We're back! I meant to post this a bit sooner, but I was struck by an attack of oh-god-this-is-terrible-we-need-to-rewrite-it-pronto syndrome. And then I just forgot. Hope you're not mad :)
Before Jane can say a word, her eyes are dazzled by colour and light, closing automatically. Her arm, slung around Thor's neck as he cradles her, tightens its grip in alarm before she recognizes the sensation. The Bifrost.
Asgard. He's taking us back to –
And then it stops; the world is still again. Jane opens her eyes, and even blurred as they are, she recognises her surroundings at once. If she lifts her head a little and squints, she can see Heimdall, standing sentry as always, looking for all the world as if the prince of Asgard and his less-than-healthy girlfriend haven't just stumbled into the place.
"Jane Foster." He doesn't even turn his head, but she knows that he can see her. Or sense her. Or whatever it is he does, it's all rather fuzzy in her head at the moment. And then he does turn, and approaches them both, a sad smile on his face. "I had hoped to see you here again. Though," he lowers his eyes ruefully, "perhaps under different circumstances." She nods in acknowledgement before he moves from her eyeline, this time addressing Thor.
"Take her to Eir," he says calmly, as if this is no crisis at all. Then, lowering his voice as if that'll stop Jane from hearing him, he adds: "She is stronger than you know, Thor. Do not despair yet." Heimdall returns to his position, and Thor turns away, still carrying her. She nudges him, indicating that she can still walk, and in fact, would like to, if that's all right with him.
Barely thirty seconds into their journey, she realises her mistake. Perhaps her legs wouldn't have threatened to give out if she hadn't been standing on a bridge that looked to be made of refracted light and very little else. But, as it is now, she has to lean very heavily on Thor before the world has slowed its spinning enough for her to see where she's going.
"Jane?" His voice still has that tight, brittle edge to it that she hates so much. She squeezes his arm, trying to offer what little comfort she can.
"I'm okay," she says firmly, though the fact that her voice cracks halfway through the word does nothing to help prove her point. "I'm okay." If she says it enough times, it will be the truth.
"Are you ready?" There's nothing but shimmering light and spun glass beneath her feet; beneath that, only the stars and endless darkness. She swallows against vertigo, looking ahead towards the city instead. Shimmering, solid, safe.
"Yeah." She clears her throat, tastes a little blood. "Yeah. I'm ready." He curls a strong, warm arm around her waist, and they walk.
Darcy does not consider herself an impatient person. It's just that she hates waiting.
The first few minutes are bearable. She goes back into the apartment, closes the door, throws herself down in front of the TV, eyes staring through the screen as she tries to find a channel she can actually concentrate on. The split-second bursts of picture and sound as she channel-surfs just become aggravating after a while, so she switches the TV off, and just sits there, thinking, regrouping.
Then the stillness starts to get to her too and she stands up, glancing feverishly at the clock. Five minutes have passed. That's all.
They won't be back. Not yet. Not for a while.
Darcy's not used to being on her own. Not like this. There's always been something to do, something Jane needs help with, something scientific and exciting. Even after New Mexico, when Thor didn't come back and Jane spent a good portion of her spare time crying, eating ice cream and generally keeping herself busy with everything that wasn't astrophysics, Darcy stuck around. Passing tissues. Stealing ice cream from time to time. Helping her look for utterly ordinary (read: totally freaking boring) jobs. You know, friend stuff.
The point is, she's never been alone. Not really. Not like this. And she doesn;t know how to deal with it.
Driven by a mad urge to do something, Darcy runs into Jane's room and starts picking up the clothes that were scattered during Thor's whirlwind search, hands lingering for a second around Jane's favourite blouse. She makes the bed, folding the sheets and straightening the pillows with geometric precision, before eyeing the crumpled, sweat-stained lot and deciding they need a wash. She runs to the laundry room and bundles everything in alongside an unhealthy dose of detergent, and just watches the machine spin until her eyes ache, thinking all the while they'll be back by the time I get back to the apartment.
They aren't, so she heads for the bathroom. First, she mops up the water liberally puddled on the tiles, unfolds the floor mat. Then she catches sight of the toilet and almost cries. She has to flush it five times (each one punctuated by an agonizingly-long wait for the tank to fill up) and pour half a bottle of bleach into the bowl before she's satisfied that it's all gone. She scrubs the floor around it until her hands are raw. If she can erase all of the evidence, maybe the whole dreadful night will disappear too. She'll walk back into Jane's room, and find her there, dead to the world, but still all right. Curled up on her side the way she always is, pale face hidden beneath a fine curtain of light-brown hair, snoring gently even though she always denies it.
The image is so painfully vivid Darcy almost expects to find her there.
Surprisingly, or not, she doesn't.
That's half an hour gone, and no word.
Darcy tries to remember a time she's been left adrift like this. The only thing that springs to mind is when she was a kid, and her grandpa was in hospital. He had cancer, though she didn't know it at the time. She was only seven, and though the waiting was still painful, she had a whole bag of M+M's, and her mom's lap to curl up in, and a comic to read.
The waiting sucked, but she didn't know that Grandpa was dying.
This is the first time she's dared to let herself think that, and it catches her off-guard, sudden as a car crash, and as devastating.
Jane is dying.
Darcy ends up back where she started. On the couch, in front of the TV. Only this time, she doesn't turn it on. All she can see is her own face reflected in the screen.
The ceiling is what intimidates her the most. Not the fact that she is very sick and beyond the help of whatever "primitive" treatments her home can offer. Not the austere gaze of the woman currently frowning at the images projected above her on the soul-forge. The goddamned ceiling. Go figure. It's high and shadowed, and Jane, with her blurred vision and current complete lack of movement (Eir sighs if she so much as blinks, for crying out loud) feels as though she is gazing into the Void itself. Still, it gives her something to concentrate on. She glances at Thor, who is holding her hand soothingly but has so far not spoken a word. He's not looking at her, seems to be trying to do anything but look at her, in fact. She squeezes his hand in an attempt to get his attention, and for a moment he does nothing, but eventually he does turn to face her.
She flicks her eyes upwards, towards the silhouette of her body cast in shimmering golden light, mouths the words quantum-field generator, hoping to see his eyes light up, even slightly. Hoping to erase the look of grim terror from his face, because that's working to scare her more than anything else in the room. Thor must sense this somehow, because he attempts to smile at her, but it looks hollow. Like a mask rather than the real thing. She shudders against a wave of visceral pain, letting her hand tighten around his, knowing it'll take more strength than she currently possesses to even make him wince. It has no definite source, the pain, but she feels it in every particle of her being. A second wave, this one stronger, and she has to sit up because on top of the pain there's sudden, dragging nausea –
She panics for a moment, but Eir deftly places a basin in her lap, and Thor's holding her hair, and she can just let go. Again, there's very little to come up, but what there is is scarlet with blood, and the sight of it coupled with the exertion leaves her shaking.
She can't meet either pair of eyes in the room when she's done, even though Thor is rubbing her back and murmuring things she hasn't the energy to decipher, and Eir seems surprisingly untroubled by the whole thing.
"Thor," Eir says softly, signalling for him to step back a little. He does so, with noticeable shades of reluctance. "Jane Foster." Why do they do that? Why do all of the Asgardians insist on using both of my names? It brings back memories of her father (pleasant), and also, strangely, memories of school (less so).
"I believe you have an idea of what this is." Her tone is so cool, so serene, that it almost helps to put Jane at ease. Almost. She nods.
"It's the Aether, isn't it?"
"Yes. Although it was removed before it could consume you completely, it has still left a great deal of harm in its wake." She could simply be discussing the weather, she sounds so calm. "Your body is beginning to break down, though the process is slow. For how long have you been experiencing fatigue?" Jane swallows, thinking hard.
"Since about two, maybe three days after we defeated Malekith. That must make it… about a month now." Thor utters a soft curse beside her, and the significance of what she's said hits her.
A month. All those dragging, heavy days of thinking it'll be gone by tomorrow, they've added up to a whole month.
"Why did you not say anything?" Thor demands in a strangled whisper. She glances down into her lap, suddenly ashamed. She could have spared him so much worry, and Darcy too, oh god…
Eir merely nods, thoughtful. "And the fever began…?"
"About a week ago."
"Yes. The Aether would have disabled your immune response. Now that it is gone, your body is trying to fight off something that is no longer there." Jane doesn't really care about any of that, all she really wants to know is –
"Will she recover from this?" Thor demands in a voice more terrible than anything she's ever heard.
"I'm afraid the damage is irreversible. I'm loath to say it, truly, but she was fortunate to survive at all." Jane risks another glance in Thor's direction. He's silent, motionless, but she can tell he's absolutely furious. When he turns to Eir, his eyes are burning. Jane braces herself.
But Thor is quiet, dangerously so. "Is there anything you can do? Anything at all, to save her?"
Eir pauses, and it's fatal.
"Do not stand there and tell me there is nothing you can do! There must be a way!" Her near-perfect composure threatens to crumble in the face of Thor's rage, but all she does is take a single, controlled step backwards.
"I am… sorry, but there is truly nothing to be done. There are elixirs I could administer-"
"Then administer them," Thor growls.
"-But they would only draw the process out. In the end, all we would be doing is… prolonging her suffering." There's true remorse in her tone, and it's more than enough to silence Thor.
Jane speaks up, breaking the tense film. "H-how long? How long would I have?" She's weirdly calm. Maybe it hasn't hit her yet. Thor makes a sound that's halfway to a sob, and she feels her own chest constrict.
"I cannot say for certain. A month, two. Maybe more. But in the end… this will kill you."
"Yeah," Jane replies numbly. "I got that part." Eir touches her shoulder gently.
"I am truly sorry. As I said, there are elixirs that would…" Jane just shakes her head. She's a coward, she knows that. She fears death as any mortal would… and yet she doesn't want this to go on for any longer than it has to.
"I am sorry that I could not be of any more help." Eir withdraws respectfully, gives Thor a remorseful look, and simply leaves.
Neither of them can bear to speak for a moment.
Again, Jane is first to break the silence.
"What do we do now?" She cringes, she can't help it because that sounds unbelievably childish, inconsequential in the face of everything that's just happened.
"I can take you home." His voice is atonal, dead, somehow worse than his earlier blistering rage. She nods, not quite able to bring herself to meet his gaze. He picks her up from the bed, and this time she lets herself be carried.
They make it halfway back to the Bifrost before he breaks.
"Jane…" She cranes her neck round to meet his gaze, and catches sight of the tears in his eyes. "I'm so sorry. I thought that they would be able to do more… Forgive me…!" Wordlessly, she reaches up a shaking hand to cup the side of his face, feeling the coolness of his skin – always so cool in comparison to her, now – and the striking wetness of tears beneath her palm.
"I can't… I can't lose you!" That's all he manages to say before the rest is lost in tears.
"Thor…" She tries to keep her voice strong, for him. "It's okay. I mean, it isn't okay, nothing about this is okay at all, but… we will get through it. I promise you, we will." It is a weak promise at best, but it is the best she can offer up. He nods, breathes, tries to stop weeping.
She wraps an arm around his neck, and they walk.
The roar of the Bifrost awakens Darcy from a nap she never meant to have. Eyes still half-open, she runs through the door and down the two flights of steps to meet them.
Thor has been crying. Jane is even paler than she was when they left. Both wear the same expression of hollow-eyes shock. This alone should be enough to tell Darcy everything she needs to know, but she feels the need to check anyway.
"Well?" she demands, a little shakily.
"Let's just… get inside," Jane murmurs. Her voice is tiny, exhausted.
So they go inside. They sit; Jane with her head in Thor's lap, Darcy tense and fearful on the arm of the couch. The warm light of the apartment does nothing for the bleakness of the situation. She knows already, knows exactly what she is about to be told, but no, she has to hear it. She clenches her raw, cracked fists, bites her lip hard enough to draw blood.
"Darcy…" Jane looks her dead in the eye, still and intense. The words are not spoken, at least not aloud. But she hears them anyway, feels them deep in her core, where they twist like steel cables, forcing the breath from her chest. That single, harsh breath becomes a sob, then a cry, then a full, anguished scream that even the panicked press of her palm against her lips cannot silence.
Time stops, and reality falls away from her in a jolt that feels like standing too close to a cliff-edge. One foot wrong, and you'll fall.
And then there's an arm around her, and she's crying and crying and it seems to her that she will never stop.
...I'm not even sorry.
First off, I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who favorited, followed and left reviews for the last chapter. (Guest, this one's for you since I couldn't reply to you personally). You are the ones giving me the motivation to carry on with this story. And as long as you don't all hate me for bringing this about, more feedback would be lovely, please and thank you.