the thin child thought less (or so now it seems) of where she herself came from, and more about that old question, why is there something rather than nothing?
RAGNAROK: THE END OF THE GODS.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
She was interesting, the human woman. That she caught Thor’s attention was even more interesting. He had not lied to Thor when he said he would pay her a visit, even if Thor confused his intent. His no-longer-brother always misread his words as much as Loki allowed himself to be misread. Loki had stopped paying it any mind centuries ago.
Jane Foster was very interesting, more so than he would have thought, with a mind full of symbols and stars. When on Midgard, in the small stolen moments where the Tesseract did not call, he found himself splitting his time between shadowing her and pulling at Selvig’s strings. He watched her from afar like a pet, amused at her antics. He almost found her drive for knowledge admirable, if incredibly naive. So passionate, was she in this search for Thor. It was amusing how close she was to understanding the intricacies of the cosmos, but it was to Selvig that Midgard’s SHIELD presented the Tesseract.
They are all but children playing with toys they do not fully understand. And you are one as well. He pushed the last thought away. The spectre in his hand pulsed. He could not falter now. He had come too far. The game too far into play.
Near him, unseeing, Jane Foster punched the key of her little machine and moved away when the equipment started beeping.
Loki leaned over the space she had vacated. She was so very close. If the Chitauri failed, there was still this. A last gambit.
Feeling the pull of the Representative he communicated with, Loki turned his back on Jane, slipping through the dark branches of Yggdrasil to where the Chitauri waited for him. They asked if he was ready.
Loki did not think of Jane when he answered. He did not think of Midgard. He thought only of how his glory would burn in the Allfather’s gaze. He would prove himself worthy yet.
Loki said, “Yes.”
Later, after he opened the door, after he acquired Selvig and the Hawkeye, after he dropped his brother into the sky as Thor had done to him (had not, lie-smith), Loki slipped away to look for her. Fury had had SHIELD move and protect her, and Loki let them believe they had succeeded. Thor had arrived, which was the point of all of this.
There was no need to taunt his brother with his knowledge on the small Bridge Seeker.
Such knowledge must be kept for later.
She was in the middle of reattaching a few components to one of her machines when the screwdriver dropped. Slipping from her fingers, it bounced off the edge of table and clattered to the floor. Jane Foster closed her eyes and drew in a breath. Darcy was always telling her to count to ten.
It was less than twenty-four hours since she had gotten the two calls: one from Coulson, telling her about her new position at SHEILD’s Norway installation, followed by one from Fury after she hadn’t immediately responded telling her she’d better accept and get on that plane.
SHIELD had mostly left her and Darcy alone in the desert after Thor left. Only Coulson’s monthly reports had interrupted her work, and she liked it that way. Even when they took Eric, she managed fine. She had her work and a promise.
Next thing she knew, she was herded on to a plane with Major Danvers telling her that her new lab was ready. Jane hadn't known she had a new lab waiting. She didn’t even want one. The way they had rushed into her lab with heavy boots and slick suits ready to take her to Norway reminded her too much of how they had taken her research last year. Major Danvers only managed to stop Jane from tackling the first SHIELD agent who had grabbed at her equipment by thrusting a thick file in Jane’s hands with TOP SECRET: The Observatory stamped on the top.
“Your new lab, Dr. Foster. I hope it will live up to your specifications. There’s a jet waiting for us.”
That had surprised Jane to say the least, though not as much as Darcy’s ability to talk her way onto the plane heading to Norway. How Darcy had Coulson’s personal number on her speed-dial Jane didn’t even want to know, but she was grateful. The now Poli-Sci graduate had become near invaluable to Jane over this last year working together.
Right now Darcy was getting some food from the facility’s cafeteria while Jane tried to get her equipment in working order and wondered how this had become her life.
No, that wasn’t quite true. She knew exactly when, down to the second. (It was in her notes, after all.)
The memory of Thor’s smile warmed her, as did the new state-of–the-art lab granting her access to one of the best observatories in the world. She should be ecstatic. Except she kept thinking about New Mexico and how she wouldn’t be there if he came back. Her gut had been a tight ball of anxiety since Coulson’s phone call that showed no signs of unwinding.
Crouching to pick up the screwdriver, Jane’s eyes fell to the machines around the lab. She shook her head. She twirled the screwdriver in her fingers. She couldn’t think like that. She had work to do. Her research on the Einstein-Rosen bridge was moving along—slowly, yes, but she felt as if she was on the cusp of something important. The relocation hadn't helped, but she was managing. Jane moved to the panel of her altered atmospheric reader and bent over it again, losing herself in the data. The wires twisted under her fingers like roots waiting for her to fix them.
It’s just as she finished the set up on the machine that Darcy skidded — actually skidded — into the lab with a breathless, “JANE!”
Jane looked up as she continued to adjust the machine’s settings, mostly out of muscle memory. “Where have you been? I thought you were getting coffee and food.” She tilted her head to look at the clock by the wall and spotted Darcy’s empty hands, “It’s been an hour.”
Darcy ignored her, rushing at her and pulling Jane’s arm. “And I’ve been calling you for the last twenty minutes, where is your phone?”
Jane shrugged, “I don’t know, my bag?”
Darcy’s eyes were wide, almost manic, and Jane started feeling that same twist in her gut. The same twist she got when there was another unanswered email from Erik. “What’s happened?”
Her answer came not in the form of words but in Darcy dragging her to Dr. Lawson’s office where Major Danvers was standing next to Lawson and the television was playing—
As she stumbled into the chair that Darcy directed her at, Jane’s breath was short. “It’s Thor.”
Flashes of the dreams she’d had since he left and the memory of Thor whipping them through the air made her swallow, her mouth dry.
From the corner of her eye she noticed Darcy pursing her lips. She squeezed Jane’s shoulder. Dr. Lawson’s eyes slid to her for a second before meeting Danvers’ eyes, but neither said anything. Or, if they did, Jane’s not paying attention to them or to Darcy’s commentary. All her focus was on the memory of what Thor’s cape felt like under her fingers and how she's seeing it twist around him as he crashed into buildings in Manhattan—oh god.
No wonder they rushed her out of the States so fast. She was gonna have some words with Coulson when she next saw him.
“I’ve been calling Phil for hours and nothing! It’s like a SHIELD blackout and god, can you believe that New York got full on Independence Day yesterday?”
Apparently Darcy had been trying already.
Yesterday. The word rung in Jane’s ears like a gunshot.
Jane’s head felt like it was spinning, and snapped to Darcy, “This was yesterday?” Thor was on Earth a day ago and she hadn’t known. Her throat was dry like a desert. She could feel the corner of her eyes tearing.
“Yeah, this has been the news report for most of the morning. Sorry, Jane.” Darcy turned to her, eyes sympathetic; behind her, Danvers and Lawson look politely away.
“How did we not know about this?” Jane stood, her hand running through her hair a few times before she fisted them on her hips and glared at Danvers.
“It was need-to-know, Dr. Foster,” Danvers said, her eyes soft but mouth stiff. Jane thought of Coulson. She was so going to have words with him.
Next to her Darcy wrapped an arm around Jane’s waist. Jane had a feeling it was as much for support as it was to hold Jane back if necessary. “Also I think we were sleeping. Timezones are a bitch.”
Her eyes move back to the television where the reporter was talking about Iron Man and the footage they show is of a huge green humanoid catching him. A faint memory of something having to do with Culver sparked, but she didn't focus on it once she caught a flash of a red cape at the edge of the next camera shot.
“I need to go to my lab,” she said, pushing away from Darcy with a small, forced, smile, “The equipment isn’t going to build itself.”
“Jane…” Darcy didn’t hide her worry well.
Jane didn’t turn back. Thor was on Earth. Thor was in New York, and he was in a huge battle that she could only hope he made out of. Her chest ached.
In the lab, she bypassed her equipment and rifled through the backpack she brought from New Mexico. In the front pocket, her phone sat quietly. Her fingers heavy as she held it. She always forgot to take it off of silent mode, and there were about five missed calls from Darcy, all in the last hour, plus a few texts on the same theme: GET TO WALTER’S OFFICE NOW. I MEAN IT.
Her fingers clenched around the phone, though Jane didn’t know why she was still holding it. It’s not like she could call Thor. Darcy said Coulson wasn’t picking up, and Erik hadn’t answered her calls in months.
Jane hated feeling shuffled off to the side, and she hated that nobody at SHIELD seemed to care enough to pull her back in. Well, that just won’t do.
Temper propelling her, Jane left Erik and Coulson each a very short and angry message before returning to her work. It was either work or cry, Jane reasoned, and work always seemed the better option. Fiddling with dials would distract her from the hurt coiling in her, and the hum of her equipment calmed and focused her.
Thor might have come back, but none of her equipment had picked up any readings to prove it, which meant she still had work to do. After going through the last two days of satellite data and checking her own particle detectors, she noticed they had picked up something in New York. The data wasn’t at all like the readings from New Mexico, but something using a lot of energy had punched some sort of portal through the sky allowing those aliens passage. Which meant that what opened in New York was not an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, so she still had to figure out a way to open the paths of Yggdrasil, as Thor had called the World Tree that held their worlds; paths that still laid dormant to her.
Jane saved the data her equipment had picked up from the portal in New York. She didn’t think it would help further her research, but you never knew. It could provide new leads in her work.
She was also left wondering how Thor came to Earth, why he didn’t come to her, and where he was now. Without any answers coming to her—at least none she wanted to dwell on—Jane let the streams of number and theories on bridges swallow her.
Darcy came back into the lab a short while later still muttering about Coulson’s phone blackout. She said nothing to Jane about the news footage. They worked companionably until Darcy begged off saying there was still some paperwork they needed to fill out. Jane’s learned in the last year that Darcy was pretty smart about reading people, and she’s glad her young friend left her alone. Working was the only thing keeping Jane together and they both knew it. Wires, circuit boards, and star maps keep her focused.
The next time Jane took a break, it was three in the morning. Some quick math told her it was dinnertime in New Mexico, which accounted for her stomach feeling like a growling, empty pit. On Darcy’s desk, she saw a thermos and a covered plate with a sticky note. Jane smiled to herself and reads,
Grilled cheese with tomato and coffee!!
EAT IT ALL.
Jane took the food to her desk and did as instructed. She was hungry. One hand grabbed half of the sandwich. With her free hand, she flipped open her notebook and started writing. Her notes flowed across the page covering every inch of it and several pages following it. She did not stop writing even after her food was gone. At the end of her last page of notes, Jane yawned. She laid her head on her outstretched arm, absently flipping her notebook to where its spine was creased from overuse. Touching Thor’s scratchy lines alongside her own more circular ones, Jane sighed. She missed him the most at night when she thought of rooftops and fires.
Closing her eyes, she yawned again.
Damn, Darcy must have given her decaf.
Jane woke slowly and winced. Her back was stiff, and she suddenly missed the ergonomic chair in New Mexico Darcy got her to buy last year. They didn’t get a chance to pack everything when they had left, only the essentials. Those mostly consisted of Jane’s notes, the portable equipment, their laptops, Darcy’s iPod, and whatever personal stuff they could get into their suitcases in the thirty minutes packing time SHIELD had given them. That had been two days ago, and now so much was different. It seemed to be a pattern with her life, and Jane’s not sure she liked it all that much. She was always the one left to pick up and make sense of the pieces after the change.
Stretching, feeling the quick pops along her spine, Jane looked down to her notebook to where her and Thor’s handwriting blended on the page.
Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.
Jane licked her lips and sighed. One and the same.
New York came to mind again. She swallowed the growing lump in her throat and blinked away the moisture she felt gathering at the corner of her eyes. Selfishly, she’s glad that Darcy went back to the rooms that SHIELD gave them, because, sass aside, Darcy would be all hugs and comfort food right now. Jane didn’t—couldn’t—wasn’t ready to accept that now. Thor had been in New York a day ago— and feeling like a fool for not realising it before, there was a good chance he still was.
Pushing away from her desk, Jane rushed out of her lab, only to find Darcy sitting on her bed, two phones in her hand, eyes red. Before Jane could speak, Darcy jumped of the bed and started waving her hands in the air.
“Damn it, Jane! You need to keep this thing on you at all times, do you hear me? And take it off silent!” Darcy’s voice cracked, and she shoved Jane’s phone at her. Jane fumbled to grab it.
“You have like three missed calls from Erik and five from a blocked number which I’m willing to bet was Agent Hill because guess who called me since you weren’t answering?” Darcy’s eyes got wetter with every word.
There’s that twist in her gut again.
“What did Agent Hill want?” Jane barely remembered the woman, having only met her once when SHIELD came collect Erik about a month after Thor left. She had been a shadow at Fury’s side the whole time.
Darcy dropped to Jane’s bed. “She—Erik was in New York,” Darcy said, making Jane's head snap to her, “Like in the middle of all the action and he was helping them close whatever that portal was doing in the sky.” The news footage had been mostly a blur of debris, explosions, and a glimpse of a red cape, but Jane recalled the image of a dark opening over the city and nodded.
“And I don’t know,” Darcy continued. “I think he got your message, and now he wants to talk to you, and apparently Fury wants to talk to you, too. And Jane,” Darcy hiccuped, her eyes wet and red behind her glasses. Jane’s breath caught, a hollow feeling filling her.
“Darcy, what happened?” Jane sat down next to Darcy.
Darcy sniffled, rubbing her hand across her nose. “Erik didn’t say much, but like it was Loki—New York—it was Loki, and Coulson’s dead.”
Jane phone slipped from her fingers. It clattered to the floor. Thor hadn’t spoken much of his family, but there had been affection in his voice when he spoke of his brother by their fire. That was before the Destroyer appeared, though, and before that affection turned into hurt and confusion at Loki’s betrayal. Jane wondered how he spoke of him now.
Darcy wasn’t finished, though. “That’s why he wasn’t answering my calls yesterday, he—Hill said that Coulson’s gone and that Danvers was gonna be our new SHIELD liaison.” Darcy started crying, and Jane pulled the younger woman into a hug.
“I don’t want a new liaison,” Darcy mumbled into her shoulder. That’s when Jane started crying, too. Her tears were more silent than Darcy’s but they flowed heavily down her cheeks.
On the floor, Jane’s phone beeped with the message from Erik, but Jane ignored it as she held a crying Darcy and tried to get her own tears under control. Coulson had been a hard-ass, sure, but they had gotten along once he had returned her work last year. She liked talking to him. He had never bullshitted her or given her the runaround like other SHIELD agents did. Darcy had liked him and they got along even better than Jane and Darcy did half the time. The last time she’d seen him he’d been telling Darcy about a cellist in Portland. He’d been a good ally, and she’s angry and guilty that it’s only now that she realised they had been something close to friends.
It’s all almost too unreal to believe, Jane thought. It reminded her how she felt when she got the call about her dad. She hadn’t wanted to believe it right away either, even knowing it was true. There was just too much information, and she hadn’t processed it all yet. Too many questions swirled in her head, and that twist in her gut hadn’t untwisted. It gnawed at her, shifting into sorrow.
In her arms, Darcy cried herself to sleep, curling herself around a pillow like a young child would a teddy bear. Jane brushed her fingers across Darcy’s forehead, sighing, feeling suddenly much older than her friend. Jane then forced herself into the bathroom, intent on taking shower, a hollow attempt to calm her mind. Instead, she sat in her towel on the closed toilet for a good five minutes, crying silent tears of grief (for Coulson), relief (for Erik and even more for Thor), and anger (at Loki). When her tears stopped, Jane washed her face and seeing it blotchy, red, wet hair clinging to it, she let out one thick, vain laugh at how perfect it would be if Thor bounded in now and saw her like this.
Her phone was still resting on the edge of the sink. Once Jane had dressed, she took a deep breath and clicked on Erik’s message, a video message with a short text attached: I’m sorry, Jane. I wanted to tell you.
Shaking her head, Jane pressed play.
Thor’s face took up the whole screen and she heard a slightly muffled voice in the background shout, “If you guys had the new Stark VidPhones, that image would a lot clearer.” Thor’s face grew a neck and shoulder as he addressed the unseen speaker. “Quiet!” He turned to back to the screen, addressing Erik, “I can speak to Jane through this?”
Jane’s back hit the bathroom door, and she slid to the floor, staring at the tiny screen.
Erik’s voice came in, sounding tired. “Yeah, just press the red button when you’re done.” Jane watched as the phone was handed off in a blur, and she could hear some muffled voices in the background as Thor lifted the phone to his face. He was holding it a little too close, his chin and forehead touching the edges of her screen. Jane pressed her fingers to her mouth. She might not be done crying.
“Hello, Jane Foster,” he said, his voice no longer the loud gruff tone that he had used before, but the soft and low one from the roof.
She whispered back, “Hi, Thor.”
“I am sorry about having to communicate with you like this, Jane. I had hoped our next meeting had been in person, but the circumstances of this journey to Midgard were most unplanned.” He stopped, and his face fell a little.
Jane traced the line of his frown with a forefinger. She wondered if he’d forgotten the phone was still recording this moment.
“My brother, Loki, survived his fall from the Bifrost and has caused much harm and chaos in your City of New York. Now I must return him back to Asgard, where he can face a proper trial for his actions.” Thor paused, a bleak expression on his face, and Jane’s heart ached for him. “He is broken, Jane. Something has darkened in him and I do not know how to help. I fear—I fear…Jane, I wish I could speak with you…”
“Me too.” God, she wished for that too much.
“I have missed you greatly, and I am sorry that I cannot be where you are, that I have broken my promise to you.” He lowered his voice and brought the phone closer. Jane leaned in, feeling only a little foolish. “I do not know if you have heard about the Son of Coul, but it grieves me to inform you that he has perished in battle. I am sure he is feasting in Valhalla, as I speak, but I must ask you to see to your correspondence. The others do not know, but I had hoped to see you and came with a token. When I realised I would not be able to see you, I asked Philip to relay it. He assured me that he had not long before his demise.”
Thor pulled the phone away from his face and let out a powerful sigh. He was bright and golden as ever, but he looked so weary. The horrible memory of his head in her lap surfaced, and Jane pressed her free hand to her chest. It had been because Loki then, too. He looked tired then, but there had been a light in his eyes that day that was missing now. Jane didn't considered herself to be a very violent person but if she ever met Loki she’d like to toss a heavy something at his head. It probably wouldn’t do much, she knew, but it would make her feel worlds better. Maybe she’d used her car. It had worked on Thor, hadn’t it?
On the tiny screen, Thor smiled. Jane couldn’t help smiling back, the corners of her mouth catching some of her new tears.
“I’ve been told I cannot see you before I return to Asgard. With Loki as unpredictable as he is, I fear it is best for us both to return to Asgard as quickly as possible, but I could not bear the thought of leaving without speaking with you. The methods for our journey are dark and dangerous without the Bifrost, but it is a comfort to know that you have been kept safe and still seek to find a way to bring our worlds together. Until then, Jane. I have not forgotten our agreement. Our deal.” His mouth softened, but it was the look in his eyes made her chest swell. She watched as he fumbled with the phone for a second and the message ended. Jane pressed the phone to her chest and leaned back against the door.
She sat on the floor of the bathroom for a few more seconds before she pushed herself up and tucked her phone into the pocket of her jeans. Thor’s words replayed in her head, and wiping her cheeks, she opened the door to see Darcy still on her bed, now awake. Her eyes were no longer red, just sad.
“You okay, Darce?”
Darcy shook her head and stood. “Nope, you?”
Jane wrapped an arm across Darcy’s shoulder. “Not even a little, but come on, we need to check our mail.”
Darcy’s eyebrow rose high above the rim of her glasses. “Wait what?”
“Yeah, it look we’re still Thor’s favourites after all.”
Darcy sniffled but smiled, resting her head on Jane’s shoulder as they walked out of the room. “Was there ever any doubt?”
Jane thought about the message in her phone and how it was never getting deleted. “I guess not.”
Thor closed the door to his quarters and felt as if the strength he was revered for had left him. Between the battle of the Chitauri and watching his father dole out Loki’s punishment, he felt sick. Having witnessed Loki’s silent rage, Thor knew there was no other option, not after Loki’s actions on Midgard and Jötunheim alike.
Outside his windows, Asgard shone. Night would fall soon, and Manegram would chase Máni across the sky. As exhausted as he felt, however, he knew sleep would be difficult. It had once come easily after battles well won, but he did not feel victorious today.
While he had presented Loki to his father and mother privately, the news of Loki’s imprisonment and return would already be spreading across the realm. Tomorrow, all of Asgard would know. Tomorrow, there would be a call for a feast, to celebrate Thor’s success in capturing Loki, the World Killer, Lie-Smith, Silvertongue. It was as if Asgard did not remember its younger prince at all. Maybe Loki had been right in that he had been a shadow and Thor had not seen it.
He unclasped Mjölnir from his side and set the hammer down its resting place. Járngreipr receded from his arms and his bright cape shimmered out of existence as he moved across his room, shedding the rest of his clothes as he entered his bathing chamber.
The tub was already filled with water charmed to remain warm, just as he liked it. Thor chuckled, sending a silent thanks to his mother. When he’d left for Midgard, she had looked so worried, for him and for Loki, as well. When her gaze rested upon them after their return, mere hours ago, she had cried. She had pried Loki’s mask from his face, and, in that moment, Thor had felt shame for putting it on. In that same moment, before the mother that had raised him, Loki had almost looked found. The younger brother Thor had always known.
The moment had turned to ash a second later at the Allfather’s voice, and what had followed.
Sliding into the water, Thor leaned back against the warm metal. He sighed, sending ripples into the steam rising from the water. He could feel the power in the water wash over him—there was not just a warming charm, then, but a healing stone crushed in the water as well. Yet he still felt ill at ease. The water lapped softly against his neck, and Thor rested his head back on the edge tub, raising his arm, covering his eyes.
There was a weight in his heart, but it didn’t belong solely to Loki.
“Jane.” Her name echoed against the walls and filled him with longing.
“Oh, she woke up.”
“She doesn’t sleep enough.”
“She’ll sleep soon enough.”
Three voices say at once.