Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 5 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
To Cleave the Stars

Song of the ChapterMe and the DevilbySoap&Skin

Jane thought she might be going crazy.

There was no other explanation for the fact that she was worried about Loki. Ever since their conversation two days ago, he'd done little more than stand woodenly before the windows, his eyes listless and shuttered. Whatever progress he'd seemed to be making had stopped, shadows gouging deep circles beneath his eyes that spoke of sleepless nights.

It didn't seem right, having concern for someone that had had so little concern for her own people. Like sympathy for the devil, it felt misplaced. But then Jane remembered that whatever else he was, he was Thor's brother...and even Thor hadn't been able to condemn his sibling completely. If he had, he would have let SHIELD finish him off or lock him away somewhere, rather than try to take him home for punishment. If Thor could try to see some scrap worth redemption in Loki, then for his sake Jane would try as well.

What could she do though? She was no therapist. When he turned that empty gaze on her, she had no idea what could be said to bring him around. She half-wished for the snarling, wounded beast she had dragged home a week ago. Even blind hatred and anger would have been an improvement over the silent ghost that flitted about her lab now.

Over the top of her monitor his dark head was a splash of ink against the bright window, in the same place it had been since she'd started woken up that morning.

Jane lifted her head again and cleared her throat. "I'm going to town today," she said, but there was no indication he'd heard her at all.

Start with the small things, she reminded herself.

"Would to come?" she asked, and held her breath in the long silence that followed.

Slowly, he turned to look at her. His brows were pinched together with confusion and his voice, when it came, was raspy with disuse. "You wish me to accompany you?"

Jane shrugged. "I thought you might like to get out of here. Have a change of scenery or something..." She trailed off as his gaze unfocused over her shoulder, and for more than a few long moments she thought he would say no. When he did finally turn that uncanny glacial gaze back on her, she would still have been hard-pressed to call it animated - but there was a certain light there that hadn't been before.

"I think I would like that," he said, as if the prospect surprised him, and Jane grinned.

"Let me just get my stuff," she mumbled, shutting her computer down and straightening her rumpled shirt as best she could. Glancing up at Loki, her hands stilled and consternation clouded her brow.

"What is it?" he asked suspiciously, taking in her frown.

He still wore the same leather and emerald tunic she'd found him in, heavy pants and boots encasing his slender legs. At first she'd thought he'd need a change of clothing, but day after day he appeared both as spotless and as fresh as the first morning after she'd left him. It must have been some ability, what he called magic. An ionic charge maybe? She'd have to ask sometime.

While she'd grown used to the sight of his unusual garb, she doubted the people of small-town Puente Antiguo would find it nearly as mundane. She didn't even have anything around that he could change into, no old clothing of Erik's or a former boyfriend. She'd given all those to Thor, a fact that probably didn't merit mentioning to Loki.

She waved one hand up and down in his direction. "You don't exactly fit in, you know. I don't think I even have anything you could change into."

"Oh. Well, if that is all you are worried about..." The ghost of an impish grin flitted across his face as tendrils of gold and green seemed to coalesce out of thin air about him, brightening until Jane had to blink against the glare. When she opened her eyes again Loki looked nothing like the Asgardian she'd become used to seeing.

Gone was the tunic and leather, the heavy boots and all the swirling scrollwork. Instead he wore slim grey trousers over black dress shoes, with a crisp white shirt tucked in. The top couple buttons were undone in a nod to the warm weather, letting the collar gape open slightly, and the sleeves were folded back a few times to expose lean forearms. A black leather belt looped about his narrow hips finished off an outfit that looked straight out of some fashion spread photoshoot. He'd been looking through too many of her magazines, she suspected.

"Will this do?" His face was innocently blank, but smug laughter lurked in his words.

Jane just nodded slowly in chagrin. She'd thought to make him less obvious, and while he'd no longer be getting odd looks his choice of clothing was hardly de rigueur for this small town. Maybe she could tell people he was some European colleague, in New Mexico for research.

It wasn't as if half the town didn't think her strange anyways - living alone so far out here, and having had her old lab raided by scores of shady-looking men in dark suits.

She fumbled around for her purse and keys and headed for the door, feeling even more drab than usual with Loki-as-GQ-model ambling along behind her, hands stuffed casually in his pockets. The stifling air outside was like the blast of an open oven, a parched heat that would gleefully peel the skin from your bones if given the chance. As she threw the door of her van open and turned the engine over, cooler air immediately began to trickle from the vents and Jane was grateful that she'd been able to retire her old lunker. It would have taken her half the distance to town before that jalopy's air conditioning would have kicked in.

Loki circled to the other side and climbed in the passenger seat, folding his lean frame into the bucket seat as if he'd done it a million times and quietly copying her as she buckled her seat belt. He spent most of the half-hour drive to Puente Antiguo in silence, face rapt as he watched the scenery pass by outside.

Puente Antiguo's only supermarket sat in the middle of town, small by most standards but far larger than a town of this size would be able to support without the steady stream of tourists that passed through. Jane swung the van into the nearly empty lot and parked in a free spot, angling the van's impressive bulk carefully into the narrow space. Inside she snagged a basket and headed in the direction of the produce, having noticed Loki's predilection for fresh food.

She turned to find him a few paces behind her, eyes sweeping from one side of the aisle to another as if the busy labels were an all out visual assault. "Pick anything you want," she said, at a bit of a loss when she realized she had no idea what would appeal to him. Thor had eaten just about anything put in front of him, but Loki seemed far more discerning.

Warily he poked a finger at a carton of cookies on the shelf, one brow lifting with disdain as he tilted his head to read the contents. "How do you even pronounce half of these ingredients?" he asked, exasperated. "Let alone eat it."

Jane placed a few cans of soup in her basket and avoided his eyes. It would sound pathetic if she admitted it - that she didn't bother cooking much because it was depressing when you were the only one eating it. She'd gone straight from college to graduate school, and from there to intense research. She'd never really had the motive or opportunity to learn much in the way of culinary skills.

"It is pretty gross, I guess," she admitted, letting her fingers trail over boxes of flavored rice as she walked past, choosing one at random and adding it to her load. "I'm not much of a cook, to be honest."

Loki was silent some moments as he paced beside her, his face unreadable. "I suppose I'm not either," he allowed, and then slanted a wry look at her. "It was never a skill set expected of a prince."

Jane smiled at that. "No, I guess it wouldn't be."

It was odd, to be doing something as domestic and mundane as grocery shopping with Loki. But with him walking casually beside her, dressed in normal clothes, it almost seemed believable that he really might be some acquaintance of hers and not the half-mad deposed brother of an alien she had a crush on.

Of course, when she put it like that, any version that didn't have him frothing at the mouth sounded like an improvement.

"I know how to cook pineapple stir fry," she offered bravely on an impulse. Her mother hadn't been terribly domestic either, but she did have her signature dish. Jane had watched her make it a hundred times over the years, sitting in their brightly lit kitchen as a warm evening breeze drifted through the open windows, heavy with the scent of the pepperbushes that clustered about the base of the house. Her mother would chop meat and vegetables into chunks for stir frying, ready to be thrown in a skillet when her father finally came home for a bite to eat before heading back to the observatory. "If you'd like, I can make it."

"If it doesn't involve something that came from a can, a box, or your freezer then I am all for it," he said dryly, and then his frown softened. "It is kind of you to offer."

"It's no problem," Jane assured him, and turned to peruse the market's meager produce offerings. By some small miracle they actually had fresh pineapples that looked passably ripe, and Jane breathed deeply as she hefted each and inspected them, their sweet smell a comfort. Into her basket one went, along with some other vegetables and a bit of pork, until the basket was heavy enough to bow the flimsy plastic handles. Arm aching, she wished for the tenth time she'd just gotten a cart, but they were almost done. She could tough it out until they got to the checkstand.

"If I may," Loki's smooth voice cut into single-minded focus, and she was startled by the soft brush of his fingers as he pulled the loaded container from her grip effortlessly. He gestured with his free hand for her to lead the way, and Jane gave him a quick smile of thanks.

Her steps faltered the tiniest bit as they approached the front of the store where Puente Antiguo's resident busybody Jessica Davenport slumped boredly behind the checkout counter, thumbing idly through the latest celebrity gossip rag and twisting a lock of blonde hair between the scarlet-tipped fingers of her free hand. Of all the employees, why did it have to be the one that would ensure news of Jane's visitor had reached every person by the end of the day? Smothering a sigh, Jane squared her shoulders and marched up to Jessica's counter.

"Hello," Jane said with a tight smile, and Jessica's gaze flicked up from the magazine she'd been reading.

"Jane!" she cried with a warm grin, and shoved the glossy pages aside. "How have you been, sweetheart?" It was impossible to hate Jessica, even if she was everything Jane would never be, because she was simply that friendly to everyone. Loki drew up beside Jane and set their groceries atop the counter carefully, lean forearms cording with the weight. Jessica's perfectly-lined eyes widened as she gave him a once-over and she tossed her mane of carefully curled hair back behind one shoulder. "Well, hello..." she purred at Loki, and Jane saw his lips twitch with amusement. "Who is this?" She turned a mockingly accusatory glare on Jane and put her hands on her hips, lips pursing in a pout. "You've been keeping secrets, haven't you Jane?"

Jane shot a look of helplessness at Loki. "Yes...I mean no. I mean - Jessica, this is Dr...Locke." Jane's hands fluttered about aimlessly as she stumbled through her lies. She'd never been any good at telling them. "He's visiting from...Oxford. To compare theories." It had to be the lamest explanation ever, but fortunately Jessica was paying Jane almost no attention at all. Loki had her hand trapped in his own and was pressing a delicate kiss to the back of it, while Jessica looked as if she was about to melt into a peroxide and Maybelline-stained puddle at his feet.

"A pleasure," he said softly as he met her agog stare, and Jessica honest-to-God giggled. Jane had to keep from rolling her eyes, and began plunking items from the basket onto the small counter. The sharp thunk of a glass jar being set down shook Jessica from her thrall and she pulled her hand away reluctantly, pink still coloring her cheeks.

"Yes," Jessica said hastily and began running items over the scanner, sneaking occasional glances up at Loki. "Are you in town for long, Dr. Locke?"

"Unfortunately, I'm not," he said mournfully, watching with fascination the procession of their groceries from basket, past scanner, and finally to bag. "Just until I've finished helping Jane with this project she's working on." His cultured accent was so out of place in this small town, and Jane could see Jessica practically hang on every word.

"That's a shame." Jessica frowned, and placed the last item into a bag, punching buttons on her register to ring up a total before turning a winning smile on Loki. "There's a little bar in town that's teaching some line dancing tonight. If you're interested in seeing some of the real West."

Jane fumbled in a purse that suddenly seemed cavernous, digging fruitlessly for her wallet and trying to dismiss the horrible images that sprang to mind at the thought of Loki set loose on Puente Antiguo. It would be like a fox in the henhouse - worse than when the Destroyer came. She was too busy trying to scramble for a reason he couldn't go to notice when he pulled a wallet from somewhere on his person and thumbed out a few crisp bills, handing them to Jessica.

"That's very kind of you," he said gently. "But Jane has promised to cook me a specialdinner this evening, and I'm really looking forward to it." Jane looked up at the suggestive tone of his words, one hand still stuffed inside her bag, and her face flamed. OhGod. It would be all over town by dinner that she was dating some foreigner, and she'd never hear the end of it. Loki snagged their bags with one hand and placed the other purposefully at the small of Jane's back, urging her in the direction of the door.

Jessica's mouth dropped open in a crimson display of shock before she recovered. "I see," she drawled, her gaze flickering between Jane's drab thrift-store cardigan and the hand on her back. Jane hadn't thought it possible for her face to get any hotter, but she was sure she'd spontaneously combust at any moment. "Goodbye then, Jane. It was nice to meet you, Dr. Locke."

"Likewise," he tossed over his shoulder at the bemused blonde, and Jane could only wave weakly as he herded her outside.

As they stepped through the sliding doors and away from Jessica's prying gaze, Loki let his hand drop. Did she only imagine reluctance in the slow slide of it across her hip? Still stunned by the whole scene she turned and shaded her eyes against the midday sun to peer up at his face as they trudged across the sticky blacktop. He glanced down at her, his strange ocean eyes sparkling with mischief and a barely suppressed grin hovering about his lips.

"I can't believe you you know what she'll be telling everyone?" Jane shook her head in dismay and pulled the keys from her pocket, stabbing at the button on the fob with an irritated jab. He'd be gone soon, but she'd be left here to deal with the fallout. It was bad enough that she was awkward and a perpetual stranger in this small they'd have new fodder for gossip, and she'd be fending off questions about her visitor for ages. She yanked on the door of the van in a huff and angled herself to climb in, but it stopped after only a few inches.


She looked up to see Loki's hand braced against the door, keeping it from opening. The gap left wasn't large enough for her to wiggle through, and with a swallow she turned. Her nose nearly brushed against his chest, hemmed as she was into the narrow slice left between his body, the door, and the hard panel of the van. This close, the subtle scent of cedar rose from the crisp folds of his shirt and Jane found her eyes fixed on that smooth triangle of skin that peeked out from his open collar.

"Jane," he said again, more insistent this time, and she dragged her gaze upwards to meet his, irritation still simmering just below the surface.

He frowned down at her, lips pursed thoughtfully. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to cause you any hardship. You have been a more than gracious host, and I have repaid you poorly."

A slow breath puffed out between her lips, and she slid her eyes sideways to stare at his long fingers splayed out against the side of the van. How was she supposed to stay angry when he could charm the socks off a snake? It wasn't fair, not at all. Evil should look evil, act evil. It didn't get to carry her groceries and flirt with her, and it certainly didn't get to turn puppy-dog eyes on her when it apologized.

"It's fine," she said reluctantly at last, and he nodded in satisfaction. Pulling her door open the rest of the way he held it for her, leaning against it while she climbed in and shoved the keys into the ignition.

"You do have to admit though, the look on her face was priceless," he said with a sly gleam in his eye, and Jane couldn't quite keep the smile off her face.

"I guess so," she allowed, and her smile grew as she shook her head. "That might be the first time I've ever seen Jessica speechless, actually."

His only answer was unfettered laughter, and Jane's breath caught in her throat at the sight. Had it really been only this morning that she'd been so worried he would never snap out of his funk? Lines fanned out from his eyes, testament that whatever had happened to him lately there had once been a time that Loki had smiled often, and freely. It was the sort of laugh that coaxed others to join in, one that transformed his face, and the joyful spectacle of it was like a punch to her stomach.

Dear God, he was beautiful.

He shut the door and loaded the bags in the back before climbing in beside her, and Jane could only stare straight ahead out the windshield all the long ride back with this new and uncomfortable knowledge sitting strangely beneath her breastbone.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 5 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>