Chapter Twelve - Falling Further In

Jane was vaguely aware of Loki's firm grasp, cradling her in his arms as they stepped through the portal. Wherever they had ended up, she noticed that the air was much cooler in comparison. He gently set her down on the green grass below their feet. The earth was soft and welcoming, and she let herself relax. She looked up at him, still fighting off the remnants of disorientation.

"Where are we?"

"This is Vanaheim, the sister realm of Asgard," he explained with a frown as he took a seat next to her.

"It's beautiful," she expressed, letting her eyes finally focus. They were in the middle of an open field, which was flanked by snowcapped mountains. Trees dotted the perimeter of the open expanse, and the sky was a rich shade of blue. The scene looked as though it had been freshly painted, splayed out before her with vibrant brush strokes.

"It is a land as rich with history as it is with beauty. Vanaheim is a place that pulses with strong magic. Spell casting is a long standing tradition with the people, and more sorcerers rise from here than any other realm in Yggdrasil."

"How fascinating! Do you know anyone from this realm?" she questioned, noticing how his eyes seemed to shine with sadness that he did not speak. He hesitated before replying, shifting uncomfortably. His arm inadvertently brushed hers, but he pulled away with a subtle jerk.

"Frigga was born here," he continued solemnly, looking out over the landscape instead of making eye contact. "She honed her skills, and was one of the brightest students of magic that these lands have ever seen. She always had a soft spot for her birthplace, so we visited here many times during my youth."

He did not say it, but she pieced together the unspoken part of the story. Frigga's origins explained why she was so adept in magic, and considering they had been close, she must have taught Loki a great deal about spell casting. Jane could tell that the man beside her was still grieving his mother's loss. She studied his profile, noting how his lips were pursed and his frame rigid. Attempting to calm him, she guided the topic away from the sad memories.

"So you must know these lands quite well. Will you show me more of what it has to offer? I want to see it all!"

While attempting to abate his nerves, she had to admit that the idea of traversing a new realm sans peril was tempting. The air was crisp, and the day was beautiful. She longed to explore. Her strength was already returning.

"You should rest more, but we need to find you some water. I suppose there are a few places I can take you."

He stood and reached a hand out. She grabbed it, allowing him to pull her up. Steadying herself, she fell into step beside him, eager to see where they were headed first. As they walked, Loki paused and placed a hand on her arm.

"What is it?" she questioned, her brows knit with confusion.

"Something is off," he said carefully, studying the area.

"What now? More enemies or curses? I'm not sure how much more of this I can take!"

"So easily excited. It's something much simpler, woman. Relax," he teased with a smirk, as he waved his hand over the air in front of them. His magic revealed a shimmering wall.

"What is that?" she gasped, eyes wide with curiosity.

"A magical barrier. I'm guessing that someone discovered our little portal here. A gateway to Muspelheim is not exactly a most pleasant thing, considering the disposition of the Fire Demons. It appears to be a safety precaution. Nothing we can't bypass though," he declared.

Being taken into his arms should not have surprised her anymore, but every touch felt electric. He gathered her close, teleporting them to the other side of the force field. He let her go, but she could still sense his close proximity.

As they continued their journey she let her mind wander, which was quickly becoming a habit. She had not forgotten about Thanos visiting her dreams. Jane wished she knew of a way to fix that dilemma, but she was stuck with Loki for all intents and purposes unless something drastic happened. She was unsure how to distance herself from him, and she did not know if she even wanted to do so. Seeing him vulnerable when talking of Frigga made her feel empathy for him. She knew that there was a darker side to him, but the line was starting to blur. Fighting her feelings was getting more difficult by the day.

"So what do you think?"

"Hm?" She was startled by his intrusion, but quickly realized he was talking about their surroundings. The dull hum she had heard grew louder as they approached.

"Kaldr Falls, one of the most beautiful sites in Vanaheim," he explained, motioning to the cascading water that leapt over rocks to form a pristine pool below. The liquid rushed over moss covered stones and dark crevices. Low hanging branches framed the falls, cultivating its exotic appeal.

Following his lead, they maneuvered their way down to the water's bank.

"It's breathtaking," she mused lightly, feeling the mist of the waterfall caress her skin.

"So what are you waiting for? You can't say you've experienced the realm if you just stand there spectating," he urged her as he dissolved his shirt via magic, stepping towards the water. He had a mischievous glint in his eye as he glanced at her over his shoulder. "You have ten seconds."

"What? No! Loki, I don't want to swim," she insisted, although she was distracted by his half naked form. The idea of stripping down in front of him again sent a blush through to her cheeks. Her more logical side protested, insisting that after having heat stroke the cool water would do wonders. Her thoughts must have taken more than her allotted seconds, because suddenly she was being lifted into the air. She barely had time to drop her bag to the ground.

"Put me down!" she yelled as he hoisted her over his shoulder.

"Now Jane, behave. We wouldn't want you to get overheated again," he teased, walking into the cold water and wading deeper with her still in his grasp.

Jane pounded her fist on his back, hoping he would release her. She could feel the strength of his muscles as he moved, leaving her more than a bit flustered.

"I said, put me down!"

"As you wish," he said with a laugh, tossing her into the deep end.

Water rushed in around her as she went under. Kicking her legs, she surfaced quickly. She sputtered for air and brushed the wet strands of hair out of her face. She glared daggers at him while she treaded water.

"Not funny."

He merely chuckled in response, swimming towards her. She was aware that he was in a better mood than earlier at least. She wondered if he was still upset over her rejecting his advances. If he was angry, he was hiding it well. When he reached her side, he grabbed at her waist and pulled her down towards the water again. No time to complain, she managed to gather a breath to hold, just in time. As he plunged her beneath the surface, she clawed at his chest and arms, not finding the dunk amusing. Loki finally pulled her back up, but did not let go of her waist.

"Loosen up, Jane. You know you're high-strung when the rebel prince is having more fun than you," he quipped, looking down at her with a sly grin.

She sighed. He had a point, but she hated to admit it. She was not sure how to respond, and the silence grew into something more intimate. The two of them were pressed close at the base of the falls. Her feet kept brushing against his legs while she tried to keep afloat. He was looking at her more seriously now, a glimmer of something mysterious in his eyes.

"Loki," she said breathlessly.

"Quiet," he growled, unwilling to let her spoil the moment.

He pulled her body to his chest, their wet skin sliding against each other. His touches left her mind muddled as she attempted to find her common sense. His fingers slid down her waist and over her thighs, squeezing them gently. Looking up at him, she saw that he looked more primal than she could remember—ready to pounce on his prey. He stared at her lips as water droplets slid down over them. Holding her tight, he leaned in. She could feel his cool breath against her as her eyes fluttered shut. She knew she should stop him. It was not right, but all her self-control had finally fled her body. Jane leaned into him, waiting for the kiss.

The sound of trees rustling, and a dog barking, snapped her out of her daze. She pulled away before their lips could meet, and Loki grunted in frustration.

"Did you hear that?"

"Of course I did," he replied in a gruff tone as the canine broke into the clearing. The animal started sniffing through Jane's belongings on the ground.

She was about to swim back to shore when she felt Loki pulling at her again. He dragged her through the water, back under the waterfall. They were hidden from sight in the shade of the water.

"Why are we hiding?"

"Shh. There are very few strays in Vanaheim. If there is a dog, its master is likely close," he whispered to her.

"Why is that a problem? Can't you just use magic to change our appearances if necessary?"

"It seems you have forgotten about this realm's history. It's impossible to know if the person we run into is adept with magic. A good sorcerer can see through illusions. It is much easier to fool others when in a crowd, not one on one. Now, be quiet," he insisted in hushed tones as he placed a hand over her mouth.

Jane heard someone whistle and call out. The dog's ears perked up, responding to its master's call. They stayed there for a few minutes after the animal disappeared, making sure the coast was clear. Loki finally released her and started to swim back to land.

Once they were dried off and in changed clothes, Loki used magic to morph their appearance into Vanir friendly attire and to disguise himself. He looked at her with a well of hidden emotion. Instead of something personal, he encouraged her to hurry.

"I have somewhere else to take you. Today is the beginning of the celebration of harvest. It is known as Brauðboð. It is marked in tradition all across Vanaheim. The city of Félagi has the largest festival in the land."

"Oh," she said with great interest, "How did you know that it's time for the harvest festival?"

"The dog that was here earlier had gold and green ribbons tied to its collar. Those are the official colors of Brauðboð. When that time of year comes around everyone decorates quite freely. The people here are very festive."

"That sounds wonderful! I can't wait," she said with a smile, grateful that Loki was not in a foul mood from their moment being ruined yet again.

Speaking of that moment, she owed the dog a debt of gratitude. While her body craved his touch, she knew that kissing Loki would have been a mistake. She needed to get her head straight first and to break things off with Thor. Though the dark haired brother intrigued her, she knew that starting something intimate with him would be complicated to say the least.

After gathering her things, they set off for Félagi. She was grateful for their new goal, hoping it would distract her. With her confusion over Loki's advances and the threat of Thanos hanging over her, she felt something dark brewing. It was only a matter of time.

The alarms were echoing through the halls as they ran. Tony blasted a guard, and Steve knocked another out with his shield. A screeching wail could be heard over the shoddy intercom.

"No! Someone stop them!" the Curator yelled.

Soon they burst through the door that they had once entered. Now free, Thor noticed everyone looking around in a panic. They were stuck on the island until they could get to the ferry by foot. There were too many people who could not fly. He made a decision.

"Everyone gather close, hold onto each other. We're taking a trip."

As the group huddled together, he could hear shouting and footsteps coming from beyond the metal door. He looked up to the sky and shouted to Heimdall. Soon the whole group was ported up and away, leaving only a large rune burned into the sand for the guards to find.

When they arrived in Asgard, Steve and Tony looked impressed, but Darcy looked ill.

"I'll never get used to that."

She seemed to recover quickly though, looking over the tall guardian with golden eyes.

"Hey, I know you! Jane told me about you. You're the one who can see everything. You can spy on me anytime you want," she teased with a sly grin.

Thor groaned as Heimdall silently raised an eyebrow at her advance.

"That's enough, Darcy. Welcome to Asgard, everyone. Sif, will you please show them to guest quarters to freshen up? I'm going to get the Allfather back, and then we will decide what's next."

She nodded and led the group away. Once they were gone, he started to focus.

Thor was never very skilled with magic, but the Norn Stones seemed to hum with a life of their own. As he wrapped his hands around them, he felt the power flowing through him as though they sensed his intent.

"Bring me my father," he whispered, eyes closed and face scrunched in concentration.

As soon as the old man appeared before him, he was unprepared. Odin fell in a heap on the ground, exhausted. He was back from captivity, but his strength seemed to be absent.

"Allfather!" he exclaimed as he pulled his dad into his arms. "Are you not well?"

"I am weak, Thor. I have expended all my energy trying to escape the enchanted room I was placed in by Loki. He will be punished, but first I must sleep," he said, eyes drifting closed.

"Father, please. I will deal with Loki, but I need your help finding him first. He has Jane!"

It was too late, because the man had already fallen into the Odin sleep. Thor groaned in despair.

"How will I find her, Heimdall?"

"The last place I saw them was on Alfheim. Your attentions may be best served in beginning your search there."

Thor had the guards carry his father to the royal chambers. He was still deep in thought when Sif reappeared by his side.

"Let's go find her. Together," she encouraged him with a light touch on his shoulder.

He smiled weakly. He knew his comrades would be angry with him for leaving them behind, but travelling the realms was no job for his friends from Migard. Even if they were upset, he would protect them regardless. He turned to the pensive guard.

"Send them home if they request it, Heimdall. Otherwise we will return as soon as we can."

Taking Sif's arm in his own, the two warriors disappeared in a flash of white light.

When they entered the city, Jane was in awe of the spectacle before her. The streets were teeming with life, adults and children alike. Green and gold ribbons fluttered in the breeze. She could smell freshly baked food and hear the songs of celebration.

Several of the kids were flying kites, but they had no strings.

"How are they doing that?" she whispered to Loki in awe.

"Basic magic—one of the early spells learned by children on this realm," he explained as one of the children waved his hand to change the kite's direction.

Jane smiled at the thought of all she was experiencing. She was glad to finally enjoy a realm without a sense of dread. Loki led her through the crowd. He stopped in front of a man with a painted face, dressed in a shining gold costume. People were gathered around him. Streaks of light and color danced around him, shining midair. His face was expressive, and his eyes locked onto hers. He flashed a smile.

"Something for the lady," he said with flair, reaching out to place an item in her hand. She allowed him to open her palm and waited.

Magic sprung to life, slowly weaving over itself and gaining form. Vibrant color swirled in her grasp, building up into a sparkling recreation of a rose. The flower spun slowly, the light catching on each particle of magic. It was luminescent, reflecting bright shades of crimson off her delicate skin. She gasped at its beauty. Gently bringing up her other hand, she touched the corner of the flower with her fingertip. The image flickered and faded.

Looking up at Loki with a huge smile, she let out a delighted laugh. He was watching her with intense interest, allowing himself a smirk in return.

After Jane thanked the performer, the two of them continued pushing through the throngs of people. Loki insisted that she had to try some of the local cuisine. The closer they got to the center of the celebration, the more dense the crowd became around them. People were pushing through, shoving each other inadvertently. Struggling to keep up with Loki, she tried to power her way through.

A large man and his buddies shoved their way past her, causing her to stumble. After waiting to get back on her path, she realized that she had somehow lost her companion in the crowd. Logically she knew he could not have gone far, but for some reason panic crept up on her. Perhaps it was all her bad experiences, but she realized she had formed an attachment to Loki. With him gone she felt vulnerable and alone. Fear rose in her throat as she glanced around. She could not call his name without blowing his cover. She squeezed her eyes shut and hoped that they would find each other. Gathering her strength, she resumed her search. What she did not see was the eyes of a stranger that were now trained on her.

A/N: A big thank you to all my supporters. You guys keep me going! I try to respond to everyone (unless they are anon.) I am dedicated to finishing this story, even though it's getting harder to write. I won't give up and leave you all hanging. On a side note, no dogs were hurt in the making of this chapter-although I'm sure some of you may want to hurt him for interrupting things ;) Anyway, please let me know what you think of the chapter! Even if it's short. Thanks again everyone. Until next week ~