"Darcy, where are you? I really wish we could talk."
Jane stares at the holomonitor, desperate to see her friend. She receives an 'error, cannot connect' message. There is a fierce storm raging outside and it must be affecting the connectivity.
Swearing, she puts her head down on her arms, but it does nothing to ease the stabbing in her temples. She feels dangerously close to walking herself down to the infirmary and swallowing every anodyne they have.
She groans as the lights turn on overhead. Tony Stark walks in, followed by Dr. Banner. He stops in mid sentence.
"Oh, shit, sorry. Didn't realize you were in here. J.A.R.V.I.S., reduce lighting by seventy-five percent."
The lights dim again, and Jane sighs in relief. She props herself up slowly.
"It's okay. I just needed somewhere quiet and dark."
"Headaches?" Tony guesses. She nods. Tony shares a poignant look with Dr. Banner and then makes himself scarce in the opposite side of the lab.
"Jane," Bruce says, "I need to show you something I've been looking at."
She slowly gets up and walks over to the console where he is standing. The hologram image of a human brain appears in 3D, rotating slowly.
"That's my brain," Jane surmises. Dr. Banner nods gravely. Jane's heart pounds. Her visions...do they know? Is she one stop away from a padded cell?
"What is it?" she prompts.
Dr. Banner rotates the image again and points to the frontal lobes.
"There's a lot of unusual brain activity. Normally, that could be a good thing. Hyper-neural activity is an attribute of many geniuses. But here..."
"It's resulting in damage," Jane finishes.
He nods. "Parts of your brain look similar to an elderly dementia patient. I have no explanation as to why this is appearing in you. You have no family history of this?"
Jane shakes her head, watching the 3D image rotate slowly. "So the headaches, the blackouts—?"
"All related. And I don't think it's going to get any easier for you, but there's a few painkillers we haven't tried yet. Also, I'm desperately need to check your blood work. Please." Dr. Banner pauses. "Fury doesn't need to know."
He looks at her earnestly. At this, Jane pushes up her sleeve and allows several vials to be taken from her.
Tony approaches reluctantly. "How are you doing, kid?"
Jane shrugs numbly. Tony moves to a terminal and starts flipping through hologram panels.
"J.A.R.V.I.S.?" he asks.
"Where's the tri-layer diagnostic program I wrote a while back?"
A long series of code, its complexity akin to that of a DNA strand, appears on the holoscreen in front of him.
"Excellent. Cross reference Dr. Foster's blood results and neural scan. Any irregularities."
"It will take several days, sir."
Tony turns back to them. "Worth a shot, right?"
Jane tries to smile at his forced optimism, but she feels drained and exposed, like the last remnant of privacy has been torn from her. She knows the team only means well, and she's grateful for their effort to help her, but what good is a non-answer?
Just then, the helicarrier vibrates from a huge jolt. Jane braces against the benchtop to keep from falling.
Dr. Banner looks over at Stark. "Lightning?" he asks.
"J.A.R.V.I.S., can you confirm a lightning strike?"
"Well, we all know what that means," Tony mutters as he rolls his eyes, "L'Oréal must make an entrance."
Sitting in the briefing room, Jane fights the impulse to fidget in her seat. She's certain it would be considered a sign a weakness. Instead, she sits up straight and looks ahead, trying desperately to pretend she belongs among the impressive array of tense Avengers. Dr. Banner sits closest to her, followed by Tony Stark.
The doors open, and she holds her breath. Armed guards pour into the room, escorting the Aesir brothers.
Apart from Thor, one figure is slightly taller than all the others, with the telltale shoulder length obsidian hair. There he is, in the flesh. For Jane, it is a surreal experience. The shamed prince of Asgard is no longer the maniacal, blurred figure on a TV screen, but real and breathing and walking amid a dozen armed guards. He's wearing the familiar tarnished armor with traces of singed forest green tunic underneath woven into the dark leather. It is a uniform that has endured combat on this world and others, no doubt, and next to the polished and stiff SHIELD guards, he makes them look painfully naïve and unseasoned.
Thor catches Jane's eye as he stands dutifully next to Loki, appearing as both a protector and jailor. He offers her a strained, tender smile that is far too intimate for Jane to contemplate further under the current circumstances. At a motion from Fury, the guards back away, leaving the princes standing alone opposite the Avengers.
For his part, Loki appears completely at ease. Jane watches his armored chest plate rise and fall evenly with his breaths. She hates to admit it, but despite wearing the cuffs and the muzzle, Loki's dark presence still manages to radiate throughout the room, clawing and threatening. Just for a moment, his sharp gaze finds her. Her blood runs cold, and her heart pounds so heavy in her chest she is certain the whole room can hear it. Thankfully, Fury begins to speak.
"Let me make this simple," the director says, redirecting the prince's attention. "You help us, or you go back to whatever prison cell you came from." He moves slowly around the table, arms behind his back. If he's going for intimidation, it's working. Jane only wishes she could shrink from the room, but all the while, Loki's burning stare follows the director without emotion.
"You will obey every order given to you. Betray us," Fury pauses for effect, "and any protection afforded you will be relinquished. Am I perfectly clear?"
There is a lengthy silence where Jane finds herself hardly daring to breathe. She shoots a questioning look to Thor, but his attention riveted on Loki, as though he, too, is unconfident of his brother's response.
Solemnly, Loki nods, his green eyes dangerous.
"Good." Fury stands before Loki now. Despite being an imposing man, the Aesir prince still has several inches on him. If Fury notices, he doesn't show it.
"Now that we have your full cooperation," the director tells him, "you're going to tell us what the hell is going on here."
Loki's elegant brow rises, perfectly stating his retort as though he could speak. However am I supposed to do that?
Fury motions to the silent agents in the periphery. "Escort the prisoner to bay 22X."
The agent who grabs Loki's arm and roughly shoves him forward earns no reprieve from Fury. A small retaliation for New York, Jane wonders? The fallen prince moves willingly enough with them, as SHIELD has bayonets adhered to their assault rifles and aimed an uncomfortable distance from his body. It's testament to human brutality, or more likely, SHIELD's desperation. Jane is quite certain Loki has sustained more than a few "accidental" jabs as he walks.
It's no less than he deserves, she reminds herself. The images she recalls from the TV screen are forever imprinted on her memory. Loki is an animal and a murderer. He is not like Thor.
Her thoughts are interrupted when the thunder god slips his warm hand around hers, and Jane responds by squeezing it gratefully. In the chaos, she has almost forgotten her once painful misery over Thor's absence. His presence now, tenuous as it is, provides a hint of solace for her to hold onto.
The veteran Avengers bring up the rear of the escort. It's eerily silent between them, as though they are in a funeral procession. In many ways, Jane supposes, they are, being forced to step aside and let the villain become the savior. Jane can all but taste the simmering resentment in the air.
If Thor notices, he doesn't act on it. Eyes trained on Loki, he walks with determination, ignoring the visible battle wounds of the helicarrier and the terrified looks of the crew as they pass by.
If possible, the tension only increases when they enter the bay where the alien is housed. Loki regards the imprisoned Frost Giant impassively. Thor leaves Jane's side to stand beside his brother. Jane swears that she sees the Frost Giant bear his teeth at the sight of Thor.
Reluctantly, the thunder god removes Loki's gag and steps back. Loki moves his neck from side to side, cherishing the new-found freedom, even as his wrists are still shackled.
Fury clears his throat, earning a resentful glance from the dark prince. But, true to his word, Loki approaches the cylindrical prison cell alone and stops before it, gazing in at the prone Frost Giant.
Jane waits for him to speak. Long seconds pass. He's silent, and yet the intensity of his gaze indicates that something more is happening. Her hands are clenched so tight her knuckles are white, waiting.
"Loki…" comes Fury's agitated growl. A muscle twitches in the dark prince's jaw, and Jane's quite sure that sans the rune-covered Aesir handcuffs, Fury would have been made to regret his impatience. Violently.
The agents that flank Loki raise their guns in unison. Thor swears under his breath.
"This is not a game. Get it talking or we end you," Fury threatens, and judging by the director's menacing expression, Jane is quite certain he's not bluffing. Loki appears to ignore him, still intently focused on the captive alien. Fury makes a quick motion with his hand, and the prince brutally struck from behind by multiple gun barrels. He is brought to his knees, his arms futilely raised to protect himself. Thor rushes forward.
"What is this? Enough!" The agents pause their attack and look for direction.
Fury glares at the thunder god. "Your brother agreed to help. We didn't bring back Earth's most hated war criminal to observe a staring contest."
Just then, the Frost Giant roars something intelligible and pounds against the glass. The sound echoes in the big room, shaking all of them to the core. Jane catches the smirk on Loki's lips before he rises to his feet and looks back at Fury.
"This is a highly obstinate race, but I have what you need."
If the director is surprised, he hides it well. "We're waiting," he growls.
Loki smiles, all poison. "And give such precious information away for nothing? I think not. We have terms to discuss, director."
This time, it's Thor that grabs Loki by his throat with gritted teeth.
"How dare you!" he growls.
Loki chuckles hoarsely. "Nothing is free, brother," he gasps. Thor releases him, and Loki clears his throat. Standing to his full height, he regards them levelly.
"Time is precious. Shall we?"
A/N Still here! Hope you guys are still interested in this, and a thousand apologies for the wait. Life has a way of getting crazy. Let me know your thoughts—they keep me motivated!