In the compound that houses the Tesseract, Loki finds a most unexpected and a most appreciated gift.
Jane Foster is tiny, even for a mortal, and her first question is not, as he expected, of Thor. It is of his passage here, of the Bifrost, and of the Tesseract, talking over the others in the room until her questions finally slow and her look turns thoughtful.
"Loki of Asgard," she says suddenly. "Brother of Thor."
As he stares down at her, the possibility that he is here from Thor clears from her eyes, and grim of face, she steps forward, placing herself between him and the Tesseract.
It becomes clearer, suddenly, why his brother favors her so.
"You are just as foolish as he," Loki says, wondering, before he presses the tip of his scepter against her chest.
She makes a distressed sound, as if in pain, as if it is pain of the body and not of the mind. Sentiment, Loki reminds himself, the useless, wasteful thing, can be more distressing than anything the body cannot stand, but he cannot deny it: it is painful. None are meant to experience this, to be scooped clean and mingled together, the mixture of two minds poured back into two separate bodies, neither getting back everything they put in.
None are meant to know another like this.
Her eyes turn blue and he knows her heart, and she knows his. She pulls from him, just as he pulls from her. He takes the knowledge of Midgard and of SHIELD as she carves from his mind all the secrets concerning the Bifrost, of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Numbers, letters, equations fill his mind, and for a second, her thirst for knowledge overrides his own agendas.
He did not know mortals could see the cosmos like this. He did not know Yggdrasil could be seen like this.
But in the end, his will is stronger; all else falls away and their goals align: open the bifrost.
He takes another, a soldier who is not a soldier, a warrior skilled in the aspects of war that Asgard would reject, that of stealth and secrecy and striking from the shadows. But he has heart where many of Asgard only pretend. He has many names, and as his heart starts to beat in time with theirs, Loki shuffles through them all. He finds Hawkeye most appropriate.
He was right to take this one. It is Hawkeye that leads them out, Hawkeye that finds the Midgardian transportation for them, and Hawkeye that fights off his former companions when Loki cannot, too busy adjusting to the minds now inside his own, too distracted by the magic under his hands.
As the compound collapses behind them, Jane puts her hand over his where it rests on the box of the Tesseract, her eyes blue, glowing.
Loki’s journey to Midgard wears on him more than he’ll admit, and so he lets the lesser burdens fall to his mortals. Hawkeye knows a place. He knows people to call. Escaped and settled in, with Hawkeye’s recruits at the beck and call of Jane-
Of Loki. Of Loki!
The three of them are bleeding together, Loki and his two mortals, but Jane Foster with Loki infinitely more so than the Hawkeye with any of them.
He did not have walls up when he’d taken her, did not expect to need them, and though control still lies with him, he cannot keep her out like he can the other. When he least expects it, she turns that blue-eyed gaze on him and rips through any partition he puts between them, grasping for the secrets of the hidden branches of Yggdrasil and the dark spaces between them, taking all of it and slotting it neatly with everything the Tesseract tells them.
He can see her mind, and it does not resist his, has not since he put the scepter to her chest. She is completely focused on the Bifrost and unlocking the knowledge of the Tesseract. She does not do it simply to stall his plans; there is no desire for it in her heart. It seems it is his own will that impedes any barrier between them; the more she knows, the faster she will complete her work.
Still, he cannot let it lie so easily.
“I imagine Heimdall has watched you quite closely and still continues to do so,” Loki says, and knows she understands what that means. He can imagine it, Thor pleading with Odin for passage to Midgard. There are ways, other than the Bifrost, ways he has used and ways he has not. Pathways that demand much power and promise even more danger.
Loki steps closer, towering over the machine she builds. “I have not shielded myself from Heimdall since I arrived. Do you think he will come, now that he knows I have you?”
He can taste the flicker of doubt, but joined as they are, he cannot tell if it is of her, or if it is his own.
She does not look up. “Does Thor keep his promises?” It is a phrased like a question and would almost sound like one if not for the way the Tesseract blurs out tonality, but it is not a question. She has access to his mind, his memories, and his very thoughts; she already knows.
He says it anyway: “Always.”
“Then he will return.” She turns her head, as if dismissing him.
Dismissing him. He is Loki of Asgard, he is Loki Laufeysson, the offspring of a creature most foul, the subjugator of the scepter of Thanos, a master of magic beyond any at Asgard’s call, and she-
And she is right, this mortal woman who sees into his mind when she should not. He knows she is right, because Loki also knows it as a truth. He knows Thor better than anyone, certainly better than his mortal woman, even with her mind creeping into his.
He will return.
He does return, in the wake of thunder and lightning ripping through the sky. When Thor steals him out of the mortals’ jet, they do not talk as brothers or those that once were. Thor does not talk of returning to Asgard. Truly, Loki did not expect it.
Thor asks him of Jane Foster.
It feels as though Mjolnir has been set to his chest once more, but Loki simply smiles. “How it must burn to know that I own her heart now."
Thor’s cry of rage is truly a thing of beauty, one suited well for the epic tales, but it comes to naught; he is swept away by the man of Iron, and Loki waits, patiently, while the mortals fight for the right to hold him captive. So easily he could slip into the shadows, but his Hawkeye needs the distraction and going with them serves Loki’s own purposes.
They put him in the cell built for the monster that lingers in their company. It is unlikely to hold him should he truly wish to escape. And he will. He will, but not yet.
Still, he cannot resist, even now. “Think, my dear Thor,” he says as they move to leave him, as if he won’t be able to hear them wherever they plan to go to discuss him, the fools. “Think of what will happen to her should Death come for me.”
Thor is restrained by the man with the shield, the Captain, and Loki offers his most vile smile, a thing of teeth and malice. It is most likely a lie, most of his truths are, but the thought of what might happen to Jane Foster and Hawkeye should Loki fall-
He will burn it, carve it out until nothing remains but his own will, unaffected by those that populate his past or by those currently in his present.
He will start with her. He will start with him.
He pours most of himself into the connection he shares with her, giving her everything she needs to complete her work and more. Where Hawkeye is dim, distant, distracted by his tasks, Jane burns bright. Jane is overwhelming, nearly unbearably. She is more a part of him than he has ever been with anyone else; he cannot keep her out. He cannot even try.
Her heart and mind burn with the Tesseract, consumed by things she never would’ve imagined, and those she already had, by things Loki has never seen, has never understood.
She wants to know how Thor arrived on Midgard. It is barely relevant to their goals, but Loki submits the information before their connection tears it from him anyway. The power used to rip such a hole, if Jane knew the consequences of Thor returning in such a way, of the wound that now gapes in the cosmos, it would cut at her heart.
It does cut at her heart. What he knows, she knows, Hawkeye knows. He knows now, they know now, what the Tesseract truly is. Not just blind power, but knowledge, that of everyone that has ever held her and that of everyone that ever will. It will burn them all to ashes. The power of her is not meant for mortals, not even for Aesir and especially not for the Jotnar.
And yet they hold her, Loki and his two mortals. They hold her now and that is enough. It is enough because now is all that matters in the wake of her power.
Now is all that exists.
“You lack conviction,” says the son of Coul, this man he knows but does not know.
Lacking conviction. Loki cannot help but smile.
He has taken his brother’s beloved in a way that Thor will never achieve. The Tesseract is part of her heart, now, as it is part of his. As she is part of his and he of hers. Their Hawkeye has been compromised in ways the Widow could never dream, and they both belong to him now.
If his own conviction was not enough, he has Jane’s, bleeding into him from every slight, every setback she has ever endured. He has Hawkeye’s, the buried and long forgotten hurts of a man forced to erase them, a man that became an assassin to survive. Their scars burrow into the burden he has carried his whole life, that of a second son, the foundling promised a throne but never truly meant for one.
He has both their drives and all of their ambition. If his own conviction was not enough, they have more than enough to spare. With them, this world will bow to his heel. This realm will be his, and he will show these ants what-
Loki pauses midstride, clasping at his chest as Hawkeye is ripped from them.
It is the Widow that takes him. It is the last thing they know of their Hawkeye, that she has stolen him back. Loki is already swearing vengeance.
Miles away, Jane bends double, forehead pressed against the Tesseract as she struggles to endure. Too long and she will burn, as they all will burn. As they are burning. Everything she takes, she keeps, burns away until there is nothing left.
None have ever left her. None have ever escaped her. None have ever tried.
But where there were three, there are now two. The anguish must be Jane’s. It cannot be the Tesseract’s; it cannot be his. They have no room for sentiment, but his face is wet and it is not with sweat.
She has taken him from them.
He has fallen through the heavens, has known himself as the monster of fairy tales, has had his heart pulled together by the bindings of wrath and despair, and has tasted power beyond his own father’s imaginings. He has seen worlds that make his mortals gape; beasts that make them quake, but this. This is unbearable. This is.
He thought he’d known despair as only the truly wretched of creatures can know it, but his thoughts were false. He has never known this. The term belongs to Hawkeye, to Clint and his Tasha, and it is one he has left with them: unmade. They are unmade.
Atop Stark tower, Jane rages. The Tesseract burns. He almost cannot stop her from rending the parts of the machine she builds, from throwing it over the edge. He almost does not wish it.
The Tesseract has built entire empires, re-carved entire realms to suit her own purposes, raised mountains and drained endless seas. She has seen worlds end and worlds begin; she has seen the birth of immortals and the death of the undying. She has destroyed, devoured, and rained destruction to all the ends of the universe, but not this.
She has never been unmade.
Lack of conviction. He will show these poor lost creatures, these mortal fools, his lack of conviction.
The battle rages strong throughout the center of the Midgardian city. It is now that Thor talks to him as a brother. It is now that Thor talks to him of coming home. Of how their mother mourned, of how their companions mourned, how Sif mourned.
Thor never did have much of a sense of timing. It is too late. Conviction. Sentiment. They no longer exist inside him; there is no room. There is no place. Loki has known this since his skin first turned blue in the horrible endless night of Jotunheim. He has known it since they lost their Hawkeye, since he was stolen from them.
Right or wrong does not exist for him anymore. There is only what is.
Thor stands in his way. That is.
The Tesseract is, more than any of them, more than all of them, more than their lost Hawkeye, more than what is left of Loki and what is left Jane. She is more real than the knife in his hand, but the knife is, too.
The knife sinks into Thor’s gut. That too, is.
The hesitation is not. It is not his. It cannot be his.
He feels it, when Jane Foster leaves him, the rending of it stronger than it’d been with Hawkeye, and though he has just been thrashed like a child, like he’s been before, gagging on sweat and tears and blood, the stench of ale strong in the air.
No. Not ale. That is not his memory.
The floor is broken beneath him, carved out where the Hulk has left him, and his body more than bruised, but Loki does not feel it. How could he? His very essence has been ripped away. The parts of him she takes with her, he will never get back. The parts of her she leaves, he cannot stand to keep. Unlike Hawkeye, it is more than just memories and knowledge. It is sentiment, ripe and dripping, everything that makes her mortal, makes her weak-
He knows, suddenly, what she will do. He knows, suddenly, what she has already done. The backdoor. She has created a way to close the Bifrost, when he’d meant to force it open and let the backlash destroy the Chitauri realm and their master of Death. She has found a way to thwart him, and she has done all of it without his knowledge. All of it under her own power, sneaking it in even while he’d been watching her the whole time.
It is something he would have done, perhaps, under different circumstances, and in a different life.
But this is not a different life; this is the only one Fate has allowed him, and while he should be shaping new plans and finding a new advantage, he is still reeling from being left alone in his own mind.
They take him and they put him chains. They muzzle him like a dog.
The others, his mortals, have recovered much faster than he. There is a resilience in being mortal that he did not expect. That he cannot understand. They are ants; they are nothing but insects to be crushed under his boot, the butt of his staff, fried with the power of his scepter. They are without the Tesseract where he is not, will never be again.
They are Jane.
They are Hawkeye.
Loki can see how he lurks, always there in the corner of his eye. Even though they are no longer connected, he can still taste Hawkeye’s wrath, burning in every look, in every movement. He is more than familiar with that anger, just as he knows that if Hawkeye’s companions were not here, if Thor was not here, if Jane–
They were connected through him, of him, and though he does not know the repercussions of that connection for his mortals, he knows what they shared. They have left a mark on each other, just as they have left on him and him on them.
If not for Jane, Hawkeye might not hold back by any urging, except, perhaps, by that of his Widow.
But though he reads Hawkeye far too easily, he is not familiar with the expression on Jane Foster’s face, though he has shared far more with her than he has with Clint Barton.
He cannot speak, not with the muzzle he wears, and she does not offer him words. She just holds his wrists and looks at him. Jane’s eyes are brown. They are brown, and they are warm, and Loki does not understand why she looks at him so. She has seen his heart.
She has seen his heart, but she has come forward where the mightiest heroes of Midgard would not. Her fingers are delicate, but they curl around his wrists with surprising strength, stronger than the manacles that rest below her hands.
He can see it easily, how Thor must have gone to her, how he must have prostrated himself before her like a servant, like a dog before his master. He can see how Thor must have begged his deepest regrets, swearing oaths to never let her come to harm again. He knows, because Jane knows, that Thor’s foremost thought when he faced the Destroyer was to keep her safe and to protect her realm.
If his tongue was unbound, he’d ask, in words like poisoned honey, how she will cope with the guilt. Not of what he has made her do, or what she might have done, but because in the deepest, darkest part of her heart, she is grateful.
She is grateful, and only the two of them know it.
Hawkeye was not there in the end. He was not with the Tesseract when she opened up and purged them of everything they thought they knew and filled them with everything they did not. No other mortal knows the universe like Jane Foster does now; she is unparalleled in this realm, perhaps even in the entirety of Yggdrasil. She is right, her theory is right, and she alone can wield the power of it, rebuild it and bend it to her will.
Some would think it a gift.
It is a curse.
It is a curse, and he knows it, she knows it, and whatever Hawkeye knows of it, suspects of it, it is that.
But she comes to him like it does not matter that he has done these things, like it does not matter that he has taken from her, poisoned her work and turned it against her. Like he does not know that her dreams will turn to nightmares, will fall like ash through her fingertips.
He wonders how long it will take for his Jane to destroy herself. He wonders if there is enough of him left in her to speed it along. If there is enough of the worst of their Clint to show her the easiest and quickest way to do it. Or if she will beg and plead with sentiment to save her, let it rot her away like a blight.
“You’re wrong,” she says, as if she knows what is in his head. They are not connected; she cannot. Jane clutches his wrists, stubby nails digging in deep, almost forceful enough to draw blood in his weakened state. “You’re wrong,” she says.
Loki smiles. She cannot see his mouth, but it is enough for her to see his eyes, full of the madness the three of them now carry in their hearts. It lurks, and soon it will seed. Soon it will grow and flower and fruit, and then nothing, nothing, not sentiment or his dear, dear brother, can save any of them.
Thor returns him to Asgard. It is easier, there. It is almost a relief, locked away to await the decree of his final fate by the faltering hypocrisy of the royal house, of his family. Here, in his childhood home, Loki can pretend that he cannot feel their mortals because they are on Midgard and he on Asgard, realms and realms apart.
As if distance would ever dim a connection such as the one they shared. Were they still together, the furthest branches of Yggdrasil could not part them. But they are not. Where there were three, there is now one, one and all the power in the universe, but still, only one.
They are all they have left.
In the darkness, the Tesseract whispers, For now.