Words cannot express how much gratitude toward you fills up my heart. Suffice it to say that this has been the grandest adventure yet. And I dearly hope you enjoy this last chapter.
For the first section, I listened to the Thor Soundtrack: Letting Go, followed by Science and Magic.
Thank you, forever and always 3
"What though the sea with waves continuall
Doe eate the earth, it is no more at all ;
Ne is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought :
For whatsoever from one place doth fall
Is with the tyde unto another brought :
For there is nothing lost,
that may be found
-Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
A sonic blast slammed Jane into Loki's back. It cracked from behind them and screamed across the skyline. And a blue flash exploded, brighter than direct sunlight. Jane grabbed Loki's cloak—he swept an arm around her and pulled her close—
The scarlet, blind figure above the door threw his hands into the air—
The flash of light decimated him.
He burst into a thousand pieces, like sliced ribbons, and tumbled out of existence. The staff clattered to the ground.
The ripple of power raced down the sides of the building—Jane could feel it under her feet—and barreled out toward all corners of the city. And as it moved, a great, horrified cry arose from the streets. A collective, alien cry.
The engines of the hundred buzzing fighters extinguished. As one, they each fell into chaotic tailspins and plummeted straight into the ground, or crashed into the distant black water. Chattering, gasping and choking issued from the lowest level in a strangled roar.
The ripple, like a roll of thunder, hurried away and quieted to nothing. Silence fell over the whole of Manhattan.
But behind them, the soft glow of light remained.
Slowly, Jane turned toward it. She felt Loki, then all of the others, gradually do the same thing.
All the breath left her body.
A wide, luminous archway stood with its bases planted on the roof. And in the middle of the arch stood nine people.
Three of them, Jane did not recognize. One of them was a mighty, golden-clad old man, with shoulder-length white hair, a beard, and a patch over one eye. He carried age in his shoulders, and an ancient mix of knowledge, joy and sorrow marked his weathered face. To his near left stood a magnificent woman with curly golden hair, wearing long, flowing white robes. She had a warm look in her dark eyes—a look both softened and intensified by the object glowing in the old-man's hand: the fiery tesseract.
For a long while, Jane just stared at it, completely captivated, unable to look away.
Then, all at once, her attention twitched to the side—
And she looked into her own eyes.
Her reflection—herself. She wore a long, deep-green dress embroidered with silver, and her hair hung down in curls. She stared back at Jane. And her right hand tightly clasped the hand of…
He stood directly beside the woman in white. He wore black and green—princely clothes. Lean and knife-like, he had long, wild hair, and those selfsame sharp, pale features Jane knew so well…
But his eyes searched—and found her. Those stunning emerald eyes—
Completely unguarded. Vulnerable. Brilliant. His eyebrows drew together. A knowing, intimate, familiar gaze went right through her.
Her heart nearly burst.
She swallowed hard, trying to keep breathing. And absently, she recognized the others gathered so close behind her other self and the other Loki.
Thor—dressed in flashing silver, radiant as a lion in the sun. The strong fingers of his left hand interlaced with those of a striking, dark haired, black-eyed woman in red that Jane remembered as Lady Sif, the warrioress who had once attacked the Destroyer head-on. And the two of them gazed earnestly out and across at the ragged Thor that pressed in close behind the Jane and Loki upon the roof. Jane knew the faces of some of the others: there was Tony Stark, wearing clothing similar to Loki's, only red and gold. Near him was tall, handsome, almost angelic Steve Rogers, dressed in deep, soft blue that made his eyes shine. Beside him waited a man Jane did not know—a short, rugged man with dark hair, sideburns, black clothes, a leather jacket and intense dark eyes beneath a knotted brow.
Nobody on either side moved a single inch. All Jane could do was let her attention be dragged back toward her other self, and the tall, dark one who stood beside her.
And all she could feel was Loki. Right behind her. Her back pressed against his chest.
A gasping laugh caught Jane off guard—she shot a darting look across at her other self…
Whose eyes were shining. She had covered her mouth with her hand—and a brilliant ring upon it caught the light and flashed it back.
"You found him!" she cried to Jane. She lowered her hand, and gave Jane a brilliant smile. "You did it!"
Jane felt her own eyes burning—her brow twisted, and she nodded hard. Everyone on this side turned to look at her, but she couldn't pull her attention away from herself—and from the other Loki…
Who was smiling gently at her.
Right at her.
And then his glance flicked up, to his other self—and settled in an eerie and penetrating manner that made Jane's Loki shudder.
She dared to turn, to shift slightly and glance up and back at him…
To see a stunned tear fall down his white face, and sparkle in the soft glow. She watched, breathless, as his wide gaze swept desperately across the entire group, lighting upon the other Thor, his other self—the other Jane—and then the old man and woman, only to return to the piercing eyes of his doppelganger.
And for a long moment, the two of them spoke without uttering one word.
"What is this?"
Clint's staggered voice cut through the silence. Jane blinked, then swallowed—but absolutely no words came into her mind.
"It is a gate," the shining old man across from them answered in a plain, calm voice—and an otherworldly thrill shocked all through Jane's body.
"We have pushed a damaged seam open a little wider," the golden-haired woman to his side addressed Clint. "So that the tesseracts can be fused, and the damage repaired that has been done to the fabric of the universe."
"What killed that guy?" Natasha demanded, pointing up and behind, where the blind one had been standing. "And what happened to the armies down there?"
Everyone's gaze within the arch flew to her.
And the other Loki, Thor, Tony, and Steve bristled like wolves.
"Woah—what is she doing here?" the other Tony pointed at Natasha.
"Kill her, Loki," the man in the leather jacket barked. "Do it now while you've got the chance!"
Jane's Loki twitched.
"What?" Bruce Banner yelped.
Tears spilled down the other Jane's cheeks—she pressed a hand to her belly.
"She will stab you in the hearts," the other Thor snarled, his free hand closing to a fist. "Don't let her leave this roof—"
"Keep your eyes upon her," the other Loki hissed, his bearing instantly hard and deadly. "You have no idea what wickedness she is capable of."
"You mean her whole plan with Doom and Schmidt and those guys?" the Tony nearest to Jane cut in. The strangers' looked to him, startled. He nodded.
"Yeah, she was gonna go through with that. Until her guy was thrown into the thick of it." Tony gestured to Clint. "She changed her mind. Fought for us instead." Tony shrugged one shoulder. "Guess it's just proof of that whole 'love conquers all,' thing."
Jane glanced at Natasha, expecting her to spit something venomous back at the ones under the arch…
But she had gone silent.
Her head ducked. And she couldn't look at anyone.
Clint turned and studied her…
Then reached down, and took gentle hold of her fingers.
"I guess we've all made some mistakes," he murmured to her. "Huh, Tasha?"
Her jaw tightened. She lifted her eyes, and gazed at Clint for a moment. Then, inexplicably, turned and looked across at the other Jane. Neither of them spoke.
"She's asking a valid question, though," Banner cut in, dressed in rags but taking a step toward the regal group. "What happened?"
"The tesseract," the old man answered him. "I used it—this single time—to rid you of the Chitauri and Skrull pestilence, so that you may be safe after we depart." He paused—and for some reason, his single blue eye glanced out at the Loki who stood just behind Jane.
And Jane felt him shudder again—deep inside him.
A sharp snap leaped between the arches—a bright electrical shock.
Everyone flinched back from it.
Those on the other side of the arch glanced at each other—and their expressions sharpened with distress. Lady Sif looked urgently out at Jane's Thor.
"We so wish we could linger," she said, squeezing her Thor's hand. "We have so much to tell you…"
"We can't, folks," the other Tony grimly shook his head and looked up at the arch. "It's collapsing on us, here."
"We'd better hurry," the other Steve advised.
Obvious pain crossed all of the other nine's faces.
"Do you…You still have it, don't you?" the other Jane gasped, finding Jane again.
"Yes!" Jane managed, pressing her hand to the Lokistone at her breastbone.
"Keep hold of it!" the other Jane made a fist in front of her. "The rips have gone down several layers through space-time. Weare repairing the ones we can, but we can't reach all of them."
"So…" Jane tried, fighting to understand.
"You may have to use that stone someday," the other Loki told her, watching her—and his calm tone resonated through Jane's very blood. "You may have to send it through another, deeper wound, to help sew the fabric shut again."
"It can do that?" Jane stammered.
The other Loki smiled—and didn't answer.
"Come," the old man urged. "Where is the tesseract?"
Everyone on this side turned to Loki. Jane felt his hands—which had been gripping her arms—shakily release. Jane watched him, heart pounding, as he slipped around her, and silently stepped up toward the archway. She fixed on his face—and he stared, unwavering, at the ancient, one-eyed man.
Loki stopped. Nobody breathed.
Loki swallowed convulsively, twice. His right hand flexed open, then closed tightly.
And Jane saw the same aching anguish reflected back in the eyes of the ancient one, and the woman in white…
And the other Thor stepped forward.
Eyes burning, he crossed through his fellows, and almost stepped across the boundary—almost reached out to the Loki standing solitary on the roof.
The other Thor jerked to a halt.
Startled, the Loki on the roof looked up at him—they stared at each other, their pale expressions so flooded with emotions that Jane could not decipher any of them.
Off to Jane's right, the other Loki's expression broke—he looked down and away, filled with pain.
And behind her, Jane could hear Thor struggling against tears.
"You…" the other Thor tried, unsteadily, searching Loki's face. "The tesseracts…When they fuse, there will be nothing to fuel the Midgardian bifrost. No power that has been siphoned from it will remain in this realm." His gaze sharpened further. "But you will try to come home. Won't you?"
Jane's Loki's breath caught. His eyes filled with tears.
"Do try, alskling," the woman in white quietly begged, gripping the old man's arm.
The Loki upon the roof said nothing for a long time. The woman's tears fell.
The other Thor answered with a firm nod, blinking rapidly.
And Loki's gaze returned to the old man.
"Do you have it?" the old man asked.
"I told you once," Loki murmured, his expression sincere and quiet. "If you ever needed something hidden—truly hidden…"
He waved his hands over each other.
A flash of light.
And the tesseract hovered above his fingertips.
A deep thrum pulsed through the air. The tesseracts lit up even brighter—as if they had recognized each other.
An electrical snap crossed the arch again.
The other nine glanced around them—as if they heard something crumbling.
But the old man did not move.
Instead, he looked at the tesseract, then up at Loki.
"Well done, my son."
Loki let out a short, gasping breath. His eyebrows came together.
And he held the cube up higher.
The tesseracts flamed. They pulled toward each other, straining toward each other…
"We love you," the woman in white cried, her tears still running down.
Jane's gaze flashed to the other Loki—who glanced softly at her—and then she met the eyes of her opposite.
Who raised her left hand, and blew Jane a kiss.
The blinding glow of the Cubes merged.
A screech, like grinding glass and metal, ripped across the air.
Blazing flashes of lightning came streaking through the air from all directions—horizon to horizon—and slammed into that powerful brightness, until it built and built…
A slap of thunder.
A subsonic concussion knocked them backward.
A blast of wind.
The glow went out.
Jane caught her balance.
The wind calmed. She blinked several times, trying to clear the dazzle.
The arch was gone. The other half of the roof was abandoned. And far out past the railing stood a dark, empty skyline, and the softly glinting peak of the Chrysler Building.
Loki stood, his hand half outstretched, holding nothing.
And slowly, he let it fall back down to his side, his eyes absent, his cape fluttering in the gentle night breeze.
Jane stood, arms folded. She formed one of the nine members in a wide circle on the roof of Stark Tower. To her right stood Thor. To her left, Loki. Next to Thor was Steve, then Natasha, Clint, Tony, Banner, and Erik.
And in the center of the circle, on the ground, lay the wicked staff. Dark. The blue stone sat black and lifeless.
No one said anything for a very long time. Jane's mind wandered between numbness and a barrage of rapid images too impossible to sort out.
Tony cleared his throat.
"So," he said. Then didn't go on.
"Whatever that was…" Banner began cautiously. "It's going to take me a few months to figure it out."
"It was another plane of existence," Jane murmured, staring blankly at the staff. "Because of a rip that the tesseract made almost seventy years ago."
"Yeah, that sounds simple on paper," Clint said. "But what we just saw…"
"Who was that other guy?" Tony asked, frowning. "The one in the jacket, with the attitude?"
"That was Logan," Erik answered. "He is a member of Dr. Xavier's mutant team. I've heard Fury mention him once or twice."
"He seemed familiar," Steve commented. "Why would that be?"
Only Clint answered, and with a simple shrug.
"Well…" Banner ventured, sighing and folding his arms. "At least we don't have to worry about the Chitauri and the Skrulls anymore."
A few people grunted in agreement.
"No," Loki murmured, arms crossed. "Only Thanos."
Their heads came up. They looked at him. Jane turned and watched him, a cold feeling in her stomach.
"Who is Thanos?" Steve asked, his body very still.
Loki did not turn from looking down at the staff.
"A powerful, reasonless, unpredictable enemy. He is the one who caught me after I fell from the bifrost," Loki said. "He beat my body and invaded my mind—sent me here, not truly to rule…" His voice lowered. "But to cause chaos. And death. In whatever manner possible." Loki looked up—at Clint, then Tony, and Steve. "But by removing the tesseract from this realm and killing the entire Chitauri force, we have defied him. And he will not let that rest."
"So what are you saying?" Natasha demanded. "That somebody even worse is going to come after us now?"
Loki considered her a moment.
"Possibly," he finally said.
"Well, that's just great," Tony threw up his armored hands and turned to the side, toward the ruined skyline.
"Who was that person who died?" Erik asked. "The one in red, with bandages around his face?"
"He was called The Other," Loki answered. "Thanos' emissary."
"He was trying to kill you," Clint said.
Loki's mouth tightened. He said nothing.
"Wow," Natasha murmured coldly to Loki. "You really did blow it, didn't you?"
Loki still said nothing.
"Can't go running back to the big boss, because he'll end you," Natasha said. "And you're not going to get to be king here." She arched an eyebrow. "You'll be lucky if you can even walk around in public."
"And we are trapped on Midgard," Thor interrupted. "The bifrost that Doom and Schmidt built will now be useless. The tesseract took all of its own power back."
That grave silence fell again, as each one of them faded into thought.
"So…What now?" Banner asked at last, glancing around. "We can't go back to business-as-usual—not with the mastermind of this mess running loose and out to get us."
"What do you suggest, then?" an irritated Tony wanted to know.
Nobody answered. Jane's chest tightened.
"Well…" Clint said slowly—and solemnly regarded Loki. "We might have to learn to live with each other."
"What—keep him around?" Natasha nodded at Loki.
"We keep you around," Steve pointed out. Natasha didn't look at him.
"But Romanov's right—he can't even be seen in public. They'll mob him," Banner gestured to Loki. "And Fury's gonna want to cut his head off."
Again, nobody spoke.
Until Tony let out a long sigh.
"Yeah, well…" he halfway winced, then spoke resignedly. "I've got a house by Lake Erie. It's been locked up for years—big grounds, estate, stuff like that. Plus a fully-equipped basement. I can upload Jarvis in about five minutes."
"Wait—We're…You want all of us to come to your house?" Steve frowned at him.
"Yeah, for now," Tony held up a hand. "Just until we get this whole freaking mess figured out. Might be a good idea to lay low for a while, anyway—get everybody out of the limelight. I actually think New York might be better off if we just left. We rain destruction down on ourselves wherever we go."
"Certainly looks like it," Erik agreed.
"And anyway, I know we'd all like to keep Green Eyes here in our sight, whatever we do," Tony added, glancing at Loki.
"That's true, at least," Banner nodded.
"Okay, then," Tony sighed again. "I'll give Pepper a call, before we all collapse. See if we can't get an airlift out of here. If my landing pad isn't too screwed up. Thanks, Banner."
"Sorry," Banner muttered, halfway smiling. Tony strode off the roof, his gears groaning, opened the door and headed down, leaving the others to stand in numbed, weary silence.
The others had gone below. Drifted away, one by one, to wait in the lower levels for the airlift Stark had called. Even Jane, without looking at anyone, had slowly departed. Loki remained on the roof. With Thor. Neither of them said anything.
Thor sat on a metal box that housed some machine. He gazed up into the fathomless sky—at the few stars that were not obstructed by clouds. The lights of the city had dimmed so much that several of them were visible.
Loki pulled off his helmet, turned it slowly in his hands, watching the dim light glint off it. Then, he quietly vanished it.
He gazed out over the night, listening to the silence. He dusted his armor off—it rustled like feathers and disappeared, leaving plain black clothes beneath. His side hurt. So did the cut on his left hand. He glanced over.
"Thor," he called, keeping his voice down. "What is it?"
For a long while, Thor did not answer. Then, he took a low breath.
"Sif," he whispered—and said nothing more.
Loki watched him.
Then, he stepped alongside Thor, turned away from where he was facing…
And placed a soft hand on Thor's shoulder.
Thor lowered his head, and closed his eyes.
Loki stayed as he was for many minutes. Then, he lifted his hand, and laid it against the back of Thor's head.
"I am going to find Jane," he muttered. Thor nodded, eyes still shut. Loki stepped away from him, and made his way to the door.
Loki's boots crunched on the pieces of broken flooring. He paused. But she didn't stir.
Loki stood in Tony Stark's ruined room—the one where Loki had confronted him not so long ago, and the reckless man had offered him a drink.
The room where he and Jane had first seen each other, face to face.
Now, glass lay strewn across the floor, which was impacted in a man-sized crater and cracked all the way to the four corners of the room. Most of the towering windows had been shattered, so the very early morning breeze drifted freely in. And Jane sat on one of the tall stools just beyond the hole in the floor, her back to him, looking out over the city.
Loki started toward her again.
He maneuvered around the hole, stepping carefully, and drew up close to her left shoulder. The stool was high enough, that he only had to look down at her a little. The sky in the east had begun to lighten—he could see her just enough.
She was crying.
The ends of her long, loose hair fluttered gently. Her dark gaze unfocused, her delicate eyebrows drew together, and large tears trickled down her cheeks and dripped from her chin. Loki's heart clenched. He waited.
Jane swallowed, and took a breath.
"I feel wrong."
He frowned. Listened.
"Something happened to me," she whispered. "When the snake venom hit me. I can feel it—there's a difference in my body. I'm not…" She hesitated, frowning, choosing her words carefully. "A person can feel themselves dying. Very, very slowly. But I never…I didn't realize that until I couldn't feel it anymore."
Loki's breathing sped up—right along with his pulse.
"The snake wasn't taking my life," Jane murmured. "It was doing the opposite."
"I'm…I'm sorry," Loki breathed, his muscles turning to water. "The Other mentioned something about the venom giving immortality…" His voice quieted even more. "I was very…I was afraid of what it would do to you."
"Is that why you broke loose?" Jane asked listlessly.
Loki studied every surface of her face.
"I don't know," he confessed. "Perhaps…I was always able to break loose. I just needed the proper motivation."
The words left his mouth—and silence followed them. He waited for her to say something. To answer him.
But her brow twisted. More tears fell.
"I don't…" she suddenly choked. "I don't want to live forever. I know that people are supposed to want to live as long as they can, but…" She gulped, and swiped at her face with a trembling hand. "But to watch everybody around me get old, and die and…" She couldn't go on. And Loki could not bear it.
"What if…" he started unsteadily.
Her shuddering calmed—she tilted her head toward him.
Loki closed his eyes.
"What if I stayed with you?"
Jane turned her head.
Loki opened his eyes. She was gazing up at him, her eyes bright—intense, focused.
"You…" She faltered. "You would…"
"Yes," he said, never looking away from her. "I'm your husband."
He held out his hand to her, knowledge and realization pressing hard against the inside of his chest. He raised his eyebrows. "Aren't I?"
She stared back at him for a long moment.
Then, she reached out and took his hand in both of hers. She traced the long cut on the back of his hand, watching the movement of her fingers. Thrills raced across Loki's skin.
"Do you want to be?" she asked—cautious. Afraid.
"I do," he breathed, leaning in toward her. "Yes, I do."
She lifted her face, her eyes filling with light, her lips parting—
He fiercely met her lips with his, unable to stop himself, pressing deep—then unable to keep from fervently kissing the tears from her lips and cheeks and eyes…
And then his heart swelled to breaking as she answered him.
She turned her head as he was kissing her cheek and found his mouth with hers, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
The sun broke over the horizon. Loki instantly felt it warm the side of his face—felt its golden light caress him as he pulled Jane tighter against his heart.
His lips lingered on hers. He drew a deep breath of her—she pulled in a breath of him…
Their mouths parted. He held her up off the ground. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders. They looked at each other, unwavering. Jane's eyes sparkled now, in the fresh light of the dawn, her skin luminous and soft. Loki gently rubbed his thumb back and forth against her back, unable to speak.
She smiled at him.
His heart skipped a beat.
She leaned in and laid a soft kiss just below his eye, and rested her forehead against his.
Loki's eyes drifted shut. And something settled down through the depths of his chest—something he had not felt for many, many years.
He gave a long sigh.
Jane laced her fingers through his hair.
And for just a moment, in the very far distance, he thought he heard the sound of a man and a woman quietly laughing.
"Out of the nothingness of sleep,
The slow dreams of Eternity,
There was a thunder on the deep:
I came, because you called to me.
I broke the Night's primeval bars,
I dared the old abysmal curse,
And flashed through ranks of frightened stars
Suddenly on the universe!
The eternal silences were broken;
Hell became Heaven as I passed. -
What shall I give you as a token,
A sign that we have met, at last?
I'll break and forge the stars anew,
Shatter the heavens with a song;
Immortal in my love for you,
Because I love you, very strong.
Your mouth shall mock the old and wise,
Your laugh shall fill the world with flame,
I'll write upon the shrinking skies
The scarlet splendour of your name,
Till Heaven cracks, and Hell thereunder
Dies in her ultimate mad fire,
And darkness falls, with scornful thunder,
On dreams of men and men's desire.
Then only in the empty spaces,
Death, walking very silently,
Shall fear the glory of our faces
Through all the dark infinity.
So, clothed about with perfect love,
The eternal end shall find us one,
Alone above the Night, above
The dust of the dead gods, alone."
-"The Call," Rupert Brooke
And don't forget to check out my newest novel "Bauldr's Tears: A Retelling of Loki's Fate" on Amazon!