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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (5/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:43 am)
drained

feeling: drained

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




Going back to work was hard. He found himself more tired than usual, the lack of sleep pounding behind his eyes and the extra work sapping the reservoirs of his strength. He wa unaccustomed to such weariness, and he found it unpleasant.

In the past, he would have canceled his duties for the day, seeking refuge in his room or resting lazily on the shores of his father’s private waters.

Those were indulgences of another time.

The consequences to actions could be as cataclysmic as war, or as mundane as an achy body on a weary Monday morning. Thor was not so egotistical as to measure both the same, but he was also not so proud as to not see the similarities.

He would endure his exile.

Just as he would endure this Monday morning.

There was not much to be done for the exile.

At least there was the miracle drink known as coffee to help his Monday.

And all the days that followed.

-o-

Thor worked through the week and committed himself to two full days of labor to finish his debt to Jane. On Sunday night, he arrived back late and tired, putting the last of the money on the table before sitting down to the leftovers from dinner.

“Wow,” Jane said, counting the bills again.

“That’s, like, more cash than I make in a month,” Darcy protested.

“There must not be anything left to fix in town,” Jane said.

“To be fair, have you seen this town?” Selvig asked.

“I could have completed many more tasks,” Thor said. “Apparently many people put off such repairs for indefinite periods of time.”

“Well, small fixes are like that,” Jane said with a shrug.

Thor shook his head. “It does not make much sense, though,” he said. “The simple things are the things that should be done first.”

“No,” Darcy said, reaching to snag a few bills from the pile. “The simple things are the things that are easiest to overlook.”

Jane swatted her hand away. “Life gets busy,” she said. “It’s easy to take things for granted.”

“Indeed,” Thor said, using a fork to scoop rice directly from the serving platter. “I was like that once as well. But the temporary existence of humanity has made me reevaluate such things.”

Darcy slumped in her chair. “Life’s too short to waste it working.”

“So that’s why you never get anything done,” Jane mused.

“No, that’s because you never pay me,” Darcy shot back.

Jane rolled her eyes, tossing a five at her. “Take this and stop whining.”

Selvig cleared his throat, sitting up. “Even so,” he said. “We’re impressed with the work you’ve done.”

Jane sat up, reaching back to the counter. “We are,” she said, smiling brightly at him as she picked up a box. It was adorned with a small red bow and she held it out. “So took the money you earned last week and we got you something.”

Eyeing the box, Thor’s gaze narrowed. He shook his head. “That money was compensation--”

Jane shook her head. “You earn money, too, Thor,” she said. “Someday we’ll have to talk more about budgeting so you can spend some of it on things you like. And things you need.

Thor hesitated. “I did not do this work to seek a gift.”

“Thor, please,” Jane said, sounding a little exasperated now. “It’s as much for us as it is for you.”

At that promise, Thor reached out, taking the box skeptically. He untied the bow, setting it beside his plate as he lifted the lid of the box. Inside, there was an electronic device that Thor readily recognized from Darcy’s tutelage as an iPhone.

He looked to Jane, perplexed.

“This way you can just call before you go out,” she said. “You can tell me if there’s a birthday party or if you want to stay for another round or if you want to watch a game, or I don’t know, whatever.”

“So I can attain your permission,” Thor said.

“So you can let me know,” Jane said. “You can do what you want to do. We just want to make sure you’re okay, is all.”

“You do have a tendency to get hit by cars,” Darcy pointed out.

Thor brightened. “Perhaps you can even inform me how much money is too much to spend.”

Jane laughed. “That, too.”

“Or maybe we just ought to have that talk about budgeting,” Selvig suggested.

“Yeah, that all sounds totally boring,” Darcy said. “What we really need to do is tell him about his data plan. We got the best one. Awesome coverage; fast download speeds. You can totally stream on that thing.”

Thor looked down at the small device, curiously. They had similar devices on Asgard with more refined structures and far more power. It was interesting that it came with cords and attachments, as if the power source was not indefinite.

Still, Thor had seen the reliance of the population on such devices. People at the diner used them frequently. Darcy carried hers as though it was attached to her hand. At work, many of the men checked updates or contacted their loved ones. Even Jane and Selvig spent a significant amount of time on their devices, both for communication and entertainment.

As far as Thor could tell, a phone was a defining part of the human culture. It allowed people to connect with one another on a new level. While it was not essential and Thor had indeed survived without one, he understood the underlying meaning behind such a gift.

Thor was not a stranger to this planet, nor was he a foreigner among these people. He was being accepted as one of them, and he was being offered the chance to fully assimilate to their way of life. In short, Thor was being given the opportunity to be more completely human.

For a prince, such a trifle could be viewed as a demeaning gift.

For a lowly mortal with nothing, it was an opportunity.

An opportunity Thor intended to take.

Gently, he removed the phone, touching the screen. It came to life, and Thor scrolled his finger delicately across the surface, mindful of how fragile it felt beneath his touch.

“Thank you,” he said. “I will use it faithfully.”

Jane’s smile widened. “Good,” she said. “That’s good.”

“Very,” Thor agreed, unable to look away from her.

“Oh, hey,” Darcy interjected. “We need to get you registered on Facebook. Because I may post a picture of us together and change my relationship status to It’s Complicated.”

Thor tilted his head at Darcy. “How is our relationship complicated?”

“Oh, it’s not,” she said. “But I love fielding responses from people who are confused by large, blonde men who are literally named Thor.”

“That’s probably not the best idea,” Selvig said.

“Yeah, don’t do that,” Jane said.

Darcy lifted up her phone, aiming it at Thor. Obediently, Thor smiled. “Oops,” she said. “Already done.”

Jane threw up her hands.

Selvig rubbed his forehead. “We’re going to regret this yet.”

-o-

Though Thor was tired and hungry, Darcy was quite eager to show him the many facets of his phone. Although the device is indeed primitive, Thor is pleased to see that it was entirely functional and had numerous modes of entertainment. With Darcy’s assistance, he discovered the App Store, and with Selvig’s caution, he discovered how to search for free apps to use on his device.

Selvig reminded Thor that it was a means of communication first and foremost, and instructed Thor carefully on proper care for the item. He helped Thor set up a free email account while Darcy generously provided assistance in establishing other accounts for social media.

It was Jane who taught him to text, however.

It seemed only fitting that his first text should be to her.

I am glad that I am here with you.

It seemed wordy, perhaps, and he had to correct his typing numerous times because his fingers were large for the pop up keyboard. For effect, he added a smiley face at the end, a flourish which he hoped Darcy would appreciate.

No more than a minute later, Thor received his first text in replay. Jane’s was simpler and to the point. It was also the best text Thor thought he might ever receive.

Me, too.

-o-

Time passed more quickly on Earth, and though Thor knew only mere months had passed since he started his exile, it felt like more. The dramatic changes had started to fade, and soon Thor found that life had settled into a comfortable routine.

He worked; he conversed with his friends; he lived. This existence, though drastically different than life on Asgard, was becoming normal to him. He stopped measuring time in relation to who he’d been and started looking forward to the things of this planet. He counted down the hours to the end of the workday, and rallied his supplies for game day. He counted on listening to music and playing games on his phone. He took pleasure in drinks with his friends and the quiet nights with Jane and the others in the lab.

And he valued the nights on the roof with Jane, sometimes staying even when she departed for sleep, staring up at the sky and going over the names of the stars that he remembered from his astronomy tutors as a child.

They were nothing but names to him now, useless trivia that had served him in another life. Whatever Loki was doing, however his father and the realms fared, it was of no concern to Thor. The ache in his chest had dulled, for Asgard was a different life. This was where he existed; this was where he would endure for his shortened days.

This life.

Each night, Thor turned his head from the stars earlier and earlier. Some nights, he thought, if it were not for Jane, he would not look to them at all.

-o-

Thor’s life settled, but Jane’s seemed to be changing rapidly. With her new equipment fully functional, she began charting new readings. From all accounts, the activity levels were picking up again. Her scientific speculation left her breathless and excited, and though Thor only made out bits and pieces of her conjecture, he looked on in worry.

Not for Jane, of course. Her work was undoubtedly accurate and meaningful.

But the activity itself was of particular concern. The readings suggested that there was movement between the realms. Increased passage with the bifrost was indicative of troubled times.

Perhaps war.

“I mean, it’s way more than before,” Jane said, shaking her head as she recorded a fresh series of readings. “You know this stuff. What could be causing this kind of spike in activity?”

Thor knew, of course. But to tell Jane the truth would reveal more than he desired. Moreover, he did not wish to hinder her enthusiasm. She would, no doubt, hesitate at celebrating heightened conflict throughout the universe.

Instead, he smiled faintly. “From here, it is impossible to say with certainty.”

“But you have to have some idea, right?” Jane pressed.

“Well, the readings are helpful, are they not?” he asked.

“Um, yes,” Jane said. “With the rate we’re collecting data, we’ve already surpassed where we were before SHIELD took away our equipment. With this amount of information, I can refine the equations and build a much more effective model. So this is, like, the best thing ever!”

He could not help but smile at her energy. “There, then,” he said, ignoring the pang of grief deep in his chest. “That is all that matters.”

-o-

It was not that Thor expected things to always stay the same; it was just that he had not expected the change to come from Selvig.

The older man was the grounding force of their unlikely team. Though he held his liquor somewhat poorly and found many reasons to complain, Thor did not doubt that the man had a keen scientific intellect and a common sense practical that made him an invaluable complement to Jane’s intensity and Darcy’s distraction. Indeed, Thor had found his company quite satisfying, and Selvig had touch Thor much of sports and earthy drinking rituals.

So it was a strange surprise when the man announced his intentions to leave.

“I’ve already stayed longer than I intended,” he explained over dinner.

“But we’re making such good progress!” Jane said.

“Exactly,” Selvig said. “I came to help you find your direction, to make sense of the questions you couldn’t make parse, and you’ve done that, Jane. You don’t need me anymore.”

Her shoulders fell, and she shook her head. “But what are you going to do? Go back to teaching? You hate students.”

Thor said nothing, though he did have some questions regarding this. Selvig had talked of other places and other jobs, though he had never showed any inclination of having to leave for these things. Thor had never asked exactly what Selvig did for a living, for he had assumed that they all lived and operated under the same stipend and were working toward the same ends.

He realized now, of course, that a man of Erik Selvig’s age and stature probably had other opportunities. Jane was clearly in charge of this project, and Selvig’s support, while steadfast, was not entirely necessary.

If anything, Selvig was here for Jane, not merely the science, and Thor had not thought that was relevant until now. After all, Thor and even Darcy were also here for Jane, but Thor himself had no other ambitions and Darcy, Thor could presume, had strange ambitions that made her current position the most suitable for her nature.

But Erik Selvig was too studied and too established to stay on this project forever. If Thor had been paying attention, he would have come to this conclusion earlier.

“I don’t hate students,” Selvig said. “I just hate the self entitled ones who expect science to happen with no effort.”

“If science just happened, it’d be a lot more interesting,” Darcy offered.

“Which is why you hate students!” Jane said. “You can’t possibly want to go back to the university.”

“And I’m not,” Selvig said. He took another breath, looking at each of them in turn. “We all know SHIELD isn’t going anywhere.”

Thor tensed slightly at the mention.

Jane’s eyes went wide. “Erik!”

“They’ve made several offers over the last few months,” Selvig explained. “Each one, more reasonable than the last.”

“Because they want to steal my work again,” Jane objected.

“They did act with dishonor,” Thor reminded him.

“I haven’t entered into this blindly,” Selvig said. “I have everything in writing, with strict stipulations about the intellectual property of everyone involved. SHIELD isn’t going to stand idly by while this works goes on.”

“So you’re just going to give it to them?” Jane asked, her incredulity mounting.

“I’m going to help them with what they already have,” Selvig said. “They have facilities of their own, and they have their own team of scientists already working on the project--”

“Idiots, no doubt,” Darcy said.

“Not idiots,” Selvig said. “SHIELD has some of the very best.”

“Which is why they need you?” Jane asked.

Selvig sighed. “I’ve seen their labs, Jane,” he said. “They’re months behind you.”

“Until you show up and give them my work!” Jane protested.

“I would never do that,” Selvig said. “And besides, it’s not like it’s a contest. Scientific advancement is an end in and of itself.”

“Oh, that’s easy to say when you’re taking someone else’s work,” Jane said.

“I’m not taking anything,” Selvig said. “And every contract I’ve signed has expressly forbid the usage of your work without your explicit consent and involvement.”

Jane drew a breath, brow furrowed as she looked at Selvig. “If it’s the same research, why would you leave?” she asked. “If I can do it better here, why would you walk away?”

There was a silence, as Jane looked at Selvig. Selvig held her gaze, and Thor glanced between them, eyes flitting uncertainly to Darcy. The younger woman was, for once, silent as well.

“No one is the enemy here,” Selvig finally said. “And someday you may need an ally. I can help you more there than I can here.”

Jane knitted her brows together again. “You’re actually serious.”

“I already signed the paperwork,” Selvig said. “I’ll start by the end of the week.”

Jane worked her jaw, looking away. “I think you’re making a mistake,” she said finally, lifting her gaze again.

“Well,” Selvig said. “It looks like it is mine to make.”

Jane almost flinched, pushing back from the table and throwing her napkin on her plate. “Excuse me,” she said, as she turned to leave. “I’m not hungry anymore.”

No one spoke as she left, leaving through the front door and turning hard toward her trailer. There were several more moments of silence, before Darcy forced a smile. “So I suppose now’s a bad time to ask if SHIELD actually pays its interns, huh?”

Selvig sighed, pushing away from the table as well. “I’m not very hungry either,” he said tiredly as he moved away from the table toward his room.

When the door shut behind him, Darcy looked at Thor. “I really bet they do pay their interns,” Darcy said with a nod.

Thor pushed away from the table.

“What,” Darcy objected. “I know you’re still hungry.”

“I am,” Thor said. “Even so, you will have to excuse me.”

Darcy sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes. “Fine,” she muttered.

Thor nodded courteously at her, turning toward the door.

“But so you know,” she called as he left. “I may eat all the food just to spite you all.”

-o-

As expected, he found Jane in the trailer.

In his time on Earth, Thor had studied many things. He had studied the culture, and observed the interpersonal relations between people. He had mastered some of the slang and mannerisms, taking the time to learn the nuances of many rituals that were valued by the local population. He had even taken to learning some of national politics and the state of international affairs. He knew popular cultures, scientific capabilities and common sense beliefs.

Of all the things he had studied, though, he knew Jane better than all the rest.

He knew when she was happy, and she knew when she was frustrated. He had studied her to discover the shifts in her mood, and when she was ignoring him willfully and when she was simply too absorbed in her work to be disturbed. He knew the way she chewed her lip when she was going over new information; she knew the way she paced the floor when coming to a conclusion.

Thor knew Jane Foster.

Knocking once, he tried the handle, knowing it would be unlocked. Gently, he cracked the door open to let himself in.

From within, he heard a mighty ruckus as something clanged together.

Thor winced and let himself in all the way, bracing himself for Jane’s inevitable volatility.

Jane was at the sink, haphazardly washing a pan. She didn’t look up as she scrubbed, shaking her head. “Did he send you in here to calm me down?”

“No,” Thor said, stepping closer but still keeping his distance in the small space. “He has also retired.”

Jane snorted. “You mean he quit,” she said derisively as she dunked the pan again. “Bowing out of the conversation, just like he’s bowing out of our work.”


Swallowing tentatively, Thor inched somewhat closer. “To be fair,” he said. “It has always been your work.”

At that, she looked up, eyes bright. “No, it’s not!” she said. “It’s ours. It’s Erik’s and it’s Darcy’s and it’s yours--”

Thor shook his head. “I know little of science,” he said. “Darcy, while knowledgeable regarding many things, knows only the rudimentary facts of the phenomenon your study. And while Selvig is much your equal, we have all been supporting you in this work.”

“Oh, so I’m just sitting here and bossing you around?” Jane asked.

“No,” Thor said. “We are here because we believe in you, and we believe in your work.”

She closes her mouth, inhaling sharply. She turned back to the sink, scrubbing at the pot again. “Then why is he taking my work and going to SHIELD?” she asked. “SHIELD! After what they did to me! After what they did to you? How can he do that?”

Thor stepped closer now, easing himself into her personal space. “I cannot explain his motivation, but I do not doubt him,” he said. “Erik Selvig is my friend, and he is your friend. He came to SHIELD to secure my freedom, and I trust him to be a man of practical employment.”

“He can do more here with us!” Jane said, putting the pan down again and turning back to Thor. “This is where he belongs!”

“Jane,” Thor said. “The things we want are not always the things that should be. We cannot let our emotions dictate our responses. If we do, we are at risk of losing everything we hold dear.”

She wanted to argue. That was in Jane’s nature, not that she was contrary but just that she never accepted anything at face value. She had the inner strength to make her own decisions.

Still, for once, Thor was right.

She sighed, shoulders sagging again. “I just don’t want him to leave,” she said. “What if I can’t do it without him?”

“Oh, Jane,” Thor said. “Of all your concerns, that one is the least among them. I know you can do this with or without any of us.”

Drawing a breath, she chewed her lip. “But maybe I don’t want to. Erik, he’s always been there for me. He doesn’t just make me a better scientist, he makes me a better person.”

“I do not doubt Selvig’s honorable traits, but I assure you, you are a very good person with or without him,” Thor told her.”

“But he’s more than a teacher to me,” she admitted. “He’s been like a father. And now, he’s leaving, and I don’t even know what to do with that.”

He offered a smile. “I cannot presume to control Selvig or Darcy, but you have my word, that I will never leave you.”

Her mouth twitched, just a little. “I have your word?”

He reached out, taking her hand. “By whatever honor I have,” he vowed, pressing a kiss to her skin.

She blushed, pulling her hand away. “Okay, that’s not even fair.”

“No,” he agreed. “But it is very effective.”

-o-

He passed another hour or so in Jane’s company, letting her talk about her worries and concerns while he helped with the dishes stacked in her sink. As the hour grew late, he took his leave.

“We could go up to the roof,” she suggested.

“The offer is tempting,” he said. “But I believe we must turn our gaze earthward, just for tonight.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m going to need to update the entire recording system for Darcy and myself to manage without Erik. Which means I need to make it simpler or she’s totally going to go crazy with it, and--”

He raised his eyebrows expectantly.

She laughed, nodding. “And I should draw up those outlines tonight,” she said. “Good thinking.”

“Then I bid you goodnight,” Thor said, turning toward the door.

“Thor,” she said, stopping him as he turned the handle.

He looked back.

She was standing there, back against the counter, poised almost uncertainly. Jane was not a woman of doubt and indecision, nor was she one to censor her true feelings.

That said, he understood the air of uncertainty, couched with a possibility neither of them were quite sure how to grasp. On Asgard, Thor had been denied nothing, and he had never been afraid to ask for what he desired.

On Earth, however, he had no station. He had little to offer, and he was more dependent on Jane that she was on him. He had a strong fondness for her, and he often thought she reciprocated such feelings. But he did not know what that meant or how to proceed. Thor had always been bold, but he was cautious around Jane, for his existence rose and set on her good graces.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said finally. “And I mean, someday, if you wanted to leave, I’d understand. But, um, until then, I’m just really glad you’re here.”

It was affectionate, in its own way. It was endearing in all the rest. It was spoken in honesty and familiarity, and though countless people had heralded him as the rightful king of Asgard, her quiet admission of acceptance meant more.

“I seek nothing else,” he told her truthfully, “except to be here with you.”

“There’s more out there, you know,” Jane said. “A lot more.”

“Indeed,” Thor said, for he knew this truth more than she could even hope to understand. “But everything the universe holds for me, I will find here. On that, I build whatever honor I have left in these realms.”

She smiled, ducking her head with another nod. “Well,” she said, glancing up at him. “Goodnight.”

As he left, back into the growing night, he could only think that it was very good indeed.

-o-

With Jane working in her trailer, Thor considered getting some extra rest. Though it was the weekend, he was quite aware how fleeting his free time was. Even with the vestiges of his superhuman strength, the daily labor of his professional left him tired and sore more often. Thor was not one to complain, and he certainly was not one to take sleep over revelry, but he had grown humble enough to acknowledge the needs of his body.

Even so, he could not help but find himself on the roof.

Somehow, it was not surprising to see Selvig there, standing with his hands in his pockets, looking up.

Thor took a breath, crossing over toward the other man. “In all my time here, I have not once seen you on this roof,” he commented.

Selvig didn’t turn his gaze away. “It was always Jane’s space,” he said. “I knew she came up here to think.”

“So you are here now?” Thor asked.

Selvig looked at Thor, face turned in a wry smile. “I figured maybe it was my turn.”

Thor nodded, looking not up at the stars but toward Jane’s trailer. “She is still emotional over your impending departure”

Sighing, Selvig nodded. “I know,” he said. “It’s going to take her awhile to forgive me.”

“She is a woman of strong passions,” Thor said.

Selvig chuckled. “I know it.”

“She is also a woman of reason,” Thor continued. “I think she will see that your choice is not a reflection on her.”

At that, Selvig nodded, looking out again. “She knows the stars,” he said, sounding thoughtful. “Better than I do. She’s never needed me.”

“I have seen many examples of your intellect,” Thor said. “And you offer Jane a necessary perspective.”

Selvig wrinkled his nose. “She already knows the answers to all her questions,” he said. “Asking me just helps her be sure of herself.”

“You think so little of your contributions?” Thor asked.

Selvig looked at Thor. “No,” he said. “I simply think more highly of Jane’s capabilities than she’s ready to admit.”

“I can agree with you in that much,” Thor said. “Jane Foster needs the assistance of no one.”

Selvig nodded absently, turning his gaze out again. There was a quiet, measured lull before Selvig rocked back on his heels. “She’s not the only one who needs to be reminded of her own capabilities.”

Thor watched him uncertainly.

Selvig glanced at him. “You’ve come a lot further than I would have imagined,” he said. “That night, when I told you to leave and never come back, I thought I was doing the right thing. But now, I have to admit, I’m glad you didn’t listen.”

“Jane made a compelling argument,” Thor said.

“Even so,” Selvig said. “I’ve had my doubts about you, but you’ve proven yourself. It’s not your strength, but your character. You’re a good man, Thor. I’m glad you’ll be here for her, even when I’m not.”

It was a compliment, one of the highest regard. But even as it filled him with satisfaction, he could trace the undercurrent of solemnity. Selvig was not merely leaving because Jane did not need. He was leaving because it was in Jane’s best interest.

“You care deeply for Jane,” Thor said.

“Of course I do,” Selvig said. “I dropped my entire life to come help her when the readings first started picking up. I’d do anything for her.”

“Including working for SHIELD,” Thor deduced.

Selvig hesitated. “I explained earlier--”

“The people who run SHIELD are not foolish,” Thor said. “They surely know the quality of Jane’s work. They would have her intellect eventually, one way or another. If not on her terms, then on theirs.”

Selvig pursed his lips, digging his hands deeper into his pocket. “They’re not thugs.”

“Nor are they entirely altruistic,” Thor said. “By accepting their offer, you can determine the nature of your partnership and give Jane the space she needs to keep her work pure.”

Saying nothing, Selvig looked up at the stars, jaw tight.

“I suppose it was foolish of all of us to think they would be put off forever,” he said. “The men in town, they have not merely been watching me.”

“And it’s not just watching,” Selvig said. “I suspect they’ve been listening in and monitoring our operation for awhile now.”

The thought should not have been a realization at all. Of course they had employed advanced observations. Of course they were not going to be idle. They were keeping their distance, but Thor had seen enough to know they were capable of much more.

They could shut down Jane’s operation, coerce her into joining them. They could fire Darcy, and incarcerate Thor for the lies his new life was based on.

“You are giving yourself up for her sake,” Thor said. “For all of our sakes.”

Selvig shrugged. “They’re not the bad guy, even if they seem like it,” he said.

Thor took a breath, and his chest felt strangely tight. It was an emotion, not quite sadness and not quite regret. A fondness, tinged with bittersweet reality. The painful part of being human was getting what you needed but not always what you wanted.

“Still,” Selvig said, stealing a look at Thor. “You’re not the only one who would do anything for that girl.”

Thor did not know if he’d ever be able to tell Selvig just how grateful he was for that fact.

Instead, he stood by the man in solidarity for one last night.

-o-

In the morning, Thor rose with the sun and made poached eggs, a recipe that he knew Selvig was partial to. Everyone was up early, even Darcy, and they ate in uncertain silence.

There was no argument, however.

Finally, Jane said, “You don’t have to leave. I mean, the lab. I mean, you can still live here. It’s not a long commute.”

Selvig’s look was almost pained. “They encourage living on site,” he said. “Apparently it’s not exactly a nine to five kind of job.”

“I hope they pay well,” Darcy said.

“They do have an impressive benefits package,” Selvig said.

“Are you sure they’re not looking for interns?” Darcy asked.

Jane glared at her.

“What?” Darcy said. “I have some friends.”

Selvig shook his head, putting his napkin on the mostly eaten plate. “It’s for the best.”

Jane’s face bespoke her doubts, but she said nothing to rebut that fact. “Well,” she said. “You can come for dinner, at least. Every now and then.”

Selvig smiled. “I’d like that,” he said. He looked to Darcy and then to Thor. “I’d like that very much.”

“So it’s not goodbye,” Jane said with forced enthusiasm. “It is a parting of mature and intellectual minds.”

“Yeah, that sounds worse,” Darcy said.

“It’s not worse,” Jane snapped.

“I’m just saying if you’re trying to make it not seem sentimental--”

“You’re so not helping,” Jane said.

“At any rate,” Thor interjected above them both. He lifted his glass of orange juice. “To Erik Selvig, comrade and friend. We wish him well in whatever endeavors he chooses.”

Jane hastily scooped up her glass, raising it to Thor’s. “To Erik.”

Darcy made a face. “This would be better with alcohol--”

Jane glared at her.

Darcy sighed, lifting her glass. “To Erik,” she said, less enthusiastically.

Selvig took a breath, lifting his own glass and clinking it against theirs. “To pushing boundaries,” he said. “However and wherever we can.”

“Here, here,” Jane said.

Thor inclined his head.

Darcy murmured her approval.

And they drank together.

-o-

After they ate, there was little reason for fanfare. On a planet as transient as Earth, Thor supposed such things were commonplace.

Even so, the look on Selvig’s face was that of a deep ache, and as he stood at the door, bags in hand, no one seemed quite certain what to say.

It was Darcy who sighed, rolling her eyes. She lifted her fingers to her head, saluting him casually. “I’m going to miss you,” she said. “You made the science make sense. Jane gets too excited to slow down.”

Selvig chuckled. “You know more than you let on,” he said. “Stay with Jane, and you may learn something yet.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, wrinkling her nose. “I’m trying to avoid that.”

Thor stood firmly, offering his hand as was the custom on this planet. Selvig looked at it for a moment, before reaching out to take the extended hand. Thor gripped it firmly, giving one steady shake. “It has been an honor,” he said. “I, too, will miss your presence.”

Selvig nodded, letting his hand drop. “I can explain a lot of things,” he said. “But I never have been able to explain you.”

“Is that an insult?” Thor asked.

Selvig smiled. “I’m a scientist,” he said. “But with you, I’ve learned to take a little bit on faith.”

“I have always strove to be worthy of that,” Thor told him.


Selvig’s smile pulled wider. “I know.”

It was Jane who moved next, stepping between them all and crossing the distance toward Selvig. Without warning or any preamble, she threw her arms around Selvig. At first, the older man seemed surprised, and then, for a fleeting moment, pained. But he finally sighed, easing his stance and lifting his arms to return the hug.

When Jane ducked away, she sniffled, wiping her nose.

Selvig looked at her, bowing slightly to catch her eye. “If you ever need anything,” he said. “All you have to do is call.”

“Somehow I don’t think it’ll be that easy anymore,” she said with a wry laugh.

“SHIELD or no SHIELD,” Selvig said. “I will be here for you.”

She turned her gaze up, and her eyes were bright even as she smiled. “I know.”

Selvig smiled in return, nodding one last time. He looked at them each, and then picked up his bag. “Well,” he said. “I guess that’s that.”

No one disagreed with him, for indeed, there was nothing left to say. They did not part as enemies. They did not part with reservation. The equanimity of the decision did not make it less painful, however.

Even so, as Selvig climbed into his car and pulled away, Thor found it reassuring to have the chance to say goodbye.

-o-

Although Selvig’s departure was heavy on Thor’s heart, he had to admit, his absence had little impact on the day to day routine in Puente Antiguo. Thor still rose early to labor hard through the daylight hours, and Jane was often consumed with work until late into the night. Darcy’s quips were no less random and jeering, and though there were fewer people to comment on Jane’s latest theories, her thought process was no less effusive.

Still, there were times when Thor missed a companion to enjoy sports on the weekend, and Darcy complained often about having to be the “sane one” around the lab. There were moments when Jane would throw her hands in the air and cry, “Erik would know what to do!”

It was human nature, in Thor’s limited estimation. To endure and accept change so readily -- and to prosper despite it.

Resiliency, it seemed, was not merely a trait of the strong.

-o-

“With the rate we’re getting readings, I wouldn’t be surprised if we can extrapolate a model,” Jane said. “And then it would only be a matter of time until we could essentially reverse engineer something to achieve a similar effect on our end.”

Thor hummed good naturedly, not sure what else to say. They were sprawled side by side, a small fire crackling on the roof as they looked at the stars.

“I mean, I know it’s possible because it’s like a door,” she said. “It goes two ways; it has to.”

“I’m afraid the platform by which you would need to travel is very advanced,” Thor said.

“Oh, of course,” Jane said. “I mean, the first tests would just be about establishing a link. Essentially, we’d only be able to open a bridge large enough to transmit data -- or collect data, for that matter. It’d be little more than a really advanced satellite signal.”

That sounded small to Thor, hardly the monumental victory Jane might hope for.

She laughed, shaking her head. “Can you even imagine? What that would mean?”

He looked at her.

Her eyes were fixed on the stars. “It would change everything.”

He smiled, because he could not help but think that it already had.

Small victories were still victories, after all. Sometimes the level of the conquest could not be gauged on its cosmic scale, but its personal one.

At least, Thor could hope.

For his own sake as much as Jane’s.

-o-

There were other changes, however. People asked regarding Selvig in a vague and friendly way, and Thor shared honestly that his friend had left to pursue other ventures. For most people, that scant information was all they needed to know.

The SHIELD agents, however, decreased in number and kept their distance. There was only a pair of them now, stationed on the main thoroughfare in town. They said nothing and did nothing, but the added space was palpable to Thor.

When he saw Selvig again, he would have to relate his thanks once more.

-o-

“Ugh, no,” Darcy said. “We are not going to sit in this lab again.

Thor blinked at her earnestly. It was Friday night, and he had been very much looking forward to watching a movie with her. “I did not mean to assume--”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Aren’t you bored?” she asked. “You work all day, and you come back here and sit all night.”

“If you’re bored, then go out for a while,” Jane said from across the room. “Call one of your friends. Who’s that crazy one with the orange hair?”

“Kelly, and her hair is green now,” Darcy said. “But she lives too far away because she doesn’t want to come to this town in the middle of nowhere on a Friday night and do nothing.

“Then perhaps you should go to her,” Thor suggested reasonably.

Darcy narrowed her gaze. “And you two will what, just stay here?”

“Um, I have this theory that I want to test and I just need a little more time--”

“Yeah, don’t care,” Darcy said. “Thor?”

“Well, I was going to watch a movie--”

“On cable,” Darcy said. “With commercials. I just, can’t even--”

“I enjoy the commercials,” Tor began.

Darcy shook her head. “No,” she said. “No movies on cable. No commercials.”

Thor raised his eyebrows.

Darcy got up, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling. “Come on, big guy,” she said. “We’re going out.”

Thor cocked his head, glancing at Jane.

“Don’t look at me,” Jane said.

Darcy grunted. “Wow,” she said, straining as she pulled harder. “You’re, like, massive. I think you have bricks for biceps.”

“My form is actually very weak--”

Letting go, Darcy tipped her head back in frustration. “Come on!” she cried out. “Please!”

Thor looked at Jane.

Jane shrugged. “You might have fun.”

Thor nodded, getting to his feet. “Very well then,” he said, looking at Darcy. “I will follow where you lead.”

Her expression brightened. “Really?”

Thor smiled. “Tonight,” he proclaimed. “We will have fun!”

-o-

During his time on Earth, Thor had learned quickly to let go of any expectations he might have. Instead, he chose to approach all new events as learning experiences. His role was to observe and absorb, and hope to assimilate accordingly.

Therefore, he had few expectations about what the night would actually include. At Darcy’s behest, he drove them to the next town. He was somewhat familiar with the area, having frequented for leisure and work, but she directed him beyond the establishments with which he was familiar and instructed him to park outside a small, unassuming structure.

Though it was not much to look at, it was well lit and the parking lot was full.

“Is this some sort of drinking establishment?” Thor asked, putting the car in park.

Darcy grinned. “Something like that.”

“There are other drinking establishments that are much closer to the lab,” Thor said.

“Not like this there aren’t,” Darcy said, getting out of the car.

Thor followed suit, studiously locked the car after ensuring that he had his wallet and keys readily in hand. “In what manner?”

“You’ll see,” she said. “You trust me, right?”

Darcy was somewhat unreliable in many regards. She was flippant when Jane desired her to be serious, and she was lazy whenever possible. Thor had never seen her do the dishes, and the few times she attempted to cook, it was frozen pizza or macaroni and cheese.

And yet, Darcy Lewis was there when it mattered, and she had had the presence of mind to perceive him as a threat when he first arrived, raving and mad on this planet. For her oddities, she had a spirited heart, which served her well. Trust was not reserved only for those who thought and acted just as he did.

It was for all people who proved themselves worthy.

Loki had said that often, but Thor had been too errant to listen. Not that he had ever slighted his brother, but it was easy to poke holes in his ideas and use his hobbies as a punchline. Thor was not cruel -- Loki regarded Thor was similar chastisement -- but it had been easy to take Loki and his differences for granted. He had spent so much time with the Warriors Three and Sif that it had made outside opinions and new experiences mostly irrelevant to him.

That was no longer the case. His friends were lost to him, and he would see his brother no more. All he had was Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, and Darcy Lewis.

Three estimable colleagues.

Three dear friends.

“Yes,” he said with a resolute nod. “I trust you implicitly.”

She beamed. “Great,” she said. “Let’s do this.”

-o-

This, as it turned out, was a vague description of what Thor could only assume was chaos. Although he had seen many bars turn rowdy with patrons who were inebriated, this was a different kind of ruckus. The man at the door had checked their identification thoroughly, stamping their hands with some strange logo before requiring a fee and allowing them to enter.

The lights were low, interspersed with flashing colors. There was a long bar along one wall, and a stage on the opposite side, and though there were a few tables along the edges of the room, the majority of the space was cleared of objects and furniture to make room for a throng of people.

What they were doing, Thor was not entirely sure. It seemed to be a vivacious social gathering, and although they were not fighting, it was not clear that it was peaceable. Everyone was moving, however, and at first Thor considered it might be some sort of training regimen. Thor would think to inquire, but it was hard to think given the amount of noise.

Not from the people, though they could be talking. But from the music. It was loud and pulsing, and though Thor had heard similar such sounds from Darcy’s iPod, the low bass sound was greatly amplified in the small space, causing a much more distinctive effect.

Clearly, the music was intended as part of the experience, for as Thor watched, the mass of people seemed to move in tandem with the beat.

Curious, Thor leaned closer to Darcy. “What is this?”

“This is dancing!” she said.

Dancing. It was not the answer Thor expected. They had dancing, to be sure, on Asgard, but it had been slower and flowing, with elegant movements and flowing garments. His people were fond of slow melodies and rich tones.

This, on the other hand, seemed somewhat like a preliminary mating ritual.

“What is its purpose?” he asked.

She looked up at him. “Seriously?”

Thor shrugged. “I’m afraid to do not understand.”

“You’re really going to say you can’t feel it?” she asked.

Thor tilted his head.

“The beat!” she said, putting a hand to his chest. “You can feel it, the minute you come inside, pounding right there.”

“Adrenaline,” Thor said. “I have similar physiological responses from exercise--”

She shook her head, pressing on his chest harder. “No way,” she said. “This is different.”

“I don’t see how--”

She rolled her eyes. “Just -- close your eyes.”

He hesitated.

She steadied her glare.

Thor sighed, and then obeyed.

With his eyes closed, she spread her palm out. “It’s not just about hearing it or even feeling it,” she said. “It’s about letting it take you away.”

“Dancing is a common pastime--”

She hushed, jabbed his chest. “Not dancing,” she said. “It’s not some set of prescribed moves. It’s whatever the hell you want it to be. It’s about feeling the beat and doing whatever you can with it. It’s about feeling alive.”

Thor listened for a moment, starting to make sense of the rhythm, listening for its predictable pattern as is thrummed in his chest. But he shook his head. “I am unschooled in this art,” he said, opening his eyes. “I will look ridiculous.”

Darcy smirked, dropping her hand. “Yeah, dumbass,” she said. “That’s basically the point.”

-o-

There were no rules to this dancing; there were also no expectations. Thor observed a wide variety of styles, and there appeared to be some who were more skilled than others. Some bobbed wildly, and others climbed on top of each other and soared across the floor on the arms of their colleagues. Others found a small space and rocked steadily to the rhythm, as they apparently saw fit.

Darcy, as it turned out, danced with wild abandon, sometimes with different partners and sometimes by herself. She drank heartily throughout the night, pausing only between songs and to take small breaks in the nearby bathroom facilities.

For his part, Thor moved self consciously at first, taking more time at the bar than necessary. But he reasoned that he was here, and though it was awkward and undignified, he had to concede that everyone appeared to be having fun.

The beat was quite compelling, and with so many people around, he was hardly a source of much attention. He was just one of many, and though Thor had often found that discouraging, he realized now it could be empowering as well.

It was about feeling alive, Thor told himself.

Thor was no prince. He was no longer an Aesir. He could not fight battles; he could not rule a people.

But he could work a job. He could be a good friend. He could live a life, quiet and respectable.

And, for all that was good in this realm, he could also dance.

-o-

Thor knew none of the music. He talked little to any of his fellow patrons. He often lost sight of Darcy, checking the crowd for her intermittently for her own security. Thor did not know if he was a very good dancer. Indeed, he did not feel very adept, and there was no amount of alcohol that could dull his hesitations in this regard.

Even so, he was here.

Thor would dance to whatever music played.

And he would enjoy himself in the end.

-o-

The hour was late, or early, depending on the point of view. Though Thor was tired, he found Darcy to be much worse off. It had been her idea to leave -- “We go or I marry that guy, over there, with the mohawk, no questions asked” -- and Thor had gauged her level of inebriation and decided that going home was probably their best recourse.

She giggled as he buckled her in, only somewhat upright in the seat as Thor started the car.

“You’re kind of amazing, you know that?” she said.

“I am nothing of the sort,” he said. “Your skills, on the other hand, were most impressive tonight.”

Darcy grunted, then hiccupped. “I’m serious, though.”

“As am I,” Thor said. “When you jumped off the stage into the crowd, I thought you had lost your mind--”

“Well, I’d had about five shots by that point,” Darcy said. “So, yeah...but that’s not what I mean.”

Thor pulled the car gently out of the parking spot. “Then do enlighten me.”

“You, man,” Darcy said, jabbing a finger into his bicep. “I don’t know where the hell you actually came from, and I don’t know why you’re actually still here, but you’re so good.”

Thor raised his eyebrows. “I think you have had too much to drink.”

Darcy laughed. “Uh, yeah,” she said. “But really. You never complain. You work this terrible job with horrible hours and then you come home and are all happy to do housework and listen to Jane. I want to go out dancing, and you don’t even stop. You’re so good.

Though she was drunk, her words were spoken from someplace genuine. And her honesty gave Thor reason to pause.

He had not given much thought, after all, to how he was perceived. Appearances had been important to his father, and Thor had only thought to present himself as strong and immovable as the heir to the throne.

But to be good.

To be kind.

To be honest and open hearted and willing. Thor had never given much thought to these things until he was so humbled as to find the to be all he could achieve.

To some, it seemed a lesser destiny.

Thor, however, had his doubts.

“I am only good for the goodness shown to me,” he said. “You said you wished to live, and that was why you came here. Though your methods are unschooled and raucous, your intentions are invariably noble. I find you to be quite wise, Darcy Lewis.”

She stared at him, blank faced. “Damn,” she said. “I’m drunker than I thought.”

Thor chuckled. “I will tell it to you again in the morning when your senses have recovered.”

“No,” she said. “I mean, I’m really drunk. Pull over!”

Thor barely had time to get them to the side of the road before Darcy flung the door open and retched violently. When she was done, she slumped back into her seat.

“What were you saying?” she mumbled.

Thor smiled sympathetically. “Nothing that cannot wait until morning.”

-o-

They arrived back at the lab before the dawn, and Thor took the trouble of depositing Darcy on the couch. As he made his way to his room, he found Jane slumped over her work station. He was contemplating whether to leave her where she lie or take her to her trailer when Jane startled awake.

She flailed, inhaling suddenly. Blinking a few times, her eyes settled on Thor.

“I just...fell asleep,” she said, as though realizing it herself.

“A riveting night?” Thor asked.

“Yes, actually,” Jane said. “I had this massive breakthrough with the equation, and I thought about taking into consideration the polarization of the atmosphere as a variable in the distance and--”

Thor did his best to be interested, but he had been without rest for quite some time.

Jane was easily preoccupied with science, but she was not without common courtesy. She stopped herself, making a sheepish expression. “It’s too late for science, isn’t it?”

“Rather, too early,” Thor told her.

“Did you guys have fun at least?”

Thor glanced to Darcy. “I believe Darcy may have had too much fun.”

Jane nodded. “That sounds about right,” she said. “She’ll sleep it off.”

“She will have to sleep at least until midday for that,” Thor observed. “For a creature so small, her capacity for heavy mead is impressive.”

“Suicidal, more likely,” Jane quipped. “And hey, midday sounds about normal for her on a Saturday.”

“She is a prolific sleeper,” Thor agreed.

Jane smiled affectionately, then looked at Thor. “What about you?” she asked. “I hope Darcy didn’t make you do anything too ridiculous.”

“To the contrary, it was a quite invigorating experience,” Thor said.

“What’d you do?”

“Dancing,” Thor said.

“Oh,” Jane said. She started to grin. “I would have liked to see that.”

“Then perhaps next time you should come,” Thor said.

“Well, perhaps I should,” she said. “That is, depending on how you dance.”

“Ah,” Thor said. “In that case, you would be better off with your equations because I am a terrible dancer.”

A tight laugh escaped Jane’s lips before she managed to stop herself. “That’s perfect, then.”

Thor looked at her questioningly.

“You can’t be good at everything,” she explained. “Having flaws makes you human.”

He considered this. In his life, he had been expected to be the best. Indeed, he had worked hard to always persevere. As the heir to the throne, anything short of perfection had been failure to him. He had internalized the expectations and embraced them as his own. Thor had not tolerated weakness in his life. He had not humored coming in second.

It had made him arrogant and single-minded.

It had led him to make war on Jotunheim.

It had brought him here.

“Well, then,” he said. “I am the most human of us all.”

She smiled. “I know,” she said. “That’s been pretty clear since the start.”

When Thor retired to his bed, he found that oddly comforting. He closed his eyes and could still feel the beat of the music, hammering through his chest.

-o-

Thor awoke several hours later, fully refreshed. He found coffee already warm on the counter and a late breakfast cooking on the stove. He helped Jane finish the preparation, and then served a plate to Darcy, who was just starting to stir on the couch.

“Here,” he said. “You will require sustenance.”

Darcy grimaced, rolling away from him. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“Not in the least,” Thor assured her.

“Well, please do,” she mumbled, pulling a pillow over her head. “I want to die.”

“That would be a pity,” Thor said.

Darcy peeked at him from behind the pillow. “Because you don’t want me to die?”

Thor smiled. “Because I was hoping we could go again next weekend.”

Groaning, Darcy pulled the pillow up again.

Thor patted her on the shoulder reassuringly. “Food,” he said. “For the day is young and the day is beautiful, and we have it to share with one another.”

Darcy made a guttural unintelligible noise and then lifted a single finger in reply.

Life, Thor decided, was very good.

-o-