Thank you. Thank you thank you to all who have come with me on this ride. Please enjoy the epilogue.
Shifting shadows played across her bedspread; the wind from the bay was warm, but carried the scent of rain. Faintly, the waves surged between the dark rocks of the shore. Birds chattered. Jane took a deep breath, inhaling the living jungle. Flowers, wet, rich soil, leaves dripping rain from the morning's shower. She stretched luxuriously under the covers, and opened her eyes.
No alarm clocks. No deadlines. Her eyes opened naturally each day between noon and one, and she could linger under the covers as long as she wanted before getting on with the day.
But today was a special one. She smiled, remembering that, and swung upright.
Thirteen months had passed since that final, chaotic day in the desert. Thirteen months in which Jane had slowly, methodically, put herself back together. The first few weeks had been…difficult. SHIELD, though avoided for a day or two, finally insisted on a full debriefing. That process took several days, during which she seriously considered going to the medic and requesting a prescription for anti-anxiety meds. Nightmares, mild panic attacks, the feeling that she was going to break down and cry at the slightest provocation…Jane couldn't even think of those days without feeling on edge again.
In the end, she declared her independence. Though they'd tried to pressure her into joining their ranks and continuing research on the massive piles of data they'd gleaned from Loki's magic, Skrull weaponry, and the Tesseract's energy, she had refused. SHIELD insisted they keep an eye on her. She refused. She packed her bags and headed for the exit, and they blocked her way.
Well, they would have done if Agent Romanov—Natasha—and Agent Barton—Clint—hadn't made it clear that Jane Foster was not to be stopped.
The way Director Fury had looked…Jane almost laughed aloud in her kitchen, four months, two weeks, and five days later. Shocked didn't even begin to cover it.
The coffee brewed on a timer; the first pot was always ready by the time she woke up. Jane drank her first mug while her bagel was in the toaster. She spread it thickly with onion cream cheese, put it on a plate, topped up her mug, and went outside.
The land dropped off sharply at the back of her little bungalow, but that just helped the view. Her house was too far to the south of Hilo Bay to be worth top dollar, but she liked the privacy. And the view…she could see the entire crescent moon of the ocean trapped by the vivid green arms of the shore. She watched the cruise ships come in every Tuesday. She watched the moon and the stars rise every night. There was even a very steep path leading from the edge of her property down to the rocky shore. She didn't swim there—there was no beach and the waves were treacherous—but she did like knowing she could always touch the water.
Her narrow backyard was wide enough for three things; a picnic table, a lounge chair, and a large whiteboard lying flat on the ground. She settled into the lounge chair and chewed meditatively on her bagel, watching the clouds cast shadows on the waters of the bay.
Hawaii had not been a dart on the map; what with her name being associated with the salvation of Earth, her application to the team of scientists using the observatory on Mauna Loa had been accepted the second it landed in their inbox. The work was hardly groundbreaking; they were merely expanding the current catalogue of visible stars. But it was peaceful; every night Jane returned to chart the patterns of the fifty or so stars that were her responsibility. The observatory's equipment was second to none, and the job came with a comfortable salary and housing stipend.
It wasn't SHIELD. It had nothing to do with destroying the Earth, or contacting other worlds. In Jane's book, that made it perfect.
She had just finished the first half of her bagel when a familiar flash of blue light reflected brilliantly against the whiteboard beside her. She smelled ozone and felt her skin prickle; though the Tesseract energy no longer made her flinch, she would always be able to recognize it.
She set down her coffee and took up the letter. The heavy parchment and wax seal were ridiculously incongruent with her relaxed surroundings. She smiled—as she always did—at the way Thor addressed his letters to her:
As though it could somehow go astray after being specifically sent to her via Tesseract! Although she knew, beyond a doubt, that SHIELD had intercepted at least one of them. They cased her house, she knew her phone was being tapped, and every so often she'd catch sight of a sunglassed man staring a little too intently at her as she made her rounds at the farmer's market. It filled some of her empty hours to think of ridiculous things to say to Darcy or Erik when they spoke, just to imagine Director Fury's face.
She broke the seal and counted the pages. Her brow furrowed. Three made it easily the longest he'd ever sent to her. Jane didn't blame Thor for his natural brevity—after all, she could only talk to him via whiteboard—but she didn't like things out of the ordinary, these days. Still, she only hesitated for a moment before jumping in.
Though Heimdall continues to assure me you are well, you know I would hear that in your own words. That time approaches. The Bifrost is nearly complete and travel between the realms will no longer require exposing the Tesseract's energy. My father will not be at ease until it is safely in Asgard's vaults with the rest of the artifacts kept safe there.
I believe I have reconciled him to the idea of Midgardians seeing Asgard. Though he does not like the plan, he concedes that receiving an ambassadorial visit from Midgard is the least Asgard owes your people. However, I would do without the ambassadors and merely have you, Jane. This is what I fear my father may never accept. My mother does you credit. She knows that without your intervention, both her sons would have gone far further astray than my father likes to admit.
Do not worry. I will make him admit your worth. When the Bifrost has been repaired, one of the first things I shall have to do is evaluate the condition of the other realms. Asgard assumes responsibilities for maintaining stability throughout the universe; I must, as future king, uphold those responsibilities. If Odin will not allow you to come, I will refuse to go.
On the subject of your last question…it is difficult to say. As you must have assumed, he is in the dungeons. If my father has his will, he will be there for the rest of his life. We are not immortal, but four thousand years in prison is a punishment too harsh even for what crimes Loki has committed. Odin will not hear of a reduction to this sentence. Even were I to assume the throne, I could not issue a pardon in this case. There is nothing you could do either.
Loki is hostile to my father, only slightly less so to me, and even refuses to accept what my mother can do to make his incarceration comfortable. If he mentions you, it is not to me. As you requested, I have asked him the questions you have asked me of the anomalies you have been observing, but he says nothing. Perhaps he would say more if he were permitted to write to you, but communication has been strictly forbidden. I would try to sway my father on this matter, but for the difficulties I had in persuading him to allow me to use Tesseract energy to send my own letters to you.
I apologize. After so much time I wish I had more cheer to give. My mother sends her best wishes, and asks that you name a star for her. She joins me in hoping that I will see you soon.
Jane folded the letter and let out a long sigh. Her coffee was stone cold, and a beetle was crawling over her bagel. It was worse than she had been expecting; except for knowing that Frigga approved of her, Thor's words brought her no satisfaction. To know that even though the Bifrost was close to being repaired that she might still be denied a chance to see the stars. To know that Odin thought of her probably as an unworthy intruder at best and a scheming whore at the worst.
So much for her weekend bag, patiently sitting in the corner, packed and waiting for that no-notice-given trip to Asgard.
More bitter than either of those disappointments, however, was the knowledge that Loki was still refusing to speak either of or to her. Since the very first time she'd written a message into space, she'd asked after him. Was he alive? Was he all right? And now that she knew…it seemed like her concern had been wasted. He had nothing to say to her.
For herself, it was a disappointment. To the universe, it might be a catastrophe.
Something was happening. Every researcher in disciplines as far distant as geology and astrophysics had started to notice it. SHIELD, spanning all those disciplines, had spotted it first. Their efforts to contact her had increased a few months ago. They'd sent her emails with the newest data, the newest reports of strange events, of things that didn't belong in the natural order of terrestrial science. At first, she'd dismissed them as a ploy to get her attention, to get her back. But then, she'd noticed it in her own research.
The stars. The ones so far distant from Earth that they were just barely visible with the naked eye. The stars that were her new friends. They were disappearing. And reappearing. And then vanishing again. All the team noticed. Sometimes, great patches of the distant night sky would be gone one night, and back the next. Not too many, not too often, but enough to make people sit up and taken notice.
Hypotheses—ranging from atmospheric interference to equipment failure—flew around the conference table each night. But no matter how plausible any of those theories sounded, Jane, with her constant updates from SHIELD, knew that something else was going on.
It wasn't just the stars. People were disappearing too. SHIELD tracked those. One man had been on a jog in London. He ran along the Thames, then—according to his slightly hysterical account—found himself in a place people by men four feet tall, before he turned and fled in terror back to the jogging path along the river.
Besides the disappearances, there were gravimetric anomalies of all sorts. Places where gravity went haywire, where solid objects lost their mass, where light disappeared as though it had never been. It was uncomfortably like the familiar fabric of their reality was being torn by malicious hands.
Again, not many of these occurrences had happened. Maybe just under fifty had been officially documented. But after alien invasions and gods waging grudge matches on their planet, this many inexplicable events were enough to make any human jumpy.
It just made Jane depressed. After everything…to have barely a year of peace before it all started again? Not that she didn't want to see Thor, but she wanted to do it without the threat of impending doom hanging over their heads. And Loki…she reminded herself. She wanted to see him too. If only to make sure—with her own eyes—that he was all right. The idea of him in prison, stewing in his anger, jealousy, and frustration, was…upsetting.
The nascent love she'd felt for him had not gone away. It was a cold seed in her heart; it wanted to grow, but at this distance from Loki, it couldn't. And yet, it refused to shrink.
Between the irritation of wanting to see people she couldn't, and the impending sense of doom that all this weirdness hung over her, Jane needed to draw all the calming influence from her surroundings that she could. And one way to do that was finish a peaceful breakfast in her beautiful yard. She grabbed a few apple bananas from the bowl on the kitchen counter, and poured yet another mug of coffee, and returned to her lounger.
It was really a beautiful day. The sun was struggling to emerge from behind the curtain of rainclouds but and the smell of rain made the scent of the flowers and leaves growing tangled down the hill that much more potent. She breathed deeply, pulling it all in, and wrapped her hands around the warm mug.
But she'd forgotten. She put down her mug and moved the bananas. It took her a moment to clear off the old message on the whiteboard.
The words "How is Loki" disappeared. Jane stared at the part of the board where his name had been. She missed him more than she wanted to admit, not to anyone—if anyone would even believe her—and especially not to herself. She shook her head. If she ever made it to Asgard, nothing and no one was going to stop her from talking to him. Surely someone must have seen that he had done the right thing on Earth…eventually. Thor agreed that eternity in prison was too harsh a fate. He'd back her up.
In her bold block lettering, she wrote: "Bifrost – Good. Loki – Bad. Re: Odin – I'm ready to go to Asgard the moment you come get me."
She hesitated for a long moment. Thor knew bits and pieces of what she felt about Loki, but it still felt disloyal to add the last line: "I miss you both."
Days passed. Those days, one by one, slowly measured two weeks. Jane catalogued the stars. She spoke with Erik about the craziness happening all around the world. Week to week, more incidents occurred. Erik had a theory about an alignment of the realms that was leading to holes and fractures in space-time, and his data seemed to support it.
He asked her to come to London to help him crunch the numbers and figure out a solution. Darcy asked the same. But while Jane missed them both, she couldn't. The idea of leaving her comfortable corner of the world, of giving up her freedom and risking her sanity, was too much. She told them that she was doing her own research into the matter. She helped them verify the equations Erik had come up with and started theorizing that gravimetric equipment might help stabilize their own world during this convergence.
And she wrote Thor. Thor, who had grown strangely silent. She asked him question after question about the events, begged him to talk to the Aesir scientists who must surely be working on the problem, encouraged him to tell Loki her discoveries and ask for him to confirm them. In two weeks, she didn't hear a word.
She tried not to worry. Just because he wasn't talking didn't mean anything serious had happened. Possibly Bifrost had been repaired and he was now off, as he'd said, saving the other realms. She tried not to think of the dangers on other worlds, or how long it might take to pacify seven different worlds. She took each day as it came, and hung on.
Seventeen days after Thor's last letter, Jane came home in the early hours of the morning. She usually called it quits at the observatory at 3 AM, and it took about two hours to wind her way down the mountain and make it hope. That morning, she stopped at the fish market and bought a filet of mahi-mahi, stopped at the library to drop off three novels, and visited the 24-hour drive through of Walgreen's to refill her prescription.
Pulling into the driveway, she smelled ozone. She left everything in the car—including her keys—and ran through the kitchen and living room straight to the backyard.
There was no letter waiting for her.
I'm marking this story as "complete" but will be doing some edits to it shortly—combining chapters and fixing typos, etc.—but The Branches of Yggdrasil will be posted as a separate story.
I plan to start work on it shortly and post the first chapter at the end of April.