Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 15 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

Song(s) of the chapter - Turbine Womb, by Soap&Skin and Skinny Love, by Birdy

The towering gilded man had introduced himself as Heimdall as they walked the glimmering road that drew an isolated line towards the heart of Asgard, Jane's wobbling steps growing steadier with every footfall. The heft of the bridge generator in her hand convinced her that this wasn't some dream, some strange fantasy her mind had conjured while she was lying asleep in the haughty surroundings of Stark Tower, and she couldn't quite keep the smile off her face as she trotted beside the taciturn sentry in silence. Rising along their path were gilded monoliths that bracketed the bridge and held the surface of it safely above tossing waves that frothed below to mist the air with the faint briny scent of the ocean. It was much like the sea on Earth only somehow distilled - salt and water and secret silent life blending into an invigorating brew, without any hint of the sour fishy smell Jane associated with the shores at home.

At long last the span culminated in an arching doorway, carved into the side of a vast triangular building that rose in golden terraces from the surrounding splendor. Shining buildings spread as far as the eye could see around it, gleaming beneath the bright sky, and Jane half-expected to see a colossal scaley snout and tail wrapping about the horizons, as if the whole world were some great dragon's trove. Matching sentries in burnished armor towered at each side of the entrance, holding vast spears aloft with edges that glittered wickedly. At Heimdall's approach they nodded in unison and watched with curious eyes as the odd pair walked by.

Guards throughout the corridors repeated this performance as they passed by, some covering their astonishment better than others at Jane's appearance. She quailed beneath their curiosity and tugged at her worn t-shirt and jeans, drab and bland as an old rag amongst all this radiance. Heimdall's uncanny gaze saw her fidget, but he remained silent even as they marched straight through a last set of guards into an immense room that seemed to stretch on forever, the far walls so distant they blurred out of existence. Banners hung from the rafters far overhead in scarlet and gold falls that were echoed in a bright carpet that flung itself down the center of the floor to land, far away, at the foot of a monumental dais. Everywhere she looked were knots of people, garbed in shining finery of cloth and armor.

Jane's nerve almost broke at the sight of such opulence, and she froze at the edge of that carpeted aisle. It was as if she'd stepped straight into the history books, into the great palace of a Roman emperor or some Sapa Inca - only this was even more resplendent than anything that had ever been seen on Earth. She'd scoffed at the title of 'gods' that the Asgardians had been given but this overwhelming scene was almost enough to make her rescind that doubt. Heimdall's indifferent back filled her vision as he marched on, and she struggled against the urge to hide behind the nearest column and send herself back home.

That might make her feel better, but she'd never find answers running away.

She clutched at the bridge generator in her hands as if it were a shield, took a breath against the sudden flutter that swarmed in her stomach, and plunged into the wake left by Heimdall as he parted the crowd. Down, down that long aisle they walked, and silence trailed behind them as courtiers paused their conversations to gape. Jane could feel her face burning as crimson as the threads beneath her feet that she stared at, willing herself to simply put one foot before another. Step by step, that was the only way she'd make it that long walk.

After the longest few minutes of her life Heimdall drew to a halt at the base of the dais, Jane so focused on her pace that she nearly bumped into the back of him. Atop those steps crouched a throne that unfurled golden wings, looming over the court like some great gryphon, and in that chair sat a man that stared down at Jane with a single eye that seemed to hold all the wisdom of the cosmos in its blue depths. At his side was a smaller gilt chair, and a regal woman gazed curiously at the sight of Jane.

"Heimdall?" the man questioned, his soft voice carrying clearly throughout the silent throne room.

"Your Majesty," the towering man rumbled as he removed the curving helmet from his head and tucked it beneath one arm, sketching a small bow. "I bring before you Jane Foster, of Midgard."

Jane shifted from one foot to another. Was she supposed to curtsey? Bow? Do something other than stand like a ninny? She was rescued from her chagrin by the sound of her name, warped oddly as if it leapt from a strangled throat.

"Jane!" came the hoarse cry, and sudden motion rocked the crowd as people stumbled apart, knocked aside by a heedless arm as Thor shoved his way through, as resplendent as ever in shining armor and a bright cloak. Her lips had scarcely begun to form his name when he swept her into an embrace, crushing the breath from her against his immovable chest as her toes swung uselessly above the floor. Jane laughed and returned the hug as best she could while still clutching her device, all awkwardness forgotten in the face of Thor's overwhelming joy. "You're alive!"

At the soft clearing of a throat Thor let her slide from his grasp far enough to touch the ground once more, but kept an arm about her shoulders and steered her closer to the foot of the dais, his broad grin sparkling up at the man and woman seated atop it.

"Mother, Father...this is Jane!" His cheer was infectious, and more than a few of the surrounding courtiers broke into smiles, Jane included. He turned to take both of her hands within his own, and wonder widened his stare as he pelted her with questions. "How is it that you live Jane? And how are you here? We had thought you lost, with a wound as grievous as the one you suffered." His eyes peered about the empty space behind and beside her. "Is Loki with you? Did he bring you here somehow?" His search dropped to the bridge generator in her hands, and his face fell along with it.

"No," Jane shook her head, and lifted the small square for better inspection. "I came with this. An Einstein-Rosen bridge, just like we talked about! The Bifrost made miniature." And then the full meaning of Thor's words sunk in, and Jane's heart faltered beneath the weight of the odd term Thor had used so many weeks before, the one that had seemed ripe with such horrific implications and had been rattling around in her brain ever since, like the clatter of old dried bones.


It took her a moment to voice her question, despite the answer that sat already like wet concrete in her belly. "Loki's not here in Asgard with you?"

"How could you?!"

Shock had kept Jane silent throughout the somber recounting of events, but a rising flood of righteous indignation washed away the restraints that had held her tongue.

"That has to be the most barbaric thing I've ever heard!" Jane sprang from her seat to glare indignantly at each of them in turn, aware that she was probably breaking every rule of etiquette ever written but too angry to care. At least they'd retired to a small adjacent room away from the prying eyes and ears of the court, the three royals and herself assembled about the table.

The snowy-haired man that Thor had introduced to her as King Odin examined her outburst dispassionately while Queen Frigga's sharp eyes drank in every detail of Jane's reaction. "Do you presume to know more about the political situations in the Nine Realms than I, Jane Foster of Midgard?" he asked mildly.

She blinked at that and stuffed back down the sharp retort that almost flew free. She should probably try not to spark some sort of inter-dimensional diplomatic crisis, if possible. At least not on her first trip off Earth. "No," she mumbled unhappily, chastised by the air of ancient wisdom that Odin wore like a cloak. She found her seat once more and folded her hands atop the scarred table, trying to calm her frothing emotions. Judging from the storm that was brewing on Thor's face across the table, he had temper enough for the both of them.

"It was not my preferred option either, Jane," Thor growled, and shot a dark glare at his father. "I do not trust the Jotun."

"It matters not," Odin barked at Thor, almost by rote, and Jane got the impression this was a well-worn subject between them. "Loki has transgressed, we all agree on that. There was no other option that would silence Jotunheim and still preserve your brother."

Jane shuddered. Back in her small lab, so many times over the past few weeks, hatred had gouged harsh lines onto his face every time the jotun had been mentioned. What must Loki be enduring at the hands of those he abhorred so much? "He will live, and I'd be the first to say he has to pay for what he's done - to Jotunheim and to my own world. But like this?" Fear for Loki, for what sort of creature might return from such horror seized her throat and she swallowed against its cold grip. "He already thinks you view him as little more than a political pawn. You will be lucky if he ever forgives you for this."

Sorrow pressed itself upon Odin's features, and he regarded Jane quietly for some moments. "Do you think that I am not aware of this?" he questioned softly, and Jane felt an answering stir of sympathy at the hopeless arch of his brows. "I do not have the luxury of arranging in which order I get to be a father and a King."

Jane could scarcely comprehend the impossibility of the situation, and she fell into silence. When no one seemed inclined to fill the empty space with words Queen Frigga rose from her chair, liquid with a dancer's grace despite her aging limbs. "I am sure that Jane Foster must be tired after her journey here and the stress of this news. Let us all retire for now, to rest and collect our thoughts, and we shall have dinner in her honor this evening." She extended a hand to her son, then gestured with it to Jane. "Thor, would you be kind enough to show Jane Foster to a suitable suite of rooms?"

He nodded dutifully, standing to extend an arm to Jane before leading them from the room. Along a complex maze of passages and stairways they paced, the muscles of Thor's thick arm wound into tight knots beneath her fingers.

"I am sorry you were drawn into my family's misfortune, Jane," he sighed, as they walked. "It has cast a long shadow over your arrival, which is one of the happiest days I can recall."

As they passed through a lonely section of corridor, removed from the view of any sentry, Thor slowed to a stop and wrapped his fingers about her upper arms tightly, his strong grip just shy of painful. His eyes were impossibly blue as they scoured her face, the same bright shade that curled at the heart of a flame, that had haunted her for a year every time she caught sight of the cloudless New Mexican sky. A shiver traced its way up Jane's spine under that gaze.

"I can scarcely believe you are here. That you are real," he said softly. His head tilted towards her, bringing his lips almost to her own - close enough to kiss her if she just lifted onto her toes.

If she wanted it badly enough.

But neither of them moved to close that gap, and after long moments had stretched themselves sharp he took a tiny step back, the slow slide of his hands from her arms breaking Jane from whatever spell had frozen her heart and limbs.

"I am glad to see you alive, Jane. More glad than you can imagine," he murmured.

His choice of words seemed happy enough to Jane. So why then did the slash of his teeth seem less like a smile, and more like skin parting beneath some unbearable weight? Before she could puzzle out the answers in his expression he had turned away, leading them onwards once more.

The door he stopped before was twice her height, towering over even Thor when he paused at the threshold, the fingers of one hand tapping an absent rhythm out against the doorjamb. Jane hovered behind, reluctance slowing her steps. He would open the door, show her her room, and who knew when she would have a chance to be alone with him again? She opened her mouth, wide enough for all the things she'd stored up for the past year to find their way out, all the speeches and thoughts and dreams she'd bottled up and hidden away as she'd waited to see him again - but what flew from her lips was raw and fledgeling, and it fell awkwardly between them rather than soaring.

"You promised you'd return," she accused the back of his golden head.

Her heart squeezed out a few strangled beats before he swung about, the square of his shoulders softening about the edges. "Jane, I..."

"I waited, and waited. A deal, you said," she broke in over the top of him, her carefully balanced heart teetering beneath words she'd held back for so long before falling to shatter like a teacup on the floor. "And you did return, eventually. Just not to me. I should have known something was going on when they sent me to Norway. Did you want to avoid me?"

"What? No! We only meant to keep you safe!" One hand curled into a fist at Thor's side, turning the skin of his knuckles white. "If my brother had found out about you in the grip of his madness, he might have harmed you, just to hurt me. I would never have forgiven SHIELD. Or myself."

"And when it was all over? After the fighting ended, before you took Loki home? You couldn't even be bothered to figure out how a telephone worked?" She hated how her words cracked as she went on. "I would have been happy, just to hear your voice. Even a letter. Something. Just to know you'd thought of me. You might have nearly all the time in the universe Thor...but I'm just a human."

"I am sorry, Jane. I did not think of it that way." The breath Thor blew out was heavy, and it stirred the errant pale strands that hung closest to his mouth as he bowed his head. "There is no excuse for my behavior. After that, I do not blame you for giving up on me. Nor for what happened with Loki."

She flinched, the reminder of her confession sharp and unexpected like stepping on a tack. "It's not - it's not like that, between us." She swept the shards of her heart into something resembling a dignified pile and lifted her chin. "At first I'd lost a bet. And then, he seemed so sad. It meant nothing." The lie burned on her tongue like turpentine, and her arms wrapped tightly around herself. "He's hardly kept his low opinion of humanity a secret."

Thor's eyes softened with comprehension, and in that moment he looked much like Odin, despite his youth. "Nothing? He called me 'brother' once more, you know. As he was begging me to let him go back." His hand came up, the flesh and sinew gifted with strength enough to lift Mjolnir, and brushed a hank of hair from her face with a gentleness that somehow hurt worse than a blow. "Back to Midgard, so he could save you."

The breath didn't seem to stay in Jane's lungs long enough to do her any good, and she couldn't hold Thor's gaze. Couldn't meet those longing eyes, not while her stomach knotted with worry for another man. "What can be done? We can't just leave him there, Thor," she said at long last.

"I know." The line of his mouth grew grim. "His six week sentence ends tomorrow, but I don't believe that the jotun will simply let him walk free. Odin would never condone my going to Jotunheim to liberate him, unless Skadi has broken her vows - at least not for another few days. But now that you are here, with your Midgardian magic, we would not have to look to the All-father for passage."

A glimmer of that fearless grin she'd loved so much broke through Thor's melancholy, the one that was equal parts bravado and humor. He reached for her free hand and squeezed the fingers carefully in farewell. "I shall return in two hours time, to escort you to dinner," he promised. "And then afterwards...shall we see which of my friends are interested in an adventure?"

She'd made it through dinner somehow, fidgeting at Thor's right hand and fielding countless questions about Midgard from curious Aesir. They were all kind, but there were too many eyes here, and they all seemed to be focused on her. Her palms had sweated constantly and her heart hadn't stopped pounding since she'd stepped into the banquet hall on Thor's arm, tucked and wrapped and laced by servants into a cunning fall of raw pewter silk that the queen had sent to her room. It shone, lustrous like a grey pearl beneath the lamplight that reflected off the golden surfaces the Aesir seemed to favor for everything, and even Jane had to admit it looked impressive next to Thor's silvered armor.

They'd moved to the solar of Thor's own rooms after the last course, she and Thor and the handful of friends she'd seen come to Earth. He'd introduced them to her finally - the good-humored giant Volstagg, the quiet Hogun, Fandral of the incorrigible flirting, and the lady Sif.

It hadn't escaped Jane's notice how Sif's eyes followed Thor about the room, as if she were a compass and he North. The dark-haired woman was striking, as commanding and tall and confident as Frigga - everything Jane would never be. These were the sorts of women that had surrounded Thor and Loki their whole lives? Her borrowed finery suddenly felt silly, as if she were a sparrow that had tried to dress itself in peacock plumes, and Jane shrank into a corner of the couch she perched on while Thor paced before the fire and laid out his plans.

"Thor. Surely Jotunheim will not break their oaths, not with such scrutiny upon them," Fandral said when he finished, leaning against the mantle. "It seems a foolish thing to risk angering Odin over. We all know what happened the last time we traveled there, against his wishes."

Thor grimaced. "I was in the wrong then, and I paid dearly for it. But we have every right to demand Loki's safe return, to ensure that it happens smoothly. And if Skadi does go back on her vows, Father will know. We will be vindicated."

"Maybe it's better that he stays there," Volstagg muttered around the rim of his goblet of mead. "With his own kind. It's not right, that a jotun pretend to the throne of Asgard."

Fury clouded on Thor's face as he rounded on Volstagg, punching an accusatory finger towards the reclining giant. "How dare you? Do you not recall the time you were gored by Gullinbursti, the great golden boar? Who healed your wounds as you squalled like a newborn babe? You would have bled out right there on the plains of Vigrid if not for Loki."

Fandral chortled, and Thor turned on him next. "And you, Fandral...who talked the dwarven king Hriedmar out of beheading you on the spot when you insulted his daughter? It certainly wasn't your own charm that spared your life that day. I could go on and on. We all owe Loki debts, regardless of what he's done lately. If you won't come with me for who he is now, come with me for who he was. For who he might be again."

His impassioned plea drew Jane from the wall of silence she'd been hiding behind. "I know it seems crazy for me to say this, given what he's done to Jotunheim and to my own world, but I don't think even Loki deserves to be abandoned." Every head in the room swiveled towards her in surprise, as if they'd forgotten she was there entirely. "I wouldn't be here on Asgard, seeing new worlds as I'd always dreamed of, without his help. He has become a...friend of sorts, and I owe him a debt as well. But I'm just a - a scholar. If things go badly I'm not going to be of any help to Thor."

"You're taking Jane with you?" Fandral burst out incredulously, only to subside at Thor's pointed glance. Jane didn't exactly blame Fandral for his reluctance to have her along. The scar on her chest was a bleak reminder of her usefulness in a fight.

"It is Jane's device. She has as much right to be there as anyone," he said. "Between the five of us I think we can keep her safe."

It was Sif who stirred first. "I will come with you. If it is important to you, Thor, then it should be important to us. And if the mortal can find compassion, even after what Loki has done, then so can we." She glared hotly about at the other three men, each of whom had the grace to look ashamed.

"I will come also," Hogun chimed in at last, in softly accented tones.

Fandral heaved a sigh. "I never could deny a lady in need. My sword is at your disposal, fair Jane," he said with a gallant bow, and his outrageous charm teased a laugh from her.

"Oh, alright," Volstagg drained the last of his cup and punctuated his assent by slamming it atop the sidetable as he stood. "It's been rather boring around here anyways, I suppose."

A grin broke onto Thor's face, and he clapped Hogun and Volstagg on the back, staggering even their bulk. "I never lost faith in you, friends! We leave at first light, from this very room."

"But, I have no idea where Jotunheim is," Jane protested. "I charts, maps maybe...something that I can use to calculate our arrival point."

"By the Norns," Volstagg laughed. "She's as bad as Loki. Research, research, research."

Thor scratched idly at his neat beard before throwing Jane a wink. "I suppose we shall have to try the library, then."

Jane couldn't keep the grin off her face as she jumped up to follow Thor from the room.

The first thing she noticed about the library was the smell - the powdery scent of old paper that tickled the throat like a swallowed moth. As Thor threw open the great double doors the scent of it rushed outwards like a wave, powerful enough to nearly knock her back. Rows of books rose like scripted brickwork to brush the ceiling far overhead, stacked and ordered as carefully as the work of any great mason. Towering windows broke up the walls of words, cloaked with velvet drapes to guard against any sunshine, the enemy of printed pages anywhere. Tables and chairs clustered in knots about the polished stone floor, waiting to be piled with stacks of research.

She could easily see Loki at any one of them, his dark head bowed over the gleaming wood as he pored over some piece of wisdom as intently as he had her Eddas.

As she wandered in absent circles, trailing greedy fingers over the buttery leather of spines printed in languages she'd never seen, Thor gathered an armful of scrolls and parchment. She winced as he dumped them carelessly in a pile atop the nearest table.

"I know not which of these you might need," he offered as an apology, and Jane smiled at the way he rubbed the back of his neck. "I would try this one first, though."

"You never spent much time here, did you?" she asked, as her hand reached for the scroll he indicated and she sat herself on the embroidered cushion of the chair.

"Not outside of what was required." He pulled up a chair beside her and slung his bulk into it carelessly. "It scarcely needs saying that this was more Loki's haunt than mine."

The huge scroll was weighted at each end with wooden rollers, and it opened smoothly beneath her touch. Spread out across the expanse of parchment was a recreation of the rough diagram Thor had drawn for her so long ago, the great tree branching into the Nine Realms. Only unlike Thor's crude sketch this was exquisitely detailed - each realm's depiction filled with tiny whimsical drawings of its characteristics and people, all vibrantly colored. It was as if she'd unearthed a medieval illuminated manuscript, one that time had never faded with its touch.

She ran a reverent hand over the illustrations, the parchment cool beneath her fingertips. "This is beautiful," she breathed, and squinted closer. Each of the realms showed their major pathway, branching off from the trunk of Yggdrasil, but there were also myriad tangles of twigs that crossed between the realms in spidery lines. Around all of them marched tiny rows of numbers and equations, cleverly worked into the elaborate pattern of the bark - calculations that had already been done for her.

A thousand hidden pathways, mapped out so very carefully in an luminous blend of art and science. The labors of a lifetime, perhaps...if one lived a very long life.

"This is Loki's work, isn't it?" she asked as she began to take down notes on the piece of foolscap Thor had dug from a nearby desk. It was framed as a question but there was no doubt in her mind. Awe and a fierce jealousy gnawed at her from the inside out - that Loki had world enough, and time, to voyage anywhere his heart desired.

Thor nodded, and his own hand traced slowly over the twisting pathways that curled across the map. "He was so proud of this. I know not how long he spent on it, but it must have taken him ages to explore and then create this." An ugly twist of the lips marred Thor's handsome face. "I told him...that drawing and coloring was for children. I often mocked him like that."

Her pen paused at the shame that thickened his voice, and she set it aside to lay a hand over the top of Thor's. "I think...we often say cruel things to those closest to us," she ventured. "We are careless and take love for granted. Especially those of us who have been given an abundance." She glanced up at him, but the face she saw at that moment existed only in her memory and collections of photos. "I told my mother that I hated her, when she was dying. Maybe I just wanted to test her. Maybe it was a little bit true, I don't know. There's hardly any difference between love and hate, after all. Just a turn of the magnet, for repulsion to attract."

"Jane." Thor turned his hand beneath hers and clasped it, her fingers swallowed up inside his grip. A small sad smile just brushed the corners of his mouth. "You are as wise as you are lovely. Even if you speak of things that sometimes make no sense."

"Hardly," she laughed, banishing the melancholia. "I just listen well."

He studied her for a moment. "Then perhaps that is your magic, despite your denial of it's existence. For no one seems to remain unaffected by you for long."

She felt the slow creep of heat over her cheeks, and drew her hand from his to pick up her pen once more. Bending back over her notes, they both lapsed into silence until Thor stood to leave with a murmured farewell.

She could still feel his gaze like the brush of fingers against her hair, long after he left, as she worked late into the night.

A gentle tap at her door woke her early the next morning, eyes still gritty from her late night. She struggled out of the covers that were piled thick atop her ornate bed, the fine weave of them whispering sinfully against her skin. Thankfully the nightgown that had been lain out on her bed when she'd dragged herself back to her rooms was long enough to be decent, because she couldn't find any sort of robe before the knocking came again.

She cracked the door open hesitantly, not wanting to give some random servant an eyeful. The nightgown might have been nearly floor-length, but it was still sheer enough to leave little to the imagination.

"Jane Foster?" The voice that called to her through the gap was a woman's. Jane opened the door wider to find Queen Frigga standing on the other side, two servant girls with laden arms behind her.

"Your Majesty," Jane croaked, her sleepy brain coming wide awake. She rubbed at her bleary eyes and opened the door all the way, hiding partially behind it. Was she really about to entertain royalty in her pajamas? "I'm sorry, I hope you weren't waiting long. I didn't get to bed until late."

Frigga swept in looking immaculate despite the early hour, the servants following in her wake. "When do you leave for Jotunheim?" she asked as Jane turned from the door.

Jane blinked in confusion, both at the question and the whirlwind of activity. "How did you know we were going? Did Thor tell you already?"

A smile graced Frigga's lips as she shook her head, her curls like beaten bronze in the morning light. "No, he keeps his own counsel. But I know my son, and I have seen him chafe these past weeks. As soon as you showed up with your key to the pathways, I knew that he would waste no time asking you to go. And I know that he also would forget completely anything practical...such as ensuring you don't freeze to death on Jotunheim."

At her gesture the servants set their trunks down atop the disheveled bed and lifted one ornate lid. Frigga began to rummage through the contents and Jane drifted over, curiosity finally overcoming her embarrassment.

"We haven't had anyone as tiny as you in the palace in some time," Frigga mused as she sifted through the first chest. "I thought at first perhaps the clothing of the dwarves might fit you, but their women are far stouter than you. These are the best options I could find in the storerooms and the armory."

Frigga bustled about, holding up shirts and trousers to Jane with a critical eye, the pile of discards growing ever larger. At last she seemed to settle on a pair of brown leather pants that melted like butter over Jane's arm when Frigga passed them to her. A long-sleeved woolen tunic followed, its plush yarn dyed a deep charcoal. "Try those," Frigga said, and the air of command in her voice was so natural that Jane was halfway to the adjacent bathroom before she even realized she'd begun moving.

"You aren't going to say that it's too dangerous for me to go, like Fandral did?" Jane asked through the door as she wrestled into the clothing, her fingers fumbling with unfamiliar lacings and fastenings. She had to admit Frigga had an eye for this sort of thing though, as the clothing fit her near perfectly. "Or suggest that I should just open a bridge for Thor and wait for him to come back?" A few hasty brushstrokes took her hair from rat's nest to mostly presentable.

She pushed back into the bedchamber and a pair of thick socks and high boots were pressed into her hands. Hopping up onto the bed Jane stuffed the first of her feet into the them and wiggled her toes experimentally, lacing the knee-high uppers tightly. At least they were practical, with sturdy soles and interiors lined against the elements. A far better option than her ratty tennis shoes would have been.

"No, Jane," Frigga paused her search in the second chest to fix her with a piercing eye. "I believe you are the most important member of this outing."

Gentle Frigga was suddenly a fierce, terrifying sight to behold. Jane shut her mouth with a nod and concentrated on lacing her other boot. When she'd straightened, the two servants were holding open a sleeveless leather overcoat for her to shrug into, the same shade as her pants. It was stiff and fitted closely to her body as they tugged on the buckles and laces that held it closed, crusted with wandering patterns of metal studs worked in brass over the shoulders and along the lower border where it came to an end at her mid-thigh.

"It's not much in the way of protection," Frigga said apologetically as Jane's fingers brushed over the ridges formed by the metal. "I dare not give you real armor. If you have not been trained to wear it, it will often only make things worse. But this is thicker than clothing at least, and warmer as well."

It was odd, being encased in so many layers of unfamiliar fabrics. Not uncomfortable exactly, but she fidgeted beneath the unfamiliar weight nonetheless. "I hope I don't need to test it out."

Frigga turned back to the second chest, and pulled from it an armful of emerald wool. When she turned back to Jane it was almost hesitantly, and there was a strange searching look on her face as she extended the fabric to Jane. "You will also need this. Consider it my gift to you."

Jane took the cloth, surprised by the weight of it as she shook it out. It was a cloak of brilliant green, almost a twin of the cape she had seen Loki wear, only this had a hood and was lined throughout with some sort of ebon fur that curled softly about her fingers. Around the border was worked an elaborate pattern of flowers in black, bell-shaped blossoms that arched in broad sprays so lifelike she could almost smell their spicy musk.

"That's a coincidence," Jane traced along the petals of one. "I know these flowers."

"Minna," Frigga supplied, with a strange small smile. She took the cloak from Jane's hands and gently laid it over her shoulders, clasping it at the throat with another minna blossom cast in brass that gleamed against the vivid green. It seemed to cling almost affectionately to her frame before belling out about her feet, stopping just short of the floor. A shy smile tilted Jane's mouth as she buried her hands in the downy lining.

"I probably look ridiculous," she muttered. "Like a runaway from the set of Lord of the Rings."

Silently Frigga buckled a small dagger about Jane's hips and then grasped her by the arm and marched her over to the mirror that leaned in a heavy stand against the far wall. Jane almost tripped the first few steps as the cloak billowed about her ankles, until she discovered the rhythm of walking in it. When they stopped she blinked up from watching her feet to find a stranger staring back at her.

That woman looked nothing like an astrophysicist that was deathly afraid of spiders and cut herself peeling apples.

She stood tall in the unforgiving leather, bits of metal winking defiantly. The high boots lent her an air of command, the elegant cloak a sense of mystery, and the dagger a dash of danger. She looked like an adventurer from the stories her father had loved so much - one of the dwarven company, off to the Lonely Mountain perhaps.

Ready to explore the realms.

"Wow," was the most articulate thing she could manage, but Frigga laughed regardless.

"You look almost Aesir, Jane Foster. Are you certain none of your ancestors were from the land of ice and snow? Our men were known to be rather free with their affections."

"Definitely not. Just plain English stock." She frowned at the ugly slash of her scar, standing red and silver in the vee of her shirt like an exclamation mark, and she tugged at the laces of her collar ineffectually trying to cover it.

"Nay, Jane." Frigga's hands covered hers, stilled their restless motion. "We do not hide scars on Asgard."

"This one should be covered," she said bitterly. "It says, 'Here is Jane - too weak to look after herself.' Hardly inspiring."

"No," Frigga smiled down at her. "It says, 'Here is Jane - too strong to be beaten by death.' Wear it with pride, and keep its lessons close to you. We can all do with more courage at times."

Impulsively Jane threw her arms around Frigga's waist, squeezing her in a hug before she realized the gravity of her faux pas. "I'm so sorry!" she gasped as she leapt back, appalled at her disrespect. "I just...thank you, so much. For everything."

Frigga seemed startled, but her shock melted into a smile that warmed her eyes. "You are most welcome, Jane Foster. It has been some time since I have gotten to spoil another woman. The sad fate of a mother that has only sons, I suppose."

Knocking came at the door, and one of the servants rushed to open it. Thor paced into the room, freezing mid-step at the sight of both Frigga and Jane. He couldn't have looked more stunned if Jane had actually drawn her little dagger and stabbed him with it, she figured.

"Jane?" He blinked a few times before his eyes narrowed suspiciously at Frigga, although humor still lurked in their depths. "And Mother. I should have known nothing would get past you." He strode over, the room suddenly too small to contain his presence, and dropped a kiss onto his mother's cheek.

"She's been very kind this morning," Jane said, and gestured to the clothes she now wore. "I think I will be a lot happier in this than my old t-shirt and jeans."

"Certainly." Chagrin chased across Thor's face. "I should have thought of that myself, I'm sorry."

He reached out to her cloak, working the wool and fur between his fingers thoughtfully before angling a look at Frigga, who merely gazed mildly back. "I might have suggested red, does seem to do your beauty more justice, Jane."

The comment seemed far too innocuous to deserve the wistful tone he said them in.

He shook himself and a broad smile finally settled on his face as he extended one hand towards the doorway, but it was rigid and plastic. "Shall we be off then?"

With a last smile at Frigga she nodded, snagging the satchel she'd found to tuck her bridge generator into on her way past the chest of drawers and slinging it over one shoulder. The walk to Thor's rooms was short but it seemed to take forever - tension she couldn't place gelling the air between them, making her feel as if she were walking against the current of a river. She was about to ask him if she had upset him somehow when they arrived and Thor pushed the door open brusquely, the motion cutting off Jane's words.

The remainder of his friends were already gathered, all turning expectant eyes towards them as they entered. Eyebrows raised at Jane's appearance, but no one said a thing. Nerves were worked into too fine a frenzy for small talk.

"Are we ready?" Thor asked, and they all nodded. Jane pulled the bridge generator from her satchel and motioned everyone together into a tight cluster around her, the touch of her fingers bringing the arc reactor to life. Holograms flitted like phantoms in the space before her as she brought up the coordinates she'd programmed into the device the night before.

"Alright. Here we go." Jane braced herself and initiated the power sequence, watched with a held breath that burned in her lungs as the circle of faces was whitewashed by the glow of the generator. Her eyes stayed locked on Thor's, watering until the brightness forced her lids shut and in the shivering dance of planets the whole world fell away.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 15 of 19

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