Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 7 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
To Cleave the Stars

Song of the Chapter: The Walk, by Imogen Heap


The bellow of Thor's voice was nearly loud enough to drown out the succession of slamming doors along the hallway that led towards the All-father's suite of rooms, the cry repeated with every room Thor opened and surveyed. From his great carved seat before the merrily crackling fire of the solar Odin exchanged a weighted glance with Frigga and reached to pour himself another bowlful of mead from a flagon at his elbow.

"It would seem our son has something to discuss with you," she said mildly, settling her needlework frame in her lap and arching a brow at Odin.

He grimaced into his bowl, watching the amber surface of his mead dance as yet another door crashed shut. "It would seem so," he agreed, and met her steady blue gaze with one of his own. "I might suggest retiring for the evening, dear."

The faintest hint of humor curled her generous lips as she bent to tuck her wooden hoop and skeins away in a basket beside her chair. "Odin Borson," she chided softly as she straightened. "Did you not tell him?"

Her husband's continued silence was answer enough, and Frigga's smile grew wider. "I do not envy you this conversation then, my love." After a brief pause to run her fingers through his thick hair and press a kiss atop his head, she strode towards the door that connected the solar to their private rooms and soon was lost to sight.

Odin had time for a few more pensive sips punctuated by the thundering boom of hardwood swinging shut before Thor finally found the right door and surged into the room.

"Father!" he cried and strode forward, long legs eating up the distance between them easily. Thor's hair was disheveled and his breath came in heavy bursts, as if he'd ran a great distance, but Odin couldn't help noticing how much more composed his son was than he ever would have been a year past.

"Thor," Odin rumbled in reply, and gestured in the direction of the empty seat beside him. "Sit. You look as if you could use a drink, my son." He busied himself with pouring a second bowl of mead.

Thor ignored his suggestion and instead circled to stand before the fire, agitation fairly vibrating his frame as he paced a short circuit on the bearskin rug that softened the hard stone floor. He waved away the proffered drink in favor of folding his thick arms over his still heaving chest. "This is no time to be drinking!" Thor's eyes bored intently into Odin's remaining one. "Do you know what Heimdall has told me?"

"Does this have anything to do with your brother?" Odin asked.

"Of course it does." Thor raked impatient fingers through the rumpled strands of his hair and stopped nearly mid-stride to round on Odin. "Do you know where he is, Father? Who he is withI've been asking Heimdall nearly every day if he's seen any sign of Loki, and every day he tells me that Loki has hidden himself from sight. Until today. Something must have happened to make Loki lose his focus, and Heimdall found him." The fingers of Thor's right hand opened and shut, as if they ached to wrap around the handle of Mjolnir, and his voice grew strained. "He is on Midgard, Father. With Jane."

Odin hummed softly in his throat. "And has she been harmed? Many days have passed since we lost track of him."

"Of course not!" Thor burst out. "Do you think I would be nearly this calm if something had happened?"

At Odin's lifted brow Thor had the grace to look sheepish, and with a visible effort stilled his restless feet and hands. He braced one forearm on the heavy mantle mounted above the wide timber lintel, but couldn't keep his fingers from drumming on the polished surface. "If I had known that this would happen, I never would have agreed to your idea," he said heavily.

Odin shifted his weight in the great carved chair and averted his gaze.

"Father..." The word was drawn and slow, suspicion adding its own patina to Thor's voice and narrowing his eyes. His arm fell from the mantle back to his side as he turned towards Odin. "Please tell me you did not know this would happen. Tell me you did not convince me of this scheme knowing full well that Jane Foster would be put in harm's way."

"Who is to say that she is in harm's way?" Odin hedged. "He has been there for days now without incident."

"That is hardly the point, is it?" Accusation heated the words. "I can scarcely believe it, Father. You know what Jane Foster means to me. How could you have even taken the risk?"

Odin shot up from his seat, heedless of the dregs of mead that sloshed across the floor from his overturned bowl. "Because it is mine to take!" he roared, the spark of anger in Thor's voice setting flame to the tinder of his pride. He drew himself up straight, as intimidating and powerful as ever despite his advancing years. "Do you presume to know more than the All-father? Do you know the secrets that are whispered into my ears by the Norns whilst I slumber in the Odinsleep?"

Unhappiness pressed Thor's lips into a thin line, but he backed down. "No." He paused a beat. "I merely wish that I had been made aware of the chain of events you had foreseen. That was unfair of you, Father." Thor broke off to peer sideways at Odin. "Perhaps there is more of you in Loki than any of us would have guessed."

Odin smiled. "Perhaps. But ask yourself this - if you had known the situation as you do now, would you truly have made a different decision? What would you give to have your brother restored to us? The threads of all our lives wind together with that of Jane Foster, this much I am sure of. But before this all is over I fear that you may have to choose, my son." Odin placed a hand on his son's shoulder, felt the muscles taut with tension beneath his hand. The weight of hidden knowledge carved deep lines into his face and compassion melted the hard ice of his eyes. " Which will it be if the Norns pick up their shears? The mortal, or your brother?"

Thor's stricken gaze was all the reply Odin received.

"If we used a toroidal solenoid as the basis of the main structure," Jane tapped at the doughnut structure that glowed softly on her computer screen, her hands gesturing animatedly as she continued. "Then we can place a second solenoid within that, and according to Maxwell's equations -"

"No," Loki broke in with exasperation, bracing on hand atop the chair she sat on to lean over her shoulder and trace the circular shapes with one finger. They'd been hashing out plans for the wormhole generator all morning, and getting nearly nowhere. "These will be far too close together. The slightest influence will cause the 'negative mass', as you call it, to rebel. You cannot take that chance. Why can we not leave more room between the two structures?"

He wasn't so caught up in the discussion to miss the subtle angle she adopted, leaning away from his arm, and he squashed the feeling of frustration that had been building since their kiss the evening prior. He'd thought perhaps that initiating some sort of physical contact between them would break down the barriers Jane had built, but instead it seemed only to have made them even more impassable, with her leaping like a startled deer anytime he got close.

And other than her marching up to him angrily this morning and demanding that he restore the deck of cards to their original state, she hadn't mentioned a thing about the events of last night. Even her getting upset might be preferable to her infuriating ability to ignore him, or lie to herself. Prancing about all morning as if she hadn't been affected in the slightest by their if they hadn't, for the briefest of moments, shared the same impulses.

Maybe he'd just been away from women for far too long and had lost the ability to read them, to remain objective.

Or maybe it was just this one woman who defied expectations.

Either way, it felt like a step taken backwards rather than progress, and his impatience had become a barely caged tiger - one which he swore paced faster with each perfumed hint of violets that wafted up from her hair.

She pushed herself up from the chair and took a few steps away, her unsubtle hint souring his expression. "The distance has to be precise," she bit out, her own frustration clear in the short angry motion of shoving hands through the thick mass of her hair as she paced. "Or else the parallel spring constant will not be negative, and without that the negative mass will be unstable. That is what will keep the substance in place. But I don't...I just can't see how..."

The fit of manic energy ceased suddenly, leaving her wan and listless as she slumped onto the nearby couch. She rubbed tiredly at her eyes with one hand, and Loki felt a certain sense of discomfort at seeing her boundless enthusiasm sapped. If there had been one constant in these past couple weeks of turmoil, it had been Jane's keen fervor.

"I'm more of a mathematician than an engineer," she said tiredly. "Erik was always better at this sort of thing than I. I wish he were here." She shot a glare in his direction, and Loki didn't have to work too hard for the guilty expression he let slide onto his face. He bore the older physicist no ill will, had in fact been rather impressed by his frightful intellect, and the man had proven most useful indeed up until the point he had ultimately ruined everything.

But the pupil outshone the teacher, that much Loki could admit.

"So why not find an engineer?" He circled around the bank of desks and computers to lean one hip against the far end of the couch, arms folding as he stared down at her challengingly. He refused to accept that she would give up now. Would she decide the whole thing was a waste of time, and call to turn him in? Even though he knew the betrayal was coming, the anticipation of it sat heavy like a stone in his gut. There was so much left to do still, with regards to Jane and his machinations, yet he feared he was running out of time. He racked his brain for ideas and came up with the name of the man with the red suit of armor, the one with the glib tongue, the quick mind, and the tower full of mechanisms. "What about Tony Stark?"

Jane snorted. "I can't just call up Tony Stark. He's...well, he's Tony Stark." She said the name almost reverently, and Loki wondered if this man was what passed for royalty on Midgard. He certainly had owned the house for it. "It's not as if you can just look his phone number up on the internet, you know."

Tense minutes passed in silence. Jane stretched out on the sofa with one arm flung over her eyes and Loki pondered their situation, eventually arriving at the only one he could see working, as distasteful as it might be.

"You could ask SHIELD for help," he finally said. "Maybe they would put you in touch with Tony Stark. After all, this project is exactly what they've been supporting you for, isn't it?"

She lifted her arm and peered up at him consideringly, folding her hands across her midsection as her eyes unfocused and she appeared to turn the thought over and over. He could tell from her guarded reaction she was as reluctant to involve SHIELD as he was in this situation...but what other choice did she have?

"It's a thought," she allowed. A gradual light filled her eyes, and she straightened. "I can put together a proposal, email it to Director Fury...maybe he will pass it on to Tony." Zeal restored, Jane leapt from the couch and threw herself back in front of the computer, the keyboard resuming its ever-present clatter.

And he was left to his own devices, again.

He dragged himself over to the nearest overburdened bookshelf, aimlessly perusing the titles. It was childish and petulant to feel resentful of a computer, he told himself. Just further proof of how bored he was here on Midgard, that a mortal woman had become his best source of entertainment. His fingers trailed idly over the mismatched collection. Battered paperback novels were interspersed with heavy leather-bound volumes, their ornately lettered spines glimmering back at him in the bright midday sun that poured through the wide windows. A familiar name on one of them caught his eye, and he pulled the hefty tome from its home on the shelf, opening it to the broad title page.

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare," he read aloud, and glanced over at Jane's profile. "I have heard of this man."

The clacking of keys stopped as she turned towards him, tilting her head curiously. "You have?"

Loki nodded, and thumbed through the gilt-edged pages, enjoying the familiar musty smell of an old book. It seemed some things were the same, regardless of the realm. "In the library on Asgard we had his writings. Odin considered him the equal of any of our skalds."

Jane hummed quietly in assent, silent some moments as she regarded him inscrutably. "Try 'Macbeth'," she suggested dryly.

"I have read that," Loki replied automatically, before pausing to narrow his eyes at her. "Are you mocking me, Jane?"

She merely smiled, an infuriatingly smug little smirk that left him shaking his head in disbelief, and turned back to her work. He replaced the book and continued to read titles, many containing words that meant little to him. He could only assume they were related to her field of study. On the third shelf though he found a pair of books that called to him, with decorative artwork dancing around the cover in patterns he found reminiscent of home.

Pulling the both of them from their places he took up residence on the long sofa, wrapped in its worn supple embrace. It might look frightful, but he could appreciate why she kept it around. He pulled the first book from the pair and opened it, soon losing himself in its contents.

It wasn't until she'd clicked send on her email, some time later, that Jane realized how silent Loki had become. She'd fallen into that focused sense of purpose that overtook her at times, when she easily forgot about the rest of the world and lost track of everything but the tangle of logic she was busily picking apart at that moment. With a bleary glance at the clock on the wall she pushed away from her desk, the wheels of her chair rolling easily on the painted concrete floor. She thought perhaps Loki had disappeared again, to whatever place it was he went sometimes until he grew hungry and returned, like the stray alley-cat fed once but too haughty to stick around properly. She more than half-hoped that was the case...she could use a bit of space at the moment.

Her sleep the night before had been restless, plagued by dreams that had melted beneath the onslaught of morning's light, leaving her with little but the smudges of exhaustion that bruised her eyes. She hadn't needed the elusive dreams though, to tell her what was bothering her.

She'd kissed Loki. And worst still, she had enjoyed it. Thor's own brother...the scourge of Earth, responsible for an unimaginable amount of destruction...and she'd been disappointed when he'd pulled away.

Guilt and shame still curdled her stomach, mixing with the nervous anticipation that fluttered in her belly every time he drew near to create a volatile brew that threatened to boil over at any moment. She'd scarcely been able to eat more than a few bites of her breakfast because of it, had spent her morning agonizing over her course of action as she waited in terror for the door of the spare bedroom to swing open, as if it were a switchblade being waved in her face. Should she confront him? Tell him not to get any ideas, that she was sorry she'd made the gamble in the first place? Throw sanity to the wind and demand to know why he'd left? She had no compass or experiences to guide her here.

So instead she chickened out at the end, and opted for ignoring everything that had happened.

With a sigh Jane rubbed at her blurry vision and stood, only then noticing Loki's dark head in stark contrast with her ivory couch, a thin book held in his long fingers. Whatever he'd found appeared to engross him - a tiny line marred the space between his brows, and he didn't even so much as glance in her direction as she drew nearer. She opened her mouth to ask if he was interested in lunch, and it remained agape in horror when she finally made out the covers of what he was reading. It was her copies of the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, brought back from Norway in a vain attempt to glean some knowledge about Thor and Asgard.

How embarrassing. There was no way Loki would assume it was just coincidence she owned those.

Face heating, she glided past him and headed towards the kitchen. Perhaps if she stuck her head in the fridge, she could wait out her mortification in relative comfort. Thankfully he showed no signs of noticing her, and she bent down to rummage in the back of the refrigerator for a soda.

"Where in the name of the Norns did this drivel come from?"

Loki's disgusted voice came from directly behind her, startling Jane into straightening. Her progress was halted by the cracking of her head against the roof of the fridge compartment, and tears filled her eyes at the sharp pain. Moaning slightly she rubbed one hand gingerly against the sore spot and rounded to glare daggers at Loki.

"Jesus," she grumbled as she shut the door of the refrigerator and set her soda on the counter, popping open the tab with one nail. "Give me some warning before you start popping out of thin air."

He waved off her complaint, instead thrusting the books into her startled grasp. He stabbed one finger at the top copy, and his brows snapped together in a ferocious scowl. "These have names, places, and things that I know. But these events..." He trailed off, then shook his head as if to collect his thoughts and continued. "None of these things have happened. Who would write such falsehoods?"

"They're just stories," Jane shrugged, leaning back against the counter and taking a drink. "Collected by one man, but just...myths and legends. No one knows exactly their source, outside of a shared culture." She frowned pensively at him. "Why does it upset you so much?"

"It's slander!" he cried. "Claiming that I have beasts for children, and with a frost giant? That I have a wife, and spend eternity bound beneath a serpent? That I have forever opposed the Aesir, and will bring about the end of the world with the help of the jotun? It's all nonsense!"

Jane's brow lifted with disbelief. "And when did you ever care what us mortals thought?"

He slitted his eyes at her. "It's the principle of things. Is that the sort of reputation you would like?"

"Well seeing as how you did your best to bring about something pretty damned close to Ragnarok here on Earth, I wouldn't say that the stories are all that far principle."

He gaped at her for some moments, as if struggling to comprehend her audacity. Jane herself wasn't even sure where her belligerence had come from. "How can you imply such things? Everything I have done, here and on Asgard, has been for the greater good of everyone. I prevented a spoiled, childish prince from gaining the All-father's throne and plunging the realms into war. I would have saved humanity from its own inherent flaws, given the chance."

She was flabbergasted by his arrogance. After everything they'd discussed, he still managed to see some version of events where he came out the hero? It was impossible to believe that she'd even momentarily been attracted to him. The coiled tension she'd been wrestling with all morning wormed tendrils into her disbelief, seeking to hitch itself to any sort of outlet. She was enraged all of a sudden - absurdly angry that he wasn't someone she could feel good about caring for. She hated him, for being here instead of Thor. For wringing any scrap of affection from her.

For being the wrong brother.

"Oh yes, you're just the picture of selflessness, aren't you?" she scoffed. "We have a saying, you know - the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But in your case, the good intentions are still just a means to an end. When everything is said and done, it's still all about you. Your needs, your wants. Otherwise you wouldn't be so hung up on other people's opinion of you."

He flinched, and his face went slack with surprise before it hardened. "Don't stand there and presume to know me! You understand nothing about where I come from, or who I am."

"Oh, I know enough. You stomp around with the biggest inferiority complex I've ever seen, constantly playing the victim." Her lips curled with mockery. "Poor Loki, the universe has mistreated you. You grew up in the shadow of your big brother, and everyone lied to you." She knew she was being cruel, and yet seemed powerless to stop herself.

He went bloodless, lips thinning. "How dare you throw that in my face?" he hissed.

"I do dare!" she cut in, a full head of steam propelling her heedlessly past the underlying current of hurt in his words. All the thoughts she'd pondered over the course of her sleepless night came pouring out in an ugly sludge, breaking through the weak spots in the dam of composure she'd tried to maintain. "You're not the only person who ever got a shitty hand dealt to them, you know. But people play the cards they have anyways, because that's part of life. You're so hung up on who you are, when it's what you do that's important. What you do, and the reasons you do it. It's not some accident of birth that determines our worth."

The anger tightening his jaw seemed to drain away, and Loki's piercing eyes turned shrewd. "Are we talking about me or you now, Jane?" He drew closer and she pressed herself back against the counter, as if it could bolster her shaking limbs. She couldn't quite meet his discerning gaze. "Is that how you justify this torch you carry for Thor? That birth is inconsequential, as long as your character is commendable? You would presume to what...deserve to be queen of Asgard? Simply because you are a kind person?" A bitter smirk twisted his mouth, and his voice grew thick with disdain. "I have never heard anything more laughable."

"I don't presume anything, and I don't have to justify it to you!" she cried, cursing the tremble that had found its way into her voice. Of course his presumptions were ridiculous, she knew there was nearly no possible way for her and Thor to be together really - but that didn't mean that in some secret heart of hearts she hadn't fantasized about it. She hated how easily he saw through her, how he could rummage about in the secret places of her soul and pull out, kicking and squalling, those things that should never see the light of day.

"Thor is a good man. I don't know what he was like before he came here, but if you think the only reason I care for him is his status, you're an idiot. The people of Earth love him not because he is a prince, but because he is a hero who placed the needs of others before himself." She pushed ineffectually against his chest as if she could force him back, give herself the space she needed to draw a proper breath again. When that didn't work, she made a weapon of her words, glaring up at him through eyes that had filled with frustrated tears. "That's why you will never be his equal. You'll never care for anyone as much as you do yourself."

He slapped his hands down on the counter, the sound as sharp as gunfire in the silent lab. She was trapped in the cage of his arms as he glared down at her, powerless to do anything but watch as he seemed to struggle for control. The weight of his regard was a tangible thing that tried its hardest to break her beneath it. His breath rasped harshly in and out, stirring a few stray strands of her hair, the only thing that dared to move as the seconds stretched themselves razor-thin. "I should kill you for that," he growled at last through a clenched jaw.

A sad sort of recklessness came over Jane as she rolled on the strength of her guts. "Then why don't you?" she challenged, ready to call his bluff. She lifted her chin imperiously, and that small motion spilled the tears she'd been containing. "Go ahead, and prove that everything I've just said is true."

Those inscrutable jade eyes of his roved her face, following the damp tracks left on her cheek before coming to rest on her lips, brought a mere whisper away from his by her show of bravado. She was suddenly and painfully aware of the fact that her hands still rested on his chest, could feel the steady rise and fall of his breath and the ancient rhythm of his ageless heart beneath her fingertips as it picked up in tempo. A lock of his dark hair fell forward to brush her jaw, one tiny point of contact that she felt as acutely as a fist.

His thumb came up and wiped away the droplet that clung to her cheek, a gentle lingering stroke at odds with the unyielding line of his mouth. "I don't because...perhaps I find you amusing, despite myself," he murmured before his gaze flicked up to meet hers, and Jane struggled to swallow around a throat gone dry at the banked heat she saw there, her own heart stumbling in its paces.

The harsh jangle of her phone ringing broke whatever hold had her frozen in place. With a start Jane snatched her hands back as he stepped away, his arms falling to his sides. The fingers of one hand opened and shut spasmodically before he gestured towards the desk where her cell phone danced, his face becoming a smooth mask once more. "You should probably get that. It might be Director Fury."

With a silent nod she edged past him, reaching for the phone with an unsteady hand. It took her two tries to tap the answer button, and when she put the phone to her ear she prayed her voice came out normally. "Hello?"

"Jane Foster? It's Nick Fury."

The connection was poor as always out here. Nick Fury sounded as if he was speaking to her a room's length away from his phone, and she pressed the speaker to her ear as tightly as she could. "I'm guessing you got my email then, Director?"

"I did, and I think this is brilliant. What I understand of it, that is. I'm forwarding all of this to Tony Stark, and greenlighting whatever funds and material you need to make this happen, Miss Foster. I think this project is of the utmost importance."

A smile broke over Jane's face, and she pressed a hand to her mouth to hold back her laughter of excitement. "Thank you, very much."

Director Fury grunted in acknowledgment of her gratitude. "Look for Tony to contact you sometime in the next few days. If you don't hear from him, let me know and I will try to lean on him...although if there's one thing I know about Tony it's that he does things in his own time."

She nodded furiously, before realizing the futility of the gesture. "I will. Thank you, thank you again," she gushed.

"Goodbye then, Jane," he said brusquely, and before she had a chance to respond the line went dead.

In a daze she set the phone down and turned towards Loki with a grin, the giddy rush of her elation washing away any lingering awkwardness she felt about their odd exchange. "SHIELD thinks it's fantastic. They're sending the project notes to Tony Stark, and giving us whatever we need to complete it." She hadn't been nearly this excited in ages, and it was all she could do to keep from flinging her arms around Loki in a half-mad hug. He'd probably remove one of her hands for even daring. She folded her arms against the urge, and wrestled with the guilt that welled up inside her. He hadn't deserved to be the brunt of her anger with herself.

"I couldn't have gotten this far without you. Thank you," she said, by way of a circuitous apology.

"You're welcome," he said softly as he drew near, hands clasped behind his back. "And congratulations, Jane. I may have had the knowledge, but you've worked hard for this." The smile on his face seemed genuine but brittle, like plaster smoothed over a hole, and try as she might to puzzle it out his expression remained a riddle to her long after he'd walked away.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 7 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>