"When I called Captain Rogers for help, I didn't ask to be abducted!"
Jane twisted in the bucket seat of the cramped cockpit, the zip ties around her wrists and ankles cutting into her skin.
"Yeah, about that," the pilot offered over his shoulder as he maneuvered the jet, "a little Russian spider told us you have super powers now, so we had to treat you all special. No offense."
Super powers, Jane thought. Russian…of course. She ground her teeth. That meant Natasha Romanov knew, which also meant Tony hadn't exactly kept his word to hide Jane's little, red secret.
She'd called him after the explosion, frantic, slightly singed and huddled in the corner of her ruined suite, the biting New York City wind howling through the nonexistent wall of windows. Her call went straight to voicemail once, twice, then five, six times as Friday rapidly explained the metrics pouring in from Tony's suit. He sounded a bit busy with something, likely something very unfriendly, which did nothing to quell Jane's anxiety. Thank God Pepper Potts had given her three things when she first came to Stark to be monitored and, worst case, contained. Mobile numbers for herself, Tony, and Steve Rogers. "For only the most extreme, dire emergencies if you absolutely can't reach me or Tony," Pepper had explained, sounding pleading and very much like a worried parent.
Intergalactic war seemed to fall into the 'extreme, dire emergency' category and a bit outside Pepper's expertise. Jane had dialed Captain America, surprised by the clipped female voice that answered. She screamed odd vowel sounds, run-on sentences, incoherent warnings, and her location somehow, begging the heavy silence on the other end of the line to help her, to get Captain Rogers, to save the planet, the world!
She did not mention Loki.
She did not explain about the remnants of the Reality Stone swirling in her veins, a parting gift from her time on the Dark World. Or why that unwelcome gift was the reason she lived at Stark Tower in quarters originally constructed for Dr. Banner's alter ego. Or how Tony himself took blood samples from her twice daily like Jane was his favorite lab rat. All so a team of international geniuses with airtight non-disclosure agreements could figure out how she was still alive. And thriving. And changing at a cellular level hour to hour.
No. She kept all of that to herself, and eventually, Natasha ordered her to prepare for flight in fifteen minutes.
That felt like weeks ago, but was maybe an hour and a half. Jane stared hard at the back of the pilot's head, hoping he didn't know the extent of her 'condition.'
"Super powers?" she attempted, trying to still the too-loud thumping of her heart. "What are you talking about? Who even are you?"
He twisted his neck to look back at her, forehead puckered above his goggles. "Are you serious? Who am I? You live at Stark HQ, and you don't know the Avengers? Well, when there actually were Avengers." He sighed, more offended than wistful. "Who am I…hmph."
Jane narrowed her eyes and counted backward from twenty to tame the Aether's impatience.
It sensed a threat from this man, despised its host's body being bound but also knowing that the zip ties could disappear in a whisper if it wanted, if it decided to take control of Jane as it had so many times before. But it waited, watching and listening, calculating, coiling like a viper in her capillaries and pulsing adrenaline through her body without permission until Jane's very fingernails itched. She had no clue why it was only now showing warning signs after this bird man broke her out of Stark Tower with nothing more than a 'Steve sent me' and 'sorry' when the zip ties appeared. Then they were barreling out the hole in the wall of her forty first story suite and careening toward the pavement. The Aether thrilled in the freefall, making Jane almost giggle with the residual joy unleashed in her mind, heady like two quick glasses of champagne on an empty stomach. Until metal wings exploded around them, and her captor flew them to a roof several blocks away to board his jet.
She shook her thoughts away. "Stupid thrill-seeker alien lifeforce."
"What was that?" the pilot asked.
She looked up sharply. "Nothing. Sorry. Can I just…Can I at least get your name?"
He sucked in a loud breath. "Sam. Falcon. Whatever you want to call me since you've never even heard of me." Jane could practically taste his bitterness as he stretched out every word. The Aether swiped through her memory for this Sam, this Falcon, but found nothing of interest and returned its focus to the man himself.
"Good. Sam. Thank you. So, where are we going? And when will I get to speak to Captain Rogers? He and Tony really need-"
"I'm gonna stop you right there. First, one question at a time, yeah? And second, I get to not answer if you don't need to know."
Jane's view of the cockpit darkened, and she stretched her neck, bunched and unbunched her shoulders, hoping to banish the tendrils of black she knew were crawling across her eyes. But the Aether wasn't alone in its anger.
Jane inhaled slowly through her nose and pushed it from her mouth in a silent 'o.'
Ten. Nine. Eight.
"Fine. Where are we going?"
She could hear his grin. "Can't tell you."
"How long until we arrive?"
She dug her fingers into the leather seat between her knees.
"Will I get to speak to Captain Rogers as soon as we get to wherever we're going?"
His broad shoulders bounced in a shrug. "Maybe. Depends."
She felt the leather shred under her fingernails. Reveled a little at her own borrowed power. Feared the control slipping from her even as her voice deepened.
"Depends. On. What?"
A soft alarm whined through the cockpit, and Sam glanced back with pursed lips. "Um, you wanna calm down back there, Doctor? You're setting off my bad guy radar."
Jane jerked in her seat, painfully pulling her fingers, one by one, from the holes in the cushion as the swirling red particles in front of her face began to dissipate. She released a shaky breath. Come on, Jane, she thought. Isn't one explosion enough for today? She pressed her palms to her forehead and dragged her bound hands into her hair.
"Sorry, Sam. I'm just…just sorry, okay? Sorry."
He whistled as he turned back to the controls. "Everybody's gettin' upgrades these days."
Not by choice, she thought with a tug to her hair before combing her fingers through the strands. God only knew how she looked after disintegrating her room, not for the first time, with a reactionary burst of the Aether's energy after they saw...
She swallowed thickly, sat straighter, squeezed her eyes shut. What if he… What if Loki...
He is alive, Jane Foster.
The stress melted from her neck, her shoulders. The tight muscles in her cheeks and jaw relaxed as the Aether robbed her of her worry, her torment, her nausea at the memories. So many memories.
"Sam," she whispered. She cleared her throat and pushed determination into her voice. "Please. It's so important that I speak to Captain Rogers immediately. He has to contact Tony Stark to…"
"Not happening," Sam cut her off, a stiff hand raised for emphasis. "Stark's not a good name to say around Steve, so just don't. They're not really speaking." He tried to laugh, but it turned into an ugly scoff. "They're not really anything anymore."
Her worry slammed back into her as Sam's words momentarily distracted the Aether's curiosity. Jane saw it all again behind her eyelids. The vision that tore her from deepest sleep. Sickening purple flames, body parts everywhere, a gaping hole in Thor's chest, and him. Loki.
A fallen angel, crucified and burning in swirls of blue and green, hair limp, eyes squeezed shut, blood streaming down his face, arms and fingers achingly stretched as he screamed her name to the void in a prayer.
She was hyperventilating.
Jane. Stop this.
And she did. Her body, her mind. Everything stopped. Not by choice, but by the Aether's forced calm. It was a bitter, welcome salve to the ache in her chest.
Your prince will not leave you again. He will find you. Just as he always does.
Just as he always does. Jane cleared her mind. Yes. Focus, Jane. And the Aether recognized, warmed, to that focus and released her mind like a slingshot.
Loki had sent a warning. To Earth. To her. He trusted her to gather Earth's warriors. To convince them of the threat. To call them to arms and ready them for the war to end all wars. She had a purpose. She, Jane Foster, had a mission. And if she failed…
She would not fail.
She took quick, limping hops over the short distance to the pilot's seat and knelt in the cramped space to grab Sam's bicep with both bound hands. She caught his eye and held it with the sheer force of her conviction.
"Listen to me, Sam. Carefully. Something is coming. Some one. And I don't know how, but I know, I know, that he will destroy everything that you and I and Captain Rogers and Tony and every single person on this and every other planet, every other world, cares about."
Her fingers flexed and squeezed as her words dripped with the Aether's power. With its anger. With her anger.
"So, I don't give a shit who's not on speaking terms at the moment. We need the strongest we've got, and we need them to get over it, to get over every meaningless, mindless, nothing problem, and get ready to fight. Right. Now. Because, otherwise, we all die. Everyone. Everything. Gone. Do you understand me? Do you?!" Her voice rose, darkened and deepened as her eyes flashed like burning coals. "Because I need you to tell me right now that I'll be speaking to Steve Rogers the second we hit the ground."
The jet banked hard as her grip on Sam's arm warned of a broken bone. He tore out of her reach as she lost her balance.
"Are you crazy?!" He screamed, righting the plane and flexing his arm. The joint popped twice, and he hissed out a few curses. He jerked the nose of the jet up and started to climb, catapulting Jane back to the bucket seat and away from him. Sam crushed a fist against a comm panel. "Nat, do you copy? DO YOU COPY? Assistance needed!"
A crackle of static and then, "Sam, I copy."
The Aether flipped through Jane's mind to investigate the familiar voice over the speaker. The same one that answered Steve Rogers' phone. It accessed the SHIELD database files Jane had memorized while under Avenger protection in Tromso when Loki invaded Earth. Natasha Romanov. Black Widow. Assassin. Lethal. Reformed. The Aether's search was not invasive. Not anymore. It was endlessly curious, sought answers, craved learning. Not so dissimilar to Jane herself. She had adapted fairly well to the oily feel of tentacles slithering though her mind, now even found them warm and familiar. Like an old friend. Maybe even family.
The distraction of the Aether's search for knowledge dimmed Jane's anger. Slightly.
"Sam, hold please," Natasha said, more of an edge to her tone than usual. "Something's wrong in Glasgow. I need to go."
Sam jerked his head to Jane then back to the comm, shaking out his arm as an afterthought.
"Glasgow? What's happening?"
"No time. You're being rerouted. Out."
Jane awkwardly climbed into her seat, exhaustion heavy on her forehead, the skin of her ankles raw and screaming under the pressure of the ties.
"No!" he yelled. "No. You do not get speaking privileges anymore. I don't know the thrilling backstory of the black eyeballs and the big, scary whatever that just was, but you almost ripped off my arm and crashed the plane, so I'm not inclin-"
Piercing feedback sliced through the jet. They both winced.
"Sam, you copy?"
Sam's head fell back, and he groaned for four solid seconds. A deep chuckle answered him from the speakers. Jane felt the Aether swim through her memories again, hunting for recognition of that husky baritone and finding none.
"I'll take that as a yes," the man said. "I'm sending new coordinates and locking in auto pilot. Don't freak out."
"Don't freak out?! You, of all people, come through my comm system after this five foot nothing Thor groupie almost kills us and Nat shuts me down with trouble brewing, and you want to tell me…you actually say to me...don't freak out? Are you serious?!"
The chuckle on the comm grew to a laugh. Almost.
"You're such a baby."
Sam barked out a scathing "I hate you so much" before the comm crackled a final time.