Jane Maryanne Esther Astraea Foster had three scientific degrees, fifteen years of experience in academia and an unrivalled knowledge about the phenomenon of Einstein-Rosen-Bridges, better known as wormholes, yet this morning none of it helped her: there was an alien in her bed, and she had no clue what to do.
It was a very early morning. Actually, it was still night, the numbers on the clock so small she’d have groaned, turned around and forced her stubborn head back into sleep on any other day. Especially the latest days. Until the day before yesterday had happened, when sleep all of a sudden had become something for people who did not have to juggle memories of Darkelves, their red-glowing pet miasmas, or horrible spaceship parking.
Jane closed her eyes, although a useless gesture in the dark, and concentrated on breathing. In – one two three four five six seven – out – one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven, repeat. When the images of numbers had replaced those of Malekith, Jane dared to blink. She turned around from where she sat on the side of the bed and looked to the other side. In London’s bright night Jane could make out the shape of the man lying there, finally breathing relatively evenly.
Thor had not woken up since they had put him there, barely able to walk after having wrestled Malekith for the first and hopefully last time. He had hardly winced at Darcy’s tries to clean his countless cuts and bruises.
He hadn’t even noticed when Jane had lain down next to him.
She looked at the glowing ciphers on the clock, which hadn’t changed significantly since the last five times she had done so. Sod it, as they said.
Jane checked Thor’s motionless figure in the city glow once more. He seemed calm enough. Making as little noise as any possible, she slipped out of the bedroom, biting her lip when one of her naked toes hit the doorframe. Three months in her mother’s house, and she still hadn’t settled. Somehow her trailer in the desert had been easier.
Even at this night time, the city couldn’t keep quiet. Jane hoped that the noises of distant cars, voices and God knew what would mask the creaking of the floorboards under her feet. She managed to climb down the stairs without cursing and allowed herself to breathe out deeply. At least, she did so until the front door opened. Too late to hide.
Jane shushed audibly, pointing at the ceiling in approximate direction of the master bedroom. Darcy held up a hand to indicate she had understood, although in one of her miffed fashions. Taking Darcy’s huge linen bag – plastic bags were so last millennium – Jane went into the kitchen, followed by a Darcy bereft of hat, coat and shoes. Jane did not ask whether Darcy wanted a cup of tea, she simply put the kettle on. It wasn’t a coffee moment.
“You okay?” Darcy asked as she unpacked the contents of her bag – bread, ground coffee, some fruit and other base necessities. Although an ardent fan of junk food herself, Darcy saw it as part of her intern position to make sure her superiors got some nutritional value out of the food Darcy more or less successfully prepared.
“Okay enough, given the circumstances. You?”
“Hellish. Losing Erik was easy, give him his bottle and he sleeps like a baby, but Ian actually wanted a good-night-kiss.” Darcy gazed thoughtfully at a leak. “I need to get rid of him ASAP. You sure you’re okay?”
“I said –“
“I’ll phone Doctor Kapoor. When it’s late enough to not make her send the nice dudes in white jackets for me,” Darcy interrupted.
“I don’t need to see a shrink just because – because –“
“You got intimate with two different types of aliens? They infested you with something that needed a space exorcism? Almost got crushed with your crush? Yeah, I’ve been working on these all night. And shrink is not a nice word, with everything the Doc has done for you.”
Jane bit her lip, feeling as if having been lectured by her mother. Oh dear. Her mother. She’d have to call her.
“You couldn’t phone my mother, could you?” she asked.
“I might be your intern, but for that you’d have to pay me. And I don’t think any research budget could cover that.”
“Which research budget?” Jane growled, warming the tea pot before brewing the beverage in question. She hoped that the tea box contained Earl Grey. Darcy’s care for groceries did not extend to differentiating between different sorts of tea. “It’s either green, black, or juice,” she used to say. Speaking of groceries…
“Where did you get all this stuff at this time of the night?”
“Supermarket. Before I dropped off the boys.”
“And that took so long?”
“Uh… yeah? I got lost. Wormholes and navigating are your field of expertise.”
Darcy gracefully accepted the cup of tea offered to her, added about half a cup of cream and a handful of sugar cubes before tutting at Jane for taking a sip of low-fat milk. In the intern’s opinion, genius diet did not apply to non-geniuses. Darcy’s definition, not Jane’s.
“Is the big boy any better?”
Jane wanted to shake her head, then stopped herself.
“Still sleeping. The nightmares seem to be better though.” Thor had been tossing around and moaning half the night. “We should get him to see a doctor.”
“He seemed okay enough yesterday –“
“He was in shock.”
“- and we don’t know what they’ll do once they have alien DNA on their hands. Real alien DNA this time,” Darcy said solemnly.
“But what if he’s really injured?”
Darcy pulled something out of her bag, a small notebook. “I’ll call Steve, maybe the Avengers have a sort of in-house doctor.”
“You mean, SHIELD does. If you want to make sure someone tries to collect some hair samples from Thor, sure, call them.”
“True, and not because they want him for hair care advertising,” Darcy sighed, flipping the book shut again. “Pity though. I like phoning Steve.”
“I thought you only liked his butt.”
“One takes that which one canst beget.”
To her own surprise, a tired little smile crept onto the corners of Jane’s lips.
“You make Captain America sound like Richard the Office Hero.”
“Says the woman who yelled at a mediaeval god for misbehaving.”
“He’s not a god.”
“We’ve both seen him without his shirt on.”
Darcy slurped the last of her tea. She glanced at the window, which would not get any brighter for at least two more hours.
“You should go back to sleep, boss.”
“I… don’t want to. I don’t want to go back.”
Although she had more than one reason for this sentiment, it sufficed for Darcy to know that Jane had complained about the scary, draughty, bright, squeaky master bedroom of the house ever since they had moved in.
“Why are you sharing with him anyway?”
“It’s my bedroom.” Regarding Darcy’s expression at that statement, Jane added: “I thought he shouldn’t be alone. And while we’re at it, you’re out a lot of nights.”
“You only notice that now?”
“Yeah, but… I thought you went clubbing. You haven’t just been to a club, have you?”
“It sounds wrong when you say it. Also, I regard going to bed before sunrise as a waste of perfectly good night time.”
Darcy fished one of the extra large cupcakes out of the refrigerator and, to Jane’s never ending fascination, gulped it down whole.
“Maybe I should make breakfast…” Jane mused. Darcy, thoughtfully looking at the empty muffin paper in her hand, gave off a small sound of agreement – only to throw the wrapper into the rubbish bin, open the fridge once again, and return to the table with two more cupcakes. Instead of offering one to Jane, she made them vanish as quickly as the first specimen.
“Maybe you should let me catch an hour of sleep, and then I’ll make breakfast,” Darcy mumbled through an enormous mouthful of cake and frosting. She swallowed and added: “Just because your three hundred pounds of alien lover have fallen from the sky again, you don’t need to do that Martha Stewart impression. Once was enough.”
“I could cook eggs and toast.”
“Impressive, boss, but I don’t think you should attempt a Stepford Wifey for that guy. You charmed him once with your flannel shirts and stout lectures about how to handle dishware. Either he sticks to you now and forever, or no cooking skills in the world will help you. Actually, your cooking skills definitely won’t help you,” Darcy said with a certain bite in her voice that made Jane give off a haughty huff.
Darcy looked at her phone.
“You have exactly two hours and seventeen minutes until sunrise,” she said. “Go get some sleep. I’ll prepare breakfast, and when you and Captain Biceps are up, you can do your kitchen magic, okay?”
Jane tried to suppress a yawn, but too late. She simply nodded at Darcy’s words and did not resist when the intern gently pushed her out of the kitchen door.
It took a moment until Jane’s eyes had gotten used to the darkness again, but then it was relatively easy to find her way back upstairs as noiselessly as possible – where she forgot all carefulness when she heard a muffled scream from her bedroom.
She ran into the room as if chasing the solution for the squaring of the circle problem. Thor was still asleep, but no longer quiet. He threw himself around on the bed, deeply entangled in sheets as well as the thralls of his nightmare. Jane could not quite understand his words, but she was quite sure to recognise a name or two. “Mother”, and something that could have been “Loki”. She swallowed hard. Jane had never seen anyone die before except for her father, but that had been in hospital under quite different circumstances. Even she was still haunted by the pictures of the queen on the floor, Loki turning grey and motionless in his brother’s arms. She could hardly imagine what it was like for Thor.
He moved so wildly that for a moment Jane did not know how to approach him without accidentally getting hit, but she hadn’t driven into storms only to shy away from a bear-sized coffee enthusiast with sleeping problems now. With a firm grip she shook Thor’s shoulders, speaking to him as loud as she could without screaming:
“Thor, it’s a dream. You’re on Earth, you’re dreaming. Wake up!”
The words seemed to do their magic. He shook his head, mumbling something, and finally, blinking wildly, came to rest in a half-sitting position on his elbows.
“… hi,” she brought out, her throat all of a sudden blocked.
“I… I’m sorry…”
Lights. Jane didn’t like the brightness of the ceiling lamp, and she didn’t want to get up from the bed, so she switched on the small night light on the bedside table. Thor hardly seemed to notice, he sat bent over, rubbing his face with his hands.
At a loss at what to do, and once more in need for words, Jane simply stared when Thor finally looked up – and lowered his eyes almost immediately. How such a big man could look so forlorn was a mystery to her. She looked down, too, on the fingers of his left hand, now half closed around a crease in the sheets. Partly acting on impulse, partly held back by a shyness that made her shiver, Jane laid her hand on Thor’s, barely touching him. He immediately took hers, ever so carefully, running his thumb over the knuckles and the sensitive skin of the back of her fingers. Jane fought the impulse that screamed at her to get up and run. She did not want to get away from him, she wanted to close that distance that hadn’t been there… yesterday.
“I scared you,” he said, still looking at her hand. “I woke you up.”
Jane hurried to shake her head vehemently.
“No, no, I couldn’t sleep anyway…”
“You shouldn’t have –“
“I didn’t want to be alone,” she said, only now realising that it wasn’t a lie.
He raised his other hand towards her face, then hesitated. She moved a little closer to him, hoping it would be enough of an encouragement. It was, and finally she could feel his palm cupping her cheek once more. She leant against the strangely familiar warmth.
“I’m so sorry for bringing you into all of this,” he said quietly.
Jane clenched her jaw, and before he could shy back, embraced Thor in her best bear-cub-hug. She could feel his arms slowly closing around her, returning the embrace as if they had to remember how that worked.
“I brought myself into this. If I hadn’t stumbled nose-first into the Aether…”
“… then Malekith would have had it without our knowledge, and the universe would have fallen into eternal darkness the day before yesterday,” Thor finished her sentence.
“You saved me.”
“You saved all of us.”
“I’m so sorry… for everything that happened,” Jane heard herself rasp, biting back her tears as hard as she could. Thor had much more reason to cry than she did.
It felt good to hold him, to be held – and it ended much too quickly.
Thor didn’t exactly shove her away, but he made sure Jane sat up on her own before he swung his long legs out of the bed. There was no swagger in his gait, in fact, Jane had never seen anyone so steady on their feet immediately after waking up. At least that should mean that he wasn’t injured.
“I have to go.”
With the artful subtlety of an experienced mistress of persuasion, Jane blurted out:
“No!” She took a deep breath. “You can stay here, really, it’s no problem. It’s my mother’s house, it’s only temporary, I’ll find something else… that’s not what you mean, is it?”
He turned around, confusion on his face, but then knelt down in front of her, once more taking her hands.
“Forgive me, Jane. My behaviour toward you is atrocious, albeit owing you so much.”
“No, you don’t, really, it’s okay… can’t you just… stay? For a bit longer?”
He planted a bristly kiss on her fingers. Not one of his awkward baisemains this time, just a cute little smooch followed by some caressing with his free hand. His were so big, he could hold both her hands in one.
“That is my wish, if you’ll have me.” Jane nodded fervently at this, imagining she could have stopped Thor’s next words, and knowing that it would be in vain: “But I need to return home to settle things with my father. I must make sure our friends are safe, and that… he is a strong king, maybe the best who ever was, but he is… not like that anymore.”
Jane’s opinion about the old arsehole pretty much ranged in the spheres of the best the man had ever done was to father his son – but she kept that to himself. She wasn’t an expert at conversation, but she got what Thor was trying to tell her.
“If you want to go back to help with reconstructions, I can come with you,” she said. “You don’t have to stay here because of me.”
Thor shook his head.
“It is not a friendly world for you… nor for me. My wish to leave was not caused by you, although meeting you strengthened it by a thousand times.”
She could not suppress a bitter chuckle. At least she could be sure that empty flattery wasn’t Thor’s strong side.
“Look, it’s okay if you don’t want to… you don’t have to come back for me if you don’t…”
… like me.
Maybe he got the hint, maybe not.
“I promise I will return to you. When I have settled matters with my father, I will return to you.”
“Unless he decides to have you think over your decision in, say, a cosy little dungeon?”
“I happen to know the palace guards better than he does.”
“Cheater,” she smirked back.
Silence fell between them, and with it their smiles. Thor looked down on their intertwined fingers, then back up into Jane’s eyes.
“Can I kiss you once more?” he asked.
“Don’t you ever ask me for kissing permission again.”
For once she congratulated herself for having said a thing out loud.
It seemed only seconds later that Thor stood in the hallway, hammer in hand, clad in his old suit of armour. The metal bits had simply disappeared last night, when he had fallen into bed. Now he pointed at the clothes peg where the hammer had waited for him.
“Appears that it has a spot of its own now.”
Jane managed to smile a little, both at the joke and his try to imitate her way of speaking. He had simply dropped the tool in the middle of the hallway last night. Not the best place for such an artefact, Jane had thought, and more or less automatically put it back where she had seen it during their short break before. Thinking about it now, the heavy thing definitely wasn’t something she wanted in her bedroom. It was probably still covered in bits of Darkelf, too.
Thor had just opened the front door when Darcy’s voice resounded through the hallway:
“What’s going on here? Going away without saying bye?”
There she stood, in full intern glory, wearing a most gigantic, plush, rainbow-unicorn-encrusted, glittering bathrobe, with matching rainbow unicorn slippers at her feet.
“Forgive me, Lady Darcy,” Thor said with a warm smile, planting a mocking little kiss on the back of Darcy’s hand, “we had thought you asleep.”
“Yeah, I’ll go with that,” she replied. “You’re forgiven if you come back quickly this time.”
He stepped outside into the street and, with a last look at Jane, vanished in the by-now familiar maelstrom of colour and light. She was relieved that he hadn’t kissed her once more. She wouldn’t have let him go.
“Darcy?” Jane said with a side glance at her intern.
“That’s my bathrobe.”