Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 3 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

She was gone for some time, long enough that Loki began to wonder if she was returning at all. Squares of sunlight from the windows crept slowly across the floor and walls as he sat on the floor beside the empty fireplace and scraped together magic to heal himself, one wisp at a time. As he labored to stitch muscle and vein together again, he turned the problem of Jane Foster over and over in his mind.

Try as he might, he couldn't seem to find what it was about her that had appealed to Thor so much. She was pleasing enough to look at in her own way, but compared to an Asgardian woman like Sif, Jane Foster seemed so...underwhelming. Small and inconsequential. Hardly capable of instigating such monumental change in Thor. She was a puzzle, a tangle to unravel, but Loki had no idea which thread to tug first.

He chafed at the thought of being subject to her goodwill, at depending upon her better nature to keep himself safe. It would have been better if he had been able to inspire her fear, but while she had seemed upset by his temper earlier she had hardly come away from it cowed. Loki frowned and tucked a stray piece of hair behind his ear before he bowed his head and trailed fingers over the tear in his sleeve, ragged edges melding together behind them. He wondered what could be done to bring Jane under his thumb.

He did so prefer his humans docile.

But perhaps he had gone about it all wrong from the beginning. He had always assumed that humans would respond best to power. They had proven all along by their own histories that tyranny and obeisance were their natural states. But maybe...on an individual was indeed better to catch flies with honey than with vinegar. Anticipation curled warmly in his belly, and a tiny smile graced his lips.

They did not call him silvertongued for nothing. This would be child's play.

A renewed sense of purpose and the sound of a vehicle in the drive brought him to his feet, shaking out his robes and cape, now spotless and whole. The food and rest had gone a long way towards invigorating him, although he was still far from recovered. The crude sling Jane had fashioned for him was still regrettably necessary as his bones continued to slowly knit, but it certainly ruined the line of his clothing and figure. Small evils, perhaps. Jane might respond better if she thought him still a wounded creature, some stray she had brought home.

As keys rattled at the lock, an eager grin spread on his face and he smoothed a few stray strands of hair back neatly in preparation of his gambit.

Jane frowned as she fumbled her way through the collection of locks and deadbolts SHIELD had felt necessary to put on the door of her lab, finally pressing one thumb to the biometric lock and hearing the clunk of tumblers turning inside the thick steel slab. Bending to pick up the sacks of groceries she'd set at her feet, Jane turned back and bumped the door open with one hip, keys dangling from her mouth.

When she stepped into the living room, those same keys fell in a clatter on the floor from her slack jaw.

She'd expected to see Loki in about the same place she'd left him, convalescing on the couch. Instead he was standing, his posture regal and elegant. The dirt and blood that had marred his clothing before was gone, leaving behind supple leather that gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. Green and gold bisected the dark material, so bright and saturated with color it nearly hurt her eyes. His face was still pale and drawn, but it was the normal pallor of fatigue - not the sallow gaunt cast to his skin that she had seen on the news, a face that had flickered with manic intensity as if some fire ate him up from within. His glossy hair was a black so deep it bordered on blue, the cold color of space where it bordered the stars. He didn't take up all the air in a room the way Thor had, with his broad shoulders and vibrant fiery presence. Loki's was the trim physique of a swimmer, the lithe coiled finesse of a viper before the strike.

"Miss Foster," he said with a gentle incline of his head, measuring out the space between them with graceful gliding steps. "Allow me." He reached for the bags with his good arm and snagged them all from her nerveless hand, looping long thin fingers through the handles and walking towards her kitchen. Jane blinked and followed behind, still stunned.

Evil he might be, but he certainly cleaned up well.

He set the bags atop her small counter beside the sink and turned back to face her, his features pinched with consternation. "I fear that I owe you an apology, Miss Foster. My temper can run away with me, at times." His skin was cool and dry against her own suddenly clammy palm as he slipped his hand beneath hers, sketching a cultured bow over their mingled grip until his forehead touched softly against the back of her hand. Lifting his head to meet her gaze, his wide green eyes held her own effortlessly. "Forgive me."

Jane's brain stuttered as she smothered nervous laughter, and she gave herself a mental shake. She wasn't some silly little girl to turn into a giggling idiot every time a man used some pretty manners around her. All the fine graces in the world couldn't mask the fact that Loki was dangerous, and she would be stupid to forget that.

She untangled her fingers from his and blew out a short breath, breaking away from his stare. "I'm not a doormat that you can walk all over. Find some better way to work out your anger, ok?"

Loki straightened and blinked pensively at her for a moment before nodding slowly. "Understood."

He began rummaging through the grocery sacks, pulling out items at random and examining them curiously. Jane picked them up as he set them down and put them away, her movements practiced and thoughtless. It was a new building but SHEILD had arranged the kitchen very similar to her old one. Before long Loki ceased his poking and leaned back against the counter, eyes tracking her as she wove about the kitchen.

"By all rights, I should have died yesterday, Miss Foster," came his silken voice in the silence as she was wrestling with a carton of milk, and Jane stood from her crouch before the half-sized fridge, still clutching the door for balance. The small appliance only came up to her waist and he had sidled over to stand beside it, his upper body canting gently in her direction over the door that divided them. The cool air of the open fridge as it washed over the backs of her legs was a counterpoint to the flush that heated her face as his nimble fingers tucked a loose hank of her hair back behind one ear. Loki braced one hand atop the ajar door beside hers and leaned further, pale green eyes filling her vision. "I can be quite generous to those who hold my favor," he murmured. "One might even say friendly."

"I...I'm sure," she stammered as she backpedaled furiously, heedless of the fridge left hanging open as she put distance between them. Apprehension skated up her spine as he carefully shut the fridge and stalked towards her with the boneless grace of a hunting cat. Jane put her hands up as if to ward him off. "Don't take it the wrong way but...we're not friends. And there's really only one Asgardian I'm interested in being favored by."

Like a switch had flipped, his languid air was instantly charged with disgust and his lips curled down into an ugly tangle. "Loyalty to Thor?" He raised one brow and when he continued his voice was dripping with mockery. "That is very endearing. Like a faithful dog, you wait for your master to throw you some scraps. But tell me, why did he not come to you while he was here?" He shook his head slowly, as if she was something to be pitied. "Do you believe that Asgard's shining son lacks for companionship back home?"

Loki's words were a prod to the black worms of doubt that had crawled in her heart since the day Thor left but Jane held her gaze steady on his own narrowed eyes, fearful that any movement would let the tears that filled hers spill over. She knew that Thor must have had his reasons for not visiting her, and she had faith in him. But to hear it so plainly from another's was almost too much to bear.

"You're petty, and a bully," she bit out around the shards of disappointment that tangled in her throat. Her chin trembled but she straightened her back and glared back at him. "You can crush people like a spoiled boy does his toys, but that doesn't make you any better than us." She gathered the remnants of her dignity into a shield of false bravado and raked a derisive glance over Loki from head to toe. "I feel sorry for you. If this is how you treat everyone you must have been a lonely child."

He looked stunned, as if her words had been an actual slap across the face. Her heart squeezed out a few thundering beats before fury clouded on his brow as he seemed to hunch into himself, looking for all the world like a cat that had just been splashed with water. "You would hold your tongue, if you knew what was best for you!" he hissed. "Tell me, what does Jane Foster - adored by Erik Selvig and Thor - know about being alone?" The last word came out sharper than a dagger as he pulled his hand back, and for one breathless moment Jane was sure he would strike her. She closed her eyes and braced herself for a blow that never fell, and when she opened them again she was alone, her rasping breath the only sound that echoed through the empty kitchen.

Sighing softly, Jane wiped the moisture that clung to her lashes away with a trembling hand. She was beginning to have serious doubts about the whole situation. She had no idea why she had ever thought that Loki could be bargained with, or expected to act reasonable. If she failed at this though, if she let this opportunity slip away...she could possibly be throwing away any chance at seeing Thor again. She had to find some way to tolerate this, until she found what she needed and she could turn Loki over to SHIELD.

And she had to remember not to mention Thor.

Loki had never been one to pace while thinking. The less his body was in motion the more furiously his mind was working, piecing together and discarding schemes in the time between one blink and the next. He'd managed to leave the lab before he'd been tempted to remove Jane's head from her shoulders, but just barely - twisting a handful of reality and taking that odd step sideways through space he'd been born knowing how to do, reappearing on the flat concrete roof. The sun pounding down mercilessly on his head and shoulders was a young star far hotter than the one that shone over Asgard, fiery and tempestuous and volatile. Much like Earth, in a way. He could see why it would appeal to Thor.

He sat in the angular shade of the gleaming panels that sprouted from the roof to tilt toward the sun like great blue cornflowers, and pondered the problem of Jane.

He wanted to blame her for everything going awry, but he knew it had been he that had sent it all sideways. He and his fits of pique. She got under his skin, stood before him and said brutally honest things through the thick mask of her fear no matter how badly her courage wavered. He terrified her, it was true, but she had a strange sort of bravery mingled with the surety of a martyr. He could do what he would to her, but it would not break her will.

But then, what did he expect when he came at her with strongarm tactics better suited to the louts he'd left behind in Asgard? Thus far, he'd offered her a choice between violence and veiled insults. When had he lost his finesse, his subtlety? Perhaps that alien consciousness that had clung like a burr inside his own skull had ruined everything he was, whipped him to action only to leave him burned out and clumsy like a winded horse.

What he needed was the long game. A match of wits, a con of epic proportions to show that he still had the touch. And as he fanned long fingers over the warm concrete to block the plodding path of an ant, it came to him. A challenge, but the payoff would be worth its weight in gold, for it came with the shining prize - revenge on Thor.

He would win Jane'heart.

He would befriend her, ease the solitude she wore like a heavy cloak. Not all at once - she was too canny to fall for that, the incident in the kitchen had proven as much. It had to seem natural, a gradual reformation that would appeal to her better nature. Like the slow spread of poison, she wouldn't notice until it was too late.

And when she'd forgotten about Thor, when he'd softly filled the spaces in Jane's life and thoughts that his brother had once occupied, when he had her eating out of his hand - he would spring the trap. He would bring her before his brother and drink in the sweet taste of Thor's despair as she chose him, and then hers as he ground her beneath his heel.

It would be a lovely diversion. Just the thought of it brought a grin of delight to his face.

She was in the midst of transcribing last week's star charts into her computer models when he reappeared, seated in place on the couch as if he'd never left it. She wasn't able to smother her yelp of surprise completely, and he glanced askance at the strangled sound. Wherever he'd gone it had done him some good - his face was still the pale shade she suspected was just its natural state, but there was some color back in his cheeks. She turned back to the faint glow of her computer and stared resolutely at the data before her as her fingers clacked away on the keyboard. If there was anything to be said, it would have to be by him - she'd said her piece already.

His upper body was hidden by the rectangle of her monitor but she could see from the corner of her eye his long legs cross and uncross restlessly, foot bouncing impatiently. Jane smothered a petty smile at the sight. It seemed the resident Asgardian did not like being ignored.

"Miss Foster," came the eventual call, just as she was slipping back into the rhythm of data entry, and Jane scowled at the interruption. Not that she should be doing this in the first place...she really needed to review some of those applications for a research assistant. Solo work had its advantages, but efficiency was not one of them.

"Yes?" she sighed as she wrapped up the string of numbers she was working on and wheeled her chair to one side, a length of table covered in equipment still between herself and the living area. It was ridiculous and all in her head, but it made her feel safer somehow.

He seemed to pick up on her discomfort, because he remained seated on the couch, the turn of his head his only motion. "We are both in situations that are...less than ideal," he said quietly with a pensive frown creasing his forehead. "But that is no excuse for me to let my anger out on you." His eyes darted to one side and back as he drew a deep breath. "I apologize."

Jane lifted both her brows, and her voice was brimming with skepticism. "Do you really? Because we just did this, and it didn't seem to end all that well."

Loki's nostrils flared slightly and she could see a muscle tic in his jaw, as if he was biting back words he'd thought better of saying. "Yes. My behavior was boorish and unbecoming. I cannot promise that I will never become frustrated with this turn of events, but I will try not to take it out on you."

Jane was silent as she turned his contrition over in her head, wondering if there was another subtle game he was playing here. He seemed merely uncomfortable though, fidgeting restlessly as her silence dragged on. Eventually she nodded, content with his apology. She could drive herself mad trying to second-guess his motives, or she could simply take it at face value and keep her guard up. He could decide he was well enough to leave any day though, if his current rate of progress was any indication. She had to get what she could out of him, and she didn't have time for dramatics.

"Ok," she conceded, and some indistinct tension seemed to drain from his body. An uneasy truce, she supposed, was better than constant warfare.

The deepening orange glow that trickled through the tall windows told her how much of the afternoon she'd lost. She must have worked straight through lunch - again. With a stretch Jane stood from her chair and rubbed at the tight muscles of her neck, glancing sidelong at Loki. "Are you hungry?"

He surprised her by shaking his head. Jane shrugged and started for the kitchen. "Suit yourself. I am though."

A few minutes of rummaging and a few more in front of her tiny stovetop yielded a huge bowl of spaghetti that she dug into even before sitting down at her small bistro-sized table. It wasn't exactly gourmet but it was certainly less embarrassing than microwaving some frozen entree - her usual dinner more often than not. Pulling her latest copy of The Astrophysical Journal from a dog-eared stack that leaned precariously at the edge of her table, Jane turned to the folded corner where she'd marked her last page read and became absorbed in her colleague's work.

"Do you ever rest?" came Loki's voice from the seat across the table. Jane's fork fell from lax fingers to clatter in the nearly empty bowl, her heart sputtering. It was bad enough that she had grown so used to her solitude she forgot others might be around. Now she had to share her space with someone who could literally appear out of thin air.

"Yes," Jane said quickly, feeling a bit defensive. "But this is my hobby, just as much as it is work."

Loki's face was a blank mask as he stared at her for the space of several breaths, and Jane fought the urge to squirm under his measuring gaze. "This really is very important to you, isn't it?" he asked finally, sounding vaguely perplexed.

Jane ducked her head and took her fork in hand, toying with the few strands of pasta left in her bowl. "Traveling to other worlds has been my dream since I was a child. I was never really interested in anything else." She didn't need to add that her interest had grown significantly in the past few months, it was there in the tiny moue of displeasure that crept onto his face.

"You never played with...dolls, or made flower garlands, or embroidered? Whatever it is young girls do in Midgard?"

Jane choked on a laugh. "Hardly. Other girls were reading books about horses and babysitting, while I was poring over star charts on my father's lap."

An oddly tangible silence stretched between them before Loki shifted in his seat. "You are a strange woman, Jane Foster," he said with a frown in his voice.

A smile tightened painfully on Jane's face as she carefully replaced the journal atop its companions, hearing that same sentiment echoing in a thousand variations down the hallways of her memory. "Yes,'re not the first to say that." Clearing her throat she stood and carried her bowl to the small sink, rinsing it out and watching the red-stained water swirl down the drain. How embarrassing, really. To be so abnormal that even an alien, someone who should expect her to be odd, felt the need to comment on it.

"I have upset you."

Jane stirred from her thoughts and smoothed the melancholy from her features before turning back to the table. Loki was eyeing her curiously, but with no real compassion - as if she were a test to be observed, a butterfly on a pin behind a pane of glass. She plastered on a small smile and shook her head. "No, it's ok." Drying her damp hands on a nearby towel, she worried the fabric between her fingers a few times before tucking a piece of hair behind her ear nervously. "I think I will try to get some sleep. I didn't get much last night."

Loki stood and nodded. "Of course."

"I have more blankets, if you think you will get chilly," she offered, but he cut her off with a shake of the head.

"I will be fine." A strange wry smile twisted his lips. "The cold does not seem to bother me much."

"Right," she said, to fill the silence more than anything else. She headed towards her room, flicking off the overhead lights as she went. When she reached for the doorknob, something made her turn to look back. In the fading daylight Loki still stood where she had left him, one hand resting atop the table and his face cast in shadow. She couldn't read his expression or see the direction he looked, but she felt his gaze like a hand on her shoulder. "Goodnight," she called softly, and his dark head bowed a fraction.

"Goodnight, Miss Foster."

She was sure it was only fatigue that made him sound so adrift.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 3 of 19

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