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The Pretty Birds Have Flown

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Jane stops getting her period, and her breasts get sore and slightly inflamed, and she takes the van two towns West to the nearest OBGYN, where she is told, "Yes. I'd say you're at about six weeks."

Jane laughs, covering her mouth when the doctor crinkles his eyes in concern. "I don't even know how to respond to that," she explains, giggling self-consciously.

"Well, all of the options are currently open to you," he says, his voice a kind, understanding rumble. "It's still very early."

"Oh, God," she says. She doesn't know if abortion is even possible with a maybe super-powered half-alien baby. Meanwhile, by the by, are gestation and birth even possible? The laughter starts anew. She bites her fist to stifle it. "What the hell is my life right now."

He looks like he's seen this reaction before.

*

Jane doesn't change her routine at all, apart from placing a big red circle around a future date marking a deadline she set up. A self-imposed point-of-no-return, if you will.

She tells herself to make a decision. While calibrating the instruments, make a decision. While combing every grain of sand at that touchdown site in the desert to glean every possible iota of data, make a decision. While snarking at Darcy over terms the younger woman should really understand by now, make a decision. And then she looks at the calendar and sees that it's two days past Deadline Day. Legally nothing has changed. There's still time for an abortion. It's just that when she thinks about making the appointment, she... doesn't actually want to. She's noticing more changes in her body. Cigarette smoke and onions cooking put her off in a way they never did before.

There's always adoption. But would that be fair, to the family or to the kid? What would be the vetting process for something like this?

Jane spits a mouthful of peppermint into the sink and looks at her reflection in the mirror, pointing determinedly with her toothbrush. "Do you promise not to persecute, exploit, or arrange for the experimentation or dissection of this child if it should turn out to be the next Clark Kent? I'd appreciate it if you swore on the grave of your preferred dead parent or grandparent."

Jane has never spent so much as a day in a psychiatric ward. She doesn't plan on breaking that streak.

*

"Dude," Darcy says. "I need a favor."

Jane looks up from the chaise lounge. She has her notebook with her, though she had been using it as a pillow up until about ten minutes before Darcy came up on the roof. "Hm?"

"Can you just come out with it so I can stop pretending I don't know?"

Jane's jaw falls open.

"Ever since before Erik left us for SHIELD, you've been drinking less coffee. A lot less. And sleeping more. A lot more. Normally, I'd figure depression, but no, it doesn't vibe like that."

Jane arranges the edges of the blanket tighter around her against a sudden chill. "How could you know how much I'm sleeping? It's not like I sleep when you're here."

Darcy merely rolls her eyes, making "scoot" motions with her hands until Jane slides over to allow Darcy to sit. "Just please, please tell me it's Donald Blake's."

"Can't," Jane croaks.

Darcy throws her arms around Jane's neck.

*

Erik calls once a month, sometimes twice. The time he gets to take away from Project PEGASUS is too valuable to spend on anything other than picking his brain. There's an endless list of things she needs his opinion on. Endless. It feels like she's making absolutely no progress here.

*

The baby moves for the first time while Jane goes over her notes at the kitchen table. She feels this itch, this twinge, that has her idly scratching her stomach with one hand while she uses the other to down sections of grapefruit and scribble on graph paper. It happens again a few more times before she gets it.

"Oh, hi," she says, looking down and laughing. "That's you."

After she finishes breakfast, she leaves the assorted papers and dishes scattered around the table and calls her mother. It's officially something that will grow into her grandchild. Jane can't put this off any longer.

She wonders what Thor's mother, the queen, would say.

*

"So we've arrived at the moment of truth," the ultrasound tech says. "Do you want to know?"

Jane squeezes her mom's hand. "Spill," she says without second's hesitation.

"Dr. Foster? You're having a girl."

"Hi, Baby Girl," Jane says, reaching toward the screen. She decides her name is going to be Caroline, after the first woman to discover a comet.

*

Her belly begins to poke out of even her sweaters and flannel shirts. The people that SHIELD sends to assist/liase/spy don't show anything beyond the basic curiosity afforded to coworkers. She volunteers the absolute minimum of information, aware all the while that Agent Coulson and his lackeys probably know what she had for dinner the night she and Thor slept together.

It's getting hard to stay on her feet for very long, and no one will let her lift anything heftier than a notebook.

She thinks about who could be doing her heavy lifting for her. Thor, Donald, Andrew back at Culver U. Hell, Brad Pitt. Vivid, anatomically correct dreams about each of them leave her waking up in sweat-soaked sheets.

She is so horny she kind of wants to cry.

"What is this about?" she asks her stomach. "Are you angling for company? It's a little late to be adding a twin in there, sorry."

She dusts off the vibrator that helped her through the dry spell following her breakup with Donald. It doesn't measure up to the real thing, but it gets the job done.

*

Things don't start getting disconcerting until her seventh month, but when the shift occurs, it happens with a swiftness that is frankly not fair.

Darcy stares openly. "I know you're supposed to be approaching olive on a toothpick bigness, but you're really, really big. I'm not kidding. You literally grew overnight."

"Thanks, Darcy." Jane huffs her way to the chair. Her lungs are sort of being crushed. It's cool. The websites say that's normal for the third trimester. Later in the third trimester, and it's probably not supposed to be this bad. "Honestly, I needed to hear that."

"Aren't you uncomfortable?"

"Don't ask stupid questions." She feels stretched out, ripped apart and resewn, bloated and light-headed and not herself. But all these things are not singular to her experience. Jane is not special.

If she keeps saying it enough times, it will remain true.

"When was the last time you visited your OB?"

"A month ago," Jane replies, waving her hand. "You remember. I showed you the 3D sonogram. You said it made you think of night vision goggles."

"You were half this size a month ago. Call him. We're going back."

When Darcy trots over to help Jane get up from the chair, Jane grabs Darcy's wrist. This can't happen now, she prays. I'm supposed to have two more months. Just let me fix the bridge and then I can do whatever you want. I promise.

"It'll be fine," Darcy says.

I haven't even finished building the crib yet.

"Jane. Why are you breathing so weird? Stop it."

So many damn pieces.

Jane faints. It would be embarrassing if she weren't still so thoroughly freaked out when she came to.

*

They tell her the baby is growing too quickly and it has to come out.

They say it's okay, they'll take care of the whole thing, she doesn't have to worry.

"Okay, cool," she says, trying to ignore the heart monitor steadily hinting toward myocardial infarction. She saw that black car in the parking lot when they loaded her into the ambulance. SHIELD has been so quiet this whole time. All she can think is that they've been waiting for their moment. "You're not putting me out."

They tell her they had no intention to. Regional anesthesia is customary for c-sections. She knew that already, but the point did bear clarification.

There's a flurry of movement. Her hair is shoved under a loose-fitting cap. Darcy gives a little wave, saying, "Go kick ass. I'll see you on the other side." Then Jane is on the move.

"Thor," she mumbles amid indistinguishable medical chatter. She hasn't said his name in a long time. "He should be here." All romance was bled from her, slowly, over the last few months. She doesn't love him; she barely knows him. But, really, he should see his daughter, and she should see him. They'd adore each other, Jane just has a feeling.

"It's okay, honey." Someone wipes at her cheek and she realizes that she's leaking tears. Stupid drugs. "Just breathe."

The next thing she registers is, "All right, Mama, here you are. Baby Foster."

Jane blinks to dispel the fuzz. They put the baby right up to her face.

"Oh my God," Jane says. "She's enormous." Then she laughs. That has to be one of the worst things a new mother has ever said.

The scrubs-covered figure holding her just nods. "Thirteen pounds," he says. "This little bruiser skipped preemie and newborn and went straight for infant."

"Sounds about right," Jane says, letting one chubby fist circle lazily around her finger.

*

(After describing to Thor how SHIELD set Jane Foster up with thinly veiled protective custody in Norway, Phil Coulson comes very close to adding, "And I'm told your two month old daughter got through the transatlantic plane ride like a champ." But Commander Fury was abundantly clear on what does and does not constitute an acceptable disclosure of information.)

*

There's a knock at her door and that's how she knows, because who would knock when they could ring the doorbell.

Jane presses her shaking hands against her thighs. She never allowed herself to dream about this... when she could help it. Her subconscious refuses to follow orders at night. When she opens the door, he's pretty much exactly as she saw him. Beautiful, grave. He doesn't even try to come up with a greeting, and she respects that.

"How'd you get my address?" she asks with a faint smile.

He smiles back, grateful and relieved, and she steps back and gestures him inside. "Your current abode is more spacious than the vehicle you resided in before."

She nods, touching her fingertips to his shoulder as he turns his head and quickly letting go. He's still so unreal. More like a CGI addition to his surroundings than an actual person, even dressed as he is, in clothes clearly chosen to make him smaller, more human. "Yeah, I've gained an appreciation for space lately."

It's a short walk down the foyer to the living room. Caroline is cruising, repurposing the furniture to support her attempts to travel on nine month old, newborn doe legs.

"Comet," Jane calls. Caroline rewards her with a dazzling smile. A spit bubble bursts in the corner of her mouth.

Thor tears his gaze away from the baby. "Comet?" He's frowning slightly. "Like the...?" He waves his fingers back and forth over his head.

"Yes, exactly." Jane finds a stuffed pony on the floor with her foot and lightly kicks it over to the baby. "Here we sometimes give people secondary names, to show affection? Her real name is Caroline."

"Caroline," he says, taking on a hushed, reverent tone that makes Jane feel like she needs to sit down. He gets on his knees. Caroline makes an inquiring noise and closes the distance between them, toddling and awkward. They take stock of each other. She babbles at him cheerfully, smacking her palm down on his arm, his hair, and his face. She pulls the hairs in his beard and he laughs.

We don't need you, Jane wants to say, not to be cruel but to make him understand that she doesn't expect anything from him, that he has no obligations here. Okay, maybe a little bit to be cruel. This man knows nothing of diapers and mashed peas, daycare and umbrella strollers. He is not a father, not a partner or a husband.

He rises suddenly, leaving Caroline with a noisy kiss to the back of her hand. She moves on to the easy chair, unconcerned. Now Thor is focused on Jane, they're standing side by side, close enough for their arms to touch, and she's struck with the overwhelming urge to run. "Jane Foster," he says. "It would do me great honor if you would allow me to- If you would grant me the permission to..."

Take your daughter away to her rightful home, to ride on eight-legged horses and chariots drawn by cats

He engulfs her hand with his large paw. "My intention had always been to return, to you, as soon as circumstances would allow."

"I know," she says. If she'd said that a year ago, it wouldn't have felt so much like a lie.

"The knowledge of our child was kept hidden from me. If I had been aware, I would have- But not only..." He shakes his head. She can both see and hear it when he swallows. "Jane... If you are amenable..."

"What?" she asks, dizzy.

"I would like to court you. Give me a chance to prove my worth?"

As it was when this whole thing started, her first reaction is to laugh.

But her answer is not no.