Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 8 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
To Cleave the Stars

Song of the chapter - Pale Horses, by Moby

Figuring that discretion was the better part of valor, Loki had spent most of the day wandering the barren hillsides that rose about Jane's isolated lab, wrapped in his own thoughts. The early summer had cajoled wildflowers from the cacti and bushes that clung to its rocky slopes, startling splashes of yellow and pink that only managed to accentuate the harsh unforgiving landscape. From high up here the building she lived in looked so tiny, alone and insignificant. Much like the woman who lived there.

Which did little to explain why her particular brand of venom had spread so effortlessly through his veins. It couldn't make clear to him why her words had been flechettes that tattered his restraint, made a mockery of his carefully laid plans. He only wished he knew what it was about Jane that caused him to stumble so spectacularly, after thousands of years of twining people about his fingers like so much yarn.

All the time and perspective in the world didn't seem able to answer that question for him.

When the shadows grew long he'd returned to the lab just in time for the evening meal. Dinner had been a tragic affair that still sat uneasily in his belly, stilted and painfully polite. He was coming to hate that false, cordial smile of Jane's - it was like a levee she used to hold back the million thoughts he could see racing through those wide brown eyes of hers.

He ended the evening sitting in his customary spot on the couch, feet up on the low table that sat before it and flipping distractedly through the Eddas again, only half-seeing the words on each page. A fire had been lit to stave off the chill that crept in each evening and it threw warm flickers of light into the dimly lit lab, a cheerful counterpoint to his somber mood.

A mug slid into his peripheral vision, coming to rest near his ankle, and he glanced up when the couch sank beneath Jane's weight as she perched at the opposite end of the cushions. It wasn't the coffee he was used to seeing inside the cup, although it steamed the same. This was lighter in shade, and lacked the bitter smell he'd come to know so well.

He set aside his book and leaned forward, reaching for the drink. "What is this?"

Jane wrapped both hands around her own mug and curled her legs up beside her. "A peace offering," she replied, and nodded towards it. "Just try it."

He lifted the drink to his lips and took a careful sip. It was thicker than coffee and it burst onto his tongue in a startling flood of sweetness and spice, tempered by an underlying bitterness. He took a second, larger drink. "This is very good."

Her timid smile grew wider. "It's Mexican hot chocolate. I swear it's impossible to go back to regular once you've tried it." Jane hesitated, and her smile faded. "I am serious about the peace offering though. I owe you an apology."

Loki set his cup back on the sleek table and dropped his feet to the floor, boots sinking into the deep pile of the rug laid out over the concrete floor. He shook his head emphatically at her declaration, hoping to head her off before she began. He wanted no part in rehashing their scene earlier in the day - neither the argument, or the pendulous moment in which he couldn't discern whether he wanted to kiss her or flay the skin from her bones. At that moment either option would have stopped her mouth and ended the barrage of words he'd felt as acutely as any arrows.

"It is of no consequence. We seem to have a penchant for saying cruel things to each other...perhaps it was simply your turn this time." He gave her a reassuring smile and reached for his discarded book again, only to freeze when Jane leaned across the sofa and laid a hand on his forearm.

"Please, Loki. Hear me out," she pleaded, and when he turned her eyes were wide and earnest. "I've been thinking about a lot of things today. I'd like a chance to say them."

He couldn't bring himself to brush her off when she looked at him like that, no matter how little he looked forward to another discussion. Reluctantly he settled back. "I'm listening."

Jane drew her hand away and wrapped them both around her cup, turning it in her grip as she stared pensively down at the contents, hair falling in a chesnut curtain around her shoulders. "I was horrible to you this morning. It's just...I suppose I have a lot on my mind right now. But that doesn't give me the right to take the moral high ground, or to judge you. You were right, I don't know what your life has really been like. And while I think what you did was wrong, it's not my place to keep rubbing your nose in it." She blew out a breath and spread the fingers of one hand with a rueful twist of her lips. "Not to mention, it was unfair of me to say that you are selfish when here I am...harboring a fugitive because you have something I want.

Her forlorn frown grew even deeper, and she hunched her shoulders unhappily. "I've been a hypocrite. I'm sorry."

Something loosened deep within his chest at her words, a binding he hadn't even known existed until that moment. He had a sudden, unreasonable need to see her eyes clearly, to read for himself what was written there. To see if she was speaking truly or not. He brushed back the veil of hair that hid her face from his sight, the warm strands of it like raw silk that slid through his fingers as he tucked it behind the curve of her ear. Startled by his sudden gesture she glanced up, and the last of the cord that had knotted his breath unraveled at the genuine regret he saw on her face.

He let the ends of her hair slip free of his grasp, watching the way the firelight gilded the strands, and then smiled. "Thank you, Jane."

Hesitantly she smiled back and pulled the other side of her hair behind her ear before ducking her head shyly. "You're welcome," she mumbled.

She seemed in a companionable mood, now that her conscience had been eased. "So then, what is it that you have had on your mind, Jane?" he asked archly, one brow winging upward. Would she come clean and admit her attraction to him? It wasn't as useful to his plans as affection, but lust was a spark he could work with. All it took was the right tinder.

Her eyes slid away from his and she clutched the mug in her hands even tighter, knuckles going as white as the ceramic. "It's nothing, really."

"Come now, it can't be nothing," he chided. "Look at you, you're about to crack that poor handle."

Jane drew in an unsteady breath and set the mug on the coffee table, her restless hands twisting about themselves in her lap like a pale ouroboros. "Tomorrow is my father's birthday."

"Will you be celebrating it with him?" Unbidden, frustration welled up within Loki. With SHIELD and Tony Stark becoming involved in the picture his plans were becoming even dicier. He needed every moment Jane could spare - and if she was off with her family that might mean an entire day wasted.

She swallowed thickly and shook her head, those carefully tucked strands slipping loose once more. "No. He, ah...died ten years ago. In a car wreck." She shot him a brave smile and laughed, but the hollow sound held no mirth. "It's silly, isn't it? That was so long ago. It shouldn't bother me much anymore, and it doesn't usually. But he loved birthdays."

He suspected the answer already to his next question, saw it written in the fragile way she held herself, but he asked it anyway. "And...your mother?"

"Dead as well," Jane whispered, her eyes unfocused as she stared past him into her memory. "When I was twelve."

He found that his own throat had gone dry. "No siblings?"

She only shook her head and huddled further into herself. "No. They had trouble just having me, and then my mom spent years fighting cancer. No time or energy for another baby."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Loki murmured, surprised by the rush of empathy that washed over him. They were both orphans, of a sort...even if her tragedy was not of her own making.

"It really doesn't usually bother me, I swear. It's just that, every year since the accident I've visited him on his birthday. But he's back in Virginia, and I'm here. And plane tickets aren't exactly the sort of expense I think I could justify, spending money so that I can stand about in a graveyard and turn my eyes red." Jane heaved a deep sigh and then stood abruptly, collecting her cooling mug of chocolate from the table. "I'll be fine. It's a stupid tradition anyways, and it's time I got over it."

Loki angled an encouraging smile up at her as she started towards the kitchen. She made it only a few steps before she turned back, half her face hidden in the shadows thrown by the firelight. "I'm sorry to have dumped that on you. Thank you for listening."

He held her gaze a heartbeat longer than was comfortable, until she began to fidget beneath his attention. "I do not mind listening to you, Jane."

With an awkward bob of her head she shuffled away again. He didn't say anything as she rinsed out her mug and bid him a good night, merely nodded absently in reply. The seed of an idea had taken hold in his quick mind, and he was busy plotting a new strand of his web.

He waited impatiently the next morning, drumming his fingers on the small dining table as he heard the alarm blare in her bedroom like a klaxon. The sounds of her shower seemed to go on forever, and it was years too long before she emerged, clean but still bleary-eyed as she always was until after her first cup of coffee had been drained.

With an effort of will he restrained himself until she'd finished her toast and drink, until she no longer resembled an automoton although her eyes were still hollow and red-rimmed. He sprang to his feet with scarcely contained glee, and rounded the table toward her. She glanced up from the article she'd been reading, and suspicion hardened her face as she took in his unbridled excitement and the fact that he was wearing his 'Midgard' clothes. "What are you up to, Loki?"

The grin that had been threatening broke free as he offered her his hand. "Tsk, Jane," he deflected. "You assume I'm always up to no good."

She raised one brow skeptically, but slid her fingers into his grip and allowed herself to be pulled from the seat. "That's because you usually are," she said dryly, but stayed warily at arm's length. "And you still haven't answered my question."

Her hand was soft and delicate in his own, still perfumed from her shower with that violet scent he'd come to associate with Jane. Tugging on it, he urged her closer but she balked. "I'm not about to bite you, woman," he sighed with exasperation. Not that the prospect didn't suddenly appeal to him, the moment he'd voiced it. Would she purr for him again if he buried his nose in that cloud of waves and nipped the tender skin behind her ear? He was half-tempted to find out.

"Unless you ask me to," he added slyly, and chuckled at the rise of pink on her cheeks as she gaped up at him. Sobering he patted her hand gently, stilling her attempts to draw it away. "I thought we might visit your father today."

Comprehension slowly dawned. "You can take me there?" At his nod, he saw the wheels beginning to whir in her mind. "Through a wormhole?'s never been done before, has it? What if the methods you use are incompatible with human physiology? We need more data, clinical trials and procedures in place -"

"Jane," he interrupted, wading into her stream of protests. When she continued to rattle on, he put a hand to her chin and tilted her gaze up to meet his. "Jane."

She sputtered to a stop, eyes gone huge in her face. He could see the discordant mix bubbling within them, equal parts elation and terror. "Do you trust me?"

Long seconds ticked by as he waited for her answer. For some unfathomable reason he felt raw and exposed beneath her searching gaze, her answer suddenly impossibly important. At her eventual nod, he let out a breath he hadn't even been aware of holding and smiled down at her. "You should." He gathered her close, her tiny figure fitting perfectly into the circle of his arms, and a hint of his old swagger crept into his grin. "I am a god, after all."

She laughed at that despite herself and pressed tighter to his chest, eyes screwing resolutely shut like a woman on her way to the executioner. He could feel the frantic pace of her heart through the layers of both their clothing as it tripped over itself. "Ok then. I'm ready."

"Picture your father's grave in your mind. Clutch it tightly, like a photograph - with every detail you can recall. And then...hold your breath." He let the thread of his magic spool out, wove it into a net that he spread wide to catch her thoughts. Given an anchor, the line of it snapped taught into a string to guide him through the dark pathways between time. He pulled aside the veil of the world, laid one hand on that metaphorical lifeline, and hurled the both of them into the frigid spaces between realms.

The gap he'd opened dropped them into a sunny field, with manicured grass rolling in every direction like a living carpet beneath the cloudless dome of the sky. Jane clung to his waist a moment longer, her breath gasping in and out in a noisy rush. Had he miscalculated after all? Was the nothingness between worlds anathema to humans? Concern clouded his brow, but before he could inquire after her health she leapt from his arms and let out a whoop of exultation.

"That. Was. Amazing!" she panted, beaming up at him, and he couldn't keep the answering grin off his face. "I can't believe that just happened. I can'tbelieve I just traveled through spacetime." She placed both hands on her head, as if she could hold in her excitement, and took a few tottering steps before turning back to him. "That was're incredible. Thank you, Loki."

He was inordinately pleased by her reaction. It was better than he'd even dared hope for, when the idea of this had first occurred to him. "You are most welcome," he preened.

Her good humor bled quickly away though as she came to a stop before a humble stone set flush with the ground. She crouched beside it, and began picking absently at the grass that encroached on the borders of the marble square. Loki drew closer and saw there were words etched into the polished surface, easily read over Jane's shoulder. The top of the broad stone simply said 'Foster', and below that were two names and a series of dates ending ten and sixteen years before, respectively - James Stanley and Elizabeth Jane.

"Hello, Dad. Mom," she said quietly, and he had to turn away from the raw grief that etched deep lines on her face.

He wandered off a ways to give her some privacy, picking a path between the even rows of stones that marched lockstep across the gentle hills. Every so often the smooth line was broken by tall carved stones, reaching like broken teeth from a crone's mouth. Loki found the effect unsettling, and wondered what the fascination was with stuffing loved ones in the heartless ground. At least a pyre embraced you back - the earth could care less whether you were there or not.

The air here was far more humid than that of New Mexico, and oppressively hot - like being swaddled in a damp blanket. He was glad he'd exchanged his thick Asgardian clothes for the thinner shirt and trousers of this realm. As it was, he found himself heading for the shade of a lone oak tree that stood in vigilance over the endless fields. Jane's slight figure was out of earshot, but he could still see her kneeling at the base of the stone, her hands busily neatening the edges as her mouth moved ceaselessly. He wondered what it was she spoke of, and if she truly expected any answer from those silent bones.

He slid to a seat and leaned his head back against the rough bark of the oak, eyes lulled closed by the heat and the ceaseless drone of insects in the branches above when he heard her approach at last. She flopped down beside him with a sigh, stretching her legs out alongside his across the cool grass. Wisps of hair had curled around her forehead, dampened by the humidity and the faint sheen of sweat that clung to her skin. "I always forget how hot it can be here," she said ruefully, rolling her head towards him. "I complain about New Mexico sometimes, but at least it's a dry heat."

He wondered how many tears she'd had to cry, to turn her eyes so red. "Did you have a good visit?"

She nodded, plucking a stray sprig of clover to twirl between her fingers. "I did."

A mellow quiet fell between them, both simply enjoying the breeze and dappled sunlight that danced across them as the leaves of the oak shivered. Loki had nearly drifted off again when Jane's voice broke the silence.

"You're lucky, you know."

He lifted one eyelid lazily and arched an incredulous brow at her, wondering what sort of nonsense she could be spouting. "I am?" He snorted delicately. "I fail to see how you arrive at that conclusion."

She twisted a handful of grass and peered up at him. "You still have family. That's more than some people can say."

He narrowed his eyes at her, reining back his initial scathing response. He'd worked too hard to set up this day for them to ruin it with another spat. "They are dead to me," he bit out, and folded his arms across his chest. "As I am dead to them. It is little different from being orphaned." In his hand he could still feel the phantom shape of a dagger, the sudden give as armor and skin parted beneath it.

The look of horror and betrayal that had filled Thor's eyes...but worst of all, the sorrow.

Bitterness coated his tongue, and he swallowed against the acrid taste of it. He'd done things in the name of ambition that he could never take back. Burned bridges that could never be rebuilt.

Sacrificed too much on the altar of his madness.

"I don't believe that," Jane said softly, but a thread of steel ran through her words. "If they had turned their backs on you, why did Thor go to so much trouble to take you back to Asgard? They could have left you here, to be executed by SHIELD."

The earnestness in her eyes was like a stiletto beneath his ribs and he looked resolutely away, but it didn't stop her from continuing. The hand she laid on his shoulder burned like a brand, and he wanted to squirm away from the uncomfortable truths she continued to lay out. "When I found you, you were barely alive. I don't believe that was all from your fall - Thor wasn't nearly so hurt when he arrived the first time. If you were still that injured from fighting with the did you escape?"

Her question hung in the air, daring him to pick apart the words and decipher the answer for himself. But he couldn't. The truth was too harsh a light, and if he gave over that shadow to examination there would be nowhere left to hide. He pressed his lips against the urge to answer, against the sounds that would shatter what shields he still had left.

"As usual, you know not of what you speak," he ground out, but the words were without rancor. There was no anger left in him at the moment, only the hollow spaces between his bones where it had once lived, gnawing on his marrow for fuel. "You are determined to make a hero of Thor."

"Maybe." Jane's small forlorn smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "But I believe he hasn't given up on you as thoroughly as you'd like."

The profile she turned to him was shattered and reformed countless times by the play of shadows and light as branches waved overhead. Words of denial rose, but none seemed to emerge whole past the gauntlet of fragmented misconceptions that clogged his throat. They both lapsed into a silence that was crowded with unspoken words.

Jane stirred first, brushing fingertips stained green against the worn denim of her jeans. "We should probably head home. I've still got a lot of work to do before Tony Stark calls." Her eyes fixed on the distant square of her parent's headstone, and her gaze grew wistful. "I wish I'd brought some flowers to leave."

A simple enough request, he supposed.

Loki pressed his palms together in his lap, plucked at the strings of his magic, and spread his hands to reveal a cluster of dark blossoms. They arced in graceful sprays of huge deep-throated bells, nearly black in the shade although he knew they'd shine with a purple lustre in the sunlight. In the hollow of their necks they faded to a creamy white, secret pale hearts you could only see from the right angle. Perfume wafted from them in the breeze, thick and just shy of cloying, musky in a way no Midgard flower ever was. He held them out to Jane, and she reached for them hesitantly. "They're real. Not an illusion," he said with a wry smile.

A look of wonder stole onto her face. "What are these?" she breathed.

"They are...minna. It means 'to remind'. I do not know what flowers you put on graves, we have none in Asgard. On the rare occasion death happens we light pyres and send our dead off in glory. But these are the flowers we give to loved ones. To those who have left us with happy memories." He shrugged, looked away from her incredulous gaze, and told himself it mattered not if she accepted his gift. "They seemed appropriate for your parents."

At last she took the flowers from him, clutching the woody stems and burying her nose in their depths. "They're lovely. And perfect." Without warning, she flung her arms about his shoulders, mindful of the bouquet and yet still with surprising enthusiasm. He flinched at the sudden motion, his hands coming up reflexively to block her before his shock melted into something much warmer, something that had him splaying his fingers tightly against her back.

"Thank you. For everything today," she murmured, and the whisper of her breath curled about the shell of his ear, sent delicate fingers of heat tracing down his spine. Before he could do little more than nod she had scrambled to her feet and taken off towards her parent's grave to place the blooms reverently at the base of the stone, leaving his arms feeling strangely empty.

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 8 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>