Continuing Tales

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 9 of 19

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To Cleave the Stars

Song of the chapter: Devil's Work, by Miike Snow

They'd scarcely stepped back through the tear in space Loki had opened to the lab when Jane's phone began to ring, jangling relentlessly from atop the table where she'd left it. Jane unwound her arms from about his lean waist and reached for the chirping device, Loki's hands sliding slowly from her shoulders as she did. She still felt unsteady from the rush of traveling back through the wormhole, her fingers trembling ever so slightly when she pressed the phone to her ear.

"Hello?" she answered it breathlessly.

"Dr. Foster!" An unfamiliar voice boomed in her ear, clear as day despite her horrid phone service. With a wince she pulled the speaker away as the caller continued. "Tony Stark. Been calling all morning! You got a minute to chat about this little project of yours?"

"M-Mr. Stark!" Jane stammered, and felt her eyes go wide. "Yes, yes of course. I just stepped in the door, but I can pull up the files on my computer on real quick."

"That's good," he said. "Because..."

From outside came a high-pitched whine like the sound of a jet, and the windows of Jane's lab rattled under a barrage of pebbles and sand, dust whipping into a cloud that blocked any view out the glass. As quickly as it had began, the sound suddenly cut off - leaving Jane's ears buzzing still from the unexpected assault. And then, in the silence that followed, came the absurdly mundane sound of her doorbell ringing.

"I'd hate to have come all this way and found you were at the laundromat," Tony finished in her ear.

Horrified, Jane punched the end-call button on her phone and lifted her head to stare wide-eyed at Loki. "Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit!" Jane whispered hoarsely, rooted to the spot as her brain seemed to chase itself in tiny nonsensical circles. Her place was a wreck, her work disorganized still, and if anyone looked closely enough they'd see all sorts of evidence that she wasn't exactly living here alone.

Chief amongst that the regal Aesir still standing in her kitchen.

Loki simply raised one brow expectantly at her tirade, but that small motion was enough to goad her sluggish limbs into action. Frantically she clutched his arm and tried to pull him towards the wide sliding-glass doors that led out the back of the lab. "You have to get out of here, you have to hide. Tony Stark is here, right now!"

He seemed to share in none of her anxiety, setting his heels against her relentless tugging. "Then you should probably answer the door, Jane. Before he grows concerned."

As if on cue, the doorbell chimed once more.

She dropped his arm as if it had burned her, and turned towards the entry. "How can you be so calm?" she hissed over her shoulder at him, making shooing motions as she approached the door. One hand hovered over the deadbolt as she waited for Loki to do something other than stand there with that infuriating smirk on his face.

"Jane?" Tony's voice was muffled by the thick slab of steel, but she could hear the rising note of concern in it. Gritting her teeth, she threw back the bolt and let the door swing open wide, casting a surreptitious glance over her shoulder a she did. Her shoulders slumped with relief when she saw no sign of Loki.

"Mr. Stark," she said again, by way of greeting, and couldn't keep the enthusiastic grin off her face despite her unease. Tony Stark, in the flesh, on her doorstep. She'd never have believed it in a million years if anyone had told her this would happen. He looked every bit as handsome in real life as he did on TV, what little she could see of him. At the moment he was still encased in the Iron Man suit with just the facemask lifted far enough to expose his face - angular, with a neatly trimmed mustache and beard that drew the eye to his square jaw. His dark eyes were framed by faint lines that pushed his age up a few years higher than Jane had assumed, but they were bright and frighteningly sharp, and they sent a frisson of anxiety skating up her spine. She doubted little escaped this man's notice.

Those red metal fingers waved away her greeting. "Please. Just Tony." He peered over her shoulder, searching what little of the building could be seen from the doorway. "Is this a bad time? Do you have company? I thought I heard voices."

Jane swallowed down the knot of panic that was clawing its way up her throat, and prayed she'd miraculously become a better liar through osmosis. She stepped back and gestured for Tony to enter, shutting the door behind him as he did. "No, no - it's a fine time. I was just, um, yelling at the TV."

Tony glanced meaningfully at the blackened rectangle that hung on the far wall behind her, and Jane felt the slow creep of a blush up her cheeks as she silently cursed her clumsy tongue. Damn it...she was messing this up already.

He seemed content to let her fumbling explanation slide. "In that case, I hope you don't mind if I slip into something a little more comfortable," he said as he strode into the lab proper. At her bemused headshake Tony grinned, and with some unseen signal the layers of his armored suit began to retract. Plates folded and slid together in a complicated jigsaw almost faster than Jane's eyes could follow, until Tony was left kneeling with his gauntleted hands buried in the depths of what looked remarkably like an odd bulky briefcase. With a few last mechanical clicks the gloves peeled themselves away from his fists and the entire contraption whispered shut, inert and lifeless save for the faintly glowing blue circle embedded in the burnished red metal.

"That's much better." Tony straightened and ran one hand through his disheveled hair as he tugged his fitted t-shirt back into place with the other, then thrust his open palm in her direction. "Nice to finally meet the woman who was almost responsible for the destruction of the known world."

"W-what?" Jane sputtered, but took his hand reflexively. His grip was firm as he shook hers vigorously.

"Well, I suppose Selvig gets some of that credit too," he explained, letting her hand drop. "They might have been your theories but he was the one getting his hands dirty, building Loki that giant wormhole of doom over the top of my house. Brilliant stuff though, regardless."

Jane tried her best for a smile, felt it wobble about the edges, and gave up the effort. "Thank you. I think."

Tony turning a slow circle as he surveyed Jane's place. Nervously she followed the track of his eyes, desperately searching for any clues that she might not be alone. Would Tony notice that there were still two places set from breakfast that morning? She bustled over and dumped the plates into her sink unceremoniously.

"Sorry, I, ah...can be a bit of a slob," she laughed nervously, and prayed he'd chalk her agitation up to an acute case of being star-struck. "I don't get a lot of company out here. If I'd know you were coming I'd have cleaned up better."

Her heart flip-flopped as she saw over his shoulder the open doorway of her spare bedroom, framing what was clearly a used bed with tousled sheets. Plates she could explain, but someone sleeping over? Her brain stuttered through a dozen half-baked excuses. She couldn't even claim she'd brought a man home if Tony saw that. What sort of hook-up involved sleeping in separate beds?

And then as if by some miracle, she saw the guest room door glide slowly shut, its handle clicking home with the softest of sounds. Apparently Loki wasn't as absent as he appeared to be. The tension drained from her shoulders, and she turned a brighter smile towards Tony.

"Quite the bachelorette pad you've got here. Very space age." Tony drummed his fingertips atop the hood of her freestanding fireplace as he meandered her living room, taking in the curved concrete walls and the tall windows, lingering over her worn leather couch. "Add a shag carpet and you'd have a nice 'Barbarella meets Weird Science' sort of vibe going. I dig it."

Jane could only follow along behind him, flustered. "I, not quite sure Barbarella is my style."

He eyed her up and down, lips pursed thoughtfully. "No, I suppose not. You're more of a Velma than intergalactic space babe." At Jane's immediate frown, Tony threw his hands up placatingly and shot her a winning smile. "No offense meant. I always thought she was hot. Those freckles, and the knee highs?...Mmm hmm."

Jane raised her brows in disbelief. He'd only been here a total of two minutes and she was already exhausted by his rapid-fire conversation. How was she going to last an entire partnership with this man?

Tony turned away and began fiddling with a table full of equipment, fingers dancing over knobs and rifling through sheaves of paper as he worked his way down towards her desk and the softly glowing computer. "So, lay it on me. Fury said you had something workable, a way to recreate the wormhole without the Tessaract, but you're hung up on the fabrication." He flung himself into her desk chair and rolled it in front of her computer before she could reply, hand hovering over her mouse. "Mind if I take a look?"

Jane felt vaguely like a spectator at a racetrack, rooted in one spot as she waited for the cars to come whizzing back past. She didn't envy whatever sort of woman tried to keep up with a man like Tony Stark. "No, go right ahead. It's all under the file I've still got open on the desktop." Dragging over a spare seat she sat herself at Tony's side and watched as his fingers flew across the keys.

"Jesus, what do they have you using here? DOS?" Distaste curled Tony's lip as his eyes ran rapidly over the models and charts she'd worked up so far. "Remind me to have Pepper send you some new equipment. Culver University must keep the purse-strings so tight you'd swear they were tied to the dean's..." He broke off, glanced over at Jane, and shrugged. "Anyways. We'll get you up to speed. Can't have you embarrassing SHIELD."

She fidgeted anxiously as he clicked through the rest of her files in silence, worrying at the frayed cuff of her flannel shirt. Would he even think the theory possible? She'd had to leave gaps in certain segments of her planning, steps she couldn't simply just handwave away without coming clean about the fact that she had a semi-immortal being prepared to augment the abilities of the device she'd plotted out.

"This is...good," Tony allowed at last, stirring Jane from her musings. He pushed back from the desk and folded his hands across his stomach, pinning Jane with his dark gaze. "Really good. It's raw and untested, and would never hold up to scholarly scrutiny yet - but I've never been a terribly big fan of peer review anyways. You've done more in this one paper to advance particle theory than the last five years of the field combined."

Jane couldn't hold back the grin that broke onto her face. "So do you think you can help?"

Tony nodded absently, patting at his pockets before pulling a small flash drive free triumphantly. "I know I can." Plugging it into a free port on her computer, he began copying her work over to it. As her aging CPU chugged away he spun his chair to face her and leaned forward, resting his elbows atop his thighs as he propped his chin on his hands. "I'm concerned about a few things though, Jane."

The bottom dropped out of her stomach and she struggled to find her voice for some moments. Was this the point at which everything fell down about her? When she did manage to speak, her words still sounded strangled to her ears. "What things?"

"I'm not sure I agree with the method you've devised to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect, for one. And this idea of using a magnetic vortex..." Tony shook his head.

"Well, I admit there's still a few holes to be addressed," Jane scrambled. 'But I'm hoping that with a working prototype here I can try out a few different hypotheses. Once I've been able to recalculate certain variables we can try something on a much more complex scale." She did the mental equivalent of crossing her fingers and prayed to whatever gods might be listening that Tony bought her story.

His stare grew considering, and moments passed as he seemed to mull over the idea. At last Tony shrugged and pulled the fob free of her computer with a sharp tug. "Works for me. It's no skin off my nose to put something together, and if Daddy's given you the credit card then I say we melt plastic." He winked cheekily as he rose, and Jane laughed. "I'll let you know when I've got something together and can get it shipped here. R&D will eat this up."

"Thank you so much, Tony," she gushed as she trailed him back to the compacted suit, stepping back as he toed the case open.

"No problem." His brown eyes crinkled with a grin that fell as he checked his watch. "I hate to run but Pepper roped me into the opera tonight, and if I don't get back to New York in the next half hour tonight's star won't be the only person singing soprano."

He knelt to thrust his hands into the open clamshell of the suit and the entire process reversed itself in rapid succession, with Jane looking on in amazement. She could probably watch that a dozen times and never get tired of the almost organic way the metal moved. When he had all but the facemask in place again she led him to the front door, following him out into the bright desert sun.

The gold of his armor gleamed as he snapped the visor down, blocking his face off from her view. With a mocking touch of his gauntlet to his head reminiscent of a cowboy tipping his hat, he powered up the thrusters of his suit and lifted from the ground in a choking cloud of dust. Jane threw an arm over her watering eyes to shield them, and by the time she'd finished wiping the grime from them Tony was little more than a streak edging over the horizon.

"Good riddance," Loki sniffed, and she spun to find him leaning in the open doorway, arms crossed. "I've met bilgesnipes less irritating than that man."

"Do you two have history?" Jane rolled her eyes and watched as the last spark of the Iron Man's trail faded out before turning back to the lab with a shrug. "I don't know, he has a certain charm."

Loki's brows winged upwards as she tried to edge past him through the doorway. "Really, Jane. I'm starting to question your taste in men."

She snorted. "As if my taste in men is any concern of yours."

In the space between one blink and the next his arm appeared before her, braced against the far side of the doorjamb to block her path. Jane stared up at Loki in a long moment of confusion, his green eyes filling her vision as he bent over her. "It could be," he purred, with a wicked tilt to his lips that did strange things to her knees and tangled the breath in her chest.

What in the hell had gotten into him? Yesterday she was sure she'd been a hairsbreadth from being murdered. Yet again. Then today he took her to visit her parents, gave her a gift of sorts, and now he was flirting? Her head spun from the effort of keeping up with his mercurial moods. Throwing her hands up in disgust she ducked beneath his arm and headed inside. "I'm starting to think there might be some weight to the theory that you're actually insane," she muttered. Loki just chuckled and shut the door behind him as he trailed after her, apparently unfazed by her refusal to dignify his innuendo with a response.

"Talk to me, JARVIS. What did you find out?"

The worst part about the suits, Tony had always thought, was that no matter how much he fiddled with this and tweaked with that - adding baffles and dampeners, different materials to line the interior of his helmets - he always sounded vaguely as if he was speaking inside a tin can. At least to his own ears.

The ground sped below him at dizzying speeds, mountain ranges whipping past before he scarcely had time to name them and lakes flashing silvery like spots in an old film reel. Overlying all of this was the endless stream of data provided him by JARVIS, data his AI was busily trying to analyze.

"I picked up the presence of at least three large organisms via thermal imaging, sir. Displaying images now." JARVIS' crisp tones were as calm and unflappable as ever, in a stark counterpoint to the rising sense of dread that was squeezing Tony's gut.

Rainbow-hued pictures of Jane Foster's lab appeared before his eyes in rapid succession, nearly all showing the clearly defined outline of three humanoid figures, despite Tony having seen no one besides the two of them at Jane's place. "And the data she's been working on?" Thoroughness demanded he ask the question, but Tony knew with sickening surety the answer already.

"As intelligent as Dr. Foster is, I can calculate with what I believe to be reliable accuracy a mere 4.75% probability that she arrived at the conclusions laid out in her work independently. Furthermore, there is a strong corroboration between the formulas she is currently using and the ones worked up by Dr. Erik Selvig in the latter stages of his hypnosis."

"Shit," Tony sighed. "Put me through to Fury, JARVIS."

The phone rang only once before Nick Fury's voice barked over the internal speakers. "Stark. Did you check on Dr. Foster like I asked? What in the hell is going on in New Mexico?"

"Nothing you're going to like, I can guarantee that," he replied. "Long story short - my and Selvig's suspicions were true. She doesn't look the way Barton and Selvig did, all freaky blue corpse eyes and such. But JARVIS backs me up on this - too many leaps of logic for such a short amount of time."

"God damn it all. When are we going to catch a break around here?" Fury growled, and Tony could practically hear him pacing. "We can't sit on this, Tony. I'm putting together a group right now, and getting boots on the ground in New Mexico at first light."

"I know, I know. Be there in twenty," he sighed as he disconnected the call. "JARVIS, change of plans. New destination, SHIELD Central. Then get Pepper on the line, turn in-call volume down to 50%, and put in an order for a few dozen roses to be delivered ASAP."

There was a beat of silence before JARVIS responded. "It's going to be a long night, sir?"

"Yeah," Tony ground his teeth together, and pushed his suit as fast as it would go. "I think it's safe to say that. But least I'm getting out of the opera."

To Cleave the Stars

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Hollywithaneye

Part 9 of 19

<< Previous     Home     Next >>