Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 9 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

The few days the elf delegation stayed were simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating for Loki. It was easier to feel part of Asgard with an outside force, not technically a hostile one but certainly an untrustworthy one, around. The conversations they sought him out for were trivial, a testing of his feelings through apparently casual conversation that he responded to with verbal sparring, impeccable manners and the steely determination not to let Asgard down by breaking. Sometimes the one coming to talk to him was the same elf in a different glamour, testing whether he'd be able to tell without magic. He could, they changed their bodies but not their body language, and the giant cat moved just like the slender nymph.

Even without his magic he still had words, and pride in the fact that he did, consistently, come out of conversations with elves without feeling he'd come off worse lent him strength. The exhausting part was standing up under the skilled probing of his emotions by beings that thought poking at them was a game. In the end he was relieved when they left, only to feel awkward and restless in the absence of something to hold himself together against.

Holda, he felt, had been going easy on him while the elves were there, not wanting to push him at a time when she agreed he needed his defences up. But with them gone the subject of his memories came up again, the ones they insisted were false. It brought to mind telling Jane about solid light, and her talking about walking on the Bifrost to map the askreisa. The old desire to see the repairs, even against his fear of the place, mixed with the restlessness he was feeling.

'I want to go to the Bifrost,' he told Holda, ignoring the question she'd asked.

Holda looked at him seriously. 'Why?'

'I missed the repairs and I want to see them. I've been talking with Jane about all the mathematics behind it, I want to see what they're doing before it's all over. Anyway,' he added. 'Maybe being there will help me remember. That's what you want, isn't it?'

'You don't believe there's anything you need to remember,' said Holda. 'You wouldn't let us pretend to believe you, so you might as well return the favour.'

'But you believe it. And you're the one who will be making the decision.' It was almost an echo of the sort of thing she had said to him, and Holda raised her eyebrows at him in recognition of it.

'As long as you stay close to us, and away from the edge, I think we can manage that,' she said after a long pause. 'Are you really sure you want to do this?'

'Yes,' Loki told her, not quite sure why the idea of seeing the Bifrost suddenly mattered so much to him. But sure he wanted to do it.

'I'll arrange it, then,' said Holda. 'It might be a few days.'

Loki nodded. 'I can wait.'

It was almost a surprise when the arrangements happened, although Holda had never gone back on her word to him yet. The day of the trip he spent the morning in a state of anxiety that left him almost sick, and trying to hide it in case they decided that was a reason not to go through with it after all. Holda herself accompanied him, although she normally left escorting him places to his handlers. They rode to the Bifrost, the first time Loki had ridden in over a year. The horse moved easily under him, sleek and powerful, and Loki stopped to stroke its nose when he dismounted.

The control chamber at the other end of the rebuilt Bifrost was a hollow shell, in place but still being rebuilt. Loki wondered what they were doing there, how they were aligning the Bifrost mechanisms. In front of him was a gleaming strip of light over nothingness. It had always made him nervous, looking so fragile, and the oddly ephemeral feel of solid light did nothing to reassure. Now he couldn't sense it at all, only see it. It looked like glass.

For a long time, although maybe not as long as it felt, he just stared at the bridge. Why was he doing this? To watch some repairs no one was likely to explain to him? No. Because it scared him. He was sick of being scared; of Thanos, of the Chitauri, of Thor, of Holda's probing. The elves had been a genuine and present danger and he hadn't been scared. He was a prince of Asgard. Loki stepped out onto the Bifrost, and it felt like falling.

He had to close his eyes for a moment, fighting vertigo. When he opened them again he looked back and saw solid ground only a step away. It was fine. He turned resolutely away from it and walked onward, his handlers falling into step on either side of him, always between him and the edges. The edges weren't what scared him, though maybe they should be. He had been thrown…he'd also seen it smashed. It was newly repaired, what if something had gone wrong? What if it really wasn't as solid as the old Bifrost? He stopped, suddenly terrified that his next step might shatter it.

Holda's hand came to rest on his arm. 'Loki. Do you want to go back?'

He wasn't sure he could go back, even though it was closer than going on. It felt like there was nothing under his feet, like he was going to fall. 'Yes,' he whispered.

It had to be there, had to be real. Any number of people had gone out to work on it and returned safely, and the control chamber was still there, though it looked impossibly distant. Some might well be there now, beyond the wall of the control chamber. Heimdall must be. Heimdall could look back and see him, if he chose.

Now he felt exposed as well.

A flicker of motion, and a tiny figure emerged from the too-dull walls, too small to be Heimdall and without the glitter of armour. It waved a hand overhead, holding some rectangular object, and he recognised the way Jane moved as she started back up the centre of the bridge. He looked down, then realised his mistake and closed his eyes instead, wishing he could avoid Jane seeing him panicking over a bridge she crossed so easily. Holda's hand was still on his arm, a solid link to the world.

It was a long bridge, and it took several minutes for Jane to reach hailing distance. 'Loki! Hi.' She sounded very slightly breathless, and he realised from sound and barely-felt vibrations that she had broken into a jog. 'I wasn't expecting to see you here.'

Loki looked up at her, wondering how soon she'd get near enough to see his expression, and swallowed. 'Jane.'

She had to see, certainly, and she had to have seen Holda's gentle grip on his arm sooner yet. She didn't comment on either, though, only slowed as she approached him and walked the rest of the way. 'So what's going on?'

Loki sighed. Attempting to spare his feelings by ignoring the situation wasn't going to get very far when any answer to that question was going to be horribly embarrassing. 'I was hoping to see the repairs. But it's not going to happen.'

Jane glanced back over her shoulder briefly. And then apparently gave up on her initial tactic and asked instead, 'Can I do anything?'

Loki turned and put one foot gingerly in front of him, the way he had come. 'Talk to me,' he suggested.

'Okay.' She was silent for a few seconds longer than he would have liked, then said, 'Frigga asked me to relay that she and Odin are both very proud of you.'

'What?' Nothing else could have distracted him quite so thoroughly from his predicament. 'But - why?'

'About the elves. They knew some of them were making a point of picking at you, but it would have been a problem to try to cut them off... and you handled them very deftly.'

'Oh. I -' Of course they'd noticed. Did he think they'd just forgotten he might run into the elves? He'd half expected to be confined to his room until they left, and had been determined to live up to the confidence shown in him when he hadn't. So why had he never expected anyone to notice him handling them?

'They didn't like watching people try to give you a hard time,' Jane added a bit wryly, 'but it was nice seeing you not let them.'

Loki smiled. After taking a deep breath he started walking again, managing not to stop even when he thought he heard something creak. He knew it was his imagination. Vehemently, and not following on from the conversation, he said, 'I really hate this bridge. Half the reason I found the elf paths was because even if you're halfway into the void at least you don't feel like you're about to be dropped in it.'

Jane blinked - at least, he thought she did. Looking at her required looking down, and he was reluctant to make that error again, even with something to focus on besides the thin ribbon with space and sea beneath. 'It feels pretty solid to me, but I have to admit it really doesn't look it.'

'It doesn't feel solid to me. At least it didn't, crystallised light never does, and now I can't feel it at all.' Loki wiped his hand across his face. The end of the bridge was just ahead.

'Are we... talking about different definitions of solid, here?' Then something apparently clicked, and she was close enough he could almost feel her shudder. '...You can't feel the magic so it's coming across as a really good optical illusion?'

'It shouldn't matter as much as it does. I can't sense you now either, and you're not an illusion.' He reached the edge of the bridge and stepped onto solid ground, sighing with relief.

'Yeah, but you're not depending on me for anything.' Jane followed him off and a horse - presumably the one she'd ridden here - ambled over from the grass and headbutted her affectionately. She grabbed the mane. 'Quit that. - I didn't realise you could normally sense people that way.'

Loki walked over to his own horse and draped an arm over its neck casually, as if that might hide from anyone that he was leaning on it. Jane's tact might have verged on ridiculous earlier but he was thankful for it now. 'Mortals are very faint. But every race carries a spark of something I can sense.'

'That just seems like a much stranger thought than being able to sense spells.'

'It seems normal to me.' It could make some experiences stranger though. Thor's banishment, seeing the spark in Thor dwindle to a mortal level, had been horrifying to watch. The Chitauri whose spark was shared among them as their mind was, making it more of a smeared glow, and Thanos...Loki flinched, startling his horse which had to be soothed with a pat on its neck.

'I suppose it would.' Jane gave him a slightly worried look, and now she asked, 'What's the matter?'

'Do you really need to ask?'

'Technically, no. But I don't know what's wrong now, if that's what you meant.' She managed to duck her horse's affections and came over to pat his, not really as if she were used to it. It didn't seem to mind. 'It's not like you have to answer.'

She was a little too observant, he'd hoped she'd think he was still just shaken from the Bifrost. As if that wasn't embarrassing enough. 'Some beings are more alien than others. The elves are quite strange, but not so much as some.' He laughed, strange and choked. 'Your world is going to wish I'd won when he arrives.'

'Who?' she asked, sounding a bit rattled herself. As she should be. And she hadn't even met him.

Loki shivered. 'Thanos.'

Jane looked at Holda, worried and baffled. 'I don't know who that is.'

Holda said quietly, 'The leader of the Chitauri.'

Loki nodded. 'He's not one of them. He's something else, I don't know what. He found them and gave them a purpose, his purpose, it's what he does to things he finds in the void.'

'Well, that sounds... unutterably creepy.' Jane folded her arms, as if chilled, but didn't step away. 'Any idea when it's likely to be?'

Loki laughed again. 'Sooner than you think.'

'I honestly don't have any idea, except that according to Heimdall he's a fairly long way off.' It couldn't have been that far. He'd fallen all the way there. Suddenly even the ground didn't seem solid enough.

'He's the depth of a portal away. Any portal. And he cannot be stopped. The tesseract will be his. The universe will cower before him.' Loki's voice was fervent, caught between terror and belief.

'Loki,' said Holda. She stepped in front of him and put her a hand on his arm again. 'Just because you were at his mercy then doesn't mean he is all powerful now. You are safe here.'

'He doesn't have the tesseract now,' Jane said quietly. 'He doesn't, apparently, have any means of making a portal. How fast can he move without one?' Her tone was odd. Still meant to be soothing, maybe, but troubled enough that the question was not rhetorical, not dismissive. Not cease worrying about it but please stay calm and answer me.

'He's in the void. Distance doesn't work the same way there. I - I don't think he can arrive without a portal, not with the Chitauri. They're linked to their ships and the paths are too small.' Part of him was convinced Thanos could do anything, but another part was insistently pointing out that mathematically impossible was mathematically impossible, even in the void. Even for Thanos.

Jane's eyebrows knit, just slightly. She was no stranger to alternatively defined distances - they were a common mathematical construct - but he hadn't offered to share much of the experience of the void, and she hadn't asked him to. 'And if he came alone?'

Loki shivered again. 'A long way, as I know it. But I don't know all the paths.' He lifted his head, looking sightlessly towards the treasure vault. If he could get the tesseract, if he could open a portal, maybe he'd still have a chance of being forgiven before being found.

'That's enough,' said Holda, and he wasn't sure whether she was talking to him or to Jane.

'Sorry.' Jane shook her head. 'Are you coming back out here later?'

Loki looked at the control chamber, across a glittering mirage of a bridge. 'I don't think there's really any point.'

'Okay,' she said, looking like she wanted to say something else. 'I was just going to say, if you wanted to let me know...'

'I don't know what you think you could do about it,' Loki snapped. Did she think her presence was going to make that much difference?

Her shoulders stiffened a little at that, but all she said was, 'Depends on how much good chattering at you about what's going on at the end would actually do.'

Jane's chatter had got him back off the bridge but he hadn't actually been that far onto it. The idea of crossing the whole thing - and then having to get back - made him feel dizzy. This wasn't just nervousness, this was pure terror, and he hated it, hated Jane for a moment for not understanding the depth of it at the same time as he never wanted her to realise. 'Your babble would help less than you think,' he said coldly.

'All right.' She apparently knew she'd been in the wrong. She sounded faintly embarrassed and she didn't snap back at him.

He relaxed slightly, tension going out from between his shoulders. 'I will see you later, I hope. Just not here.'

Jane's mouth quirked. 'I'll be around for a few more weeks.'

'You're not staying?' She was Thor's lover, he'd assumed she'd come to live here. Never before had he thought of her leaving for Midgard.

'...Huh?' Jane gave him a bewildered look, as if it had never occurred to her not to. 'This is a visit, I didn't move here! It's kind of a long visit, I'll grant you, but it's a whole other world, there's a lot to take in.'

So, she was going. There wasn't much point in asking her to stay, either. If she wasn't staying for Thor she certainly wouldn't stay for him. 'I'll see you later then. While you're still here.'

She smiled, although there was something faintly worried deep in her eyes. 'I'll look forward to that.'

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 9 of 37

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