Jane had never been famous. Oh, she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t thought about it once or twice – but always in the field of astrophysics, acclaimed for her incredible scientific discoveries, and not for…saving the universe. Universes.
She decided she didn’t like fame that much now.
She, Thor and Erik (and SHIELD, belatedly) did their best to keep Jane’s involvement in the Greenwich attack under wraps. Which worked up to a point, according to the bland faced SHIELD agent they’d assigned to her, in that the newspapers hadn’t said a word. As Darcy put it, though, “nobody gets their news from the newspapers anymore.” Thanks to the magic of cameraphones, her picture was already all over the internet long before SHIELD (belatedly) got their asses to London.
The result was that there were almost always people stopping her in the street and wanting to ask about aliens and Thor and was the government part of the conspiracy and usually Thor again. Jane was beginning to seriously consider asking Thor if she could borrow Mjolnir just so she could get from her apartment to the grocery store unmolested, except she was pretty sure that wouldn’t work and would probably just end in Thor following her everywhere like a lost puppy.
Which was why she had ducked down an alley or three when she’d seen someone’s eyes lock on her, and was trying to figure out the best way to get back when she heard a kind of rattling, rasping noise that made all of the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
“Who’s there?” she demanded, starting to back up, but the only sound that answered her was a sort of nasty, wet cough, and Jane realized with a sick flip of her stomach that she was listening to someone die.
She switched directions at once and waded forward, peering through the trash in the alleyway – not from the invasion, just normal city mess. “Um,” she called, a little more carefully. “Can you…can you hear me?” She reached for her phone, belatedly, and was about to start dialing 911 when she saw it.
It wasn’t wearing one of those terrifying face masks, but the weirdly grey skin and the white hair, along with the black and white armor, were enough, and she jerked back, mouth dropping open and her fingers going numb.
The Dark Elf didn’t attack, though. Made that strange rattling noise again. Its eyes were closed and she realized, gradually, that one side of its armor was torn open, and it appeared to be bleeding thick, black…fluid. Blood, she supposed, starting to feel decidedly removed from this situation. It was probably blood.
There was a badly wounded Dark Elf in the alleyway.
Call Thor, said a sensible voice in the back of her mind, but she was already picking her way over the last bit of trash and leaning carefully over, only to start when its eyes snapped open and looked at her. It said – something. Not in English, and it wasn’t harsh like she would have expected, but weirdly – flowing. Pretty, almost.
“I don’t understand,” she said. The Elf said – whatever it was – again, and she watched its face, trying to read expression or tone. She couldn’t swear to either, but it didn’t sound…angry. Just – if she had to guess – maybe resigned.
Jane swallowed hard and moved back a little. She remembered what Thor’s father had said, that they’d killed the Dark Elves. All of them. (Apparently not, she’d thought, only a few hours later, and been angry at herself for the callousness of it, but a part of her was relieved. Thinking about the easy way Odin had declared genocide – total genocide, of an entire species – made her want to be sick. And that Thor hadn’t even blinked.)
He hadn’t blinked later, either, when she’d asked if he was worried about the Dark Elves coming back for revenge.
“No,” he’d said, his gaze moving somewhere distant. “That ship was their last.”
She might, Jane thought, be looking at the last member of a dead species. The only living being between an entire realm of intelligent, sentient life and extinction, and here she was, watching it die in a heap of trash in the middle of London.
“Hang on,” she said, raising her phone again, but it wasn’t 911 she dialed, or Thor. “I’m going to – hang on, okay? I’m going to try to help.”
Darcy thought she was insane.
“Are you insane?” she almost shrieked. “Are you actually completely insane? Do you – do you know what that is?”
“Yes,” Jane said, her arms crossed. “I do. It’s a Dark Elf. Probably the last one in existence.”
“We are not an alien adoption agency, Jane!” Darcy said, her voice rapidly rising in pitch. “And especially not for aliens that try to – to destroy the entire universe-”
“It’s not destroying the entire universe right now, is it?” Jane demanded, and immediately felt a little guilty about calling the creature ‘it.’ She knew no way of telling what it was, though, or even if the Dark Elves followed normal human systems of gender. Malekith had seemed masculine, and Thor had called him ‘he’ but somehow Jane doubted Thor knew much about Dark Elf customs or biology or…anything.
“It’s watching me,” Darcy said, looking somewhere between nervous and disgusted. “Jane, you can’t really be serious-”
The Dark Elf said something again, in that peculiar language. Jane wondered if it knew the All-Tongue – what Thor said he and Malekith both spoke – at all. She decided she liked the way the Dark Elf language sounded, though. “I’m serious,” she said, firmly. “I’m not going to participate in genocide. Actively.” She glanced over her shoulder. Maybe that was a fine line. It was still one she wanted to draw.
“So turn it over to SHIELD,” Darcy said, but Jane could see her weakening.
“You’re joking,” Jane said, flatly. Darcy gave her a despairing look, and then took a step toward them both.
“It’s probably just going to die anyway,” she said. Jane took a deep breath and let it out.
“Maybe,” she said. “But I can at least try to help.” She turned around and rolled up her sleeves, kneeling down next to the Dark Elf. “You brought the car, right?”
“I can’t believe I’m actually listening to this,” Darcy moaned. “One hot alien was one thing, but another one? And this one’s not even hot.” Jane ignored her and started to work on easing the Dark Elf out of the trash.
It was surprisingly light. She shuffled around until Darcy made up her mind and helped her carry it to the car. A part of Jane expected it to stab her any minute, but it didn’t, just watched her, face inscrutable. She wondered what it thought of her. What it expected her to do. What it kept saying.
“Hey,” she said, eventually. “We’re going to try to help you, all right?”
The Dark Elf eyed her. “You should ask if it has any allergies,” Darcy snarked, but she looked pale and a little scared. Jane felt momentarily guilty, but only momentarily, as the Dark Elf spoke again, a rapid flow of speech, none of which she understood, as she and Darcy settled it in the back seat. Confused, she thought, maybe.
It cut off halfway through what might have been a sentence or a paragraph, though, and coughed black blood on the back of Darcy’s seats.
“Ew,” Darcy said, going a shade paler.
“Drive,” Jane ordered, pulling back and plopping herself down in the passenger seat. She glanced back once as Darcy wove wildly through the streets back to the apartment, and found the Dark Elf sitting tensely, eyes wide, hands digging into the seats.
Thor, she thought belatedly, was not going to be happy about this.
Thor wasn’t there when they got back, and Jane remembered belatedly that he was in New York – some Avengers thing. He hadn’t said when he would get back. Jane settled the Dark Elf on the couch – after laying down towels – and ordered Darcy to the corner store to get some – something. Medical supplies? Ian, who was making a grilled cheese in the kitchen, stood there and stared at them both until his bread started to burn.
“Yes,” Jane said, as she went to the bathroom to get another towel, “there is a Dark Elf on our couch.”
“Right,” Ian said, a little faintly. “Right, I see that.”
Jane returned to the couch and started trying to figure out how to pry the armor off. She’d only been trying for a minute before the Dark Elf’s hands moved for the first time to grab her wrists and say something in Dark Elvish.
“I need to get the armor off,” Jane said, after her heart started beating too hard. This was, without contest, the stupidest thing she’d ever done. But at the same time-
Her stomach did a funny lurch every time she thought about it, that was their last ship, and she’d helped bring it down. She’d helped kill the last of an alien race. Except for this one, who was still alive. Who’d survived for almost two weeks, alone, probably terrified.
She was going to do everything that she could.
The Dark Elf said something, again, and then pushed her hands away and started taking off its own armor, movements slow and clearly painful. She wanted to help, but whatever catches those fingers were finding, she couldn’t see them, and could only take the pieces that were handed to her until it was only the cracked breastplate.
She reached out to help lift it off, pulled, and the Dark Elf screamed.
Jane stopped at once. “Oh god oh god oh god,” she said, pulling her hands back. “Sorry, sorry, what did I do? Dammit-”
The Dark Elf said something in a shaky voice, and if only she could understand, she wanted to be able to understand. “The All-Tongue,” she said, “can you speak the All-Tongue?”
The Dark Elf blinked at her, not seeming to comprehend, but after a long moment it said, haltingly, “can’t. Take off.”
Jane sucked in a breath. “What?”
The Dark Elf tapped the armor. “Stays on. Always.”
Jane swallowed. “It’s torn.” The Dark Elf stared at her, uncomprehending, and Jane closed her eyes and gestured at the tear, at the blood. It still stared at her, not seeming to gather her point. “It needs…” she held up the towel. “Um. Healing.”
The Dark Elf switched back to Dark Elvish, and Jane sighed, and decided to just press the towel over the bloody patch. She wondered if Thor knew their language. Somehow she doubted that, too.
“This is probably the most surreal thing that has ever happened to me,” Ian said, behind her. She heard the door open and glanced over to see Darcy with a plastic bag.
“You’re not the only one,” Darcy said. “Except for maybe the birds. That was pretty surreal.”
The Dark Elf’s eyes were closed again. It looked like it might have been resting. “I wish I knew a doctor,” she said, under her breath. Her clothes were covered in black blood, well beyond the point of recovery.
“Thor’s going to flip a shit,” Darcy said. Jane closed her eyes.
“I told you,” Jane snapped. “This might be the last Dark Elf in the universe. Universes. And I’m not-” The Dark Elf said something behind her, and she turned around. Its eyes were still closed. “I don’t understand,” she said, with some frustration.
“Willing to die,” it said, in staggering All-Tongue. “It is – not right to live.”
“Bullshit,” Jane snapped, but the Dark Elf didn’t answer her again. Her stomach churned uneasily and she sat down on the coffee table, rubbed her forehead.
“You’re getting Dark Elf blood on your face,” Darcy said, her voice a little more gentle.
“You ever feel like you’re in over your head?” Jane asked.
“All the time,” Darcy said. “Especially when I’m with you. S’okay, Jane. I’ll help you save your weird new suicidal alien pet-friend. As long as Thor doesn’t destroy the apartment.”
“I taught her some words,” Darcy said brightly, two mornings in. She seemed to have adjusted admirably to their new guest, who seemed to Jane to be improving, if slowly. It drank water, anyway, and nibbled at some food that was offered, and slept a great deal.
Jane blinked. “Her?”
“Yeah,” Darcy said. “I mean, why not? We have to call her something other than ‘it’, and people are always defaulting the aliens as male, so why not go against the grain? Plus, we’ve got to keep Ian outnumbered.”
Jane glanced over toward the couch. “Have you managed to get a name yet?"
“No,” Darcy said, with a little bit of a pout. “I keep doing the mime thing – me Darcy, you… but so far, no luck.”
Jane sighed. “So much for that. So what kind of things have you been teaching…her?”
Darcy glanced toward the couch. “Hey, you! What’d I teach you?”
“Shit,” said the Dark Elf on the couch, who was apparently not as asleep as she looked. Jane blinked, and then shot Darcy a glare. Darcy gave her an innocent smile.
“What can I say? I’m a bad influence.”
“Is that all?”
“Food,” said the Dark Elf on the couch, and Darcy started to stand up. “Not Darcy,” it – she – broke in.
“Why not Darcy?” Darcy objected. The Dark Elf looked from Jane to Darcy and back, expression as unreadable as it had been the first day Jane had found her.
“Darcy,” the Dark Elf said, enunciating clearly, deliberately, “food is…shit.”
Jane burst out laughing, and thought she caught, just for a moment, a very small smile on their houseguest’s face. Or maybe something like it. Did Dark Elves smile? “Good one,” she said, trying to make her amusement clear in her voice. Darcy scowled.
“And now the alien’s going to make fun of me too. Great.”
Jane got up and went to the coffee table. “Can you tell us your name?” she asked. The Dark Elf regarded her with a look of incomprehension, and she sighed and indicated herself. “I’m Jane. And you’re…”
She waited, but no name was forthcoming, just that blank stare. “Ha,” Darcy said. “At least it’s not that she doesn’t like me.”
The Dark Elf’s eyes flicked to Darcy and she said something in Dark Elvish. Jane shook her head. “We need to get a translator in here,” she murmured, and then the Dark Elf rested a hand on Jane’s in a sudden movement that made her startle.
“Kind,” she said. “Both.” Then something in Dark Elvish, and Jane wondered if there was a “strange mortals” in there somewhere.
Jane felt her face warm. “Um,” she said. “Thanks.” The Dark Elf bowed her head a fraction and then closed her eyes. Jane stood up, tucking her hair behind her ear. “But it’s nothing. Really.”
Jane met Thor outside the apartment. “Thor,” she said, before he could say anything. “I’ve got – we’ve got – a guest.”
Thor’s smile bloomed. “Delightful! Who is it?”
“Um,” Jane said. “That’s the hard part to explain.” His smile dimmed, and Jane took a deep breath and decided to rip the band-aid off. “It’s a Dark Elf.”
Thor’s expression went from curious to thunderously angry in moments. The sky went from clear to thunderclouds and she almost didn’t hear him over the rumble of thunder. “What?”
Jane almost stumbled over the words in her rush to explain, but Thor didn’t charge upstairs immediately, though she could see his knuckles were white around Mjolnir. “It’s wounded,” she said, “pretty badly, I don’t know if – but it hasn’t tried to hurt me or anything, or anyone, and I just – I couldn’t just leave it there to die, so I – I mean. There might not be any Dark Elves left anywhere, except for this one.”
“So be it, and good riddance,” Thor said, savagely, and Jane felt herself straighten up.
“That’s not – no!” She heard her voice rise. “It’s not – it’s not okay to just – kill an entire species, that’s, that’s – you can’t do that! It’s not –” She ran a hand through his hair. “Think about all the things they might know, Thor! If they’ve been around since before the universe began, or whatever. And their technology – it’s incredible. Those ships of theirs? And more than that – you always told me there are supposed to be nine realms, aren’t there? Is one of them just supposed to be – supposed to be empty?” Thor was staring at her like he didn’t quite know her anymore. “It’s not right,” she said, suddenly feeling foolish. “It’s not…and I couldn’t just watch it die, or turn it over to SHIELD for them to do whatever with. I had to…do something.”
Thor’s expression flickered. The sky rumbled ominously. “Those – monsters murdered my mother,” he said. “My mother and my brother, Jane-”
“Not this one,” she said. “The ones that did – they’re dead. They’re all dead. But this one’s just…hurt. And alone.” Thor shook his head, slowly, but she could see the rage in his eyes, barely held back. Jane took a deep breath and let it out. “Maybe you should go,” she said, after a moment.
Thor blinked. “What?”
“I need to do this,” Jane said, making her voice steady. “And you…you’re angry. Still. And I don’t know if…maybe you can’t be here while I do this.”
Thor took a step back, hurt registering on his face. “Are you telling me to leave?”
“No,” Jane said, at once, and stepped forward to grab his hand and squeeze it. “No, not…not forever. Just for a little while. Until I get this figured out.”
Thor’s eyes went up to the apartment. “I cannot leave you here undefended with one of those creatures in your very home,” he said. Jane swallowed hard.
“And that’s why…that’s why I don’t think you can be here,” she said. “Just a few days, Thor, that’s all. I don’t even know if…” she trailed off.
Thor looked at her for a long time, and then seemed to droop. “Then I will go,” he said, finally. “As you ask, Jane. For a few days. But please…please, be careful.” His voice was almost desperate, and it hurt to hear. He’d lost so much. Despite how well he held together on the outside, she knew how much he had to be hurting.
But he didn’t cry in front of her.
She waited until Thor disappeared into the sky, and then slumped and headed back inside. She felt heavy and tired. Darcy looked at her worriedly. “Where’s Hammer Boy?”
“I told him to go,” she said, and sat down on the coffee table. The Dark Elf was asleep again, or at least pretending it.
“Whoa,” Darcy said. “You’re serious about this.”
“Yeah,” Jane said. “I am.” She was a scientist. Not a superhero or a fighter. She wasn’t here to end worlds and kill aliens. That was never what she’d wanted to do.
All she’d wanted to do was see the stars.
“Jane. Jane.” Jane muttered something and tried to roll over, but Darcy shook her shoulder roughly. “Jane, you need to get up.”
“What,” she muttered grumpily, and opened her eyes. Darcy’s face was luminously pale in the dark.
“It’s – the Dark Elf. I think she’s…” Darcy trailed off and bit her lip.
“What?” A different tone this time. Jane rolled out of bed and hurried out of her room without bothering to put on slippers. “That’s impossible. She was getting better.”
“Jane,” Darcy said, sounding pained, but Jane burst into the living room and almost choked on the smell of blood. Her stomach started churning immediately and she went over to the couch. The Dark Elf’s eyes were wide open and she was making small choking sounds, fingers clawing at the bandages over the wound in her chest, pulling them away.
“What’s happening,” Jane asked urgently. “What’s happening,” trying to stop her from pulling the bandages off, but she wasn’t strong enough and then there was the gash, unhealed, more black blood spilling from it than ever. “We need a doctor,” Jane said, without thinking.
“In alien medicine?” Darcy said, her voice high and alarmed. “Where are we going to find one of those?”
“I don’t know-” Jane’s hands fluttered, uncertain, and she realized that the Dark Elf was looking at her. “Hang on,” she said, desperately. “Can you – can you tell me what’s wrong?”
A garble of the language she still knew nothing of at all, and one word she did understand. “Death,” she said. Jane’s blood went cold and she shook her head.
“No,” she said. “No, you were getting better.”
The Dark Elf said nothing. Her eyes closed again and her head lolled sideways. “Maybe if we call SHIELD,” Darcy said, sounding hysterical. Jane was about to say yes, do it when a hand fell on hers, skin rough and strange.
“No,” said the Dark Elf. Jane bit the inside of her cheek, hard.
“You’re going to die,” she said.
“Yes,” the Dark Elf agreed. She sounded…serene. The pain seemed to have ebbed for the moment, though she seized up seconds later, a thin sound escaping through her teeth.
Darcy made a strange, strangled sound. “Don’t be stupid,” she said. “Jane-”
The Dark Elf said something in her rapid, flowing tongue, and Jane wished suddenly that she’d tried to learn some of that. She didn’t even know her name. Didn’t know if she was a her, didn’t know anything. And now-
“No,” she said, numbly. “It’s…it’s her choice.”
The Dark Elf seemed to relax, even as she considered to shiver. Jane felt numb. She’d tried. She’d really tried. But that didn’t seem to matter. Jane swallowed hard, several times. “Is there anything…”
“Ladivrith,” she interrupted, her eyes on Jane. Jane blinked.
“What? I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“Ladivrith,” she repeated, and then a run of words Jane couldn’t understand. Jane stared at her, frustration welling up under her sternum. She wanted to understand. She wanted to be able to-
“I wish I knew what you were saying,” she said, fervently.
“You Jane,” she said. Her eyes were dimming rapidly, and she struggled to get the words out. Jane shook her head, uncomprehending. “You Jane,” she repeated. “I – Ladivrith.” Darcy made a small noise that sounded suspicious like she was trying to muffle a whimper.
“That’s your name,” Jane said, suddenly understanding. “You’re – oh god. You’re Ladivrith.” She covered her mouth with a hand, feeling her eyes sting. “It’s…it’s pretty.”
“Victory,” she said. Her eyes closed. “Means…victory.”
There was nothing, Jane realized, that she could do. She was a scientist, not a superhero or a doctor, and she was watching the last Dark Elf die in her apartment, on her couch. “Thank you,” she pushed out. “—thank you for telling me. Ladivrith-”
“Victory,” she said, and shuddered once.
She heard Darcy stumble to her feet and down the hallway, heard her retching. Jane reached out numbly and closed eyes now dull and glassy. She could feel herself trembling.
Thought of the landscape of Svartalfheim, dust and ashes and rock, empty forever.
She reached for her phone and called Thor.
Thor didn’t understand, and she knew it, but she let him hold her anyway as she cried into his shoulder. He didn’t try to make her explain, and didn’t question her tears, and Jane was grateful for that. She felt selfish, crying on him when all she’d lost was a Dark Elf she hadn’t even known and a few more fragments of her innocence, but she did it anyway.
Maybe she was a little selfish.
Thor didn’t know anything about Dark Elf funerals. Jane requested that they burn the body. It seemed like as good a return to darkness as any.
“Her – its – name was Ladivrith,” she said, quietly. Thor blinked.
“It told you?”
Jane nodded. “At the very end.” She swallowed hard, to keep herself from bursting into tears again. “Why, is that…”
“Most likely just a rumor,” Thor said quickly, but when she looked at him, he sighed. “It is said…it is said that other than the leader, the names of each Dark Elf soldier was a closely guarded secret, told only to their battle-fellows.”
“And maybe their friends,” Jane added.
“Aye,” Thor said, after a long pause. “Maybe.”
She kept thinking about Svartalfheim, and how it was always going to be empty. Even if she’d survived, Jane reminded herself, she couldn’t repopulate an entire species alone. Not even if there were two. Assuming reproduction works the same way for them. Which of course it might not. And even if it did…that didn’t seem to matter.
The Dark Elves were dead, and much as she felt like she was supposed to be happy about it, she wasn’t.
“This is why I’m not cut out to be a hero,” she said, quietly. “It doesn’t feel like – like defeating an enemy. I can’t stop thinking about all that knowledge, lost. Just…gone. Forever. You hardly know anything about them, and I don’t know anything at all, and now no one ever will.”
“Jane,” Thor said quietly. He sounded troubled. She tapped his shoulder and he let her go. She stepped away and tucked her hair behind her ears, rubbed her eyes.
“I’m glad we won,” she said. “I am. But I wish…I wish I could have saved just one.”
She turned and walked back inside.