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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (4/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:41 am)
frustrated

feeling: frustrated

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




As Thor busied himself at the stove, Agent Coulson followed slowly behind him. “You know, I’m kind of surprised,” the man said. “For a man who holds advanced degrees, you sure seem to be playing house a lot.”

“I made a choice to honor Jane’s career goals first,” he supplied without missing a beat.

Agent Coulson nodded, walking through the kitchen with a discerning eye. “Still, it seems a little strange,” he continued. “Doesn’t it, Donald?”

Thor almost flinched at the name.

Agent Coulson stepped closer. “Is it okay if I call you Donald? Or maybe you’d prefer Thor?”

Thor stiffened somewhat but refused to show his concern. “If you are trying to make me uncomfortable, I suggest you rethink your course of action,” he said with a knowing look back. “All you are confirming is that you have been following me over a period of time. If I had done something to warrant this continued observation, I doubt you would have come bearing gifts, as you say.”

Agent Coulson sighed at that. “Let’s stop the act,” he said. “You’re not Donald Blake, and it would take me two minutes to produce enough proof to have you arrested on fraud charges.”

Thor removed the breakfast from the heat source, pulling three plates down from the cabinet. “If that was your intention, you would have done so already.”

“That’s the point,” Agent Coulson said. “I don’t want to arrest you. I want to offer you a job.”

At that, Thor stopped. He turned, confused. “A job?”

Agent Coulson nodded. “I know you’re not Donald Blake,” he said. “But I also know you don’t exist on any Earth database. You don’t even have a birth certificate, and there’s no evidence you even existed until that meteor hit down in the desert not far from here. I’ve gone over Dr. Foster’s work. I’ve seen the evidence. You came here with that meteor. And to be frank, I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know it means you have more answers than I do, which is why I think we can work together to our mutual benefit.”

Thor considered this. Leaning against the counter, he shook his head. “Our mutual benefit?”

“I think we all want the same answers,” he said. “We’d be better off working together than apart.”

“I have no need of answers,” Thor said.

“No?” Agent Coulson asked. “So you don’t a way to get back to wherever you came from?”

Thor chuckled, turning back to the pan to dish out the food. “This is my home.”

“Fine,” Agent Coulson said. “What about Dr. Foster? What about her work? We can get her back on track -- and then some. We can get her funding and a new lab. The best research facilities.”

Thor glanced back, critical. “All this for what price?”

“Just your availability,” Agent Coulson said. “If we have questions, you supply the answers.”

“That is not much of a job,” Thor pointed out.

“You do have other skills,” Agent Coulson said. “You ran circles around my best guards. I highly doubt we would have caught you unless you had already given up in the first place.”

This time, Thor was genuinely surprised. “You wish me to be a security guard?”

“There’s more to it than that,” Agent Coulson said. “If you agreed to our terms, we would take you in and tell you more about what it is exactly that we do.”

There was something tempting, to be sure. Thor knew little about the organization Agent Coulson worked for, but he could only imagine it to be of some repute. They had control over the hammer, and they were studying the same phenomenon as Jane. Agent Coulson was right, they could help Thor.

Which was exactly why it was of no consequence.

There was no help for Thor.

More than that, his answers could not be trusted to just anyone.

And mostly, Thor was no longer a warrior. Thor was a mortal. He was a simple man, and he wanted for nothing. What Agent Coulson called benefit, Thor could only see as folly.

For Jane, it was tempting, but this was not the path he needed for himself. The fact that he wanted it was only confirmation of that fact.

Smiling politely, Thor put the plates on the table. “Your offer is generous,” he said. “And I accept your gifts of goodwill with all due respect.”

Agent Coulson straightened. “But?”

“But the answers you seek are not mind to give,” he said. “Not anymore. I am neither the man you seek nor the warrior you suppose me to be.”

Agent Coulson lifted his chin. “Then who are you?”

Thor smiled. “Donald Blake, of course.”

“But your friends call you Thor,” Agent Coulson said with his eyes narrowed.

“Will you be staying for breakfast, Agent Coulson?” Thor asked.

Agent Coulson looked at the spread. He looked back at Thor. “No, thank you, Dr. Blake,” he said. “But if you change your mind…”

Thor inclined his head. “I’m sure I’d know exactly where to find you.”

-o-

When Jane arrived ten minutes later, Thor was eating the food he had served for Agent Coulson. He held out some hope that Jane would not suspect they had had a visitor, but he probably should have known better.

With still damp hair, Jane sat down with a curious look. “Was someone here?” she asked, getting a forkful of breakfast ready.

“It was nothing of importance,” he assured her, finishing the last bite of Agent Coulson’s sausage.

“That’s why you invited them for breakfast?” she asked, chewing.

Thor frowned.

“You left the extra place setting out,” she said. “Even if you ate it.”

“Perhaps our guest ate it,” he suggested.

“Ha, see,” Jane said. “Someone was here.”

Thor sighed. “How did you know?”

Jane shrugged with a smug smile. “I’m a genius,” she said. “And also, your voice is super loud. It carries like you wouldn’t believe. And I still think it’s possible you’re crazy, but you’re not talk-to-yourself crazy.”

“Is that supposed to be reassuring?” Thor asked.

Jane rolled her eyes, taking a quick drink of juice. “So who stopped by?”

“Ah,” Thor said, looking back down forlornly at his now empty second plate. “No one of importance.”

“Well, sure,” Jane said. “But I didn’t ask if they were important.”

Thor put his fork down. Normally, he appreciated Jane’s intellect, but sometimes, he had to admit, he missed the days of being a Prince of Asgard. He had had to explain himself far less then.

Of course, that may have been part of his problem.

He looked up again, smiling at her. “Our guest returned this,” he said, reaching over and picking up the thumb drive. He picked up the iPod, too. “Also, this but I have a feeling you will be more interested in the other.”

Jane looked curious at first, but as she reached out, her eyes widened. “Wait, is this--”

“Your data,” Thor said. “I am told that most of it is intact.”

Her mouth fell open. “Are you kidding me?”

“I have not had a chance to check the data myself, but since I would not know what to look for--”

She looked at him in awe. “This is amazing,” she said. “I mean, this is incredible.”

He smiled.

Her eyes widened again, and she shook her head. “Wait,” she said. “Who exactly was our guest?”

“Agent Coulson,” she said. “You met him briefly the night your things were confiscated. I knew him better when I attempted to infiltrate the compound in the desert.”

“You mean SHIELD?” she asked, eyebrows raised. “SHIELD was here? To return things?”

“Well,” Thor hedged. “That was not the only reason for his visit.”

“Well, what,” she said. “SHIELD hasn’t exactly been our friend around here, so why would they start going around to give stuff back after taking it in the first place?”

“They claim to want much the same thing as you,” he said. “Answers.”

“Oh, so instead of doing years of research, they just steal from others?” she asked. “That doesn’t sound like the good guys to me.”

“Which is one reason I refused the job Agent Coulson offered me,” Thor said.

Jane stopped again. “Wait. They -- offered you a job? Doing what?”

“The details were not entirely clear,” Thor admitted. “Presumably they have concluded that I know more than I let on regarding the incident in the desert.”

“Do they know about who you are?” she asked with a fresh wave of concern.

“It is probable that they have their suspicions,” he said.

Panic lit in her eyes.

“But I do not think they wish to cause me trouble,” he said. “They seem to have no pressing desire to address the question of my identity in a public setting.”

Her brow furrowed. “Just a private one,” she assumed.

“This SHIELD Agency,” Thor said. “I believe it may be a high level government agency.”

“Sure,” Jane said. “Not far from the CIA or the NSA, I imagine. Which is another reason not to trust them.”

“Purveyors of knowledge, no doubt,” he said. “I would think you could appreciate that. Knowledge with no boundaries and by any sacrifice necessary.”

“Not any sacrifice,” Jane clarified for him. “I have professional integrity. I don’t go around stealing data.”

“I do not condone their means,” Thor said. “But it is worth considering that they may have the same pursuit as you.”

“Sure, which is why they’ve blocked off the desert site,” she muttered.

“There is sometimes need for secrecy,” Thor told her gently. “My presence is problematic on this world. Evidence of Mjolnir does carry certain risks. We have created this alternate identity for a reason.”

“Yeah, to protect you from SHIELD,” Jane protested.

Thor sighed. “I told you, it was of no importance. I rejected their job offer.”

“That’s good,” she said, nodding. She paused, taking a drink. She chewed her lip, looking less sure. “That’s good.”

“Yes,” he said, collecting his plates. Getting to his feet, he took them to the sink. “I feel confident in my choice.”

Rinsing them off, he put them in the dishwasher. When he turned back around, Jane was still pensive.

In his time on this planet, he had come to know that look.

Jane was a woman whose mind was always in motion. She thought and rethought; she made hypotheses and remade her own conclusions. Nothing was ever settled for Jane.

Loki would have liked that about her.

Indeed, even his mother would have found her agreeable.

Wearily, Thor sat down again. “Should I not feel confident in that choice?” he prompted.

“Well,” she said. “I mean, you aren’t totally wrong about SHIELD. They’re morally ambiguous and their methods are not really I’d endorse, but they’re not the bad guys.”

“So?” Thor asked.

“So,” she said, gesturing absently. “I imagine it’s possible to be a good person and work for them.”

“I have no desire to work for them,” Thor replied.

“But they control the hammer!” Jane said. “They know everything I know, and who knows, probably more. They could help you, Thor. If anyone can get you home--”

Thor shook his head. “This is my home.”

“You know what I mean.”

“But I am not sure you know what I mean,” Thor said. “I do not need help understanding my place in this universe. Even if I could help them develop the bridge you seek, there is no easy passage to Asgard for me. At this point, I do not seek it.”

“You really don’t want to try?” Jane pressed.

Thor sat forward. “Do you wish me to try?” he asked. “If you believe they can help you with your work, I could reconsider--”

Her face darkened. “What? No.”

“If an affiliation would help you--” Thor began.

She shook her head. “Thor, this is about you.”

“I have no desire to work for SHIELD,” he said.

“Well, what do you want to do?” she asked.

He frowned. “I am content--”

“You can do more than this,” she said. “You’re smart, you’re strong, you’re more than capable.”

“But I find great pleasure in being here with you,” he said.

“Having a job doesn’t mean we can’t spend time together,” she said.

“I have no interest in what SHIELD is offering me,” he said.

“Okay, sure,” Jane said. “But SHIELD isn’t the only place hiring.”

He inclined his head.

“So you don’t want this job, but it brings up a good point,” she said. “There are other jobs.”

He blinked at her. “Other jobs?”

“Sure,” she said. “There are all kinds of jobs. If SHIELD isn’t for you, then we’ll find something else that is. I mean, you have to have passions. There has to be something you love to do.”

Thor considered his favorite pastimes back on Asgard. Training as a warrior; hunting; wreaking havoc in his Father’s kingdom with his friends.

Somehow, he doubted that these were employable passions.

“I believe that may be...difficult,” he said.

Jane was smiling again, eyes bright and eager. “Well, you know me,” she said. “I love a challenge.”

-o-

Thor had thought he appreciated the day to day life of Midgardian society.

While searching for gainful employment, however, he discovered that there was still much to learn.

“What sort of job is this?” he asked, reading a selection from the Want Ads. “Self motivated individual needed for journalistic research. No experience needed.”

“Journalism’s not bad,” Jane said, glancing over his shoulder at the ad.

Darcy shook her head, though. “You don’t want that.”

“It says no experience needed,” Jane said.

“I am willing to try anything,” Thor added.

“Yeah, that says self motivated,” Darcy pointed out.

“So?” Jane asked.

“Self motivated? That’s an easy way of saying it’s low paying,” she said. “Or it could even be an unpaid internship. Which is really what people call indenture servants in the modern age.”

Jane glowered. “An internship is a positive opportunity to learn and grow.”

“It’s asking someone to work for mostly nothing,” Darcy said.

Jane shook her head. “Even so, it doesn’t say that.”

“Self motivated?” Darcy asked. “Come on!”

“They could be doing lots of solo work!” Jane protested. “You can’t know.”

“Sure, I can,” Darcy replied.

Jane stood up, crossing her arms over her chest indignantly. “How?”

“Those are the words you used in your ad,” Darcy returned. “Self motivated research. AKA work for nothing for the rest of your life.”

Jane opened her mouth. Then closed it. Huffing, she pursed her lips. “I’ll have you know this is very valuable experience for you,” she said.

Thor looked from Darcy to Jane. “Should I consider the job, then?”

Darcy shrugged.

Jane turned beat red. “No, you want something that pays you,” she said.

Darcy smirked triumphantly. “Told you.”

-o-

They scoured the Want Ads. They searched Craigslist. Thor looked at requests for teachers and dog walkers and factory workers and salesmen. While his alternative identity did have an advanced degree, they had all agreed that Thor’s particular expertise did not position him well for any high level work. Indeed, Thor had no desire to attain a lofty title.

He wanted a simple job. He wanted to perform a worthwhile task and earn an honest living.

The possibilities, it seemed, were endless.

For once, Thor saw that the gift of noble birth was also something of a burden. His whole life had been determined for him, laid out on a course he had neither picked nor thought to contradict. He had been preparing to be king, and his time as a warrior had been without saying.

Now, however, Thor had choices. Thor could pursue anything he so desired, no matter how lowly or unimportant.

Thor would learn what it meant to be human.

Mostly, though, he would learn what it meant to be.

-o-

Potential, however, was hard work.

After determining a list of the best jobs available in the area, asked Selvig to make something called a resume.

“It’s an overview of your qualifications for the job,” Selvig explained warily as he brought up a template on the computer.

“Would this not be better ascertained in person?” Thor asked.

“Most jobs have too many applicants,” Selvig said, clicking a few buttons. “Hiring managers need to go through the resumes first to see who fits the job parameters.”

“You have done this?” Thor asked.

Selvig shrugged. “I have to hire faculty from time to time,” he said. “And I have discretion over who is admitted into my academic program.”

“So these resumes are common, then,” Thor concluded.

“Very,” Selvig said. “Now there are a lot of ways to go about this, but I always find that simple and straightforward is the best way to go. See? We have a sample here to go off of. We’ll just start with your name…”

He started to type Thor, then stopped. He deleted the words.

“Donald Blake is going to sound less….conspicuous,” Selvig said. “You can tell them you go by Thor if you get a call back.”

“That seems reasonable,” Thor said. “What are these other features?”

Selvig sighed, scrolling down. “Well, first they like you to list your schooling.”

“I have extensive training with private tutors back on Asgard,” Thor supplied proudly. “Though I did not excel as much as some, the curriculum was designed to be comprehensive and intense, covering a wide range of all possible topics.”

Selvig looked up at him, before looking back at the screen. “I’ll have to look up the procedure for home schooling,” he muttered. “Maybe can do that later. Oh, okay. Skills.”

Thor nodded thoughtfully. “I am very good with most weapons,” he said. “Before I took up the hammer, I grew quite adept with the sword, and I have superior marksmanship with projectile weaponry.”

“Yeah,” Selvig said. “We’ll probably not want to include battle skills.”

“Oh,” Thor said. He paused to think. “I have some diplomatic training as well.”

“Strong human relation skills,” Selvig said readily, typing it in quickly.

“And I have led many men and women in complex battle campaigns,” Thor added.

“So...managerial experience,” Selvig continued to type.

“My comrades and I were well regarded as the most effective fighting team in the realms,” Thor said.

“Strong team player,” Selvig murmured as the keys clicked.

“I also have some skills with magic,” Thor said. “Though, my talents there are limited, but I am capable of some simple tricks.”

Selvig stopped, craning his head back.

Thor nodded. “That is not going to be relevant, is it,” he realized.

Selvig just looked at him harder.

Thor raised his eyebrows. “Is something wrong, Selvig?”

“You really still think you’re him,” he said, shaking his head. “The actual Norse god of thunder.”

Thor sighed. “I do not claim to be a god.”

“But you do claim to be Thor,” Selvig said.

“I have made no secret of my identity to you,” Thor told him quietly.

“I know,” Selvig said. “And I don’t know, sometimes maybe I believe it. But other times...I mean, can you even hear what you sound like? Thor? The god of thunder? Living in Puente Antiguo and applying for a job? It doesn’t even make sense.”

Thor offered him a small, withdrawn smile. “If your history books do make note of me and my people as gods, then it should not be so hard to think of them to fall.”

“That’s a hell of a long fall,” Selvig said.

“I know this better than you, I’m afraid,” Thor said.

Selvig sighed. “I never should have taken you out of SHIELD in the first place,” he said, turning back to the screen. “Probably would have been better for both of us.”

Thor’s spirits fell. “I am sorry.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Selvig said. “It’s not that I don’t like you, because it’s basically impossible not to like you. But there’s more to you.”

Thor shook his head. “This resume must be adhered to your customs.”

“No,” Selvig said, turning back to look at him again. “There’s more to you than this. Here, in Puente Antiguo. If you are who you say you are, then you don’t belong here.”

“I have not lied to you,” Thor promised. “You have my word.”

“The word of a mad man,” Selvig mused.

“Is that who you think I am?” Thor asked.

“I don’t know what I believe most of the time,” Selvig admitted. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re not human.”

“In that, I believe you are wrong,” Thor said. “I am human, just like you are.”

“Not like me,” Selvig said with a grunt. “I just...can’t wrap my head around it. Who you are.”

“Who I was,” Thor corrected. “That part of my existence is no longer important.”

“Isn’t it?” Selvig asked. “We all have a past.”

“And mine is taken from me,” Thor told him. “I can never go back.”

“So, what, then,” Selvig said. “The god of thunder is really going to apply for minimal wage jobs on a stolen identity? And live out the remainder of his days in anonymity?”

Thor stiffened. “I see no other choice.”

Selvig blew out a breath. “But Thor,” he said. “As in, the son of Odin? You don’t belong here. SHIELD, for all its faults, might be able to help you.”

Thor held his gaze somberly. “Your intentions are noble, Selvig,” he said. “But unless you are going to finish the resume with me, I am afraid no one can help me.”

Selvig looked at him a moment longer, the wonder turning to awe before settling on outright confusion. He shook his head, sighing again as he turned back toward the screen. “Okay, then,” he said. “Work Experiences.”

-o-

When his resume was completed, he delivered in person as he was able. Puente Antiguo was a small town, so positions were slim. His resume was gladly accepted at the diner, though he was more interested in talking with customers than serving them food. It also did not help that every time he served a platter of something new, he wanted to try it himself and he ate his way through any potential pay he might have received.

The pet shop declined to give him an interview, citing the fact that it was apparently not funny to joke about riding cats and dogs.

The gym would have hired him, but lifting weights was easier than instructing others to do so.

“Don’t worry,” Jane assured him. “There’s something out there for you.”

“Yeah, I’ve been turned down for more jobs than I can count,” Darcy told him.

“This isn’t the same thing as being lazy,” Jane said.

“I’m not lazy,” Darcy said. “I merely have trouble finding jobs that aren’t totally boring.”

“You are a horrible example,” Jane shot back.

Selvig grunted, flipping the channel on the television. “The fact that we have a man with no relatable work experience and a falsified identity is the problem,” he said. “We’re lucky that anyone is giving him a second look at all.”

“Perhaps he is right,” Thor said. “If it is too risky--”

“No,” Jane said, lifting her chin defiantly. “You are a smart, capable worker. There’s a job out there for you, I know it.”

In this life, Thor found few things to hold on to, few things to truly believe in.

But then there was Jane.

Resolved, confident and undaunted. She was small and insignificant, but she did not let her status deter her. She ventured onward, heedless of her own limitations. Jane Foster was entirely human.

She was also the strongest person Thor had ever met.

When he was not sure what to believe in, he believed in her.

“Very well, then,” Thor said, bucking himself up. “I will secure a job tomorrow.”

“Well, there’s no pressure--” Jane started.

“Tomorrow,” Thor told her, with a decided nod. “By whatever honor I have, I will find a job tomorrow.”

-o-

His boasts were strong.

When he set out the next day, however, he realized that he may not have the ability to back up his claims. It was a force of habit, to say the least, to make bold claims. On Asgard, he’d been capable of nearly anything by his birth and his might.

On this planet, however…

Well, things were more difficult here.

But, he told himself, not impossible.

He did not have to be the god of thunder. He just had to find a job.

Thor had vanquished countless foes. He had claimed victories around all the realms.

Now he merely had to conquer the job market.

-o-

Thor quickly ascertained his options. Although he could probably get a job at the diner if he asked, he did not want to earn a position out of charity. Few other businesses were hiring, and he was ill suited for positions raising Midgardian children as a mere matter of safety. There were opportunities at a factory nearby, and as far as he could tell, it paid horribly and consisted mostly of intense manual labor.

In short, Thor would be well suited for this job.

He knew it was lowly, and Jane had called it unduly dangerous, but a job was a job. Thor was not in any position to be particular about such things.

Besides, hard labor was not beneath him.

Nothing
was beneath him.

However, as he made his way out of town, he was stopped as a construction vehicle crossed the road. He idled the car for a moment, watching as the men tried to quickly unload. They struggled with one of the larger items, and Thor finally turned off the car.

Getting out, he approached. “Friends,” he called out. “Do you need assistance?”

One of the men, soaked with sweat, gave him a sideways glance. “Sorry, buddy,” he said. “Just a moment--”

Then the large object pitched to the side. As it threatened to topple, the men cursed and raced to brace it. Sensing the impending danger, Thor stepped forward and helped catch the object -- what appeared to be a concrete tube, undoubtedly for construction of a rudimentary facility -- before it came crashing perilously to the ground.

It was not as easy as Thor might have presumed. Though he was still strong, his Aesir strength was no more. He could feel the strain in his muscles, and for one, terrifying moment, he considered if the object should slip from his grasp and crush him.

With the help of the other men, however, this did not come to pass. Together, they kept the object upright. Together, they moved it along its path before settling it on the side of the road.

The man wiped his hands on his jeans and squinted up at Thor. “Thanks,” he said, sounding genuinely appreciative.

“Any time,” Thor said.

“I could use a guy like you,” the man said with a humorless grunt. “Strong and not afraid to use it.”

It was something of an idle compliment.

And yet, Thor stopped.

He looked over toward the construction site.

He looked back at the man. “Are you serious?”

The man looked surprised.

“About needing a guy like me,” Thor clarified.

The man looked surprised. “You asking for a job?”

“Are you offering a job?” Thor asked.

“It’s hard work, buddy,” the man said.

“That will not be a problem,” Thor said.

“Long hours,” the man continued.

“I have ample time.”

“It’s dangerous,” he added.

Thor began to smile. “I have no fear of danger.”

The man laughed “Well, then, buddy,” he said, holding out his hand. “Looks like you just got yourself a job.”

-o-

Thor expected Jane to be happy.

Her response, therefore, is vexing.

“Construction?” she asked.

“It is an honest living, is it not?” Thor asked.

“I guess,” she said. “But I was sort of thinking you’d find something...else.”

“Hey,” Darcy said. “I hear it’s good money.”

“Yeah, and it’s extremely physical labor,” Jane said.

“Have you seen Thor lately?” Darcy asked.

Thor smiled politely. “Darcy is right,” he said. “I have no qualms with the physical nature of such a job.”

“But construction!” Jane said.

Thor shook his head. “I am far better suited for such work than many other of the positions we considered,” he said.

“And it probably helps with his lack of documentation,” Selvig added.

“Well, that’s the point,” Jane objected. “It’s not altogether reputable.”

“We can’t all be scientists,” Darcy pointed out.

“You aren’t,” Jane muttered at her.

“Jane,” Thor said. “I assure you, I am quite pleased with this position. I feel optimistic about the time I am to spend there.”

“But it’s long hours, Thor,” she said. “You’d get home late. You’d be tired.”

“Oh, hey,” Darcy said. “Does this mean no more cooking? I’m having second thoughts.”

Selvig sighed, rolling his eyes. “We are all very capable people,” he said. “With the extra income, we can all afford to eat out a bit more.”

“But it’s dangerous,” Jane said.

“I am aware,” Thor told her. “They warned me of this when I asked for the position.”

Her face twisted up. “And that doesn’t bother you?” she asked.

“I have no fear of injury,” Thor said readily.

“But it’s not just you,” Jane said. “It’s -- I mean -- all of us. If something happened to you…”

It was fear, he realized then. Concern for his safety. Jane was not an elitist, nor would she deny him something to fulfill his needs. But she knew something of caution. She knew much of consequences.

Two things Thor had never paid much heed throughout his life. When his friends had cautioned him, he had laughed. When his father spoke of consequences, he endured them with the alacrity of a child throwing a tantrum. In so many regards, he had thought himself immortal. He had known nothing of limitation.

He was mortal now, though. While he still did not fear bodily harm, he had to accept that it was far more possible now. Moreover, he had to acknowledge that his choices did not merely affect him. This was not like Jotunheim, where his brazen choices resulted in war across the realm. But his choices now still mattered to these three people.

Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, Erik Selvig.

They were an unlikely group. They were not warriors; they were not heroes. But Thor cared for them.

Indeed, he loved them like family.

“Jane,” he said. “I did not consider that this might cause you apprehension.”

“What?” she asked, trying to downplay her response. “I--”

“I understand your concerns,” he continued. “I believe the risks are acceptable, and I believe I am especially well suited for this type of work. I am eager to discover if I indeed have a talent for such labor. However, if you do not wish me to pursue this--”

Her eyes widened, and then she blushed. She shook her head. “No, no,” she interjected quickly. “I mean, if this is what you want to do…”

“It is,” he told her earnestly.

She smiled. “Then I think it’s great,” she said.

His face brightened.

“You will be good at it,” she told him. “Just...promise me you’ll be careful.”

“You have my word,” he pledged.

“And can you promise me you’ll still make eggs and bacon?” Darcy asked.

Thor smiled at her. “On weekends,” he said.

“And maybe on Tuesdays?” Darcy asked. “Tuesdays are hard.”

Thor chuckled. “Perhaps on Tuesdays.”

-o-

Despite a royal upbringing, Thor was not accustomed to hard work. While he had shirked many household responsibilities around the palace, he had always excelled in his physical training. Loki had sought refuge in books, but Thor had relished the training field. He had taken great pleasure in pushing himself to all physical limits.

Even so, his new job is taxing.

It could have been the nature of the work. While training for battle was exhilarating, construction was somewhat less so. It also could be a testament to his new mortal frame. He was still more capable than most of the men he worked with, but his body felt the burden far more acutely now.

The first week, he was sore. His appetite went from extreme to ravenous, and he found it harder to get up in the mornings. At night, when he and Jane went to the roof to talk, he found himself drifting to sleep while she talked of the stars.

In the mornings, when he woke up with a blanket over him, he felt oddly peaceful with the idea of being human. There definitely were worse things.

-o-

There was much to learn.

He learned about tools and routines. He learned how to assemble and build. He learned about large machines and how to manipulate materials to do what was needed. It was a strange thing, pounding and cutting with tools when he knew there was a time he could have done such things with the strength of his hands alone.

“Hey, that’s pretty good carpentry,” one of his coworkers said as Thor took up a hammer to finish pounding nails into the frame of their most recent structure. “You’re pretty good with a hammer.”

Thor looked at it, felt the weight in his hands. He swallowed hard against the burning in his chest. “I was once,” he said. He flexed his fingers more tightly around it to lift it up again. “Perhaps I can be again.”

-o-

Thor finally understood what his father had said. Mjolnir had been a great weapon, of this there was no doubt. Thor had wielded it to fight, to threaten, to destroy.

Here, though the hammers are less impressive, they are useful all the same. Now, Thor learned to cooperate, to build, to encourage.

On Asgard, Thor had sought to rule.

Here, on Earth, he could only hope to learn.

If only he had understood earlier, that as a weapon, a hammer was powerful.

As a tool, though, its worth was infinite.

-o-

When one structure was finished, another began. There was always another project.

His workmates grumbled about this, the inevitable and ongoing nature of their job.

Thor, however, found comfort in. This way, there was always some purpose to his life. There was always something left to accomplish.

In his youth, he had courted war.

Now, he found solace in building things that would last, which would endure.

Though he himself would pass away before his time, there would be some testament to his presence.

Some evidence that his life had mattered.

Mortal and disgrace, Thor was still capable of good.

-o-

And it wasn’t all work.

Thor made friends easily, and he was soon popular amongst his coworkers. At first, he abstained from their company, but after a day under the sun, he found the promise of a cool ale appealing. His coworkers were diverse men, but they were good men. They talked of their wives and girlfriends, their children and their parents. They discussed their favorite sports teams, and their weekend plans. Thor learned pool and quickly conquered darts. He enjoyed raucous singing and full revelry.

Some might say they had nothing to celebrate.

But for Thor, another day was cause enough.

-o-

It was strange, however, being away from Jane and the lab. At first, he tried to keep up with all their progress, but it quickly became an impossible task. Jane was relentless in her pursuit, and Thor quickly found that his familiarity was pushed to its limits.

After a month, he still asked her how her day went, but as she talked, he found himself smiling and nodding because he had no idea what she was talking about.

(“It’s okay,” Darcy whispered to him. “I never know what she’s talking about, and I’m here all day.”)

But he loved listening to her anyway.

-o-

To be fair, Jane had no idea what he was talking about either, but she always asked while they ate the carryout from the day. In the evenings, he checked her calibrations while she rubbed his back, and at night, they still found themselves on the roof more often than not.

“You don’t have to,” Jane told him, almost apologetically. “You work hard, you don’t have to sit up here with me.”

“Do not be silly,” Thor reprimanded her.

“I’m not,” she said. “It can’t be fun. We just talk about the stars.”

“The stars,” Thor said, nodding up into the sky. “They are the greatest thing we have in common. They are where we are connected. They are our beginning and end. I enjoy my work, and I take comfort in my friendship with Darcy and Selvig, but this, Jane. This is the time I cherish most.”

She smiled shyly, tucking her hair behind her ear. “In that case,” she said. “Can you tell me again? About the branches of the tree? I’ve been working on this theory, but I need to double check some things.”

Thor returned her smile. “Of course,” he said. “It would be my pleasure.”

-o-

Though it was smaller and much less grand, there were times that Puente Antiguo reminded him of his father’s halls. True, the meals were less expansive, and the people were far less regal, but they knew him by name, and greeted him warmly on the streets. Soon, Thor found himself helping lift heavy objects and repair broken fixtures. Though he was still learning the vast arts of building, he found himself quite adept.

And the people were grateful. He received free coffee and apple pie. He was given the gift of conversation and company, which were truly the things he came to cherish most.

He recognized the agents from SHIELD from time to time, always watching from a distance. If they were looking for answers from him, they would look forever. Because Thor could fix a window and change the batteries on a smoke alarm, but he had no way to explain to SHIELD what happened in the desert.

It was very likely they would never understand the hammer that lay dormant in the desert. Surrounded by guards, tested by scientists, perhaps they hoped to grasp it someday.

It would elude them, though.

Just like it eluded Thor.

-o-

And the revelry.

Thor could enjoy revelry in any form, and though the bars were somewhat less auspicious on this planet, he found the ale just as satisfying. If Thor knew anything as well as he knew battle, it was celebration.

“Come, my friends!” he said. “Greg is turning thirty-one! Surely this is a momentous occasion.”

Greg, the coworker in question, rolled his eyes. “Seriously, Thor, it’s not that big of deal--”

“We work hard, and we toil for our rewards,” Thor cajoled. “We should take this cause and enjoy it for what it is!”

“But it’s just a birthday,” Greg said.

“It is the opportunity to celebrate our lives,” Thor said. “We must remember what it is that makes our lives worth living. Life cannot be a meaningless string of tasks to complete. It cannot be tedious routines. It must be embraced! It must be enjoyed. Come! I will buy the first round of drinks!”

Terry, one of the other men, snorted. “Hell, I’ll celebrate that.”

Marco grinned. “Happy birthday to Greg.”

Thor smiled broadly.

Greg shrugged. “Well, then,” he said. “I guess maybe a round of drinks won’t hurt.”

-o-

Thor knew little of Earth’s customs regarding birthdays.

However, he did know how to celebrate.

He ordered one round, and then another. He procured the finest selection of appetizers available. Then, he turned the music up and let the revelry begin.

-o-

No one left unhappy.

There had been a pool tournament and a darts contest, which got progressively more interesting as the participants became further inebriated. Thor had to use Jane’s credit card to pay the bar tab, but he felt the price would be worth it in the end.

He slapped Greg warmly on the shoulder. “Thank you,” he said. “For sharing this celebration with me.”

“Hey, man,” Greg said, sounding genuinely flattered. “Thank you. Best party I’ve been to in years.”

Thor was not just building buildings and roads with this men.

He was building a life.

And that, he could only think, was the greatest gift of all.

-o-

It was late when Thor returned home, thoroughly rejuvenated. He let himself inside and started to make himself one last snack before bed when the lights snapped on.

Jane was standing in her pajamas. “Thor!”

Thor smiled. “Jane!”

She advanced on him. “Where the hell have you been?”

His smile fell. “I was at the local bar with several my friends from work.”

“Until 3 AM?” she asked.

“We were celebrating Greg’s birthday,” he told her with a satisfied nod.

“Until 3 AM?” she asked again, more incredulous this time.

Thor glanced at the clock. “I did not keep track of the time.”

“Well, I did,” she said. “I waited for you. We held out a plate of dinner for you. I even fought Darcy from eating the last piece of pie for you. And then you didn’t come home. And you didn’t come home, and you didn’t come home.”

It was plain that Jane was upset. What was less clear to Thor, however, was why. “I...am sorry?”

She lashed out, shoving him in the arm. “You can’t do that!” she said. “I didn’t know where you were! I called your work, but no one answered, so I had Darcy track down the name of your boss and we looked him up in the white pages, and we called his cell phone. We called his cell phone, Thor.”

“That sounds very resourceful,” Thor said, trying to be helpful.

Jane did not seem pleased with the compliment. “I thought maybe you’d left,” she said. “Then I thought maybe something had happened. I mean, I know you’re strong, but there are car accidents and there are meteors that fall from the sky, apparently, and you have this thing about getting hit by cars, and I didn’t know, okay? I didn’t know where you were.”

Thor frowned. His mother had lectured him from time to time about showing up for his engagements, but it had been nearly impossible to hide on Asgard. He had been a prince, after all. And Thor had never seen much point in hiding. “Jane,” he said. “I meant no harm--”

“I was worried,” she said, gesturing widely. “You’re...my friend. And...I don’t know, we’re friends. I didn’t know where you were.”

“Jane,” he said softly. “There is little harm that can befall me--”

“Ugh,” she said, throwing her hands up. “You’re not a god, Thor! Maybe you were once, but you’ve said it yourself, you’re not anymore. You’re not invincible. When Darcy tased you, you went down. When I hit you by a car, you were unconscious. If something happened to you…”

Tilting his head, Thor began to understand.

Jane cared about him.

True, many people had cared about Thor on Asgard. But mortals treated such things differently here. They lived fleeting lives, but not in complete denial. No, on Earth, they understood their own mortality. More so, they appreciated it in those around them.

If something happened to Thor, Jane would miss him.

There had been those who would fight by Thor’s side. His friends would lie for him and follow him wherever he led.

But Jane Foster, she would worry about him. She was no warrior; she had no powers to aid him; but she had cared about him.

As friends. As equals.

Possibly as something more.

There were consequences to his actions, even those that seemed innocuous. Thor was outcast from Asgard, but that did not make his action less important. If anything, they carried more weight now. For he had alienated one home.

He could not do the same so flippantly with another.

“Jane,” he said again, more steady this time. “I do apologize for my oversight. I did not realize you would worry.”

She huffed. “Of course I would worry,” she said. “I’ve been worrying about you since you fell out of the sky and I hit you with my car.”

Thor smiled lightly. “I am not used to answering to anyone.”

“It’s not like you have to get my approval,” she said. “It’s just...I want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I have no desire to worry you,” he said earnestly. “Please know, that I will always come back for you.”

She appeared somewhat mollified, shrugging one shoulder. “I know you intend to,” she said. “But like I said, you’re not invincible.”

He wanted to balk. Though mortal, he was still stronger than most men. There were few threats on this planet that posed him much risk at all, and Thor had quick reflexes and strong battle instincts.

Even so, somehow he knew that was not the answer Jane wanted.

Thor had always known how to be right.

Perhaps he had to learn to be wrong more gracefully.

“Very true,” he said. “Then how should we rectify this in the future?”

“Well,” Jane said, shuffling her feet awkwardly. “You could call.”

“I do not have ready access to a phone,” he said. “Though I could borrow one of my companions.”

“No, no,” Jane said. “We’ll just have to get you a phone.”

“I would like that,” Thor said. “I have always found Darcy’s device quite fascinating.”

“Well, we may not get you the advanced data plan just yet,” Jane said. “But something simple.”

Thor nodded. “Will it cost much?”

Jane shrugged. “If your paycheck can’t cover it, we’ll work it out.”

“That is good,” Thor said. “I believe I may have -- what did they call it -- maxed out the credit card.”

Jane’s face darkened again. “Wait. What?”

“It was a night of revelry,” he said in his defense.

Jane groaned, rubbing a hand over her face. “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

Thor looked hopefully at the window. “The stars--”

“Thor,” she said. “We’ve had a long enough night. The stars can wait.”

He frowned. “Jane.”

She sighed. “It’s late, Thor,” she said. “I’m stressed. And I’m tired. And apparently I’m broke. So I’m going to sleep.”

He watched her go, feeling something ache inside of him. “I am sorry, Jane Foster.”

She glanced back, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I know,” she said before turning back up the stairs. “I know.”

-o-

Thor sat under the stars alone that night. Though his day had been long, sleep did not come. He looked at them, surveying one to the next, remembering the time when he had shot between then with all the glory of Asgard.

He had been a prince once. Beholden to no one. His requests were never denied. He never had to justify himself, for he had been born of privilege.

It was humbling, to say the least. To be cast out, to be mortal. To be stripped of his power and his position, and left like this. To toil at a meaningless job among small, trivial beings. To be so dependent on others, to have to explain his simplest choices to those around him.

Thor was better than this.

He sighed, turning his head away from the sky.

That was the problem, however. He wasn’t better than this. He needed these people, and this job and this planet and this life were all he had. He had no throne here, but the fact was that he had never had the ability to rule, not like he should have. If he could not maintain close relationships with three dear friends, then how could he hope to rule a planet and keep peace in the realms?

His father had been right to banish him. His punishment was just.

He smiled faintly, thinking of Jane. For between her reprimands, her concern spoke for itself.

It was possible that Thor would never learn how to be a proper king.

But he thought there was hope that he might learn to be a better person yet.

-o-

Thor did not sleep that night. In the early dawn, he took a walk through the quiet streets until he found the only patch of green in this desert realm. He plucked a few flowers, careful to leave enough for others to enjoy, before going back to the lab. There, he put the flowers in fresh water before setting to toil over the stove. The breakfast was nothing short of a feast and while he left much of it on the table for Darcy and Selvig, he arranged a bountiful plate on a tray for Jane.

He added the flowers and picked up the latest scientific journal on Jane’s work station, sneaking quietly across the grounds to her trailer, settling all of the items on the small table.

She shifted in her sleep, rousing softly and Thor stilled, watching her. Her face twitched, and she rolled to her side before settling back into rest. He hesitates, picking up a piece of paper and a pen to scrawl a note. Jane might need her distance today, but Thor was prone to mistakes, but he liked to think he kept making different ones. He was, he hoped, capable of learning.

Satisfied, he tucked the note on top of the journal.

My dearest Jane,

You have my apologies again for my behavior last night. I will go out to make restitution today, but I intend to return for the evening meal. In the meantime, enjoy breakfast and study on my behalf.

In deference,
Thor

He did not enjoy making apologies. He enjoyed making amends even less. However, in the grander scheme of things, he was quite grateful for the chance to do both.

-o-

Most Saturdays, Thor spent his time around the lab. While he was helpful at Jane’s request, he also had the freedom to watch television or listen to music. He was not one to be taken with study, but he found the Internet to be an entertaining medium for cultural research.

With his hard labor during the week, this time off was more cherished than it might have been on Asgard. He had earned it -- most of the time.

Today, however, he had to earn something far greater. Trust and affection.

Which meant it was time to get to work.

-o-

Puente Antiguo was a small town. In many ways, it would be easy to think that meant there was nothing to fix. To the contrary, however, Thor had discovered that it simply meant there were fewer people to tend to such needs. Things were built to endure on Asgard. On Earth, the structures and possessions were even more fleeting than the people.

This was a hard truth for Thor to reconcile sometimes. He also found it invigorating.

Today, however, he saw it as merely an opportunity.

He had often been called upon to do odd jobs for the residents of town, lifting heavy objects or reaching high places. But there had always been other tasks of more serious effort that he had noticed unfinished, much to the detriment of those who lived there. Indeed, Margaret at the diner had often said she’d pay him to remove the broken freezer, and Paul at the hardware store had made similar offers in regards to his storage room. Most of the time, Thor had politely declined, citing his long work schedule.

Not today.

Margaret was thrilled when he accepted her terms, and though the refrigerator was heavy, she paid him generously and tipped him with free donuts while he labored. While working in Paul’s storage room, Joe from the pet store commented on his strength and mentioned a few fixes needed at his establishment as well.

From there, he was hired by several residents to do everything from yard work to simple construction. He took whatever wages they would give him and relished their hospitality more than the rest. The work was not hard and neither was it glamorous, but it fulfilled many needs.

Including his own.

This was life in community, then. In the palace, he’d had attendants and confidants. His friends had flocked around him, lauding him with the things he wanted to hear. He had been a child of privilege, and though Thor had never been cruel, he had not understood what it was to work for a living. Nor had he grasped the symbiotic relationship between individuals in a flourishing society. One person, be it a king or a peasant, was no more important than another. Thor had not understood it on Asgard, when he’d reasoned that the thunder was at his beckon call. It had been no less true, however.

In his humility, he was beginning to grasp it here. The give and take of society was not merely a sociological function. It was part of what made life work.

Thor did simple tasks and earned meager wages, but far more had been gained that day.

-o-

Thor was grinning when he returned to the lab. Selvig was watching TV, and Darcy was nowhere to be found, but Jane was hunched over her desk, eating bites of dinner while she worked.

She looked up when he entered, straightening with a look that was both hopeful and uncertain. “Hey,” she said. “You were gone.”

“You got my note, did you not?” Thor asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Jane said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I just...wasn’t sure what you were doing.”

“Nothing as irresponsible as last night, I can assure you,” Thor told her.

“Look, about that--” Jane started.

“You were entirely fair in your assessment,” Thor said. “I am unused to the way my actions have consequences. I am also unused to being a man who lives within set means. In my whole life, I did not have to fix the problems I made.”

Jane blinked a few times, clearly a little taken aback. “Well. Yeah.”

“I am trying, though,” Thor said. “Your patience is laudable.”

At that, she blushed. “It’s not like you’re doing a horrible job or anything.”

“Even so,” Thor continued. “I have survived on this planet only thanks to your hospitality. While I have learned much, I accept that there is still much to learn of your ways and customs. More than that, I have much to learn about being human.”

Her eyes warmed, and her smiled widened. “Really, Thor,” she said. “I was more worried than anything--”

“Another oversight, I’m afraid,” he said. “I can only prove that one to you in time, but as for the rest--”

He paused, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the money he had earned.

“Let this be a testament of my intention to change,” he said, offering her the money.

Her eyes widened, and she took the money, flipping through it in surprise. “Thor, but how did you--”

“I assure you, these are honest wages,” he said. “It seems many people around town are in need of assistance.”

Jane looked up, curiously. “Assistance?”

Thor shrugged. “Large items to move. Boxes to organize. Doors to fix,” he said. “Sometimes the simplest tasks are the ones that get put off the longest. I merely filled needs and allowed them to compensate me as they saw fit.”

She looked back at the wad of cash, counting it this time. “You got all this from odd jobs around town?”

“I’m afraid the amount still fell short of what I owe you,” Thor said. “However, many people mentioned the need for further assistance. I believe within several weeks I will have enough to repay my debt to you.”

Shaking her head, she turned her eyes up to him again. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“You were angry--”

“That happens,” Jane said. “I mean, that’s how it is with close friends. With…family. You don’t owe me a debt, though.”

His lips turned up. “Your openness is reassuring,” he said. “But trust me, Jane. I owe you a bigger debt than any currency could compensate.”

She took a breath, looking at the money again. For a second, she appeared uncertain but she finally tucked the money into her pocket, meeting his gaze steadily once more. “Thank you.”

He smiled, reaching out to take her hand. He lifted it, pressing a kiss to it gently. “Thank you.”

Giggling, she blushed again, tugging her hand away. “I keep telling myself that won’t make me act like a school girl every time you do it, but you really pull it off.”

“It is merely the proper way to treat a lady,” Thor said.

“Flowers, breakfast in bed, cold hard cash and chivalry?” Jane asked. “You really are a girl’s best friend.”

“My dearest Jane,” Thor said. “I could only hope for so much.”

Her smile broadened. “Well, keep trying,” she said playfully. “You might just get there sooner than you think.”

-o-

That night, they sat together beneath the stars and Thor told her of hunting bilgesnipe and grand banquets.

She talked about her graduate thesis, and her first major speech at an international conference.

They were different people, with different histories and different pasts. In so many ways, they had nothing in common.

Except the stars, of course. The vast promise of space joined the most distant parts of the universe, and it bound two unlikely souls in a strange harmony.

When they miscommunicated, when they did not understand. When conflict seemed too much effort to overcome.

Thor took comfort in knowing they still had the stars.

-o-