A/N: Hey! Sorry for the delay!
I'm keeping this short, so thank you, Readers and Reviewers and Followers and the like.
I now present Chapter 16! Please Read and Review and tell me your thoughts! :)
Hermione paced the sitting room, tuning out the argument between Steve and Nott while attempting to keep her thoughts in a row. But it was proving to be difficult. Only two things kept going through her mind:
Jane's in a coma.
"Sit down, sweetheart." Sam patted the empty space next to him on the sofa. She complied, the muzzle of Nott's pistol digging into the bottom of her spine. She'd put that away when it was clear she didn't need it. Steve hadn't come to drag her off because of her affair with Loki. He had come bearing bad news.
Sam extracted a gum packet from his pocket and held it out in offering. "Trust me, it'll help you think clearer."
She popped out a tiny white tablet and chewed on it. "Thanks."
"When's the last time you heard from Loki?"
She flicked her gaze at Nott and then at Steve who were still fighting about what went down after Loki had taken her from Stark Tower months ago. Neither of them had heard Sam's question.
Scratching her neck, Hermione let out a sigh. "I think he's missing, too," she said quietly, feeling queasy at the thought. "It's been two, almost three months. I hadn't thought about it until Thor's absence was mentioned."
"You don't think it's a coincidence?"
She shook her head. "He wouldn't stay away this long."
"Yeah, I take it he wouldn't."
There was something meaningful in his tone, and Hermione saw him clocking her stomach which she had believed was cleverly hidden by her hiking jacket. Apparently, you can't get one passed Sam Wilson.
"Don't tell Steve," she said.
"Hey, it's not his or my business. I just happened to not be fooled." He cast a sideways look at Steve and then continued, "Look, we didn't just come here to tell you about Jane and Thor."
She frowned. "Coming to arrest me, are you?"
He arched his eyebrows at her, taking out his phone. "Steve would never let that happen. No, can you take a look at these for me?"
He tapped at his gallery on his iPhone 6 and enlarged a photograph. It was of a smart board heavily noted in Jane's workmanship. Equations and formulas on top of one another made the image hard to interpret. Hermione took the phone from Sam and enhanced the photo a little more, zeroing in on a section which housed symbols not found in your everyday curriculum. They were arithmetical runes. The runes Hermione had wriggled into Jane's notes ages ago.
"Can you make heads or tails of that? Tony and Bruce had to call in Dr. Erik Selvig, but even he's not sure."
Hermione massaged her chin pensively. "And what makes you think I'd know?"
"I don't think anything. None of us do, but we're out of options. Steve didn't get far in explaining to you that we think the invasion we've been prepping for has moved on to greener pastures. We think the Chitauri went to Asgard. It makes sense. We don't have the Tesseract anymore. They do. It explains why Thor jumped ship, and you haven't heard from Loki.
Her eyes widened, and she covered her mouth in horror. "Have any of you attempted to call out for Heimdall?"
"Before Jane was shot, she did all day every day. Nothing, which was when she started getting desperate and calling out for Loki. When that didn't work, she redirected her focus on opening a wormhole to Asgard. She's out of commission now thanks to HYDRA, and we need all the help we can get. So I'm going to ask again, can you make heads or tails of this?"
Hermione handed the phone back to Sam. "Yes."
Sam's smile was surprised but warm and pleased. "The jet to New York leaves in two hours. Will that be enough time to tie up some loose ends?"
She forwent a reply and got to her feet. "Theodore! Steve! Stop fighting this instant!" The two men quieted instantly, although she swore she heard Nott mutter the word 'ponce' under his breath. "Steve, Sam explained to me a few things, and I might be able to help you guys out."
"The hell you can," Nott balked, starting towards her. "You're not getting mixed up in all this bullshit again. I won't have it."
"You don't get to speak for her," argued Steve. "She can decide for herself. She's a grown woman."
"You don't even know, Rogers, so stay the hell out of it." Nott cupped her shoulders, squeezing. "Granger, don't do this."
"They need my help. It's important." She squeezed one of his hands. "I know it's dangerous, and it's risky in more ways than one but terrible things could be happening, and I can help stop them. I'm going to. I don't need your permission. You don't get to decide."
"Hermione." He was using her first name now, and it did almost make her pause but just for a moment.
"I'm going upstairs to pack a few things." She began climbing the stairs and Nott was on her tail. When they got to her bedroom, he closed the door behind him and cast a Muffliato.
"Shit, Granger, are you absolutely mad?"
She whirled around to face him, a mask of frustration on her face. "Asgard is being invaded just like how it happened in New York. Earth is going to be hit again after that. Thor is missing. My cousin is in a coma. Her kid is being taken care of by people who are pretty much strangers." And Loki could be dead. She wasn't going to go there. "I can help them. Jane was working on an Einstein-Rosenbridge. She lacked the appropriate arithmetic, so I snuck them into her equations a while back."
Hermione's sigh was heavy and broken. It was all beginning to sink in—Jane's condition and Loki's AWOL. "I gave her runes. Stark, Banner, and even Jane's mentor doesn't know what to do with them. They can't finish the bridge in time unless someone who knows what they mean helps them."
Nott roughly grabbed her arms. "You gave her runes? You are mad, aren't you?" He shook his head and let go of her, raking a hand through his hair. "So the Avengers now have access to magic. Have you thought about how their computers aren't going to be able to interpret it? It'll short-circuit them at best. Blow their entire lab and everyone in it to hell at worst."
Hermione flicked her gaze to the side, mulling over his words and finding truth in them. She had no idea at what length Jane nor Stark or Banner tested those formulas.
"The world's not ready for science and magic to coexist. The technology can't handle it. We are lucky our phones don't bloody explode in our pockets."
Hermione stuck out her chin and looked him in the face dead on. "I'll find a way. A wormhole without a Bi-frost was opened once before. It can be done again."
"I don't pretend to know a lot about science, but I know enough that there's not a big enough energy source to power it, thus, why Thor's brother needed the Tesseract. You don't have that, and there's not enough magic in the world to mimic it. It's impossible what you want to do."
"I'll find away," she repeated. "I'm smart. I'm resourceful. The world's brightest minds will be alongside me. Theodore, I have to do this. The entire galaxy might depend on it, all right? So I'm going to be leaving for New York right now. It's the right thing to do."
She darted to her closet, instinctively grabbing her beaded bag and wrenching it open in preparation of stuffing it with manuscripts and textbooks, anything that might be of use. Within the bag, something glinted and caught her eye, and her breath caught in her throat at what was wedged inside.
"How're you going to explain to everyone about the runes, huh? Bet you haven't thought about that, have you? They know your Muggle history. You've worked for Interpol and were an authoress on your downtime. Doesn't exactly scream linguistic anthropologist or semiotic specialist," Nott said from behind her.
Hermione snapped the bag closed and said over her shoulder. "I'll lie. Said I picked up a few tricks on Asgard. That I learned a bit of their lingo because I actually did. They'll believe me. I'll make a good case they won't be able to argue too much if they truly care."
Loki would be her key. He schooled her. He taught her what he could in the space of time they shared together even though in reality he barely lifted a finger to further her knowledge on the Aesir language and the ancient Scandinavian Runes she had once slaved over.
She clutched her bag close to her, but there wasn't time to dwell on him or why he left the scepter and the mind stone with her. Or better yet, when?
She heard Nott mutter under his breath. Something about needing a smoke. She felt his presence leave the threshold of her closet, and she looked over her shoulder to see him go to the far window and open it. Leaving him alone for the moment, she got out her trunk and largest bag, filling them with a portion of her belongings. With those packed, she shoved the manuscripts and textbooks into her beaded bag and opened her bedroom door, listening for Sam and Steve. It sounded like they'd found the telly.
Hermione checked her phone and saw she had a text message from her mum. Her parents had gone to the cinema and would be back late. She called her mum and left a voicemail explaining how Lucas was whisking her away on a surprise holiday and she'd be back in a week and would keep in touch.
Hanging up the phone, Nott asked, "Who's Lucas?"
"The baby's dad."
"Is that his real name?"
"It doesn't matter." She studied Nott's brooding features. He was scowling at something in her front yard. The motorbikes, perhaps. She'd have to call a cab. Tapping her thumb on her phone, she said, "You could come with. I mean…I am coming back. In a week. To visit and to come up with a lie to tell them. I have to keep up the guise with my parents. I'm not going to take off on them and not keep contact like I've done in the past. I can't do that to them anymore."
"I'm not allowed at Stark Tower."
"You could stay at your place there. It's only a few blocks." She walked up beside him, shrugging a shoulder. "We could both stay there. Um…Jane's baby and I, that is. With you."
"It's all right, Granger." He lowered his chin and then shifted his eyes at the sun, squinting at the sunset. "You're not going to be a stranger around here. That's what matters."
"I'm probably going to have to find a healer there after a while if this thing takes longer than I'd like."
"I'll arrange something for you."
"I'm not asking you to. You've gone to all my other appointments. You can come with me to these ones. It's a lot of trouble for an hour visit, but the invitation is open."
"I'll think about it." His tone was moody and crisp. "If you need a night to get away from those freaks, you're welcome at my flat."
Hermione cocked her head to the side and reached for his face, cupping it. She nibbled her bottom lip and studied his furrowed brow and his defensive, cagey gaze. It was then she understood something she hadn't caught before, so she leaned in close to his face. Much to her surprise and embarrassment, he dodged her advance and stepped back from her.
"I'm sorry. I thought—"
"You thought right, but I don't want you to kiss me because you're sorry. I want you to kiss me because you mean it. Really mean it. I don't want your pitiful affection."
She nodded, looking down at the floor. "Fair enough," she said softly and wrung her hands, thinking of the ramifications it'd cause if she told him she had feelings for him, as well. She concluded it wouldn't be worth it in the long run. Her heart belonged to Loki as did her future.
A voice in her head told her it was possible both he and Thor were dead. If Thanos bypassed Earth and went straight for Asgard first, he could be dead. She knew enough there was quite a bit of love lost between Loki and Thanos, and Thanos was out for his blood.
Hermione stopped entertaining that thought immediately. She wasn't going to think like that. She was going to throw herself into creating an Einstein-Bridge as if Loki was waiting for her to do so. As if he had planned it all along and was currently waiting for her at the palace in Asgard. Waiting for her to come home to him.
"You should get going," said Nott.
"Okay," she whispered.
Tony's jet was used for the flight to New York. With it, they'd be in New England in a few hours as compared to hours of layovers and safety checks before takeoff. And once Steve had leveled the plane, he handed the reins over to auto pilot and sat in the seat by her.
"I want to apologize for my behavior with your friend," he said as she unbuckled her seat belt, releasing the pressure of her still hidden stomach.
She chuckled, not happily. "It's not really me you need to apologize to, but I'll take it."
"He kind of made himself a problem after Loki took you. We didn't know what to do. It probably would've gone down better if Jane and Thor would've just told us what was going to happen."
"I think so, and would you have behaved any differently if a friend of yours went missing?" Steve visibly bristled and then narrowed his baby blues at her like she knew something she shouldn't. She pursed her lips at him thoughtfully and said, "The question wasn't meant to derail you, but I'll take your response as a no."
"Look, I don't know what Loki told you about me—"
"He doesn't tell me anything about anyone." She could tell he wanted to believe her but couldn't bring himself to. "Loki and I didn't pass the time by discussing the Avengers. He mentioned a few unimportant matters, but it was not a habit to talk about much else beyond our own companionship."
He cracked a confused, mirthless smile. "Yeah, because you two are a normal couple."
He did laugh at that and then looked down at his lap. "Sam told me you haven't heard from him in a while. He told you about Thor. He's missing, too. It's persuading us more and more there's something going in Asgard. You're sure you can read those formulas? Tony's ninety-nine percent positive you can't and finding you was a waste of time. I went to bat for you. I'd appreciate it if you don't disappoint me."
Hermione pressed her lips together and then retrieved her bag from between her feet, carefully rifling through the textbooks and manuscripts as to not arise suspicion. She extracted a folded up piece of paper wedged in one of her manuscripts and unfolded it, showing it to Steve.
"In Asgard, Loki taught me a few things. It was during the more clandestine part of our relationship, so I didn't really get around in telling Jane about it. I also didn't want to take any credit away from her since discovering and creating an Einstein-Rosen Bridge is her life. Anyway, I deciphered these," she pointed to a few of the sigils, "and translated them—or as close as I could get them—into formulas and equations recognizable by us. I wove them into Jane's notes without her knowing. Some symbols, however, can't be outright translated which is why Stark, Dr. Banner, and Dr. Selvig are unsure of Jane's work. It was the best start I could give her before we came to New York earlier this year."
Steve looked at the page and then back at Hermione. "I find it hard to believe Loki taught you anything without a price."
Hermione clicked her tongue and folded up the paper, returning it to her bag. "What makes you think I didn't pay?"
He cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable. "I want to trust you, but you're hiding a lot. I think you're on our side, but Tony's going to give you hell."
She slit her eyes. "I wasn't aware there were sides, Steve. Are you implicating Loki is a side?"
"He has his own agenda. Do you know about the HYDRA agents?"
"I know a little," she confessed. "But what exactly was I supposed to do about it? Contact you people and tell them he's building an army of mercenaries and terrorists to help fend off an upcoming invasion? What would be the point, really? Earth needs all the help it can get. Even if it's forced. And, Steve, I'm not on anyone's side. I'm helping because it's the right thing to do."
He nodded, vague and indecisive. He shifted in his seat, leaning closer to her and dropping his voice as to ensure Sam wouldn't hear whatever he had to say. "I know you're MI-6."
She glared at him, letting a beat pass. "Uh uh."
"After Sokovia, I knew there was no way you were just Interpol. You got yourself and Darcy Lewis out of there quick and clean. I did some digging and called in a few favors. Extreme covert black ops were your specialty. And your buddy Nott's."
Hermione forced herself to relax, rolling her eyes and melting in her seat. She was very aware of what her Muggle file stated. She wasn't overly concerned he found out about her being a former operative. Finding out she was a witch, however, was another thing entirely. Her file would never say such things. That would be stupid.
"I'm retired," she said cordially. "Does anyone else know?"
"Just me and a friend I have in intelligence."
"Good. I'd appreciate it if you kept this particular bit of the conversation to yourself. If not for my sake, then for England's."
"I guess England wouldn't like if they found out you and the guy responsible for Stuttgart and the New York invasion were involved." He didn't sound threatening, but Hermione shot him a warning glower.
"Don't," she said.
He moved his eyes from her face. "It was tricky to find that information, Hermione, but not hard enough. It's something HYDRA could find if they knew to look. They know about you and Loki. It'd be easy for them to paint you as a sympathizer and fanatic, a danger to international security. You'd be seen as an enemy to the U.N. Maybe even the world."
"What are you trying to get at?" she hissed.
"When this is all over, when we've won and things are settled, you should go to Asgard. Stay there. Where you'll be safe."
Opening her mouth to reply, she was interrupted by Sam coming up between them, offering them an opened box of chocolate granola bars.
"Hungry?" he offered.
Somehow three jumped into her fist, and she dodged Sam's smirk. She tore the wrapper open of one and consumed it in just a few bites.
"We'll be in New York in a few hours. Unfortunately, this is all we got for now," he said ruefully.
Hermione dusted the crumbs off her hiking shirt. She hadn't even changed or showered or anything with the exception of packing. "I'll be all right. Thanks. I want to see Jane first. Is she…is she at a hospital or…"
"She's at the initiative base. It's not in the tower anymore. The lab's still there, and it's where you'll be working with the others," explained Steve.
"And what about Daphne? Who's taking care of her?"
"At first it was all of us and then that wasn't working. Plus, we hadn't found you or your parents yet. You never met Agent Barton, but she's staying with his family. He's got a wife and kids. It's off the intelligence grid. She's safe. Don't worry."
Better said than done. Hermione wanted to believe Daphne was safe, but Clint Barton was a stranger. She'd never met him or his family. Chewing on her lips pensively, she said, "I want her with me. Just for a week. And then I'm going back to Costa Rica to see my parents where I'll bring Daphne to them."
"She needs to be under protection," Steve argued. "HYDRA still wants her. She's safe where she is."
He might be right. If the Avengers managed to find Hermione and her parents, HYDRA could, too. Still, Daphne could be better protected.
Maybe her parents weren't the best option. Potentially, Nott could. He'd understand the circumstances, and HYDRA wouldn't be able to enter his property much less see it for what it was. To them, his estate would look like a ramshackle beach hut.
"Possibly," Hermione eventually responded. "But I'm Daphne's next of kin aside from my parents. It's up to me to decide what's best for her, and I believe bringing her to Costa Rica is it. I wouldn't risk it if I didn't believe she would be safe. I have contacts and resources who'll give that to her."
Again, Steve opened his mouth to undoubtedly dispute, but she beat him to it. "I don't like it, either. You think I want to send her away? I haven't seen her in months, and I want her with me more than you know. I do want her close to Jane, but I can't think about that right now. HYDRA isn't going to immediately suspect we sent her to the bottom of the world. It'll give us more of an upper hand for the time being."
Despite the flight lasting but a few hours, it felt like longer. The simmering tension between Hermione and Steve never really cooled, and she was unable to prevent the audible sigh when the jet landed on a flat area of tarmac outside a concrete facility.
It was about one in the morning, and there was a chill in the air when she stepped outside onto the tarmac. Steve walked her up a section of pavement separating a wide expanse of grassy fields and into the building, leading her through plain hallways that wouldn't be out of place at a corporate office tower. Each door they entered needed a code, finger print, eye scan, or voice recognition. Hermione expected Jane to be on lockdown, caged in hospital-like room.
On the contrary, Steve opened one more door and she was in a domestic-like corridor, carpet on the floor and neutral painted walls. She followed him down it, passing by a chic, modern kitchen where that swat team she envisioned was at the kitchen table playing cards and drinking coffee. Beside the table stood an iron man suit, specifically the Iron Patriot edition. Colonel James Rhodes sat at the table with the swat team, joining in on their grave shift. He as well as the others saluted Steve, and he acknowledged them with a nod. When Steve was no longer looking, Rhodes gave her a cold, grim expression, full of suspicion and even a tad of disgust.
Rhode's obvious dislike for her didn't weigh on her for long. She and Steve turned a corner, and there were two more men donned in swat gear sitting outside an open door. When she and Steve approached, they saluted Steve and let them enter a dim-lit bedroom. Hermione's gaze immediately fell to the bed where her cousin laid, and her pace quickened. She rounded the bed as to get better access due the monitors and cupped Jane's hand, squeezing.
Swallowing, Hermione soaked in every change the past six months had brought on her cousin. Jane's hair was longer, though she had been growing it out for some time. The tresses were darker than they had ever been and on the point of unruly. Without her careful primping, her hair's natural state and resurfaced. Her skin was also pale, ghostly even. The natural sun-kissed hue her skin once sported had been stripped from her, as well.
Hermione released Jane's slacked hand and brushed her fingers over the bulky bandage at Jane's temple.
"The bullet didn't fully breech," Steve informed. "It side-swiped her, but it still nicked the brain tissue which is probably why she hasn't woken up yet. There's still some inflammation. We thought with the Apple of Iðunn she had, she'd be awake by now at least. We like to think she is healing. At first, she couldn't breathe on her own. Honestly, we thought she was gone. A blow like that would've likely killed someone else."
Pressing her lips together, she nodded and thought of the medical practices in Asgard. Eir likely would've been able to further help Jane's healing, but the woman was obviously not an option, and Hermione worried about other things. Like Jane's mind. Would her cousin be the same when she did wake up? The Apple of Iðunn didn't necessarily speed up the healing process but simply allowed a person to live so they could heal. The brain wasn't known for healing in a timely fashion nor perfectly.
Cupping Jane's forehead, the skin clammy and slightly oily. Hermione tempted the notion of taking a peek but Steve was in the room, and Hermione could not forget the monitors. She may short-circuit them.
She exhaled softly, removing her touch from Jane and looking around the room, taking in the vase of freesias on the bedside table and the many get well cards beside it taped to the wall. Some of them homemade and clearly drawn and written by children.
Steve must've noticed her line of vision because he said, "We tried keeping a tight lid on what happened with Jane as well as her relationship to Thor. Just recently, the press got ahold of the information somehow, and there's been support. Which is nice. I guess." His smile was brittle but genuine. "There's been a ton more, but we've only put a few up."
She nodded. That was nice, she supposed, but didn't really care for the media knowing about her cousin's state. "I never asked. The HYDRA agent who shot her. Is he dead? Did one of you kill him?" A yawn attempted to attack her, but she ignored the urge and rubbed her tired, watering eyes. "Was it even a him?"
A look of pure guilt washed over Steve. "He got away."
"Do you know his name?"
"You know why she was attacked, right?" he said. "It's because Loki's hijacking of their ranks. They know we're planning to open a wormhole to go into battle. They came to the conclusion their soldiers would be the first to be shoved through, and they wanted to stop that. Killing Jane would stop it if not slow it down considerably. Erik was on their list, too, but he's fine."
"Do you know his name?" repeated Hermione.
Steve rested his eyes on her for a while before answering. "Brock Rumlow. HYDRA has titled him Crossbones."
Hermione refrained from showing any look of recognition, but merely thanked him. She had heard of Crossbones. That was the name of hers and Nott's contact when she'd been planning to sneak onto the helicarrier. Crossbones—Rumlow—was to the be the one to get them the information, so she knew how without being detected. Both she and Nott knew their contact had to have been sketchy, but she really had no idea just how bad.
"Don't do anything rash, okay?" Steve commented. "The last thing Jane ever wanted for you was to be put in danger. She felt horrible when you were taken by HYDRA. Even more so when you told her you weren't coming back with us. And when your parents disappeared, the only thing keeping her together was that Thor supposedly heard from Loki that they were fine."
"I'm not going to do anything rash, Steve. I wanted his name because Thor's going to want it as will the Asgardian council. He attempted to kill their queen. If we make it through all this, he's going to have to be put on trial and sentenced."
A load of tosh. Hermione was going to kill him.
Steve features softened. "You must be exhausted. I know you want to stay longer with her, but you need some sleep. Stark would've set up a room for you here, but he needs you at the tower with the labs."
Hermione bent over and kissed Jane on the forehead. "Good night. I'll see you again soon, my darling."
Instead of the jet, she flew to Stark Tower in a helicopter. They landed on the helipad, and Hermione was beginning to feel nauseous. Lack of dinner, rest, mixed with flying, pregnancy, and Jane's condition started to take its toll on her body. The three granola bars rebelled against her, and she barely made it outside of the helicopter before retching.
Sam got to her before Steve did. "Hey, there. Are you okay?"
"I just need to lay down," she mumbled, attempting to straighten up. He helped her, holding her to his side, carefully so as to not touch her belly.
"Can you walk?"
"Yeah. Can you just…"
"I got you."
She leaned against him for support as they made there way inside and to the elevator. Sam looked over his shoulder and said to Steve, "She's not going to talk to Tony tonight, Cap."
"I figured. She's exhausted."
"I can speak, you know?" Hermione grumbled. "You don't have to talk over me like that."
"Sorry," said Sam. "Would you like to speak with Tony? He's still awake, I'm sure of it."
Hermione went to say no but cinched her mouth shut when tasting the a fresh batch of bile hit the back of her tongue. She shook her head.
They took the elevator from the lounge area down to her old suite. Steve put her belongings in the bedroom, and Hermione let go of Sam in favor of the loo where she vomited once more. The two men thankfully gave her privacy, although she did hear some rattling around in the kitchen.
Once the wave of nausea passed, Hermione got off her knees and flushed the toilet before splashing cold water on her face and joining the men in the kitchen. Steve had just set a teakettle on the stove while Sam went through the near- empty cupboards.
"We're trying to find some ginger tea," said Steve.
"I'm sure Pepper's got some," Sam said. "I'll be back. There's some crackers in there if you want some."
Hermione smiled tiredly. "Thanks." She looked down at her hiking clothes with a grimace. "I'm going to change."
In her room, she popped open her trunk and got out a pair of sweat pants and a loose t-shirt. She wasn't in Costa Rica anymore. It was late October in New York. Shorts and a tank top weren't going to cut it.
Before going out into the kitchen again, she checked her belly and decided to slip on a robe, as well. Hiding the pregnancy, Hermione knew, was out of the question. She couldn't keep the ruse up forever, but now was not the time for the big reveal. It was three o'clock in the morning, and she felt like death and probably smelt like it, too. Exposing her delicate condition to Steve at the moment could possibly lead to Tony finding out within minutes, and Hermione really just wanted to have a cup of ginger tea and go to bed.
Steve had a bottle of Propel on the counter for her. He pointed at it and said, "You should drink a little bit of that."
"That's probably a good idea." She sipped at it, the taste of lemon gliding over her tongue.
Sam returned with a tea packet, and Steve poured the water in the mug. She took the packet and mug and bid them goodnight and thanks followed by disappearing into her bedroom and closing the door.
Hermione managed half the tea and then fell asleep, her dreams wild and senseless. In them, she was still at in Costa Rica and hiking the volcano where she was trying to reach the very top. The feat was impossible, for the grounds beneath her shook and soon the earth cracked open, and she fell into a pool where Nott and Remington were swimming. Remington jumped on her, his weight forcing her under. She pushed him off and surfaced, seeing Loki sitting on one of the layout chairs, hunched over and not looking at any of them. He was staring at his hand, in the palm of it was the mind stone. Jane then came out appeared in the pool, wearing an Asgardian gown and bright red Wellingtons. She climbed out of the pool and snatched the stone from Loki, swallowing it.
Loki flinched and stared up at Jane in bewilderment and then shifted his gaze to Hermione. "Why?" he asked, but it sounded like he had spoken underwater. Maybe because she was sinking and couldn't stay afloat. She tilted her head back to keep her face up and thought nothing was out of the ordinary when the pool developed a current which tugged her down a river. On the bank up ahead, she saw Ron and Harry side-by-side, gesturing for her to get out of the water. They looked young. They were young.
Hermione managed to get to the bank and then she was walking behind them in a forest. A glow-y, wispy doe leapt out in front of them, but neither of the boys stopped. Hermione's legs shifted on their own accord, and she followed the doe. She didn't walk long before Ron appeared from her peripheral and swept her up in an embrace.
"I have to go," he said. He dissolved in a mist in her arms, and the doe was gone. She was no longer in the forest but standing in front of the gates at Malfoy Manor. She pressed herself against the barrier and looked up at the mansion, her eyes noticing Draco at a window on the second level.
In a blink, she stood in the middle of the drawing room, a broken chandelier off to the side. She was alone and felt the need to touch her throat, her fingers coming back wet and bloodied. The sleeve covering her forearm was bloody, too.
"I know things now," she heard Malfoy say. She looked up and saw him standing in front of the unlit fireplace. He was young. Like Ron and Harry had been. He wore a charcoal black suit, and he said again. "I know things now."
"What things?" she heard herself say.
He pulled something from out of his pocket, and it slipped from his fingers. He scrambled for it and then he was laying on the floor, limps splayed and eyes empty and pinned to the ceiling. Gellous Frack was there, and he picked up what had fell. It was a ferret figurine, and he broke the porcelain with a clench of his fist. When he unclenched, the white pieces were gone. In place was the blue stone from the scepter. The hand that held it changed, sausage-like fingers transforming into long, spindly ones.
Albus Dumbledore stared at her expectantly, and chaos was happening around them. They were at Hogwarts standing at the bottom of a staircase, and the walls crumbled around from the spells being cast between the light and the dark. A person ran up to her, ginger and freckly.
"I know things now," Fred said.
Hermione watched him take off into a sprint up the stairs. When he was on the next level, he pitched himself off over the railing and fell to the merciless stone ground. When he made impact, he wasn't Fred anymore but was Severus Snape. Peeling her gaze off him, she said to Dumbledore, "Lemon drops are yellow."
"Are they?" he asked, seeming genuinely surprised.
Loki appeared behind Dumbledore, his focus sweeping over the battle happening around the three of them. A young boy, no older than sixteen, came up to Hermione and said, "I know things now." Colin Creevey then collapsed onto the floor on his own accord, his arm flung across Loki's feet and blood oozing freely out his gaping mouth.
He stared down, bewildered, at the lifeless boy for a few moments before ramming the scepter that appeared in his and hand into the back of Dumbledore. The curve of the blade stuck out of the old man's chest, jutting out through his beard, but he didn't seem to care nor even notice. Blood poured from the wound and down his blue robes, and Hermione asked Loki why he did that.
"I have to try again. It's not working. You're not working," he said, more to himself than to her.
"Well, if you won't mind," Dumbledore said, popping the blue stone into his mouth. The moment he swallowed, he said, "Hold this for me, will you?" It was the Elder Wand. Hermione accepted it and watched dully as Dumbledore fell to the floor alongside Colin who was no longer Colin but was Harry and Voldemort was standing over him victoriously.
Hermione jerked awake, heart pounding and skin cold and clammy. Her blankets were kicked off, and she was on her side. She groaned, sitting up and rubbing her face. She dreamt something, but she couldn't remember what. It must've been a crazy one to get her in such a state.
The digital alarm clock on the bedside table told her it was eight minutes after twelve, and she needed get up and meet with Tony, Dr. Banner, and Dr. Selvig. She hopped in the shower, scrubbing the yuck from her skin and hair. Afterwards, she debated over what she should wear. Ridiculous, yes, in the end, she shrugged off the drama the was going to inevitably come. She settled on a blue shirt that did nothing to hide her belly (though it didn't exactly display it, either). Over that was a white blouse, and she donned a pair of black leggings and flats.
Some kind soul must've gone grocery shopping on her behalf, for there were juice, butter, eggs, milk, and cheese in the fridge and fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter. Beside the toaster was a loaf a wholesome wheat bread and a bag of blueberry bagels. In the cupboard were boxes of Kashi cereal and Jif extra crunchy peanut butter. Her belly growled at the sight of the jar, and she grabbed it before slicing open a bagel and toasting it. A cup of tea, peanut butter on the blueberry bagel along with an orange was exactly what she needed.
Hermione took the elevator to the labs which were several floors down. On the way down, she sent a quick text to Nott and then to her parents, telling them she had made it to New York safely.
The elevator dinged and the door slid open, and she heard the distinct sound of Tony's drawl before even seeing him. The labs were adjacent to where Tony's social gatherings took place. They were all glass, plexiglass, and steel. They were separated into stacked quadrants, and Hermione saw Tony, Dr. Selvig, and who must be Dr. Banner clustered inside one of them. The men were facing a smart board, Jane's physic equations jumbled all over the place.
"It makes more sense to put this here," said Tony, shifting a formula to a different part of the board.
"We don't even know what that is," said Dr. Banner.
Dr. Selvig shuffled over to a computer, sitting down to drink from a mug.
"Maybe I can help," Hermione piped up, clasping her hands behind her back.
The three men turned to look at her, Tony's focus swiveling to her middle region. For all of two seconds, he stared and then said, "I change my mind. I don't want her here."
Dr. Banner said nothing, his forehead wrinkled and mouth drooped in a confused frown. He folded his arms and then scratched his neck before putting his back to her. His scratching hand travelled to his head and then he faced her again. "Hi, I'm Dr. Banner," he introduced, having decided to go for politeness rather than hostility. She was grateful
Hermione walked up to him and offered her hand. He looked at it for a long moment and then took it, shaking it. "Hermione Granger," she replied. "It's nice to finally meet. I wish it were under more ideal circumstances."
Dr. Banner avoided her gaze, ducking his face and nodding. He grimaced. "You, too."
Hermione let go of his hand, going over to Dr. Selvig, offering her hand to him as well. "It's good to see you again."
Unlike the two others, Dr. Selvig didn't seem at all perturbed by the belly and when he smiled at her, it was genuine. He must not know her connection with Loki, and Hermione was grateful he hadn't been told. Especially when he took her hand and said, "You still remind me of Jane. We should go see her this evening. I think she'd like that."
"I think so, too. I didn't get to stay as long as I wanted when I arrived in New York very early this morning."
Selvig's hand tightened around hers, "I heard you were in Costa Rica. I bet it's nice there. When this is all over, I think I'd like to visit. You know, I've never met your parents. Jane's aunt and uncle. Unfortunate, really. Jane's mother was a delight. I imagine no less for your mother."
Hermione couldn't help but beam. "My parents are wonderful people. They'd love to meet you. When Jane was in their company, she talked much of her mentor and little else."
He appeared sheepish and cupped her hand. "It's good of you to come, especially in your condition. Won't your fellow miss you?" He winked at her. "I'm assuming there is one. I hope I'm not being presumptive or rude."
Tony made a strangled noise to which he was ignored by both Selvig and Hermione.
"You're not at all, and I like to think he is missing me, but we'll be all right."
"So when we first met, I got the distinct impression you and Jane had dissimilar interests. You are positive you think you can help? A lot of the things we've been going over, even I can't completely comprehend." Selvig blew out a long breath, shaking his head.
"I was in Asgard with Jane and I took an interest in the language and the runes. After a little while, I started seeing equations, formulas, theories. They were things I thought would be useful to Jane. She slaved away to properly understand the Bi-frost, so I thought I could help her. I liked to think I did when I added to her notes without her knowing." Hermione walked up to Tony's smart board, pointing at the sequence he'd been debating. "I put that in her papers. As well as this." Her finger carefully hovered over another formula and placed it under the first sequence. "You see, while I was up there, both Jane and I discovered their mathematics and science were unlike anything we've ever seen. For one, much of their advancements are based on…well…symbols. Runes if you will which are dealt with as though they have power. Magic. It is their science." She gestured to the board. "Which I'm sure you already know or have considered if Thor or Jane hadn't explained that part to you."
Tony didn't answer. He was too busy looking at her middle again.
Dr. Banner removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Jane did say that, but we're not magicians."
"And we don't know how to think like one," added Selvig. "Given my history, I was able to nudged Jane's work in the right direction, but we've come to a standstill. There's been no progress in over a week, and we're on a deadline."
"We can do this," Hermione said encouragingly. "Lucky for all of you, I was not so toggled to science upon visiting Asgard. I can think—what's the word—whimsically. I can think whimsically while still using logic as my base. Or vice versa."
Dr. Banner put his glasses back on and beckoned her to the table and waved his hand over it, activating a projection of a 3D smartboard with file icons. He tapped one and opened it, splaying apart all the documents. "These are Jane's. Hopefully you and your whimsical mind can make sense of it."
Hermione contemplated the documents and knew she was going to have to upgrade her translations. Sweeping her gaze around the facility, she saw very few pieces of paper. In fact, she didn't even see anything that resembled a printer. She scratched the divot between her knitted brows and knew she was going to sneak in later when no one was around and scan her manuscripts and notes. It would be impractical and raise all sorts of questions if she freely toted around ancient, priceless manuscripts. Plus, these blokes looked like coffee-spillers. She easily imagined her treasures being soaked and ruined by their carelessness.
Shuffling through the documents, Hermione settled on a picture of the Bi-frost stamp. "All right. I'm going to start here."
"You might as well say you want us to start over."
"The moment you stuck that formula in a place it had no business being in, you were starting over, Mr. Stark," Hermione retorted. "I have a feeling there was much starting over following Jane's incident. We can do it one more time. The three of you, you're fast at numbers. We'll catch up and with any luck, it'll all be right this time."
Tony glared at her. "You. Me. In the hallway."
Hermione watched him stalk off, and Dr. Banner's shrug at her was knowing. "Is this the part where you're going to say he'll come around?" Hermione said.
"No," he answered, a wry but kind enough smile on his face.
"I don't know what happened between you two," Selvig started, "but it better not interfere with this."
She followed Tony and said over her shoulder, "It won't."
In the hallway, Tony was on the phone. When he saw her, he said a hasty but bitter goodbye and stowed away the device. He took her by surprise and grabbed her upper arms, pinning her to the wall and getting in her face.
He released his grip but held his ground. "Look, I don't know what game you're playing—"
"Oh, no!" Hermione interrupted, angry as hell. "You do not get to point fingers at me, Tony Stark, and believe ill of my intentions!"
"I find it hard to believe you don't have an agenda considering the kind of company you are obviously fond of keeping."
"Those I spend my private time with do not, under any circumstance, reflect my motivations. You may not believe it and you don't have to, but I'm on the good side. Quite honestly, Stark, you are the first person in a long time to accuse me of being anything but good."
"Gear up because I'm not going to be the last," he shot back.
She took a step towards him, folding her arms. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm sure Rogers told you when this whole fiasco is over that you gotta stay in Asgard. He wasn't kidding. Nick Fury sees you as a threat which means your life is over." His voice dropped considerably, like he thought someone might be listening. "I'm not telling you this because I don't. God, I don't. I'm telling you this as a favor to Jane and to Thor. When this is over and your seen as no longer useful, Fury's coming after you. Your private visitor may not reflect your motivations, Hermione, but it's going to reflect your future. Your life is over if you stay here, kid."
He said nothing Hermione hadn't already mulled over on the plane after Steve brought it up. Tony was right. They both were. Honestly, she was sick over it but not something she had time dwell over when there were fifty million other things on her plate to worry about.
God, how did things get so out of hand. How did what was supposed to be a one-night stand eighteen months ago escalate into this?
For a moment, Hermione imagined what her life would've been like if she hadn't gotten in touch with Jane after separating with Ron. One thing for certain was that Hermione wouldn't be pregnant, but could she really say it was worth everything?
Yes. A lot of things still would've happened anyway, Hermione reckoned. Jane's marriage to Thor, Daphne, Loki being taken in Jotunheim where he would've likely died. Hankered to that slab until death decided him worthy enough. No one to save him or even able to.
And then King Alvid and Princess Aslaug, their true intentions may have never been revealed. They could still be alive, poisoning the counsel and the people of the realm against their royalty.
On top of that, without Loki and without his leaving her, Hermione would've never been angry or hurt enough to get back into working for Nott. Frack would likely be alive still, and Malfoy's remains could still be at the bottom of a swamp.
What was even more damning was that the invasion still would happen. Jane would still be far from building a Bi-frost, and Thor wouldn't have known how to help her. In that alternate universe, Jane may be in a coma, as well, and Thor would still be missing. There would be no hope in winning against Thanos who would come for Midgard after obtaining the Tesseract and would be pretty much indestructible.
Hermione may have not thought everything through when she decided to make a relationship out of what she had with Loki, but she couldn't bring herself regret anything. Her future with Earth, the days were numbered, but it was a sacrifice she knew she'd make again. There were bigger things to consider than a perfect happy ending for herself.
She finally said, her words barely above a whisper. "There are worse things."