Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters or the original plot of the MCU. This story, such as it is, is not for sale or profit.
AN: The concept for this story is the shameless product of a forty-eight hour Disney movie binge, with a sprinkling of inspiration from Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and Star Trek thrown in for spice. This is basically a work of pure self-satisfaction – in other words, I'm about to embarrass myself irrevocably by displaying the innate goofiness of my imagination. Comments and constructive criticism are always welcome, but don't bother flaming, I am already well aware of what you are probably thinking.
Fair warning: there will be singing.
This story takes place after the events of Thor II: The Dark World, and is non-compliant with anything after that.
"One, two, princes kneel before you
That's what I said now,
Princes; princes who adore you
Just go ahead now...
Marry him? Or marry me?
I'm the one who loves you, baby, can't you see?
I ain't got no future or family tree,
But I know what a princely lover ought to be…"
- Spin Doctors
"This is not a game for me, Jane!" Thor said, gesturing expansively at the space between his position and where Jane stood on the opposite side of the room. His tone was ominous with accusation.
"It isn't a game for me either!" Jane insisted, trying valiantly to hold back tears. This was not going well. Why did he insist on pushing her?
He's the handsome prince, she thought derisively at herself, and I'm the peasant girl he wants to sweep off her feet and carried off into the sunset. That isn't supposed to happen outside of fairytales, but here it is. Happily ever after! What is the matter with me?
Now was not the time to sit down and tally up that list. They'd be here all night.
"I turned my back on my home and gave up my throne to come here!" Thor raged on, ignoring her troubled silence. He turned away and ran his fingers through his golden locks, distressed. "To be with you!"
Jane sucked in a slow breath, gripping her temper with both hands, but she could feel herself bristling. Well, at least the problems were not all hers.
"So you keep reminding me," she replied, gritting her teeth slightly as that now-familiar reminder grated at her with guilt that riled an old, hurtful anger. She somehow resisted reminding him that she had wasted two years of her comparatively very short life waiting for him. They had already been down that road, and while slapping him again might feel really good at the moment, she somehow doubted it would solve anything. "I told you before, this just… isn't the right time… I have to… think…"
"What is there to think about, Jane?" Thor demanded, whirling around to pin her with a glare. Even from across the room, and despite knowing he would never harm her, his anger and sheer physical presence were enough to make her shrink with a thrill of fear. "Have we not had enough time for thinking while we were apart? And it isn't as though this is the first time we have spoken of this. There has been time enough. What are you waiting for?"
"Yeah, time. Lots of time," Jane muttered, wincing internally. She just couldn't help it, could she? It always came out when they fought, her resentment over his long absence.
Thor narrowed his eyes, but didn't say anything. What could he say, after all? He could have found a way to come to her sooner… Jane sighed.
"I'm sorry. I'm not… it's just… with work… and you always taking off with SHIELD… and you stay away for days, even weeks at a time…" Even years at a time… don't say it. Resist. "I'm just trying to concentrate on my research right now and…"
She trailed off as she saw Thor shaking his head. He looked pained and disgusted. He crossed to her and clasped her shoulders gently in his hands.
"It is always the same excuses, be it for small matters or for…" he sighed, as though deeply disappointed in her, "… or for a proposal of marriage," he said, the accusation softened by the quiet, hurt tone of his voice as he crossed to her. Despite his gentle touch, his hands were a heavy weight on her shoulders. "I want to be with you, Jane. I want to marry you. Isn't that what you want?"
"I…" She hesitated, the words stuck in her throat. The way his face fell at her silence made the threatening tears spill over, tracing twin trails down her cheeks. She forced the words past her lips, unable to bear the sight of his pain. "Of course that's what I want," she said, her voice choked, lying through her teeth. "It just… isn't the right time…"
Thor dropped her shoulders as though he'd been burned, and stalked away, still shaking his head.
"I don't understand you anymore, Jane," he said, anger creeping back in. He waved a hand and his armor began to reassemble on his arms and chest. Mjolnir whizzed through the air, smacking into his outstretched hand with a meaty thwack.
"You're… you're going…?" Jane asked, hurt at his dismissal in spite of everything. And under that, disgusted at the sigh of relief she had to suppress.
"I swore that I would return to the Avengers Tower before morning. SHIELD received a transmission from… " He stopped short and shook his head. He was doing that more and more – stopping mid-sentence, as though he had said more than he meant to about SHIELD. About the part of his life that happened when she wasn't around. Keeping things from me. It left Jane cold. But she could hardly complain. "Suffice it to say, there isn't time. Not even for this." He grimaced, his expression bitter. "Perhaps especially not for this. If you won't tell me what truly holds you back, there is no point to me staying here."
"Thor, I just…"
"I hope to see you soon." He paused in the doorway, but didn't turn around. "I love you, Jane. But… I cannot wait forever."
He was gone before she could reply, the door closing quietly behind him. A moment later, the distinctive whoosh of his flight rattled the windows of her London flat.
She stood there staring at the door for long minutes, her conflicted tears turning angry.
"Well why the hell not?!" she finally snarled at the offending surface. Childishly, she snatched an accent pillow off of the nearby sofa and threw it at the door with all her might. It bounced off and tumbled ineffectually to the floor. "You of all people have forever to wait! We're not all so lucky!"
With a huff, she wiped at her eyes and shook her head. She was exhausted. But she didn't want to go to bed yet.
She didn't want to dream yet.
Instead, she left the abused throw pillow on the floor and meandered miserably into the bathroom, stripped off her clothes and turned on the shower as hot as she could stand it. The room was soon sweltering with steam. The burning water felt cleansing in more than just a physical sense, and Jane stood underneath the scalding spray until the heat gave way. She shut the flow off before it could turn icy. She stood there, naked and dripping, staring at the tile, for a long time.
She did love Thor. She did. Or rather… she cared about him. A great deal.
A small part of her was able to admit that she'd spent so long waiting for him that it almost seemed like a waste not to love him – and that maybe she was in love with the idea of him...
No! No she did care. She cared… but that was all. It wasn't… enough. Not enough to overcome… that.
Jane felt her cheeks heat.
Her own mortality wasn't the problem, not really. While it hurt to think of, it was him that would be left behind when she died, not her.
Neither was her work the issue, though the seemingly limitless funds at her disposal now that Stark Industries was sponsoring her research meant that she had enough means to explore her theories as far as she could desire, and it was keeping her busier and busier these days. Even so, she could have taken a day off to tie the knot if she really wanted to. That wasn't what was holding her back either.
Nor was it that Thor had left her waiting without word for two full years, or that he was keeping secrets from her now, though these things weighed heavily on her thoughts, especially now that he'd taken up with SHIELD.
All of it paled in comparison to the real motivation of her hesitation. But she could never tell him the truth. She could barely admit it to herself. He'd think she was insane. Almost as insane as she knew she really must be.
She toweled off, dried her hair, climbed into her favorite pajamas and put on a pot of tea. Some chamomile would soothe her ragged nerves. She stood beside the stove, staring at nothing, working very hard not to think about anything, until the kettle whistled. Moments later, she was curled up on the couch with the steaming cup warming her hands. She turned on the TV and tried to let it numb her mind, but the tears that the shower had washed away kept trying to escape again.
She didn't really see the screen. Instead her eyes drifted down to the coffee table, where a dog-earred copy of Alice in Wonderland lay tempting her to open its pages. Beside it was a stack of old Disney movies she'd dug up out of a box of her childhood things she had in the closet.
The tea was hot and calming. She began to hum quietly to herself.
"A very merry unbirthday to you! Who me? Yes, you! Oh me!" she sang quietly into the rising steam, and it let her smile just a little through the hurt. That song always invaded her head when she drank tea, ever since she was a small child pretending to be an attendee at the Mad Hatter's tea party. "Let's all congratulate us with another cup of tea! A very merry unbirthday to me!"
She had always adored the story, both the book and the film. Her father had read it to her as a child, and she grew to appreciate it more with each passing year. Sometimes she wondered if she had become another Alice, falling through wormholes instead of rabbit holes, and finding herself in worlds just as mad as the Cheshire Cat predicted.
More recently still, as she had yet another reason to be preoccupied with Wonderland …
At length, her eyelids began drooping. She could avoid sleep no longer. And in truth, she didn't want to avoid it. Guilt gnawed at her. But so did the pull of her dreams. The world was bleary with the haze of her physical and emotional exhaustion, and she could already feel herself teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole, ready to plummet into the dark bottomless pit of slumber. The thought was paradoxically exciting, giving her sleepiness a surreal quality, making the room spin slightly.
Not for the first time, she thought to herself that she really must be crazy.
Resigned to her giddy guilt, she turned off the mindlessly chattering TV and climbed into bed. Exhaustion pulled at her eyelids. Through her lashes, her dissolving vision fixed on a vase situated on her window sill. It contained a single red rose that she had purchased from a street vendor that afternoon; she had taken to keeping one there, where she could see it before she slept, and when she woke up each morning.
In the dark, the moonlight gleamed from its supple curves, washing its lines almost white with its silver beams. Red roses painted white… how ridiculous, it's the other way around… she nearly laughed, but she was too sleepy to even sigh. Two more tears leaked, unheeded, from under her lashes. Within minutes the lonely emptiness of her bedroom was lost to the darkness of sleep.
When Jane opened her eyes once more, she was surrounded by green and gold, sunlight and shrubbery. She breathed in a shaking breath at the familiar scene: a formal garden, walled on all four sides with towering hedges. The hedges were dotted with heavy-headed white roses. A few of them, she noted, were stained red, and the sight very nearly made her smile, but only succeeded in bringing more tears to her eyes. White granite flagstones formed paths through the green lawns and topiaries cut into fantastical figures, all intersecting in the middle of the space where a great golden sun dial stood useless - for in spite of the daylight, its needle never cast a shadow to codify time.
Dreams stood outside of time, she supposed. It meant nothing here.
And she was no longer alone.
"You've been crying."
Jane stiffened and turned.
Loki sat cross-legged on the lawn beside the hedge, a deck of playing cards disarrayed in mid-shuffle occupying his hands. His hair was loose around his shoulders, and he wore a green tunic and soft leather trouser – his "home clothes" as he referred to them; what he wore when he wanted to be comfortable. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him in armor. A can of red paint stood half empty nearby, the brush laying where she had discarded it the night before, left to ooze its sticky contents onto the unassuming grass.
White roses painted red… like a mirror reflecting her waking life, the same picture in reverse. I've stepped through the looking glass.
And here's another handsome prince, mirrored, the complete reverse of the other.
At the sight of Loki's coldly beautiful face so open and unguarded with curiosity and reluctantly worried, her eyes softened. He was so familiar to her now; this dead man that haunted her dreams. Her heart skipped in her chest, and then began to pound. Breathless, she tried to speak, to brush off his concern, but it was no use. Tears tracked her cheeks once more, and she looked away.
Loki tossed aside the playing cards and rose, swift and graceful, to cross to her, his brow furrowed with concern and displeasure. He didn't like it when she cried. His hands also had a weight of strength, but they didn't feel like Thor's hands. As they curled around her shoulders, they didn't feel like a burden. He rubbed them, tilting his head trying to catch her eye. When he succeeded, he flashed her a sly, teasing smile that, now that she knew him, never failed to elicit an answering smile from her, no matter how down she was.
"Let me guess," he said, rolling his eyes up in mock thoughtfulness, "Hmm… your dress maker mis-measured your waistline and all your gowns are ruined. No? Very well… a barmaid tipped a pitcher of ale down your back and everyone laughed at you. Not it either? Ah, I know! You ordered that odious sounding "take out" again and now your stomach is sick – ouch!" Loki pretended to cringe in mortal pain as Jane slapped him half-heartedly on the shoulder. "I told you that filth was hazardous to your health. When will you learn to listen to me, Jane?"
Jane huffed out a quiet laugh, even as her chest constricted painfully. How could she hurt so much, and still be smiling? Thor had had this effect on her once… a long time ago. Now, only Loki, here in her dreams, could make her smile through her pain.
As she sniffed back her tears and wiped them away, a nearly overwhelming urge assailed her; she wanted to tell him everything. But she didn't answer him.
Instead, she stepped back, out of his reach, and after a moment, his hands dropped back to his sides, accepting her silence, as she had done for him in the past.
As one they turned and together walked farther into the garden to see what amusement awaited them there tonight; it was always something different, though if what they found didn't suit them, there was always croquet. The mallets were even carved to resemble flamingos. And if all else failed, there were always roses to paint.
All the while as they walked, Loki stayed close by her side, talking animatedly to manipulate her from her sadness, and all the while Jane gratefully let him, refusing to allow herself to dwell on the truth.
It wasn't her mortality that kept her from marrying Thor. There were ways around that, or so she had heard. And it wasn't her work, which had never been better. And it wasn't the secrets Thor kept from her.
It was this secret that she kept from him.
It was this insanity.
Loki, brother of Thor, was dead. She had watched him die in the desert wastelands of an alien world. She knew with certainty that he was gone beyond any reach, in the most final way possible.
But every single night, she dreamed of him.
She knew it was a dream. She knew that Loki was dead. She knew he'd been a ruthless, egomaniacal sociopath in life. She knew she had a wonderful, caring, amazing man - the handsome prince - practically begging her to be his wife. She knew what she should do, and what she had waited for and wanted for those two long years.
None of it had prevented this. And though she didn't know when or how or why it had happened, whether it was miserable luck or madness or some massive character flaw, it was becoming increasingly difficult to deny the truth: She had stepped through the looking glass, and while her lover waited impatiently for her on the other side, her heart was here, in this dreamscape beyond the edge of sleep.
Somehow, despite everything, she had fallen hopelessly in love with a dream of a dead man.
AN: So, cheesy as hell, right? Oh, just you wait… but if you're bored and have nothing better to do, give it a chance. The characters may seem a bit ooc; my defense is that a large part of the story takes place inside a dream, and I'm operating on the theory that in a dream, all your mental and emotional defenses are down; who you are when you're awake might be totally different from who you are when you're asleep, right? Meh, just roll with it…
I actually had about 90% of this story written, and then I lost the flashdrive it was stored on, which caused me to temporarily die inside, mercilessly tarred, feathered and lynched by my muse; I eventually recovered from the hanging, but the feathers won't come off... So anyway, this is a rewrite; even the outline had to be re-written – and this time I'm uploading as I go, dagnabit! I'm also still working on my primary lokane series, so, if by some miracle this story has piqued your interest, please be patient, more will be coming soon!