Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 17 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

Songs for the Chapter: The Scientist, by Coldplay - Cannonball, by Damien Rice - Please Don't Go, by Barcelona

Five days Loki had slept so far, and no one seemed to know when he'd wake up. Five days without eating or drinking, of motionless slumber on the golden bed of the healing room that looked like death to Jane no matter how Eir reassured her. It was another reminder, Jane supposed, of how just not human the Aesir were.

Thor had tried his best to keep her busy, showing her sights around Asgard and telling her tale after tale of adventures he and his friends had had. He'd shown up at her door that morning, a broad grin creasing his face as he'd cajoled her from bed and out to the courtyard where a pair of horses were saddled and waiting placidly.

Jane had eyed the black beast Thor brought over warily. The first and only time she'd ever been on a horse was at summer camp, over a decade before. But the beast seemed gentle enough, and put up with her fumbling patiently enough as she struggled into the saddle. Only after she'd noticed Thor's shaking shoulders did he confess that it was the oldest horse they had, reserved for children and the rankest of amateurs, pulled out of retirement for her.

Jane figured a few laughs at her expense was fair turnabout for the way he'd stumbled through the unfamiliar landscape of Earth.

It had been peaceful enough, seeing Asgard from horseback, and the ridge Thor had wound up at the edge of the glittering city offered breathtaking views - but Jane couldn't seem to find a way to enjoy the scenery, with worry nibbling at the edges of everything and dulling the gleam of gold.

They'd dismounted and sat in the shade of a tree Jane thought looked a bit like an elm, only with toothed leaves that shimmered at the corner of her vision. The cheese and fruit Thor offered her would have been exquisite at any other time, but they sat in greasy lumps in her belly after only a few bites.

"All will be well, Jane."

Thor's quiet reassurance stilled her restless hands as they rearranged fragments of food. When she glanced up, his cornflower eyes were soft with concern. She didn't think it was for Loki.

"How can you know that?" She frowned, tearing her bread into ragged chunks that scattered crumbs across her lap. "You saw what had happened to him. People don't just...jump out of bed and go right back to normal, after something like that."

Thor stared out at the skyline, but whatever he saw she didn't think it was the view. "I used to think my brother lesser. Strong, as all Aesir are...but never our equal. Midgard, and all the people on it - even you, Jane...have shown me that there are many different kinds of strength." He turned that gentle smile on her, the one that used to flutter like moth wings behind her knees. "I do not know if I could have endured what he did. He may not be a warrior in the truest sense of the word, but he has a force of will that is frighteningly formidable. I have faith that strength such as that wouldn't see him through this trial only to abandon him on the other side."

She shrugged weakly. "Maybe you're right. I just don't know how long I can wait. I have to go back, Thor. Soon. I left too many people behind that will worry."

"Yes, of course." He shot an odd, sideways glance at Jane that she just barely snagged as she turned her head towards the palace. "You will come back though?"

The shreds of bread in her lap became smaller. "I'm not sure."

She wanted to. Oh, how she did. There was more here than she could ever see in a lifetime, and Asgard was only one of the many realms. She wanted to see them all, to grasp what life she had left with both hands and wring every last drop of experience from it.

But she didn't want to do it alone. Had begun, sometime in the last weeks...days...hours maybe even, to envision another by her side. One with hair the blue-black of her beloved space, who had puzzled out its secrets and hoarded them like treasure. Who'd changed her life in ways that she was only beginning to understand.

But Loki had a place again. A family that welcomed him back, a life regained if he chose. Was there room for her in it now?

Melancholy spooled a heavy sigh from her lips.

"Mother would be sad, if you didn't," Thor teased lightly. "She does so love having a girl to dress up, you know. Norn's know Sif won't let her. There was this one time, when we were very very young boys and we'd made her angry, Loki convinced me that Mother might like us both better if we had been daughters. And so we put on dresses, and plaited our hair, and pranced into her sitting room. I never saw her laugh so hard in all my life." Thor chuckled at the memory, and Jane couldn't help but grin along. "That alone was worth the embarrassment, I suppose."

"You sound like you were difficult children," she said at last, smiling at the image of two young boys, dark and fair, tearing about the palace.

"Yes. Loki always scheming, and I always willing. He wasn't always so..." Thor trailed off, and his fingers reached for a word.

"Bitter?" Jane supplied hesitantly.

Thor smiled, but it was mirthless. More a grimace than a grin. "I suppose that's as good a term as any." He glanced up, and the hard edge of his expression softened as he studied her. "Mayhap he will laugh again. I would give much to see it."

She had to duck her head out from beneath that considering stare, brushing crumbs from her pants as she stood. A slash of black against the robin-egg sky caught her attention, and she shaded her eyes with one hand against the bright midday sun as she peered upwards. It was a raven, larger than any she'd ever seen, and it flew in a determined line towards them. Great wings devoured the air, stirring leaves and branches as it settled onto a perch above their heads, Thor looking absolutely nonplussed by the creature's sudden appearance.

As if the sheer size of it wasn't bizarre enough, the glossy black beak parted and a surprisingly melodic voice rang out from the feathered throat. "Thor. The prince awakens."

Thor unfolded from the grass and offered a chunk of cheese to the bird, which it took delicately from his fingers before bolting it down. "Thank you, Munin," he said. The raven bobbed its head once before taking to the air again, fading rapidly to a mere speck as it winged back towards the shining spires of the palace.

"Every time I think I might be getting used to this place. Please don't tell me my horse can speak too," Jane muttered, and Thor threw his head back with a laugh as he untied the reins of their horses from a nearby sapling.

"Only Sleipnir. Come, Jane. Let us go check on my brother."

She took the strips of leather in hand and did her best to swallow around a mouth gone dry, unable to say if it was fear or joy that stole the grace from her limbs.

"...And so, I'd thought that a cape of feathers was nearly as good as real wings, and leapt right off the nearest balcony."

"What?" Jane yelped, and the stoic guards that lined the corridor all turned in her direction. She smothered her mouth with one hand and continued, albeit softer. "And you didn't die?"

"Oh no, Asgardian children are far tougher than that. And fortunately the muckrakers had just finished cleaning the horse stalls. A manure cart broke my fall." A wry grin quirked Thor's mouth as they drew up before Loki's rooms. "Along with my collarbone, and my pride."

She was still laughing when Thor pushed the door open, standing on the threshold and holding its weight with one arm. Fingertips at her back guided her through the doorway past himself, five points of politeness that rested gently against the flare of her hip.

Loki sat up in a vast bed of dark wood, emerald bedding piled high about him. His face was pale, but he was awake - his seafoam eyes lifting to flicker over the both of them, pausing briefly at Thor's hand on Jane's waist.

"Loki!" Thor called, and crossed the room in a few great strides, Jane drifting slowly behind.

"Thor," Loki nodded a greeting, and his gaze slid over Thor's shoulder to her. "Jane." The words were cool and painfully polite.

"Hello," she said quietly, her steps faltering at the distant greeting.

Thor came to a halt beside the high bed, and for the first time Jane saw him seem less than sure of himself. His hand hesitated in the air between the two men before falling carefully onto Loki's shoulder, words moving in Thor's throat long before they emerged. "It is good to see you well again, brother."

Jane glanced away from Thor's raw face, towards Loki. He seemed different somehow as he stared up at Thor - his stiff visage cracking slightly, and what peered through the gaps was exhausted and wan, but less burdened in some ways. More like the hint of youth she'd seen atop the roof of her lab so many weeks ago.

Seconds ticked by breathlessly, until at long last Loki spoke. "I'm quite happy to see me well again too." There was only a hint of a dry smile accompanying the words, but a hint was more than had been there moments before.

Thor broke into a broad grin, and the hand on Loki's shoulder squeezed him enthusiastically. "How I have missed you scoffing at death!"

"It would perhaps be best if you tried not to bludgeon the man I've worked so hard to heal, Thor."

Jane turned, startled by the new voice and the casual address, and saw the door shut softly behind a tall woman. Age had brushed lightly against her face, faint lines only serving to enhance the bright intelligence of her startling honey-brown eyes. Waves of blond hair were gathered into a sensible loose plait that hung down past the waist of her fitted linen tunic, and a thin beaten band of copper held rebellious wisps back from her face. What she wore was probably considered simple and practical by Asgardian standards, but she made it look as elegant as any haute couture back on Earth.

Jane squirmed inside her borrowed clothes, and brushed back a lock of hair that had been tangled by her ride.

"Eir," Thor greeted her warmly. "You have, as always, my gratitude."

Eir moved towards them, a spark of humor setting those odd amber eyes almost aglow. "Yes well, I've become rather accustomed to patching you two up. It's practically second nature by now." She moved to stand beside Loki and set one hand atop his brow, the faintest of light radiating from her fingers. "Between the healing room and I, there's not much left wrong with him that a few good days of rest won't solve. Anything else I've missed he can no doubt fix himself, as I'm sure he'll tell me the moment you leave."

"I have no qualms about pointing out your inadequacy before company, Eir," Loki said as he ducked out from beneath her hand, but there was no real malice in the words.

"You ingrate! The only payment I've ever received for teaching you is mockery." Eir turned from him with a grin tilting her mouth to Jane, who was still gaping at this entire exchange.

"Forgive them, they're always like this," Thor murmured, leaning in towards Jane. "Eir is about the only person besides family that Loki seems to tolerate for more than five minutes. I think she's let it go to her head."

Eir laughed, an unabashed sound that brought a smile to Jane's face. If she hadn't known better, she could have almost sworn Eir and Thor were the siblings here, so alike did they seem in looks and temperament despite the age difference. "Well, he only tolerates me because I keep dangling secrets before him like a cat. The moment he thinks I've told him everything I know, he'll be done with me for good."

Loki didn't dignify this with any response, and Jane had no idea what to say. Fortunately it didn't seem to matter to Eir. "You must be the Jane that has everyone in such an uproar. Mortals in Asgard, who'd have thought it? The last time I saw one of your kind you were scarcely beyond rubbing two sticks together for fire, and now you're traveling the realms."

She said it with such incredulous wonder that Jane couldn't even find it in herself to be offended. "That's me," she said lamely.

"Perhaps I will find you later, there's a thousand questions I'd love to ask you about Midgard. Do they still drill holes in skulls to relieve headaches? Or put those leeches to the skin?" Eir shook her head, as if she could rattle loose her own train of thought, and offered Jane an apologetic smile. "I know you just got here, but for now Loki should rest." She made shooing motions towards Jane and Thor.

"We shall return later then. Come, Jane. This is one battle even I know better than to pick." Thor made to usher Jane before him to the door. She balked at the first touch of his hand on her back, reluctant to leave after having scarcely said more than a word to Loki.

"But-" she began, before Thor cut her off.

"Later, Jane," he chuckled. "You mortals are so impatient."

Unhappily she allowed herself to be shepherded from the room, pausing at the threshold to steal a glance back at Loki, but she couldn't see his face past the shining fall of Eir's hair.

She tried to be patient, she really did. At the intersection of the guest and family wings she'd left Thor with murmured excuses and fled back to her set of rooms, frustration a tangled skein in her chest. The wide chair in the corner caught her easily when she threw herself into it and groped for the first book within reach, a treatise on dwarven hierarchy that was placid enough to calm the dead. But when she found herself reading the same page for the fourth time in a row, Jane finally set the offending book back on its shelf and marched from her suite, down the twisting corridors towards Loki's, a path she'd had memorized by her second day back.

The tall panels loomed overhead as she rapped on the thick wood of the door, stomach slowly twisting in the noose of her nervousness.

"Come in." Loki's call was muffled, but she could just make it out. The latch was cold beneath her clammy palm, and it slipped once from her grip before she pushed it down and swung the door inwards.

Loki was standing unsteadily at the foot of the bed, his back to her and one hand clutching the high carved post for balance, a pair of loose pants slung about his hips. Jane made it two steps into the room before she realized that was all he was wearing, and her steps stuttered to a halt.

"Norn's Shears, Eir! I told you I could dress myself," he growled, shooting a glare over his shoulder. Astonishment flickered across his face before it smoothed into a careful neutrality, and his posture stiffened, the line of his back stretching painfully rigid. "Jane."

"Ah...I'm sorry." She cringed at the squeak that crept into her voice and dragged her eyes from the pale length of his torso, corded with lean strength. Even when just shy of convalescent he moved with a grace she envied as he paced slowly to the chest of drawers nearby, drawing out a linen shirt dyed the exact shade of pine needles.

"It is alright," he said at last, turning back with the fabric crushed in his hands. His gaze searched the room behind her. "No escort this time?"

"No, just me. I...we didn't really get a chance to speak, earlier. I wanted to see how you were doing." She realized, now he was standing, that it was more than just a shift in mood that had taken some of the age from his appearance. The sable strands that had once brushed his shoulders had been trimmed far shorter, smoothing back from his face to curl ever so slightly about the nape of his neck. It made him look more boyish...more open, somehow. "You cut your hair," she blurted out inanely, to her immediate chagrin.

One brow arched sardonically. "How terribly observant of you, Jane. I think Eir may have done it while I slept just to annoy me."

"It looks good," she said quietly, and the frown that had creased his brow faltered and then faded.

He began wrestling the shirt over his head, muscles playing beneath his alabaster skin in a distracting dance. Jane dropped her gaze resolutely to the fingers that twisted themselves before her, feeling wretched for ogling the struggles of an ill man. When he emerged wan and sweating to fumble with the lacings at the collar, Jane finally stepped forward.

"Let me help," she offered.

He didn't respond, but his hands fell away as hers raised, even as he stared fixedly at a point over her shoulder. Her lacing went better than his attempts had but she was hampered by how clumsy her own hands were as well, the backs of them dotted with healing scabs.

He might have been marble beneath her hands if not for the pulse she saw framed by the gap of his collar, fluttering skin cupped in the deep hollow of his throat. No matter how recovered he seemed now, the past weeks had taken their toll. His sharp features were even more angular, the ridges of his collarbone slashing across his chest like wings, pressing against the thin material of his shirt. She finished tying the front of his shirt and had to curl her fingers in on themselves at her sides to keep from smoothing over those sharp lines.

"I should have come sooner," she murmured, regret a stone tied about the neck of her words. It didn't matter how impossible she knew that would have been. "Before things got so bad..."

"No." His denial was sharp and guttural, startling her into looking up. The smooth expanse of his neutrality crumbled about the edges, ever so slightly. "I reap only what I have sown, Jane. There is none to blame but myself." His gaze dropped to the angry slash that marred her chest, wandered the freckles of pain that dusted her hands, and sorrow was a leviathan roiling in the depths of his ocean eyes. "You have suffered more than enough for my folly."

She snorted, flexing the fingers of her hands experimentally. "This was nobody's idea but my own," she said ruefully. "I couldn't just stand there and watch."

"You are not so cruel as that." He ran a feather touch over the tiny wounds, draw a shiver from Jane that had nothing to do with pain. "These should have been healed. Has Eir not attended to you?"

"I was told she was busy enough, with you. It seemed silly to bother her over something so small."

He trapped her fingers within the porcelain cage of his own. "Allow me, please."

At her silent nod his lashes fluttered to a rest on his cheeks and the tiniest of creases marred the space between his brows. There was no showy display this time, no green light or flashes to signify any power at work. Just a flush of warmth that trickled from his skin to hers, no longer cool beneath her touch. It sank below the surface, curled tendrils along her nerves and seeped honey-warm into her veins, drawing an embarrassing little sigh from her lips as it circled deep in her belly to mingle with heat of another sort.

That curious resin smell that always clung to him grew stronger, and Jane realized it wasn't just some soap or cologne or artificial odor, but the scent of what he called his magic. Oddly enough it seemed different now, changed in some subtle way from how it had been before they'd parted. Less like a stand of cedars warmed in the sun, and more like the cold gasp of boreal forest, rimed with an ephemeral edge of snow. She leaned into it, let it tickle her throat, and when the warmth slowly drained away and her eyes finally open she found Loki bent over her, his green gaze hooded.

"My apologies, Jane. I may have gotten carried away." The words sounded cordial enough, but the emotion that stretched taut his features was too consuming to be polite.

"I-it's ok," she stammered, still reeling, her lungs forgetting their certain rhythm.

The moment faded as he turned her hands over in his grasp, inspecting them carefully with a darkening frown. The scabs were gone, but in their place were smooth dots of scar tissue, pale and shining against the rest of her skin.

"They'd been left too long on their own to heal properly. I'm so sorry," he murmured. His fingers trembled as they released hers, and somehow he seemed even whiter than before.

"Are you alright?" Jane asked, as he put a hand to his forehead and swayed slightly.

"Just over exerted myself, perhaps," he mumbled.

"Maybe you should sit down. There's no way you can be well, after everything that's happened to you." Jane tried taking his elbow to guide him over to the bed, but was startled when he pulled his arm from her grip.

"I do not need your pity, Jane. You have done enough, already. Leave being my nursemaid to another." He took a deliberate step back, his own hand fisting at his side, and Jane felt the distance like a slap.

Her brows lifted incredulously. "You think I feel sorry for you?"

His gaze fell to the side. "Why else would you be here?"

"I don't know, maybe because that's what people do? Worry about their friends, make sure they're ok? I woke up, in New York, and no one could say what had happened to you or Thor. All I knew was that whatever he'd told you in Puente Antiguo scared the hell out of you, and I had to...I couldn't just..." She broke off and drew in an unsteady breath, trying desperately to wrestle her rebellious thoughts into order.

Loki hardly seemed to notice her abrupt stop as he studied her carefully. "Friends. After everything I've done, everything that's happened to you since I showed up, you would...still consider me this?"

More than that, she almost said. But she faltered before the unreadable mask he wore, and her capricious courage failed her. "Yes," she finally answered.

"Well." The ghost of a smile flitted across his face, gone before she could decipher it. "That's something, then."

It was, like most everything Loki, an enigmatic comment.

"Will you sit down now, please? Before you fall over?" She huffed with exasperation, and his posture loosened enough for her to lead him to one of a pair of chairs that nestled in a corner of bookshelves, upholstered in black and green like everything else in his room. With a barely smothered wince he lowered himself to the cushioned seat and wilted into its depths.

Jane took a seat in the elegant wingback opposite him, sinking into the plush velvet, the fabric warm and almost alive beneath her. She gave him a few minutes, until some color had finally returned to his bloodless face, before she spoke again. "Are you going to stay in Asgard?"

He stirred, and ran absent fingertips over the spines of a small stack of books piled on the table beside his chair. "For now, at least."

She couldn't help but recall the sorrow that had lingered in a lone faded blue eye. "I think that will make your family happy."

"Perhaps. It will certainly overjoy my mother, although pleasing my family has scarcely been a concern of mine lately." His smile shaded toward a grimace, but never lost its touch of rueful humor. "And you, Jane?" His attention wandered to the view out an open window that looked down on the riotous courtyard she'd ridden out from that morning. "Has my brother convinced you to trade this realm for yours yet?" The words were light, teasing almost.

"No," she said, as she shook her head slowly. "Asgard is as beautiful as you said, but...I have to go home. Tomorrow I think, now that I know you're alright. I sort of left in a hurry, and Tony is probably worried about me by now. I'm sure Erik is.

His gaze never left the window. "I see."

An uncomfortable silence fell between them, awash with words Jane tried to force out but they kept slipping from her grasp, like seaweed in the tide. The light that slanted into the room was burnished by encroaching sunset, and the ruddy hues of it picked out the exhaustion that was still stamped faintly on his features.

Jane stood abruptly, twisting her hands behind her as she fought the cowardice that urged her to just cut and run. "Maybe I should let you rest some more." She gnawed on the edge of her lower lip as she moved toward the doorway, pausing to look back over her shoulder at his angular profile. "Will we see you at dinner tonight? Before I leave?"

Maybe there at least she'd have another chance to see if this awkwardness between them was permanent.

"Of course," he said, turning towards her at last, and the smile he flashed was brilliant enough to almost conceal the shadows in his eyes. "Farewell for now, Jane. Thank you for the visit."

She nodded and stepped into the hall, intentions turned to a grit in her mouth that she choked on all the long walk back.

He didn't show for dinner.

The hopeful place setting gaped at her all meal, like an empty tooth socket. Painfully obvious. Somehow she made it through that meal as she'd made it through all the others, Eir's constant stream of questions helping to distract her from the feeling that a sliver had lodged itself in her heart. Even Thor's tales fell flat for her that night, and by dessert her cheeks ached with forced smiles.

Perhaps Loki had just fallen asleep, perhaps he'd been even more tired than he'd looked.

But it hadn't been exhaustion exactly that had shuttered his face when she left, no matter how many times she told herself so. It hadn't been fatigue that had yawned between them like a chasm she couldn't figure out how to bridge.

She'd dragged herself back to her bedroom, fuzzed with a bit more mead than she usually drank, the alcohol thickening her fingers as she fumbled with the dress Frigga had wrapped her so carefully in. Jane had even picked the green one, of the handful the queen had offered her when dressing for dinner. Not that it had really mattered. She left the dress in a puddle of emerald on the floor and wriggled into her comfortable old jeans and t-shirt, sick of everything Aesir for the moment.

The small balcony that jutted out from wide double doors offered her a view of the emerging stars, the speckled view beckoning her out into the twilight. It truly seemed eternally summer here, the soft breath of the breeze whispering away the heat of the day, never blowing quite cold enough to chill. The fresh air wafted away the worst of the muzziness she felt from overindulgence, leaving just a hollow stomach in its wake. Leaning against the stone railing, she tilted her head to the skies and searched the heavens, but there was no comfort to be found there. Patterns were all wrong here, the constellations broken and rearranged into unfamiliar shapes that mocked her attempts at solving them. She'd always been wretched at reading emotions and dealing with people - half the reason she'd turned to science - but she'd never been tripped up by the cosmos.

Now Asgard had stolen even the stars from her.

Her eyes burned hotly as she stared sightlessly at the bruised sky, unaware of how much time had passed while night nibbled at the horizon. A soft knock at the door of her chambers pulled her from her thoughts, and she turned from the view to the dark interior of her rooms.

"It's open," she called, assuming it was one of the servants come to help her pack for the next day. Frigga had mentioned sending someone with a few satchels of things for her, at dinner. The door swung hesitantly open, but the lean figure on her threshold didn't belong to any of the servants.

"Please forgive my intrusion at such a late hour," Loki said, as he hovered in the doorway.

Jane blinked dry eyes a few times. "It's no problem," she murmured, arms folding before her as she leaned a hip against the balcony. "Come in."

Loki drifted across the polished stone of her floor, boots somehow noiseless. He was more presentable than he'd been earlier, in leather like she was accustomed to seeing but this looked far less formal. Scarcely any metal decorated his tunic save a few scattered studs, just elaborate cross-hatches of fabric that accented his lean stomach and arms. She pulled her traitorous eyes from the fascinating pattern that arrowed ever lower, and met his quiet gaze.

"You didn't make it to dinner." She didn't mean for it to sound so accusing, but her tongue had sharpened itself on the whetstone of her frustration.

He opened his mouth, closed it again, then finally spoke. "No, I'm sorry. I was busy."

Guilt squirmed half-heartedly beneath her ribcage. "You've probably got a lot of catching up to do," she surmised. "You've been away a long time."

He moved to stand beside her, folding arms atop the railing and leaning out towards the skyline. "I have, but things don't really change much in Asgard. One of it's dubious charms, I suppose."

The soft call of some night bird warbled in the gardens below her room as Jane's mouth clogged with small talk. Loki peered down into the branches and blossoms below, as if he could spy the source of the song. She turned to look as well, catching from the corner of her eye as his gaze flickered over her.

"Truth be told, I was busy with something for you," Loki said, and Jane's chest shrank the tiniest of bits.

"Oh?" She tried desperately for idle curiosity, with mixed success. "For me?"

He pushed away from the balcony and his pale hands circled about themselves in an odd gesture, one that pulled wisps of green and gold from the dusky air that congealed into a thick sheaf of neatly squared papers, tied with a wide band of mossy velvet. He held the bundle tightly for a beat that stretched just past polite before holding it out to her with the tiniest quirk of his lips. "Indeed. A gift, of sorts."

She reached for the packet, weighty in a way that only quality paper could be, the pages creamy beneath her fingertips. "What is it?" she asked as she slipped the ribbon off, but as she began to thumb through the first few pages a leaden sort of certainty trickled through her, each line of formula and every diagram another heavy drop.

"Copies of my notes. Theories, what certainties I've discovered. It should help you with your research, I believe."

"Oh." Jane felt as if she'd reached for a knife and suddenly found the handle reversed, clutching a naked blade that sliced to the bone. The sheaf sagged in her hands, pages leaning precariously. "I had thought...perhaps you might..."

She couldn't seem to form the phrases to frame her pitiful hopes - that he'd consider continuing their partnership, at the least. That he'd be willing to show her these things in person.

That this wouldn't be the last time she saw him.

The edge of one page parted the tender skin between her thumb and forefinger as she hastily arranged them back into order, and the band of velvet slipped from her grasp at the sudden sting.

Loki bent to retrieve the huddled scrap of fabric, his face and posture rigid. "It seems the least I could do, after everything. I owe you a great deal, Jane." He held it out to her and she wrestled it back around the loose leaves, unwilling to read another line of cold numbers.

Did it rankle him that much, being indebted to a human? He'd never made his opinion of her race any sort of a secret, but she'd begun to think...perhaps after everything...and he'd even seemed to agree they were friends of a sort.

But the differences between her race and his own, between Earth and here, were painfully obvious. With every smooth limb and tossing riot of curls, every breath-taking vista, Jane measured and saw. With a place such as this for home, Earth and Puente Antiguo had been nothing more than the port in his storm.

Was that all she'd been too?

The need to know had turned the air to tar in her lungs - but she churned it in and out, regardless of how it clung to her throat. Some questions were too painful to be asked when the answers had such potential for claws.

"Thank you." She forced the words out, glass shards of false gratitude that tattered her tongue.

"You are most welcome." His lips parted, as if he thought to say more, and ancient eyes tried to hold hers, but Jane couldn't meet them. Didn't dare. Her heart lurched a few more beats before he captured her free hand in his, lifting it to press the faintest of kisses over the thin red line of her papercut, a tiny spark of sensation and magic that left unbroken skin in its wake.

"Fare thee well, Jane," he murmured against back of her hand, and the whisper of his warm breath felt like a flail.

"Goodbye, Loki," she managed, not daring to move lest her precarious composure crumble, and with the faintest of shimmers he was gone, leaving only a soft smear of gold across the night air to mark he was ever there.

And if her eyes were smudged with red the next morning, no one commented on it. If anyone but she marked the absence of a dark head in the gathering that saw her off the next morning, no one made mention of that either.

But it escaped no one's notice, and weighted glances were exchanged long after the light of her departure had winked out.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 17 of 19

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