Disclaimer: The characters and original story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe do not belong to me; this story is not for sale or profit.
A/N: So I have fallen head first into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and my new obsession is Loki/Jane. Why must I always give the nerdy heroine to the smart-mouthed villain? It's a sickness – but one we can all enjoy! This is the first Lokane fic I have finished, so yay! *confetti* I told the muse this was supposed to be a one shot, but the precocious little bastard never listens to me (I already have two sequels outlined, and an idea for a third… yeah). So just FYI, this story is completed, I'm merely putting some finishing touches on the other chapters, and updates shall be forthcoming soon.
This story was first inspired by a beautiful piece of fanart by Selene on Tumblr; please visit my profile to find the link to it!
So, without further ado, please enjoy:
Feed the Rain
Don't walk away when the world is burning
Come feed the rain
Because I'm thirsty for your love
Dancing underneath the skies of lust
-Poets of the Fall
The skies over Manhattan rumbled ominously, and Jane felt the first cool raindrop splash against her forehead. Pulling the collar of her jacket closer, she picked up her pace, weaving through the pedestrian traffic, not wishing to get caught in the promised downpour. The weather forecast called for storms all night long.
Thor probably could have done something about it if he'd been there, but he was still in Britain helping with the clean-up and rebuilding efforts; it had only been a few weeks since the Convergence, and with his help Greenwich was already in better shape than Manhattan a full year after its alien attack. Jane would have liked to be there with him, but in the wake of the second alien invasion in as many years, the world's political and scientific leaders had questions, and she and Eric were the ones best equipped to answer them. Since Eric's recent hospitalization made him, in their vaunted opinions, a less than reliable source, she was, somewhat unbelievably, tapped as the world's foremost expert on the Convergence phenomenon.
Tony Stark had hosted the conference of top scientists and global security experts at Stark Tower, which was still in the process of being rebuilt, even though over a year had passed since the Chitauri attack; and it was at least fully functional, whereas the rest of the city seemed held together with scaffolding and duct tape. The New York skyline was still littered with cranes and the jagged thrusts of shattered buildings. Television reports had not done justice to the scale of the destruction.
Jane was just glad that SHIELD had not had their way; she would not have set foot in the Triskelion for all the gold on Asgard; there was just no trusting them, no matter how much Thor talked about them as "allies". Perhaps especially because of that: every time Thor and SHIELD crossed paths, she ended up being manipulated, managed and outright lied to. At least this time she was fairly sure she had escaped their notice unscathed, though she couldn't say she liked the fact that she'd just spent the past two weeks of her life explaining gravitational anomalies and quantum time-space convergence theory to Nick Fury's eye patch. But it had been worth it to meet Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner. The idea that geniuses like these were listening to her, Jane Foster, the former laughing-stock of the scientific community, was beyond her wildest dreams. A petty little part of her wanted badly to call up her ex, Don, shout "so there!" in his ear and hang up on him.
Today had been the last day of the conference; everyone claimed they were up to speed on the pertinent information surrounding the incident (though Steve Rogers had still looked a little cross-eyed by the end of the last session), and Jane's part in it was now done; it was time for all the powers that be to decide what to 'do' about it. Jane found this a rather pointless overreaction, since the threat was already past; she and Thor, along with Eric, Darcy and Ian had already 'done' it all for them.
And Loki… her mind whispered.
Cringing inwardly, Jane drew her collar even closer and picked up her pace. Ever since she'd arrived she'd been struggling not to think of Thor's dead brother. Surrounded on all sides by the city he had destroyed, it was next to impossible.
Scenes from the recent past, many of them tinged with the red and black marbling of the Aether's influence, flashed across her mind. An accented voice keeping a sarcastic running commentary Thor's failings. A strong arm around her middle, hauling her away from a sickeningly realistic illusion of Thor's severed hand. The pressure of a long, lean body pressing her into the ash, sheltering her from the concussive force of the exploding Aether. The bruising pressure of unyielding fingers propelling her out of the blast radius of an implosion grenade. A graying form, shivering and clutching a bleeding wound, sprawled on the blackened plains of an alien world.
Yet whenever she remembered Loki, it was her first glimpse of him that sprang to mind first: his eyes bright with cynical amusement in the midst of a dire crisis; his smirk irreverent and so frustratingly self-assured that she instantly wanted to dislike him; introducing himself oh-so-civilly right before her palm connected painfully with his cheek…
"That was for New York!"
Jane felt an uneasy pang and looked around herself at the burnt out shells of abandoned storefronts, the boarded-up windows, barricades surrounding dangerous craters in the streets. All the rubble had at last been cleared away, but it only served to show just how much of the city had been eaten up by Loki's selfish ambition. If Jane could truly hate Loki, as she had been all set to do at that first meeting, she should feel it right now. It would be so much simpler if she could. It frustrated her that she couldn't.
The trouble was that he wasn't merely some faceless monster to her now, as the news channels and survivor accounts painted him. There was nothing so straightforward about him. Jane had met him, spoken to him, learned that he was a thoroughly irritating, dangerously intelligent and frighteningly unpredictable individual.
And he'd impressed her beyond her ability to ignore.
Her experiences served to convince her that there had to have been more to him than an egomaniacal alien invader with delusions of grandeur and no regard for human life. She had only a hazy memory of her time as the host of the Aether, but once it had been drawn from her, her mind had cleared; she had been in Loki's protection while Thor took on Malekith and the Kursed. He had kept her constantly out of harm's way, made her safety his first priority, protecting her always before himself. She had depended on him to shield her from danger more times than she could reliably count, and he had not wavered in that duty once. His role as her keeper had culminated in her cowering behind a rock like a frightened child while he took on a fully armed squad of Dark Elves all alone with nothing but a pair of knives. It had been… well, 'awe-inspiring' seemed a bit dramatic, but Jane couldn't think of a better way to describe the feeling it had engendered. She had always assumed Loki's only talent was for using tricks and lies to get others to do his dirty work for him; watching him fight, she'd realized her error. When Thor battled, it was his sheer overwhelming power that astounded; watching Loki, it has been his speed and skill that stole her breath. His movements were so fast, fluid and graceful that it was almost more a deadly dance than a fight to the death, until he fell still, his chest heaving, surrounded on all sides by a ring of pale corpses.
It had occurred to her upon reflection, after watching him analyze, coordinate and execute each motion with dizzying timing and precision that his intellect was his greatest asset, ruthless though it was. He had proved that undeniably with his own death. The horror of watching him be impaled on the blade had barely dimmed her amazement at his presence of mind when she watched him activate the implosion grenade on the creature's belt. The brutally efficient mind of a master strategist, still thinking and executing his plans even as he died; even knowing he had used his intelligence to cause so much pain in the past did not diminish her appreciation of his brilliance – or the fact that he'd used it to save Thor and avenge his mother's death.
No, he wasn't someone she could simply put in her 'bad guy' file and write off as 'better off dead'.
Yet somehow, so far removed by time, distance and circumstance, she had let herself forget the magnitude of his crimes.
Now, standing in the midst of the decimated city that had been his chosen battlefield, she knew she really should despise. Even if she couldn't hate him – and what would be the point of hating a dead man? –there was no way to forgive him either. The sheer scale of gratuitous, wanton devastation was beyond the scope of her ability to excuse.
She thought again of him lying on the ground, of Thor cradling his lifeless body, tears streaming down his face… even as she walked broken streets of Manhattan, she wondered if her inability to forgive him made her heartless.
After all, hadn't Thor confessed to starting a war with the Frost Giants that resulted in untold violence, over a single childish insult? Yet she forgave him for that.
Was it Loki's premeditation that she couldn't forgive? But hadn't she already decided that she admired his intellect?
Was it her bias as a human? Did she blame Loki and not Thor, because it was her planet that Loki had attacked? That really would make her heartless.
Where was the line? Jane knew it existed, but she kept chasing it around in circles, and could make no clear sense of its boundaries. The harder she thought, the more the crisp black and white of conventional morality kept running together into watery shades of gray.
She shivered against the cold of the coming rain, and wished Thor was with her. She didn't like thinking about Loki, and it was completely unavoidable here. Things always seemed simpler when Thor was close by. His strong, decisive presence and hard line, almost obstinate moral compass constantly drove away all doubts about herself and others. It was easier to see the world in black and white, perfect wrong and perfect right; perhaps not always accurate, but so much easier.
Sighing at the morose direction of her own thoughts, Jane stopped impulsively at a street vendor's cart to buy a hot dog, glancing up and down the boulevard. Though the shops on this street were themselves largely empty, there were numerous pavilions, stands, stalls and tarps spread out on the sidewalk in front of the broken storefronts, and commerce continued even in the midst of destruction. Jane contemplated a bit of window shopping. She still needed to find a souvenir for Darcy, and she could stand to burn off a little extra mental energy with a pleasant distraction for once. She should be exhausted after a long day, but she had been sleeping extremely well ever since she arrived in New York, probably courtesy of the high quality mattresses in the high quality hotel that Stark was paying for in exchange for her services. That, and she was finally sleeping alone for the first time since Thor returned from Asgard. She loved falling asleep in Thor's arms, but she wasn't used to sharing a bed with anyone, and Thor took up rather a lot of it.
Another drop of rain splashed against her wrist as she passed her money to the vendor and took her hot dog, and she reluctantly thought better of it. Better to get back and enjoy her last night in her fancy hotel room.
Biting into her junk food, she turned to go, when a hand closed on her wrist.
"A curse!" croaked a heavily accented voice.
Jane jumped and turned, to find a little old lady beside her, her bony hand curled around Jane's wrist like a knobby claw. Her rheumy eyes where enormous behind the thick, wide lenses of her glasses, and her white hair was pulled back in a loose bun. She wore a purple knit shawl around her bony shoulders, covering a floral patterned dress with an old-fashioned cut, and around her neck were hung so many necklaces and pendants that Jane was amazed she could support her own head.
"E-Excuse me?" Jane stammered. She tried to pull out of the old woman's grip, but she was surprisingly strong for someone so small and frail-looking.
"You!" the old woman exclaimed. "The gods, they leave mark here!" She waved her other hand in the general direction of Jane's forehead. "Powerful magic. No good! Very bad! You come, I give charm. For to protect."
She started to pull Jane back the way she'd come, and Jane noticed for the first time the nearby cart. It appeared to be pedaling occult wares, like one of those new age shops, loaded down with tarot cards, crystals, incense and various other obscure objects with obscure uses. Jane felt a surge of irritation, and fought not to role her eyes. She'd actually been worried for a second, but apparently this was just another pushy saleswoman accosting pedestrians out of desperation for business.
"Thanks, but I really need to be going… no, I don't really want… look, let go!" Jane rotated her wrist; the old woman's long fingernails scraped at her skin as she twisted out of her grasp. "Come on! I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in buying anything today!"
"No, no! You! A mark! A curse! Protection for you. Come, I show you. Come!"
"No, really, thanks, but I've got to go…"
"Dangerous!" The old woman peered up into her face, her eyes wide and haunted. Something in her expression made Jane's breath catch in her throat. "He is dangerous!"
"Grandmother? What are you doing?"
Jane startled again, and turned to see a younger woman approaching; she was dressed in more modern clothing, but there was an eclectic air about her that matched the cart, and said it belonged to her, or she belonged to it, whichever.
The old crone turned to the woman and started speaking rapidly in a language Jane didn't know. The woman spoke back quietly, the placed a hand on the old woman's shoulder and gently coaxed her in the direction of the bench next to the cart. She turned to Jane with an apologetic smile.
"Forgive her, please," she said; her accent wasn't as thick, but it was there. Jane wished she could place it. "These times have been hard on everyone, and my Grandmother believes it is her duty to help however she can, whether it is wanted or not."
"Um, it's fine," Jane said, shaking her head and smiling reflexively. "No big deal."
She was about to turn to go, when the woman stopped her. Jane noticed her eyes kept drawing up to her forehead, the same area that the old crone had been waving at as she ranted.
"Please, let me…" the woman paused, her eyes flicking again and again up towards Jane's forehead; her kind smile faltered with a worried look. "Let me give you something as compensation for the trouble my Grandmother put you to."
"No, really, that's okay," Jane assured her, wanting now more than ever to get back to her hotel room and shut out the chaos of the city.
"Please, I wouldn't feel right, otherwise." Turning to her cart, she opened up a series of small drawers in the side, sorting through them for something, then turned quickly back and held out her hand. "As a favor to me?"
Jane opened her mouth, closed it, then sighed and tried to smile as she held out her hand to take the offering. Opening her palm, she found it to be a small metal pendant, surprisingly weighty, hung on a black cord. There was a symbol cut into the metal, and otherwise it was bare of embellishment and unremarkable.
"Uh, well, thanks," Jane said, nonplussed, trying to edge away without seeming rude. "I'll, uh… take it…"
"The rune is hagalaz," the woman said. "Wear it for protection." She paused, pursing her lips, then looked Jane hard in the eye. "Wear it when you sleep."
Then she smiled kindly again and turned away to tend to her grandmother. Jane was left to blink away her perplexity in the middle of the crowded sidewalk.
"O…kay…" she muttered under her breath. She shook her head, pocketed the pendant and beat a hasty retreat before the disturbing old woman could notice her again. She munched on her hot dog as she walked trying to let her eyes wander over the outdoor stalls rather than the destruction that surrounded them, and made an effort to forget the strange encounter. She couldn't quite put it out of her mind. Something about the way they had looked at her… It didn't sit right with her. The pit of her stomach was tied in knots by the time she made it back to the hotel, and she didn't think it was from the hot dog.
Without quite meaning to, she walked past the elevators and went straight to the hotel's computer center. There were a few business men occupying some of the cubicles, so Jane moved to the computer in the farthest corner of the room; somehow the idea of people who were doing actual work seeing what she was about to look up was embarrassing.
Nevertheless, she brought up the internet browser, opened the search engine and typed in the "hagalaz". Pulling the pendant out of her pocket, she compared it to the image that appeared on the screen. So far so good. Unsure where to start – this was most emphatically not her area of expertise – she clicked on the first link she found. Here she discovered that it was one of twenty four runic symbols of the Ancient Norse alphabet. She scrolled down to its entry.
Hagalaz: Hail. (precipitation); Meanings: Loss, trials, destruction, change; Uses: Protection from unwanted influences; breaking destructive patterns;
Analysis: Hagalaz represents hail, the ice that falls from the sky. It is often associated with Ragnarok, the end of the world. However, the ending is considered metaphorical rather than literal. In divination, hagalaz represents drastic, sometimes violent change, an ending that brings a new beginning; it drives away safety and complacency, forces us to examine our decisions. It may bring disappointment as well, and realization that our current path is not the one we are meant to follow. Its magical uses include helping one to break negative personal habits, and protection from dangerous external influences. It reveals hidden truths and clears away obscurities to show the real nature of things.
Jane chewed on her lip, unable to put her finger on why this was bothering her so much. It was a weird gift, sure, and she supposed she could see how it could be mean protection, but as she read through the entries, some of the other runes appeared to have qualities more directly related to protection. Yet the woman had searched through her drawers for this rune in particular. Why? It felt… oddly specific.
Her eye caught on a few dark pixels at the bottom of the screen, and she realized there was another line of text under the 'hagalaz' entry. She scrolled down. Her eyebrows shot up as she read:
Associated myths and deities: Ragnarok. Frost Giants. Loki.
Jane didn't believe in coincidences. In her experience, the universe wasn't that sloppy. So her first instinct was to let her mind race, wondering how a strange crone and the woman on the street had known to hand her a symbol associated with Loki, when doubts and questions about Loki had been weighing so heavily on her mind.
Rationality quickly reasserted itself. Even though she'd seen what most would term "magic" with her own eyes, she didn't believe in the occult. And she certainly didn't believe Loki was a god, or that wearing a piece of metal around her neck would protect her from anything. It was all superstition; thinking about it logically, this was the city that Loki had leveled with his invasion force. Of course people here would want some kind protection against him, even if it was merely a false sense of metaphysical security. That made sense. That was all there was to it.
Relief swept through her to have an explanation for the unexplained; it was very nearly enough to subsume the lingering sense of unease that plagued her.
Nevertheless, later that evening, after a more substantial meal and a bit of light reading, her mind winding down towards the promise of that comfortable mattress and the eight hours of uncommonly blissful undisturbed sleep, her eyes fell on the rune pendant lying where she had tossed it carelessly on the dresser. As she pulled on her night gown, an irrational urge stole over her. She picked up the pendant, running her thumb over the mark thoughtfully. She rolled her eyes, put it down and walked away. Then she sighed, turned around and picked it up again. Quickly, before she could think too hard about how idiotic she was being, she pulled it over her head and swept her hair out from beneath the cord. It fell just below the hollow of her neck.
"Can't hurt," she muttered, embarrassed in spite of the fact that there was no one there to see her make a fool of herself.
Avoiding the mirror, she switched off the light and climbed into bed. Her skin tingled, prickling with little chills as her muscles relaxed and unwound against the inviting surface; it was both enticing and oddly unnerving, leaving her strangely energized. For a long moment, she considered rising again, though she didn't know what for. The urge was curiously powerful. But the smooth, crisp slide of fresh sheets against her skin was soothing, and she practically melted into the softness of the mattress and pillows. The metal of the pendant was cool, tingling against her collar bone. She drifted swiftly to sleep as the first fat raindrops of the storm spattered against the window.
A crash of thunder startled Jane awake.
Or something like awake.
Aware would be a better word. Her mind felt wide awake. But her body felt incredibly heavy, and her breathing remained slow and even. In fact… it was so dark in the room, and she was still so muddled from sleep that she couldn't actually tell right away, but… she was pretty sure her eyes were still closed.
Which meant it was extremely strange that she could see the undulating pattern of light on the ceiling, caused by rivulets of water swirling along the window pane in the howling wind, reflecting and refracting the lights of the city far below. She watched it, fascinated, through her closed eyelids.
That's not right…
Maybe she wasn't quite as awake as she first thought.
All she knew for sure was that her heart was pounding. Racing. She felt like there was a weight pressing against her chest. After a moment, she realized that it must be the rune pendant. Had it always been this heavy?
She wanted to look down at it, but she found that she couldn't move. She tried to blink, to lift a hand in front of her face, to turn her head, but her muscles seemed frozen in stone. No matter what she did, her body refused to respond to her commands. A knee-jerk surge of panic jolted through her before she seized hold of it. She was alright, she was breathing, she was fine. Sleep paralysis, her intellect supplied. She had read about it once, years ago; an effect of interrupted REM sleep, causing temporary extreme muscle weakness that mimicked paralysis. The thunder had obviously woken her at an inopportune moment in her sleep cycle. It would pass eventually.
She tried very hard to ignore the fact that that wasn't quite how sleep paralysis worked. Or the fact that it did not even slightly explain how she was seeing with her eyes closed…
As she focused more on her surroundings, she became aware of something she had not noticed before. There was a faint greenish glow coming from somewhere just below her chin. From the icy weight of the pendant.
It's reflecting the lights from the windows…
Except that neither the metal nor the lights were green.
The light pulsed slightly, and she couldn't help but notice that it seemed to trail, like a ribbon of faint green mist, off to her left into the shadows. She would have swallowed hard, if she could make herself do anything as complex and voluntary as swallowing. Instead, she only managed to make a little humming noise of disquiet and shift in her sleep. Her head turned slightly on her pillow, conveniently following the trail of green light. It was so faint that she wasn't sure it was real.
No, of course it wasn't real. This had to be a dream. Or a product of sleep paralysis. Or some trick of the storm. Her mind worked itself into a frenzy of possibilities designed to bring back that wash of relief she'd felt in the computer room earlier that day. They were all perfectly good, rational explanations.
Even so, she wanted badly to be able to shiver in fear. Because now she could see it.
There was someone standing in the shadows by the window.
Jane's whole body crawled with an electrical surge of terror. Someone was in her room. She wanted to scream, to run, to search for a weapon, to at least be able to squeeze her eyes closed in fear to shut out the sight. All she managed was to sigh again in her sleep and feel her fingers curl loosely against the sheets over her abdomen.
It's sleep paralysis! she shouted at herself, her mental voice sounding a little hysterical. It's a common symptom of sleep paralysis to have frightening hallucinations. Like an intruder in the room! They used to call it sleep possession. People thought they saw demons! It's characteristic! Textbook! This is all just a kind of dream!
The trail of greenish non-light ended at the still form, barely more than a silhouette of deeper darkness against the shadows; she thought she could just see the outline of a pair of hands, stretched out in the light from the window, and the green seemed to pool there, pulsing insubstantially.
An eternity seemed to pass, which in reality could have been anything from minutes to hours, but the intruder made no move. After a time, she began to wonder if it was less a case of sleep paralysis, and more a simple case of paranoia letting her imagination carry her away – as though, if she could get up and turn on the light, she would find that what she'd thought was a human figure was in reality just the curtains hanging strangely, or a piece of furniture that caught the light at an angle that made it look alive. But what was that ghostly greenish glow?
I don't believe in ghosts, she reminded herself; but the words sounded small and frightened, seeming to echo inside her head.
A bolt of lightening shattered the night sky.
For barely an instant the room flickered bright as day. Jane's eyes would have widened with disbelief if they weren't still closed. In the flash of light, she had seen the face and form of the man in the shadows.
It's not real…
There was no such thing as ghosts.
It can't be…
But there was a dead man standing in her room.
AN: Well now, what do you think? Is Jane seeing ghosts? Is she trapped in a dream? Or could it be the real deal? Let me know in your review! Comments and critique are also highly appreciated, help me become a better writer!
The runes referenced in this story are based on real runic meanings, but some aspects may be embellished or uniquely interpreted for the purposes of this story.
Once again, this story was inspired by an awesome fan art by Selene on Tumblr, please go take a look, you will be sorry if you miss it!
The title of the story, and the quote at the beginning, are from the hauntingly beautiful and melancholy song, Carnival of Rust, by Poets of the Fall; your homework is to listen to it; it is near the top of my Lokane playlist, the lyrics are perfect, and its kind of like my theme song for this story/soon-to-be-series. Go listen!
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Remember, reviews motivate the muse!