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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (2/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:36 am)
sleepy

feeling: sleepy

For other parts and notes, check the master post.



-o-

For Jane, optimism meant energy. She worked heartily throughout the morning, and by the early afternoon, Thor had learned the basic terms for most of the tools and a great deal of the parts. His understanding of the working parts and the forms of energy still left something to be desired, but he had seen Loki craft objects more complex than this in their youth.

By the mid afternoon, Thor was able to do some of the basic construction himself, working steadily until his stomach rumbled noisily. Looking up at the time, he was surprised to see so many hours had past.

“Come, my friends,” he said, getting up and wiping his hands on his borrowed jeans. “We should break for food before our bodies grow weary.”

Darcy lifted her hand from the chair where she was supposed to be working on a simple filing system but was instead intensely playing some sort of game (application, Thor remembered, they were called applications) on her communication device (phone; cell phone to be precise, but such usage was considered dated). “I’m good!” she called. “Just broke out the M&Ms and iced tea.”

Thor watched as she poured small colorful bits into her hand and then dumped them in her mouth. Knowing better than to question, he looked to Jane and Selvig, who were involved in more complex work by the growing work station. “So the three of us,” he concluded.

Selvig made a face. “I’m still recovering from breakfast,” he said. “I’ll pass.”

“Very well,” Thor said. “Jane?”

She looked up, clearly distracted. “What?”

“Food,” Thor repeated. “You require sustenance.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I’ve got coffee--”

Thor grew concerned. “Drink is insufficient--”

“We had way more breakfast than I’m used to,” Jane said. “I’m fine. Really.”

Thor stood, uncertain of how to proceed. He knew little of mortal bodies, but they were weaker and more fallible. They would require more precise maintenance in order to thrive.

And yet, this was an unknown culture to him. They clearly did not make as big of deal of meals as on Asgard, and it was probable that their portion sizes were significantly diminished.

In short, Thor had no basis by which to judge.

In his silence, Jane looked up with sudden realization. “But you can totally have something,” she said. “Just look in the fridge. Help yourself to whatever.”

Thor looked from Jane to the fridge. Then back again. He nodded, pleased with this acceptable compromise. “Very well, then,” he said. “I shall partake in food and rejoin you to continue working shortly.”

-o-

The looked vaguely familiar, though strangely packaged. It was labeled and assigned strange values, which Thor could only assume was to communicate its nutritional value. The words were beginning to look familiar, but he would need to spend more time in dedicated study if he were to read their language in earnest.

His
language, he reminded himself. This was to be his tongue now.

Speaking of tongues, Thor’s had other interests at the time. Reading and study could wait. Even if his companions seemed well suited to skip a meal, Thor was not accustomed to such practices and he very much desired a meal.

The options, however, were a bit daunting. The fruit was the most approachable, so he helped himself to a few bites -- and then a few more. Pleased, he took it all out and then tried what appeared to be vegetables. Then he chose a beverage -- and then a few more -- before looking for something more substantive.

Unfortunately, there was little resembling meat, though he found some oddly shredded cheese. There was a package of what appeared to be meat, but when he opened it, it looked foreign. Still, when he tasted it, it was satisfactory.

Thus well assuaged, Thor made himself a plate -- and then another -- and started to eat.

-o-

Thor was used to fine food in the halls of his father’s palace, but he found that Midgardian food was more than adequate. In fact, after the first two helpings, he found it quite satisfying. On his fourth helping, Darcy finally put her phone away and got up with a groan.

“You know, for all that science you do, you’d think you’d come up with an invention that can automatically get me a new Coke,” she muttered.

“That has nothing to do with astrophysics,” Jane explained from across the room.

“It does if you make it appear from space,” Darcy said.

“That’s impossible,” Jane said.

“Tell that to the demigod sitting in our kitchen,” Darcy said. She smiled at him on her way toward the food supply. “Can you tell us a way to make Coke appear out of thin air?”

“I do not know what Coke is,” Thor said.

“Um, well, you should,” Darcy said. “Here, let me get you--”

She stopped short as she opened the fridge.

“Hey, um, wait,” she said. “What happened to the food?”

Jane scoffed. “I told you, we’re buying more fruit--”

“No, I mean, the food,” Darcy said. “There’s nothing left but eggs and ketchup.”

“But we just went to the store,” Jane protested, turning toward them. “Darcy--”

She stopped as well. As did Selvig.

And they all looked at Thor.

Jane closed her mouth and crossed over to the fridge. She looked inside and her mouth fell open again.

“You--” she turned, eyes wide.

Darcy laughed. “And I thought your performance at the diner was impressive.”

Selvig came closer with a frown. “With his body mass, it makes sense--”

“And the fact that he could be an alien,” Darcy said. Selvig glared at her. Darcy held up her hands. “Just saying!”

During their exchange, Thor felt suddenly self conscious. He had not thought about the quantity. He had merely eaten until his stomach was full. There had never been a need to consider anything more.

Except he was human now. He was lesser. His appetites may be the same as they were, but his limits were not.

Hastily, Thor stood. “I apologize,” he said. “I was unaware that food was rationed--”

“It’s not rationed,” Jane said. “It just...we don’t usually eat everything in the fridge for a meal.”

“Of course,” Thor said. “So this is your only storage facility?”

Jane chewed her lip. “Yeah, pretty much,” she said. “And food is expensive--”

Thor felt himself blanch, his stomach churning uncomfortably.

Darcy came closer, patting him on the arm. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been taking my pay in the form of food for a year now. I’m sure she won’t mind if you do the same. Though, really, this means I need a raise. Can I get a raise?”

Jane ran a hand through her hair. “No,” she said. “Because you need to go buy more food.”

Thor stepped forward toward Jane. “I am sorry--”

“This is new territory,” Jane said. “I just never expected someone capable of eating an entire package of deli meat in one sitting.”

“And a bag of cheese!” Darcy exclaimed.

“Great,” Jane said. She shook her head. “I think we’re going to need a bigger fridge.”

Selvig flattened his lips. “We’re going to need something, all right.”

Thor swallowed uncomfortably, looking down. Optimism, it seemed, was not meant for him after all.

-o-

His failure with the meal called lunch aside, Thor decided this was an apt occasion to learn about how food was procured. While some establishments made food to be consumed, Darcy took him to a merchant that sold food in its raw form.

Asgard had similar vendors, but they had foregone such excessive packaging a millennia ago. It seemed antiquated, but with reduced healing capabilities, Thor could see the value in packaging in terms of sanitation.

He also found that he liked the idea of aisles of food. Aisles upon aisles upon aisles.

“The selection is most impressive!” Thor enthused. “What is this?”

“Cereal,” Darcy said, picking up a box with a diminutive man in green smiling at the bottom of an arc of color. “Or, in other terms, processed sugar.”

“Is it as delicious as coffee?”

Darcy snickered, getting another box. “Nothing is as delicious as coffee,” she said. “But Lucky Charms might just come close.”

-o-

By the time they finished going through every aisle, their cart was full. Darcy had directed them toward several necessities but she had been quite helpful in letting Thor pick items that interested him. The girl at the checkout area seemed impressed with their choices, and Thor smiled proudly. He would ensure there were no more failures when it came to food while he was relying on Jane’s generosity.

-o-

“You spent how much?” Jane exclaimed, as Thor carefully unloaded their purchases onto the counter.

“What?” Darcy said, putting her car keys down. “I couldn’t say no to him.”

“But you spent our entire grocery budget for the month in one trip!” Jane protested.

Selvig raised his eyebrows. “Something tells me you’re going to have to increase that budget,” he muttered.

Thor frowned seriously. “I did not realize we had constraints,” he said.

“Of course there are constraints!” Jane said. “Our grant has limited income, and we’ve been keeping it together so far, but without solid proof, we’re not going to get renewed, and SHIELD took everything and damn it -- did you get Lucky Charms?”

Thor pulled out the box, presenting it to her in a conciliatory fashion. “You may have them all.”

“Hey!” Darcy objected.

“It is the least we can offer for our assumptive behavior,” Thor said. “Truly, Jane. I did not realize.”

Jane sighed, taking the box, somewhat mollified. “Well, we may have to adjust the budget,” she said. She smiled a little. “I do love Lucky Charms.”

“Wonderful,” Thor said. “Then, please, enjoy this for your meal and then we will get back to work.”

Her smile widened, and she shrugged. “Okay.”

“Tell me,” Thor said, continuing to unload bags. “What progress have you made?”

“Well,” Jane said, opening the box and shoveling a handful into her mouth. “We actually made great progress, and I think we can get some bare bones systems up and running by the end of the week, which means we just have to reestablish our patterns and we’d hardly be out anything at all.”

“That is wonderful news,” Thor said. “What more do we have to do?”

Thus engaged in the topic of her work, Jane prattled away. Thor understood parts, but for the time being, he could not help himself. He cared not about the science.

He just cared about her.

-o-

She ate absently, taking handfuls of food and chewing it while she worked. Errant pieces fell here and there, and Thor was quite curious about the colorful bits that Darcy called marshmallows. Tempted as he was to try a piece, he had promised Jane the box was hers, and that included her crumbs.

Moreover, Thor had other things to attend to.

Jane’s work was not as complex as Asgardian science, but the intricacies were still enough to give Thor pause. He was still learning critical terminology, but after several more hours, he felt increasingly confident in his ability to perform basic tasks to support Jane’s work.

As they labored, Thor also put together other relevant pieces of information. Life on Midgard was far more fleeting, which meant they dedicated a great deal of their time to work pursuits. Clearly, they had a diverse economic system, and it was not unlike the lower classes on Asgard where a duty had to be performed in order to receive payment.

However, jobs were much harder to secure on Midgard and, indeed, they were more tenuous. Jane was working off a limited thing called a grant, which, from what Thor could gather, gave her an allotted portion of money in anticipation of work completed. Jane would have to produce results and document ongoing progress in order to secure another such grant.

This troubled Thor, because Jane studied the stars. If her theories relied heavily on the effects of the Bifrost upon this planet, then it would be unlikely for her to collect much more data from such occurrences. Ventures to Midgard were not overly popular on Asgard, but with news of Thor’s banishment, it was not improbable that travel restrictions would be placed.

In short, Thor had saved her work and equally doomed it. She was still studying the stars in a way that reached far beyond what he’d thought was possible for Midgardians, but without evidence of the Bifrost, her efforts would be severely impeded.

At times throughout the afternoon, he thought to tell her, but he found himself unable to find the words. What was he to say? Speaking of Asgard sounded like insanity to them, and if his new companions found him to be credible, he would only risk such belief by explaining the circumstances of his presence here.

Besides, he did not wish to speak of it. He had accepted his fate the previous night, and he would no longer fight it. He would not return to the hammer, and he would not call out to Heimdall in desperation. This was his own doing, and it was apt punishment for an unworthy son.

It would help no one to confess the truth. There was no reason to revisit his folly, and it would not stop Jane’s efforts anyway. No, she was determined, and no barrier would stop her. Jane aspired for the stars, and with her intellect and tenacity, Thor thought she might be successful.

She dreamed of the stars. Thor had seen them all and would possess them no longer.

No, he decided as he helped her work, the stars were now hers and hers alone.

-o-

Thor was uncertain about the normal Midgardian schedule, but they broke for dinner in the early evening. Everyone seemed more intent on this meal, making Thor assume this was the largest meal of the day. Large, however, was a relative assertion. Though it was more elaborate than the haphazard lunch hour, dinner was far less expansive than what Thor was used to on Asgard.

They cooked meat this time, something ground and unrecognizable. Jane referred to it as beef, derived from a cow. She added in something called Hamburger Helper, which made it taste sufficiently interesting if unusual. This main course was supplement by a salad and bread, and water was the drink of choice.

It was unusually reserved, which made Thor have a pang of longing for home. Though not every night was a feast, his father’s table was always full and the company was robust. This quiet, little meal was a far cry from that, and Thor could only think how far he had fallen.

Yet, there was a certain charm about it. Darcy talked of a date she was going on, which was apparently some type of informal courting ritual. When Jane questioned her choices, Darcy replied with plenty of examples in which her methods were extremely effective.

Jane then reminded her of instances to the contrary.

They argued, before recalling an unfortunate double date (where two couples attempted the same ritual), which ended in laughter. Selvig rolled his eyes.

“And I flew all the way out here for this?” he asked.

“Oh, like you’re not loving it,” Jane said. “You talk all the time about how limiting it is to be stuck in a classroom.”

“Sure, but I’m here for the science,” Selvig said. “And now I’ve got demigods falling out of the sky, and am listening to you two enact a season of the Bachelor!”

“Have you seen the Bachelor?” Jane asked.

Darcy shook her head. “He’s never seen the Bachelor. We were with different men.”

Selvig threw up his hands. “Does it matter?”

“You are the one who is always telling me to have more of a social life,” Jane reminded him with a sage nod.

Selvig lifted his brows. “I’m not sure this is what I had in mind.”

Darcy snorted. “Because it’s so much better,” she said. “Hey, do we have any alcohol?”

“Oh,” Jane said. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea--”

Selvig shook his head. “It’s a good idea, Jane,” he said gruffly. “Trust me.”

-o-

The portions were limited, which Thor found interesting. He had not considered the lesser needs of lesser beings, but he quickly tried to quell such a thought. Lesser was not a judgment on their worth, but a representation of their needs. With a diminished autonomic response, their bodies would need different degrees of sustenance. They preferred three small meals, though “snacking” did seem appropriate. Thor was uncertain how his own digestion had been altered when he’d been divested of his immortality, but he found himself capable of stopping along with the rest of his companions as they finished.

After the food was gone (for indeed, they did eat until it was all consumed, given the small size), they seemed content to sit and drink. It was not a raucous celebration, but it reminded him somewhat of the family meals he’d shared with his parents growing up on Asgard. That had been important to his mother, who sometimes had dragged them all to the table against their will.

These people were not family, but they were gathered based on mutual goals and camaraderie. Thor had always taken those dinners for granted as a child, but he found the warmth of this company more acutely. It was a family by choice, and in a world where Thor had nothing and no one, he could not deny such a pleasure.

-o-

When the drinks tapered off, Jane naturally gravitated back toward her work station. Thor joined her, assisting her with some further tasks until Darcy turned on the device called a television loudly and announced, “Okay, seriously, it’s closing time.”

Jane shook her head. “I’ve almost got this thing done,” she said. “We just need to get some of the circuits updated so we can fine tune its detection pattern--”

“And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” Darcy said.

Jane huffed. “This is important. Our entire project is riding on this.”

“Uh, no,” Darcy said. “I’m pretty sure our entire project is running on him.” She nodded to Thor.

“That’s insane,” Jane said.

“I am afraid I have nothing to offer,” Thor said.

Darcy rolled her eyes and groaned. “It started with him, giant, god-like guy falling out of the sky. It’s going to come back to him,” she said. “And you’re not going anywhere, are you?”

Thor hesitated, looking from Darcy to Selvig to Jane. “For tonight, I am at your disposal,” he replied.

“See,” Darcy said.

Jane appeared a little flustered, and she met Thor’s eye just to look away. “Fine,” she mumbled, putting her work down. “I suppose a little down time isn’t so bad.” She looked up at him again, almost smiling. “I mean, it’s not like all we do is work.”

Darcy lifted her chin, settling back on her chair as she raised the volume again. “Thanks to me.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “She’s exaggerating,” she promised Thor. She shrugged, sheepish. “Mostly.”

-o-

The entertainment was confounding, because though Thor understood the concept of acting and the transmission of such images, the choice of material seemed somewhat strange. Strangers were overtly suggestive, and the amount of kissing and relations displayed seemed indicative of baser natures.

(They were also strangely tame. If there was going to be explicit content, Thor did not see why it had to be so simple, but he did not feel it would be fitting to make such commentary.)

Reality TV was perhaps more entertaining, if only that it involved feats of greatness. However, Thor was not sure how such feats related to anything pertinent in life, but given the Midgardian’s lack of resiliency, he supposed simpler feats were safer to produce and manage. For these humans were oddly devolved in some areas, but they were not barbaric. They had regard for safety and personal concern.

Jane worked on something called a crossword puzzle, and Selvig read a book. They each had another beer as the night went on. The conversation was light and easy, and when Selvig stood up with a yawn, Thor found himself surprised.

“It’s late,” Selvig said. “And we still have a lot of work to do.”

Thor glanced at the time. The hour still seemed young to him, but Jane got up, putting her paper aside. “Yeah, I do want to get a good start on things,” she said.

Darcy made a face. “Do we have to?”

“We have to do nothing,” Jane said, picking up the remote device to shut off the transmission. “But whatever you do, you’re doing in your own place.”

“But I don’t have cable,” Darcy whined.

“Neither do we,” Jane said. “How did you--”

“You don’t want to know,” Darcy said. “But why not? Why can’t I stay here?”

“Because Erik’s in the spare room, and Thor gets the couch,” Jane said.

“Why does Thor get the couch?” Darcy protested.

“Because he fell out of the sky and I hit him with a car. Twice,” Jane said. She looked apologetically at him. “I’m still sorry--”

“I didn’t do that,” Darcy muttered.

“But you tasered him,” Jane reminded her indignantly.

Darcy groaned, getting to her feet. “Fine,” she said. She jabbed a finger at Thor. “But much more of this, and I’m going to taser you again.”

“It is not my intention to be in the way,” Thor started.

“She’s kidding,” Jane assured him. She took Darcy by the arm and led her to the door. “Aren’t you?”

“No--”

“Yes,” Jane said. “Or I’ll fire you.”

“You don’t hardly pay me,” Darcy reminded her.

Jane pushed her out the door. “Even less incentive to start now,” she said, closing the door behind her before Darcy could protest again. She smiled. “There. So.”

Thor swallowed, standing awkwardly. “So.”

Jane nodded. “I guess that’s that.”

“I guess it is,” Thor agreed.

Selvig rolled his eyes, moving past them. “I call the bathroom.”

“Right,” Jane said. “So I’ll, um. See you in the morning.”

“Yes,” Thor said, doing his best to adapt to her usage. “I will see you in the morning.”

She grinned, tucking her hair behind her ear as she ducked out, and standing in the lab, Thor found himself alone.

He looked to the empty room, the blank television screen, the quiet kitchen.

This was his life now.

Small empty rooms.

Blank quaint towns.

Alone.

He thought of Selvig and Darcy. He thought of Jane.

He smiled, despite everything.

Not so alone, then.

-o-

With few other garments to wear, Thor did not bother to change. He had been allotted a pillow and a blanket, which he gathered to the couch. Lying back, he picked up Jane’s paper and tried to make sense of the words. The letter were foreign to him, but he was able to recognize some patterns. He’d studied Midgard somewhat in his training, but he had never paid much attention to the linguistic. Still, he was able to start making sense of the alphabet and by making note of things he could identify, he started to grasp a basic phonetic awareness.

He was struggling with the written word when the door opened and Selvig came out. He was in more casual clothes (though that was all degrees of casual; Thor found Midgardians to wear decidedly strange garments). He looked at Thor, and nodded as if to keep walking, when he hesitated.

“There’s an extra toothbrush in there,” Selvig said. “I left it on the counter. I realized you probably don’t have one.”

“Thank you,” Thor said. “It is important to maintain hygiene, although your methods are strange.”

“Well,” Selvig said. “It’s there.”

There was another awkward silence, and then Selvig sighed. “So, you’re talking like you’re staying.”

Thor swallowed, feeling somewhat chagrined. “I know what I promised,” he said. “And if you still wish me to leave, I understand and will do what I can to oblige.”

Selvig sighed. “Not much point in that now.”

“But last night you said--”

“Last night we both said a lot of things,” Selvig said. “Today’s a new day. And you make her happy. You motivate her. I don’t trust much, but I do trust that.”

Thor smiled. “Thank you.”

“Well, I’m not doing it for you,” Selvig said, making his way to the bedroom.

He watched Selvig disappear and nodded contentedly to himself. It wasn’t about him. It was about Jane.

Thor could live with that.

-o-

With Selvig in the other room, Thor attempted to ready himself for sleep. In the bathroom, he discovered the contraption intended for his teeth and made a logical guess about the strange paste nearby. It tasted foul, however, so he spit it out, and then relieved himself and left.

In the main room, he dimmed the lights and attempted to get comfortable. For a while, he did what he could with the paper before finally putting it aside and looking at the ceiling. Sleep did not usually elude him, but then, he was not usually human. The last few days had been busy, but now there was a lonely sense of inevitability that made the seconds ticking by seem painfully long.

For this was all there was. There was no real hope in the morning.

What did sleeping gain him?

What did anything gain him?

What was his father doing? How did his brother fare? Were his friends off to war? How many people had suffered for his insolence?

How many days would pass before people forgot think of him? Did anyone miss him or was he only regarded with scorn?

He would never know.

-o-

After an hour or so, Thor sat up. He paced through the room, looking over the equipment. He considered doing minor repairs in an attempt to help Jane, but he feared he would do more harm than good without direct feedback.

Sighing, he looked outside, but he did not think wandering the streets of a Midgardian city would be especially wise if he was trying to acclimate himself to their culture. Instead, he remembered the stairs up the back of the building.

The roof.

The stars.

Jane said she went there when she could not sleep.

At this point, it was worth a try.

-o-

When he got to the roof, he took a deep breath and crossed to the seats. He considered starting a fire, but he realized he had no means. The air was brisk, but it mattered not. Laying back, he stared up.

The stars were different, and yet so much the same. Looking up, he could almost imagine himself back home.

Except it was so far away. The galaxies were vast, and Thor had never appreciated the distance when he’d been so free to travel amongst them. The privileges he’d had, to come and go. To be.

He was so limited here. To see the endless expanse and not to be able to touch it. To strive and always fall short. The curse of mortality.

His curse.

“Oh, hey.”

Thor startled, looking to the side. He sat up, flushing red as he saw Jane. “Jane,” he said. “I did not realize--”

“No,” she said. “I mean, you’re more than welcome to come up here.”

“If I had known you needed the space to think--” he began.

“No, no,” she said again, coming closer. “This is your home now, too. You can come up here whenever you want.”

Thor smiled faintly. “I fear I am already an imposition.”

“Darcy is my lab assistance and Erik lives in my spare room,” Jane said, coming around closer. “You’re not any more of an imposition than them.”

“They are useful to your work,” Thor said.

Jane sat down. “And so are you,” she said. She hesitated. “You know, Darcy was right earlier.”

Thor tilted his head.

“This did start with you,” Jane said. “I mean, I always had theories -- so many crazy theories -- but I couldn’t get any readings to support them over any substantial period of time. I was chasing phantoms until you showed up. Without the readings that culminated that night in the desert, I would have quit.”

Thor frowned. “Quitting is not becoming of your nature.”

“Theories need to be tested. There have to be results,” Jane said with a shrug. “I had nothing. At least, until you.”

“You have lost your research now, thanks to me,” Thor pointed out.

“But I know that I’m right,” she said. “And with what you’ve told me, I know there’s still plenty to discover. I can rebuild it. We can rebuild it. And it’s all thanks to you.”

Tentative, Thor wet his lips. “If my presence has helped you in any way, then my existence has meaning.”

The words were heavy on his tongue, thick in his throat. For he knew the implications, better than she. Beneath this sky, Thor was too aware of what he had lost and how bleak his future was. He’d been heir to the throne, set to inherit the most powerful kingdom in all nine realms.

Now, he was forsake and anonymous, living on a lesser planet. Divested of his powers and might, he had forfeited the things that mattered most. The things that had defined him. He had been a warrior.

Here, he was nothing.

But if his selfishness and brashness could help Jane, then perhaps it was not all for naught.

She smiled, laughing a little before looking at him shyly. “So, um, does that mean you’re going to stay? Like, really stay?”

Thor held her gaze. “Do you wish me to stay?”

“Yeah,” she said. She nodded readily, smile growing. “Yeah, I do.”

“Very well,” he said. “Then I will stay.”

She almost laughed at that. “Good,” she said. “I mean, I think it’s good. It’s good, right?”

Thor wanted to smile -- for to see her smile was happiness -- but he could not help but feel a pang of regret. He faltered, if only for a second.

Jane noticed. “Hey,” she said. “I know it’s probably hard--”

Thor shook his head. “I am fine.”

“No,” she said. “I mean, you act fine, and you’ve been so helpful, but if what you told me is true--”

“I would not lie to you,” Thor vowed.

“I know,” Jane said. “At least, I think I do. But falling from the sky. Talk of other realms. An entire life that I can’t even imagine that’s just gone. You don’t think you’re going back anymore, do you?”

Thor had made no intention of telling her this, for indeed, he did not wish to elicit her pity. He was Thor, heir to the throne of Asgard, and he had never needed pity before, and he did not want for it now. Yet, his determination to go home before could not have been missed anymore than his seeming acceptance of his fate now. He attempted a small smile. “It does not matter.”

“But it does,” she said. “It’s like, you’ve changed. I know that sounds silly since I hardly know you, but you’re different now.”

“You speak the truth,” Thor said quietly. “It is hard to explain such a dramatic change, but I am not the man I was even a day ago. And I regret many things, but please know that meeting you is never counted among them.”

Jane nodded. “Do you want to talk about it? What happened with the hammer last night?” she asked, tentative. “I mean, if you’re Thor, if that’s your hammer--”

He shook his head, throat suddenly feeling tight. “It is no longer my hammer, and whatever legends your people have of me are no longer mine to claim,” he said. “I have left my past behind.”

“But why?” Jane asked. “Are there are other ways back? Are more of your people coming? Is there any way we can validate that what you’re telling me is true?”

“I am afraid not,” Thor said. “Your science is your only salvation, and I am useless to you.”

“It sounds crazy, though--”

“Then perhaps I am crazy,” Thor supplied.

She let out a breath, catching herself in disbelief. “You can’t mean that.”

“Jane,” he said, lowering his voice as he sat forward. “I am as much use to you as a mad man. You are better off to send me away and never to see me again.”

Her brow furrowed. “Now that’s crazy.”

“I am a burden of my own making,” he began.

“You fell out of the sky and I hit you with a car,” Jane said. “You’re everything.”

“I have little more I can offer you,” he said.

She squared her shoulders, tossing her head slightly. “Well, then, I’ll just have to get the science to prove it all over again,” she said. “And if you can’t get home, maybe I can help you get there.”

It was foolish, really. Her ambition was blind and passionate. Yet, he could not bring himself to doubt her, even if the task was monumental. He had been that way once, when no obstacle had ever seemed too large to overcome. But where he had approached such things carelessly, she had the wisdom and the ability to do so with great success. What he understood of her science was far more advanced than he’d ever imagined for Midgard.

To think, he had nothing to offer these mortal, and yet they could offer him everything.

His smile widened, and he nodded. “Very well, then,” he said. “We shall see.”

“Yes,” she said, clearly somewhat proud. “I think we will.”

-o-

That night, Jane told him of her latest theories, and he watched the sky with fresh eyes. For now, he saw not his limitations but her possibilities, and it was good.

He fell asleep first, dozing off with his face turned up to the starlight, sleeping long and hard throughout the night.

-o-

Thor woke with the sun.

He refused to look back.

-o-

Fortunately, there was plenty to do. After observing breakfast for another few days, he decided to try it on his own. Within a week, he was making breakfast every morning, learning about the appropriate spices and expected serving sizes. Meat was not commonly served at breakfast, which was a bit of an adjustment, but he quickly adapted his diet to support a balanced meal for the human anatomy.

Human, he trained himself. These were humans; he was human. This was Earth.

When he found the meal insufficient, he began to supplement with Pop Tarts and other highly caloric snacks, all of which was affordable and had convenient nutrition information listed on the package. He also learned about budgeting, and found himself decently adapt at living within a means, though Jane started to give him cash instead of leaving him with her credit card.

She did take him to a store one afternoon -- Darcy had wanted to come, but Jane had insisted -- and had him try on several garment. They found several that were acceptable, and one that Jane said made him look very nice, and Thor found himself pleased. The jeans and t-shirts, as they were called, were rougher than the soft fabrics of home, but forgoing the armor was strangely liberating. Sometimes he missed his cloak, but Jane allowed him to indulge with something called a poncho, which she said looked ridiculous, but he was permitted to wear it about the lab.

Because of her kindness, he tried his best to be an asset to her work situation. As he gained more knowledge of the terms and concepts, he was able to offer more support. Within a week, she had basic monitors in place, and Thor surprised her by being able to read and write in her native language.

With monitors in place, data collection began, and Thor watched her focus intensify. Selvig seemed reinvigorated. Even Darcy was more disciplined. Things were happening. It was not war; it was not matters of the kingdom. But it was a purpose. It had meaning.

And Thor was part of it. He learned. He grew. He adapted.

Thor lived.

-o-

The days were busy, full of work and errands. Jane became immersed, and she and Selvig sometimes rambled in technical terms Thor could not quite grasp. He did his best to predict her needs, and he soon found himself the bearer of common sense. He cooked meals when they forgot. He made sure everyone had their fruits and vegetables. He emptied the garbage when he started to overflow. When the toilet was messy, he discovered the proper cleaning tools to make it acceptable once again.

He took turns monitoring the equipment. He installed new satellites on the roof. He retrieved the mail and did the grocery shopping. Thor was never wanting for something to do.

Even if Thor was always wanting.

-o-

Day after day, Thor found very few moments to himself. Earth was singular in this way, defined by a frenetic pace he could not quite grasp. Although they were millennia behind Asgard, their advancement came furiously and with no restraints or second thoughts. No one measured advancement again the tried and true ways of the past. Tradition was more of an afterthought to the potential of what might be.

Indeed, this was a trait amongst the bright and the dull. Puente Antiguo was a small town by Earth’s standards, and yet they were just as chaotic in their daily lives as the larger cities Thor saw depicted on the television. The people, no matter how small and insignificant their lives were, never seemed to stop. The tasks did not even need to be worthy; they simply had to be.

Jane always had another project; Selvig had another theory. Darcy had another song to download. The list of things to do never ended, and Thor found the constant need for innovation almost exhausting. No one on Midgard was ever satisfied. They believed that they needed to break new boundaries, as though they realized how short their lives were and sought to fill every moment with as much as they possibly could.

Thor kept pace well, all things considered, but he found he enjoyed the quiet times most. In the evenings, when Jane finally put her work away, there was time to eat and drink and talk. Darcy introduced him to music and television. He learned card games from Selvig, and Jane showed him Sudoku after he failed miserably at crosswords. He was capable with math, but he’d never had the patience for it.

Now, though, he had patience for many things.

Besides, he liked the way Jane sat next to him, muttering the answers under her breath. Sometimes, he jotted the wrong one day just to see how long it took before she corrected him.

He liked the way she apologized.

Thor found, however, he liked many things.

-o-

The days were busy, and Thor liked that, but he loved the nights more.

The nights were quiet and dark, underneath the stars.

The nights were Jane.

She told him of her theories, and he told her of the realms. He talked of far off lands and strange beasts. He told her of foreign customs and ancient cultures. He talked of growing up in the house of Odin and riding across the rainbow bridge, to wherever fate may lead him.

“You’re crazy,” she laughed, shaking her head as the fire burned low between them. “You’re actually crazy.”

He chuckled, looking up at the stars another moment more. “Possibly,” he confessed.

She reached over, shoving him playfully. “Yeah, well.”

“What?” he protested with a laugh.

She grinned. “We’re all crazy here,” she said, tweaking her eyebrows. “Welcome to Earth.”

-o-

Thor did not notice the passage of time -- days and weeks seemed strange to him yet -- but Jane seemed keenly aware of it.

“I got it!” she said, running into the lab one day. “I got it, I got it, I got it!”

Darcy flopped over on the couch, looking at Jane upside down. Selvig glanced up from his work station. Only Thor crossed toward hard, curious at the letter clutched in her hand. “What did you get?”

“The grant,” she said, eyes bright with excitement. She waved the letter. “We got the grant!”

Prior to his arrival on Earth, Thor had never heard of such a term. Now, however, he knew about them in great detail for he had let Jane tell him about it and the extensive application procedures. He knew how valuable it was; he knew how hard she had worked.

Mostly, he could see how excited she was.

“That is great news!” he said.

“Wait, we already got word?” Selvig asked, getting up.

“Wait, does this mean I’m going to get paid again?” Darcy asked.

“Yes and yes and yes,” Jane said. She held the letter out to Selvig. “They were impressed with the data, and they want more. A lot more.”

Selvig frowned, reading it over. “These things usually take months to come back,” he said. His eyes started to widen. “How did we get it back in a week?”

“I have no idea, but I’m not going to second guess them,” Jane said. “I mean, our proposal was always good, and with the calculations from the last anomaly that Thor recovered from SHIELD, it must have been enough to really get some attention.”

“But a week,” Selvig said.

“And I’m going to get paid, right?” Darcy asked.

“Sure, sure. I mean, they’re going to give us money to rebuild our sensors -- we should be able to double our capacity,” she said. “And if we can boost our signal, our data will be that much more refined and who knows what we’ll be able to see. The possibilities are endless!”

Endless. On Earth things seemed so finite.

But Jane’s enthusiasm -- it was hard to deny.

In fact, it was impossible.

“Indeed,” he said, beaming at her. “We should celebrate.”

Darcy sat up. “Oh, celebrate? I can do that.”

Thor rubbed his hands together. “Excellent,” he said. “How do we start?”

-o-

On Asgard, Thor had been fond of celebrations. The feasts in his father’s house were nothing short of spectacular, full of good food, good music and good company. The delicacies never ended, and there was no shortage of mead. Thor had spent countless nights in celebration, marking victories in battle or feats of bravery amongst his companions, not stopping until sleep finally beckoned him after days.

The best meat was brought forth; the finest mead was presented. Mountains of fruit sat freshly picked, and the kitchen produced fresh delights for as long as the revelry continued. Refined singers charmed the crowds, and verbose storytellers composed the poems to be recorded in the annals of history in Odin’s vaults.

There was raucous laughter, punctuated by the sound of broken glass against the floor. Some celebrations lasted for days, some weeks. The Aesir were long lived, and when battles took their toll, they relished their victory with a proclamation of life so extolled that no one in all nine realms would ever mistake it.

A trip to the diner, by comparison, seemed somewhat anticlimactic.

Still, considering Thor’s understated life over the last several weeks, he found heart to be jubilant.

“Please,” he said as he looked at the menu. “What do you recommend as your best selection?”

The waitress shrugged. “The roast beef’s not bad.”

Thor nodded. “Very good,” he said. “We will have one of those, along with your most excellent hamburgers and fries.”

“Oh, and extra cheese,” Darcy said.

“Most certainly,” Thor said. “And I would very much like to try the mozzarella sticks.”

Selvig grunted. “Might as well order all the appetizers at that rate.”

“A sampler, maybe,” the waitress suggested.

“Yes,” Thor said. “A sampler of the appetizers, hamburgers and fries for us and the most respectable Lady Jane will receive your delectable roast beef.”

Jane laughed, blushing. “What the hell,” she said. “I haven’t had a delectable roast beef in years. And you know what? Milkshakes for dessert. All around.”

The waitress put her pad away. “Okay, then,” she said. “Must be some sort of a celebration.”

Thor beamed, looking at Jane. She beamed back. “Yeah,” she said. “It really is.”

-o-

Lunch was satisfying. When the rest of his companions could eat no more, Thor finished off their food for them. After Jane paid the bill, she took them to the hardware store with explicit instructions that every scientific whim would be indulged.

Thor had no such whims, but he was quite capable of carrying the larger items as needed.

Back at the lab, Jane set right to work, but Darcy started texting on her phone. Selvig sat down heavily on the couch. When Jane protested, he looked at her disarmingly. “We ate our entire week’s worth of calories in one meal,” he said. “I think the grant is good news, but I’m not getting up off this couch until tomorrow.”

“If you wish to work, I will help,” Thor said.

“Oh, no, that’s okay,” Jane said. “You can watch TV with Erik--”

“It would be my pleasure,” Thor assured her. “This celebration is for you, after all. If you wish to continue your work, then I support you in that choice.”

She gave him a funny look, but still grinned. “Well, okay,” she said. “We do sort of have a lot to do.”

Thor looked at the pile of new purchases. “Then tell me where to begin.”

-o-

Jane was relentless. She pursued her task with the tenacity of a warrior in battle. Indeed, she was as fierce as the Lady Sif.

As lovely, too.

Not that either thought was appropriate or relevant, and Thor kept his attention where it needed to be. With Jane’s leadership, they were able to rewire several current devices before starting construction on several others. Thor still struggled with typing on the computer, but he had learned the necessary keystrokes for the basic programs Jane needed, so he was able to start initiating the recording process.

Selvig fell asleep on the couch: Darcy waved goodbye as she left.

As Thor helped Jane set up another receiver on the roof, he was prepared to go back down when he saw that she had stopped, eyes turned up to the sky.

“Is something wrong?” Thor asked.

Jane startled a little, looking back at him. “What? No,” she said. “The opposite, actually.”

Thor tilted his head inquisitively. “This is amazing,” she said. “I lost some of my data, but this set up is beyond what I had before SHIELD stepped in. With this grant, I’m set up for years. In less than a month, all my theories are this close to being proven, and my entire operation is on firmer ground than it ever has been. This isn’t just amazing; it’s spectacular. I don’t even know how to describe it. I literally have gotten everything I want.”

It was something to see her, standing in front of him. Beneath the stars, she was bathed in the moonlight, almost awestruck and awe-inspiring. She had achieved much as a mortal, and in the short years of her life, she had accomplished more that mattered to her than anything Thor had gained in his countless years on Asgard. Humans were like candles, burning hard and short, but with the brightest light Thor could ever imagine.

Thor had once thought himself better than these people. But he was no Jane Foster’s equal. He was nothing compared to her.

He was nothing at all.

Smiling, he moved forward a step. “You deserve it.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” she said.

“You could have, and you would have,” Thor told her. “You think too much of me.”

Her smile fell somewhat, brows pulling together slightly. “And you think too little of yourself.”

Thor couldn’t help but chuckle. “I doubt that.”

Jane stepped closer to him, crossing the distance between them readily. She stopped just shy of him, hesitating just for a moment. “I don’t,” she told him, looking up at him. “And trust me, I doubt everything else, but I don’t doubt that.”

Thor didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do. The empty feeling in the pit of his stomach felt suddenly warmer and full, and his throat felt tight as he smiled. “Thank you,” he said.

Her grin widened. “Any time.”

-o-

With the grant, Jane went from passionate to relentless. She hardly slept, and it was all Thor could do to keep her properly hydrated and decently fed. The more focused she became, the less Thor could actually help her. Though he was adept with the basic technology, the advanced calculations still eluded him, and he found that he was in the way more often than he was helpful.

So he took to other tasks. He learned to read, and mastered read through every cookbook he could find. He tried new meals and found he had a flair for preparing feasts. He learned how to clean and do laundry, and he very much enjoyed sorting the whites and colors, and he often hung them to dry on the roof, like colorful banners in the New Mexico skyline.

Soon, Jane trusted him to run errand on his own. When given a list and a strict budget, he was better fit for the job than Darcy. He knew all the aisles at the grocery store, and found himself fascinated by the number of choices. Once, he spent the better part of the afternoon simply reading the ingredients on all the cake mixes in an attempt to understand the difference. He liked taking the long way around town, enjoying his time in the sun. It was hot there, and sometimes he craved the familiar smell of rain, but the heat was a welcome contrast to his last, fleeting memories of Jotunheim.

Cleaning was less glamorous, but more invigorating. He took the presence of scum and dirt personally, for it had no place in the kitchen or bathroom. In his mind, it was like waging war with the worst beast in the galaxy, and he relished experimenting with new weapons. Jane told him bleach was abrasive, and indeed Thor did ruined one pair of jeans in his quest, but he found the skill it took to wield such a powerful potion was a worthwhile feat.

He also found that his companions were absent minded and kept poor house. The mail was rarely retrieved in a timely fashion, and it often stacked up in odd corners. The dishes were insufficiently organized, and it was possible to streamline the cabinets in order to make finding necessary items more easily.

There was more, as well. For the lad had plenty of windows, but they were poorly washed, so Thor polished them until they gleamed. He found the exterior to be lonely and unsightly, so he purchased several planters just because.

“Thor,” Jane said when she found him sorting through recycling and trash. “What are you doing?”

“I was told that recycling is an important service provided by this township and we have done a poor job of sufficiently contributing to it.”

“Yeah,” Jane said. “But--”

“But this is your planet, Jane,” Thor said, quite seriously. “We should not take it for granted.”

Darcy clucked her tongue. “Look what you’ve done to him,” she said. “First you hit him with a car. Now you’ve made him domestic.”

“I am perfectly content,” Thor promised.

“He needs a hobby,” Darcy said, eyebrows raised as Thor put another plastic jug into the recycling bin.

“Yeah,” Jane said. “For once, I think I’m going to have to agree with Darcy.”

-o-

Darcy gives him an old iPod and a gift card for iTunes. Erik explains the rules of football and baseball. Jane buys him a membership to the local YMCA.

“Trust me,” she said with a smile.

-o-

Earth music was fast paced and chaotic. It wasn’t until he listened to it in greater quantities that he began to make sense of what he liked and what he did not like. Some of the instrumental tracks reminded him vaguely of Asgard, but when Darcy showed him the songs considered to be hard rock, he found himself making sense of the odd beats and strange melodies.

The instruments clashed and the vocals raged, sounding not unlike the wild tremors of a thunderstorm. He was surprised by the number of titles with references to things he knew something of, and listening to his own history being treated like a myth was surreal at first.

But maybe it made sense.

Maybe it had been a myth.

Maybe the rest had been a dream.

This was real, though.

So Thor turned up the volume, and didn’t look back.

-o-

Sports were easier than music, and it did not take more than a few hours before Thor was cheering voraciously. Though the rules were somewhat elusive to him, the spirit of competition was always easy enough for him to understand, and ESPN became his new favorite channel.

Erik told him of team loyalty, and when he learned of a team called the Vikings, he could hardly wait for season intended for the sport called football.

It was something to look forward to, at any rate.

-o-

Though Thor liked music and sports, he valued Jane’s gift the most. This was not merely sentimental, but an essential part of who he was. On Asgard, he had spent a great deal of time in training. The thrill of battle was not the only thing he’d liked about such a lifestyle. He enjoyed competition, and he enjoyed pushing the limits of his endurance. He liked physical activity, for it was enlivening.

The workout facilities here were not overly impressive. The machines looked nothing short of barbaric, but since there seemed to be few opportunities to practice swordsmanship, he would take what he could get. The young man who worked there explained the purpose of each contraption, but Thor was too embarrassed to admit that he possibly needed more guidance. Therefore, he attempted to discretely test the equipment, pressing the buttons experimentally as he attempted to figure them out without further humiliation.

The elliptical machine required strange movements that felt unduly awkward, but he liked the treadmill once he learned how to regulate the speed. He liked the feeling of his pounding heart, for it did burn inside him more intensely than on Asgard. Perhaps there was something in the atmosphere; perhaps it was his lesser human physiology. Maybe it had just been so long since anything had spurred his mood in such a way.

And then there were the weights.

While the machines were overly complicated, he quickly mastered them all. He liked the challenge of adding more weight, seeing what he could bear. Other patrons at the facility soon took to watching him, whispering in curiosity as he easily handled the larger numbers. It wasn’t as effortless as it had been on Asgard.

That was probably Thor’s favorite part.

The challenge.

It seemed like another lifetime since he’d experienced the elation of victory. Lifting the most weight of anyone in the facility was meager by comparison, but Thor found he didn’t care.

For they cheered him so, and they bought him Gatorade and saluted him with energy bars.

It was very good, indeed.

-o-

With these new hobbies, Thor developed a new routine. He woke early, getting up with the sun to venture to the gym. After an intense workout, he got back in time to make breakfast, which was ready by the time the rest of his companions got out of bed. He spent another hour or so cleaning up, before running whatever errands needed to be accomplished. The rest of his time was divided amongst assisting Jane or cleaning the house.

He started to use his iPod more, and though he turned the television on its Mute setting, he could not help but watch baseball games in the afternoon.

Though he still stayed up late, often with Jane on the roof, Thor slept heavily now, barely blinking once up at the stars before he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.