Reality tasted like a dream. Or a hallucination. In his case, it was difficult to tell the two apart.
Then again... there was a giant, alien spaceship parked right between the Old Royal Naval College and the University of Greenwich, one that he knew for a fact wasn’t a result of any of the drugs he’d taken. He knew that because he could see all the sane persons around him running away from it. He and Jane were, however, the only ones running towards it.
Such was the world these days.
The fact that he was running towards the giant alien spaceship parked in the middle of London City while the whole world around them was literally falling apart, didn’t even strike Erik as odd. Not anymore.
Erik Selvig’s life had been normal and non-crazy only a couple of years ago. Ignorance is bliss and he had been blissfully ignorant then, content to study the stars without knowing what lay beyond them. Before learning about aliens and various realms and god-like creatures with mystical powers that could enter your mind on a whim and make you bark like a chicken or aid them in destroying the world, depending on their mood.
Dodging the current alien beings (the ones who looked like Gothic Teletubbies from Hell), Erik had to admit that learning what was out there hadn’t all been bad... well, as bad as it was now. After all, he had also learned that most of the stories from his childhood, about Norse gods and magical places where honor and valor were a way of life, were all true. And who else, amongst his ancestors, could claim to have been a drinking buddy to Thor, the god of thunder himself?
However, the Thor from the stories he’d grown up with was beginning to look less and less godly as time wore on. He was but a blur of red being bounced from side to side, taking out chunks of stone and plaster wherever he landed. Most of the red color, Selvig fooled himself into believing, was due to the Asgardian’s cape and not a sign that he was fighting a losing battle.
It had only been minutes since their hasty arrival at the Greenwich and the start of their desperate attempt to save the whole Universe from being plunged into darkness by a very pissed off, ancient elf from another realm (a summary that Erick would never, under any circumstances, utter aloud to absolutely anyone. He’d already been committed to a mental institution not that long ago; he was not eager to repeat the experience. They had no coffee whatsoever).
At some point, day had turned prematurely into night, a prelude to the inbound darkness that seemed impossible to halt. Even the air felt dark and heavy, atmospheric pressure so high that Erik kept fighting the urge to pop his ears every couple of seconds.
In the middle of all the running for his life and trying to keep Jane safe, Erik had barely noticed that Thor and Malakith had vanished from the mayhem until he saw the Asgardian prince running towards them. He was missing his hammer.
“It’s too late.”
The words were Jane’s but the sense of defeat that came across was shared by all. They looked up at the funnel of darkness that was serving as a conduit between Malakith and the realms aligned above their heads. In a very horrifying and blood-freezing manner, it was beautiful.
“We can’t go in there.”
It wasn’t even a matter of certain death if either of them tried. End of the world apparently had a side effect of putting things into sharp perspective and personal safety seemed to be easily pushed to one of the lowest levels. No, death was not the point, oddly. The important fact was that they would not be able to draw breath long enough to make their sacrifice matter; they would never be able to get close enough to Malakith to destroy the Aether within him.
Erik had not known the god of thunder for that long, and he certainly could not claim to know him as well as Jane, but even he could recognize that tone of voice and stance.
He’d witnessed it before, back in Puente Anticua. He had seen it when the Asgardian, a mortal man at the time, had assured them all that he had a plan for the giant, fire-spitting, alien robot. He had not lied; unfortunately, his plan had involved being clubbed to death.
That right there was Thor’s bullshit face and Erik could recognize it as well as Jane. But what the hell are you supposed to do when the one person with super powers offers to do the impossible? Tell them ‘no, wait, I think I have a better chance than you?’
Pray, that’s what you do. Doesn’t matter that you believe in some divine entity or the simply the power of positive thinking; you just hand over the mass disrupters to the alien god, get out of his way and pray as hard as you can because there is nothing else you can do.
After all, in a battle of gods and creatures straight out from myth, what is a simple man to do?
Time skipped and stopped, events coiling and expanding like rubber bands. In his mind, Erik had already made his peace and he was ready for the end. He’d had a good life, seen things that most of his colleagues could only imagine and theorize. He was ready.
What followed caught him by surprise.
The surrounding darkness lifted like a heavy, black veil, revealing clear blue skies and a world still spinning on its axis.
For a few seconds, Erick could not believe what his eyes were seeing. It was an illusion, a hallucination. He needed confirmation that what he was seeing was real, he needed someone else, someone sane, to tell him that yes, they were still alive.
Darcy and Ian were celebrating, eyes locked onto each other, euphoric with the feeling of being alive. So, he wasn’t imagining it, then. He sighed in relief until he caught sight of Jane.
Jane was still standing by his side, frozen in place. Erik looked at her, searching her face for the appropriate elation and joy from having escaped certain doom. The shock and tears in her eyes didn’t fit with the sense of victory and relief that they should all be sharing.
Selvig followed her gaze and understood why. Thor was down, face bloodied, half covered in debris. Unmoving.
All feelings of celebration escaped him. Erik couldn’t help but feel guilty. In all of his assumptions that this was the end for all of them, it hadn’t occurred to him that Thor might actually succeed in saving them, much less that he was at risk of paying the ultimate price in order to keep them safe.
The scientist guessed that in the chaos of seeing the god of thunder being tossed around and crushed against buildings and cars with little more than scratches to show for it, he had forgotten that this alien, his friend, wasn’t actually immortal.
After all, hadn’t Thor announced that his brother was dead when he and Jane arrived? Hadn’t Jane told him that Thor’s mother had been murdered by this same foe, just days before? Asgardians, we had learned, were a hard crowd to take down, for sure, but they were still mortal.
Erik shuddered as the thought registered. Had the ancient being just given up his life for them?
Jane seemed to have snapped from her stupor at the same time that the grim thought formed in Erik’s mind. She was on the move before he could stop her from rushing to Thor’s side and kneeling beside him. She seemed at lost on where to touch him. Her hands caressed his face gently, as if her soft touch was the thing that would break him after all that he had been through.
With his heavy armor, it was difficult to tell if Thor’s chest was moving at all, but there was no mistaking the way his face turned ever so slightly towards Jane’s touch, seeking comfort even in unconsciousness.
Once again, there was no time to celebrate. The heavy groaning that filled the air called everyone’s attention up into the sky. The alien ship, so imposing and menacing as it were, was shuddering. Like a living thing on its death throes, the massive vessel tilted and groaned, a side effect, it would seem, of having served as a conduit for the massive amounts of energy that the Aether had created.
However, it was the side effect of the side effect that filled Erick’s heart with dread. Thor lay right beneath the shadow of the ship and Jane, unstoppable force that she was, could not make the god of thunder, unmovable entity that he was, move an inch.
Selvig’s first reaction was to rush to her aid, but the idea never translated into action. Back in New Mexico, it had taken the three of them to move a mortal Thor from the ground into the van, like he was, somehow, under a different gravitational force other than Earth’s. And he had not been wearing his armor and cape then.
With Darcy and Ian right by his side, there were four of them now to carry the heavy alien, but with the ship seconds away from crushing the Jane and Thor, Erik knew that they would never make it in time. Instead, his eyes fell on the remote that Jane had dropped to the floor.
With a mass displacer on each side of the ship it was quite possible that he could manage to...
Erik bolted into action, grabbing the remote, his fingers making the necessary adjustments even before his brain made the connections. He had only one shot at making it work and he was going to make it count. During the heat of the battle there hadn’t been much that he could do except keep Jane safe, but he’d be damned if could not do this.
The ship started to come apart like it was made of something as fragile as burned coal, pieces the size of cars falling down, booming sound as loud as thunder. Unbalanced by the missing chunks, the whole thing tipped forward, giant last tree falling in the empty forest.
Jane, having given up on moving Thor, had simple thrown herself over him, a futile gesture to protect him from the crushing death that was rushing towards them both.
Romeo and Juliet had always been Erik’s least favorite of Shakespeare’s works.
He flipped the switch.
The ship fell down and simply vanished.
“Yes!” Erik yelled, jumping in the air. “It worked!”
It took all five of them to move Thor to the car. Darcy insisted on getting the car and driving -even though everyone seemed pretty sure that half the time she forgot on which side of the road she was supposed to drive- while Erik, Ian and Jane struggled to keep Thor standing and moving towards the vehicle, two actions that the Asgardian insisted he could achieve on his own, even though his body kept tilting dangerously close to the ground.
“I am okay, my friends,” Thor repeated once more, his head slightly bent to fit inside the tiny car. The way he slurred those words and the fact that he couldn’t seem to keep his eyes open, made the statement sound less than reassuring. Neither Darcy nor Erik, ridding in the front, called him on his blatant lie, but when his head flopped unceremoniously on top of Jane, Darcy stepped on the gas.
“Hospital?” Erik offered, seeing the intersection coming up.
Jane looked up, her attention focused on her charge. Her eyes seemed more sharp then, fear having been replaced by purpose. “Let’s just get him home.”
“You sure about that?” Darcy pitched in, making a dangerous turn and ignoring the several annoyed honks that followed her maneuver. “He seems pretty messed up... you know, for a god.”
Fortunately, she refrained from saying what everyone else was thinking. Were he a man, he would be dead.
Other than scaring to death Mrs. Partridge from apartment 3A, they managed to get to Jane’s place with less fuss than one could imagine it would require to move a half conscious god of thunder five stories up with no elevator.
By the time they arrived and allowed Thor to fall into Jane’s bed, everyone was more than ready to sink to the floor and just stay there for the remaining of the day. It didn’t last, though.
Despite being barely conscious, Thor sat up on the bed, blue eyes unfocused looking around. He seemed to be searching for something. “Mjolnir...”
He raised his hand from the bed, the limb seemingly heavier than anything he could lift at the moment.
Erik shuddered, imagining the heavy hammer smashing through Jane’s wall to come to its master’s hand. As seconds went by with no destruction occurring, however, it became apparent that the hammer wasn’t answering Thor’s call. The look of disappointment and pure fear that crossed the Asgardian’s face before he finally lost consciousness for good, was one that Erik would not soon forget.
Outside, heavy rain started to fall.
“We need to get that armor off of him,” Jane voiced, breaking the muted noise of water hitting the windows. Her eyes darted around. It was hard to tell if she was looking for a way to do it or just too nervous to look at the unmoving body on her bed.
Thor’s feet dangled over the edge, the bed too small for his length; his brow was locked into a frown that made him look angry, or in pain. There was a stillness about him that did not suite the god of thunder.
“I’m go get a can opener,” Darcy volunteered cheerfully, disappearing into the kitchen.
There were no clasps or straps that any of them could see. The whole thing seemed to just be a part of him. From what Erik remembered of the first time they had seen the Asgardian wearing his full armor, he feared that that was precisely the case. However... the thing had just materialized from thin air when Thor had last put it on. So, maybe...
“Try asking him to remove it,” Selvig suggested. He was sure that there was some complicated mechanism surrounding the full body armor, probably involving high amounts of electricity and some sort of nanotechnology, rather than magic and lightning, but whatever the trick was, they didn’t have the means to figure it out in Jane’s bedroom.
She sat by his side, her small frame taking next to no room when compared with the sprawling god. With a tenderness that Erik seldom witnessed in his fellow scientist, she brushed the dirty, blond soaked tresses aside before pressing her face to his. “Thor,” Jane started, her lips brushing the tip of his left ear. “You’re safe now... let go of your armor,” she whispered. “For me.”
The air around them felt immediately charged. Erik looked at the fine hairs on his arm, slowly standing to attention. Before he could warn Jane to get away, the lamps on either side of her bed blew up in twin showers of sparks.
Selvig pulled Jane towards him, the smell of burned wires thick in the air. From somewhere in the apartment, they could hear something popping loudly and Darcy’s cursing.
What ever it was, it was over in seconds, leaving nothing behind but burned electric circuits and a faint trace of smoke in the air.
On the bed, Thor was still asleep, now wearing nothing but the black pants and grey undershirt that he had been wearing when they first met him. His armor was gone, nowhere to be seen.
“What the hell was that?” Darcy asked from the door. Her hair looked slightly singed.
“Thor undressing...” Jane let out, her eyes round as she surveyed the damage, “... I suppose.”
“Well, lets just hope he decides to keep the rest of his clothes on,” Darcy complained, even as she eyed the displayed body on the bed. “I don’t think your mom’s apartment can take any more of his undressing.”
“I’ll go get the first aid kit,” Erik offered, pulling Darcy along with him, who reluctantly followed, complaining that she was an intern, not a cleaning lady, so they’d better not be getting any ideas.
The older scientist had no intention to get the first aid kit. He did have, however, a theory.
And if he was right, Selvig suspected that some private time with Jane could do more for the sleeping alien than any disinfectant or band-aid that their meager medical supply could offer.
From what he had seen, there were mostly cuts and bruises over the Asgardian’s body, at least the portions they could see. There was a slight chance that being that close to dark matter -or whatever type of energy the Aether had tapped into- might have some lasting effects that none of them were any where near ready to deal with, but Erik was fairly sure that such was not the case.
When Erik finally returned to Jane’s room, the sun had already set behind the heavy rain clouds. In his hands there was a steaming cup of tea instead of the first aid kit. “How is he?”
Thor was under the covers, curled on his side so that his legs fit the small bed. Jane, it seemed, had played it safe and removed the rest of his clothes, searching for any serious injury. The grey shirt and the black pants were carefully folded and on top of a chair by the other side of the room. The blanket on top of Thor barely covered his chest, leaving exposed the array of colorful bruises and scrapes that he had accumulated.
“I can’t wake him up,” Jane said, a trace of tears in her voice. “It’s been hours. Maybe we should... I don’t know... take him to a hospital? Call SHIELD?”
Neither option seemed to sit all that well with her.
As Erik looked more closely at the peaceful features of a sleeping Thor, seemingly so out of place and, at the same time, so at home in Jane’s bedroom, it dawned on him exactly what was happening to the Asgardian. He pulled another chair closer to Jane’s and took her hand. Instead of holding it, however, Erik placed her delicate fingers over the place where, he imagined, Thor’s heart beat.
“Have I ever told you the stories that my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little boy?”
Jane shook her head slowly, her eyes seemingly unable to leave Thor’s form, as if she was afraid that at a moment’s distraction, he would slip away.
“Odin, the father of all gods and protector of Asgard—“
“Met him,” Jane cut in, a small smile gracing her lips. “Grumpy old man, but kind of sweet underneath.”
Erik blinked. “Truly? You met THE Odin?”
At Jane’s nod, Selvig could not help but laugh. Of course she had met the most famous and powerful of the Norse gods. He was, after all, the father of the man currently sleeping next to them. “Well, every couple of years, Odin was known to fall into what the ancients called the Odinsleep.”
That finally captured Jane’s attention. “And what was that? Some sort of disease?” From the way her hands clasped over Thor’s lax fingers, Erik could see that her sharp mind had already made the connection.
“No, it was a perfectly normal occurrence, but one that left him as fragile and exposed as a mere mortal,” Erik explained. “You see, when enough of his magic and power was spent protecting the realms, the All-father was forced into slumber, to recharge.”
Jane’s relief was almost palpable as she connected the dots. “And you think that that’s what is happening here? Was that why the hammer never came to him? He is mortal?”
Erik nodded, thrusting the ignored cup of tea into Jane’s direction. “I believe so. He’s just exhausted, Jane,” he reminded her. “Give him time and he will wake up on his own.”
It had probably been too much, too close together. So much grief and pain that not even a god could handle.
Losing his mother in such a violent way... no matter how old one is, even an ancient being such as Thor, losing a parent was never easy. Even being a thousand years old, he would still feel like a lost little boy.
Likewise, no matter how much relief and joy the news of Loki’s demise had brought Erik, it would be insensitive to not recognize that the villain had still been Thor’s brother. Despite all the wrong he had done and all the lives he had taken, Loki’s death would be mourned by his family. By Thor.
Adding to all of that the injuries he had carried with him when Thor and Jane used the portal to return to Earth, plus his brutal fight with Malakith... it was a fairly certain guess that the poor guy would need some recharging.
The only thing that Erik could not explain was why no one from Asgard had come to collect Thor. From what he understood of the Odinsleep, it could last from a single day to weeks. Being mortal during that time, wouldn’t Thor be safer with his own kind, with someone who could actually protect him in his time of frailty? Did his father not care that his son was at the mercy of his enemies during this time?
“So, you really think he will be alright?”
Erik kept all of his doubts to himself. Now was not the time to lay any more weight on Jane’s burdened shoulders. “I know he will,” he answered, as sincere as he could manage. “He’s with friends who care for him... and you.”
Outside, the clash of thunder seemed to express its agreement.
SHIELD came knocking the following day, wanting to know why the hell half of Greenwich was destroyed and why Thor hadn’t bothered to stick around to give them same answers. Agent Coulson, in particular, seemed particularly pissed at having been tasked, once again, with cleaning up Asgardian messes. He was also soaking wet and looking miserable about it.
“I’m sure he’ll be dropping by as soon as possible to explain everything to you,” Erik replied, forcing his most honest fake-smile. Two bedrooms away, Thor still slept, Jane refusing to leave his side except for bathroom breaks. “Anything else I can help you with?”
Agent Coulson gave him a suspicious look that made Erik think of thermal readings and how he could possibly explain the extra person showing up in the apartment that he was supposed to share with just Jane and Darcy.
“His hammer,” the SHIELD agent finally said. “We need him to come pick it up as soon as he can,” he supplied, sounding bored. “The ground keepers of Greenwich are complaining that they can’t fix the gardens until someone moves it away.”
“Will do!” Selvig said, probably with more enthusiasm than he should have. SHIELD and everything they stood for gave him the chills ever since their paths had crossed. Before Coulson could call him on his bad acting, Erik shoved the door closed and sagged against it.
“Did he buy it?” Darcy asked, mischievous eyes peeking from over her coffee mug. “Should I go get my tazer?”
Erik sincerely doubted it.
“He knows Thor’s here,” Jane said, coming from the bedroom. She sounded utterly resigned to the fact that her life had become open to spies and secret agencies that knew more about her than she did on most days. “Coulson probably thinks that he just doesn’t want to talk to him,” she added with a smile.
‘Borrowing’ all of Jane’s equipment without her consent had certainly started agent Coulson on the wrong foot with the god of thunder. “He’s still sleeping,” she added before anyone could ask.
Two days went by, Jane doing little more than keeping a sleeping Thor company, Erik forcing food her away at regular times. “Talk to him,” Erik said, hoping that the same adage that was true for coma patients could be applied to recharging aliens. At the very least, it would keep the sound of the rain away.
Three days and Darcy showed up at the bedroom door with a bowl of hot water and a sponge. Jane shooed her away and kept on talking quietly to Thor.
Four days and Jane was ready to give up and call for help. Surely there had to be some way to get in touch with Asgard and ask them if this was normal, or if Thor was slipping away from her while she sat and watched. She called out loud for Heimdallr, she cursed at Odin for abandoning his son, she sobbed Thor’s name and kept on asking him to come back. No one answered her but the rain and thunders.
On the dawn of the fifth day, Erik heard Thor talk back. He looked out the window, knowing before checking, that the skies would have finally cleared. And he knew everything would be... well, not okay, but certainly closer.
The word had been so softly spoken that she figured she had fallen asleep and imagined it. Looking up, she found herself being watched by familiar blue eyes. “Thor!” She let out, throwing her arms around his form. He felt warmer than anyone she had ever touched. “You scared me to death!”
Large, calloused hands framed her face, trapping her eyes under his intense gaze, “I am truly sorry for that. It was never my intention,” Thor let out, sounding like killing her from fright was the last thing he would ever want. His lips searched forgiveness in hers and Jane wholeheartedly forgave him.
“How many days have passed?”
Jane did a quick mental account. “Five... six?”
Thor frowned, the number apparently not sitting right with him. The fingers in his right hand flexed and curled, like he was eager to grab something that wasn’t there.
“Are you alright?” Jane asked, almost afraid that he would fall asleep once again.
“Father was always the one who...” he started, seeming at lost for words. “Never before had I fallen into such a deep slumber. I did not know such thing was possible. Mother had always—“ he stopped himself, eyes closing this time not in sleep but to hide his pain.
Jane did not wait for him to find his words again. She had only met Frigga for a few hours, but even in that small amount of time, it had been easy to realize what a strong and powerful presence she had been in the lives of her husband and both sons. It wasn’t hard to imagine Frigga standing vigil at Odin’s side as he slept, much in the same way as Jane had done for Thor in the last days.
Summoning some of the strength she had witnessed in the alien queen, Jane pulled Thor into her arms and guided his head towards her shoulder.
The skies had been crying for five days. When Thor released his first silent sob in the comforting arms of the mortal woman he loved, the sun was warm at their backs.
Somewhere in Greenwich, a heavy hammer stirred in the ground and flew up.
AN: My thank you to jackfan2 for her, as always, awesome beta work. Any remaining mistakes or flubs in either canon or Norse mythology are my fault alone.