Disclaimer: Definitely not mine, dammit. Just borrowing 'em for fun and games, not profit.
A/N: Inspired by the movie THOR but incorporating bits and pieces of MARVEL's Avengers canon as well as some Norse mythology. This is an unapologetic Alternate Reality in the spirit of MARVEL's 'What if?' series and it is not meant to fit into any official movie or comic canon.
The main assumption is that Mjölnir doesn't have any 'Inter-Stellar/Dimension Travel' upgrades as of yet, so that once Movie!Thor smashes the Bifröst to save the realm of the Frost Giants, contact between the Nine Realms is restricted to those members of the Norse pantheon that have alternate methods of travel.
Expect familiar names with unfamiliar job descriptions.
For Ranuel, because who else would jump right in and encourage the Hutch's furry, mead-chugging horde in their twisted endeavours?
Contents: Romance, drama, angst, and a longboat-sized load of fluff.
Warnings: Character death caused by cancer.
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She really, really tried.
But carrying the torch for an absentee god, who whirled into her life and back out of it like one of the thunder storms that carried his name, was hard on her heart - among other things.
"Still searching?" Erik asked carefully; in the last five years he'd long since learned to drop the 'why are you' from the beginning of his query, but the inference was still there.
"Of course!" she replied with forced cheer, not meeting his gaze as she gathered up equipment and her all-important notebook. "We might get lucky tonight!"
"Better chance of that in the bar," Darcy muttered sotto voce as she headed out to the mobile lab with an armload of gear. "What're we chasing tonight, aside from a hunky piece of tail?"
"A galaxy far, far away?" Jane suggested breezily, beckoning to Erik; with a sigh, he followed her out into the night.
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"How much longer will it take for the Bifröst to heal?"
"I do not know."
"Can you see her?"
Heimdall's orange gaze flicked towards the fidgeting god before focussing beyond the starry void. "She still searches."
Thor smiled confidently.
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"Dr. Jane Foster?"
"Yes?" Frantically scrambling through the scattered pages of her presentation, Jane glanced up at the speaker... and promptly dropped what she'd already organized.
Sky-blue eyes crinkled at the corners as a tall blond man grinned down at her, showing off a roguish pair of dimples. "I appear to have caught you at a bad time..."
Jane re-hinged her jaw and hoped she hadn't looked as stunned as she felt. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she mustered up a smile. "No, not at all... well, maybe a little. What a day to run out of staples!"
Crouching, he picked up one of the loose pages and scanned it; Jane took the opportunity to check for the essential differences. No beard; almost as tall, but not as buff – cute, though, in a professorial kind of way.
"Sixty-two... sixty... ah! Sixty-one!" Putting together the sequential pages, he handed them to Jane.
Bemused, she watched him sort and assemble several more sections of her paper before she thought to ask, "I'm sorry... I didn't catch your name."
"Because I hadn't given it," he cheekily replied, offering his hand. "Dr. Keith Kincaid, University of California at Berkeley."
"I've heard of you! 'Quasar Kincaid'!" she gasped, then giggled nervously, a blush staining her cheeks. "Oh, I'm sorry – I must sound like a giddy fangirl."
He rubbed the back of his neck, sheepishly scuffing his booted toe against the convention centre's luridly-patterned carpet. "Actually, Dr. Foster... I'm a big fan of yours. I was hoping, um, that after your presentation, maybe we could go for coffee? I'd like to discuss your theory on the luminosity of galaxies indicating the likely presence of untethered gravitational forces, and therefore the possibility of wormholes. If you, um, don't mind?"
His bashfully hopeful smile softened the wall she'd built around her heart. "Sure... I'd love to."
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"What is he to her?"
"I do not know."
"Has she forgotten me?"
Heimdall regarded the frantic god with something akin to pity. "Mortals do not have the same luxury of time as immortals do."
Thor closed his eyes and turned away.
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"Um... hello? I don't know how to do this, so forgive me if I accidentally sort of insult you... or something." Jane frowned at the index card she held in her hand, bathed in the blue-white light of a flashlight. I bet I've set off some kind of SHIELD monitoring system, so I have to be quick. Glancing down at the intricate tracery carved into the desert, grandly referred to as the 'Bifröst Portal Connector' by Agent Coulson, Jane shuffled sideways to put herself in the exact centre.
Taking a deep breath, she tilted back her head and spoke to the spangled-velvet heavens. "Lord Heimdall, Guardian of Worlds, Sentinel of the Bifröst – from Dr. Jane Foster, Professor of Astrophyics, erm, Seeker of Knowledge - greetings." Oh, dear - that sounded much better inside my head! Her heart beginning to thump irregularly, leaving her breathless, she gathered her courage and went on. "This is a message for Thor Odinson, God of Thunder and... and..."
I can't do this.
Her knees gave way and she plopped gracelessly onto the hard-packed earth. Slowly crumpling up the index card containing all of her carefully-phrased notes, she shoved it into her pocket. Again addressing the realm beyond the stars, she whispered, "I still love you." The words hung in the chill air. "I... I want to be with you - but there's this little problem of ageing. You don't, but I do. And I am. Soon, I'll be too old... um." Speaking with difficulty around the sudden lump in her throat, Jane choked out, "I've met someone. He's really nice, and funny, and kind, and... and..."
I want you.
"He's asked me to marry him." Searching the constellations for any sign of an approaching wormhole, even if that wormhole held an angry, jilted god, she waited and hoped. "If you, um, object or anything, this would be a good time to, y'know, say something...?"
A lone dog barked off in the distance.
Shifting uncomfortably, Jane murmured, "I'm sorry. I'm really, really sorry." A short pause, and she added, her voice catching, "I miss you, so much...!" Her shoulders hunching, she curled in on herself and sobbed brokenly.
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Mjölnir's blow cracked the Bifröst's shimmering surface; Heimdall flinched as Thor stalked away, his shoulders rigid.
Several minutes later, something bounced, skittered, slid a great distance along the slowly healing span. Heimdall angled his boot to stop it and snatched a small metal object out of the air. Inspecting his catch, he admired the delicately-wrought gold ring, undoubtedly dwarven-crafted. Heimdall briefly pondered both the runes woven into the band and the god who had boldly bargained for its creation before tucking it safely into his breastplate instead of consigning it to the void as Thor had impulsively intended.
There must be a way to deliver it. Somehow.
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"Honey? I, um, have some good news."
"The funding came through for your new project!"
"Um, no... better than that."
"Erik finally took some vacation time?"
"Darcy finished her thesis?"
"The dog is finally housebroken?"
"No... but that would be terrific."
"Er... then what?"
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The stumbling footsteps meandering across the Bifröst warned Heimdall that Thor was either again drunk - or had finally sobered up enough to face the situation. Bracing himself, he cast his eyes towards a grey-roofed hall set in a narrow green field, indistinguishable from the thousands of similar halls and fields surrounding it in a vaguely symmetrical pattern that resembled a strangely sprawling plant. He wondered, again, why humans would cut down a forest and then lay out their halls in the shape of one.
When Thor finally arrived at his shoulder, Heimdall was shocked by the god's slovenly appearance. "How does she?" he rasped without preamble.
Heimdall looked long and hard... then smiled. "She has birthed a son."
Thor wiped his hand over his face, not bothering to hide his pain and regret. "He should have been mine."
"He is, after a fashion." Heimdall's smile broadened. "His name is Thorton."
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"So that's it, then? This is how it ends?"
"We gave it our best shot, Jane. There's nothing else to say."
"Eighteen years is more than just a 'best shot', Keith."
He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness; at one time it'd been easy to imagine that his hands belonged to someone who'd never let her fall... until she'd discovered that those hands had found another. His intern, a pretty astronomy student. Jane had met her once at a party, traded small talk with the woman who was replacing her in Keith's heart and bed.
"My lawyer will call yours when the final paperwork is ready for signing. Take care, Jane."
She managed a nod but nothing more, the coldness in the pit of her stomach preventing her from speaking even a polite farewell. Watching her husband – ex-husband, a cheerfully sadistic part of her brain pointed out – leave their driveway for the last time left her feeling oddly empty.
"It's your fault he left." Startled, she turned to see her teenage son framed in the doorway to the kitchen. Tall, lean, dark-haired, dimpled. Keith's eyes. Sky blue, and snapping with anger. "He knew you never loved him."
"I beg your pardon?"
He took a step into the hallway, his voice rising. "You never loved him! How's he supposed to compete with your crush on a mythical being that can blow shit up with a hammer?" The colour drained from her face and her obvious shock at his accusation gave him pause; the fight went out of him, but he bitterly muttered, "I'm surprised that Dad stuck it out this long; he deserves a medal."
Staggered, she groped for the edge of the hall table and clung to it. "Th-that's not true. I did love your father..."
"You named his only kid after a god instead of his favourite uncle," he said flatly. "All my bedtime stories for years were about Asgard – I know more about Odin and Frigg than I do my own grandparents!" When she slumped, he asked, far too casually, "So... am I really Dad's kid? Or did you sucker him into raising a god's bastard?"
"NO!" Jane was proud that her voice didn't shake; her hands, not so much. "You are Keith Kincaid's son... and mine."
"Damn. So when that thunderstorm caused a blackout during my calculus exam last week, it was just coincidence?" He had a ghost of a smile on his lips, but it quickly faded. "Why?" he asked, suddenly a tired, sad child. "Why did it have to happen like this?"
Jane looked away. "You won't understand until you've loved - and lost."
Anger flared, because that was easier than helplessness. "I'll never understand!" Thorton shouted, slamming the door hard enough to shake the windows.
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"He left her? Has he no honour?"
Heimdall tolerantly listened to the god rant. "Her son is old enough to defend her," he pointed out, when Thor paused to draw breath.
"He is but a child," Thor said primly. "He is not ready to assume the mantle of leadership."
"Like his namesake before him, he has much to learn."
"Do not mock me, Guardian."
"I do not, Thor Odinson. You are much improved from your rash, heedless youth."
A wry smile curved Thor's lips. "I thank you for your glowing opinions, Heimdall. However, I became what I am because my father was there to guide me... and the boy needs his father as much as his mother."
Heimdall peered into the void. "The boy is unhappy with both of his parents."
"And I cannot help either him or Jane." Thor glared down at the glacially-moving Bifröst as if he could will it into regenerating faster.
Another crooked smile. "There is a joke I heard on Midgard relative to that... how did it go? 'If I wanted patience, I'd be a doctor'."
"Midgard appears to have many different types of doctors."
"Some are quite powerful. One felled me with only a tiny tube of some potion they called a 'trank'."
"Isn't your lady also a doctor, but of the stars?"
"Yes. Her field was something called 'astrophy', I think." Glancing upward at the densely-patterned void surrounding Asgard, Thor added, "She would love it here."
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Sighing a little, Jane again re-arranged the collection of vases and cards on her dining table, for only the fifth time that day. A small, round, sculptural arrangement of golden roses from Erik, who had celebrated his eightieth birthday four months before. He looked really good for someone who had SHIELD breathing down his neck for over twenty years, even if his health isn't what it used to be. A gold-washed porcelain bowl of rambling, blowsy pink peonies trimmed with a tacky rhinestone bow from Darcy. Her new book on Norse mythology must be selling well. A tall, slender glass column of choice lilies from her department at the university, and a small green plant with orange-speckled flowers in a bright yellow star-shaped planter from her section secretary rounded out the selection of floral tributes.
Her department had thrown a dinner for her last night, after her colleagues had been horrified to find out that she didn't have anything planned to mark her sixtieth birthday. It's just another day, really.
Another day marking another year of being alone.
Among the cards and flowers, there were two names noticeable by their absence. Thor, of course, was only a fantasy; Jane suspected that he probably wasn't the flowery type, anyways. The other was her son. Thorton had left home as soon as he'd graduated, taking a scholarship at MIT's School of Engineering on the other side of the country. He'd only been in sporadic contact in the ten years since. Jane tried to convince herself that the silence didn't hurt, in this era of email and IM. It was especially painful when her colleagues discussed their children's wedding plans, and then later, proudly showed off photos of grandbabies.
Is he well? Is he married? Is he... happy?
She had made a point of phoning Thorton every couple of months when he had first gone to MIT, not wanting to be seen as an anxious, clingy mother by calling more often, but his replies had been short and brusque when she was able to get through.
I'm fine. School's good. Thanks for calling.
She hadn't been invited to his graduation. Neither had his father, but that was cold comfort. He'd taken a job with some hot-shot engineering firm in New York and hadn't left a forwarding number. After six months, she'd swallowed her pride and phoned Erik. She just wanted to know that Thorton was safe, not to force him into continuing a relationship that he obviously found abhorrent. Erik had used his contacts within SHIELD, and confirmed within a few days that Thorton James Kincaid was working for one of billionaire Tony Stark's subsidiaries and apparently enjoying all that life in the Big Apple had to offer.
After Thorton left, burying herself in her work had only helped up to a point. With no-one to go home to, what was the point of working less? She was out in the field more often than not, anyways; she was on her third RV, and this one was easier to keep clean than an entire house. Some of her colleagues wondered out loud why she even kept the house, being as it stood empty for a good part of the year and cost money in the form of gardeners and a security service. She didn't tell them that it was the address that Thorton would likely contact her at, if he ever wanted to speak to her again, so she kept paying the bills and politely fending off pointed inquiries.
Speaking of gardeners, I really have to talk to him about that euphorbia...
Afterwards, Jane completely understood when someone said they 'nearly had a heart attack' upon being thoroughly surprised, because she honestly thought her heart had stopped when she heard that single word. Turning around so fast that she ended up grabbing the sideboard for balance, she simply stared at the dark-haired man standing in the doorway.
He looks so tired. "Th-Thorton?"
"Hi." He managed to dredge up a faint smile, but when she took a step towards him, joyfully reaching, his composure cracked and he practically fell into her arms. Holding her so tightly that Jane briefly feared for her ribs, Thorton whispered, "I wanted you to know... I understand."
It took a while, but he finally choked out the story. The girl was beautiful, intelligent and funny; he'd fallen head over heels and bought an engagement ring. She'd accepted, but then two months later, had given it back without explanation and jetted off to Europe. His calls and emails weren't returned; he'd been cut off, as if the relationship had never existed.
Jane simply hugged her son, and while thoroughly sympathetic to his plight, silently thanked whichever gods might be listening for the best birthday present ever.
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"He has returned," Heimdall announced, sounding pleased.
"Her idiot husband?"
"No... her son."
"He finally grew up," Thor said, satisfaction radiating.
"It happens to the best of us."
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"What're we looking for again?"
"A theoretical distortion of space-time in a region of the universe that would link one location or time with another and allow rapid travel between them."
"Why not just say 'wormhole'?"
"You know what one is?"
"Mom, I'm an aeronautics engineer and I work for Tony Stark; the man's interested in anything that would permit him to travel faster. Life-threatening is a bonus."
"From what I've heard about him and his experiments, I think it's lucky you're still alive."
"Did I ever tell you about the time that the prototype Cerberus missiles went off inside the hanger when they were being fitted onto a jet?"
"Does it involve decapitations, amputations or cover-ups?"
"Hmmm... all three."
"Sticking my fingers in my ears now. La-la-la, can't hear you!"
"Is that Mom-speak for, 'Start the spectrometer, Thorton'?"
"Smart boy." Jane grinned cheekily at her son, who rolled his eyes and began flipping switches. The mobile lab came alive with a low buzz, then a steady stream of beeps and clicks began as data started flowing. I can't believe that Thorton actually agreed to come work with me for the summer! Humming cheerfully, consulting a battered notebook before cranking open the roof to reveal the clear night sky, she coughed sharply as the cold mountain air filtered into her lungs.
"You really need to get that looked at," Thorton commented, his eyes never leaving the instrument displays.
Jane surreptitiously wiped the pink-streaked phlegm off her palm with a tissue and hid the evidence in her pocket. "I will." Another bout of coughing rendered her incapable of speech and sent black spots dancing through her vision.
"That's it. I'm taking you to the hospital right now." He briskly turned everything off.
"We're fifty or sixty miles from the nearest one, and we just got here!" Jane protested between wheezes. "The atmospheric conditions are perfect and..."
"Tough nuts. You sound like you're hacking up a lung and you've been putting off a doctor's visit for the past five weeks." Tugging her laptop out of her hands and closing it with a definitive 'click', Thorton pointed at the passenger seat. "You. Sit. Now."
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"What's going on, Heimdall? Has Loki been located?"
"What's happened? Where is she?"
"She is in dire need of a healer."
Thor froze, then covered his face with his hands. "Once again, I am not where I need to be."
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"Thank you, doctor. You've given us quite a bit to think about." Thorton closed the door and leaned his forehead against its cool surface.
Jane didn't notice; she was staring blankly at the blue-and-red stripes on the flannel blanket. Cancer. Terminal. As soon as the doctor had uttered the dreaded words, a roaring static filled her head and she couldn't comprehend anything else. I'm not ready to die! I have so much to do, so much work – that grant application has to be in by next week, and I have a new grad student starting this Fall, and...
"I'll be with you every step of the way, Mom." Thorton's hands were warm as he curled them around her icy cold ones. "I'll help you fight this."
"But your career..."
"Tony Stark has an excellent compassionate leave clause in his employee contracts," he quietly replied. "I've already sent HR an email."
Her eyes filling with tears, Jane whimpered, "I can't leave yet!"
Wrapping his arms around his indomitable mother, wondering how she could suddenly feel so tiny and frail, Thorton murmured, "You're not going anywhere."
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"You summoned me, Heimdall?"
"Sif. Thank you for your prompt arrival."
Peeking over the edge of the Bifröst, she hurriedly pulled back. "How may I be of service?"
"You are welcome in Freyja's hall, correct?"
"Show her this, and ask for her assistance in my name." Heimdall handed over the ring, the metal burning bright even against his golden armour.
Sif's eyes grew large and round as she read the runes woven into the band. "Then the news about Thor's lady was true?"
"Aye. She fights for her life as we speak."
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"Don't try to talk, Mom." Gently wiping her face, he tucked the twiggy pale strands that had grown back after her last chemotherapy under the colourful scarf. "Save your strength."
Thin, almost claw-like fingers caught at his sleeve. "Time t'go," Jane pleaded.
"Are you absolutely sure that's what you want to do?"
She nodded as vigorously as she could, which was a tiny, weak bob of her head; he sighed, surveying the shrivelled husk that had once been his bright, lively, indestructible mother. Despite the morphine that kept the pain to manageable levels and clouded her thoughts most of the time, her desire to get what she wanted remained fiercely intense... and what she wanted was to die in the place of her choosing. Running his hands through his hair, Thorton sighed and gave in.
"We'll leave tomorrow."
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"Your request is... unusual, Heimdall."
"But not without precedent."
"Odin Allfather will not like it."
"Sessrumnir is open to women who die nobly, correct?"
The goddess gave him a long look before moving restlessly, setting the falcon feathers of her cloak to quivering. "Yes."
"She is a warrior fighting a relentless enemy," Heimdall gravely insisted. "Her battlefield is quite different from the usual kind, but a field of battle nonetheless."
The rune-ring gleamed against Freyja's pale palm. "She is also the beloved of the thunder god."
"I will see what I can do."
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Thorton reflected that he perhaps should have accepted at least one or two of the many offers of assistance he'd received when word had got around of where Jane wanted to go. Dr. Selvig was too old – the news of Jane's diagnosis had nearly put him in the hospital – but he'd made sure that they were given access to the site through his influence with SHIELD. Auntie Darcy had volunteered herself and her sons, big strapping fellows who were a few years younger than himself.
However, he'd decided – perhaps a little selfishly – that it was going to be just her, him and the stars. He wasn't surprised that she wanted to die outside, under the heavenly dome after so many years of studying it... but why in the New Mexico desert? Auntie Darcy had enlightened him; part of him was actually excited to see the exact spot where it all began, when his mother's life had changed forever.
The medivac flight, paid for by Keith Kincaid in a last chivalrous act, had ferried them from Northern California to a dirt airstrip outside a grubby little town in the middle of nowhere, and an ambulance courtesy of his employer stood ready to take them to Dr. Selvig's co-ordinates just as a spectacular sunset painted the sky.
Glancing up at the vivid purples and reds fading to velvety black, Thorton kept one eye on the swaddled figure hunched in the centre of the rune-carved circle stamped indelibly on the desert floor. Jane had insisted on the removal of the morphine drip, then refused to remain on the stretcher. She'd objected even more strenuously to the wheelchair, so the paramedics had folded a blanket into a pad and bundled her into another one before seating her on it and withdrawing to a respectful distance. Turning up his collar against the creeping chill as the stars began to shine, Thorton spared a thought for how many criminal charges he was going to face for assisting his terminally-ill mother to die of hypothermia.
She'd kissed him and rasped her enduring thanks for everything he'd done, tears trickling down her withered cheeks; it'd been shocking how much she'd aged in the past few months. Now he stood about fifty feet away from the edge of the circle, close enough to see the red headscarf she wore and hear her thin voice as she spoke to the heavens, but not to discern the words. A cold wind swept through, kicking up whorls of dust and making his eyes water.
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"It is time."
"I hope the Allfather goes along with this," Freyja muttered as she donned her helmet.
"What parent does not wish for the happiness of his or her child?"
The goddess shot the guardian a rueful look as she spread wide her cloak. "On that note, Hnossa has been pestering me for permission to visit you again."
"It would be my pleasure to speak with her; she is a charming child." As Freyja rose upward, Heimdall couldn't help asking, "You will be able to find your way back without the Bifröst?"
She flashed a toothy grin, her long hair streaming like a comet's tail in the solar wind, the feathers of her cloak whistling. "For we Valkyries, the Bifröst has always been a beacon, not a necessity." Then she was gone, a bolt of light arrowing into the void.
Heimdall closed his eyes; pressing his forehead against the hilt of his sword, he began counting the seconds until the goddess' return.
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Thorton shoved his hands deeper into his pockets as the night wind picked up strength and seemed determined to chill him right down to his bones. At this rate, it won't take much longer... hope I last long enough! Wiping his watering eyes on his sleeve, he almost missed the moment that Jane slowly toppled over; the wind pulled the scarf off her head and turned it into a dull crimson streak across the filigreed earth.
"Mom!" Suddenly desperate to hold her, to say good-bye one more time, Thorton raced across the intervening distance... only to haul up short when a column of light blasted the ground right in front of him. Coughing violently, he smeared the dust out of his streaming eyes, but when his vision cleared, his brain refused to accept what he was seeing. A towering, ethereal figure bent over Jane's body; Thorton shouted, "Don't touch her!"
The being straightened and turned, fixing glowing, unearthly eyes on him, and he took a step back. "Do not fear, son of Jane Foster," it intoned, the voice resonating almost painfully inside his head.
He blinked, aware of the startled yells of the paramedics behind him. The being smiled as if it could hear his confusion; encouraged, he looked more closely. Winged helmet, feathered cloak... she must be....
"I am Valfreyja the Shining. Release Jane Foster's spirit, Thorton Kincaidson."
Thorton nodded dumbly, unhappily aware that there wasn't any other option at this point. The goddess – she couldn't be anything less - struck a lance on the ground, sending a shower of multi-coloured lights fountaining skyward. Again bending to her task, she coaxed a softly luminescent form out of Jane's limp body; Thorton was stunned as long hair unspooled and the illness-ravaged face softened into that of a young woman.
Cradling the shining form in her arms, the goddess again spoke to Thorton. "Her spirit shall live forevermore in the halls of Asgard."
Asgard? Thorton suddenly knew exactly what he should say. "I give my blessings to my mother... and the god of thunder."
"Well-spoken, Thorton Kincaidson. You bring honour to your mother and yourself." The cloak flared, dust billowed wildly as light unravelled... and the night seemed both somehow darker and brighter at the same time.
Thorton slowly paced forward, scanning the starry vault. Breathing deeply of the cold desert wind, he crouched beside his mother's corpse. "Off on another adventure, huh?" he said. "You've waited most of your life for a chance like this."
In the distance, a lone siren wailed.
"I love you, Mom," he murmured, gently stroking Jane's peaceful face. "Take care."
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"Ho, old friend."
"Odin Allfather," Heimdall graciously replied, even as sweat beaded.
"I wonder where Freyja took herself off to?" mused the elder god as he leaned on his lance and inspected the slowly-advancing edge of the Bifröst. "The battlefields of Midgard were quiet today."
The guardian steeled himself. "She retrieves one who is worthy of Asgard."
A white eyebrow slowly arched. "Just one? How will he be divided between Valhalla and Folkvangr?"
"She is destined for Sessrumnir."
The eyebrow twitched higher. "A woman?" Odin silkily queried.
Sweat trickling, Heimdall answered, "A renowned warrior of astrophysics, who tonight lost her battle against a treacherous enemy."
"Went down in single combat, eh? Hm." Odin stroked his beard, staring out into the void. A brilliant point of light blazed in the distance, growing larger and larger as it approached.
Heimdall held his breath.
As Freyja streaked overhead, she saluted the two gods; Odin raised his lance, but only to return her greetings. "I suppose there is room in Asgard for a 'warrior of astrophysics'." Heimdall had just dared breathe again when Odin clapped him on the back and winked. "We should probably pull Thor out of the mead barrel and sober him up, eh? Else his breath may knock his lady-love back to Midgard."
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"Do you realize what you did, son?"
"I granted my mother's last wish."
"Do you have any idea of how much trouble you're in?"
"Yes, sir." Thorton stifled another yawn; he hadn't slept in almost twenty-four hours, but the local sheriff seemed oblivious to his exhaustion. Instead, the man was slowly working his way through a very, very long document and taking a break every second line or so to question Thorton's sanity.
"This isn't Utah or Wyoming, son."
"I know that, sir. For the record, I didn't help my mother commit suicide."
"What do you call what you did?" the man asked, squinting at the next question.
"She wanted to die in a particular place; when she felt her time was close, I brought her there."
"What was so special about that patch of desert?"
"Years ago, she met someone very important to her at that spot."
The sheriff's head came up and he inspected Thorton more closely. "When that monster blew up the town?"
"The Destroyer? Yeah." Thorton barely covered his mouth in time as a massive yawn almost unhinged his jaw.
"So you're that crazy scientist's kid?"
"She wasn't crazy," Thorton growled. "And for the record, she was an astrophysicist."
The sheriff made apologetic noises, but continued doggedly filling out paperwork. In the outer office, a door banged; a moment later, a man wearing a fitted black suit walked into the interview room as if he owned the place. Tucking a pair of dark sunglasses into his pocket, he glanced at Thorton before fixing the sheriff with a slightly-too-steely-to-be-friendly smile. "I'll be taking it from here."
The officer of the law slowly stood up, hooking his thumbs into his belt. "Who the hell are you?"
An impressive-looking ID card was flashed. "Mr. Kincaid here is under our protection."
"Oh, yeah?" the sheriff sniffed. "On whose authority?"
"Homeland Security. Let's go, Mr. Kincaid." Whisked out of the station so fast that he hardly had time to blink, Thorton must have looked as stunned as he felt, because his rescuer gave him a thin smile that was probably supposed to be reassuring. "You just used up your lifetime 'get out of jail free' card, so keep your nose clean for the next sixty years or so."
"Who are you?"
"Agent Whittaker of SHIELD."
"Um... thank you?"
"Save your thanks for Erik Selvig. That man pulled more strings than the New York Symphony Orchestra to spring your lucky ass."
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"How long will it take her to awaken?"
"I do not know, Thor Odinson. Most warriors come to me in the prime of their lives; I have no experience with those who are cut down by disease." Freyja exchanged a long-suffering look with Sif, who raised her hands, palms up, in an apologetic gesture.
Thor carefully tucked the furs more securely around the sleeping woman's bare shoulders before taking her faintly-glowing hand in his. "She appears more substantial today," he commented, rubbing his thumb over the gold band adorning Jane's slender finger.
"Yes. Even her hair now has texture," the goddess replied. "Perhaps that is a good sign? It has been several months." Tipping her head to the side, so that her own fair locks flowed over her shoulder like a golden stream, Freyja patted Thor's arm. "Patience."
"I am trying." He cracked a smile. "I never thought I'd see her again, so this is truly a gift."
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"Thorton?" Jane sat up, reaching... and just as quickly pulled back when the fur blanket fell to her waist. "Eep!" Hastily covering herself, she blinked rapidly and looked wildly around. Wh-where am I? Years of scientific training and inherent curiosity kicked in and she examined her surroundings more carefully. A large, airy room, open on one side to the golden late-afternoon sun. Pale walls and a dark, iron-bound door. Her bed was easily the most unusual design she'd ever seen, not including the furry linens. I'm sitting in an oversized cradle and hip-deep in PETA's worst nightmare.
Bundling herself more closely in the furs, she began absently twirling a length of her hair as she squinted against the sun... and then let out a startled yelp. Holding the lock up in front of her face, Jane stared in disbelief at the healthy dark brown strands. I have hair? Experimentally tugging, she confirmed that it was, indeed, securely attached to her scalp.
Then she noticed her hand.
Her mouth falling open, she inspected the youthful appearance of the previously mottled, bruised and shrivelled appendage... and then she practically tore off the bedding to gape at her body – that of a woman decades younger. I'm whole and I'm healthy and I've been dunked in the fountain of youth... and... and what's this?
Finally noticing the golden ring on her other hand, Jane frowned lightly as she tried to puzzle out the runes. Where's Darcy when I need her? That means 'centre'... um, and that's 'storm'... I think?
"You're finally awake!" said an amused voice, and Jane squeaked, diving under the furs. Pulling them around her, she peeked out at the speaker. A beautiful dark-haired woman that she hadn't seen in decades leaned against the door frame, laughing merrily. "Welcome to Asgard, Jane Foster."
"Sif?" she gasped; the woman inclined her head, still chuckling. "Wait - I'm in Asgard? What? How?"
"All will be answered in due time... but first, I suggest you find something sturdy to hold on to."
Sif waved cheerily before a powerful wind blasted through the open side of the room, blew the door shut with a loud bang, and almost bowled Jane right out of the cradle-like bed. When she wobbled upright, her hair attractively tousled, she nearly fell over again when she pushed it out of her eyes. Gripping the edge of the bed frame, her mouth falling open again, Jane filled her eyes and heart with the man she had dreamed of for over thirty years. Sky-blue eyes, long blond hair, all red and silver and gold and wearing an absolutely blinding grin. Slowly rolling up onto her knees, Jane stretched out her hand towards him.
And promptly lost her balance on the curving side of the bed.
She didn't mind the catch of his scale armour on her bare skin when Thor caught her between one heartbeat and the next; surrounded by his wild scent, she wrapped herself around him and clung for all she was worth. His hands were warm and his beard tickled her neck; his body was reassuringly solid. If this is another dream, I don't want to wake up!
After a very long time, he pulled back only far enough to see her face. "Jane Foster," he whispered, his voice thick.
"Thor Odinson," she replied, smiling so widely that she thought her cheeks might crack.
Catching hold of her hand, he first brought it to his lips, then, never taking his eyes from hers, he kissed the rune-ring. "Jane Foster – The Heart of Thunder."
The meaning struck full-force; she weakly murmured, "Oh, my god..."
A fair eyebrow arched above a pleased smirk. "Indeed."
The following kiss rapidly progressed to the point where Jane was enthusiastically wrestling Thor out of his armour with his ardent assistance... until a sharp cough froze them in their tracks. Dragging the corner of Thor's cloak around her – it, along with his breastplate, was dangling off one well-muscled shoulder – Jane was suddenly highly conscious of the cold floors under her bare feet and the draft tickling her naked backside. A kindly-looking old man, who she somehow knew was not as kindly and aeons older than he appeared, was standing just inside the doorway, with a lovely woman at his side and an apologetic Sif close behind.
"Odin Allfather." Thor protectively pulled Jane closer as the elder god approached, the butt of his lance tapping forebodingly on the stone floor. However, Odin's one eye was twinkling mischievously as he stooped to inspect Jane; she gripped the edge of Thor's cloak more tightly and bobbed an awkward curtsey, slightly unnerved by his penetrating stare.
Apparently satisfied, Odin drew back and sharply struck his lance three times. "I hereby declare Jane Foster a citizen of Asgard, with all the rights and responsibilities of that privilege."
"Um, thank you, sir," Jane meekly replied, rubbing one foot against the other. What a way to meet the in-laws! Thor's hand lightly squeezed her side, and she calmed.
Assuming a benevolent expression, Odin said, "Frigg and I are ready to stand as witnesses to your betrothal."
"Er, we have not yet discussed that..." Thor admitted.
"I see." Wagging his finger at the pair, one bewildered and the other sheepish, Odin commanded, "Until you are properly betrothed, you will behave yourselves."
While Jane puzzled, she noticed Frigg giving Odin's back a wry look; then Thor demanded, "How long after the betrothal can we be wed?"
"The next day, if you wish." As Thor's expression brightened, Odin blandly continued, "Of course, both events must wait for the mead to be brewed," as he beckoned Frigg forward.
"But - that will take weeks!" the thunder god hotly protested.
The elder god harrumphed. "Jane Foster shall be given the opportunity to consider her options – marriage to a god is not for the faint of heart."
Frigg smiled very sweetly at Odin. "I know, dear... I know. Are you sure this waiting period is truly in the children's best interests?"
Jane was about to say that she already knew where her best interests lay, when Odin loftily declared, "My heir should also set an example by demonstrating restraint."
"I don't recall either 'patience' or 'restraint' being part of your wooing," Frigg blandly commented. Turning to the couple, she winked conspiratorially before assuming a more regal air. "I will see to the mead-brewing myself; I suspect that Freyja may know a trick or two to speed up the process."
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"Let us raise a glass in memory of Dr. Jane Foster – the finest astrophysicist, human being and friend I ever knew." Erik's hand shook, but it was hard to say if it was from age or from emotion; it didn't really matter, when it came right down to it. The rest of the table murmured in agreement and downed their libations.
They were gathered around a table set in Darcy's back garden on the evening of the summer solstice – Thorton had suggested the date – the warm air heavy with the scent of flowers and the somnolent hum of cicadas. The glasses of chilled mead, combined with the multiple toasts, had done their work and the guests were comfortably sated; a few still nibbled at the platters of gravlax and lefse, but most were content to digest and enjoy the moment, while remembering the woman who had brought them together.
"Hard to believe it's been six months," Darcy sighed, lifting her violently-dyed hair off her neck. "Thank you, sweetie," she smiled at her younger son as he obligingly fanned her with a piece of cardboard. Turning her attention to Thorton, she exclaimed, "I still can't believe that you got to see a genuine goddess!"
"That was pretty awesome – in a freaky sort of way," he allowed, folding his hands behind his head and staring up at the twilight sky.
There was silence for a long while, until Erik ventured, "D'you think she's happy?"
Darcy smirked dreamily. "Spending eternity with a hot bodied-god like that? Hell, I'd be ecstatic!"
"Don't let Dad hear you say that," warned Darcy's elder son, snickering.
Waggling her eyebrows, she teased, "I think your Dad is pretty hot."
"Eeyew, Mom – gross!"
Undeterred, Darcy continued, "I wonder if there's any correlation between the amount of thunderstorms here on Earth and immortal sexual activity in Asgard...?"
"Stop right there," Thorton warned. "There will not be any discussions that put my mother, a 'hot god' and sex in the same context."
"I'm merely expressing my envy of a very lucky woman," she demurred. "How many of us get another chance at the one who got away?"
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"Look at all those stars!" Jane exclaimed, relying on Thor's grip on her hand to keep her upright and moving along the Bifröst as she gawked in all directions at the star-filled sky. "Do you have an observatory?"
He smiled fondly at her bright-eyed enthusiasm. "You shall have access to our best."
Giddy with excitement, she hugged his arm, still hardly able to believe the events of the past day. It's a dream come true! Skipping a little, she tripped on the hem of the flowing gown and stumbled; Thor took the opportunity to slide his arm around her waist and pull her closer. The way his hand dragged over her hip reminded her she wasn't wearing underwear - apparently nobody in Asgard did; Frigg and Sif had been adorably baffled by her query. Attempting to distract herself from the little shiver of anticipation his action caused, Jane asked, "Who are we going to see?"
"The one who brought you here."
"Um... I thought that was Freyja?"
"No – the one who convinced Freyja to risk the Allfather's wrath."
"Oh, dear – did I get someone in trouble?"
"You are worth any peril, Jane."
"Thank you," she blushed. Slipping her arm around him, she thought to ask, "Um... I don't really need more time to consider whether or not I want to marry you..."
"Father has never made anyone else wait until the mead has been brewed," Thor grumbled. "Even Loki and Sigyn were permitted to live as husband and wife as soon as they announced their betrothal."
Jane's brain started turning over some of Darcy's racier tales of the Norse pantheon and their pre-marital and extra-marital activities – one of which resulted in the god she was currently cuddling with - and she blurted out, "Oooh, he's such a brat!"
Holding up her hand so that the starlight caught the gleaming band, she grinned impishly. "I've accepted your ring; doesn't that count?"
"You were unconscious at the time I placed it on your finger, so could not pledge your troth," he explained. "Witnesses are necessary to make it official."
"Okay... but where I come from, we don't need witnesses to get engaged or betrothed – only for the wedding ceremony."
"Still, you have not agreed to anything." Thor looked at her through his lashes, as if he was unsure of her heart.
Jane fought down the urge to giggle, because he really did look like a hopeful puppy. Clasping both of his hands in hers and adopting a sincere expression, aware of how much this meant to him, she said, "I've waited over half my life to be with you; I don't need any more time to think about it. Thor Odinson, would you do me the honour of becoming my husband?"
Thor blinked a few times, since he obviously wasn't expecting quite that wording, but then bowed. "Yes, Jane Foster, I will."
"Then a kiss to seal the deal," she murmured, rising up on tip-toe and twining her arms around his neck.
Thor tapped her nose with his finger. "Chastely," he solemnly advised. "At least until we inform Father."
"I'll do my best." Several very long, very intense moments later, Jane breathlessly said, "I don't think I know how to 'chastely' kiss you."
"It appears that I also lack this skill," Thor muttered, breathing hard.
"We'll need to practice."
"Frequently." Scooping her up, he whirled her around before setting her gently on her feet. Linking hands, they continued strolling along the Bifröst's ever-changing surface.
"Who is that?" Jane whispered as they drew near a silent, golden figure.
"The bravest man in Asgard," Thor replied, striding forward to clap the man on the shoulder. "Hello, old friend."
As the head wearing the massive helmet turned towards them and Jane was fascinated by the most incredible orange eyes she'd ever seen, Thor announced, "Heimdall the Far-Seeing, Guardian of Worlds... may I present Jane Foster, Doctor of Astrophy?"
As Jane blinked at her truncated degree, Heimdall caught her eye and winked before gravely bowing. "It is an honour to finally meet you, Jane Foster."
"Oh! The honour is mine, let me assure you," she replied, bobbing her own little curtsey.
"Heimdall watched over you," Thor said. "When opportunity presented itself, he risked all to bring you here."
The absence of a certain brash thunder god's input caught Jane's attention. "What do you mean, 'he risked all'?" Thor shuffled his feet and appeared abashed.
"He was drunk," Heimdall said bluntly. Fixing his intense gaze on Jane, he elaborated, "Your impending death rendered him impossible to live with; my intention was to save him as much as your fair self."
"Thank you – for both of us." Jane smiled, and then impulsively asked, "May I give you a hug?" Heimdall glanced at Thor; when he saw the broad grin on the god's face, he nodded. Jane flung her arms around his armoured middle and squeezed for all she was worth... and then something occurred to her. "Hey, wait a minute... you're the one that Thor asked to open the Bifröst, right? When he was exiled to Earth?"
Wondering where she was going with the question, Heimdall replied, "Yes."
"That makes you the God of Wormholes! That's so cool!"
Heimdall twitched, both at his new 'title' and his friend's low growl, but Jane laughingly distracted Thor with an affectionate embrace. When the thunder god possessively draped his arm around the woman's slender shoulders, Heimdall said, "I am glad that your long search has concluded successfully, Jane Foster."
Looping her arms around Thor's waist, she gifted Heimdall with a sunny grin. "I'm quite pleased with how everything worked out," she deadpanned. "Um... could you do me a favour?"
"Could you please tell me if my son is all right?"
Heimdall turned and looked off into the distance. "Thorton Kincaidson is well, and so are your friends," he answered after a brief pause. "They are raising a glass in your honour."
Smiling softly up at Thor, Jane said quietly, "Then my happiness is complete... almost. Let's go see Frigg and find out how fast she and Freyja can whip up a batch of mead."
"Not inclined to patience, Jane Foster?" Heimdall asked, a tad archly.
She smirked very naughtily and pinched Thor's muscled behind. "You're kidding, right? I've been waiting for over thirty years to jump this guy!"
While Thor flushed, Heimdall muttered, "On that count, I believe I agree with your son."
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