a/n: IT'S OVER! I'm kinda sad. Took me forever and I'm sorry if this chapter kinda sucks, but hey, it's done, no regrets and stuff only a lot of regrets probably. Anyway, thank you all for your reviews, follows, and favorites. I wouldn't have even gotten past chapter two if it weren't for you guys. Your encouragement has helped ease me back into writing. If you guys want to keep track of me, follow me on tumblr (milksteakff), send me prompts, DON'T LEAVE ME.
In the time she's known Loki - actually known him as a person and not just as a name, or an abstract idea of hate, jealousy, and destruction - Jane has learned a lot. She's learned about how the universe bends and twists, seen how it folds in on itself. She's written papers about how the laws of physics aren't so much laws as strong suggestions. She's interacted with strange and wonderful cultures, on planets where she's the alien. All of it has been incredible and far past the guiltiest, wildest daydreams she ever allowed herself as a child, staring at the night sky. She's a glutton for knowledge. She absorbs facts like other people drink alcohol or do drugs or whatever - she chases it, she begs for it, she craves it.
She has learned so much. She's learned the most about herself.
Jane has learned that maybe, the universe isn't so big. That her part in it is larger than she thinks - in fact, it can be as large as she wants it to be. She's learned that she loves hurtling through space just as she always thought she would, loves how cold the glass of the viewing windows are against her palm, loves how her ears pop and ache as she shoots through the atmosphere. She knows now that if she opens her mind widely enough, she can accept most anything. Her way of thinking is no longer defined by the stiff parameters of Earth science, but by the loose standards and boundaries she sets herself, based on her explorations and experience. She thinks maybe, just maybe, she hasn't just outgrown Earth science, but Earth herself. It's a terrifying thought. Even if he's the reason she's been able to travel across space, she doesn't credit Loki with any of this. He led her to water, but she drank herself.
She doesn't like everything she's learned about herself, though. She can give and receive more pain than she thought she ever could and more than that, she can like it. She can be arrogant and condescending; she can judge where she has no room to. She's figured out how to lie in a way that meshes with the image people have of her. Only because her lifestyle made it a necessity, but as time goes on, there's more and more to lie about. There's always been a small part of her that is capable of spite and grudges, just as there is in everyone. She's surprised herself with how well she's been able to indulge it. Maybe now, she just has more reason to be cruel and less reasons to be forgiving. It's not as if she's that way with everyone. Just him. Jane lets all this be Loki's fault. It could just be the normal changes that come about with the passing of time, but she doesn't think so.
Ten years will barely be a blink of an eye to her, in the scheme of things. She's forty-five now. All her friends on Earth, the friends she steadily finds herself having less and less in common with, all have children and they're all settled down. Jane may be married, but she's tethered to another man by a bond thicker than the one made with the ring on her finger. She definitely isn't settled down. The months she spends with her husband are beautiful and sweet. She still counts the days until the first frost. She's come to realize that maybe she doesn't want beautiful and sweet. It's not the same as it used to be, try as they might to go back to that point where he was her everything. Back then, part of her love was fascination and through time and her expanding perceptions, that fascination - that passion - is gone. It's not that she doesn't love him, because she does, very much. She just loves the stars more.
The other man, she doesn't know what she feels for him. She might love him, too, or she might hate him. She doesn't even try to imagine what he might feel for her. She remembers a conversation they had, in their eighth year.
"You lied to me!"
She jabbed her finger into his chest. Even without armor, it was hard, but it didn't hurt. Something had changed in her. She was stronger.
"I lie to everyone."
"I know. But I-"
"But you thought I wouldn't lie to you?"
She looked away, embarrassed. She had no reply, so he continued.
"I lied to you, I angered you, so you pledge yourself to him?"
He grasped her left hand and lifted it toward his sneering face. The light caught the facets of the diamond before he threw the offending limb away from him, disgusted.
"It wasn't about you. I love him." A confession, a defense, and a wish, all in three words. He laughed. A laugh so bitter that she didn't know how she could stand to have it in his mouth.
"I could love you."
"You don't know how to love. You just hate. It's all you do."
"The line between love and hate is very, very fine, my dear. I should know. I didn't realize I had stepped past it until it was too late."
Of course, she doesn't believe him.
"Then why did you lie to me?"
"You know the Midgardian saying better than I. What is it? We always hurt the ones we love."
And tigers can't change their stripes and leopards can't change their spots. Adages so old and ingrained in her mother culture that she should have seen it coming from a million miles away. And maybe she did. We always hurt the ones we love. But he shouldn't have taken pleasure in it - in hurting. She shouldn't have either.
Things between them have been strained. The winter after her wedding, he had deposited her on the planet she had loved so much in their seventh year, but he had hardly spent time with her and the time they spent together, they fought. They had stayed in separate rooms. Jane hadn't minded. They slept together, once, but she hadn't blamed her body for seeking what it knows and likes. It was always best with them when they couldn't stand each other. Such was the nature of their relationship. The spell, as she understood it, kept him in the same vicinity as her, but they weren't required to speak.
It's the tenth year now, first day of winter. They're on Vanaheim, though in a remote village, one so far away from gentry that they don't know Loki's face. It's a sleepy place along a shoreline, but it's peaceful and beautiful. There's an uneasy silence between them; well, uneasy on her part. As usual, he doesn't seem the least bit ruffled. They wander through the village, where they draw stares he pointedly ignores and she squirms under. He informs her of some bits and pieces of the Vanir culture before he shows her to a cabin and her room - their room, she assumes, since there's just the one. The accommodations are less extravagant than usual, but she doesn't complain.
"I have a bit of business. Amuse yourself for a bit. I will return for dinner."
"I've left a few garments I remember you particularly admiring in the wardrobe. Make yourself presentable."
"Why does it matter? Are we having guests?"
And before she can ask further questions, he leaves her alone.
For a few hours, she wanders along the coastline, watching shirtless fishermen cast their nets over the sides of their tiny boats. It's surreal in its sheer normalcy, disappointing, yet extremely comforting. She could be back on Earth right now, in some impossible part of the world as of yet untouched by cell phones and plasma screens. The only difference is that a net that would take three men to heft on board is easily done by one. When watching the people at work loses its novelty, she attempts sketches of the local flora and fauna, none of which she's ever seen on her home planet. She's no botanist, zoologist, or artist, but it's more for her personal records than for anyone else. It's been far too long since she's felt this at ease in another realm.
Time passes quickly. He didn't specify when dinner would be, nor did she see a clock anywhere, but the sun is beginning to set. Dusting her hands on her jeans, she stands up and returns to their cabin a short walk away. It's still deserted and remains so as she bathes herself in a little outdoor bathroom. Somehow, the small tub within always stays filled and warm, no matter how much water she splashes over herself. She braids her wet hair and combs through the wardrobe before finding the brown dress she wore all those years ago, when she had dared to think she might love him. It's comfortable and pretty, carrying with it a reminder of times either better or worse - she can't rightly tell. She wears it anyway.
The small table in their tiny dining room has already been set and food has been furnished, complete with a cooled bottle of mead dripping with condensation. Some roasted bird sits in the middle; a far cry from the junk food she and Thor live off at home. Her stomach rumbles and the sound makes her jump. She's been sitting in silence for a good, long while. With a shrug to herself, she opens the bottle and pours herself a generous serving.
The door opens just then and Loki enters, smiling that secret smile of his, the one that he paints onto his face for other people's benefit. Usually not hers. She half-expects his "guest" to walk in behind them, but he's alone.
"You could not wait?"
"I figured you'd forgotten me."
"If only I could."
"Where's the guest?"
He seats himself across from her, looking off into the distance, at visions and worlds she still cannot fathom, even with all she's experienced.
"He's on his way. You'll want to finish that mead."
With a raised brow, she polishes off the horn and is filling another when she feels...something. Loki's gaze flicks behind her.
"Jane?" Thor's voice slams into her so hard she drops the horn. She ignores the clatter it makes and the cool alcohol that splashes onto her dress as she spins in her seat.
"Thor...? Is that you?" She half-whispers, her mind struggling to compute the images her eyes are sending.
Thor - or is it just an illusion? - crosses the room in three long strides and pulls her into an embrace. Her arms remain stiff against her sides.
"I promised I would find you." His voice is heavy with emotion - relief, exhaustion, happiness. The happiness hardens.
"Very good. So glad you've joined us, Thor. It only took you a decade."
He releases her and moves in front of her. To protect her, she assumes. Fear climbs through her shock, crawling up her throat and turning her empty stomach. This is it. This is the last stand, either the end of Loki's game or the beginning of another. How dumb was she, not to have thought about this happening sooner or later? One of the few things she and Thor have in common is their stubborn dedication. Her husband is stubbornly dedicated to her. She's half one herself so she knows very well now that gods can die.
"Do you not tire of these schemes, brother? Break this spell and relinquish my wife. Your hatred and spite will consume you and you alone."
"After all I've done, you still call me brother? I've half-destroyed your pet planet, I've absconded your beloved, I am a monster and you still think me kin?"
Loki stands, his chair pulling itself out to accommodate him. The smirk he wears contorts to a manic sneer. Jane has no fucking idea what to do.
"It is not your blood that makes you a monster. It is your actions."
"Oh, very wise, my prince. Really."
"Enough talk. Break this spell or I will break you."
"Simple fool. You think a spell of this magnitude can be waved away? That pathetic ring you wear joins you and her with symbolism; we are joined by magic. For life."
Jane clasps a hand over her mouth. She might be sick. She knew the magic was powerful, but she never imagined - she couldn't imagine - that he was as much a slave to it as she was. She can't see Thor's face and she's glad for it. He's silent for a moment.
"And in death?"
"Would you kill me for her?"
He pulls Mjolnir from his side, testing its weight in his hand.
Her mouth goes dry. She can let this happen or she can prevent this. Does she want to? She hates Loki, she loves him, she loves Thor, she loves herself, and oh, God. Loki smiles at her and she knows he can lie with his face as well as he can with his tongue, but it's a warm smile, the smile he gives her when she laughs, when she kisses him, when he mounts her.
"Why don't we let Jane decide?"
"This is her decision as well. Jane, would you have me dead so you can be free to spend the rest of eternity with your husband?"
Thor turns and suddenly, she is pinned by two sets of blue eyes. She feels dizzy. If she lets Thor kill him, he will hate himself for the rest of his life. She might hate herself, too. If she lets Loki live, she will break Thor's heart and certainly break her own. When she finally opens her mouth to respond, she realizes that there is no circumstance in which Loki does not win.