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Observer Effect

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In the brightly lit workshop, Tony could pretend it wasn’t the middle of the night. He could pretend that he’d found some pocket of space where time didn’t pass at the same rate as the world around it. He could pretend that there were no shadows for anyone to hide in. He could pretend that he had absolutely everything under control.

And so far as that thing was mechanical or electrical or inanimate, he did. He had absolute control.

It was just his own head that ran without reigns. Usually, he could guide his thoughts from project to project, jumping and sprinting and following the trains of thought that lead from old worn ideas to new interesting lands. He lost track of time often enough, but he didn’t lose sight of his work.

Except for now.

There had been whole afternoons and evenings and those silent pre-dawn hours where he’d tinkered on the thing in his hands while his brain had worked on other details, other plans, and now, after so many hours and days and weeks of absent-minded work, he was face to face with something that he hadn’t really planned on making. At least, not this time around.

The metal suit stood on its stand in front and a little above him. The metal was unpainted and unpolished, still showing the brush lines on the metal and rougher edges of his hand-made work. To anyone else, it would look like a perfect thing, near-seamless plates of metal hooked together with wiring and specially modified fabric to give the joints flexibility and protection while in use. It looked like a goddamn suit of armor except with that modern edge that meant it had missiles in it.

Tony wasn’t even quite sure if he’d put missiles in it, but he probably had.

It was a new model, too. Not like the last one- that one that didn’t really exist anymore- and it had a little more thickness to it, a little more bulk. Not weight, god no, but there was an extra layer inside, a thin but insulated material. He’d designed the suit so it wouldn’t freeze up in the atmosphere once and now he’d modified it so that he wouldn’t freeze up on the inside, either.

But even that wasn’t the biggest change to this version, what was it, the eightieth? The seventy-ninth? Hell, he might as well start the numbering over at one again.

People would lose their goddamn mind if they saw this and thought it was his first one. He was a genius, everyone knew that, but the specs on this thing…

Tony’s eyes closed briefly. He’d made the specs while half dead in Siberia and it showed. It showed in the insulation. It showed in the rough look of the thing. It showed in the chest piece, flat and dark and made with vibranium. It, and the matching plate on the back of the suit, were the only two pieces of vibranium.

It was all he had been able to make out of that shield.

Tony’s hands opened and closed at his sides.

The suit stood there, faceplate looking straight forward, and did nothing.

Not that it should. Not that it would.

Tony wasn’t even sure who to put in the suit- well obviously himself but-

There were others now. Not just JARVIS and the bots. Many others.

A ping behind him, familiar and distracting, gave Tony something else to focus his mind on. He turned his head towards the far wall, where that black screen lay in waiting and said, “Show me.”

Instantly the screen lit up to show the inside of a vehicle he was quite familiar with these days- not in the old days, he’d never seen it then, only heard of it- and a faint smile pulled at his lips as he saw Jane Foster lit up from a crack of lightning outside the window. She’d insisted on keeping the damn piece of junk car, even with Tony’s money funding her research. People were incredibly sentimental.

Tony tried not to think about how his being sentimental had led him to build the suit that was standing four feet away from him like an ominous, silent metal guardian.

The video kept jostling around like a found footage movie and Tony realized that was because NOBODY had picked Darcy Lewis’s phone’s camera to hack into. Lewis was taking the recording of Foster driving, but only occasionally, mostly recording the wicked storm that had brewed up around them. Tony couldn’t hear anything- NOBODY usually left things muted- but he saw the shadow briefly across the front window when Foster hit something- or someone.

Thor, Tony thought. Was he on time or was he early? Tony wasn’t quite sure what day it was anymore. Pepper and JARVIS managed his calendar. He’d been hopping up to visit Ivan in Montana for the launches- they’d already had a dozen satellites put into orbit, giving Kletka access to about half the planet. And Ivan never bothered to schedule things based on things like days of the week- launches happened when the weather and tilt of the planet was in the right position, day or night.

He also went up to visit Bruce in Colorado infrequently, curious to see what he was up to, anxious to see the man who he still considered his friend even if this Bruce was a little more standoffish with him. Betty was nice, though. Betty appreciated what Tony had set out to do even more after the one time she’d tried to contact her father.

Tony smiled.

Thor was a good distraction from the suit he didn’t mean to build. Thor meant he could play a few more cards, get a little more information, make some movement. Tony was getting tired of waiting for things to snowball.

“I want eyes on Shield,” Tony said, “They won’t turn a blind eye to this and I want to know when they start talking about what Jane is up to.”

“Yes, Sir,” was JARVIS replying, even though it was NOBODY who would do the watching. She was shy, though, Tony understood. Didn’t like to talk. Big fan of texting and emojis, though, which was fine with Tony.

The screen split. Foster on the left and SHIELD on the right. It was rotating now, searching for someone who was in charge of the situation and settles on none other than Phil Coulson. Tony shakes his head, not surprised in the least as NOBODY’s attention follows him down some SHIELD hallway, flicking from one camera to the next.

Tony wanders back to his workbench. A sort of restlessness comes over him and he searches about, looking for something to tinker with. His attention settles on the half-constructed code floating above one table off to the side and he goes to it. With a flick of his fingers, he pulls up the small spherical display. Where JARVIS is that honey-gold of sunlight, this one is a deep blue-green, reminiscent of the ocean. Tony turns the code around and around a few times before he gets to work.

He’s not sure how much time it’ll take for SHIELD to get their act together and move out to New Mexico, but he’s not in a rush. This little one was for later, much, much later. At least, Tony hoped so.

 

 


 

 

Jane pinches the bridge of her nose with one hand as she listens to Darcy and Erik talking with Thor. Or rather, its Erik talking to the nurse and Darcy cooing over Thor and Thor enthusiastically telling some story that’s got to be embellished because there’s no way in hell that he’s anything but a very, very dedicated LARPer, committed to his act right down to the too-loud voice and backwards manner of speaking.

The other option is that he’s an alien and everything he’s said and saying is true and that Jane nearly ran over the Prince of Asgard, the same prince that Darcy tased and is now bonding over tasers and arm muscle with. Jane can’t believe the way her life has gone sideways since that storm. The readings she was getting had been spectacular. There had been something in all that thunder and electrical discharge and she was hoping to get new information about the bridge that haunted her mind’s eye, the one she’d never seen but had to exist, all the data was there if she could just collect it-

But instead of data, she’d just gotten Thor.

Erik came back from the doorway with a worried look. His mouth was pressed into an uncertain line and he took Jane’s elbow gently, turning her away from the other two. Darcy had just rolled up her sleeve as if she had any muscle to show off, and Thor was laughing at something she’d said. Jane understood, on some level, that Darcy was mostly just distracting the man, but she also knew how Darcy felt about guys who looked a lot like Thor, the long hair, and muscle types.

“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Erik said to her without preamble, “So he’s being discharged. Now, I can take him out to some part of town and leave him there if that’s what you think is best but…” his words tapered off.

Jane frowned at him, “But?”

“But what if he’s who he says he is?” Erik said. His mouth barely moves with the words and he’s stubbornly not looking at Thor. “Prince of Asgard, sent to our planet to learn some lesson because of his father. He got hit by a car, Jane, and you weren’t driving five miles an hour. The poor engine looks worse than he does and the windshield…” he shrugged, “We’re lucky we have the other truck to get around in, to be honest. That old thing’s got to go to the shop.”

“That would mean he’s an alien, Erik,” Jane whispers back. “An alien.” How can he not see that? But of course he does see that. He looks at her with eyes that have accepted that fact and Jane feels her skin go cold as he shakes his head and shrugs like there’s nothing he can do. She knows what he’s going to say before he does and, damn it, she should’ve seen it coming.

“He is,” Erik said, “Dr. Stark did mention that we might stumble over one or two in our studies.”

“Yes,” Jane said, trying not to be furious because Erik was being obtuse on purpose, “He did say that. As a joke.”

Erik just shrugged at her again, which was not helpful.

“Uhhh Jane?” Darcy called to her. Jane looked over and saw Thor hopping off the bed. He was tall and broad-shouldered and, with his easy smile, didn’t seem like much of a threat but there was a way that he walked towards the door that did not bode well for anyone who tried to stop him. Darcy watches him go with a somewhat wistful look while Jane wants to get something for the headache forming behind her eyes. “Thor’s hankering for breakfast,” Darcy explained as Thor opened the door, ducked his head and headed out, “He’s done ‘indulging the healer’s needless worry’,” she adds air-quotes with one hand.

Erik swears under his breath and hurries out. Jane and Darcy follow.

Thor, thank god, does not search the hospital for food. He waits for them in the hallway, looking curiously back and forth and Jane takes the lead quickly. “This way to the exit,” she says. Thor follows her easily enough and soon they’re out in the world again.

She turns to the right once they’re out on the street, headed to the truck that works as their back up vehicle when another car pulls up beside her. The top is down on the bright red convertible and the sunlight flashes off the chrome. Jane fights back the exasperation she feels as it slides smoothly up along the sidewalk beside her and comes to a stop.

The man behind the wheel shifts the car into park and then leans back, his arm stretching out over the back of seat next to him, “Dr. Foster! Fancy running into you here!”

Jane doesn’t know exactly how much of her life or her work Tony Stark keeps track of, because he’s never offered to share that information and her knowledge of computers doesn’t include hacking them to see what’s ticking inside, but every time he’s wanted to find her and talk to her he’s been able to do so without a word of how hard it is. Jane still vividly remembers coming out of the camper to the sound of an engine when she was fifty miles from civilization, alone, only to see Tony Stark and his shiny red car idling down the dusty trail of a not-quite-road to come and, of all things, bring her coffee and ‘catch up on the space-bridgey-stuff’.

Tony Stark terrifies Jane, in the kind of way that Thor, with his huge arms and his propensity to yell and recover too quickly from car crashes and tasing and tranquilizers, doesn’t.

Thor could probably put her through a wall without a thought, without a drop of sweat beading his too perfect brow.

Tony Stark could take away everything that Jane worked on and keep it away from her, like an adult holding a child’s toy over their head, and make Jane as useless to the world, to herself, as she was always afraid of being.

And still, he smiled at her, treated her with his generosity and her work with interest that she couldn’t quite tell if it was feigned or not, like he didn’t have his hand on the switch that made her life worth living.

That’s a bit unfair, Jane thought to herself as she smiled back and greeted him with a warm tone, “Dr. Stark, you’ve decided to get some sun?” It’s not like I couldn’t work without his money or his tech or his help. It would just be hard. I did it before, I could do it again.

But maybe not. Before, Stark hadn’t known who she was, hadn’t bothered with her work. She had no idea what her life would be like if she ever got on his bad side. Maybe he wasn’t a Merchant of Death anymore, but Darcy had read her the articles about Obadiah Stane before he’d been put up in the mental hospital. You turn on Tony Stark and he will bring you to your knees. And he’ll manage to give fifteen other people a job while doing it, too.

Tony’s head turns slightly and even though she can’t see his eyes behind the shades, at least, not with how bright it is outside negating the glow of the orange, Jane realizes he’s looking to the big man a couple feet behind Jane. Thor has come to a stop and is admiring the car with a bit of curiosity and is looking at Tony with a bit of interest.

“Dr. Stark,” Jane said with a gesture to Thor, “This is Thor.”

Thor straightens up, looks at Tony directly. “Prince Thor Odinson.” He gives Jane a look that’s amused, maybe a little irritated, because he probably thinks Jane should believe he is who he says he is and not be suspicious of him. Jane just wants to see if he’ll keep up the antics in front of the richest man in America.

Or if he’ll even recognize Tony.

“Dr. Tony Stark,” Tony said with his customary grin. “I didn’t know you got a new assistant, Jane, though he doesn’t seem the research type. But then again, you guys do need help lugging around those computers everywhere, don’t you?”

“Not for a while,” Jane replied with a little smile, “The outpost is pretty set up. We’re doing mobile studies with the camper for a while,” She winced, “Or we were. Erik needs to take it to a shop to get looked at.”

“Anyone get hurt in the wreck?” Tony asked.

By this time, Darcy and Erik have joined them and Darcy gives a wave that Tony returns. Erik just lingers on the other side of Thor, still wary of him.

“No, we’re all fine,” Jane said, “We just got out of the hospital and were headed out to eat.”

“Sounds delightful,” Tony’s light tone seems wrong, somehow, and Jane frowns. “I’d love to join you, but I’m on my way to lay down some bug traps. Bring me a coffee when you’re done, would you? I’ll be at your outpost when I finish up.”

“Sure thing, Tony,” Darcy quips before Jane can even open her mouth, “How many espressos are you going to cram into one cup this time?”

“Only three,” Tony laughed. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a bill and tossed it to Darcy, which she caught and then saluted him with. “And, what the hell, add a little whip cream on top. It’s a treat myself kind of day.”

Darcy, the wild little angel that she was, then looped her arm through Thor’s and said, “Come on big guy, let's go introduce you to an all American breakfast. Have you got a sweet tooth? I hope you’ve got a sweet tooth.”

Thor says something about his teeth not being sweet, but Darcy laughs and Jane turns her attention back to Tony, who is still there but isn’t smiling now.

“Don’t take too long, Janey,” Tony said, his tone light but his shades now lowered slightly. The orange ring of his eyes burns Jane and she feels herself nodding. “I’ll go lay some spike traps for our inevitable houseguests, but they won’t be very happy about it. Not sure what bullshit they’ll try to pull, but,” he shrugged one shoulder and pressed his glasses back into place, “I’ll make sure we all land on our feet in the end.”

“Thank you, Tony,” Jane said. Erik’s come up to her side and looks worried. She doesn’t like the expression on his face, prefers it when he’s furrowed his brow in concentration, worrying at a problem like a kid worried a loose tooth. “We’ll catch up soon.”

Tony nods and pulls his car away and into traffic, not that two cars at thirty miles an hour is much in the way of traffic, with ease. He’s down the street and turning at a light as Jane and Erik make their way down the sidewalk to the diner that Darcy’s dragged Thor into.

 

 


 

 

Heimdall refocuses his attention on the little piece of desert on Midgard with a slight frown. There had been a light, warm and orange, that had negated his vision momentarily. The best description he can think of is how the light will sometimes catch on the golden castle, reflecting off of its surface so blindingly bright that he has to blink away the light and the spots that threaten to darken his vision. It is like that, but not quite like that.

But it is as quick as that, there and gone and he can once more see the Prince, walking with Midgardians, partaking in their food and hospitality. The disturbance is gone and he puts it aside in his thoughts as it clearly has done nothing to Thor, nor does he seem to have even noticed it.

With a silent sigh, he shifts his feet and settles his weight a little differently on his heels. Midgard, even with Thor upon it, is not very interesting.

 

 


 

 

The truck bounces along the street, pulling out of town and towards the outpost, kicking up dust as Jane picks up speed. Not too much, of course, because Darcy is keeping Thor company in the truck bed and no matter what he seems to be able to endure, Darcy’s not nearly as tough and Jane will not be responsible for getting her hurt. Erik’s worried look has returned after their morning breakfast. He can see what Jane has already noticed.

The tire tracks in the road ahead of them. Or the not-road. They’re fresh enough that they haven’t blown away in the wind and one of them is over some roadside shrubbery and the plant still hasn’t uncrumpled any. She wouldn’t be worried if there weren’t so many tracks, but what she sees definitely cannot be explained away by her truck or Tony’s little two-seater.

Then they round the bend before the outpost and Jane takes her foot off the gas in surprise.

Four, no, five big black SUVs are parked around her campsite and the place is crawling with people in suits and shades. At first, her heart lurches to the side as she thinks Stark Industries is taking it all back but there’s something… not right with that thought. She remembers when she met the SI employees before, the ones who delivered the computers that are now being boxed up and taken away again. They had SI on the sides of their cars and they sure as hell weren’t dressed all the same, in suits that scream government agency.

She looks around, desperate for that shine of hot-rod red and she sees Tony’s car way off to the side. The man himself is leaning against the back of it and he’s got his arms folded across his chest, watching what’s going on. But no one is talking to him, no one is waiting for his input. In fact, there’s one or two that are standing idly by, one with her hand on her hip, jacket pulled back enough that Jane can see the gun she’s not quite touching, and the other with his hands folded behind his back. He looks like he’s the one in charge, maybe, but Jane can’t help but feel heartsick and betrayed anyway.

Easing down on the gas again, Jane pulls up on the other side of Tony’s car. He looks up when she gets there, flashes her a peace sign and she’s just, so confused. She numbly turns off the car and climbs out. Thor has jumped out the back and Darcy is with him. Erik is the slowest to exit, staring in bewilderment that’s slowly turning into something else, his eyes beyond Stark and the two suits.

“Here,” Darcy says to Tony. She makes a great show of putting the cup on the trunk of the convertible, “Though I’m not sure you deserve it. What the hell is going on here?”

Tony picks up the cup with one hand. With his phone in his other hand, he gestures over his shoulder at the commotion, “I’d just finished my upgrades to your security system when Mr. and Mrs. Smith over there came waltzing in and demanded everything. I don’t think they were expecting me there, to be honest, because they called me Dr. Foster by accident.” He gave a little smile and drank from the cup. “I told them they couldn’t take anything, but you know those shady government types. They gotta have it all.”

Darcy scowled, “You just let them take everything? All that stuff in there is your tech! They’re probably doing this just to get their hands on it.”

“Well, not everything,” Tony said. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small white iPod, with the headphones still wrapped tight around it. “They were busy running their mouths and I figured you probably don’t have any secret information on your iPod. Unless, of course, they’re desperate for some decent music to listen to.”

The return of her iPod mollifies Darcy. She takes it and turns it over in her hands, stepping back to show it to Thor, who doesn’t look as amused by what’s going on as he was when they were introducing him to the assortment of breakfast foods.

“Where are they taking it all?” Jane asks. Erik is silent beside her, shaking his head, turned away. “And when are we going to get it back? Because they can’t keep it. It isn’t- It isn’t even that special- honestly there’s not much in there-”

“They’re taking it to a nearby shady government base, I suspect.” Tony said, “I mean, it’s not like they have the capability to look at it in the field. They’ve got to cart it all off to their own dark hidey hole and poke at all the numbers and files and sniff around until they’re sure that what they’ve found is either the real deal or a pile of shit.” He shrugged his shoulder, “I wouldn’t worry, though, I mean. I would worry if they’d gotten around to doing this like, four hours ago or yesterday or something, but not now.”

“What did  you do?” Erik says at last, soft, just like in the hospital. His lips barely move but his eyes are on the outpost. “You said you upgraded security. Did you expect this? Why didn’t you say… what did you do?”

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Tony replies, “I couldn’t interrupt that for you. Pepper would be furious at me if I made others pick up my bad habits.”

“That’s not an answer,” Jane said, taking up where Erik lapsed into silence again. He didn’t look worried so much anymore, or as heartbroken as she’d felt. Now he just looked, intent. Somber. Like he was seeing something at work that reminded him of something else, something he didn’t much like to remember.

“Well I told you that already, didn’t I?” Tony answered with a quirk of an eyebrow. “I bumped security. Laid some spike traps. Or more specifically, I installed SPIKE. Don’t worry, once you get everything back, you won’t even notice him. He’s pretty quiet, doesn’t like to get in the way. Not anti-social, god no, he’s plenty chatty with the other kids but he takes his job very seriously and hasn’t yet picked up his big brother’s sassy mouth.”

“What?” Jane said weakly.

“Mr. Stark,” the man in the suit, who had been standing some distance away, called out to them now. He had a neutral expression, something almost smiling but not quite, as he walked up with the woman a half step behind and to his left. “Dr. Foster. Dr. Selvig. Ms. Lewis. And…”

“I am Thor, son of Odin,” Thor’s voice was loud enough that Jane saw several of the government thieves pause and look over.

“A pleasure,” the man made his voice warm with his smile, “I’m Agent Coulson. I wanted to thank you for releasing your research into our capable hands. I do appreciate the cooperation.”

Disgust ripples through Jane, “Cooperation?” She repeats at him, “I did not cooperate. You completely blindsided me with this, this theft . What do you want with my research? What are you planning on doing with it?”

Before he can reply, Tony cuts in, “We’re happy to be of service, Agent. If you have any questions about what you find on the files, Dr. Foster will be more than happy to translate them so that you and yours can understand.” He’s giving that shark smile, the one that he’d given Jane when she’d at first resisted his efforts to fund her research. Agent Coulson doesn’t seem to respond to it, but Jane has to suppress a shiver.

“That won’t be necessary,” Agent Coulson said with a shake of his head, “But thank you. We’ll be out of your hair in just a little bit, don’t worry. And thank you again. You work is a valuable contribution to the safety of the United States of America.” He said as though Jane’s fury can be salvaged by false patriotism. He nods at them and then turns and leaves, the woman, silent and watchful, at his side.

“Ugh,” Darcy muttered, “I feel gross.”

“Anyway,” Tony said, turning around to look at Jane. He took a meaningful drink from his cup and grinned at her, no longer that shark smile but something more friendly. “You guys should definitely check out that place where our prince friend here dropped out of space. It looks pretty fucking wicked.”

“Check it out? With what tech?” Jane replied. She felt the energy had been drained from her bones. “They took everything, Tony.”

Tony reached into his pocket again and pulled out a notebook. “They always go right for the computers first.” He gave it to Jane, who took it in careful fingers. She flipped through the pages and then looked up at him with surprise. “Sure, there’s not much we can do until we get the computers back, I mean, not even I can reorder all that tech and have it brought here and set up in that time, oh who am I kidding, of course I could, but it wouldn’t be the same and you’d have to set it all up again. No, no, easier to just wait for the government to poke at SPIKE, get their hands burnt and take the hint to give it back. I mean, I told them they should just leave it be but sometimes people have to learn lessons through experience, isn’t that right, Big Guy?” His sudden detour in addressing Thor surprised everyone, including Thor, who looked on with his brows furrowed.

“I am perplexed by this turn of events,” Thor asked, “Were the Lady Jane’s and Doctor Selvig’s work a danger to the realm? Or work done at the behest of your realm’s laws and leadership?”

“Everything’s a danger to a paranoid shadow organization that isn’t used to anyone knowing about it,” Tony replied, “But no, not especially. They just like to have both hands on anything supernatural. They must not have clocked you right, because if they had, they’d be trying to bring you back home to mama.” He cocked his head to the side and then added, “Or maybe they did, and they’re regrouping. Either way, no, Jane and Erik haven’t worked against the realm. It is just the realm working against them.”

“Politicians,” Darcy said with a scowl, “They hate sharing power.”

“Most people who will do anything to get to power will do anything to maintain it,” Tony said with a slight smile. “Take it from me. The first moment you had something interesting they were going to swoop in and snatch it up. I’m sure they plan on holding onto it long enough to make you hungry for it, make you need it, need them, and come asking to be allowed back to work on the things you found in the first place.” The smile does nothing to hide the bitterness in his voice and Jane’s heart throbs in sympathy.

Tony’s history is as open a book as any celebrity’s, probably more because he’s got people avidly double checking everything on his Wikipedia article and Jane does her research well. When he’d approached her to fund her work, she’d read everything about him that she could manage to find from a trustworthy source in a matter of days.

It didn’t take a genius to read between the lines of Tony’s biography, just someone who knew what it was like to be smart and underappreciated and underestimated and to have something other people wanted or wished they wanted. For Jane, it had been her quick wit and dedication that had made her the subject of jealous peers. Add that to the fact that she was a woman and she had struggled for years to be taken seriously and to get the same opportunities as others in her field. Erik had been one of the few to move past the jealousy or the misogyny that had plagued Jane’s career so far.

She didn’t think she was the same as Tony, not exactly. He was a billionaire genius inventor after all, and it showed with how young he’d done everything from going to MIT to become CEO to the work he was doing now. Jane just sympathized. She understood the isolation that Tony wore around him like an unseen coat.

People probably didn’t think there was much that could be held out of the billionaire’s reach but he was still human. He still wanted things. And people used people to get things all the time.

Jane took in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. “Right,” she said, “So we’ll work low-tech for a while. That’s fine. I wanted to check out the landing site anyway. There’s no way in hell that Thor just dropped out of the sky without something on the ground indicating where he landed. If we can find the crater or whatever it is that he made when he hit, we’ll have a better idea of trajectory and origin.”

“Sounds like another road trip into the desert,” Darcy said, bouncing on her feet. “Good thing I’ve got my iPod this time.”

Jane nodded to her and turned to Erik.

Erik shook his head, “I’ll stay behind, catalog what they took, what they left behind.”

“Come on, Thor,” Darcy takes his hand and she’s just, way too comfortable with him for Jane’s comfort but Jane doesn’t stop Darcy. Darcy is, after all, an adult and a totally capable one too. Plus, it's amusing to see how Thor looks at her, avid curiosity and following along like some big golden puppy. Tony looks amused by this too.

“What are you going to do,” Jane asks as she fishes her keys back out of her pocket, “Hang around with Erik?”

Tony shakes his head. “I’m gonna get a room and pass out.” He checks his watch, “This is hour forty-six for me and, honestly, I’m starting to feel it a little bit.”

Jane covers her face with her book. Tony’s not her boss, not really, just her investor, like some sort of patron, and for that she’s glad. She could never have a boss who acted the way he did. It would drive her crazy. She lowers the notebook and frowns at Tony. He doesn’t even have the shame to look guilty, just smiling at her with coffee in one hand like he’s got any business putting more caffeine in his body. “We’ll take the truck so you can borrow the RV. No one will bother you out here. And Erik can reach you then if something happens.”

Tony’s brow arches up.

“Because something’s going to happen, isn’t it?” she asked, “That spike is going to do something.”

Tony shrugs. He pushes off of his car, “I appreciate the offer, Janey, in fact. I’ll take you up on it! Pepper would be furious if she heard I was driving around with sleep-deprivation!”

Jane considers, briefly, contacting said Pepper. She met her once, well, maybe three times, and she was always impressed with Pepper. Not just how put together she was, but with how well she managed Tony and Tony’s business, too. She was whipcord smart and pretty and gave Jane hope for the future of other girls and women in business.

Jane watches him go, trodding off to the RV which is parked just to the side of the outpost. It’s been ransacked too, most likely, and Jane doesn’t really want to see the inside of it or the tent until things have settled down.

Darcy leans out the window, “Janeeeee! Let’s go already!”

“Yes, Lady Jane, we should begin our journey post haste,” Thor added, sticking his head out as well.

Jane rolled her eyes and went back to the truck. What a hell of a morning.

 

 


 

 

Loki’s feet are near silent on the floor but Heimdall’s ears are quite good and besides, Loki has been pacing back and forth for nearly twenty minutes, hands behind his back and his face that smooth mask that shows he’s trying too hard to hide his emotions. Heimdall doesn’t need his gifted sight to see the tense line of Loki’s shoulders or the way his green eyes flick from Heimdall to the view of space and back, as if he can will what Heimdall sees to be projected on that darkness and let it reveal the secrets he craves.

Secrets, knowledge, things that are not his to know- these are the things that drive Loki into action. The god of mischief is as hungry for knowledge as any scholar and what he wants to know he’ll do anything to learn.

Anything. Like loiter around for half an hour, waiting for Heimdall to fill the silence between them with the information that Loki wants to know.

Heimdall doesn’t smile, but only because Loki would interpret it incorrectly. The silence does not bother Heimdall. It never has. It never will. He was never much one for chatter and then he was trained as the gatekeeper of the Bifrost. It is a lonely, isolated post and Heimdall’s need for conversation withered away under inattention.

Loki taps his booted foot on the floor. Heimdall ignores him. He’s got part of his attention on Midgard, not really watching Thor but watching the planet. He’s noticed there were changes- not in the last few Midgardian days, no, but when he last looked there several years ago, things were different. He doesn’t even mean the landmasses, the color of them shifting with the seasons and with the changing climate of the world. He means the thinner layers of the atmosphere are more populated now. There are Midgardians in a space station, working and doing research there, as far as he can tell, but there’s something else. Something more.

He doesn’t remember there being quite so many satellites to the planet before. And if it were only a handful, he probably wouldn’t have noticed, but this is a score or more and there is a pattern to their placement. They are, as far as he can tell, evenly spaced between each other across the whole globe. And unlike many of the satellites that he can see, these ones are not simply pointed out to the ground. Their observational units are on two sides, one facing the planet and the other out into space.

He cannot tell their range, nor can he tell their angles, but given their placement and spacing, he’s almost certain that they’ve made a nearly complete sphere of observation around Midgard. Heimdall wants to investigate a little more, wants to see if there will be more satellites lifted into the planet’s outer orbit before he says anything but he still has this feeling...

Midgard is growing aware.

“If you cannot see him,  you could simply say so,” Loki says at last. He looks over his shoulder at Heimdall, eyes narrowed. His worry makes him look thin and tired, but Heimdall doesn’t say that. Loki’s worry for Thor is a good thing, in his opinion. Healthy, sort of. Loki doesn’t have many bonds in Asgard, something his Lady Mother laments from time to time. “There is no shame in it, but-”

“I see him now,” Heimdall says, cutting him off. He wants Loki to leave so he can focus on gathering more information and that want makes the word now slip out unnecessarily.

Loki’s eyes narrow even more. Heimdall ignores the gaze. His words are true; Loki will not find fault with them. He can see Thor, now. He’s out in the desert with two Midgardian women, in one of their transports, headed to where the Bifrost put him on the planet.

Ten minutes ago, that strange, too bright and yet somehow soft orange light had obscured Thor and Heimdall had looked away from it. The prince had been outside of the Midgardian town this time and Heimdall’s current theory was that whatever it was that disrupted his sight was mobile. Another Midgardian, perhaps, or, more likely, another from another realm. It was unlikely that anyone on Midgard had the ability to block his sight and more likely that someone else had stepped onto the planet and used that shield to prevent Heimdall from identifying them.

Thor did not seem threatened or surprised after either meeting, which had various implications. Either he did not notice, did not fear or did not care, Heimdall was not sure. Thor didn’t even make mention of what was going on at the time, more preoccupied with his own cares- first his hunger and now his boredom. And the Midgardian’s do not act oddly either before or afterward.

Heimdall pulled his sight back, watching the outer edge of the planet. Absently, he can hear Loki’s frustrated grunt as he stamps his foot and he ignores the outburst. Loki stomps away and Heimdall doesn’t roll his eyes through the effort of years of training. He watches the atmosphere of Midgard. He decides to count the satellites again. He wonders, idly, if the being with the shield against his sight has decided to interfere on Midgard. Maybe these satellites are the idea of that being.

Or perhaps it is only a coincidence.

Heimdall settles in to watch and gather more information, reserving judgment until then.