Jane wouldn't call it a swan dive, really, but it's close enough, falling from the window to hit the top of the van and roll, catching herself before she plummets into the street. It's an accident - not that she'll admit to it any time soon - that she manages to slide through the open window into the passenger seat without breaking something vital.
"Why'd you trip the alarms?" Darcy asks as she swerves the van into traffic. "You never trip the alarms. Hey! Where's the thing?"
Jane gives her a look, testing out the ache in her shoulder. "The thing, Darcy, really?"
"What! You're the one with the science-y mojo-"
"Some guy got there first," Jane says, hands flat on the dash. "He got there first!"
"Some guy, what guy?"
"If I knew, don't you think I'd have led with that? He's. Some guy. A thief!"
Darcy switches lanes, easing around the next corner. She takes it slower now that they're a few blocks from the building, careful to follow traffic. "Uh, Jane? We're thieves."
"Darcy, not the point! We've been planning this for weeks and he just waltzed in there and took my arc reactor!"
And he saw her, and he blew her a kiss, the arrogant jerk-
And he was devastatingly handsome, her brain reminds her. With those blue, blue eyes, and those muscles! He was far too built to have crawled through the ventilation shafts like she did - she's not sure his shoulders would even fit if he tried - so how did he get in? They had the security cameras, they had the motion sensors, and they even had the lasers - trust Tony Stark to have physics-defying lasers guarding his most precious tech - so how hadn't they seen him coming?
How had Jane missed it?
She shakes her head and slams her palms on the dashboard.
It didn't matter how handsome he was or how he got in without her notice, without Darcy's notice. He took her arc reactor!
"So what now?"
"Now we get it back."
Darcy has more contacts than she does twitter posts, but what she can't find herself, she invariably heads to The Intern. It's a stupid name, honestly, but he gets results, and it lets Darcy get her flirt out so she doesn't do it on a job when she's not supposed to. But getting names isn't easy in their business - anonymity's the watchword - even from The Intern, even when Darcy's got her flirt dialed up to an eleven, so that leaves Jane to stew.
Jane's never done well with waiting. And the arc reactor has a very distinctive power signature. It's how she found the specific location among Stark's various storage facilities and warehouses and vaults. He's never kept anything very well hidden, but this? This he wanted tucked away from the world, guarded by his highest level of security. Kept away from Jane.
Too bad for him that Jane likes a challenge.
He should probably know that by now.
Jane also likes things that can unlock the secrets of the universe. It's a hobby - but Stark should also know that, just by the properties of the tech she's stolen from him in the past.
She found it once, so she can find it again. Doesn't mean Blondie hasn't hawked it already, but he's not important. The arc reactor is what's important. And if he still has it, too bad for him. He can't just take what's Jane's.
She's recalibrating her sensors to a stronger setting - Blondie might've taken the reactor out of range but that won't stop her - when Erik calls over comms.
"Thor," she says, blinking. "That was Thor? I didn't think he'd be so... big."
It's not entirely true. Not that she's thought about Thor in a... physical capacity before. The stories she's heard about Thor and his team make him seem larger than life. Mythological, even, like the golden unicorn or the Bifrost, responsible for a whole host of impossible, improbable heists that few could explain or even attempt to recreate.
And he went after her arc reactor? What would a man like that want with Stark's arc reactor?
Well, a lot of things, actually, now that she takes the time to think about it outside of the scope of her own interest. A lot of deadly, dangerous, explosive things.
She's a thief, but she's never hurt anybody.
"These people are dangerous, Jane," Erik says. "They're highly trained by various military organizations, and they've been working together for years. Promise me you won't do anything rash."
Her sensor pings loudly.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," she says, pulling up a map, surprised at how close it is. He hasn't even left the city yet. Of all the arrogant, bullheaded-
"Erik, I've gotta go," Jane says, disconnecting comms. He attempts to call her back immediately, but Jane sends him straight to voicemail. She bites at her thumbnail, then saves the address to her phone. She grabs her helmet on the way out.
It takes less than twenty minutes to get to the location. She spends a few minutes casing the joint, checking out the buildings on all sides. Going in cold is stupid. For anyone else, it might even be a death sentence. Darcy is the hacker, but Jane's been dodging motion sensors and cameras her entire life. She knows how to get into places that don't want to let her in.
For a team so supposedly impossible to beat, Thor's security certainly sucks. It's not long before she's gazing down into the blue glow of the reactor. Mine, she thinks, and settles in to wait. Thor's team might be lauded the best crew in the business, but even myths have to sleep sometime.
Even myths let down their guard.
They're standing near the reactor, drinking beer and talking. Jane probably should've done a little more research into his team before she crashed their hideout, but what she knows about their legends lets her pick out each of them. That's Fandral with the beard and the boasts, Volstagg with the booming laughter, and Hogun with the barely visible smile. And that's Loki, the trickster, the greatest grifter this generation has produced, comparable even to Jane's mom, if the rumors were true.
Her breath catches.
She knew he had muscles, she knew he was impossibly gorgeous, but he's just feet away and she can see him all the more clearly. They'd been across the room in Stark's building, yards and yards away from each other. He'd been in black gear, his golden hair hidden by a black cap. She hadn't seen the sculpt of his arms then, the details obscured by the cling of fabric. She hadn't known who he was then, either.
Jane puts her hands to her eyes and exhales as silently as possible. Dear god what is she doing?
"You seem preoccupied," a woman says, and Jane nearly shoves her elbow against the side of the ventilation shaft.
She hadn't forgotten about Sif, not really. How could she ever forget about Sif? Sif who took out an entire team of Hydra enforcers on her own, Sif that escaped from a locked cell in a Siberian gulag, Sif that used to run Black Ops missions for the army. If rumors where true.
Thor takes a bottle of beer from her, clinking it against the one she keeps for herself. He drinks, and Sif is quiet for a moment.
"You said there was a woman. A witness."
Thor waves her off. "I do not think her a danger, Sif."
Sif raises one elegant eyebrow. "She saw your face."
Jane's muscles lock. She can't breathe. The closest exit is a long ventilation shaft away, and the faster she moves the more sound she'll make. And if the stories are true, Sif moves like a ghost, impossible to touch and even harder to catch; Jane might be fast, but she doesn't have that kind of speed.
But Thor laughs. It is a deep laugh, and it transforms his face. If she thought him handsome before, she was wrong. Seriously, seriously wrong. Warmth settles in Jane's belly, and she curses herself. Not the time! Of all the inappropriate reactions to have-
"If Stark's employees have started traveling through his ventilation system, then we might wish to start asking different questions than where he keeps his valuables."
"You never know with Stark," Sif says, and isn't that the truth?
But Thor shakes his head. "No, the woman was not one of his."
"So another thief," Sif says. "That's almost worse, Thor. Just because you thought her pretty-"
Jane forces herself still, and she tries to quiet her suddenly racing heart.
"-doesn't mean she's not a threat. In fact, I think it makes her more of one."
"Do my ears deceive me," he says. "Is that fear I hear in your voice?"
She snorts. "You get into far too much trouble for me not to be concerned."
"Truly, I'm touched, but you needn't worry."
The look she gives him speaks volumes.
"Sif, if you wish for a fight," Thor says, getting to his feet, "all you have to do is ask. I'll gladly spar with you."
"You wish to try that again? You still owe me a steak dinner from the last time. What could you possibly wager this time? Two steak dinners?"
"You assume I did not let you win that bet," he says. "I have tasted your cooking, Sif."
Sif socks him in the shoulder, and Thor's laughter cuts off abruptly when the door shuts behind them. Jane breathes a little easier. It's some time before the others leave, and she lets a few hours pass and the building go silent before she pushes open the grate and slips through.
No motion sensors, no cameras, no alarms. No lasers, either. Thor really needs to look into a better security system if he wants to hold on to the things he steals from Jane. She saw Volstagg punch in the code, but even if she hadn't, she wouldn't need it. Their safe is nothing more than a simple keypad. She's almost insulted, but of course they didn't expect her. They probably didn't expect anyone.
Who would cross this crew?
The arc reactor is beautiful, and it's even more so when she's holding it in her hands. Jane doesn't waste time lingering, though she thinks she could stare into the device's depths forever.
But she still hesitates before she heads to her exit.
She promised Erik she wouldn't do anything rash. Jane's way past that, so far past it that she can already hear Erik's disappointed sigh, but she's courting disaster. She's done worse things, hasn't she? She's always managed to come out ahead when she followed her gut, and.
And she wants to see what he'll do.
She needs to see what he'll do.
Thanks for the reactor, she writes on the back of a beer bottle label. But it wasn't necessary for you to get it out of Stark's for me.
Then she anchors it in the reactor's place with an empty bottle, but before she closes the safe, Jane signs her name in large, legible letters.
"I may have done something rash," Jane says, but Darcy doesn't even pull her attention away from her phone. Too busy texting or hacking into someone's Facebook or rewriting the entire internet.
"What else is new?"
"I don't think you're understanding exactly what I'm saying."
She takes the arc reactor out of her bag and sets it on the coffee table. The blue glow fills the room, and Darcy finally looks up.
"Jane," Darcy says slowly, "where did you get that?"
Jane pulls a face. "I stole it?"
"From Stark? Please tell me you stole it from Stark."
"I mean. Indirectly," Jane says. "Yeah, I stole it indirectly from Stark."
"Oh my god. Oh my god, Jane!" Darcy drops her phone on the counter and starts to dismantle their stuff. It's a temporary safe house while they're in town, so there's not a lot to do - grab whatever gear they're taking with them and wipe whatever electronics they're not.
"I found its energy signal," Jane says, clutching the arc reactor close to her chest. "It's a very distinctive energy signal."
"And you stole it?" Darcy snorts. "Of course you stole it."
"I'm a thief! They weren't even guarding it that well! Should I have just left it there?"
"No, no," Darcy says, "I probably would've done it too, but I just can't get over the fact that you stole from Thor Odinson. But it's okay. It's cool. We were gonna take a vacation anyway - you want to go to Dubai? Then maybe somewhere in Bulgaria? We haven't been there in awhile-"
"Darcy," Jane says. She hasn't moved since Darcy started her whirlwind throughout the room.
Darcy freezes in place, holding a tablet in one hand and both their burner phones in the other. "What did you do?"
"They kind of know my name. Or they will when they open the safe."
Darcy tosses everything onto the table and starts typing on one of the phones.
"What are you doing?"
She holds up her finger, putting the phone to her ear. "Just calling my mom to let her know I love her and that we'll probably never speak again because I'm facing imminent death." But she's not actually calling, because she throws the phone at Jane a second later. "Jane! What were you thinking?"
"I don't know! I just. I wasn't! I just did it!"
Darcy rubs her forehead. She adjusts her glasses. "Okay. Okay. So. Time to flee?"
Jane nods. "Time to flee."
They leave the city as soon as they break down their safe house. It takes less than fifteen minutes.
Darcy drives, drinking gas station coffee by the gulpful - they'd gotten four cups to split, but Jane suspects she's not going to get any of it - while Jane works to mask the arc reactor's power signature.
"What're you going to tell Erik," Darcy says, glancing over her shoulder.
"Watch the road, please," Jane says.
She'd built the containment box before they'd gone in, but couldn't complete it until she actually had the arc reactor in her hands. She thought she'd have more time after they'd broken in and gotten out, more time before anyone would notice it was gone. She left Thor's crew sleeping in their beds, she'd tripped no alarms, but it feels like she did.
Of course she did. She basically left them a signed calling card.
"You know," Darcy says, "Normally I'd be a lot more worried about dying in a car crash. But turns out I'm not so worried about dying in a car crash since we've got the best team in the universe coming after us-"
"I thought you said we were the best team in the universe."
"Two! We're not a team, we're a partnership, a duo, dos amigas, Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde! Romanov and Barton, if I want to toot my own horn. And they outnumber us, Jane! They're bigger and they like to hit people! And you left them a calling card. I do not approve of this."
"I only left my first name," she says as she plugs more wires into her box. "There are lots of Janes in the world."
"And how many of those Janes are thieves, Jane, how many of those Janes are interested in blue glowy science things that us mere mortals don't even comprehend, Jane, how many of them steal from Stark like she's giving him a friendship bracelet, Jane-"
"If you keep saying my name, it's not even going to sound like my name anymore."
"You mean if I keep saying it, we're not going to be hunted down and hurt in very painful ways because your name won't exist anymore? Jane, janejanejane-"
In the brief moment of blessed silence, she slots the last cable into place and flips the switch.
"There," she says. "Signal's masked. They won't find us by looking for that."
"No. They'll only hunt down everyone we've ever had contact with, probably cause a lot of pain and suffering and tears-"
"I don't think that's going to happen."
"You don't know anything about these guys."
It's true. She doesn't. She doesn't know anything real, anything concrete, except.
Thor hadn't thought her a threat. Thor had seemed distracted because of her. Thor thought her pretty. And that's not any reason to trust him, boy does she know that, but she knows how he laughs, and how he smiles, and how he blows complete strangers kisses in the middle of stealing priceless technology.
Jane slides into the passenger seat. She adjusts the visor to block out the early morning sun and wonders if they're awake now. If he's realized what's happened. If he's looking for her already.
She wonders how it will sound when he says her name.
"Look, I just-"
How can she explain any of this?
"He took my arc reactor," she says finally.
"Yes, I know, you've wanted this thing since you found out it existed, but I'm going to have to burn our last three aliases, at least, maybe more, and let everyone we've had contact with what's up. We should probably lay low for awhile. Super low, I don't think Dubai is going to cut it. Like, Wakanda low profile."
"Too bad we'd be arrested on sight," Jane says with a mournful sigh. She doesn't know what she's going to do when she needs more Vibranium.
"We might be arrested for even just thinking about it, so stop," Darcy says. She checks over her shoulder and changes lanes, easing up on the speed. "You know not a lot of people are going to want to work with us while Thor... I can't believe you stole from Thor Odinson."
"He stole from me first," Jane says. Then, belatedly, "we don't need other people."
"Oh boy," Darcy says, like a shark sensing blood. "Jane, what is that I hear in your voice?"
"He's just a guy."
"Oh, just a guy. I see. Look, if I get killed because you have some seriously weird game, I'm going to haunt you forever."
"I thought you were going to do that anyway."
"You bet your ass I will," Darcy says darkly, and turns onto the freeway.
They stop in small towns to get gas and some food, but keep moving until it's nearly dusk and they reach the next big city. They ditch the van at the airport and catch a last minute flight to Chicago. Thankfully, they don't get stopped because of the arc reactor - while it's in that box, it won't look like anything that needs to be inspected, and Darcy's found no reports of the theft on any major or minor news sites, and nothing from the local police either.
She could go deeper, but-
"I am not hacking into Stark Industries from a phone I just bought at an airport kiosk," Darcy says, and that's fine with Jane.
They hop another plane out of Chicago, then take a few more planes after that, and eventually end up in New York. They have a lesser known base of operations deep in Manhattan, one they used when Erik was still in the game. It's one that's not really connected to either of them through a paper trail.
Darcy splits to warn a few more of their contacts to stay off the grid, and to get some food, but not necessarily in that order.
Jane should sleep. She's had nothing but a few catnaps on the plane and while Darcy drove, but they were restless and interrupted as the enormity of what she did started to sink in.
She just issued a challenge - and it was a challenge. There's no way it won't be seen as anything else - to a team she knows nothing about. Nothing but rumors and word of mouth and the way their leader smiles.
Instead of sleeping, she turns on a laptop and spends a few hours deep into the net, teasing out stories and information. Jane's a hacker when she needs to be, but her skills are nothing compared to Darcy's. She can get what she needs even though it's hard to tell what's valid and what's simply hearsay, what's been embellished in the retelling and what isn't. With the stories she finds of his team, she normally would've explained a lot of it with straight up embellishment, but.
She sits back and rubs at her eyes, covering a yawn.
When she eases out of her stretch, there is a new window on her screen. One that wasn't there ten seconds ago.
Someone is in her system.
Jane moves to counteract it as best she can, but the software is already in deep. How did they even get in? How could they have gotten past Darcy's firewall and all her countermeasures?
The window is a video stream, black at first, but then it flickers and -
He smiles when he sees her, and it is truly a dangerous thing. Jane almost sticks her hands under her thighs so she doesn't try to touch the screen.
"Jane," he says, looking like he's tasting the sound of her name.
So that's what it sounds like.
"Thor," she says. "I didn't know you were a hacker."
"I didn't know you knew anything about me." He sounds delighted, even when he adds, "you took something from me."
"Not before you took it from me."
"Ah, but I believe it was Tony Stark's first."
"Your security is terrible. You really need to work on that."
He laughs, and that laugh. That laugh is the worst. That laugh is the entire reason for everything that's happened since she first heard it.
"A fact that my companions are even now working to remedy," he says. Then his voice goes lower, warmer. "But I must admit the consequences have not been entirely unrewarding."
Jane jerks the laptop screen halfway to closed. She covers her face with her hands; she's too hot, flushing wildly, her throat gone dry.
Is this guy even real? How can he just say things like that?
Thor says her name, once, twice, but she's too busy quietly freaking out to respond. She's lost her mind. She's spent too long staring into the depths of the arc reactor, and this is all a feverish dream. She's snuck into too many high radiation areas, and this is all a hallucination. She's been in too many lab explosions, or Darcy's accidentally tased her one too many times, or-
And that's when she notices the text on her phone.
have you seen my ipod
i just downloaded like fifteen songs on there
Jane tilts the screen back.
"Sorry, uh, the cat knocked my computer," she says, and pulls up the security footage of the lobby, of the hallways, of the ventilation system, of the elevator-
No, no. Not bingo, they're in her building.
"I didn't know you had a cat."
"What? Oh yeah. Mean thing. Likes to bite."
"Are we really going to keep pretending you're not aware of what's happening right now? I think you're too clever for that."
"I really want to ask how you found me," Jane says. "I really do, because that's kind of amazing, but I'm going to run away now."
He starts to say something else, but Jane keys in Darcy's self destruct sequence. Then she flips the laptop, pulls the battery, drops the whole thing in the sink and turns on the water.
Two seconds later, the lights go out.
He thinks he has her trapped. Jane scowls in the dark. He honestly thinks he could trap Jane Foster? She's spent years quietly making a name for herself as the sort of thief that can get into any building, any vault, and more than a few people have compared her to Houdini. Except instead of escaping, Jane breaks in. But it's not magic. It's science, of course, and a very thorough knowledge of architecture. Training too. Too bad that attractive smile won't make up for underestimating her.
Jane always as at least three escape routes out of any building, and there's also what Darcy calls the Worst Case Scenario Only Please Avoid At All Costs method, but Jane won't need that. This is far from worst case.
Erik renovated this building years ago, and a lot of his additions never really made it to the blueprints. She doesn't have time to get to any of them and close them after her.
She can already hear them at the door - whoever's picking the lock is not as quiet as they should be - so Jane grabs a harness from under the sink and slips into it. She clips the rope to one of the anchors attached above all the windows and then attaches it to her gear.
The door opens, but it's not Thor that comes through. The shadows aren't right for his build. The closer they get the more of their features she can make out. It's Sif and Loki, and when they see her, she still hesitates.
The arc reactor is tucked away in the safe, all the way on the other side of the room.
She can't hope to reach it before they reach her, and though it's well hidden, she can't imagine that they won't find it eventually.
Sif's only feet away when Jane smiles and throws herself out the window.
It only takes seconds to rappel down the side of the building, and get to the street, startling a few pedestrians when she lands. She unhooks, glancing up. Sif's hands are around the rope, testing it like she means to follow by her strength alone.
She probably could.
Time to go.
Jane rounds the corner and bumps into Volstagg.
"Hi, sorry," she says, and then she bolts. He grabs for her, and when he starts to chase, he's fast for a man his size, but Jane's faster. She gains distance dodging through traffic, nearly getting clipped by two different taxis.
Thor's across the street, standing in front of her building. He's searching for her, and when he sees her. Well.
This time, she blows him a kiss.
She hits the train station to get out of town, catches a couple flights to throw them off - not that it worked all that well the first time - and burns through the last of her aliases getting out of the country. She holes up in Tromsø for awhile.
Neither of them have ever been there, and maybe it's not the smartest place to go since anyone who knows her knows she's going to chose a place with an Observatory. But aside from the discrete message she sends Darcy - and Darcy sends her - Jane stays largely off any networked computers or phones with wi-fi. The next time she even looks at a computer he's going to find her again, and she spends far too much time wondering if that's what she wants anyway.
The first week she's jumpy, looking over her shoulder at every sound and every unexpected movement. When they all prove to be false alarms, the arc reactor problem distracts her for a whole week. She has none of the equipment that she built herself. That's all in an undisclosed location where she definitely isn't going to go when people are chasing her.
But she built that containment system. She should be able to track it somehow. She built the signal to change continuously, powered by the arc reactor itself - self sustaining, so it'll be years before it gives out. The pattern would be her key, if it wasn't entirely random. The signal from that box is as nebulous as any cell phone or laptop, and it's impossible to find one among billions without at least a starting point.
When she finally manages to pull herself out of it, with little success to show for it, she takes the time to shower and eat something that's not entirely pre-packaged, and then she gets in contact with Darcy.
"I found out how he found you," she says. She looks tired, even through the grainy video. "Hey, I was very careful in our fleeing; he shouldn't have been able to do that. Apparently, Sif's got a brother, step-brother maybe? I couldn't find that out, but supposedly he can find anyone. Anyone, Jane. Even people who have gone dark."
"So I'm just waiting for him to show up on my doorstep? Is that it?"
Darcy pushes her glasses back into place. "Basically? I'm kind of surprised he hasn't yet."
That certainly puts a pin in things. This is like Donald all over again, isn't it? Just like Donald.
Jane rubs her forehead and Darcy is silent for a moment.
"Guess he really wanted that arc reactor," Jane says eventually.
Jane waves her off. "I think whatever else I thought was going on really wasn't-"
"I think he went through a lot of trouble to find you when he could've waited for the reactor to surface."
Jane snorts. "It was never going to surface again-"
"But he didn't know that! I think he risked tipping you off - which he did, by the way - just to flirt with you. Yes, I saw the whole thing, and if you let me finish a sentence, you'd know there could be another explanation for this. He's a professional, isn't he? Maybe he has another job. A deadline type job."
"You know," Jane says, ignoring the spark of... something, that ignites in her belly, "maybe you should lead with that next time. Can you find out what it is?"
"Wayyyy ahead of you." Darcy takes over Jane's laptop remotely and puts up images on the screen.
Jane blinks, reaching out to trace the lines of the schematics. It isn't the arc reactor, nor is it anything of Stark's that she's seen or stolen or left alone. It's something else entirely. The Tesseract looks like a plain cube, nothing special about it, but the math. The math.
"Wow," Jane says. "I didn't know that was even possible; theoretically, sure, but how did they even get that to stabilize? Do you think they-"
Darcy clears her throat loudly. "Apparently the arc reactor is based off some sort of top secret science project. This top secret science project. This is seriously spy level shit, Jane. From what I've heard, nobody can stabilize it, not even Stark. Sounds like they looked into getting Banner, even with his record-"
"Yeah, you've said that before. There's a rumor. Ian-"
"Ian? It's Ian now?"
Darcy doesn't have the decency to blush. Not right away, and it's a thread Jane could pull, and will at some point - in the very, very, very near future - but Jane keeps looking at the Tesseract. Jane keeps thinking about the arc reactor.
Jane is a thief at heart, and she knows a big score when she sees one.
"So they're moving it. When?"
Five days to find out where this energy source is, and where it's being moved. Five days to find a way past mountains of security and Thor's team, five days to sneak in unnoticed and sneak out without anyone noticing that this Tesseract is gone.
Is she really thinking about doing this?
"You know," Jane says after a moment. "I'm pretty sure we've done crazier things."
"You would not be wrong."
"You don't have to do this, Darcy."
"Please," she says. "You got me out of jail. Twice. Of course I'm not letting you do this alone. Plus, if I'm with you this time, maybe you'll actually get a date out of this."
Jane ignores that. She ignores the fluttering in her belly, and the heat that rises in her face. "We're not telling Erik until it's done."
"Yeah, no," Darcy says. "Absolutely not."
They spend three days planning and arguing and running on nothing but adrenaline and coffee and far too much sugar while Jane breaks down schematics and Darcy hacks blueprints and each of them brainstorm ways around all the obstacles in their paths.
There are a lot of obstacles.
It's a military facility so there are going to be guards. It's a sketchy military facility, even, some underground organization she's never even heard of, so those guards probably won't care about identification before they start firing their guns.
"Stark built these defenses," Darcy says, when she's scouting out the security system. "I recognize this code. It's not his newest, and somebody's been playing with it, but it's definitely Stark's."
"Which is good," Jane says, taking a moment to sip on her fourth cup of coffee in less an hour. They'll have to steal time for a vacation after this job. "You've already bypassed his stuff."
"Hmm," Darcy says, and she goes silent for long enough that Jane falls back into her own work.
Neither of them are the kind of grifters that can simply get the mark to open the door for them. They both prefer to be in and out without anyone noticing they were ever there. That's their strength, and that's what they'll have to do.
If she had all the time in the world, she'd bring in outside people to help. But they've worked with no one but each other and sometimes Erik, when he itches to do a job, for so long that even the occasional outside contractor is one show only. No repeats.
For something like this, something like the Tesseract, she doesn't have anyone else she'd trust enough to bring in on this job. No one who isn't dead or strictly retired, so it's just them.
"This is going to be worse than the arc reactor," Jane says at one point. "I knew that signature. This is something else entirely-"
"I get it, we get this thing we're going to have to run."
Jane makes a face. "Not only that, but if it's moved from the facility before we get it out, I don't know if I'll be able to track it."
"Sooooo," Darcy says, drawing out the word while she rubs at the corner of her eye. "We have less than two days."
"Well," Jane says. "Less than that if we want to avoid the pre-move security. Still want to do this with me?"
Darcy's sigh is every bit as long suffering as Jane expected it to be.
"You're going to do it anyway," she says. "At least I'll be able to watch your back. Digitally, anyway."
She points at Jane, putting on her most stern expression. "If we're going to steal it, we better be able to keep it this time."
"We will," Jane says.
"If your boyfriend doesn't get handsy, we just might."
"Uh huh," Darcy says, already turned back to her computers. "Sure. But next time I get to pick the job."
"Deal," Jane says. It's only fair, after all. The arc reactor was entirely for her own desires, with no hope of payout, unless if Jane ever decides to sell it. They both know how unlikely that is.
But the truth is, getting in has never been the problem for either of them.
By the end of the third day, Jane's hiding in the ceiling above the shady military organization's lab, watching the scientists and feeling a little wistful. In another life, maybe. Maybe she'd chase the stars or heal the sick or break physics on a more permanent basis. In another life, maybe.
She likes watching them work, even though it seems like a lot of computer work and not enough experimentation, but once they've all left, tucked away in their beds for the night, might-have-beens are gone. She drops from the ceiling like a shadow after last security patrol passes through.
The safe is top-notch, but it's one she's cracked before. It's quick work; the case is heavier than she expected, even knowing the Tesseract's specs. She lifts it out, shuts the safe behind her - no calling card this time - and then.
Then she hesitates.
She has to go. There's no time to linger. But Jane can't resist opening the case.
The Tesseract is beautiful, blue and glowing and she thought the arc reactor was something; she thought she could spend hours just staring at it, but this. This is. What on earth is some shady pseudo military organization doing with something like this?
She senses movement before she sees it.
"You're two days early," she says, glancing at him as he melts out of the shadows. How can someone so big move so silently? She checks the rest of the room, but there is no one here but them. "You weren't going to steal it until it was in transit."
"They would expect us then," Thor says. "Much the same as you expected me."
"Not a fan of surprises?"
"Certain surprises," he says, his mouth slowly curling into a smile. "Those are more than welcome."
She feels herself flush, but when he takes two steps closer, she reminds herself that she's got a job to do. No matter that this job is simply because it's one he was already doing.
She snaps the lid closed, latching it with two loud clicks, and the room gets darker, greyer, without the glow of the Tesseract. Thor becomes a shadow. A large shadow, and one that is far too close. When did he get so close?
She's better at noticing these things, usually, and with her hyperawareness of him and his smile, his eyes, everything about him, she doesn't know how she completely missed him moving closer. This sort of thing is going to get her caught. He's going to get her in so much trouble. He is so much trouble.
He is only an arm's length away, but he doesn't reach for her.
"Jane," he says.
She hesitates. There's something about the way he says her name that has her caught, that makes her want to wait, that makes her want to stay in one place for longer than a few days.
He hesitates, like he's searching for his words, like he's uncertain. It's not something she ever expected from him, and it is entirely too charming.
He is entirely too charming.
"Thor," she says, deflecting.
He clears his throat. "Are you angry I did not come for you in Tromsø?"
"You knew I was there."
He says nothing for a long moment, simply watching her. The scrutiny makes her want to fidget, to dodge away into the shadows, and she almost does it before he speaks again.
"After you ran," he says, "I did not think you wished to see me again. I thought-"
"You came after me," she says, "Of course I ran. I didn't know why you came. I mean, I knew why you came, but I didn't know what you-"
"I would never wish to put you in a position that caused you discomfort."
"Breaking into my apartment doesn't count?" She half smiles before the words are even out of her mouth. Maybe for other people, it would be. Maybe other people would be running the other way already, maybe they'd have let the matter go from the beginning. Maybe they never would've tracked him down after, never would've broken into his hideout, never taken back what he'd stolen.
Never would've left their names, either.
Not him, either.
"I apologize for that," Thor says, taking another step closer. "I had hoped to-"
He falls silent, and the space between them seems gaping, huge, for all that it's but a few feet. Either of them could cross it in seconds. Less than that.
"I must know," he says after a longer pause, and somehow she knows whatever he was going to say is not what he says now. "How did you find the Tesseract without the arc reactor? Your containment system is quite marvelous. If not for-"
He breaks off, clearing his throat, so Jane fills in the blanks for him.
"You are everything I never hoped to find," he says, delighted. Visibly, physically delighted. His whole face lights up, and she wants to touch. She wants to taste.
She just wants.
"Jane," Darcy says in her ear. "Not to break up your flirting party, but you have less than a minute before the next patrol checks in. Move. Now."
She knows, but.
"You're not at all what I expected, either," she says, and though she doesn't take another step, she certainly leans. It's a very distinctive lean.
"In a good way, I hope."
Jane smiles, still leaning, still looking up at him. "I'm not sure yet."
"Jane, you have maybe thirty-five seconds," Darcy says in her ear. "They're turning the corner. They'll be at the door soon."
"Darcy?" Thor asks. He gestures to his ear when she frowns at him, suddenly wary. "They speak well of you, those who will speak of anyone. They speak well of her, too."
"Of course they do," Darcy says, "but you need to go."
"A little discretion might be nice."
"I asked around for someone with your particular skill set, not for you in particular. No one has betrayed you."
That was. Good.
"Thirty seconds, Jane!"
"Run," he says, and how did he ever make it in this business with a face that expressive? "Jane, you must know. These men will never stop hunting you."
Jane hooks herself up to her rigging. "I got it covered. I built that containment system, remember? Once I get out of here, they'll never find it."
"You could come with me." His eyes flick to the hole in the ceiling she came through as she starts to pull herself up. "My exit is large enough for both of us."
"And leads right into the arms of your team?"
"No," he says quietly, never looking away from her. "Not into their arms."
His hand is warm on her ankle; they've never touched before. Not once. It strikes her as absurd - how can that be? But it's true.
She wastes precious seconds waiting for him to do something, but he just watches her and she watches him back.
"You have to go, too," she says, and he nods, still watching. Still waiting.
She stops before she's all the way up her rigging. He is halfway to the door, and she swallows down the desire to hesitate, to invite him up with her. He'll never fit.
"Thor," she says, and he looks over his shoulder at her. "Don't cheat this time, okay?"
And she's up, pulling her gear after her, and on her way out.
She knows she cut it a little too close, she knows that all that hesitance is not something she can afford to do, ever, but if she said she didn't like the rush, Darcy would call her a liar.
But she's only seconds into her escape when the alarm sounds and Jane freezes.
He'll never make it.
He's never been caught. If the stories are true, he'll be fine.
He'll be fine.
There's no way he'll make it.
Jane closes her eyes, breathes out.
"Jane, don't you dare-"
"Sorry Darce," she says. "Guess you're going to have to bail me out this time."
As she turns around, she hears nothing but swearing over the comms. They've lived in each others heads for years now, and Jane knows all the tricks for tuning her out, and knows that Darcy's just getting it out of her system. Behind all the words, Darcy will already be sorting through contingencies, finding Jane a way out that includes Thor. And his team, if necessary.
"Okay," Darcy says. "Okay. Okay. Give me a minute-"
Jane twists and turns until she's facing the way she came from. "We don't have a minute."
"Well, give me one anyway!"
Jane doesn't wait. She starts crawling back. It's awkward with the Tesseract's case in her hands, especially when she's going for both speed and stealth. She takes a second to make a decision; she can't take any longer than that.
Rescue on the fly. Sounds like fun.
Sounds like a disaster.
The lights are on in the room, and the blaring alarm is creating a slight feedback over her comm, a distant ringing in her ears, but she'll deal. She's not about to go off comms. Not when she has no real plan, except to make it up as she goes. Especially not when she has no idea how she's going to pull this off without getting caught or shot or any other unpleasant scenario her brain helpfully supplies.
There are too many people in the room below for her to slip into it unnoticed. Thor's gone, but she doesn't know whether he fought and he escaped, or if they've taken him somewhere else.
Maybe she came back for nothing. Maybe he's already out.
She hopes she came back for nothing, but the men below her are a little too calm for him to have gotten away.
"There's a junction up ahead that'll take you further in," Darcy says. "Take the second left. Have you really thought this through? No, of course not-"
"Now is really not the time, Darcy," Jane mutters.
"No, I think it's the perfect time."
Jane sighs, every bit as long suffering as Darcy's best. "You didn't have to do this with me."
"True," Darcy says, "but I absolutely expect some sort of perk for this. A raise, maybe."
"Sure," Jane says. "Ten percent of what I already pay you."
"You don't pay me now."
"So ten percent seems fair."
"You get to pick the next job," Jane says, "I thought we already agreed on that."
"No, something else. I need to think about it. But I'll get it. It's going to be huge-"
Jane lets her ramble because sound carries in a ventilation shaft, and she's too near a grate to feel comfortable talking. And Darcy often does her best work while she's rambling.
Jane needs Darcy's best work right now.
Darcy guides her through the building, Jane thinking and thinking and thinking, until the ventilation system won't take Jane any further in. She's right into the heart of the facility. Anywhere she goes now will only take her out.
The command room is full of computer screens lit up but they're too far away for her to glean anything useful from them. Too many people in here to slip in unnoticed, too. Is the entirety of the facility's employees back because of them? It seems like a lot of people for the night crew, definitely more than any place she's ever broken into before. Or maybe the military just never sleeps. Or maybe the tesseract is just that vital to their plans, whatever those might be.
"Their scientists sleep," Darcy says, "or you never would've gotten to that thing. So it's probably only this busy when there's been a break in."
"Thanks," Jane says absently as she watches through the grate, trying to pick out the people in charge and the lackeys. The people near her aren't talking about Thor, which is a problem. They are talking about the Tesseract, which is another problem. But more than that-
"I'm getting weird vibes from this," Jane says,
"Huh," Darcy says. "Like Puente Antiguo?"
"Yeah, yeah, almost exactly like Puente Antiguo."
"Hmm," Darcy says, and there's a world of meaning in that single sound. "That's not good."
"Maybe find me an exit." Jane waits a beat, but Darcy says nothing. "Another exit. Have you found him yet?"
She makes a negative noise. "Sorting through a lot of chatter," she says. "Too many people talking at the same time. Too many frequencies to monitor. I've got a program sifting through it that'll let me know if anyone mentions any keywords, but so far, they're mostly talking about the Tesseract. And the lockdown."
"Which includes the roof?"
"Which includes the roof, and any exit you can reach by the ventilation system, and probably the half mile surrounding the facility, too. Not going to be a fun exit, Jane."
"Do you need to get out?"
"Not yet," Darcy says, almost prompt, but Jane catches the hesitation. She says nothing about it. If Darcy needs to make the call, she'll make the call, and they'll have to figure something else out for Jane.
"Oh," Darcy says, startling Jane. "Oh crap, they know who he is."
"This just keeps getting better," Jane mutters.
"Okay, so. I think… Look for a bald man-"
"Darcy, it's pseudo-military. Most of them are bald. Or close to it."
"Middle-aged, unassuming, white-"
"Really doesn't narrow it down," Jane says. "And if I get any closer to this vent, I'm going to be in that room."
This isn't doing them any good. Each second that ticks by is like a weight around her neck. They have Thor, they know who he is, and time is their biggest enemy.
"Look, forget about them, just find him. He's the target. Think of it like a job. The cargo's just a little bigger than our usual-" She stops. Frowns, and rolls her eyes in the same breath. "Don't say it."
"Wasn't going to," Darcy says, but her tone is all wicked.
Jane doesn't want to know how much mileage Darcy plans on getting out of that one. Far too much.
If they ever get out of here. If they ever find Thor.
See the problem. Solve the problem.
"I need to get down there," she says. "I can't see anything from in here."
"Oh," Darcy says. "Wait. He's close to you. They have him in… well, it's not a cell, but close enough. Interrogation room?"
Jane swallows. "Are they-"
"No, no they're just talking to him. At him; sounds like Thor's not being too cooperative with the information sharing about his partner."
"Alright," Jane says. "Okay. How many guards?"
Darcy must hear something in her voice. "If you go down here, you'll be caught in seconds, Jane. They're scanning fingerprints. And doing retinal scans."
Great. Exactly what she needs.
"Can you hack it?"
"Your fingerprints," Darcy says, flat.
Jane rolls her eyes. "Darcy! Not what I meant."
"No. Cannot do that. Definitely not an option. They're off the main server, and I can't get to them. Not with wi-fi."
"So I'll have to get down somewhere the guards aren't."
Darcy leads her to an empty room. It's a storage closet - there's one in every building - full of bottles and mops, permeated by the smell of vinegar and lemon, bitter in her nostrils.
"Tell me about the cameras," she says, setting down the Tesseract's case to shed her harness and then her gear. She drops it in a corner. She's all in black, but so are most of the employees she's seen. She'll find something to blend in. A lab coat or something like that. It's a large enough facility that not everyone can possibly recognize everyone, but it's risky.
It's always risky, what she does, even when she has the perfect plan and all the pieces fall into place like they should.
"Hmm. well," Darcy says. "I didn't take the whole grid for you, since you weren't going to need it."
"How hard to do it now?"
"Only asking for the impossible, Jane. I don't have access to them."
"Since when has that stopped you?"
"Aww, flattery will get you nowhere," she says, "I can't get to them, but the hallway is clear, and you're good. Go now!"
Jane opens the door and slips out, shutting it behind her. She walks at a normal pace, even when her nerves are jangled, and her heart is beating faster than she'd like. Nerves. Too much adrenaline, too many worries about Thor.
She doesn't like being in the open like this. Never has, always prefered in and out, and none of this direct contact crap. Especially not with the case in her hands. But Thor is caught, partially because of her, because of them and how they let whatever they have brewing between them distract them both.
She can't just walk away. Not now.
She can't think any further than that, either, so it's just one step in front of the other. Calm and easy down the hallway, as if pretending that nobody will notice her will actually make it happen.
Darcy hisses, startling her, sounding a lot like an angry cat.
"Wait, Jane, don't go-"
Jane slips around the corner, her back pressed against the wall as a group of soldiers - agents? - run past, stomp stomp stomp down the hallway. They've all got broad shoulders and thick arms and far too much height for any one person, let alone a group of them.
She waits until their footsteps fade, and she waits until Darcy hisses in her ear. Then she runs the other way, slipping around another corridor, ducking when Darcy tells her to.
"They're holding him near where you are, but Jane, you'll never get in there."
"Yeah, that's exactly what Richard said-"
"We can't just leave him, Darcy."
Darcy's silence is heavy in Jane's ear.
After a few seconds, she says, "I hope you're right about this guy."
Neither of them say anything for a few seconds more.
"Me too," Jane says.
She's so close to Thor, only a turn and then a stretch of hallway, when she rounds a corner too fast for Darcy to warn her. She faces five men in black, wearing heavy boots to support their heavy, heavy muscles. They see her before she can slip back around the corner.
She turns her face toward her shoulder, pretending to cough. It's too late; she knows it's to late, but she tries anyway. She turns around and starts walking, not too fast but not too slow either, and she keeps the almost smile on her face even with her back turned.
"Hey," one says, and then says it again, louder, when she doesn't acknowledge him.
Jane runs, careening around a corner, the heavy fall of boots behind her. Too close behind her. They make too much noise. They're making way too much noise, but at least she'll be able to keep track of them, stomping all over the place as they chase after her.
"Need that exit!"
"Working on it," Darcy says. "Just don't get caught."
Jane turns another corner and bumps into someone, scattering papers everywhere. Jane catches her heel on one and slides about a foot, her balance wavering. She knocks the Tesseract's case against the wall and nearly loses it.
There are more men coming at her. She spins around just as those chasing her round the corner.
She looks up, searches the ceiling for half a second but it's enough time for one of them to get near enough to reach out. Jane swings the case around and whacks him across the chest. He staggers, but when she swings again, he knocks it away, reaching-
She blinks, freezing under his hands.
"Wow," she breathes, so low she barely hears it. "Wow, you're good."
Loki drops character for maybe half a second. Maybe.
But then he's back, and there's nothing of Thor's brother in him, nothing she read about in any of the urban legends about Thor's team that didn't involve cons - there was so little information out there about them as people instead of thieves, as a family instead of just a team.
She's worked with grifters before - her mom practically rebranded the entire game - odd jobs here and there since her mom retired, but never long enough for them to stick. Never long enough that she grew comfortable with them. And never any that she was sad to see go.
She's also never seen talent like his, not since her mom still played the game.
He takes the case from her hands and he takes her by the upper arm, firm, but not hard enough that it hurts. Almost like she'll be able to slip away, should she want to, but Jane knows that it's a grifter's trick.
A grifter who's also a hitter; she is in so much trouble.
"I have this one," he says, all authority, all higher ranking jack-booted thug that she's pretty sure he's not, not at all, but even knowing the truth, some small part of her believes that he is. "There are others, find them."
He leads her away from the rest of the men.
Jane keeps her mouth shut - what would it be like to work with someone with those kind of skills? She never really worked with her mom, not for long. And while Darcy has her back, absolutely, she's often too far away to reach Jane when things go south, forcing Jane to rely on her speed and her instincts and her experience.
But this. It's amazing, what Loki can do, and god, the possibilities.
He pulls her into another room, away from the eyes and ears of the rest of the guards. He slips a labcoat around her shoulders, and when they're out in the hall again, she 'runs into' someone and lifts their badge.
She clips it on and pulls her hair loose from the coat's collar. "Where are we going?"
"Cease your blathering," he says, not looking at her.
She rolls her eyes, turning her head away. "Possible Plan M," she says, then covers it with a cough when Loki shoots a glare her way.
"I hate Plan M," Darcy grumbles, but then she's silent over the comms.
She smiles at Loki, not caring at all that it probably looks fake as hell. She keeps vaguely smiling when he bluffs their way past the security checkpoint at the entrance. She's still doing it when he leads her out of the facility and into the open air.
He takes her to a van, one with the proper license plates and the right parking sticker, and she glances over her shoulder. Wow. They've parked really close to the facility, even with the proper documentation. Commanding Officer close. Is it a forgery or have they been playing the long con?
Either way, she completely messed up their plans tonight, whatever they were outside of stealing the Tesseract. Not that she feels guilty about that. The only thing she feels guilty about is Thor, locked away in their makeshift prison cell.
"Where are the rest of your people?"
He glances at her, says nothing, opens the door and tries to push her inside. He's a hitter - they all are, despite their other talents. Thor's team is a highly physical unit - and he's about a good foot taller than her, more, and far stronger than he looks. She's also about twenty pounds soaking wet.
Jane digs her heels in, pulling against his hold.
"Hey! What's the plan? Thor's still in there!" she hisses at him. "We can't leave him."
Loki sneers at her. "And when did you earn any say on this team? The only reason he's in there is because of you, so please. Make a scene so we'll all get caught."
"I didn't do this," she says. "You took my arc reactor-"
Loki flinches, and then there are far more voices in her ear than just Darcy. Loki looks like he wants to rub his forehead, like he can't believe this is what he has to deal with. He ignores the noise in his ear and points at the open door, eyebrows raised, like she's some naughty child that's not doing what she's supposed to.
Darcy clears her throat pointedly. "Are you guys just going to glare at each other in the parking lot? Cause as amusing as that is, I can tell you that's not best plan for any of us."
"Getting into cars with strange men," Jane says. "Just what my daddy warned me about."
"But not the theft of valuable items? I must meet this father of yours."
"Jane, just get in the car," Darcy says. "One of the guards at the entrance is paying you a little too much attention."
"After you," Loki says, miming a bow.
Jane glares at him, but she climbs inside. He shuts the door behind them, rubbing at his ear. She hopes Darcy hit him with some massive feedback.
"So," she says. "What's the plan?"
"The plan is," Loki says, setting the Tesseract's case in front of him. "You are not part of the plan."
"The hell we're not," Darcy says.
"We have to get him out of there," Jane says. "We have to do it soon, or we won't be able to get him out at all!"
"Jane's right," Darcy says. "They already know who he is; it's not going to be long before they know who his associates are no matter how well I reroute their queries, and your little party tricks aren't going to cut it anymore."
"Perhaps we should listen to them," a man says over the comms. "I always find it advisable to listen to pretty ladies."
Jane blinks, tries to place his voice and finds that she can't.
Not important right now.
"The Tesseract is important to them; if they think he has something to do with it, and he doesn't give them what they want? They'll make him disappear so well, we'll never be able to find him."
Loki studies her. He has the same intensity as his brother, but his eyes have none of the softness Thor's does when he looks at her. None of the warmth.
"And what would a cat burglar know about such a thing?"
"It's a New Mexico thing," Darcy says before Jane can even open her mouth. "Don't ask about New Mexico. Or London-"
"Or Wakanda," Jane says.
Loki frowns at her. He seems more confused than hostile, but can she believe anything she sees on his face? False sense of security, she thinks. She feels twitchy, anxious, but she doesn't know if it's because the adrenaline is fading from her system, or the complete inaction of Thor's team. What are they waiting for? Unless they had him out already? They couldn't have gotten him out already. She would've known.
Darcy would have known. Darcy would have told her.
But Loki got Jane out pretty quickly. It took all of a minute or two, and no one in the facility even blinked. Why not his brother? And if that was the case, why not just tell her Thor was out?
Jane narrows her eyes. She's no hitter, but she balls her hands into fists.
"You need to tell me what is going on-"
Loki flips open the clasps on the Tesseract's case. He pauses, blinking, face only highlighted by the dimness of the parking lot lamps.
Then he turns to glare at Jane. "Where's the Tesseract?"
Jane lifts one shoulder. She lets it drop.
She says, "Oops?"
Over the comms, Sif starts to laugh.
"You left it in there, I can't believe you left it in there," Loki says.
"It'll be fine," Jane says, shrugging. "And I had more important things on my mind. Like your brother."
"You hid the most powerful energy source this world has ever seen collecting dust in the building you stole it from. My god. I see why my brother finds you so fascinating," he says, staring at her, agast.
"Can we focus on Thor, please," Darcy says. "He's still in there. And I know Jane's not going to leave until we jailbreak her honey boo-boo."
Loki looks even more pained than before.
"Look, unless they're crawling in the ventilation shafts, they're not going to find it," Jane says. "That whole building is soaked with the Tesseract's energy signature. They won't be able to pinpoint it while it's still inside."
And once she gets it out, she has another containment system ready for it. It won't block the signature completely, like she did with the arc reactor, but it will certainly mask it. They'll have no luck searching for gamma radiation if they should be looking for something else entirely.
"It's the perfect hiding place," she says. "Like I said, it'll be fine. Now are we going to get your brother out, or are we going to sit here arguing about it all night? No? Good. Now where is the rest of your team?"
"Fandral is inside," Darcy says, switching to their private comm frequency like she's turning on the lights. "I can't locate Volstagg, and Hogun's comm seems to be on strict radio silence, but Sif's-"
The back door of the van opens - Jane nearly falls out - and Sif climbs inside.
It's a bigger van, built for more than the normal six passengers, but it's still tight quarters for three of them, especially with Loki's height and his long legs. Even Sif takes up enough room that it's obvious there are too many arms and too many legs inside the vehicle. But Jane spends a lot of time in ventilation systems, so it's not the cramped space that's got her on edge. She just usually doesn't have a pair of hitters with her in those tight places.
"We were never going to leave him, Foster," Sif says.
"Oh," she says. "Good."
Not that she ever actually thought they'd just ditch him. From everything she's heard about Thor and his team, that's not how they operate at all.
Rumors and hearsay, but it must be nice, to have so many people to rely on. To be able to rely on that many people. Jane's had Erik since her father died, and her mother before that, and Darcy for years. Never really been anyone else in their tight little circle, and mostly she's fine with that. But it must be nice.
"So what's the plan," she says.
"And we should simply trust you," Loki says. "You're the reason he's in there."
"Well that's just false," she says. "He's the reason I'm here."
They share a look, eyebrows raised, and she does not want to know whatever assumptions they're making.
"You want the Tesseract?" Jane asks. "I want my arc reactor. And Thor. Out of there, I mean. I didn't. He's not. Shut up, Darcy!"
But Darcy just keeps laughing, gleeful over the comms.
Loki looks constipated, maybe, or horrified, it's hard to tell. Strange for someone who could probably be ten different people while drunk, but Sif. Sif is smiling.
"Well then," Sif says, unable to cover the hint of amusement in her voice. "Let's go steal a hitter."
They don't have a plan. Not really.
"We're working on it," Sif says. "We didn't really plan for another thief in our midst."
"Which will not occur again," Loki says, giving Jane a look. He's still got his hands on the Tesseract case, like he might open it once more and it will magically be in place. But she's pretty sure the irritation in his eyes isn't just about her trick with the cube.
At least, she hopes so. For Thor's sake, if nothing else.
"You have to have some contingency plans-"
"Certainly. But not for him to get caught letting you get away."
And Jane gets that, she really does. She didn't really plan for Thor and his team, either; it's hard to plan for someone like Thor when he just drops into existence and shakes up her entire world.
"I told him to run," she says. "I told him to get out of there."
"We heard," Loki says drily, and the look he gives her makes her flush.
She's so used to Darcy living in her head, hearing what she hears, what she says, that sometimes she forgets what it's like to have someone else listening in.
Darcy clears her throat. "Bad news, everyone. They've already run Thor's prints and pulled his known associates, so wonderboy, even being eight different people like you supposedly can, is out. So is the rest of your team."
"I can do it," Jane says.
Loki just looks at her. "They've seen your face."
Jane shrugs. "For a second. Less than that. Trust me, they were definitely paying more attention to you than to me. And I'm not a known associate of his. Nobody would ever connect us. We're from different worlds."
"Indeed," Loki says
"What I'm trying to say," she says, throwing him an irritated glance, "is that they don't have facial recognition software looking for me. Unlike you. Any of you. They're not looking for me. It doesn't matter if you don't like it, I'm the only option you've got."
They haven't seen Darcy's face, either, and Darcy's just as capable of Jane, for all that she likes her computer more than crawling through air ducts. But this is Jane's mess, and Jane's going to sort it out.
"She is right, Loki," Sif says. "None of us will get close to him. Not without alerting every guard they have."
"Hey, we might want to wrap it up the mystery machine," Darcy says. "They're talking about transport. Prisoner transport."
Loki sighs. "Can you even grift? Or will we have to plan for two rescues instead of just one for my foolish brother?"
"Wow, the worry is just oozing off him, isn't it?" Darcy says. Jane hopes she's on private comms, but, well, maybe she doesn't actually hope that. Not with the disdain in his glare, or the tightness of his voice.
"I'll be fine," Jane says, biting out the words. "I've been doing this a long time-"
"Prisoner retrieval," he says, almost sounding pleasant. "Is that so? Do tell."
Sif sighs heavily, but before she can intervene or join in, or whatever she means to do-
"You're wasting our time," Loki says.
"Your time? I'm the one that wanted to get him out immediately!"
"And get caught in the process. Please explain how that aids any of us. Or perhaps we just leave you when you get yourself caught-"
"Not if you want the Tesseract," Jane says, and then, risking it, adds, "Not if you don't want big brother pissed at you."
Loki scoffs, but he doesn't deny it. He doesn't tell her how wrong she is.
She does not have the time to think about what that means. It's a brief moment of joy, and she turns her face to hide her smile against her shoulder, but it's short lived. She can't enjoy the guy if he's locked away in a secret prison run by a shady pseudo-military organization.
"Guys, they're moving him!"
Jane jerks to attention. "Darcy, can you get a tracker in the van?"
"That's the problem, Jane, it's not a van," Darcy says, and that's when Jane hears the steady beat of helicopter blades.
She shoves past Sif and out the van's back, turning her face up to the roof of the building. She can't see anything, not from this angle, but she can hear it. And then it's only a handful of seconds before the helicopter clears the facility and veers off into the night.
Too late. They're too late.
It's impossible to say where they've taken him. They have no intel, and Darcy, for all her talent, can't find a flight plan or a record of any kind. All Jane knows is that they've taken him somewhere with even higher security, probably, somewhere secret and shady and everything she'd expect from a secret military organization.
She just hopes it's not a Steranko. God, please don't let it be a Steranko. She never wants to face one of those ever again.
Sif tugs her back into the van; the silence lingers for too long, and even Loki with his disdain looks a little shell-shocked.
Jane shakes her head to clear it. Does it again when that doesn't do much, and presses her fingers to her temple. So. Thor's gone. They have no idea where he's been taken, and no idea what they're going to do to him. She has a team of highly trained hitters that doesn't trust her; all of them would probably be more than happy to leave her on the side of the road in the middle of the desert before letting her help them, and she has to sneak back into the already high-alert facility to steal the Tesseract. Again.
See the problem. Solve the problem.
When Jane doesn't know what to do, she works.
"Can you get me in that building," she says, and Sif blinks. Then she nods, mouth set, and they get out of the van together.
She hands the Tesseract over without much fuss, but even Loki just takes one long look at it, sets it in the case, and locks it away. He leaves the room to do it, glancing at Jane from the corner of his eyes before he does, but Jane doesn't really care anymore. Retrieving the Tesseract certainly doesn't feel like a victory, not even with it's pretty blue glow. Part of her still wants it - part of it will always want it - but the fun of having it is gone.
They're in a much nicer place than Thor's first bolt hole - this one has actual security measures in place - but it still makes her twitchy. It's not her place, and she doesn't know all the exits, or all of it's secrets.
They're all tired, weary and worried. Volstagg has a smile for her, and Fandral flirts with both Darcy and Jane, but it seems more by habit than by actual desire. Hogun looks both of them over, says little, but Jane's relatively certain it isn't in disapproval.
They've been kind, with maybe the exception of Loki, but Jane still can't read what most of them think of her, or them, or this thing Jane may or may not have with Thor. This thing that got him into hot water in the first place. It's not her fault, not really, but if they hadn't lingered like they did, wasting precious seconds staring into each other's eyes, flirting over something they both meant to steal-
No. She's not going to think like that. She won't.
Doesn't mean his team isn't.
Despite all that, they seem less dejected than Jane feels.
"Not all is lost," Sif says, after she looks at Jane for a long moment.
"No, you're right. It's not. We planned one of the highest security heists of our entire career in less than three days," Jane says. "We'll just do it again."
"A raise," Darcy says, muffled by her hands. She drops her arms onto the table and lays her head down on top of them. "I definitely want a raise. And the next five jobs, Jane, I won't accept anything less."
Volstagg frowns. "You pay her?"
"Ten percent," Jane says, a ghost of a smile on her face. It threatens to be realer, stronger, when Darcy rolls her eyes.
"None of that is necessary," Sif says. "I simply meant, we just need to get Heimdall."
Darcy lifts her head from the table, frowning. "What the hell's a Heimdall?"
Sif's brother is a tall broad-shouldered man, gorgeous and golden eyed, and when he looks at her, Jane feels like he sees right into her, knows all her secrets and all her tells and every little thing she's ever kept hidden from the world. He probably knows where all of her secret stashes of loot are, too.
He looks at her, with that steady, all-seeing gaze, and Jane knows she will never be able to lie to him.
He's also, as Darcy says, a hacking god.
Her grip on Jane's arm has gone tight to the point of painful as she hisses in Jane's ear. "I knew I couldn't find out much about him, but I didn't know he was the Gatekeeper, my god, Jane do you know what this means? Do you have any idea? He's the Guardian, I can't-"
The others can't hear her geeking out, or they'd probably be a little more alarmed than they seem, heads bent together as they collaborate about the Thor situation.
"Still think I owe you for this job?"
"Well, yes," Darcy says. "But I won't make it as painful as I originally planned."
"That still does not reassure me," Jane says.
Sif frowns at them, waving them over. "If they move Thor from where he's at now, if they try to take him away from the facility, Heimdall will be able to find him."
As he was able to find Jane.
But he looks at her with those gold eyes and she feels more reassured than anything.
"I have an idea," Jane says.
She's not going to like it, but she pulls out her phone anyway.
"Hey Erik," Jane says, turning away from the others for at least a pretense at privacy. "You know how you once told me to watch my recklessness? Well…"
Erik's too far away to do anything about the con - they're on their own with that - but he's got contacts he can call, and strings he can pull. He can get them names. He can get them faces, far more legit and with Darcy on the line, they can get her an identity. In time, they could get her an identity so foolproof, people she's never met will believe she's been working with them for years. That she was at their weddings, or baby showers or anniversaries. She's never needed an identity that intense, but she's never really grifted before either, for all that her mother never really stopped trying to teach her.
With Darcy and Erik and Heimdall on conference call, Jane starts chasing the threads in her head, trying to solve the rest of their problems. They have a lot of them.
"You are worried," Sif says, startling her.
It's just the two of them in this corner of the room, the others distracted by the task at hand, and maybe Jane should feel cornered, but Thor trusts this woman. Thor looks at her like she is both a friend and family at the same time.
"Aren't you? He could be in a lot of trouble."
"I do not know if I can recall a time when Thor hasn't been in trouble," Sif says. "Or actively seeking it."
"Sounds familiar," Jane admits. "Darcy says the same thing about me."
Sif studies her for a long time, long enough that Jane rechecks her exits.
"Thor does not often take to new people," she says. "Thor enjoys them, certainly, and their company, but he rarely risks a job simply to flirt with anyone. I have not seen him do so in a long time. So I think you're trouble, Jane Foster, and I think we'd be wise to free ourselves from you."
Well that's just great. Disapproval from all sides. At least Darcy supports the growing thing Jane has with Thor. That's all she really needs, anyway.
Sif still has her full attention on Jane, and her gaze isn't at all like Thor's who is somehow soft and welcoming and warm when he looks at her. Sif is appraising, and wary, and certainly not welcoming.
But her eyes do soften, eventually, and she gentles her voice. "I also have not seen him so delighted, or so happy, in a long time. So perhaps we should keep you despite all the trouble."
"Or maybe I'll keep you," Jane says, and Sif smiles, slow but pleased.
"Sif," Loki calls out. "We've found Thor."
Jane blinks. "Already?"
Sif smirks, shrugging. "Heimdall specializes in finding people-"
"And things," Darcy chimes in. "Jane, did you know he's the guy who found that thing called the Convergence? You know, the one you wouldn't shut up about? For months?"
Jane loses focus for a few seconds, feeling just as starry-eyed as Darcy looks.
She shakes her head and clears her throat. She can get all the answers she wants after they've rescued Thor.
"So," she says. "Heimdall finds things, and you guys retrieve them. Like a power source nobody should be able to find."
"Like the person who liberated it from our grasp," Heimdall says, and Jane grins.
He pulls up a map on his computer. She's never heard of the place, isn't sure she can even pronounce the name, but shady pseudo-military organization. Probably a code name of some sort.
"Thor is currently enjoying residence here," Heimdall says. "Unfortunately."
"What?" Jane asks. "What is it?"
Loki and Sif share a look, but they say nothing.
"You really think it's wise to keep things from us?" Darcy waggles her fingers at them. Her tone is pleasant but her eyes are not.
"Probably not your best idea," Jane says.
"Yeah, especially if it's Jane going in there," Darcy says. "I will not be happy if we have to pull out Plan M."
Sif frowns. "What is Plan M-"
"Jane is the reason we're in this mess," Loki says, cutting over Sif's question.
"Oh, enough," Sif says. "Thor certainly had his share in it. He's never left you in a bind-"
"Because I am not fool enough to get in such a mess-"
"Huh," Sif says, one eyebrow arched in disbelief. "Are you truly forgetting the time with the Casket? Or that great metal thing your father called a Destroyer? But maybe we should speak of the incident with my hair? Is that what you desire?"
Loki shuts his mouth. He doesn't look happy about it, but he shuts his mouth.
"I thought not," Sif says. She turns to Jane. "I truly don't think what we know will aid you. It might even hinder you."
Across the table, Loki's gaze is hard, unforgiving, but he says nothing, his mouth pressed into a hard, white line.
It has Jane spooked. Both of them do, with the shadows of their past in their eyes. Military, she reminds herself. Black Ops. She breathes in, controlling her expression, thinking. She lets it out in one slow exhale.
"If I'm gonna do this," she says. "If we're going to make this work, I need to know what I'm getting into."
"I will not give you all the details," Sif says. "I cannot. You must ask him for those. Truly, it would be better if you learned of this from Thor."
"I figured," Jane says. "But I need to know."
Sif sighs, and that's how Jane finds out about Thanos.
And about Laufey - there has to be more to that story than Sif offers, if her quick glance at Loki says anything. If she's reading Loki's hard expression right, his jaw tight as he breaks eye contact, if only for a moment.
It's how she learns about Malekith, too, and Amora, and a man called Surtur.
And even Thor's father.
"Are you still okay with this?" Darcy's fingers are gentle in Jane's elbow. Her voice is even gentler so it won't carry to the others. "If you think we should bail-"
Jane looks at her, smirking only a little. "A mile above the ground?"
"Yeah," Darcy says, "we can wait until we land. But I'm serious, Jane, if you need to make that call, you know I'm with you."
"I know that," Jane says. "You don't have to tell me that."
"So? What's the call, boss?"
Jane rolls her eyes. "Don't call me that."
Darcy waits her out.
"We have enemies too," Jane says, after a minute has passed.
"No, we have rivals."
"Some of which would probably be pretty happy to see us dead."
"That's a valid point. You think you can still compare them? This is heavy shit. Like biblical proportions, eye for an eye type stuff."
"He was military," she says. "They all were. What else should we have expected? You look into all those conspiracy theories-"
"Since Puente Antiguo, of course I do."
Jane touches - carefully - her black bag with the toe of her boot. "Can you imagine what they haven't told us? Can you imagine what all of them have had to do?"
She's been thinking about it more than she's been thinking about the job and whatever tipped Thor away from that life and into his current one. Does she really know what she's doing? She barely knows him; she's said more to his team than she's said to him.
She's pretty sure if she asks him, he would tell her. He might tell her everything.
Is that even a good thing?
"I don't know what's happening between us. I don't if I even... I just know I've never been this." She gestures with her hands when the words fail her, hoping Darcy gets it. "This much about anyone."
Darcy pushes her glasses up to rub at her eyes. "Okay," she says, holding out her hand. "We do this job. We get him out. And then. Then we'll see, won't we?"
"Just know," Darcy says, after Jane takes her hand. "I get to pick at least the next ten jobs."
Jane laughs and says, "it's a deal."
When they get there, to this place with the weird sounding name - like someone is trying to clear their throat of a massive loogey and sneeze at the same time, according to Darcy - Jane doesn't have to do much grifting. She can't. They can't even get in.
Security is tight, locked down at the entrance. They aren't just scanning fingerprints and retinas, they're scanning genetic code.
"This is crazy," Darcy says. "I've never… I could potentially hack it, but I'd have to get to the actual scanner; wherever it's networked, it's not open to public access. We'd have to go inside and get to the server."
"Too much time," Jane says. "Can you get the cameras?"
"I can try," she says, and sets to work as Sif and Loki pour over blueprints. Jane joins them as Loki finds an entrance to the tunnels underneath, but intel says it's been blocked off for nearly a decade. It could take days to clear it out.
They argue over the best approach as Jane traces her fingers over the building's structure. She wonders if they're thinking about their own Worst Case Scenario plans, if they have a Plan M of their own, and if so, what that might be.
"Oh," she says.
Darcy doesn't even turn around. "Jane, I don't like the sound of that."
"No, you'll be fine with this."
Darcy takes her fingers away from her keyboard and looks over her shoulder. "Will you?"
"Yeah," Jane says. "I think so. I just…"
Well. Compared to leaving Thor captured, it's no contest.
Jane sets her black bag on the table, disturbing both the papers there and Sif and Loki's hushed conversation about best tactical approach. The zipper is loud in their tiny foxhole, and Loki and Sif both go preternaturally still as soon as the blue light washes over them.
Darcy snickers when she sees their faces. She holds out her fist for Jane. Jane obligingly knocks it with her own.
"Didn't even see it happening," Darcy says, gleeful. "Right under your noses."
"That's gotta be at least one less job you get to chose," Jane says, "at least."
"Nope," Darcy says, utterly unrepentant. "As far as I'm concerned this whole thing is still the last job."
"You stole it." Loki says. "You took the arc reactor, when-"
"Of course I did. I'm a thief." Jane stares at him. She looks at Sif. "I told you I wanted it. What, did you think I wanted it just because it's pretty?"
Sif clears her throat. "I thought you more interested in the price it would fetch. To the right buyers... you could make a lot of money."
Loki makes a sharp gesture with his hand. "Are you truly saying that you stole the Tesseract, perhaps one of the single most powerful objects ever created, because you wanted the arc reactor?"
"Well," Darcy says. "Also Thor. That was a huge incentive for her. She told you that too, don't you remember?"
Sif looks like she doesn't know is she should laugh or be angry or even how she should react at all. "And what is your gain in this?"
Darcy points at Jane. "She wanted it. 'nough said."
"It's a good thing I did," Jane says, "otherwise I'd never be able to generate an atmospheric anomaly."
"Yeah," Jane says, frowning. "We need a distraction, don't we? And this way I'll hit the roof, too. I can get in through there, and if these blueprints are right, I can get Thor out while they're distracted. Darcy, do you have the cameras yet?"
"Forty more seconds," she says, but she pauses to take a photo of Loki and Sif's faces.
Loki looks like he's possibly having an aneurysm. "You're going to generate an atmospheric anomaly? You? You're a thief."
"Thank you for that vote of confidence," Jane says.
"She's also brilliant," Darcy says, snapping another photo. "Did we forget to mention that? Oops."
They argue for awhile longer, but once Jane explains that yes she knows what she's doing, that no, she's not going to blow herself up, that yes, this is really their best option, that if they don't stop wasting time, Jane and Darcy are just going to do this on their own, they're on board.
More or less, anyway.
It's a shame to overload the arc reactor and let it fall tumbling end over end from the plane. It's a shame to lose what'll remain to the wildness, nothing more than strange and unnatural shrapnel.
But with Thor's freedom at stake…
And Tony Stark will build another one, and once he does, Jane will steal it.
She can't wait.
The first spike of lightning is a vivid, unnatural blue. It travels as lightning normally would, but the three that follow, only half a second later, arc left and right and up.
Jane has momentary second thoughts about this entire plan. But she's done the calculations, as much as anyone can with this kind of energy surge, wild and uncontained, so she should be fine.
Jane checks her harness, hoping the parachute doesn't have any rips or holes or faulty design issues. She takes a long look out the back of the plane..
Then she jumps.
She'd worried, briefly, that the storm might fry her comms, but when she hits the roof, Darcy's coming in loud and clear.
"You blew up the gate, Jane, that's awesome," Darcy says as Jane ditches her parachute. "It bought you some time, so move fast!"
Jane lets Darcy guide her through the building. Just like they've done hundreds of times before, and just like they'll do a few hundred times more. With the guards - no, with almost everyone focused on what's left of their front door, Jane makes it through the maze of the building with only a few close calls.
Thor's cell is locked with a keypad instead of a deadbolt or a padlock.
Darcy swears. "It's gonna take me a minute to get through that-"
Jane pries off the casing with one of her tools. She strips two of the wires, sparking them against each other. After a few attempts, the lock clicks open.
"Did you just jump-start the door?" Jane can hear her grin when Darcy affects her best southern belle. "Why, I do declare, Miss Foster, that is absolutely scandalous."
She reaches for the handle, and suddenly her heart starts beating a lot faster. She gives her hands a quick shake - there's no time for nerves - and pushes into the room.
Thor's sitting on the only chair in the room, hands chained, his head down. He doesn't look up, barely reacts as she comes closer except for the sudden tension in his shoulders. She hopes, suddenly, that the arc reactor ravages the entire building.
Jane takes a step closer. "Hey, you," she says softly.
His head jerks up. His eyes are wide, and so, so blue.
"Jane," he says. "Jane."
She grins and bites her lip.
He's still cuffed, but she's a thief and a lockpick, and even fancy military handcuffs - handcuffs, more like shackles! - won't be able to stop her. She doesn't let herself linger over his skin, forces herself not to think about the raw redness of his wrists.
He rubs his at them once he's free, first one then the other, watching her the whole time.
"You came back for me," he says, and he doesn't smile, but she doesn't need him to. Not when he's looking at her like that. She drops a comms device in his palm, and he slips it into his ear.
And he never looks away from her, not for one second.
"Let's have this reunion later," Darcy says in both their ears, after too many seconds have ticked by. "Time to follow the yellow brick road-"
Darcy cuts off the chatter from the rest of Thor's team, and then it's just the three of them.
"Okay, now that we don't have to listen to them anymore, let's move quickly or they're going to realize your storm is absolutely not natural-"
"They haven't picked up on that yet?"
"I think they're more worried about getting struck by lightning. Trust me, Jane, we'll definitely have to go far beyond Plan M if you're in there when they figure it out."
Darcy has a point.
She tosses Thor a cap to cover his golden hair. It's going to be a tight fit, but he doesn't have to wear it for long. Just until they're out of the building. Just until they're free.
Which is remarkably easy, considering everything they've been through in the past few days - since they met, really. All that trouble, but she's okay with not having any more for some time. At least a few more days. Thor follows her through the building without questions or hesitation, and they're out.
Celebrating post job is a tradition for Jane and Darcy, and one that's shared by Thor's team. They're tucked in a safehouse of Thor's, a different one than before - probably so Loki can pretend he has some chance at keeping Jane away from the Tesseract.
She'll let him think that for a few more days. At least one or two.
She's a little itchy because she doesn't know the layout like she would one of hers, doesn't know the nearest airport or train station, but there are cars everywhere on the street. It'd be easy enough to steal one of them if she needed to.
She jumps a little when Thor appears at her side. He reaches for her, seems to think better of it, and lets his hand drop.
"Could I speak to you alone for a moment?"
"Ha," Sif says, over the mouth of her beer bottle. Beside her, Loki snorts and then starts coughing into his drink.
Jane feels her face heat.
Sif starts patting - hitting might be a better word - Loki on the back. She still hasn't lowered her eyebrow, and he is turning red, unwilling to met Jane's eyes.
"Yeah," Jane says, ducking her head. "Let's-"
He shuts the door behind them, blocking out the laughter and the catcalls and Loki, still coughing.
Once alone, he does nothing but look at her with that intensity of his. Does he look at everyone like this or is it just her? She hopes it's just her.
"I did not thank you," he says.
"You don't have to-"
"Jane," he says. "I did not mean to start this. I did not mean…"
"I hope you meant some of it," she says.
"I did," he says. "I am irrevocably glad to have met you."
She kisses him.
She's too short, even on her tiptoes, but he catches her around the waist and hoists her further up, until she's barely touching the ground, but he holds her secure, steady, pressed against him.
She could get used to it, the strength in his hands against her back. She could get used to a lot of things.
She likes his beard, and she likes the thickness of his hair between her fingers, and she likes how he kisses her back. Oh man, does she how he kisses her back. She likes that it gets dirty fast, that when she opens her mouth his tongue is already there, stroking over hers.
He's nothing but muscle under her hands, his cotton shirt stretched tight over his shoulders, hot like a furnace. He's a wall against her, boxing her in and hauling her up by her thighs.
"Hey," she says, when they break apart.
"Hello," he says.
"We should probably talk," she says.
"Yes, we should," he says, breaking out that grin of his, and Jane ducks her head. She immediately thinks better of it and kisses him again instead. Why wouldn't she, when everything they've done since they met was basically the most elaborate foreplay of her life?
They really should talk, eventually, about his past and the enemies he has, about her propensity for stealing anything that might blow up, and about their respective teams, but they can do that later. Much later. Maybe after they've kissed some more.
Maybe after they've kissed a lot more.
"Hey," she says, sometime later. "I've always wanted to steal this thing called Mjolnir-"