The Enemy of My Enemy
- Prologue -
"Go! Take her from here Loki!"
"No!" Jane took two stumbling paces towards the Thunder God. "Not without you Thor!"
But he had already turned to face the dark elves, hammer swinging large circles in his mighty grip.
"Foolish girl!" The words hissed in her ear as a strong hand grasped her arm; pulling her back, holding tight against her thrashings.
"Look before you. Do you think he can do anything but stay and fight? He is right. We must go."
Jane cast her eyes wildly around the harsh rocky terrain, searching for another answer even as the enemy surged forward.
"Come now!" Slender fingers dug painfully as Loki tugged her back to the hillside of scrub and rock from where they had come. Still Jane resisted; watching as Thor drove his hammer to the ground, sending dozens of their enemy hurtling backwards - only to be replaced by a new wave of elvish warriors.
"Thor will find us! Come now, before I'm forced to hoist you over my shoulder!"
Jane looked away from the battlefield, to meet Loki's fierce gaze as he stood glowering before her. How different he now seemed from the Loki she had come to know. Trickster indeed. And he would do it, of that she had no doubt. Nodding, she stumbled as he tugged her arm again. His iron-like vice both holding her upright and preventing her from escape as they made their way back to the dark path.
Thor would find them. Loki promised. Though Jane wondered if Loki's assurances carried as much weight as his honour, which carried none at all. Still, he needed them as much as they needed him. If Thor could bank his trust on this, so would she. There was no other choice.
Loki glanced over his shoulder then, and met Jane's troubled eyes. If his dark smile chilled her, his eyes terrified her. Flat and emotionless. Empty. Like the dead universe into which he once fell.
Terrible foreboding rippled down her spine in a wave of fear, and she began to fight him. But the dark one held on tight, dragging her painfully. Away from the battlefield. Away from Thor.
She realised then, the terrible mistake they had made.
Sometimes the enemy of your enemy was not always your friend.
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- Chapter One -
A few weeks earlier..
Of all the terms and conditions Jane expected the Allfather to lay down when Thor brought her before him, this one had never entered her mind. Thor was equally surprised, though for different reasons; an outraged roar of protest escaping his lips even as his father sought to silence him with a steely glare that left no room for argument.
Still, it can't be so bad, Jane thought. In fact she felt giddy with relief and wondered why Thor could be so visibly rocked by the decision. The Allfather was letting her off lightly, as far as she was concerned.
Of course, she was but a mere mortal, stumbling blind in a realm of beings so much greater and far-seeing than she. What was one such as herself to know of tests and tasks and all that was hidden within even the simplest of them?
And so Thor led her deep into the underbelly of Asgard where his excommunicated brother, Loki Laufeyson, served an immortal's life sentence. As they made their descent, Thor cautioned her, only half in jest, to keep her head down and avoid his brother's gaze; least she find herself susceptible to his trickster charm.
Jane nodded absently, her mind still reeling over her surroundings; at the fact that she was here - in Asgard - surrounded by technology the likes of which humanity had yet to dream. And yet it was a realm that still clung so tightly to its past. The cobblestone streets with their small inns and open markets. The warriors practicing their swordplay in the training yard. This palace with its old world elegance and its… Dungeons.
It was all a strange fairytale. And at the heart of the tale; this task Odin had set down for her. An ordeal she must undertake, to prove her worth. To venture into the dungeons, face her planet’s greatest adversary, and work with him to recreate a stable bifrost - without reliance on the Tesseract for power.
Of course, the thought of being within a hundred feet of Loki made her baulk with spitfire fury and no small amount of apprehension, but… Given the gains at the end of it all, the task couldn’t be so bad, right?
Lost in thought, Jane gradually became aware of Thor's sombre glances. On a sudden whim she grabbed one large hand between her two small palms and tugged the Thunderer to a halt, bouncing on her toes as she gave his hand a firm squeeze; as if to press some of her exuberance into him and force his furrowed brow to smooth out with one of his easy grins.
Allowing her a moment's indulgence, Thor mustered the ghost of a smile and raised his free hand to Jane's chin, lightly tracing her jawline before tucking a stray hair behind her ears and sweeping his fingertips to the nape of her neck.
"Jane..." His frown deepened. "I fear you don't understand what's at play here."
"So, explain it to me then?" Though she tried to keep her tone upbeat, frustration drove a small wedge into Jane's joviality as she stilled herself before his gaze. "I'm being sent to visit your mentally unstable brother. It's not going to be an easy task. I get that. But he's locked up, his magic's bound, there'll be guards within screaming distance..." She flashed a light-hearted smile and rubbed her thumb lightly across his cheek. "How hard can this be?"
“My father is not one to set an easy task.” Thor's troubled voice rumbled as he caught her hand in his own. "I fear that neither of us yet realize what you're being asked to endure."
Jane shook her head, exasperation evident now. "To be perfectly honest Thor, it's a little unfair that I'm being asked to endure anything without any forewarning."
"Loki's magic may be bound, but he still has a silver tongue, and his skill at using it is -"
"So I'm at risk of being seduced now?" Jane laughed, unable to resist the quip.
"What?" Thor rocked backwards, horror dawning at the potential misinterpretation of his words.
"Relax." Jane tilted her head with a smile as she gave his hand a squeeze. "I was making a joke."
"My brother is no joke, Jane." Thor's voice was tight and troubled. "You'll do well to remember that."
Jane nodded, suddenly sobered as a faint blush rose to her cheeks. "It was crass. I’m sorry.”
"Never mind." Thor leant in and lightly touched his lips to her own before pulling away with an earnest smile, "Just know that his power lies in his words, and he'll wield them like a weapon. But I believe if anyone's smart enough to deflect him, it will be you."
Pulling back, Thor swept her hands up in his own, clasping them to his chest as he flashed one of his easy grins. "Now my Jane, shall we carry forward?"
Unable to find words as she sought to process his own, Jane simply nodded and pulled closer her wandering thoughts. In solemn silence, they descended the belly of Asgard.
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Jane felt Loki’s eyes upon her as she stepped up to his glass cell, beyond the pillared stone foyer.
Her skin crept beneath his scrutiny and, for the first time since Odin had outlaid his task before her, Jane felt foreboding settled around her like a frozen blanket; it's weight pressing down until she baulked, her feet refusing to take another step further.
This conniving bastard was the man who had tried to enslave her planet! And now she had to play nice with him to solve a problem that to her planet was still only quantum theory ? How could she have believed this would be an easy task?
"Jane?" Thor shifted his body so that he blocked her from Loki's sight, gently cupping her shoulders as he turned worried eyes upon her. "Are you unwell?"
With a curt shake of her head, Jane squeezed her eyes tightly shut, telling herself to suck it up. "Mm fine. I just need a moment."
Pulling her close, Thor wrapped his arms around her and murmured, "Remember Jane, Loki will seek to hurt you with his words, but he can do no more to you than that."
"Tell me again, why I have to do this? Why him ? Is there no one else? No fire-breathing dragon for me to take on? No three-headed monster?"
Jane's happy-go-lucky ease had quickly worn off upon entering the cold stone pillared dungeon, and she raised her eyes to Thor's and searched his wide honest face. "Seriously, why does it feel like I'm being punished?"
"Ah my Jane, there is no punishment in this, I promise you." Laying a gentle kiss upon her brow before she could protest, Thor stroked his palm between her shoulder blades in long fluid movements, as if by doing so he could sweep away her fears. "There may be another with whom we can consult, but Loki is most knowledgeable on this and... Mortals do not enter into our ranks. Not ever. Father seeks to test your mettle."
"My mettle. Well that's great." Jane cocked her head and smiled. "Does asking SHIELD for my stuff back count enough as mettle?"
"You'll do fine." Tipping her chin with his fingertip, Thor met her eyes. "You're strong, brave, and smart. I only hope my brother fails to see these qualities in you, lest he too finds cause to fall in love with Jane Foster."
Still unaccustomed to hearing admissions of love fall from the lips of a God-like otherworldly being, Jane opened her mouth and closed it wordlessly before scrubbing away the hot blush that rose to her cheeks. She grinned and ducked her head, hoping Thor didn't expect a reply. Or at least, not a coherent one.
Satisfied that her concerns had been alleviated, Thor turned back towards his brother's cell and waited for Jane to fall in beside him. "He can do no harm." He reaffirmed once more beneath his breath as he led her forward.
Nodding with forced bravery, Jane forced herself to lift her gaze from the stone steps and meet the eyes of the man who had tried to bring her world trembling to its knees.
But his attention was fixed on his brother. And if looks could kill, Thor would surely be dead by now.
"Why do you bring the mortal into the underbelly of Asgard? Do you tire of her so quickly that you wish to rid her so?" The Trickster's soft whisper rang out, hanging in the air like a gentle threat as a cold shiver crawl ran down Jane's spine at his implication. "You always have been so generous in sending me your castoffs when done with them."
"Curb your liar's tongue, least you'd like it removed from your mouth." Thor's voice was level, his composure carefully controlled, but Jane could feel his tension through her fingers as she curled one hand tighter around his arm. "She comes by will of our father."
" Our father, Odinson? Come now, you don't wish to go over this again, do you?"
The contempt in the younger man's smooth cold voice was almost tangible, and for the first time, Jane wondered why she'd never thought to ask Thor of the bitter history he and Loki shared.
"For the moment, no." Jane's heart wrenched at the thinly-veiled anguish in Thor's voice. "But it is a conversation we must have, in good time Loki."
"Ah, of course. It is a discussion not fit for a lady's ears, as it will only end in violence." Loki sighed, though all knew his regret was only a lie. "As it always does."
"Jane is here at the Allfather's request, and you will not harm her." Thor's authoritative boom overrode Loki's serpentine hiss as he stepped towards a section of stone wall beside Loki's cell. "Now I will remind you to stand back and not attempt anything foolish as we enter."
Pressing his hand against a stone almost triangular in shape, Thor beckoned Jane forward as a portion of the wall slid back to reveal a doorway. Stepping through with just a moment's hesitation, Jane found herself in a small dimly lit alcove where she stood before another door. Once the first slid to a close, Thor activated the second, and brilliant white light poured into the alcove from Loki's cell beyond.
Sparing a glance towards Thor, Jane stepped into the cell, her eyes flicking from Loki’s face long enough to take in the slim, dark-haired figure dressed in black.
Surprise caused her to hitch her breath. News coverage had shown an imposing figure larger than life - a towering God of near-indestructible strength. And while he was clearly taller and heavier-set than herself, this figure who sat neatly on a chair with a book on his lap looked like a slender branch in comparison to that former image; incapable of holding his own against a strong gust of wind, let alone Earth's mightiest heroes.
"So this is the woman who turned the Odinson's mind to mush." Cold laughter lifted Loki's voice as he rose from his seat and stepped softly towards her; his height and strength becoming deceptively apparent with each step. "The poor thing looks like a lamb on her way to the slaughter. Who would have known you like your whores so meek?"
"You dare!" Thor roared and moved to pass Jane, but she surprised them both; rising on her toes, swinging her fist and connecting solidly with Loki's jaw.
The dark Prince’s head rocked to one side, the blow unexpected, but when he swung his head back there was a smirk of satisfaction on his face. "Oh. Now I see the attraction."
Shock and adrenalin caused Jane's entire body to tremble as she marvelled at her own stupid bravery, and resisted the urge to clutch her stinging knuckles. "That's for insulting me. I still owe you for New York."
Thor's laughter reverberated through the cell. "Not so meek after all, aye little brother?" And then he did step past Jane - to clasp Loki around the neck and draw him close. "But if you refer to her as a whore again, I will sew your lips together myself."
Unperturbed, Loki's lips curled in invitation, before his expression fell to mock dismay. "So I'm not your favourite anymore?"
Thor released his brother with a light backwards shove and changed the subject, his tone firm and commanding. "Jane is a scientist on her world. She has been trying to create a bridg-"
"I am well aware of who Jane Foster is and what she does." Loki cut in with a flippant wave of his hand. "Yet I'm not sure why I should care?"
"We need to rebuild the Bifrost. It is not safe to continue using the Tesseract as a power source. The Allfather has asked Jane to speak with you. He believes you can help us find a better way to harness its power."
Loki blinked. "The Allfather thinks to ask me for help? Oh, now this is amusing!" He clapped his hands together, mischievous delight written across his face. "But why should I? He has done nothing for me. He can't even come down here to ask me himself!"
Then Loki paused and his lips twitched as he fought a smile. "Have his knees grown weak? There are a lot of steps to negotiate, I must admit. And I couldn't possibly agree to his request without first making him kneel ."
"Our father is busy fighting a war." Thor countered. "The Realms are falling to ruin and every day our enemies close in. If we can't restore order now, all will be lost."
"Oh Thor, stop being so pessimistic!" Loki stepped away and picked up a book, flicking through it, absent-minded. "What's wrong with a bit of war? It's character building."
His hand hovered above a page as he looked up with a wolfish grin and glittering eyes. "Don't you think?"
"I think you're wasting our time." Jane interrupted, grabbing Thor's arm. "Let's figure out something else. Clearly your brother's as mad as a March Hare. I wouldn't work with him if you paid me."
Tugging hard to move Thor towards the door, Jane finally felt his body budge when Loki's voice rang out, "Well then, perhaps if Jane Foster is so unwilling to be in my company, I might agree to assist her after all."
Thor placed his hand over Jane's own, cautioning her to wait. "And why would her discomfort change your mind?"
Loki's eyes lit. "Watching your beloved squirm with unease would give me such pleasure ."
Inflamed, Jane stepped forward. "You bastard! Little wonder your family deson’t wa-"
Strong hands gripped her shoulders and tugged her back. Thor’s breath was warm at her ear. "No Jane. He seeks only to bait you for his amusement. Do not allow him the satisfaction."
Closing her eyes, she forced a small tight nod and a deep breath. "Okay. Well, least I wasn't stuck having to grow up with him I s’pose."
Returning his attention to Loki, Thor’s expression turned solemn. "On another matter, Mother is unwell."
Loki raised an eyebrow with an air of disbelief. "Unwell?"
"It's true. She is not herself." Thor hesitated, unsure of how much information he could trust to his brother. "We believe there is a dark blight affixed to her."
"And you tell me this as some kind of... afterthought?" Loki's soft tone pitched, concern alighting his face for the briefest moment before dissolving into something dark and venomous once more. " He doesn't want me to know, does he? The Allfather will allow me to hold the Tesseract, yet he won't ask me to aid our mother? Why?"
So she's our mother again? Thor pondered thoughtfully but did not say aloud. Instead, he replied, "We are not fool enough to allow you near the Tesseract, Loki. We merely seek your counsel. There was once a time when your words carried wisdom. I have hope they can again."
Loki fell silent then, his lips caught on the edge of a sneer that faltered; uncertain. After a pause, he sighed and closed his eyes, as if seeking consult from within. His bearing had changed from smug to weary, like a glamour slipping from his face.
"I will help you." He answered at last. "But I have two requests in return."
Thor's eyes narrowed, knowing Loki's boons were likely to be disagreeable to all but Loki. "Go on."
"You will tell me all you know of mother's condition."
After a beat, Thor nodded. That one wasn’t so bad.
Loki’s poker-face rippled before his lips curled into a wicked grin. "And I will work with Jane alone ."
"What?!" Jane snorted. "I hardly think that's going to hap -"
"There will be guards posted in the foyer," Thor spoke overtop of Jane as he countered Loki's demand, having anticipated such a serpent-strike.
"Of course." Loki concurred. Crocodile smile splitting wide.
"Wait!" Jane's chagrin went ignored and she tried again, this time, her voice snapping the air like a whip. "Hey! Do I get a say in this or what!"
Both men fell into chastised silence but it was Loki who turned to her first with a sideways glance, villainous smile melting into charm. "Why of course dear Jane! What would you like to say?"
Jane stopped then, thrown off by the Trickster's sudden change in countenance. She opened her mouth, closed it, then spared a glance to Thor who waited expectantly with arms folded across chest, thoughtful frown in place.
Grim with resolution, she picked up her pace. "Without Thor present, what would stop you from killing me? What would stop you from snapping my neck in revenge against your brother? Against humanity?"
Loki’s laughter was, for once, genuine. "Where would the fun be in that? Oh no, Jane, I'd require far more than your death if I wanted revenge against… well, anything really."
"Loki stop this." Thor's voice boomed. "Jane, you will be quite safe here. There will be guards outside - "
"So if your crazy-ass brother tries to strangle me, the guards will be faster than his hands?" Jane asked, incredulous.
"Loki would not do that." Thor forced conviction into his words, but at the heart of them, even he couldn't be sure. Once, he would have sworn his brother would never stoop to harming an unarmed woman. But then, once he would have sworn Loki would never murder a man in cold blood, or try to force his twisted rule upon an entire world…
"Look, you don't have to agree to these terms, Jane." Loki held out his hands in entreat. "This decision can only be made by you. And you can, of course, say no."
"And if I did? What then?"
"Well.." Loki shrugged. "I imagine the Allfather barely tolerates your presence here in Asgard now…" His tone took on a bitter edge. "He's not overly fond of allowing other races into his realm, unless of course, they can serve some kind of purpose for him. And you're not doing much of a job puzzling out that Bifrost issue on your own, are you?"
Thor stepped forward, "Loki you cannot keep holding this grud-"
"Ah ah!" Loki waggled a finger at the Thunder God. "Do not interrupt Odinson - your lady was about to speak!"
"No, I'm not." Jane paused, stumbling on her words. "I mean, I'm not getting far with the Bridge. And I guess without your help…"
"People will die? Worlds will be reduced to motes of dust? Scattered through the universe?" Loki grinned. "Of course, this could be just what I'm hoping for, you know. And your fears may be correct. I may just be luring you like a fly to my web -"
"Loki end this foolishness and give us an answer!" Thor bellowed. "Will you help us or not!"
"I've given you my terms!" Loki exclaimed, rankled. "The choice is now Jane's to make. I was just laying out her options."
At that, the two Aesir turned to Jane, but her attention was now resolutely taken up by the underneath of her fingernails, which seemed to hold invisible dirt in need of removal.
Finally, the weight of their stares became too much and she looked up, meeting first the warm blue eyes of Thor, and then the smug gaze of his brother.
"I need your word that you won't try to kill me. Or maim me, for that matter." Jane frowned, wondering if his word was actually worth anything at all.
"Jane, Jane…" Loki sighed. "What can I say? Do you really believe I wish to bring Ragnarok upon us? If the worlds go to Hel in a handbasket, I won't have a place to live! In that sense, we fight for a common good. Don't you think?"
"So you're saying the enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Jane asked skeptically.
"Indeed!" Loki grinned from ear to ear, showing far too many teeth than Jane was comfortable with.
Like the Cheshire Cat. Jane thought. Sinister and mysterious. And probably up to no good. And I'm Alice. And this is Wonderland. And.. Oh… "God, I'm gonna regret this, aren't I?"
It was a rhetorical question, but still Loki's eyes gleamed victorious as he opened his mouth to reply.
"No, you shut up! Don't you say another word!" Jane demanded. "Or I'll change my mind."
"You'll agree then?" Thor's face relaxed into a beaming smile - such a stark contrast to the self-satisfied smirk his brother currently wore.
"Yes!" Jane rubbed a hand across her brow, wondering with despair what Eric would say if he were to see her now. "But. Not now. This afternoon. Give me a couple hours to enjoy the light and laughter of Asgard before I have to come back down here and endure him."
"Agreed!" Thor exclaimed, clapping one strong arm around Jane's shoulders and the other around his brother - who sidled out of his embrace at once, brushing at his clothes as if to remove dirt.
"Agreed." Loki's reply was cool and clipped; half-pleasant facade dropped now that the deal was struck. "Now leave me. I too fear this is a decision I'll come to regret - enduring this mortal for fifteen minutes has been taxing enough. I don't know how I'll cope with her for longer."
He ran his eyes over the two of them then and pressed his lips together in distaste. "You two are well suited for each other."
Thor inclined his head as they turned to leave, knowing Loki’s words were meant as an insult but refusing to let them remain as such. “Indeed, we are.”
And that was how Jane’s test began.