

Jane looked inquiringly at him. 'I'll be happy to.'

Loki smiled at her but was not forthcoming with an explanation just then.

She relaxed against Thor during most of the ride back and then wound up bolt upright as the cheering started. Bokki and Atorka cantered through the roaring crowd that lined Asgard's streets as if they thought the celebration was for them.

'Wave,' Thor prompted her, and she belatedly waved and hoped she didn't look too stunned. 'I am not the only Asgardian who likes celebrating,' he added into her ear, with an audible grin. And that made her laugh, letting her relax into a much more natural smile as they continued to the stable and from there to the palace, where Odin and Frigga greeted them, welcomed her, and let Thor and Loki take her to her (temporary) room.

Loki left the door open as he came in and sat in one of the chairs, with a glance at Jane to check she didn't mind. Shortly after that a cloisonné cat walked into the room, decorated in lightly swirling abstract designs in green, blue and red enamel, all so dark as to be almost black. The insides of its ears and its nose were left gold. It started purring at the sight of Jane, a metallic but oddly musical sound, and rolled onto its back at her feet, displaying green velvet pads that had been glued onto the bottom of its paws, presumably to muffle them.

'Wow,' said Jane, grinning and bending to rub the cat's tummy, feeling smooth enamel and slightly raised wire beneath her hands. The purring got louder.

'This is Hjarta,' Loki said. 'She's an experiment, and not one that turned out quite how I was expecting.'

'What were you expecting?' Jane asked.

'She's meant to be an extension of my will. I can do magic through her, or send her on errands, and I'm aware of what goes on near her. She was also meant to act like a cat in mimicry of the animals in Idunn's garden. The two combined more than I realised and she tends to display my feelings, only in a distinctly…feline manner.' He smiled. 'Which is to say that I'm glad to see you. Demonstrably.'

Jane smiled back. 'Now I'm not entirely sure if I should tell you she's adorable.' Possibly more so for this revelation. 'She is, though. And amazing work.' She had some basis for evaluating that by now, too.

That got her hand a happy nudge from Hjarta. 'Would she be less adorable if I told you there are steel claws hidden in those pads?' Loki asked. 'I'm glad you like her. I've been using her to talk to the tesseract - I can use her as an anchor, a part of my consciousness outside the bond. She also has a habit of hissing at people I'm annoyed with, which is more useful than it sounds. And rather amusing.'

'By which he means hilarious. And I believe Jane is aware that cats normally come with claws,' Thor said teasingly. 'But I will leave the two of you to your mysteries for now.' He leaned down to kiss Jane breathless one more time, then bent further to pet Hjarta (who placed a paw on his wrist and blinked happily at him, still purring). He straightened up, clapped Loki on the shoulder, and headed out.

Jane rested her elbows on her knees and blinked a few times, feeling very slightly lightheaded from the kiss. 'So,' she said after a moment, 'mysteries?'

'Ah. I...worked out how to return the apple to Idunn's Garden. I think.' Loki was looking uncertain again, and Hjarta had stopped purring although she showed no signs of moving away from Jane. 'I won't get a second chance at it, though.'

'How so?' Did it make sense for something like that to be a one-shot deal? (Did it make sense on Asgard's terms? Nidavellir's?)

'I'm not meant to discuss my conclusions with anyone.' Loki's eyes were downcast. 'I think being willing to go through with it on nothing but my own studies might be part of the test. I was hoping you'd come with me and see for yourself. And, if it does go wrong...'

Surely there had to be some way to deal with people not passing the test, if there was one? There were arguments against the idea - sometimes you didn't get a second chance at something, sometimes the stakes really were just that high - but it seemed unlikely that a standard test would be deliberately designed to do irreparable damage to the spellwork if failed. But Loki would be devastated. 'I'll come.'

'Today? It will take me a few hours to prepare, but, as Thor said, it would be best to get it over with before the honeymoon.'

Jane gave him an encouraging smile. 'Today is fine.'

A few hours later they were on their way to the garden. Loki was carrying a bundle of sticks and a shovel, which didn't exactly seem like the accoutrements for serious magic, in one hand and the apple in the other. Hjarta followed them, tail swishing slightly and ears pricked forwards.

The garden was the same as it had been last time Jane saw it, secluded and beautiful, and she gave the stars a fond glance. Loki put the apple down carefully on the edge of the well and reached up to touch another, growing on the tree. 'This is where it was taken from,' he said quietly. 'It grew back the next year.' Hjarta was pacing around the garden, stopping to sniff at apparently random patches of grass.

Jane looked at the apple on the tree, not reaching to touch it. 'So putting it back didn't mean finding a way to reattach it to the tree. That must have been disconcerting.'

'Yes.' Hjarta paced around in a circle and sat down. Loki turned towards her. 'But the garden is living. Plucked fruit can't be reattached.' He walked over to Hjarta and sank to his knees, setting the bundle of sticks aside and using the shovel to loosen a patch of sod enough to lift it, movements careful and reverent. The soil underneath was a rich, shimmering brown, like powdered copper.

Jane turned to watch him, not moving in case it somehow interfered, although that seemed unlikely. 'So you have to plant it?' That didn't seem so very irrevocable. Except... was the garden actually set up to have new trees? 'Sorry, is that too much discussion?'

He glanced over his shoulder and smiled at her, a tight, nervous smile. 'Not quite. And you'll see very soon.' The sticks were set around the bare patch of earth in a circle, and now they weren't in a bundle Jane could see the spiral of runes painted in black on each one. Loki spent a while after they were in place turning one or another slightly, then pausing before doing it again, as if he were tuning an instrument.

Once they were set up to his satisfaction he walked back to the fountain for the apple, and returned to kneel beside the array with it in his hands. Hjarta was pressed to the ground, ears flat. Loki held the apple against his chest protectively, looking reluctant to do whatever came next. 'This is going to look bad,' he said, without turning around. 'That won't mean it's gone wrong.'

It had occurred to Jane by this time that in the natural and nonmagical course of plant life, not only could you not put fruit back on the tree, but there were a limited number of things that could happen to it. None of which seemed terribly plausible for metal, to her, but normally neither did being alive. And one of which might explain Loki's worries. 'I'll keep that in mind,' she said. 'I do know you're good at this.'

'Thank you.' Loki held the apple cupped in his hands over the circle of bare earth and bowed his head. Black began to spread over the surface of the apple, looking somewhere between rot and tarnished metal. Loki's breath was coming fast and shallow, whether with effort or distress Jane couldn't tell. The apple wrinkled, sagging in on itself, and then disintegrated. For a moment Loki's hands were full of black mulch and then it crumbled further, lightening as it did, until copper earth was sifting from his fingers onto the ground. He let it fall and then brushed his hands off.

For a long moment everything was still. Loki was still kneeling, head bowed, hands now clasped, shoulders tense. Then the tension went out of him and the whole garden filled with Hjarta's purr.

Jane felt like she could safely move again, at that, and she did, closing the distance swiftly to rest her hands on his shoulders. 'You got it. Good job.'

'Yes. I felt it return.' He looked radiantly happy and more than slightly stunned. 'Thank you for being here.'

'I was glad to be.' She smiled warmly at him, then glanced down at a pressure against her calf to find Hjarta winding fluidly around her feet. 'Thank you for asking me.'

Loki reached for the piece of turf he had removed, patting it back into place before removing the sticks. 'We should go back and see how Thor is getting on with the planning. And I should tell Father I succeeded.'

'I'm sure he'll be delighted.' She paused, trying to picture Odin being delighted. 'Um, pleased and proud, anyway. Delighted sounds a little more carried away than I can really picture him.'

Odin was pleased, and perhaps more vocal about it than Jane gathered had been his habit in previous centuries. Frigga was downright effusive. In lieu, as she said, of a public feast celebrating a secret accomplishment, she summoned everyone who currently knew about Idunn's Garden down to it the next day for a luncheon - which featured more cider than mead or ale, and apples in practically everything.

While Frigga was teasing Thor about whether he'd turn out to be one of those princes who had to be browbeaten into learning enough magic to perform the king's functions in relation to the Garden, Loki murmured to Jane, 'You'll be able to learn as much about it as you like soon, you know.'

'I think I'll need to learn more about magic in general first.' She grinned at him. 'Think you'll have time to teach me any?'

Loki's eyes lit. 'I think I can catch you up.'

There wasn't all that much longer to wait before the wedding; they had planned around Jane's Earthly schedule and the timing had been pinned down months ago. Family and friends from Midgard came up by whichever bridge was more convenient. Jane periodically escaped from being dressed, introduced to people, and shown things to greet and spend time with them. (She assumed this was not terribly offending anyone, since Frigga usually helped.)

Guests from other realms arrived by Bifrost or in their own ways. By this point there was even an ambassador from Jotunheim, whom Loki avoided as diligently as he did Erik. She didn't seem discomforted by the heat but did wind up carrying around various oddly-shaped pieces of ice as she froze the water that condensed on her to keep it from soaking her clothes or dripping on the floor. Jane's favourite was the giant snowflake. It gave her more of a shock when Queen Alflyse turned up, although Jane had known she had to be invited. At least she didn't bring Malekith, but then, Odin had long since closed any loopholes regarding Malekith's being lethally unwelcome in Asgard.

It poured rain on their wedding day, and Jane cornered Darcy and made her promise not to tell Thor anybody on Earth thought that was a bad thing. Birla crowned her in flowers and stood up beside her, opposite Loki with Thor. Jane's mother spoke for her family, and by extension to some small degree for Earth; Odin for Thor's, and Frigga stood witness as they gave oath to each other, and called on Asgard itself to take notice -

- The first thing Jane noticed was that everything seemed louder, sharper. She could hear Thor's heartbeat. A peculiar hot-cold sensation washed through her next, like fever but with a sense of well-being rather than illness. There was a deep dull ache in muscle and bone, as if she'd done something strenuous and was thoroughly satisfied with the result.

Those sensations faded, leaving only the noise, and the awareness that she was squeezing Thor's hands much, much harder than before. She felt so light on her feet she had to glance down to make sure she wasn't floating.

Thor leaned down to her. It took them two tries before they could both stop smiling too hard to kiss properly.

The reception was a really massive feast; she'd have believed it was only huge to her own limited points of comparison, but in fact this was apparently the biggest party since the one they had never gotten to have after Thor's coronation. It featured an enormous quantity of meat, especially since Asgard was serving a mammoth and several worlds had brought their own contributions to the menu. (The Vanir provided several boars and possibly several farms' worth of vegetables. Nobody but the elves were eating the elves' food. The Jotun ambassador had presented them with a fresh-caught two-metre fish, raw and chilled; the Alltongue now let Jane hear it threefold, the Jotun word and the way an Asgardian born would say it and, unexpectedly, an English rendering as anchovy. It was really good.) The huge tiered white cake was the most distinctly Midgardian feature, although from the positive attention it was getting, the inhabitants of several other realms also appeared to like cake.

Jane was just thinking the reception seemed to be going well when there was a commotion from over by one of the refreshment tables. She could hear shouting, and, when she got closer, could see the one doing the shouting was Alflyse. Her arm was bleeding and the sleeve of her dress was torn.

Loki was standing nearby, looking haughty and a little shaken, while Hjarta was pressed against his legs, eyes narrowed and looking pleased with herself. Loki picked her up as Jane approached. 'I am sorry,' he said, blandly. 'You know how pets can be.'

'That is no mere pet.' Alflyse's outrage flared, unexpectedly palpable against Jane's thoughts and bringing up unpleasant reminders of Malekith as the only other time she'd sensed anything like that. Though this was not so much a shove as... a prickly-cold mist, maybe, or an itchy blanket. 'Its life is part of yours and therefore its actions-'

Jane pushed back, sharply and perhaps not wisely, and Alflyse broke off and looked at her. The sense of her indignation folded up and went away as if she'd shut it in a box. Jane swallowed but neither pride nor the buzzing energy of her transformation would let her back down. 'Queen Alflyse, are you suggesting Prince Loki wanted to scratch you?'

'Your new brother,' Alflyse said, as if she had decided to blame Jane for it too, 'assaulted me over a joke.'

'Your old one tried to make me a pawn over a declined invitation,' Jane replied, while part of her mind asked in disbelief if she actually thought a catfight... er, verbal battle with the elf queen was a good idea. 'What in the world did you say?'

'She reminded me that it is traditional not to wear green to weddings, lest elves take it as an invitation and carry you off,' Loki answered. Hjarta's claws were still unsheathed, steel gleaming against his sleeve as she flexed them.

'A compliment,' said Alflyse.

'I'd prefer not to be a stolen treasure,' Loki answered, eyes fixed on her. 'And I would advise you not to make jokes about things you've tried in the past, if you don't wish them to be taken seriously.'

'If I meant to abduct you,' Alflyse said, her voice very low, 'not all your guard dogs could stop me.' She changed, suddenly, metallic gold skin turning blue and sapphire hair to black. Her gown remained green, and the blood on her arm didn't soak into it. 'But I would rather have you come to me.'

'I have no interest in doing so.' There was a cold, dry feeling to the air around Loki suddenly and he dropped his voice. 'Even when your ploys made me believe I had nowhere else to run, I never considered going to you. How much less likely is it when I have a place I am certain of, then?'

'Always a secondary place,' Alflyse said. Gas-blue flames wisped off her eyes, a seriously disturbing effect. 'I would make you a king. You havetalent, boy, and skill dearly earned in a world that does not appreciate it.'

'He said no,' Jane told her, taking a step closer. 'And we do appreciate him.'

'You are new to Asgard,' Alflyse said dismissively.

'She has been my friend for years,' Loki replied. 'And you understand neither my talents nor what they mean to Asgard. I am neither a child nor a madman, now, Alflyse, to have my feelings bent with a few words.'

Alflyse's lips thinned for a moment. But then the flames died from her eyes, and she glanced down and passed a finger over the cut on her arm, leaving the skin unmarked behind it. The rent in her sleeve closed as well. She licked the sparkling blood from her fingertip and then smiled at Loki. 'You are certainly not a child,' she said, in a sultry tone that Fandral would have had a field day with. 'But perhaps I will find other means of persuasion in time.'

Loki's gaze flicked over her from head to toe, assessing. 'No.' There was a world of contempt in his tone, and then he turned and strode off.

Alflyse watched him go with no further loss of composure and a remarkably fond smile, then turned to Jane, gold sweeping over her skin again but this time in complex moving swirls, while the underlying blue deepened to navy. The contrast and shifting colours made it hard to read her expression, but her voice was cheerful and surprisingly warm as she said, 'Congratulations on your bridge-building, Dr Foster, as I had not had the opportunity to say so before, and congratulations on your marriage. Perhaps I should ask you for advice on winning a prince of Asgard.'

Jane gazed up at her, nonplussed by the sudden friendliness, and remembered Alflyse had apparently been interested in Thor, too. 'They're very different,' she said after a moment. 'And for all I know you've been going by Alfheim's usual romantic customs, but I'm just going to tell you, so far by ours you're coming across as creepy as hell.' She kept her tone level and as polite as she could manage, as if this were a confrontation for Alflyse's own good.

Alflyse's expression, as far as Jane could tell, didn't change. Alflyse nodded slowly and said, 'I shall think on that,' then picked up a complicated fruit structure built in a pomegranate rind and walked away. Fortunately not in the same direction as Loki.

Jane shut her eyes for a few seconds and then wove through the crowd, greeting and smiling at people. She lost track of Loki - a hazard of being several inches shorter than everyone around her, but usually she'd expect foot-long horns to stand out enough that even she could find them. She was just starting to be frustrated when Hjarta brushed against her ankles. Following the cat led her to Loki leaning against the wall, the air still chill around him; she lifted the horn she was still carrying in a slightly ironic salute and joined him. 'Thank you for sending a guide.'

'You were looking for me then.' He sighed and added ruefully, 'That was not politic. How did Alflyse take it?'

'Of course I was looking for you. And, ah, with a bizarre level of apparent good cheer.'

'That bodes well for diplomatic relations with Alfheim. Less well for her having got the message at all.'

'She asked me for advice. I told her she was being creepy. That was... probably also impolitic, but seriously...'

Loki laughed, and when he stopped he was still smiling and there was no longer a cold, tense feeling in the air. 'Not that I expect her to listen, but I'm glad she's heard it from someone. You shouldn't have to deal with this on your wedding day. I'd apologise, but I'm not terribly sorry for my part in it.'

Jane shook her head. She couldn't exactly say life was too short to worry about things anymore, but - she'd be upset if Alflyse decided to make something of it, and otherwise she wasn't going to worry. 'That was tasteless of her at best and a threat at worst.' And she'd normally think actually cutting someone over it was a serious overreaction, but in context she wasn't so sure.

'It scared me,' Loki admitted. 'More than it should have done. I was certainly close enough to all the allies I could desire, but it came out of nowhere. And I really don't have full control over Hjarta, although she usually does no more than hiss.'

'I don't blame you,' said Jane. 'Really.' The problem was, Alflyse might have been telling the exact truth when she said they couldn't stop her. In that case Jane sincerely hoped she'd also been telling the truth about not actually planning a kidnapping, but even so, her definition of willingly seemed to need some work.

Loki relaxed a bit. 'Maybe she'll let me avoid her now. Or maybe I should ask Fandral to run interference.'

Jane snorted. 'Avoiding sounds good.' Fandral would almost certainly have turned the carrying-off comment into innuendo - and he was also wearing green - but Loki had worried about his dalliances with Alflyse even before her interest had taken its more alarming turn.

'Very good,' Loki replied. 'Think I can manage to get a drink without her seeing me?'

Jane grinned. 'With or without turning invisible?'

Loki grinned back and the air shimmered for a moment, then he was gone. Surprisingly quickly he was back, appearing on the same spot but holding a horn of mead which he raised to her in a salute. 'Congratulations,' he said. 'Which reminds me. How did it feel to become Asgardian?'

'Weird,' Jane said, and laughed at the well, that was completely unhelpful look he gave her. 'Kind of like the opposite of having the flu.'

Loki considered. 'The alltongue didn't quite get that one, I think. An illness with fever?'

Jane nodded. 'I felt - hot and cold, I guess not really like fever but more like that chill when you step into a really hot bath and your nerves get mixed up for a second... and, I have no idea if you get that or if it's a strictly human quirk. And achy. But good.' She considered. 'The first thing I noticed was actually hearing a lot more. I think I'm starting to tune some of it out already, though. I still feel very light on my feet, though - I guess that's from the increased proportional strength.'

'Thor will have to take you to a concert again now you can hear all of it.' Loki was looking decidedly interested. 'I'm guessing some of it is just adjusting to how you have changed rather than the feel of the change itself.'

'Probably,' Jane began.

'Here they are!' Sif's arrival was followed swiftly by that of Fandral, Hogun, and - of course - Thor in particular resplendence. Jane caught her breath at the sight of him. 'Thor,' Sif continued, straight-faced, 'your brother is making suggestions on how you should entertain your wife.'

'Just recommending she should take advantage of her new enhancements,' Loki answered.

'We were planning on it,' Thor said, looking mystified.

'Good to know. She was just telling me about the transformation.' Loki sounded humorously resigned to not having that conversation right now after all.

'This is just typical,' said Fandral. 'You lure her off during her own wedding feast to discuss the technicalities of magic.' He grinned. 'Our next plan was to check the library, of course.'

'Thor knew I was a geek before our first kiss,' Jane said cheerfully. 'Anyway, it's probably better to get the details down while the memory is still fresh.'

Thor laughed and took her hand to kiss it, blue eyes lightning-bright over their interlaced fingers. 'Indeed I did,' he said. 'By all means, continue "geeking out", my love. We are not to leave the feast until sunset.' He slipped into actual English for the idiom. Then he drew her close enough to breathe hotly on her ear and add, almost too softly for even her newly enhanced hearing to pick up, 'Queen Alflyse asked me if she was "creepy". I am not sure if this is self-reflection or a new plan, but we thought it best to watch after one another. Volstagg is bringing his family.'

'God you're wonderful,' Jane muttered, not quite as softly but it was a reasonable response to both what he'd actually said out loud and what he was doing to her ear and neck with just his breath. She managed to push away from him and turned back to smile brightly at the rest of them, feeling a little flushed. 'So,' she began, looking at Loki, then shook her head. 'We had better have this conversation before the honeymoon. I think I forgot the question.'

That got a general laugh. Loki resumed quizzing her. His eyebrows rose just a little and he glanced at Thor when not only Volstagg but Gudrun and their children arrived, and she was sure he'd twigged after various companions' momentary forays away from the wall gradually collected Birla, the entire complement of mortal guests, and one other ex-mortal. But Erik hugged Jane and kissed her cheek as he repeated his congratulations, and if he and Loki were not exactly comfortable with each other they were capable of ignoring each other civilly at close range.

Even if the gathering was partly out of wariness and not wholly at ease, she appreciated being surrounded by family and dear friends. Jane leaned against the bronze-gold wall and sipped mead flavoured by spices that didn't exist on Earth, discussing the joins between science and magic with Loki while Thor watched them both fondly, and felt irrevocably at home.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 37 of 37

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