The last of the clouds had disappeared, leaving the inky black sky alight with unknown constellations and a single, gleaming moon. As Jane rushed past towering trees with pale bark and blooming flowers that smelled faintly of pine needles, she noted the clearing sky and silver moon that guided her footsteps. She paused in a small clearing and looked around, taking in the beauty of the surrounding gardens. Clearing her head and slowing her breath, Jane allowed herself to be fully immersed in the natural world, something she had not experienced since arriving in Asgard. Beneath her bare feet – uncomfortable sandals long since left behind – the soft green grasses and low-growing willows cushioned her steps. Around her, bushes with flowers and nuts and leaves of every color and pattern formed a muted canvas in the dark night. Above, the pale trees of Asgard stretched to the sky, their bark reflecting the moonlight and their flowers bursting in the cool night air. Jane closed her eyes, enjoying the scents of pine and honeysuckle that enveloped her. Around, she heard the chirping of Asgardian crickets and hooting of nocturnal birds, the clamor of the feast far behind her.
Jane's eyes shot open as she heard another noise – that of softly flowing water nearby. Reluctantly leaving her natural haven, she crept softly through the tangled vines, heavy with white, blooming flowers, and pushed aside low-hanging branches. Just beyond a grove of fruit trees, she found the small pool. Above, white branches formed a ceiling, their flowers drooping low above the surface. To her left, a small waterfall bubbled softly into the shallow pool, creating tiny ripples in the surface of the water. To her right, a man sat next to the surface of the water, his legs crossed lazily in front of him as one hand supported his weight and another swept back and forth above the pool. Beneath his swaying hand, the water was rising up and forming shapes – first, a cube, now, a hollow sphere, now, a teardrop – and was dropped careless back onto the surface. Even in the darkness of the night, the moonlight showed Jane that this was Loki; his armor gleamed silver in the moonlight, his hair contrasted with the paleness of his face. She crept silently back into the grove, meaning to approach from another way, when his voice sounded out.
"I know you are there, Jane Foster," he said quietly, in a defeated voice that held no violence. He did not look away from the surface of the water, nor did forms stop taking shape.
Jane stopped and stared, then walked quickly to his side, sitting down next to him. Loki glanced at her from the corner of his eye, but said nothing and returned to the water.
"How…how do you move the water?" she asked, wanting to fill the silence between them.
She saw Loki roll his eyes. "I do not move the water, mortal," he responded.
Jane tensed and expected him to either stop talking or to insult her race again. Neither happened.
"I move the air surrounding the water," he continued, eyes still on the shapes he formed.
Now, an arrow, then a dagger, then a horse that galloped across the surface and disappeared below. His forms were becoming more elaborate and lifelike, Jane noted.
"So, it's not unlike moving a bookshelf," she stated, her eyes on the pool where the horse had gone under. Feeling Loki's eyes on hers, she turned to face the prince, who was eying her skeptically. "You know," she continued quickly, "If I wanted to move a series of books across a room, it would be easier to move the bookcase surrounding them than to individually move each book…"
She trailed off. Loki probably thought she was crazy, rambling on about books and shelving units. To her surprise, he turned away and continued conjuring shapes from the water.
"An interesting comparison, my lady," he said. "Do you spend much time in the Royal Library, then?"
A warrior practicing for battle, a woman writing furiously, and a magician above a caldron all sprung from Loki's hand and disappeared beneath the surface.
"No," Jane responded sadly. "I've been very busy going to feasts and having dress fittings. I would spend every waking minute there, but Thor needs me with him right now."
Loki sighed. "My brother needs everyone in their own time," he replied. "Soon, you will be wed, Jane Foster, and my brother will leave you for weeks at a time, off fighting or practicing diplomacy. The only stars you see will be those from your chambers. The only freedom you have will be a daily trip to the Royal Market, surrounded by guards and handmaidens."
Jane, shocked and upset at his brash words, struggled to form a response, but Loki cut her off again.
"Do not take offense at my words, Jane Foster," he continued sadly. "I have seen the way you look at the stars, the path of your gaze into the city streets, the longing your eyes show for knowledge of everything in this world. These things, you will not experience as Queen of Asgard beside Thor," he finished, returning to conjuring above the water.
Jane sat stunned beside him. She knew he was right, but she had been avoiding these conclusions ever since arriving in Asgard. She wanted to live here and experience everything and be free, but as Thor's queen, she would be expected to sit by his side and oversee the workings of the royal compound. Her dreams of exploring the realm and seeing the stars crumpled and wilted, drooping to the ground like flowers burned to dust.
"I feel trapped," she whispered, the passion in her voice gone.
Loki noticed, and his droplets fell back to the surface of the water. Slowly rising to his feet, the prince gazed down at Jane and extended a hand. This time, when she took it, Jane noticed the calloused skin and roughness, hands that clearly left the palace often and had experienced much of the realm. Slowly standing, Jane kept her face turned away from Loki, looking out over the pool, whose surface was reflecting the brilliant blue and white stars that danced overhead. A soft hand alongside her jaw turned her to face Loki, whose eyes had softened and seemingly aged a thousand years. His eyes had seen, had experienced, had lived, Jane realized. These were the eyes of someone who had felt love and pain, who knew joy and sorrow outside of gilded palace walls.
"Then, Jane Foster, let me free you," Loki whispered softly, and his lips descended slowly upon Jane's until she thought the whole world would be swallowed up by Loki and his gleaming armor and the softly bubbling waterfall and the late summer honeysuckle.