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The Boy Who Waited

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"Maybe you should let the English kid talk to him."

Coulson glanced up from his file, which was telling him as little as the Nordic blond powerhouse in the hastily thrown-together detention room. Clint was still looking speculatively through the one way mirrors, where their guest was muttering to thin air, so he didn't see Coulson's dubious look. "Why would I do that?" he asked.

"I don't know," Clint shrugged. "Confuse the guy into submission? I saw him earlier, just after we brought him in - he took one look at mister muscles and muttered something about how godlike aliens never clean the kitchen. Ever."

Coulson blinked. He had taken an amnesia case as his personal assistant three months ago on the logical assumption that a man with no past was less likely to have an agenda. And it was true that "Arthur" (if he still was Arthur - since he couldn't remember his own name he tended to cycle through as many as he could to try and find one that felt right) was one of the most efficient and unflappable assistants Coulson had ever had - almost as unflappable as Coulson himself, which gave the right public impression. But he was a little strange sometimes. And when SHIELD's doctors had tried to verify whether he had brain damage, the CAT scan had shown solid mass all the way through, like he was made of plastic. Arthur had suggested a few different tests they could perform (and been pleased to discover a history in medicine), but nothing had been able to penetrate the mystery - which was the other reason Coulson had decided to keep him close.

"He thinks this guy is an alien, then?" he asked blandly. It was hardly an unusual conclusion for Arthur to reach, though he seemed to find it at least as funny as anyone else when he did.

"I don't know. He got that look he gets when he thinks he's about to remember something, but then doesn't. I felt bad for him."

"It could be worse. He could still be convinced he's a time travelling Centurion."

"Legatus," Clint corrected with a half smile. "He was a legatus."

But it was Coulson's turn to look pensively through the mirrored glass at the 'prisoner' who only stayed because they had asked politely - he could fight his way out as easily as he had fought his way in. He was looking stricken, sitting alone in the room, and his face reminded Coulson so strongly of his army days; having to bring news to the families, I'm so sorry, your father-husband-brother-son is dead. He wondered why.

"Maybe you're right," he murmured. "Maybe Arthur is exactly what we need to get through to this guy." He folded the files back into their manila folder and nodded. "Send a runner to find him, will you? Give me a buzz when he gets here."

He opened the door into the detention room just in time to hear the prisoner say a tearful "Goodbye." Yeah, maybe Arthur could make some sense out of him.

---

"So. Please don't be offended or anything, but I'm pretty sure you're an alien."

Coulson's heart sank at the tactless opening. But this was the whole reason he invited Arthur to take over the interrogation. He had to at least appear to have complete faith in his assistant, which was why he was watching from the other side of the mirrors. The prisoner blinked in surprise, and Coulson mirrored that act as an odd look crossed his features. Something like shock, wonder and... guilt? No. No way. Arthur nodded gravely.

"That's a 'yes', I think. My name's Arthur, by the way."

Coulson expected the prisoner to stonewall again, but after a moment's hesitation he responded, "Is it?"

"Of course it is!" Arthur muscled past the uninviting tone by protesting too hard, and paused. "Well, no, it's probably not. But I don't actually remember my real name so it's not because I'm trying to lie to you. I'm not."

"I am glad," said the man dully. Arthur hesitated in that very personal way he had that he referred to as dithering - more awkward than just hesitating, he assured Coulson - and held out the plastic cup he had brought in.

"I got you this," he said. "It's coffee. I wasn't sure whether you could have coffee, with the whole... alien theory and everything, but... here."

"I can drink coffee." He fixed his gaze on the floor. "But I will not accept."

"There's nothing in it," Arthur assured him. "Look-" He took a small sip and held it out again. "I mean- I don't want to give you the idea that SHIELD is the kind of place that does that, because it's not. As an organisation, it's really cutting back on the scary government things it does, so please don't think I would try to drug you." Coulson would have winced if he had been alone. After this, Arthur was never going near an interrogation room again.

Except, somehow, the awkward little English boy routine was getting through. The prisoner looked up at Arthur from where he had slouched over in pain, and slowly straightened. "Why is a man like you here? With SHIELD?"

"Oh, I'm not one of them," Arthur said casually, and Coulson lifted an eyebrow. "I'm just here until I remember what I was supposed to be doing. It was something important, I know that, but..." He spread one hand. Then he held the coffee out again. "Please, take it, it's burning my fingers."

The prisoner looked down again. "I will not accept your cup, Arthur, because I do not deserve it."

That brought Arthur to a full stop. "Do, er..." He cleared his throat. "Is that something you want to talk about?" The prisoner didn't speak and Arthur looked immeasurably relieved. Coulson made a mental note to remind him that interrogations are places where you want the other person to talk. "But, the thing is," he continued as if he hadn't interrupted himself, "what I was doing before was important, but SHIELD... SHIELD would be the defenders of the planet, if we weren't stuck in a collapsing universe."

Coulson swallowed. Arthur often talked like that, and didn't even notice he'd said anything strange. He believed in stars, believed in them so thoroughly it didn't occur to him that there were no such things. "There's not much up there right now, but your people must have noticed it too - maybe it's just you and us left in a dying universe, but SHIELD are still protecting our planet from whatever we need to. It's all running around, poking at things we don't understand and saving the world as often as possible. And that's noble. And really familiar to me, so I stick around."

He set the coffee cup on the ground, and reached over to place his hand on the prisoner's arm. "We're the good guys. I promise. If you need it, we can help you."

The prisoner's next breath was shaky. Arthur waited, and Coulson let him - he could cut the interrogation short, but they had time. "Who are you?" Arthur asked gently. No answer. "Okay, then, just your name?"

The prisoner was slow to answer this one, but Coulson was impressed to see that Arthur knew when to be patient as well as chatty. "...Thor." The man looked up as he spoke, meeting Arthur's eye. "My name is Thor."

Arthur nodded as if that was a perfectly normal thing to say. Sometimes Coulson suspected that the difference between Arthur's unbreakable calm and his own was that, to Arthur, that was perfectly normal. "So you're a god then?" Thor nodded. "So - this thunderstorm?" He pointed up at the lightning clouds still looming overhead.

"Caused by Mjolnir."

"Your hammer. That's what fell?"

"I am... Unworthy to lift her." Thor hung his head again. "Undeserving of her power. I will never wield her again."

"Oh," said Arthur. "...oh. Right, well. Um, if the hammer is actually yours... Let me have a quick word with my boss. Thor. We'll figure something out."

Coulson caught the quick flash across Thor's face of pure misery, where perhaps Arthur missed it. Thor might not want to lift the hammer again - and Coulson was not even a little bit convinced that he wanted to let him. Not yet. But Arthur stood up. "Oh, and hey-" He picked up the coffee from the floor by his feet. "If you think you don't deserve the hammer... I think you're allowed to give yourself a break about the coffee."

This time, with a chagrined smile, Thor took the coffee. Coulson rethought his stance on Arthur's interrogation skills.

Before he could say anything, though, Agent Sitwell touched his wrist. "He's got a visitor," he said, nodding towards the mirrors.

"Who is it," Coulson asked, "Odin?"

"What? No." Obviously Sitwell had only just arrived. "It's that physicist from before, the Swedish one, Selvig. Says he's here to pick up his friend. Who is also a physicist." Sitwell's tone of voice said that he believed that story just as much as Coulson did.

But. If he could find out why the mighty Thor might not be interested in taking back his hammer... "Tell him I'll be right out."