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Care and Keeping

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At the beginning of the fifth week, a portion of the Statesman’s hull, weakened in the battle at the Bifrost, suddenly gave way. Utter chaos followed as families were evacuated, doors slammed closed and melted shut—a use for his lightning Thor doubted his father had ever dreamt of.

Two souls were lost. Only two, Heimdall pointed out, but Thor was little comforted by this. Meanwhile, looming cruelly larger than that loss of life was the loss of space, for fifteen families had used those rooms now given over to airless vacuum. They had to go somewhere. “We’ll have to share,” Thor said at the emergency council session.

Share,” Loki repeated, incredulous. “Us? You’re the king.”

“And a king can hardly take a room all for himself when others are sleeping six to a bed, can he?”

“At least the Grandmaster believed in large beds,” the Valkyrie said—or Val, as she preferred these days.

“I’m not bunking with you,” Loki told Thor. “You snore.”

On most days, Thor managed to be grateful that Loki was still with them. Often he didn’t even have to try, but today was not one of those days. “Then I’ll leave you in charge of settling the new arrangements,” he said. “You and, ah, how about Banner? That’s your sort of thing, isn’t it, Banner? Maximizing space and all that? You can use one of your PhDs.”

Banner was sputtering a protest about science versus engineering when Thor walked out. There was a headache building in his eye socket, as happened now and then; it seemed hardly fair, being pained by an organ he no longer had. He returned to the site of the hull breach, checking the seals one more time. He went round to the mess hall, thanking people he’d seen helping with the evacuation, expressing his inadequate kingly regrets to a man whose husband was one of the lost. When Thor’d offered all the smiles he could stomach, had squeezed every shoulder that it seemed it would do any good to squeeze, then he wandered.

They had still another six weeks to Earth, at Heimdall’s best estimate. Staring out a porthole, it seemed hard to believe they’d ever arrive, that they’d ever do anything but journey on in this starlit emptiness as the ship fell apart, piece by piece, as they were diminished one soul at a time.

Val found him on the bridge. “Are you coming to bed? It’s well past shift change.”

“Coming?” Thor said, startled from his thoughts.

“Yeah, me and the watcher are bunking with you now, except you aren’t there.”

Thor meant to tell her that surely it was better that way, since it meant more room for them; that he didn’t need sleep anyway, or not as much, being a god, after all. He meant to say a lot of things, but his head hurt and his thoughts felt slow and heavy, and it seemed easier just to follow her back to the quarters Loki had claimed for him weeks ago.

Heimdall was there, dressed down to his smallclothes. There hadn’t been much opportunity for shyness recently, not when the showers were communal and so many people were sleeping on floors without even curtains for privacy. Even so, and despite his weariness, Thor looked at the brown expanse of Heimdall’s skin, marked with old scars and surely warm, and wished he could touch. It was an old, youthful wish, unbefitting a king, and Thor put it away, as he was learning to put away a great many things these days.

He was very tired, he realized. Since he was here, he might as well lie down. He mumbled greetings to Heimdall as he undressed, though he failed to hear the reply. Then he stretched out the bed, as near to the wall as he could wedge himself—should he have offered to take the floor? He should, shouldn’t he—and closed his eye, just for a little while. Just to rest.

--

Lightning fizzled from Thor’s fingertips. He felt it coursing through him, blood for a conduit and bones for lightning rods, and he roared, and from his fingertips: a fizzle.

Hela laughed. “Are you sure you aren’t a changeling, too? Are you sure you’re a son of Odin?”

“I’ve got the eye,” Thor gasped.

“Not anymore,” Hela said, and raised her knife.

--

Thor,” said a voice, and something shoved him, and something else pinched him, and—

“Valkyrie?” Thor said, though she hadn’t been there, it had been him and Hela all alone above a desolate plain, the stone edge of the balcony digging into his back—

“That’s right,” said the voice. “Watcher, the light?”

The total darkness of the room faded to a low, blue glow emanating from the walls. Mood lighting, Banner had called it. The glow brushed the curves of Val’s face, hovering just above him. Farther away, in the center of the room, stood Heimdall.

Thor’s heart thudded in his chest. “You’re here,” he said.

“It was a dream,” Heimdall said.

“Yeah, and now we know why the electrical system keeps shorting,” Val said. At Thor’s grunt of confusion, she added, “You were sparking.”

“Oh,” Thor said, struggling to sit up, caught in a tangle of bedclothes. “Did I hurt you? I should—I should—”

“You should not,” Val said, holding him roughly down. “Do you get dreams like that a lot?”

“Only when I’m asleep,” Thor said. Val made an unimpressed noise.

“Thor,” Heimdall said, and even now, with a crown and a kingdom, more or less, Thor still froze at the authority in that voice. He wondered if Heimdall had had that effect on Odin. He couldn’t imagine it had, but nor could he imagine it failing to: a conundrum.

Heimdall sat on the edge of the bed. He placed a warm hand on Thor’s bare knee and said, “You haven’t told anyone?”

“What for? They’re my dreams. Nothing anyone else can do about them.”

“And that’s why you haven’t been sleeping,” Heimdall said.

“I’ve been—of course I’ve been—have you been watching me?”

“Only in the course of my duties,” Heimdall said, which could have meant anything.

Thor looked back and forth between them, at their shadowed faces, sheened faintly in blue. Awkwardly, he said, “I appreciate your concern, but there’s nothing to be done. And there’s no point to me sleeping anymore tonight, so—”

“We got nightmares sometimes,” Val said. Her face was angled so he could see almost nothing of her anymore, only a glint of eye and a single blue-limned cheekbone. “The Valkyrie. We were soldiers, you know. Not every battle’s a glorious one.” She seemed to be waiting for a response, and Thor slowly shook his head. “Sometimes, some awful memory would get its claws in one of us, and she’d sleep poorly for a while.”

Thor had never heard of Val speak of the Valkyrie like this before—as people with lives and cares, individual and their own. Even sleep-muddled as he was, Thor was sensible to what a precious gift he was being given. “And then what?” he asked, feeling like a child coaxing the continuation of a story.

He felt Val’s shrug more than he saw it. “Sometimes it’d help to have someone to sleep next to, if she didn’t already. Or someone to sit with her, during the lonely watches of the night. Or fucking helped sometimes.”

Thor choked on a laugh, which Val had probably intended. It took him a moment to recover, and then there was only silence, while Val and Heimdall let him reflect. “Is this why you two ended up with me?” he asked at last. “Because I—” But he didn’t know how to finish the thought.

“That, and Loki with Banner is hilarious. We’ll see if they last the night. But yeah,” she added, tone shifting, “maybe we wanted to keep an eye on you. So, it all right if Heimdall joins us?”

That answered the question of who’d taken the floor. Thor looked to Heimdall, who gazed back serenely. He looked to Val, decidedly not known for her patience, but even she was still and quiet, waiting. “If you like,” he said.

Thor missed how it was done, but he found himself in the middle a few minutes later, with Heimdall at his back and Val curled toward him. It was astonishing how little room she required in bed, considering how much she always took up everywhere else. “The light?” Thor asked.

“I thought we’d leave it,” Heimdall said. His words were a low vibration at Thor’s spine. “Something to wake up to, if we’ve need.”

If Thor had need, he meant. Thor felt he ought to protest this solicitude, but couldn’t think of how. “All right,” he said.

The others seemed to take that as permission to press closer. Heimdall tucked an arm around Thor’s waist. Then Thor found Val’s hair tickling his chest, and there was nothing for him to do with his arm but drape it over her. She made an approving, contented noise. “The other stuff is on offer, too,” she said, so quietly Thor might have missed it if he hadn’t been lying so still. “If you want it.”

For a moment Thor couldn’t imagine what she was speaking of. It was very late, and his thoughts were very slow. Then he felt the unmistakable press of lips on the back of his neck. “Oh,” he said. Heimdall’s hand splayed a little wider on his chest.

“Don’t go thinking about it now, though,” Val said. “For now, you’re meant to sleep.”

And caught so carefully between them, Thor did.

END