Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 1 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose

Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

- The Hollow Men, T.S. Eliot

Defeat didn't taste like ashes so much as it did the cloying sweetness of rotten fruit.

Loki had plenty of time to examine the flavor, how the shame and anger sat uneasily in his stomach like too much mead as he was towed along behind Thor, chained and muzzled like some mad cur to be staked outside. It was too much to bear, simply too much, but no matter how he chafed against his restraints they were as immovable as Mjolnir. As Thor said his farewells to the other members of this ragtag group Midgard had assembled, Loki could do little but seethe silently. Seethe...and plan...for as long as there was still breath in his body, he would never cease his search for vindication against Asgard's shining prince.

At long last Thor turned to him, his blue eyes full of a resigned sadness that looked so out of place on his usually jovial face. "Well, brother. Are you ready to return home at last?" His voice was quiet, the words pressed down by an exhaustion that carved deep lines into Thor's forehead. There was no question, the fight had demanded much of his brother. It was a small victory, to be sure. But at this point, Loki would take any sort he could find. Unable to reply, he simply narrowed his eyes icily at Thor and lifted his chin - as ready to be on their way as he would get.

Truth be told, he was hardly in any better shape. The past weeks had taken their own toll on Loki, and being half-crushed by Banner's green mongrel had left his body broken and battered almost beyond his own ability to repair it. Even now, some days later, his skin was mottled with bruises and there were still bones he swore he could hear grinding together in places. As Thor offered him the handle of the Tesseract he had to force his hand not to tremble as he grasped it, force his muscles to curl his battered fingers around the cold metal grip. The cool bite of it against his palm stung, and behind the mask that stifled his magic his mouth turned down bitterly. His last thoughts, before the blue wash of the Tesseract crested over their mirrored hands and Midgard faded from his sight, was to wonder idly which of them was the prodigal son.

The Tesseract deposited them at the tattered end of the broken Bifrost under the ever watchful eye of Heimdall, still standing stoically at his appointed post. His copper eyes slid over the tableau they painted, the brothers still joined by the faintly glowing cube, but if he found anything remarkable about the sight he kept his peace. Loki realized with a start that there was no one besides the three of them present, and he arched one raven brow in question at Thor. Where was Odin? Where was the mob, howling for blood? Rather than a rabble, there was nothing but the silence of the edge of the world and the softly glowing shards of the ruined Bifrost blending into the smudged cosmos behind them.

His mind racing, Loki glanced over at Thor, softening his features into something resembling mournful as he lifted a hand to touch the mask on his face. They both knew it was in place to guard the mortals and it was superfluous here, but whether or not Thor was incensed enough to leave it in place remained to be seen.

"My prince..." Heimdall said in soft warning as Thor lifted a hand to the cool metal that encased his brother's jaw, and for a moment his arm checked its movement.

Shoulders rounding, Thor blew out a heavy breath before glancing back at Heimdall. "I will not have him go before Father muzzled like some hound, Heimdall," he said. "Regardless of what he's done, he is still a prince." Thor's fingers touched the mask, a brief flash of light blanching them as the magic holding it in place flared out of existence and it dropped into his palm, an inert hunk of metal.

The breath Loki sucked in was far sweeter than any he'd had on Midgard, and his eyes fluttered shut briefly at the familiar air of Asgard, free from the stench of spent fuel and corruption. It took him a moment to find his voice, rusted with disuse. "Thank you," he said demurely, packing his rage and his shame into a tight ball that he stowed behind his breastbone so that he could turn a mild face to Thor. "You have always been honorable, Thor. Even to those who do not deserve it."

Thor watched him quietly a moment, mouth twisting ruefully. "You have always been deserving of honor, Loki. If only you could see that as well as I."

Loki let his eyes slide away from Thor's gaze, as if it was too painful to bear, and blinked over one of his armored shoulders. The shimmering ribbon of the Bifrost rolled off into the distance, and he could see the small but recognizable figure of Odin striding authoritatively towards them. "There is no gallows reformation for me, Thor. Save your breath." He stared out at the endless swath of stars, working a small hitch into his breath. "Only..." he let his voice trail off, as if he lacked the courage to continue.

"Only what?" Thor echoed with a healthy dose of suspicion.

Loki held up his arms beseechingly, the chain running between the manacles clinking softly in the silence, and gestured behind Thor. "There is enough shame on my shoulders, returning here. Do not make me face Father like some petty criminal."

" know I cannot..." Thor began, shaking his head before glancing back to see Odin drawing near.

Loki broke in over the top of his protest. "Please, Thor." He brought his eyes back up meet Thor's own, satisfied to see them soften ever so slightly at the entreaty. The chinks in his brother's armor had always been so obvious, and Loki pressed the daggers of his words right for them, letting his eyes fill with meaningless tears. "If you ever cared for me, do not force me to stand before him in chains."

"His heart is full of treachery," Heimdall broke in, and Thor uttered a sharp bark of humorless laughter.

"When has his heart ever been filled with anything else?" he asked Heimdall with an undercurrent of bitterness. "There was a time once though, when it was reserved for those other than myself."

So close. Loki could see the battle within Thor, his desire to trust Loki once more warring with his sense of duty. It wouldn't take much, he was sure. A tiny push in the right direction, and Thor would topple...because he wanted so badly to be right. "Thanos' hold on me is gone, and I am my own free man now. We will stay right here with Heimdall and wait for Father. Place Mjolnir on my foot if it will please you." Loki placed one hand gingerly on Thor's forearm and baited his trap. "" The last word was a ragged whisper, as if Loki had had to tear if from the very depths of his soul to utter, and he let one tear spill over.

There was a breathless moment where he doubted Thor would fall, before those cold blue eyes melted and Thor let out a deep sigh. He reached for the heavy manacles and the same frigid flash of light sparked once, twice, as he removed them each in sequence. No sooner had the thick circlets clattered to the ground than Loki had blinked out of existence, reappearing right at the frayed edge of the Bifrost just as Odin drew up beside Thor.

"Fools," he spat out, the rage unfurling from his chest to bloom in his throat, quaking his voice with its force. "Your trust will be the end of you one day, Thor!" At his back the open expanse of space was restless, wind flapping the edges of his bedraggled cloak. He glanced over his shoulder as Heimdall hefted his sword in his direction and began to advance.

"Loki!" Thor cried and started forward, Mjolnir in hand.

"Hold, both of you," Odin said softly, a resigned set to his shoulders. "Loki, do not do this."

"One day you will look back on this, and realize it was the beginning of the end, Thor!" Loki crowed, his voice rising in on a manic note. Rocking back on his heels, he threw himself over the raw edge of the Bifrost to plummet amongst the stars, opening himself to the secret pathways until he snagged on one and was yanked into it, winking out of sight.

"Watch him please," Odin commanded with a heavy voice, glancing up to meet Heimdall's questioning eyes once Loki had faded from view. "I have faith in Loki, still. Even if he has none in himself."

Heimdall nodded slowly, his uncanny gaze boring into Odin's own. "I mean no discourtesy, but...are you are sure about this? You may have just damned us all."

Thor snorted, shaking his head as he gathered the scattered restraints. "He may have. Or he may have just saved my brother. I refuse to believe that he is beyond reaching." He paused, and when he continued, there was a painfully raw thread of hope in his voice. "Tell me, Heimdall...are hate and treachery the only things you see left in his heart?"

"No," the sentry rumbled quietly, moving to stand beside Thor and Odin as they all stared out at the ever-wheeling stars. "No, they are not."

Time had no meaning here, in these places between the stars.

As Loki fell through one of the cracks that only he could see, he had no idea where exactly it might take him. He was too weak, too worn thin, too...tired, after everything he'd been through to control much of anything. Realms and planets flashed before his eyes like a kaleidoscopic flipbook, faster and faster until he was dizzy and half-mad with the procession. It occurred to him that Fate was just ironic enough to drop him back in the realm of the Chitauri, and he was still laughing silently with more than an edge of hysteria when the fissure of reality widened and he slipped out.

The ground rushed up to meet him and he fell into its dusty embrace, limbs and cape and rock all tangled together in a shattered jumble. The pain, for one brief moment, was an unbearable wash that shredded nerves from muscle - until the blessedly cool hand of unconsciousness swept over his brow, and the darkness swallowed him.

It was embarrassing, if anyone else had known she was out here. She had never considered herself a particularly sentimental person, but she knew that if Erik or Darcy had been around she would have become the butt of many good-natured jabs, accusing her of pining for a man from the stars. Thankfully, since coming back to New Mexico Jane had been alone these past few weeks - Darcy had moved on to another internship while Jane had been in Oslo, and Erik was still being watched closely by SHIELD to ensure that he was no longer a danger to himself or others. She had visited him, once Director Fury had given her the green light to return to the States, and had been shocked by her dear friend's wan appearance. Whatever it was that had happened to him while she had been away had taken an obvious toll on her mentor, and she was glad to see that he was getting the care he needed. Although it did make for lonely hours puttering around her new laboratory, courtesy of SHIELD with the understanding she keep them in the loop of her research into the Einstein-Rosen Bridge.

So it was that she found herself where she did more nights than not when she wasn't working - lying atop the shiny hood of her new van at the edge of the odd pattern that had been branded into the ground where Thor had plunged to Earth, listening to the mournful yip of the coyotes and staring up at the night sky. The equipment and structures SHIELD had placed here when examining the phenomenon had long been removed, leaving behind just an eery design in a rocky landscape that felt as isolated as the moon itself. She told herself that there was a better view of the stars here than back at Puente Antigua. She knew that was a lie.

Overhead the sky was a dizzying spray of lights, diamonds strewn across the black velvet of the arching heavens. For some their distant immovable faces must seem cold, but for Jane they had always been a comfort. Ever reliable, ever unchanging - at least in her short lifespan. When everything else in life became unpredictable, she could always predict the stars.

But she couldn't predict Thor.

The normally soft breeze that blew grittily across the darkened desert grew teeth, gnashing at the tender line of skin where the collar of her thick jacket ended, and Jane sat up frowning. Dust was being whipped into her eyes and she put up a hand to shield them as loose brush and tumbleweed flew past. Far above her clouds boiled up from seemingly nowhere, swirling ominously overhead in a tightening vortex. Jane couldn't control the trembling of her hand or the stuttering beat of her heart as she watched, slack-jawed while the sky raged and her mind could only stumble over and over on the same word.


No sooner had her lips moved around the shape of his name than a brilliant white ball streaked from the center of the furious storm, looking for all the world like a comet come to earth. With a bone-jarring impact it slammed into the center of the crater, shaking the ground around and sending Jane sliding off the hood of the van to land on her hands and knees in the rocky path that served as a road out here. She scarcely noticed the stinging of her scraped palms as she scrambled to her feet, halfway to the edge of the circle before she'd even realized she was in motion.

"Thor!" she cried out as nearly tumbled over her own feet, catching herself just before falling entirely, the sand and earth still warm beneath her hands from the energy of the strike. Her voice was the only sound that broke the eerie silence that had fallen over the desert - no coyotes howled, no owls hooted. The quiet was a tangible thing that pressed down on her ears, and she'd never before noticed how silence could have a volume all its own.

There was a figure huddled in the center of the snaking pattern, so covered in grime and grit she could scarcely make out a detail save that it was larger than herself. Uncertainty slowed her footsteps as she drew closer to the motionless form, far more lithe than the prince she'd met, and she wrapped arms around a midsection suddenly gone cold.

"Thor?" she called again, but the question was soft and she already knew the answer. Whoever that was...whatever it was, it wasn't Thor.

The body was curled on its side facing away from her, nearly face down in the cracked and parched earth, and from where she stood she couldn't even tell if it was breathing. It was definitely male though judging from the height and narrow hips. Jane reached out place a tentative hand on his shoulder, in spite of all those warnings echoing in her head from First-Aid classes a decade ago that moving an injured person was a very bad idea. His odd leather tunic was covered in dust and cold beneath her fingers, an abrupt contrast to the heat of the impact site. As gently as she could she eased the body towards herself, feeling the point at which momentum took over and she let go. The body finished rolling with a sort of boneless flop that belied just how injured the man was, onto his back where the watery moonlight spilled over his upturned profile as she crouched over him.

Stilled as his features were, they gave Jane pause. His skin was pale and smooth underneath the dirt and injuries, as if she had unearthed some ancient shard of porcelain from the desert sands. Sharp angles were kept just this side of severe by the gently arching wings of his brows, blacker than a crow's, and hair to match curled softly about his shoulders. All so familiar...but she couldn't place where she had seen him before. Dark lashes fluttering against his high cheekbones told her he was still alive, at least, and Jane let out a small sigh of relief.

Until those lashes lifted, and she was pinned by eyes the distant cold green of glacial ice. Even unfocused as they were they froze her in place, and she knew how the mouse must feel as it was pinned by the serpent's gaze. "Oh no," she whispered, one hand flying up to cover her mouth in horror as recognition clicked into place. "No, no, no, no..."

She knew who this man was. Had seen his face, snarled by hatred and rage on countless news feeds as he ran roughshod over her world.

"Loki," she breathed, the name slipping from her lips thoughtlessly.

At the sound, his eyes sharpened and he seemed to see her for the first time. Breath rattled in his chest as he moved his mouth to speak, words forming but no sound emerging. A wet cough broke through his efforts, and his body shuddered beneath her hand as he rode the spasms. "I...know you," he ground out finally, and Jane flinched at his words. A terrible bloodstained grin spread over his face, and laughter pitched with more than an edge of hysteria shook his lean frame. "It would...seem...that Fate has...a sense of humor...after all," he gasped out, just before his eyes slid shut again and his limbs went slack.

Jane could only stare down open-mouthed at the monster sprawled before her. So much destruction... so much pain he had caused. For a brief moment, some darker part of herself whispered that she should just get up, walk back to the van and never look back. Now that she had moved Loki from where he had originally landed, she could see the dark seep of blood into the thirsty earth as it pulsed from his left arm. It wasn't quite an arterial bleed...but in his condition, it was close enough.

She knew she could never in a million years listen to that voice and not hate herself.

"Damn," she swore softly, at the situation and at herself. Unzipping her thick overcoat and setting it aside, she took off the ratty flannel of her favorite old shirt and tied the length of material as tightly as she could around the injured arm, hampered by the thick leather that encased his limbs. If only she had cell service this far out...she could at least call SHIELD, and they could come handle this mess.

Looking back at the distance to the van, she sighed. Dragging him would probably injure him even worse, but the only other option was to drive off and leave him lying here while she found help, and there were too many creatures in the dark of the desert that would seize the opportunity. Raking her unruly hair back from her face, Jane hooked her arms beneath his shoulders and began the slow process of hauling his surprisingly heavy frame to the nearby van.

It took her a half hour of sweating, swearing, and panting to get him to the back door of the vehicle. Jane thanked providence that the van had a ramp installed that unfolded from the cargo area to load heavy equipment. If she'd had to actually try to lift Loki she didn't know what she would have done. Even prone she could tell he towered at least a good foot in height over herself, lean muscle stretched over a lanky frame. With a few last grunts she had him stowed in the back of the van, leaving Jane to heave her aching muscles into the driver seat and press her sweaty forehead against the cool steering wheel, eyes closed.

She should take him straight to SHIELD. She should drive back to town, find a signal on her phone, and call Director Fury. He would be taken away, locked up in custody again in some deep dark hole, never to bother her again.

And they would lock the secret of travel between the realms away with him.

Jane's heart lurched at the thought.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 1 of 19

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