Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 10 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

Song of the Chapter: Shelter, by The xx

Thor knew that it was rarely a good sign when he was summoned to his father's private chambers. Dread weighed heavily on his shoulders as waited outside the door to the royal apartments for the page to announce his presence, muting the nod he gave the young boy when he gestured for Thor to enter. It was early still but his mother sat before the fire already, a large tome filling her lap that she closed at his approach.

"Thor," she said warmly as she stood, but the brightness of her smile didn't quite banish the shadows that lingered about her eyes. Not for the first time Thor was reminded that his mother was no longer a young woman...although she was as formidable as ever, and more than an equal match for his fiery father.

"Hello, Mother," he smiled back, and pressed a kiss to her cheek. "Where is Father?"

She gestured towards the double doors at the back of the room that were thrown wide, opening out onto a gently curving balcony that was awash in the rosy glow of morning. He could see his Father's snowy head where he bowed over the edge, fingers of light pulling gold and pink reflections from the white strands.

Concern clouded Thor's brow as he turned back to Frigga. "Is something amiss?"

Her mouth parted, and then shut on whatever she had been about to say. Great coils of her bronze hair shifted as she tilted her head, and sadness deepened the faint lines of her face. "Just...speak with him, Thor."

His boot-heels punished the floor as he strode away from her, anxiousness hastening his steps. Spreading out beyond the half-moon of the balcony were the shining towers of Asgard, spires that stretched gleaming fingers towards the sky. It was an impressive display, and yet his father's unfocused eye seemed to see none of the beauty sprawled before him. He drew up beside Odin, and the gracefully carved stone of the railing was cool beneath his fingertips in stark contrast to the feverish anxiety that had gripped him since finding out where Loki was staying some days prior. He couldn't escape the surety that this call from Odin involved his wayward brother.

"Father," he greeted solemnly, and Odin stirred from his reverie. He held a thick piece of parchment in his hands, and the eye that he lifted to Thor was dulled by sorrow.

"Thor," he said quietly. "My son. Thank you for coming so quickly."

Thor pressed one hand to his father's shoulder. "What is it? What is wrong? You must tell me what has the two of you so out of sorts."

Odin drew a heavy breath. "It is Loki."

The bottom fell from Thor's stomach, and his numb hand slid from Odin's shoulder. "What has happened? Has he harmed Jane?"

"Nay, son. Calm yourself," Odin reassured him, and Thor found his breath again. "Your brother faces a far different foe than your ire." Odin tapped the piece of writing he held against his other palm, and then offered it to Thor. "Read for yourself."

The crisp weight of the letter was heavy in his fingers as he took it, the fine grain of the skin it had been scraped from still showing where the light shone through. Thick lines were scrawled over its surface in black ink, forming the guttural words of the jotun language, and Thor's brows furrowed as he worked out the unfamiliar language. It was ironic to wish so while reading a letter about him and his absence, but not for the first time Thor felt the loss of his brother sharply. He had always paid more attention to their tutors than Thor...had rescued in these moments.

At long last he raised his head from the letter, and stared aghast at Odin. "This cannot be real."

Odin pulled a hand over the features of his face, as if he could simply wipe away his exhaustion. "I only wish it were not."

Thor couldn't rein in the fit of pique that had him tossing the parchment at his feet. "This...this Skadi, she oversteps herself. How dare she make such demands? How dare she make such threats!? This is beyond her scope, beyond her power!"

"Is it? Perhaps," Odin allowed, then shook his head in resignation. "But it is not beyond her rights to demand."

"You cannot be serious!" Thor exploded. "I will not make a sacrifice of my brother. Father, you must tell her no."

"And risk war, once again? It will not be our realm that suffers if her demands are not met."

"You cannot simply acquiesce though!" He broke into restless motion, pacing what small space the balcony allowed. "The throne of Asgard should not be so easily swayed, lest others take advantage of us."

Odin was quiet some moments as he tracked Thor's path. "Then you would choose war?" he asked at last.

Thor flinched at the disappointment in his father's voice, and slowed to a halt. "It is an impossible choice. How can you ask me to make it?" he asked miserably.

"Then there is only one solution," Odin pronounced heavily. "You must retrieve your brother, and let him answer it for himself."

Thor swore he felt the scar of his belly wound throb, phantom pain merging with the still-real pain of betrayal. He turned from Odin to stare out at the delicate skyline, knuckles white as he clutched the railing desperately. "I fear what his answer will be."

His father's hand was heavier than Mjolnir as it came to rest on his shoulder. "As do I, my son."

Thor blinked against the tears that pressed hotly against the backs of his eyes. Would it truly end this way? False hope dashed cruelly, and his brother forever ripped away? To acquiesce meant losing his brother. To deny meant losing what little faith they still had in him. Whichever choice Loki made would tear him apart.

Tear them all apart.

Odin pressed two small stones in his hands, rough runes carved into their smooth surface. "Take these. When you are ready, crush the first to bring you to him. The second to return you both to me."

Thor closed his fingers around the rocks and felt the tingle of dark magic seeping from the etched lines. His eyes narrowed suspiciously and he ran a critical gaze over Odin, taking in the deep lines that framed his mouth and eyes. "What did these cost you, Father?"

Odin sighed, and suddenly looked every one of his countless years. "Too much." He glanced through the open doorway at the bowed head of Frigga, pale where she sat and stared sightlessly into the dancing fire, and his lips thinned. "Too much, and yet never enough." He swung his faded gaze back to meet his son's, their blue eyes mirror images of each other. "Bring him back to us, Thor."

With a resolute nod Thor ground the first stone into dust within his fist, and the world around him exploded in a starburst of light.

For the first time in a long time, Jane found herself with nothing to do. Her work was in Tony Stark's hands, waiting for him to take things to the next step, leaving her twiddling her thumbs. Her usual evening activities of processing the reams of data her equipment collected seemed almost redundant at this point, and she wandered the lab restlessly, at a loss for how to occupy herself.

For lack of better options, she snagged a pair of binoculars and shrugged into a light cardigan to ward off the evening chill that had crept over the desert. It had been far too long since she'd simply enjoyed the stars for what they were, and not where they could take her. Once outside she hauled herself up the iron ladder bolted to the side of her building, rails cool beneath her fingers. It might have been a new place that SHIELD had found for her, but at least some things weren't so different from her old lab.

She'd hauled an old firepit up that ladder one evening in pieces, first the base and then the wide dish, but chairs were beyond her ability to move alone. The brazier sat dark and unlit in the center of the roof, flanked on one side by the bank of solar panels that kept her place running and by a pile of sturdy outdoor cushions on the other. They weren't particularly comfortable compared to a proper chair, but they kept her from sitting directly on the hard roof. Everything was silvered by the watery moonlight that poured down from the clear sky overhead, casting the tilted panels and the base of the cistern that squatted on the far side of the roof into sharp relief.

She'd just flopped onto the nest of cushions and was lifting the binoculars to peer at the sky when she caught a shiver of motion from the corner of her eye. Leaning against the cistern was Loki, his Aesir clothes and sable hair blending into the shadows that puddled about its base so well she could only see his face, white like the smudge of the moon reflected on dark water.

He scarcely seemed to notice her presence, and so she busied herself adjusting the focus of her lenses.

"Tell me something the mortals say about the stars," Loki said suddenly, his voice carrying clearly on the soft breeze across the distance between them.

She blinked up, startled, and wondered what sort of things she could tell a being that had visited them - had watched distant stars rise and set over unknown planets. She, with her telescopes and her charts and her fumbling grasp of the universe...what insight could she offer? Numbers and cold facts were hardly the essence of humanity.

"Do you see this star, here?" She sighted down her arm, pointed to the south at a star that winked ice-blue. He followed the path of her finger and nodded.

"It's the brightest star in the sky. We call it Sirius. But when I was in Norway, I learned that some people called it Lokabrenna."

"Lokabrenna...Loki's torch?" he translated, his flawless pronunciation doing the foreign word a justice she never could. His expression soured. "Because I bring the fires of Ragnarok, according to your stories."

She grimaced and wondered just how many of her mythology books he'd devoured. Any of them that mentioned himself, she was willing to wager. "They're just stories," she reminded him.

Through the dark she felt his piercing gaze as he turned it upon her. "You've made it abundantly clear what you thought of the story. And yet now you dismiss it so easily?"

She sighed and wondered why he was so hung up on this idea. "Reshaping the world isn't always a bad thing, Loki." She raised the binoculars to her eyes and peered at the star, hanging large like a pale sapphire in her lenses. Overwhelming every star around it through sheer force of presence. "You've changed mine." She let out a small laugh, and glanced at him over the top of the eyepieces. "I'm not sure I can ever go back to calling that star plain Sirius now."

His dark lashes fell, closing off those ancient eyes, and she wondered if she'd said something wrong. Offended him somehow. Jane lowered the binoculars and began to stand. It had to be hard enough for him, being around her and this place every hour of every day. She could understand the value of having privacy sometimes. "I'm sorry, I didn't even think to ask if you wanted to be alone. I didn't mean to intrude. "

His pale gaze flickered in her direction and then back out to the stars, the only part of him that moved. "Please, sit," he said. "It is your home, Jane. I have the entirety of the cosmos if I wish to be by myself."

There was an undercurrent to his words she couldn't place, something that seemed to hover between wistful and wry. She could only imagine how bored he must be here, bound by honor to a planet he loathed when he had the universe itself at his fingertips. "I doubt that it will take Tony Stark long to come up with something," she assured him as she folded back onto her cushion. "You won't have to be stuck here much longer."

She heard more than saw him shift at that, the thick rustle of leather carrying clearly in the still night air as he angled towards her. "You are so eager to be rid of me, then?"

"No!" Courtesy prompted her immediate denial, but then she took a moment to consider the question fully. If he'd asked her weeks ago...even days ago perhaps...that answer might have been a lie. But now? All she could think of was how quiet the lab had been before he came. "No," she repeated, softer but more deliberately, and the word certainly tasted like truth on her tongue.

She turned back to the sky, the night gone silent but for the mournful cry of a coyote in the distance. Overhead the stars were a glittering spill so numerous and bright they crowded out the black spaces between them. So often they had always made her feel less alone, sure that in the vast boundless reaches of them there were others, somewhere...staring up at their own skies. And yet somehow on the eve of what was the fruition of her dreams, they seemed ever so much colder. Even further out of reach.

An unexplained wave of melancholy broke over her, curling her shoulders beneath its sudden deluge. This should have been one of the happiest evenings of her life; on the cusp of discovery, nearer to seeing Thor than she'd been in months, brushing infamy with her fingertips.

So why did it suddenly all feel wrong?

The rasp of grit beneath boot-heels brought her out of her thoughts, and she glanced up to see Loki drawing nearer, his stark beauty turned fey by the starlight. Not for the first time she was struck by the difference between he and his brother - opposites incarnate. Fire and shadow. Power and grace. Strength and subtlety.

Beloved and outcast.

He stopped just shy of the empty fire, hands clasped behind his back. She felt the press of his regard even without meeting his eyes. The binoculars bit into her clenched fingers as his familiar cedar scent brushed past her, carried aloft by the errant breeze that toyed with the ends of his hair. Would she ever get used to the visceral punch of it? That same coyote howled, and for some time it was the only sound that broke the still night air.

"What will you do, after this is all over?" she wondered aloud.

Surprise flashed across his face, as if the question hadn't really occurred to him before. His shoulders rose and fell in a shrug, and he tipped his head upwards. "I suppose I hadn't really thought that far," he allowed. "None of this was planned. I had only ever seen my attempt on Midgard ending one of two ways - in my rule, or in my death. But this...this third option?" He swept one hand in an arc, encompassing the desert and her lab. "I had not foreseen this."

Jane's heart faltered, knocked off-balance by the quiet admission. What drove a man to make a bet like that? To put all of your chips on the table in a wild gambit? It was either madness or desperation.

"You...are welcome here, you know. Whenever you like," she startled herself by offering. And not just herself, if the sharp glance he angled in her direction was any indication.

"Why would you offer me hospitality?" he asked, skepticism ripe in his tone.

Jane shrugged, and wondered the same herself. He was arrogant, cruel at times, selfish and manipulative. But...he challenged her. Pried free truths she'd long ago buried, and forced her to examine them. Pushed her to stand up for herself. Made her laugh, and had given her a gift none other could.

Embraced her like a drowning man.

"I think it will be rather boring without you around," Jane answered, half of a smile tugging at her lips.

He was silent some moments, eyes inscrutable as he stared at her. "You should not be so eager to offer your hearth to the wolf, Jane."

She sighed, and raked back errant strands blown into her view, peering up at him from between her fingers as she did. "You don't scare me, Loki."

"I don't?" He arched a brow and drifted a few steps closer. "You called me a monster once," he accused, with a hint of bitterness.

"You're a lot of things, not all of them nice," she said softly, then shook her head. "But you're not a monster. I never should have said that."

He froze in his tracks. "And how would you know that I'm not?"

She held his brittle gaze carefully. "Because I think that a true monster would care less about being called one."

Jane heard the breath leave him in a rush, as if her words had been a blow to the stomach. He spun on one heel and paced away, leaving her with the silent expanse of his back. When the moments stretched into minutes and he still hadn't stirred, she dared to call his name. "Loki?"

His bent head lifted at the sound, and he turned fever-bright eyes on her. "Jane."

Her name sounded unsteady on his lips and concern pulled her to her feet, urging her across the space that separated them. She laid a hesitant hand on his arm, worry pinching her brows together. "Did I say something wrong?"

Dark lashes trembled on his cheeks as his chest rose and fell, and beneath her fingers he shuddered, like a horse on the verge of breaking away. Bewilderment softened the lines of his face when he answered. "No. never do."

The wonder in his voice was like a fist around her chest. The silver glow of night picked out the angles and planes of his face, sluicing away the mask he always wore, leaving him bare to her eyes. She was struck by how young he really looked beneath the layers of arrogance and suspicion - not some ageless legend after all, at least not in this moment. He was just a man like almost any other.

And yet, nothing like any other she'd met.

Perhaps it was true lunacy that had her cupping his cheek in her palm. Madness of the moon that lifted her to her toes and pressed her lips to his.

Or perhaps she just would have done anything at that moment to sweep the lost look from his eyes.

His mouth was slack with shock beneath her own and she drew back in mortification. Had she read him wrong? Shame had a moment to swamp her, flushing her face bright red, before Loki's hand wrapped itself around hers and pulled it from his cheek. She tried in vain to draw her fingers back, turning her face away from his in her embarrassment, but rather than relinquishing he pressed her palm to his chest. Beneath the layers of leather and fabric she felt the fierce cadence of his heart, saw it echoed in the gap of his collar where it arrowed over his throat. His gaze dropped to hers and she was trapped by the jadefire of his eyes, by the answering warmth they kindled in her belly.

"Would that I could despise you for this," he rasped out, squeezing the fingers lain over his racing heart for emphasis. His other hand rose to smooth back the strands that had blown into her face, kicked up by the rising breeze. The pad of his thumb brushed gently over the skin behind her ear, lingering as he cradled her head and slowly lowered his mouth towards hers. Jane's breath hitched as her limbs went liquid and flames spilled through her veins.

He was only a whisper away when his head jerked up like a hound scenting the wind, and his grip tightened convulsively before releasing her. She stumbled at the sudden loss of support and rounded on him angrily, only to have the words die unspoken in her mouth at the tense cast of his features.

She was suddenly aware that the breeze had become a wind, one that carried the sharp tang of ozone on it, and that a bank of clouds was rushing towards them, lit from within by the constant crackle of lightning. As the wind whipped itself into an ever-greater frenzy Jane held her hair back as best she could, her watering eyes almost missing when Loki was enveloped by the golden glow of his magic. When it cleared, a stranger had taken his place - with great cruel horns arcing above the hard gleam of his glare, and a cape as green as poison dancing madly in the shifting air. Any soft hint of the man she'd just embraced had been swallowed up within the burnished armor he now wore.

"Thor," Loki spat over the rising wind, and the word punched a hole through her heart.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 10 of 19

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