Sorry, sorry, sorry! God, it's been a shamefully-long time between updates, hasn't it? But this chapter was an absolute bitch to write, let me tell you. It's also the last one, thank goodness, but be warned: things are about to get intense. Feel free to hate me.
She stops, of course. Nobody can weep forever.
The first few days are the hardest, when the reality of it is still fresh and it keeps reeling back to hit them, again and again, each blow as keen as the first. But the river of time is persistent, and not even tragedy, large and obstructive as a boulder, can do anything to deviate it from its pre-destined path. Even in the wake of the news, their lives continue as before.
Thor stays, of course, and that is somehow helpful, to all of them. Jane is more than happy for him to stay, but it is Darcy who is the most grateful. Now she has somebody to talk to when things are bad, somebody steady and unshakeable to cling to when fear threatens to overwhelm her.
Winter thaws into spring (though here, the weather is so unpredictable and generally crappy that they can barely tell the difference), and things begin to resume the shape known as normalcy, trying desperately to smooth over the jagged, alien edge of what is to come. It looms in the mist of an uncertain future, waiting for them at the end of the road they do not know the length of.
For Jane, the endless cycle of days is the most unbearable; sometimes, time dissolves into one waking fever-dream, shadow and nightmare and pain merging into one omnipresent state, until she opens her eyes, lucid again, only to be told that three days have slipped by. Three of her numbered days, gone.
One her better days, however, she is simply bored. She lacks the energy, both physically and mentally, to work, but she has to do something to work through the time that seems to weigh so heavily on her hands.
They go out, as often as they can manage. London, in spite of its lousy weather and perilous roads, is a spectacular city, giving them many opportunities to explore and take in the sights they've so far been too busy to.
But, for want of preoccupation, Jane finds her mind overridden by unexpected, ugly thoughts. Thor leads the way as they cross Tower Bridge, with Darcy behind him, guarding the camera with her life since he very nearly dropped it over the railings. Jane is at the back, falling farther and farther behind each second. Try as she might, she just can't catch them up. Nor can she bring herself to call to them. They're both happy, something she's seen evidence of all too rarely since she returned from Asgard with the damning news. She pauses to catch her breath, leaning against the railing as her vision swims. The calm, murky water courses far beneath her feet, not helping to allay her light-headedness at all. But at the same time it's strangely calming, almost hypnotic, the inexorable movement of the current.
An idea wraps its way around her mind, like a poison vine, driving thorns deep in. Her grip on the railing tightens, the metal like ice beneath her frail fingers.
They won't look back for a while yet.
It would be so easy, easier than anything else she's had to do. Quick, as well. Count to thirty, and she'd be gone.
They won't look back until it's too late.
Spare them, she thinks. Spare them from what's to come.
A slow death, breaths becoming papery and tenuous. A body on the couch where I used to sit.
They don't deserve that. Darcy, her closest friend. Thor, the man she… the god who has abandoned his home in order to watch her die.
Her foot is up on the rail, almost without her noticing.
"Jane!" Thor's voice, carrying clear all the way back to her, breaks the vine, rips out the thorns. The pain of it is so intense it brings tears to her eyes.
What the hell was I thinking?
Trying not to cry, she stumbles her way back towards her friends. They are oblivious, thank god. She won't tell them. This is one thing they do not need to know about.
Darcy often wonders how the walls of the apartment can manage to hold them. Hell, sometimes it's a struggle for two of them. Adding a very tall, very muscly space-god to the mix would definitely complicate things. And it does, oh god it does. The apartment only has one freaking bedroom (Jane's, since she saved up and made the down payment on the apartment in the first place). But that was cool; the couch was comfy enough, especially when you added a heap of blankets. But then there was Thor to consider. It was only sheer luck that ensured that Jane actually had a camp bed hidden away somewhere. Darcy takes that, taking pity on Thor and the fact that he's just not short enough. It's nowhere near as comfy as her beloved couch, but she can handle that. None of them sleep a whole night anymore anyway.
But it's not just the size of the apartment that troubles her now. It's the apartment itself, with its air of mundane security, the comfort of a place that they actually own, a normal place that holds two less-than-normal people when they want to shelter from the extraordinary. How can it be expected to hold something so huge and so terrible? How can the walls not crumble beneath it?
She fears it happening. This place, their sanctuary, their little piece of normalcy, how can they expect it to hold?
And when the time comes, she doesn't think there will be a safe place left for her to go.
Warmth. The sound of a steady heartbeat in her ears, masking out the staccato flutter-pounding of her own. Strong, gentle arms that know just how to hold her, to still the tremors that rip through her at a moment's notice. This is the closest to bliss Jane has come in a while. She wants to remember this night, every last meaningless detail of it. The blanket wrapped around her lower half. The intermittent clattering and good-natured cursing as Darcy tackles the washing up in the kitchen. Other things she can recall without looking for them. The colour of the walls. The shadows cast through the small window as cars streak by below.
She has to memorise every detail, because she doesn't know if she'll get the time to do this again.
Thor shifts the slightest bit. Probably assuming that she's fallen asleep again. His breaths are slow, measured, soft. His palm is resting against her hip; her head is against his chest. She lifts her head until she's looking right into his face. It takes him a while to look down but when he eventually does, he smiles.
That's another memory she's keen to hang on to. His smile. Especially now, when it has become so very, very rare.
The words she desperately wants to say catch in her throat, and she wonders – have I ever told him?
And she knows, deep down, that it has to be tonight. Her time is all but up, and strangely, the notion doesn't frighten her.
She finds his hand down where it so gently cups her hip, and holds it. Tightly. She never, ever wants to let him go.
"I love you." The words are made ragged and harsh by the pain and dryness in her throat, stripped of all their integrity, but he hears them.
His response is not verbal; instead he leans closer and kisses her. Not passionately, tenderly. As though he is afraid she will shatter like glass if he isn't very careful.
Fuck that, Jane thinks after a second or two, and reaches up to urge him closer, fingers knotting in his slightly-mussed blond hair. She's breathless already, but she'll be damned if she's going to let her own stupid weakness come between them tonight.
She owes him that much, at least.
Willing herself not to tremble, and knowing she will anyway, Jane pulls away, turning herself over so she's practically straddling him, instead of simply curled up against his chest. She lets her hips move the way they want to, lets her lips connect with his once more. Her heart is pounding hard, with what could be arousal and could be something more sinister. His arms are around her properly now. He can feel everything. Her harsh breathing, her heart that's beating far too fast for comfort.
No. She wants this. Let me have this, please.
I don't know if I'll get the chance again.
But no, no. His hands are on her shoulders, easing her away, albeit reluctantly. She whines and tries to push against him, but even at full strength she would have been no match for him. Now, it's impossible.
"Jane…" He's almost as breathless as she is, and he's shaking a little besides. "You are not strong enough for this."
"Like hell I'm not!" she replies indignantly, trying in vain to still her violent shaking. "Thor, please…"
He's wavering; she can see that, his eyes everywhere but on her face. She leans closer again, kissing his jaw, his neck, gently dragging her fingers down his firm, muscled abdomen, playing teasingly with the waistband of his sweatpants. She can feel his resolve crumbling even as he tries to deny her. "Please…" she whispers again, lips brushing his ear.
He exhales shakily, reaching up to cup the side of her face, pushing her away from him again. She almost growls in frustration.
"You need to rest," he insists, as firmly as he can manage.
"Fuck that," she retorts, batting his hand away and pressing herself close again. "I need you." That final phrase, all but snarled against his neck, is his breaking point. He's still maddeningly gentle as he flips them both; guiding her to lie down on the other side of the bed, but there's eagerness to his motions now. Gone is the concern in his eyes, all she can see in them now is love. Love and fierce desire.
He's achingly gentle, and yet it's mere minutes before she is undone, the wave of pleasure that floods through her almost too much to bear. She cries out, is hushed immediately as his lips meet hers one final time, and it is done.
What follows is nothing more than blissful silence, both of them spent and happy in each other's arms.
"I love you," Thor murmurs, finding her hand in the dark and twining their fingers together tightly. And in that moment, Jane is certain that no force in this realm or the next would be enough to part them.
Three days later
The sunlight is what wakes Darcy first. Sunshine, so rarely seen in London right now, seemingly bright enough to blind her. She rolls over, away from those over-eager rays, and sits up. Today is a good day, she can feel it.
She's been awake for mere seconds, and there's already a smile on her face for some unknown reason. But she welcomes it; she's been on edge nearly constantly, so the sudden inexplicable joy is a welcome relief.
She sits up, wincing as the campbed lets out an impossibly-loud creak in the bright, silent room – but Thor doesn't stir. Good. The tiny kitchen is hard enough to operate in at this time of the morning without adding a hungry, uncoordinated Asgardian to the mix.
Darcy pours orange juice – two glasses of it - suddenly gripped with a mad urge to slip into Jane's bedroom with breakfast and just…talk. The way they used to, before…. Well, before everything. Girl talk had understandably been brushed under the metaphorical rug.
Well, not today! She tears the foil off of a couple of Pop-Tarts (something she was sure they wouldn't have been able to find in England, thank God she'd been wrong) and haphazardly drops them into the toaster. Jane doesn't eat much nowadays, but Darcy had never, ever known her turn down a Pop-Tart.
Her gaze drifts towards the small window, out towards the parking lot, and beyond. She's never seen it so sunny here. It's beautiful, the way the light bounces and shatters off of the car windows, and the buildings on the horizon seemingly built of nothing but glass.
Carefully juggling both glasses of juice, Darcy heads for Jane's room, too antsy to wait for the toaster. The door is ajar, and she can see dim curtain-filtered light pooling on the carpet, tinted ocean-green.
"Jane?" she sings through the gap, not expecting a response immediately. "Jane, I made breakfast!" Nada. But that's not unusual anymore. So she's anything but apprehensive as she advances further into the room. The air is cool, and still, and dark. Dust motes swirl in the knife-sharp sunbeams.
Jane is turned away from her, quiet. Her hair falls in a tangled curtain over her face, concealing it utterly from view. She's curled up beneath the sheets; knees tucked up, one arm extended out as if reaching for something.
"Jane?" Darcy shakes her playfully by the shoulder, still smiling. "C'mon, the sun's out for a change! Y'know – sun? That stuff we don't ever see around here. This is practically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!" She gives Jane an extra shake for good measure, and yanks the curtains open. Sunlight spills into the small room, and Jane doesn't even stir.
It's completely silent. No rasp of breathing, nothing. Only when Darcy holds her own breath for a moment does she realise just how quiet it really is.
With a steady, methodical hand, Darcy brushes the silky fall of hair away from her friend's face, tucking it tenderly behind her ear. She's cool to the touch. Not burning with fever as she has been almost constantly for weeks.
There's blood on the pillow. Not a frightening amount, just little speckles of it, already mostly dry.
Outside, a distant alarm shrieks into the morning hush. She faintly hears stirring and yawning from the other room, mundane morning sounds, somehow sounding so far away, like she and Jane and the whole room have been removed, placed in Limbo.
Darcy's hand, still twined in Jane's hair, moves gently down the side of her face, feeling the cold skin and gentle curve of her jaw. She knows there will be no pulse there.
She's grey-white, her lips tinged blue. The blood stands out almost obscenely, and Darcy has to battle an urge to wipe it away.
Darcy is not afraid. She's staring down at her best friend's corpse, and yet there's no metallic clutch of fear at her throat, no chasm of dread opening in her stomach.
Wake up, Darcy. You're dreaming.
She breathes the words, unsure who she means them for. Her mouth is dry. It's cold. It must be; she's shivering.
She doesn't hear Thor enter the room, barely registers his cry of anguish as he spots what she's already seen. She doesn't notice when he comes to kneel beside the bed, taking hold of Jane's cold, outstretched hand as if he can will the life back into her.
"We have to call somebody," she says aloud, the words startlingly loud in the quiet room, deafening even against the sound of Thor crying.
Darcy's eyes are dry; her throat is not tight with unshed tears.
She doesn't cry when she's making the call.
She doesn't cry when they come, with a gurney and a bag.
She doesn't cry when they're lifting Jane as if she weighs nothing, still frozen in the position they found her in, limbs rigid like a doll's.
She doesn't cry when the apartment door finally closes and it's all, finally, blissfully and terribly – over.
She cried enough at the start of it all, fear and anger and disbelief swarming to fill her all at once.
She feels nothing now, nothing. This was inevitable.
Darcy stands, surprisingly steady, and begins to walk away. Away from Thor, away from the empty bed, away from it all.
And then there's a pain like knives in the sole of her foot, she looks down to find broken glass, orange juice and blood staining the carpet with colours too bright to be real, like a child's paint set.
And then she's falling backwards, and Thor's arms are around her, and still she feels nothing.
*begins building fallout shelter*
Believe it or not, there was one scene in particular that had me completely stumped during this last chapter. The sexy one. That's right, I struggled for three months to write about making love to Chris Hemsworth. Wow. There were other things at play as well (work, general lack of inspiration caused by work, etc.) but it was mostly that scene. It was originally going to be much longer and steamier, but I'm way too lazy to go and change the rating of this fic for one scene.
About the time jump between the sex scene and the last scene, I wanted to think of something a bit more artistic than that, but I am both stupid and mentally exhausted, so that's what we're stuck with now.
I might also write an epilogue for this at some point, but given how inconsistent my updates are, just consider it complete for now.
And finally, a massive thank you to everyone who reviewed, favorited and followed this story. It helped me out more than I can say. I may write more Marvel-related stuff in the future, but until then... bye!