At The Beginning
Pairing: Loki/Jane, Fandral/Darcy
Warnings: Discussion of physical injuries, dystopia and death.
Chapter Playlist: 'Deep Shadow' by TTL and 'Sons of Odin' from 'Thor'
Disclaimer: I do not own Thor, any Marvel characters or plot devices used herein.
We were strangers starting out on our journey
Never dreaming what we'd have to go through
Now here we are and I'm suddenly standing
At the beginning with you
No one told me I was going to find you
Unexpected what you did to my heart
When I lost hope you were there to remind me
This is the start
-Donna Lewis and Richard Marx
He smiled as he stood in the shadows of the pillar, looking out at the sun drenched garden courtyard where three women, and six children, laughed in the golden warmth.
With a chuckle he watched as one, a tall, dark-haired lad conjured a small, harmless hissing serpent, making the others shriek and flee, even as the two boys in the group doubled over laughing.
Like father, like son.
His eyes raised to the great marble monolith which stood at the opposite end of the gardens, and sighed as a jolt of sadness washed through him.
As his eyes fell on the diminutive yet radiant figure of his wife, her hair streaming in the fresh sea breeze, he felt that sadness lift.
How long ago it all felt, since their journey started. At the beginning…
The night was peaceful, the stars and nebulas of the skies of Asgard wheeling overhead with little thought to the travails and trials of the mighty people who lived below their eternal light.
The night was deceiving.
The flickering torches threw long, dark shadows bearing long spears in their gauntleted hands, as a figure swathed in emerald green, the light flashing across his gold and silver armour, walked purposefully down the hallway.
He didn't pause before the towering doors which shone with a golden sheen, as they opened soundlessly before him.
Within, he could hear raised voices arguing back and forth, as if trading blows of a more physical kind, as he swept in, his emerald cloak flying behind him.
Inside the great hall, at the far end, sat a wide, golden throne, shining in the cool night, its arms extending outwards like wings about to take flight, or arms held out to embrace.
He had always thought of the royal throne of Asgard as the latter.
But as his gaze fell on the leonine man sitting atop their father's throne, he could not restrain a wry grin.
Somehow he doubted Thor would embrace anyone, any time soon.
The King's expression was murderous, as he sat, wreathed in his shining silver armour and crimson cloak, his winged helmet set to one side, Mjolnir gripped in one paw like hand.
He was flanked by two of the elite Royal Guard, their armour almost outshining their King's, the horns of their gleaming helmets standing proudly aloft.
Beside the King sat his wife and Queen, Sif. Her long raven hair was unbound, tumbling down her shoulders in graceful waves, but her dark eyes were the fell, calculating eyes of the warrior. Her lithe body was clad in the same shining armour as her husband, but a soft crimson robe, sleeveless and embroidered with gold, was draped across her shoulders, its skirts sweeping the floor around her feet.
To the side, he glimpsed the Three, resplendent in their full armour. He exchanged a cordial nod with the Warriors Three, before raising his eyes to the King.
"My King," he bowed his head, one fist held to his chest, over his heart in a gesture of fealty.
The King stood from his throne, a slight smile cracking his brooding exterior, as he laid Mjolnir down on his seat.
"Rise, brother," he commanded. "You know you do not have to bow to me."
Loki smirked, as he straightened, looking his brother in the eye. "You know you love it, brother mine," he teased, as Thor merely chuckled. He couldn't deny it.
It had been a year since Thor took the throne after Odin, their father and King of Asgard, stood down. Just two days after the coronation, Odin had fallen into the Odinsleep, leaving Thor to rule alone.
Well, not entirely alone.
Loki looked down on the ailing figure lying in his father's bed. He barely recognised him as the All-Father, the most powerful being in the Nine Realms.
And his father.
Muninn and Huginn cawed mournfully from their perches as Loki took his father's hand. On the other side of the bed sat Frigg, her flaxen hair tumbling unbound down her shoulders, dark shadows beneath her still youthful eyes.
"You know," Odin began weakly, the Odinsleep becoming harder to fight off with each passing moment. "Thor will need you, Loki. Help him to rule well, in my absence."
"I will, Father. I swear it," Loki replied, bending down on one knee. Odin smiled slightly, his one good eye lingering on his second son.
"Make me proud, my son," he rasped, before his eye closed and his hand slackened in Loki's grip. Loki looked to his mother, before pressing a kiss to his father's hand and laying it reverently by his side on the bearskin covers.
"Sleep well, father," he murmured, before he turned away and left the chamber behind.
Loki had every intention of fulfilling his father's request. He knew Thor was not ready to be King; the man's main answer to things which vexed or upset him was to smash it out of existence with Mjolnir. Oh, certainly he was brave and strong, but was that all Asgard required of her King?
Odin must have known it, otherwise he would not have charged Loki to play adviser to his brother, but…why crown him King in the first place, if so?
Odin must have found something lacking in Loki himself, if so. Before the coronation, Loki had considered finding some way to disrupt it, surreptitiously. But he had faith in Thor, and he hoped….oh stars above, he hoped his brother would mature into a wise ruler.
Perhaps he would, with Loki's help.
The memory of Odin's request ran through his mind, as Loki stood before the throne of Asgard, looking up at his brother as he paced the dais.
He knew what troubled his powerful brother. Not a day before, the Asbru Gate was attacked by a combination of Frost Giants and monstrous shape shifters called Skrull, from another Realm.
Heimdall and the warriors of Asgard were able to repel the invaders, but serious questions remained. How did they enter Asgard, undetected, until they commenced their attack on the Asbru Gate?
And if Loki knew his brother, he would want to go charging into Jotunheim, to punish Laufey for this apparent betrayal of the peace treaty between their races.
Loki had no love for the Frost Giants, but he sensed something else, beneath the surface of the attack, something far more troubling. The Frost Giants possessed no power to travel between the Realms without the use of the Casket of Ancient Winters, and that remained locked up, deep in the weapons vault below the throne room of Asgard.
So how had they found their way into Asgard?
Not by any technology or method of the Skrulls. No, it had to come from something else. Or someone else.
Loki was one of the few who know of hidden pathways between the Realms, and he knew how to cloak himself from Heimdall's sight. It was not common knowledge and required far greater power than even the average Asgardian sorcerer possessed.
Loki was jolted from his contemplations when Thor turned back to him, almost beseechingly, sending him back to their childhood, when Thor would beg him to aid him whatever nefarious, and parentally unsanctioned, scheme he concocted.
Loki went along with them simply to ensure Thor was still alive by the end of them. He had been his brother's protector far longer, and far more effectively, than many realised.
"Brother, you would agree with me? Wouldn't you?" he asked him, ignoring the exasperated sighs of Sif and the Warriors Three either side of his throne. "We must answer this attack on our sovereignty, and declare war on Jotunheim now!"
Loki inhaled deeply, choosing his words with care. The last thing they needed was war, and the last thing he needed was for Thor to have a tantrum.
"I'm afraid, brother mine, that there is something far more worrying about this than the breaking of the truce between Laufey and us," he began. "The Jotunns infiltrated our borders, yes, but they did so in an alliance with the Skrull, and with methods of travel we have yet to divine."
"Argh!" Thor growled. "You sound as bad as them."
Loki ignored the impatient gesture to their friends behind him, and dug deep for patience. "Thor, listen to me," he stepped forward, a persuasive tone slipping into his voice. "There is more to this than simply declaring war on Jotunheim, especially as I sense that the source of this attack does not come from there."
Thor turned on him, frowning thunderously. "What do you mean? Of course the Frost Giants came from Jotunheim!"
"But think!" Loki snapped. "The Skrull in league with Jotunheim? Sneaking in under Heimdall's watch? And in such numbers? And note that there were greater numbers of Skrull than there were Jotunns."
Thor's fist clenched and unclenched around the handle of Mjolnir, before he huffed and took his seat.
"So what do you suggest, Loki?" he asked.
"We have met Skrull in battle before, brother," the prince replied. "As well as Jotunns. Today, they fought with a purpose and a discipline which was more akin to being controlled than by doing so of their own free will. And we must not forget the question of how they arrived here, in Asgard. I fear there is another power controlling the Skrull and the Jotunns, and it seeks our demise."
Sif's dark eyes flicked to the prince, and narrowed. "What have you sensed, Loki?" she asked as her gaze pierced him. Loki's eyes flicked to hers, and then back to Thor's, his face unreadable.
"I went down to the Asbru Gate, and consulted with Heimdall. Whatever power controlled the Skrull and the Jotunns, it was shielded from his gaze," he explained. "However, I could sense something of its magical echo, left behind by the creatures it controlled."
"And what did you sense?" Thor asked, more seriously now. He loved to tease his brother about his mastery of magic, but he knew better than to doubt it.
"The power which controls them was stronger than anything I have felt in a long time. It was…dark and malevolent, driven by hatred and rage," Loki breathed, remembering the sickening waves of nausea his magical probing had induced. "It could even have rivalled the All-Father's power."
"Impossible!" Sif breathed, but Thor just shook his head, smiling ruefully.
"Then it was perhaps a good thing this…presence has yet to encounter you, brother," he remarked, one brow raised. Loki eyed him narrowly; unsure if that comment was insult, jest or sincerity. Thor rolled his eyes. "I meant it, brother."
One brow cocked superciliously, Loki continued with his report. "It was a difficult process, but I was able to roughly pinpoint the origin of the power. It appears to have come from Midgard."
Everyone in the room tensed. The golden-haired Fandral the Dashing was the first to speak. "Impossible!" he scoffed. "The last we were there, the Midgardians were throwing sticks and stones at each other. They do not have the ability to wield magic."
"That we know of," Loki interjected coolly. "As much as I doubt the Midgardians have advanced beyond their former primitive state, there is the possibility that a presence from another Realm is merely using it as their base of operations to strike out at Asgard!"
"We would be less likely to suspect Midgard, for the very reasons Loki just gave," Hogun unexpectedly agreed with Loki, earning himself a surprised glance from the second born Prince.
"Then we must go to Midgard," Thor stood from his throne, hefting Mjolnir. Loki sighed and folded his arms. Thor faltered.
"Brother, you are the King of Asgard now," Loki began, diplomatically. "Your place is here, in defence of your kingdom, not gallivanting off all over the Nine Realms."
"You forget your place, brother," Thor snarled menacingly, but Loki was unmoved. This was exactly why Thor was not ready to be King. He was too battle hungry, too needy for death and glory.
To Loki's surprise, Sif waded in to the argument on his side. "You must not go, Thor. Loki is right, for once," she told him gently, but firmly. "Mjolnir will be needed here should any more Skrull or Jotunn forces attempt an attack."
"What is more, I fear there must be a traitor on Asgard," Loki continued. The assembled warriors shifted uneasily, silenced by Loki's blunt words.
"How do you figure that?" Volstagg asked, shocked.
"The attack on the Asbru Gate, the magic which shielded the Skrull and the Jotunns from Heimdall's sight, even whatever method they used to transport themselves here," he explained. "All point to knowledge which could only have been gained here, at one time or another."
Thor sank back into his throne, his brow furrowed. When he met Loki's gaze, his eyes were mulish but resigned.
"Very well," he sighed. "If I must stay behind to find this traitor and defend Asgard, then I will send another in my place, to Midgard."
He paused, as everyone waited for the identity of his emissary.
"I must send someone I trust," he replied, his eyes rising first to Loki, then to the Warriors Three behind him. "Someone who is skilled in the arts of detection and magic."
Loki resisted the urge to roll his eyes and snap at his brother to get on with it. He knew what was coming.
Thor's sapphire blue eyes twinkled when they met Loki's darkling emerald green ones, as if sensing his brother's impatience.
"I appoint my brother, Prince Loki the Cunning, to go to Midgard on behalf of myself, the All-Father and all of Asgard," Thor's voice suddenly thundered across the throne room, as he stood and stared down at his brother. "I bid you, brother, find this creature that wrongfully attacks our borders, and destroy them. Take what warriors you require, and good luck."
Loki bowed, before meeting Thor's gaze once more. "I will not fail you, brother."
Thor grinned. "I know."
They were to leave the following morning. Loki selected Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun to accompany him, as well as a squad of the Royal Guard, all trained and seasoned warriors.
He did not know what awaited them on Midgard, but Heimdall could see nothing amiss. It appeared Midgard had advanced somewhat, from his last visit some centuries before, when he was but a young man, come of age and tagging along with Thor to make sure he didn't end up killing himself.
All was set, but Loki had one last visit to make before he left Asgard.
Odin's chambers were dark and silent when he entered, the lights dimmed, the shadows deep but for the golden haze of Sleep which draped his father's body. Loki ascended the steps beside the massive bed, and knelt beside it, taking Odin's hand.
He sighed, and lowered his head. This whole situation worried him, and he did not like the thought of leaving Thor unprotected magically. If someone possessed the power to hide an entire legion of Skrull and Jotunns, then that same someone could sneak an assassin past Heimdall's guard.
And Thor was no sorcerer. He was matchless with any weapon, but if faced with a purely magical attack…his only hope would be to fell any attacker, with magical talent, with Mjolnir.
Loki's eyes drifted over the peaceful, serene face of the All-Father. His snowy white hair was spread over the pillows, startlingly pale against the dark richness of his bear fur covers. His hand felt stronger beneath Loki's own, and he hoped that meant his strength was returning. If all went badly, they would have need of the All-Father.
A gentle movement behind him made him raise his head, and he looked over his shoulder to find Frigg watching him, with a soft smile on her lips. Wordlessly, she came to his side, and placed a kiss on his dark waves of hair.
"Be safe, Loki," she whispered. "And return to your home soon."
Loki did not speak, but stood, towering over her as he had for centuries. She smiled ruefully. "When did my baby grow to be a man?" she asked, stroking a stray wisp of hair behind his ear. Loki chuckled, shaking his head wryly before embracing Frigg tightly.
He left without a word.
Outside, his men awaited him, mounted on their steeds, his own waiting impatiently for him.
Loki's emerald cloak swirled behind him majestically, as a servant stepped forward to present his helmet, gleaming in the early sunlight of the morning, the stars of Asgard wheeling overhead in their eternal dance.
As he slid his helmet onto his crown, he felt a gentle, calloused hand on his shoulder, bidding him turn. He did so, meeting the gazes of Thor and Sif.
The Queen stepped forward first, armour jingling and her robe rustling with the movement, reaching up to press a kiss to her brother-in-law's brow where it was exposed by the helmet. "Be safe, and may success speed your return," she told him, as he smiled gently in return.
"When have I ever let you down, sister?" he asked. "Besides, I have Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun to protect me. What could possibly go awry?" he added jokingly, prompting a laugh from Sif, as she shook her head ruefully and took her place beside Thor once more.
Levity passed as Thor stepped forward to clasp his brother's arm, Loki doing the same tightly. Their eyes met, thought passed between them, and they both grinned identical smiles of camaraderie, although Thor's was tinged with resignation.
"Go, my brother," he told Loki. "Try not to get yourself killed."
"I could say the same of you, brother of mine," Loki retorted. "I'll try not to take all the glory."
"You do that," Thor returned jovially. "Just because some of us have to act like adults now…"
Loki shook his head. "You, an adult? That will be the day," he grinned, before turning away to mount his horse, taking the reins and settling the fractious beast with ease. Thor came to his stirrup, and touched his knee, prompting Loki to glance down to his brother questioningly.
"Good luck, Loki," he told him. "And…make sure you come back. Alive."
"Oh, yes, because I'd hate to come back in a casket," Loki rolled his eyes, but his brother's words, and the concern in his blue eyes, stung his heart.
"Loki," Thor muttered warningly. "I mean it. Come home victorious. I would not wish to lose my brother."
"Nor I," he replied firmly. "Take care of yourself, my King."
And with that, he wheeled his horse and spurred it on, leading his men out of the palace courtyard, and out into the streets of Asgard City, feeling the unyielding gaze of Thor on his back as they galloped through the city, along the Bridge and to the Observatory.
The deserts of New Mexico, Midgard
Jane Foster blinked tired eyes, as she stared lethargically at the computer screens in front of her.
One hand rose to pull itself through her shoulder length hair, the long strands going taut between her fingers, making her wince as she felt the distinct throb of a headache starting.
Great, all she needed, and it wasn't like they had a never ending supply of aspirin.
The lab where she was sat, staring at nothing in particular, was silent except for the rhythmic hum of the iridescent cubic object nestled on a worktop, surrounded by wires and scanners and all manner of scientific equipment.
The night was particularly slow, as Jane raised herself up and onto her elbow, staring hard at the Cube as if she could get it to release its secrets by glaring.
It was a vain hope.
But it was the only one they, the human race, possessed.
"Hey," a familiar voice called, and Jane straightened, wincing at the crack of her spine as it forced out the kinks. Darcy stood behind her, bearing a white ceramic mug and a plastic jug. "Fresh coffee for the workaholic."
"I am not a workaholic," Jane protested feebly, eagerly reaching for the coffee even as Darcy rolled her eyes.
"Sure you're not," she muttered. "That's why you're the only person awake in the base who doesn't have to be."
Darcy had a point. Jane often spent hours working, long after others had retired and her only company was the night shift of guards in the SHIELD base.
"Couldn't sleep if I tried," Jane replied, eyes closing dreamily as the bitter liquid spilled over her tongue. "Besides you're a fine one to talk."
"Oh no, I just stopped by to tell you that Stark's come up with a new scanner to test out on the Cube over there," Darcy pointed to the irritatingly unresponsive object, inching closer curiously.
The Cube had been retrieved from the Nazis during the Second World War some decades before, by Howard Stark, and SHIELD had studied it ever since. Jane, her mentor Erik Selvig, and former intern Darcy Lewis, had been just three of many to study it over the years. Jane had been recommended to Stark by Erik, who then recommended her to SHIELD's Director, Nick Fury.
But for all Jane's ingenuity, the Cube still remained unresponsive.
Now it was their only hope in this war. A war for the planet.
It had been six months since they had been forced underground by the invasion. Strange reptilian aliens with the ability to shape shift and legions of towering, blue-skinned giants who could seemingly conjure ice into their hands, had overrun the planet, and not even the Avengers, the best of Stark Industries, the bravery of thousands of men and women, could stop them.
But not all was lost.
The Avengers, a group of elite heroes from across the globe, remained free and they helped save those they could, packing them into underground bases which had been designed as nuclear bunkers during the Cold War.
New Mexico was one such bunker, and it was the most secretive, not just because of the Cube, but because it was one of the few locations on Earth that their enemies had limitations, namely the blue aliens.
Or freaky Big Blue guys, as Stark preferred to call them.
It seemed they preferred colder climes, and so SHIELD rarely saw their kind in the southern hemisphere. It was the reptilian aliens that were their biggest worry in the South.
Jane had only heard stories, but it was estimated that most of Europe and Asia was either enslaved or dead, although a few SHIELD bases operated in the beleaguered countries there, to act as shelters and bases for operations.
Africa, Latin America and Australia were the luckiest. They still held their own, just.
But as of a year before, the USA had all but ceased to exist.
If they ever won this war, someone would have a hell of a clean up job.
Feeling even more depressed, Jane slumped back against the worktop again, closing her eyes.
Then a strange whirring sound filled the air, and Jane heard Darcy's yelp of surprise.
Her eyes snapped open.
"I didn't do anything!" Darcy babbled, holding her hands and backing away from the Cube as if it might bite her. Jane realised that the whirring noise was coming from the Cube…
It had awoken.
Just then a bleeping noise emanated from one of her laptops, and she dashed across to see a large atmospheric disturbance building in the air a few miles away, on the surface.
It wasn't one of the alien ships. It looked like a tornado, but the energy readings…
Jane's eyes widened. She reached for the ear piece that sat beside her laptop. Then she saw the three red dots that appeared and began to move across the screen towards the disturbance.
Something was out there, and the invaders were on their way to intercept it.
"Control?" she spoke quickly into the comms device. "Control, the Cube has woken up."
A familiar, purring voice came over the airwaves. "We read you, Lab. What's your status?"
Natasha Romanov. Jane sighed. "The Cube is active. I repeat, the Cube is active and there is an atmospheric disturbance occurring exactly three miles south of our position. Three bogies are moving to intercept."
Romanov cursed in Russian under her breath, as Jane winced. She was going military. Bogies? Really?
"Understood. I will inform Director Fury. Control out."
Jane tapped the earpiece, shutting it off and approaching the Cube. Her eyes slid to the monitors, all going haywire, and then to the twister-like images on her laptop, growing in power and intensity with every minute.
Was this coincidence? She doubted it.
Suddenly the door to the lab opened with a swish, making both Darcy and Jane jump as they spun around, Jane's hand going instinctively now to the sidearm that rested on her hip ever since SHIELD had hired her on, a year before.
It was just Romanov and the Director Fury, the former's short red curls bouncing with her liquid, smooth stride. The Director's one good eye raked Jane's face before turning to the Cube.
A grim smile stretched his lips. "Saddle up, Miss Foster. You're coming with us."