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In Order to Move On

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Loki went to see her, just like he'd promised.

It was taking time out of his already very busy schedule. The element of surprise was, of course, completely in his hands: the Midgardians knew that he was here, but they did not know what he planned for the Tesseract, how he would accomplish this, or what his ultimate goal would be. But the longer he delayed, the longer he gave them to prepare for that which they did not understand -- to prepare defenses and armies and bolster their resources and extrapolate what he might be intending. He still held the element of surprise, but it would slip from his fingers if he was not careful, and Loki was not a sloppy tactician; he planned his strategies with great intricacy before undertaking any significant endeavor.

The province of New Mexico was not a step in his plans, nor anyone's. When he informed his escort of their destination, there was only incurious silence, followed by Barton's neutral, "How should we prepare?"

"Not at all," Loki said, smiling fleetingly. "I will be going in alone."

"You should at least have cover. SHIELD almost certainly has surveillance on this town after the last alien incursion. If they see you and connect--"

"I said, I will be going in alone," Loki repeated, the smile falling away. Barton straightened and fell quiet with a nod, the hand that had been reaching for his compound bow falling back to his side. Loki gestured for him to step back, and beckoned Selvig forward.

His vigilance was a reassurance, but unnecessary. Loki had no intention of giving away all of his secrets even to his controlled subjects, but he wrapped himself in invisibility as he left the shelter of their vehicle, gaze flickering in each direction after he had stepped out into the arid air. In his pocket was a crumpled piece of paper with descriptions that would take him to Jane Foster's residence and her place of work; his fingers were tight around it as he walked, swinging the staff easily in his other hand.

Selvig had not even asked why he wanted to know, and he had not offered explanations. It was, after all, personal.

What happened on Earth to turn you so soft? Don't tell me it was that woman!

He had only had a glimpse of her, a distorted reflection in the Destroyer's gaze, her mousy hair afly and her clothes common and her voice a shrill scream, and at the time he had seen nothing of note. Obviously he had made a crucial error in judgment.

It would be nice to be able to see for himself what in her had provoked Thor's change before he killed her.

Loki had spent a lot of time over the last year contemplating exactly how he would do it. He had envisioned breaking every bone in her body with loving attention to detail; setting her on fire and leaving her charred body on the main road in town where it should have been a year ago; hacking off her head and displaying it on a pike as a warning; torturing her with every spell he knew that would cause pain; or something more intimate and vicious, to take what Thor had claimed from him. But in the end it had all felt too calculated, too cold. What he really wanted was to wrap her hands around her throat -- slowly, deliberately -- and squeeze until he felt her windpipe give way, felt the fluttering last breaths of her life falter and shiver away.

Nothing showy. Not for Thor's benefit, not for the benefit of the other mortals who dared interfere with their affairs, not for her experience; just for himself. A death fitting how personal this matter was for him, one that would be satisfying and real.

Loki had to check several times to make certain he was going to the correct location, and then he had to check again to make certain he had not missed some obvious building that might be her dwelling on the nearly empty plains around them. Finally, with no other option available to him, he reached out to the wheeled vehicle and ground the cheap lock to scrap metal in his hand and pulled the door open.

He had to duck his head awkwardly to climb the stairs into the elevated chamber, which had a narrow door and ceiling so low he could almost not stand in it, and he looked around with doubt growing even more as he paused in the center of it.

"This is where a person lives?" he asked, mostly to himself.

He idly skimmed his fingers over a small table that could possibly seat four, at a stretch. Its surface was scattered with small glossy books, crumpled up scraps of lined paper, articles of clothing, and unopened packages of something called ramen that appeared to be a form of cracker on cursory investigation. Her bed was crammed into the back and he could not tell if it had been slept in recently or not, because the sheets were in disarray and he had no reason to believe that this was not its permanent state. There were decorations -- fringed lamps and wisps of fabric hanging over windows -- but he had to hunt to find anything to prove that she did in fact stay here; a photograph of herself with a particularly pedestrian-looking horse that was keeping a place in a text entitled Astrotomography: Indirect Imaging Methods in Observational Astronomy.

Loki looked up, finding himself abruptly quite lost. "And this woman had something to teach Thor," he reminded himself. Thor must have been in a sad state indeed after Loki had woven him the story of the All-Father's death.

She had changed him so much, and it had been an inopportune moment for so dramatic a change. Loki did not like to think how vulnerable he had been then, the way it had twisted him up inside to see Thor as if he were a stranger, someone he did not recognize and could not predict. Defending frost giants, championing mortals, reaching out when he should have been lashing out. A potent, cruel reminder that nothing in his life had been what he had thought: his parents liars, his brother a stranger, and he had not even known himself. And it was Jane Foster who had brought that ugly truth home to him.

But it didn't, if he was honest with himself, really have anything to do with her.

The dark god paused again, and finally said to the air, "It is midday, after all. I will try her workplace."

This time his expectations were met. It was a large building, mostly empty inside, but filled with devices, equipment meant to measure and gauge the sky. Loki was no expert in mortal technology, but even his unpracticed eye could tell that some of it was crude and improvised, and some of it was newer, more polished and refined. No doubt improvements made as her research progressed and her findings gained respect.

But the research was abandoned now, the place dark and uninhabited, the door locked and shutters drawn. There was a scribbled note next to a device that Loki vaguely knew to be a telephone, reading UA 782 7:45AM. Business class & personal assistant! He couldn't decode it, but he could parse its underlying meaning well enough -- Barton had been correct, and they had guessed that he would come here, and taken the precaution to spirit her away where he would not find her.

The disappointment tasted sour in his mouth, and Loki turned away from the little note, sifting through her scholarly papers instead. Star charts and formulae, journal entries recording phenomena she had observed and theories she had developed, nothing of interest until he turned a page and found a crude sketch in a heavier hand surrounding one of her sketches of the realms beyond her own.

Thor's hand, showing her the shape of Yggdrasil as best he could. A tender illustration of his caring, the way he had reached out to her hopefully despite their very different worlds, literal and emotional.

Loki stared at it, lingering.

Thor had reached out to him, as well. Had begged him not to fight, to fix things and return home peaceably, shouted in horror when he gave up.

That had been the Thor who did not know what he was, who did not understand that the brother who had stood at his side for centuries was not only not his brother, but a monster. And now he knew: everything, all the lies, all the scheming, all the things he had done and attempted to do, all that he was.

Would he still reach out?

Maybe. Thor had always been possessed of a kind heart, even under the self-absorption and short temper that had once ruled him; now... Loki could not say. But if Thor would have found it in him to exercise compassion before, the odds were probably greater now.

And that was why Loki had needed to come here to find Foster, and why he was now struggling to accept that she was out of his reach.

Wild frustration seized him, and Loki turned, lifting the scepter with a growl and sending a burst of spellpower to tear through the machines around him. Pieces of metal shrapnel went flying all around, alarming crackling noise coming from severed wires; he didn't stop, rending the air with unearthly blue light until they were all in ruins around him. He swung about, smashing the desk in two with the haft of his weapon and then lifting a hand, wreathed in flame, and slammed it into the remains of the furniture, setting it ablaze with a hot pulse that almost -- almost warmed him in its glow.

He was breathing unsteadily as he grabbed at the frayed threads of his self-control, wrangling himself in.

Killing her was more than just something he wanted; it was something he needed. It was closure.

Killing Jane Foster would make Thor's outstretched hand fall. It would make Thor hate him. And then... And then he could close that chapter of his life, seal away all those impossible wishes and pointless longings and the desperate desire to go back to the way things used to be, in a fairytale that he had once lived without knowing any better.

When there was no longer a thin illusory promise of forgiveness hanging over everything he did, giving him pause and hope, he could move on.

But Jane Foster was not here, and she would live, and Thor would never stop reaching out to him, and in his heart of hearts Loki would want to take that hand and go home.

Intellectually he knew that he could never go back. He could never truly be a part of Asgard again; he could never stand the whispers, the looks; he could never go back to being Thor's shadow, loving him obediently while wishing that he could be the one to come in first, even just once.

But in Thor's eyes, in Thor's mind, it would be as simple as saying yes, and then he would think, maybe...

He passed a trembling hand over his eyes, just for a moment, and then he shoved himself upright. There was nothing for him to do in New Mexico after all, and he had more important things to attend to.

When he returned to his thralls, they did not ask him what happened or how it went, and he said nothing to them other than a curt, "Let's move on."

As if it was so easy.