Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 2 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

Song of the chapterRunning to the Sea - Röyksopp & Susanne Sundfør

He thought for a few moments after he awoke that he would rather have died. Pain was a fanged, clawed beast that gnawed on every nerve and raked furrows in his guts. His head felt as if it had been smashed by Mjolnir itself, as if his scalp was the only thing holding fragments of his skull together. He turned his face to the side and feared for one horrible second that he would lose the contents of his stomach, concentrated on pulling in great lungfuls of bracing air to fend off the nausea.

Light wavered on the other side of his clenched eyelids and he cautiously cracked them open, the bright glow sending shafts of ice into his battered brain. A small wounded noise, more a whimper than anything, crept out between his cracked and dry lips.

"Oh good. You're not dead."

At the sound of a quiet voice nearby Loki opened his eyes wider, grimacing at the harsh artificial illumination that shone down on his face. Features swam into focus, vaguely familiar, and he puzzled to place them. Female. Mortal...Jane Foster. Thor's Midgardian whore. His eyes darted around, taking in what they could of his surroundings. He seemed to be lying on a rug on the floor of a large open living space, propped up by a haphazard collection of pillows. He tried to speak but his lips moved soundlessly, throat too parched for the passage of words.

"You probably need a drink after all that sand you ate," she said as she stood up, and there was the sound of water running from some distance away before she returned, a full glass in hand. "Here," she offered, holding it out towards him. He went to lift his hand to take it, only his arm didn't seem to be obeying his commands. Frowning, she moved around to his right side and placed the glass carefully into that hand, not letting go until she was sure his shaking grip could hold its weight. Cool water slid down his throat, washing away some of the grit, and Loki thought it might have been the sweetest draught he'd ever tasted.

He watched over the rim of the glass as Jane stepped back out of his arm's reach and nervously crossed her arms over her midsection. Dust and grime marked her own clothes as much as his, and he could see where sweat had marked through her clothing. "Sorry, I tried to put you on the couch...but I couldn't lift you that high," she said with an apologetic wince. "At least the rug gives you some padding."

He drained the last of the water and set the glass carefully aside. "Praise be for small comforts," he drawled acidically, his voice almost none the worse for wear now.

An angry flush spread over her face as her brow furrowed. "Yes, well...I did the best I could. I could have just left you there as coyote bait," she retorted.

Loki struggled to sit up further, breath hissing out as the motion kindled fresh blazes of agony. His left arm still dangled almost uselessly from the shoulder, and around his bicep was knotted some garish scrap of cheap fabric now liberally soaked with his own blood. Examining it with gently probing fingers, he spared a glance up at her. "That is the question that interests me most. Why didn't you? You know who I am."

Swallowing hard, her eyes drifted away from his and she shifted her weight to one foot, crossing her arms even tighter. Loki recognized it as a defensive posture, probably meaning she was unsure of how her words would be received. "You shouldn't be here. I should have called SHIELD the moment I saw you fall, as soon as I recognized you." She rubbed one thin hand over her brow and sighed. "But then I have something I want. And I have something you need."

"Indeed?" he asked, lifting both brows in surprise as curiosity unwound slowly at her bold declaration. "And what could you possibly offer that would be of any interest to me?"

Heartened by his interest, Jane crouched by his side, her brown eyes intent as they bored into his. Whatever it was she wanted it desperately, and he was intrigued. "Refuge. A place to hide, and to heal. I will keep SHIELD from finding you while you regain your strength...and in return, you help me figure out how to travel between the realms."

A slow smile spread across his face and his good arm darted out to grasp her chin firmly in his hand. Shock and fear washed across her face in a heady flood and she flailed ineffectively against his grip, her feeble mortal strength no match for even his own depleted reserves. His gaze searched hers as he mulled over her proposition. Undoubtedly, she would try to double-cross him in the end - he could see the indignant spark in her eyes that told him she was too honorable to betray her own people by allowing him to roam free on Midgard. Chuckling, he released his hold on her and sat back heavily against the pillows, fatigued by even that small show of strength.

"So you seek to make a deal with the Devil, do you?" He tilted his head to one side and amusement crinkled the corners of his eyes. "What is there to stop me from simply making you my puppet as Erik was, Jane?" At the sound of his name she flinched, ever so slightly, and inside he crowed with triumph. There, that was the nerve he was trying to find. She and her mentor had obviously been close. "Oh yes...Erik Selvig told me a great many things about you, Miss Foster," he added softly.

Her jaw ticked with suppressed anger as she turned her head away, having scrambled back to stand on her feet some distance away. "You can barely sit up straight right now," she scoffed, and he was hard pressed to dispute her. "Besides, SHIELD comes by every so often for progress reports. If I look or act differently in any way, they're going to recognize it." She fixed him with an angry glare. "We will not fall for your tricks again."

He regarded her in silence for some moments. He had to admit, the offer had appeal. In the worst case, he could simply stall and feed her false information until he felt strong enough to brave jumping between the realms again - although if humanity wanted to bumble amongst the stars like children playing in traffic it was of little concern to him. "Very well. I agree to your terms."

"Just like that?" She raised her brow skeptically.

Loki sighed. "Yes. Just like that."

"Ah. Ok," Jane rocked back on her heels, obviously unbalanced by his acquiescence. Turning away she began rummaging through a large box placed on a nearby table, and he took the time to look around at the temporary prison he had just shut himself in. Simple concrete walls were studded by large panes of glass that looked out onto the lonely expanse of desert, although the glare from the light inside didn't afford much of a view. An open living room merged freely into both kitchen and workspace, one corner lined with bookshelves that groaned beneath the weight of countless volumes and spread to sloppy stacks on the floor. In the center of the room a freestanding fireplace crackled merrily, throwing heat and shadows.

"This does not seem like the laboratory Erik described to me," Loki said, frowning at the disparity between what his eyes saw and the recollections of the mortal scientist. "Where are we?"

She glanced sharply over her shoulder at him before returning her attention to the box, setting aside various bottles and packages. "A few miles outside of Puente Antiguo, where my old lab was. SHIELD thought that I should be a bit more isolated if I was going to be handling top secret equipment." She turned from the box with an armful of items and knelt beside his injured arm, setting bottles and rolls of fabric carefully on the floor at her knees.

He eyed the assortment with misgiving. "Please do not tell me this is what passes for medical attention on this realm."

"Do you have a better idea?" she asked shortly, twisting the lid off a bottle marked 'hydrogen peroxide'. "Should I take you to a hospital, where you can be poked and prodded by doctors, and locked in some lab if they figure out you are not quite human? This will at least keep you from getting an infection."

Loki snorted with derision. "As if an Aesir has anything to worry about from the common germ." He pulled himself, struggling, to a full sit and worried at the knotted cloth around his arm once more, gritting his teeth against the searing pain each jostle awakened. "Take this off," he said with an imperious lift of his chin.

"So you can bleed all over my floor?" Jane asked mutinously, but complied at his dark glare. The soaked fabric was tacky with drying blood, and it took her some minutes of wrestling before the knot came loose in her hands. He hissed as the cloth stuck to broken skin beneath, and as she pulled it away sharply blood welled up in its place. The shredded leather of his sleeve gaped wide to expose the underside of his bicep, and amongst the crimson pooling along the tear he could see a jagged spur of white, shining in the firelight.

"Is that...bone?" Jane asked faintly, her face paling.

"Well it's certainly not skin, is it?" he snapped, feeling light-headed himself at the prospect of what had to be done. Cautiously he walked the fingers of his good hand around the site of the break, feeling muscle and bone in unnatural formation beneath them, pausing to gasp in air when the agony threatened to overwhelm him. One wrong movement and the raw end of bone might have shredded his artery. Wrapping it as tightly as she had with her makeshift bandage probably meant that Jane had saved his life. Not that she needed to know it.

"We'll have to set it before I can try to heal it," he said, his voice sounding wan even to himself.

He hadn't thought it possible for Jane to get any whiter. "Set it? Dear God." Her dark eyes grew large in her face.

Loki's lip curled. "I assure you, the idea holds no appeal for me either. But there is no one else around, and if you don't want me to bleed out right here at your feet, you must do as I say. Now, grab my hand and brace your foot against my leg, and on the count of three give it a sharp tug." Loki closed his eyes and drew in a bracing breath as he felt her slender hands slip into his own chilled fingers. He had never pictured a situation where he would willingly let a mortal touch him, and here he was dependent upon it to save his life. Fate did have strange plans, at times.

The sole of her sensible boot pressed firmly against his thigh and he looked up to see her solemn face. "Ready when you are," she said, a grim set to her mouth.

He nodded sharply, and began to count. "One...two...three!"

On three, Jane threw her weight backwards and a blinding wave of pain crashed over him as he felt his arm extend, muscle and sinew protesting as the uneven ends of bone grated into place. He scarcely noticed when her fingers slid from his own and she dropped to her knees beside him, too busy panting air in tiny gasping breaths trying to ride out the agony that rocked his frame.

"Are you alright?" she asked, concern twisting her features as she knotted her fingers together in her lap.

"No," he forced out, between clenched teeth. "But I will be. Soon enough."

Gathering what little reserves he had, Loki slapped his good hand over the bloodied mess of his arm and sent cautious pulses of magic into the torn flesh and ravaged bone, carefully twisting the fibers of his being back together. weak. He wouldn't be able to finish the job, could scarcely scrape together the energy to stop the bleeding and begin knitting bone. "That...should hold it together." His voice sounded faraway, almost indiscernible over the rush of his own pulse in his ears, and anything else he might have said was swallowed up as the dark waters of unconsciousness closed over his head.

The merciless New Mexico sun came knocking far too early for Jane's taste, glaring through the bare windows like an angry yellow eye, and she groaned her protest. She'd forgotten to close the blinds again, having dropped into bed like a stone sometime in the wee hours of the morning. Rolling over she cracked one eye open at the nightstand where the baleful red stare of her alarm clock sat unblinking. 6:00 AM. She'd gotten four hours of sleep. Not nearly enough rest to deal with what was in her living room.

She was half-tempted to drift back off to sleep, had huddled back into the nest of blankets and pillows when the growl of her stomach cut through the quiet morning. With an exasperated sigh she threw back the comforter and shuffled out of bed, throwing on the first rumpled clothes her questing hands found. She wasn't winning any beauty contests, if the face staring back from the mirror of her adjacent bathroom was any indication, but she had no one here to impress.

Hair brushed and pulled back into a loose ponytail, Jane yawned her way to the small kitchen along the far wall and punched the power button on her coffee pot, grounds and water she'd prepared the night before beginning their aromatic union. A glance at the comfy battered couch that snuggled up to the fireplace told her that her guest was still asleep, having somehow hauled himself up and onto the softer surface of the sofa. It had cost him though, she would bet - Loki's pale face was even more bloodless in the bright sunlight, the tousled sable hair that fell haphazardly over his forehead making the contrast even more pronounced. His left arm was still in the crude sling she'd fashioned from an old pillowcase she'd found. He had been so out of it even the jostling of her clumsy efforts hadn't woken him up.

As the coffee pot burbled its closing notes, Jane opened the short fridge that hid beneath the counter and pulled free a carton of eggs and a small container of milk. Ordinarily she would probably skip breakfast altogether, perhaps nibbling on a slice of toast or a bowl of cereal as she sipped her coffee and began work, but Loki had lost a lot of blood the night before. He would probably benefit from the extra iron of eggs. That was, if his anatomy was anything at all like a humans. She really was driving blind here.

She puttered around the stove, pulling bowl and skillet from cupboards as she set about whisking the eggs up to scramble. Her small stovetop sparked to life as she twisted the knob, blue flames dancing merrily beneath the burner. SHIELD had wanted her lab as self-sufficient as possible, so her roof was studded with solar panels, her water came from a well, and her heating and cooking was fueled by the large propane tank that sat adjacent to the building. She was entirely 'off the grid' out here, so to speak. Jane found it both a comfort and unsettling.

The dull thunk of her skillet hitting the burner was apparently enough to rouse Loki. She caught motion from the corner of her eye and heard the faint rustle as he adjusted himself on the cushions. Jane turned around cautiously, unsure as to what sort of mood she should expect from him. She had trouble reconciling the near sociopath that she had seen on TV and that SHIELD had described to her with the man lying on her couch. He was doubtlessly arrogant, haughty and perhaps cruel...but he didn't seem prone to wanton destruction.

Or maybe he just hadn't had the opportunity yet.

GoodLord. She was in so deep.

Swallowing down the lump of fear that had begun rising in her throat, Jane plastered a wobbly smile on her face. "Good morning."

His dark head turned in her direction, and even from several paces across the room his unnerving green eyes pinned her. "What is that smell?" he asked, nose wrinkling.

Jane blinked around the kitchen, unsure of what he was referring to. "My cooking?" She frowned, vaguely insulted by the insinuation. She knew she wasn't much of a cook, but surely she couldn't mess up something as simple as scrambled eggs. Turning back to push the congealing mass around with a spatula, her eyes landed on the full carafe of coffee. "Oh, the coffee maybe?" She glanced back over her shoulder at him. "Thor didn't seem to know what it was either."

A faint tightening around his eyes was the only indication he'd heard her, and his gaze drifted to the windows to stare fixedly at the pearly sunrise outside. With a bemused shake of her head Jane returned her attention to breakfast, turning the stove off and dividing the eggs evenly between two battered, mismatched plates. Pouring coffee into a couple of chipped mugs, Jane balanced the whole spread on a tray and carefully made her way to the couch.

She placed the tray down on the small coffee table that stood between the sofa and the fire, now back in its rightful place on the rug after being displaced by Loki last night. "Do you think that you can sit up to eat?" she asked apprehensively as she settled into an adjacent armchair. The thought of having to feed him was frankly terrifying.

He swept a critical eye over her offering, the beginnings of a sneer curling his upper lip, and Jane found herself flushing with embarrassment. If SHIELD was right, he was a prince. Eating off her thrift-store stoneware was probably beyond insulting...and then her brows snapped together mulishly. He might be a prince - but he was still a monster. This was more than he deserved.

She watched quietly as he struggled to a seated position, hampered by the soft cushions and a lack of two functioning arms. Some part of her wanted to offer help, but the rest stayed her hands. It might have been a bit petty to enjoy how hard he labored, but she didn't owe him any courtesy. Only her silence.

At long last he was upright and reached one hand that trembled slightly towards the mug of coffee, the contents sloshing perilously close to the rim as he lifted it to his lips and took an experimental sip. He blinked in surprise as he seemed to roll the flavor around in his mouth. "It's...bitter," he said at last, and took a second drink. "But it has a certain charm."

She nodded in agreement and lifted a forkful of fluffy eggs to her mouth, stomach rumbling happily at the prospect of being filled. "I guess they don't have coffee in Asgard," she said after swallowing, loading her fork again. "Or in Jotunheim either, for that matter," she added, proud that she had remembered the way Erik pronounced the odd word.

Glancing up she saw he had frozen with the mug partway to his mouth again, his face gone bloodless and his eyes rounded with shock. "And what would you know of Jotunheim, mortal?" he asked as he seemed to recover, with a voice as deadly and smooth as the slide of scales over skin.

The eggs went ashen on her tongue at the dangerous turn of his mood, and Jane struggled to swallow them with a throat gone dry. "I...ah, that is..." her voice faltered, and she cleared her throat before beginning again. "Erik had this book of myths he showed said how you were born a jotun and that the frost giants lived in Jotunheim, and Odin adopted you..." She knew she was babbling, and her brain was frantically trying to get her traitorous mouth to just shutup, horror sizzling in her veins as Loki's face grew stormier with every word.

"And how would a mortal know anything about the Aesir?" he broke in, slamming his drink back on the coffee table, heedless of the scalding coffee that splashed over the back of his hand. "You know nothing. Nothing!" His voice ended on a shout and his jade-chip eyes were harder than flint as they bored into hers. She flinched back from his vitriol, and between the space of one blink and the next he was suddenly there - hands gripping the arms of her chair tight enough to turn knuckles white, his face inches from hers as he caged her in the angry trap of his sneer. "You are a puling white grub, a blind worm writhing in its own refuse. I have sat on the throne of Asgard, held Gungnir in my hands! You, mortal, are not even fit to speak Odin's name!"

Terror pressed Jane back in the seat and ran icily like seawater down her spine. For some moments she could only gape numbly at the frothing spectacle of Loki's ire, her brain chasing itself in circles. Turning her face away, trying to block out the sight of his, she saw over his shoulder the couch he had just miraculously risen from - and the telltale depressions that marred it, as if a human-shaped weight still weighed down upon it.

Jane was not given to anger, but the blessed warmth of it chased the chills of fear away. She knew, from Erik and SHIELD, that Loki was the master of deception. She had just naively thought he might spare his rescuer from his tricks. The anger at his underestimating her intelligence, the embarrassment she felt at falling for it and at her innocence gave her the courage to pluck together her nerves. She pushed out at the spectre's chest with both hands and it faded in a swirl of green and black, leaving a now-visible Loki panting and glowering at her from the couch. Where he had lain all along.

"Smoke and mirrors won't fool me." She pushed up from her chair, those scant few bites of egg sitting like a leaden lump in her stomach, and clenched her trembling fists at her side. She would be damned before she let him see how much he had scared her. "You can't control me, and I refuse to be intimidated by you. Like it or not, I'm your meal ticket here." She tilted her chin defiantly and spun on one heel, the skin on her back crawling as she strode away as if expecting a knife at any moment. Snatching her purse and keys from the counter, she narrowed her eyes at his prone figure. "I'm going to town for groceries. Try not to break anything while I'm gone, please."

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 2 of 19

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