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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (6/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:54 am)
annoyed

feeling: annoyed

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




Nothing changed.

Thor still went about his work as he had for months now. It was sometimes monotonous work, and it was physically demanding. But Thor found life familiar in this, for he had always thrived with a training regimen. Once he had wielded weapons to destroy; now he took up tools to create. His comrades often remarked that it was a life with few rewards, but Thor found the pleasure of simple company and the satisfaction of seeing a job through to completion to be privilege enough.

Around town, he grew more integrated with the people. He had a favorite dish at the diner, and he was the first person many townsfolk remembered in times of need. He lifted heavy objects and reached kittens in high trees. He helped people move, and learned to fix simple plumbing leaks and electrical issues. They thanked him heartily, and Thor remembered what it was to be needed.

He spent his free time with Jane and Darcy, sometimes helping with their research while other times simply offering whatever support he could. He learned to cook many things, and became fastidious in his cleanliness. Between the three of them, only Thor had the attention and inclination to keep the lab in tolerable condition, and Thor did not think himself too big to complete such simple tasks.

It was not all work, of course. He learned much of the local pastimes, especially the sports. He passed many evenings in the local bar, discussing the likelihood of the Diamondbacks making the World Series and the Cowboys finding success in their offensive game. He had a tab, which he used carefully, and though he was fond of mead, he learned something of moderation.

Though he enjoyed his time out, his time with Jane and Darcy was still the most favorable. Though Jane worked more these days with the favorable readings, they still made ample time for recreation. Not that they needed much. Jane dreamed of big, impossible things, but she liked simple pleasures and unassuming thrills. They laughed and watched television. They listened to music and took trips around town. They shared many good memories.

When the weather was calm and Thor found himself still awake, he still joined Jane on the roof. They discussed the stars, for it was a topic she never seemed to weary of. She would drift off to sleep, curled against him in the chilled night, and he stayed still and awake, planting a gentle kiss to her head in thanks. They often woke like that, still pressed together in the earliest rays of sunlight from the east.

They shared a good life.

In this, nothing had changed.

To Thor, though, it felt like everything had changed.

-o-

It was Jane who remembered the upcoming anniversary, but it was Darcy who suggested the celebration.

“You’ve been here a year!” Darcy said. “I honestly don’t know how anyone survives in this town for a year, but you have done it with gusto. If that doesn’t deserve a night of indulgence, then I don’t know what does.”

“That would be unnecessary,” Thor said, as politely as possible. He knew much of Darcy’s interest was for her own benefit, and Thor did not like to deny people simple indulgences. However, the date of his arrival on Midgard was somewhat auspicious to him. It was true that he found his life mostly satisfying as it was, but the anniversary also reminded him of what he had lost.

It was not just the day he arrived on Earth, after all. It was also the day he’d been banished from his homeworld, stripped of his title and his power and exiled from his friends and family forever.

“Aw, come on,” Darcy said. “You don’t talk about your birthday, so this is the next best thing. Your rebirth as Donald Blake! We can get a cake, buy some beer--”

“We may do all those things without a celebration,” Thor reminded her.

“But it’s not the same,” Darcy said. “It’s a party! Everyone loves a party!”

Thor did love parties. On Asgard, he had reveled in them for days. Sometimes, after a successful conquest, the halls of his father’s palace were alight for days with the levity, and Thor, in his prime, had been at the center of it all.

Sometimes it felt like he’d spent more time in celebration on Asgard than his entire year on Midgard compared.

He shook his head. “I have done nothing worthy of a celebration.”

“We celebrate the day people are born,” Darcy reminded him. “Like it’s some feat that they managed to have their mother push them out.”

It was a peculiar human gaiety, he had noted. Birthdays were of course noted on Asgard, but after centuries, celebrating the date of one’s birth had seemed superfluous at best. With limited years, Thor could only imagine the yearly commemoration carried more impact.

“You know, I agree with Darcy on this one,” Jane chimed in.

Thor’s brow creased, somewhat surprised.

Darcy clapped her hands triumphantly. “Ha!”

“But Jane!” Thor started to protest.

“It’s kind of an important day,” she said. “I mean, think about it. A year ago, you fell out of the sky and I hit you with a car. You completely changed my research, and you’ve changed life for everyone in Puente Antiguo.”

Thor shook his head. “You are being overly dramatic--”

“It’s not even the big things,” she said. “It’s the way you fit in. The way you fix things; the way everyone knows your name. It’s like you belong here, and I see no reason not to celebrate that.”

“I do not seek attention,” Thor said.

“Which is sort of why you deserve a party,” Jane said. “Look, you’ve cooked and you’ve cleaned and you’ve gotten a job and you’ve helped us with work and you’ve never asked for anything in return. This would be our way of, I don’t know, letting you know we appreciate you.”

Thor took a measured breath. “Your words are appreciation enough.”

“Uh uh,” Darcy said. “Appreciation is at least two kegs and a sheet cake for fifty.”

“And we can grill out,” Jane said. “Maybe we could even get Erik to come.”

“He’s the only one who can turn on the grill, so I hope so,” Darcy said.

Thor was dubious. “I still think a celebration is unnecessary.”

Darcy wrinkled her nose. “Um, isn’t that is kind of the point?”

Thor sighed, though he could tell this was an argument he was going to lose. “I still see nothing I have contributed to warrant this.”

“You’re here,” Jane said. “That’s why we celebrate birthdays. Because we want to remember how grateful we are that people are here. That we’re glad they’re in our lives, and that we wouldn’t have it any other way. Birthdays are a way to remember that the world would be a worse place without you in it. So yeah, they’re stupid and superficial and, I don’t know, kind of pointless. But I don’t know, a lot of life is like that. It’s the small things that matter.”

The small things. Such were the only things that Thor had left. For he had been cast out of greatness and resigned to stay here among beings he once thought of as lesser than himself. There had been a time he had celebrated great conquests and sought honor for profound feats among his kin.

He had nothing of that here.

All he had was his very existence, and he often found that to be meager. Even among these mortals with their short lives and small capabilities, he was nothing of note. He was nothing.

Except that which was imbued upon him by those around him. His meaning was no longer in what he could accomplish, but the friends he made.

He could still remember standing outside the throne room with Loki, having his brother wish him luck at the coronation. He had been so expectant, ready to prove himself to those he would rule. It had been his day of triumphant; a celebration that no one would forget.

At least, he had thought.

It was so fleeting to him now. The people had cheered, but all that they had to offer was nothing like that which he was being offered now. From Jane and Darcy, it was not undying loyalty and unbidden praise.

No, this was something far different.

This was the stuff of real friendship

The stuff of family.

The ways of love.

It was this he had neglected on Asgard, and he had lost to rest as recompense. For he had forgotten what it was to have the love of a brother, the respect of a father, the concern of a mother.

He had forgotten the small things and forfeited the larger.

Not this time.

With a small, pained smile, Thor forced himself to nod. “Very well, then,” he said. “I suppose a small celebration cannot be too much.”

Jane’s face broadened with a grin. “Great,” she said. “It’ll be really simple.”

“We won’t even hit you with a car this time!” Darcy added.

Jane glared at her. “Or taser you.”

Thor had to laugh. “That sounds like a very good place to start.”

-o-

As a prince, Thor had attended many parties but he knew very little of how to put one together. In his privilege, he had never given it much thought. If he had been in want of food or entertainment, he had merely to request it and it happened.

Such things were not so easy on Earth.

After Thor had agreed to allow such a celebration, he had expected little disruption to his daily life. Jane had insisted that it would be simple and had indicated that it would be small.

But the next day, he found Darcy and Jane conferring in hushed tones. When he approached, they quickly changed their topic of conversation, watching him carefully until he was out of earshot again.

At first, Thor thought perhaps this was a coincidence. But when it happened several more times over the course of the next two days, his suspicions began to deepen. Finally, when he asked Jane what she was discussing, she told him it was nothing of his concern.

Normally, Thor did not doubt Jane Foster, for she was a good and honest woman.

However, Thor was oblivious, out of touch and sometimes obtuse. He was not, however, completely stupid.

He sighed. “I thought this was going to be a simple celebration,” he said.

She blinked up at him innocently. “I never said--”

Thor raised his eyebrows. “I know of everything else regarding your work and life,” he said. “In my time with you, you have showed no interest in keeping anything from me.”

Jane laughed, forced and overly grand. “Oh, I have secrets--”

“That you share with Darcy and not me?” Thor asked.

“It could be girl...stuff,” Jane said, trailing off awkwardly.

Thor kept his gaze on her.

“Or something,” Jane fumbled.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, he’s not going to believe that,” she said.

Thor lifted his chin triumphantly.

“Just like you shouldn’t have believed us when we said it’d be small,” Darcy said. “I mean, really. This town is tiny. All we do is science. I will take any reason to buy the liquor store out of stock, and this is really too good to pass up.”

Thor’s triumphant gaze fell.

Jane gave Darcy a look.

Darcy shrugged. “Or we could sit around a little longer pretending,” she said. “But I figured this was easier.”

Jane’s mouth fell open.

Thor shifted uncomfortably. “Well,” he said. “Very well, then.”

Jane closed her mouth, looking up at him. “I. Um.”

Darcy groaned. “How am I really the only one mature enough to handle this right now?”

“You’re never mature,” Jane said.

“Which is why this is so painfully unprecedented,” Darcy said. She shook her head. “Look, Thor, Jane wants to surprise you. Jane, Thor’s not sure what to expect and that makes him nervous. I can assure you both, there will be drinking and music and friends -- and whatever the hell else you two want out of it, then that’s entirely up to you.”

Thor looked at Jane.

Jane, on the other hand, looked astutely at her hands.

“Now,” Darcy said. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a party to plan. If it’s not awesome, then it’s certainly not going to be for my lack of effort.”

With that, Darcy stalked off.

Jane laughed nervously, fiddling with her hair as she stole a glance at Thor. “What’s up with her, right?”

Thor cleared his throat. “I certainly have no idea.”

There was a pause that lingered. Thor pressed his lips together. “Well, then--”

Almost simultaneously, Jane said, “I should really--”

They both stopped, laughing.

“I will let you get back to it,” Thor finally said, as magnanimously as he could.

“It really will be good,” Jane promised.

Thor nodded. “With you,” he said. “I have no doubt.”

-o-

Jane and Darcy continued on in their plans for the rest of the week. They showed no signs of abating. In truth, this was as excited as Thor had ever seen Jane regarding a topic not related to science.

To Thor, this was both flattering and disconcerting. He hardly understood the point, though he would never say no to anything she felt so passionate about. He had always taken such things for granted -- affection and adulation -- and now to have it heaped upon him so freely again, he became aware of its insidious implications.

It had been so easy on Asgard, to wallow in the praise. He had never felt out of place when thrust into the limelight. At the celebrations, he had basked in glory and had not hesitated to partake in more than his share of honor when the tales of victory were told.

Sometimes, such inclinations were still tempting. The way he was lauded around town; the utter devotion displayed by his friends. He could not deny that he enjoyed the compliments of others, and it was so easy to come by such things on a planet such as this. Even stripped of his Asgardian power, he still easily outclassed his fellow mortals, and he had moments when he thought himself better.

When he thought himself to be worthy.

That was the danger. That was the reason his penance was so just. Because he Mjolnir was still abandoned and desolate in the desert, an enduring testament to all that Thor still had to learn.

This party was not a reflection on him. It was a reflection of those he called friends. That was reason to celebrate.

It was the only reason.

-o-

To compensate, Thor worked harder that week. He logged as many extra hours as he could, and he made himself readily available around town for any odd jobs that he could find. He swept floors and fixed chairs: anything to remind himself of his station.

One of the neighbors needed a new roof on the shed, and Thor worked through the dinner hour to pound in the new slates. He positioned the nails, holding them steady with one hand while taking up his hammer in the other. The hilt was small in his hand, and its weight was too light, but every movement drained him more.

He finished when it was dark and the wan light of the moon spilled over the town. Putting his tools away, his fingers ached around the hammer, burning with need and want. It had been a year, he knew. A year since he had taken up Mjolnir, since he had felt the power surge through him. He could still remember it, though, like it was yesterday. The might; the exhilaration; the satisfaction of being the strongest in all the realms.

The simple pleasure of being worthy.

There was nothing to be done for it. When he was offered a meal as compensation for his task, he politely declined and made the walk home in the dark, flexing his restless fingers the whole way home.

-o-

By Friday, Thor was feeling withdrawn. He excused himself and went to be early, trying not to be displeased when Jane did not request him to stay up with her.

The next day, Thor attempted to not sulk, but when he made a to do about going out, no one stopped him.

It was just as well, Thor told himself as he worked out at the gym.

Whatever discomfort he felt was entirely his own fault.

This was all his own fault.

A year ago, he marched to Jotunheim by his own stupidity.

A year ago, he was exiled to pay the price for the weight of his errors.

A year, and nothing had changed.

Thor was still exiled, and he had nothing to show for his time away. A year had passed, and such time was but a blink of the eye on Asgard. He would be forgotten. He would be written out of history, encapsulated as a footnote on his father’s enduring legacy.

Did his people suffer? Did his friends still fight for him? Did Loki fare better under their father’s treatment? Did his mother mourn him?

Would Mjolnir ever be held aloft again?

Thor did not know.

Worse still, he had no right to know.

A year had passed, but it might as well been a lifetime. One year, two years, three years: away from Asgard, these measures were small and meaningless.

Much like Thor.

The mighty Thor.

Lifting weights like a common mortal, in a 24 hour fitness center with nominal monthly charges. He showered in a communal shower and retrieve a beverage from a vending machine.

The mighty had fallen.

And there was no way to go back up.

-o-

When he arrived back home, the lab was quiet. Thor was tired with his hair still damp and his gym bag slung over his shoulder. He had no desire for anything except another glass of water and something full of protein to tide him through the adrenaline crash of his vigorous physical exercise. His mother would lecture him that sulking was not befitting a prince, but as his father had made quite clear, Thor was no longer a prince.

He would sulk all he want.

Protein be damned; he would have ice cream instead.

He let himself inside, slinging the gym bag down. In the late afternoon, the sunlight was dim through the lab, so he reached over and turned on the light.

And the whole room came alive.

People leapt up from behind chairs and benches, wearing diminutive hats and smiling as they cheered, “Surprise!”

Thor stopped, blinking in total shock. There was several waitresses from the diner; the man from the pet store. Other business owners and some of their neighbors and a few people from the gym. Even a few of his companions from work were there, along with Selvig and Darcy.

And Jane.

She was beaming, looking right at him. Her eyes were bright with enthusiasm, her face alive with something Thor could only describe as joy.

She was happy; she was content; she was enthralled. All on his behalf.

He did not deserve it. He had done nothing to warrant it. Yet, it could not be denied.

Jane had done this for him. He had gathered people who cared about him to celebrate his mere presence in their lives.

It took only an instant, and Thor understood the value of birthday parties.

Moreover, he understood the depth of Jane’s feelings.

He was not merely a visitor. He was not some part of her life that she tolerated. She cared for him with a love that could not be earned.

Thor had many reasons to sulk, this much was true. All of those, however, were his own fault.

On the other hand, Thor had only one very good reason to feel grateful. And that was something he was being offered freely and with no reservations.

He would be foolish not to take it.

Smiling, he laughed. “Friends!” he said. “This is very unexpected. And certainly not necessary.”

Jane came forward, taking his hand. “Well, at lot of things aren’t necessary,” she said. “But that doesn’t make them any less important.”

“Unlike alcohol,” Darcy said, handing Thor a can of beer. “Which is both important and necessary.”

“Well spoken,” Thor said, taking a drink. He held it aloft to the crowd. “To my friends.”

There was applause and a chorus of here, here.

Then someone turned on the music, and Thor could smell meat cooking on the grill.

Jane squeezed his hand, offering him a smile.

Thor squeezed her hand back, for maybe there was a reason to celebrate after all.

-o-

It was a far cry from the grandiose feasts on Asgard. The food, though good, was simple. There was no grand dining hall, and all the guests seemed to provide their own side dishes to share. They ate on paper plates and drank from plastic cups, with Darcy’s music on in the background.

Selvig manned the grill, and Darcy kept things lively. Thor made his way from person to person, talking to them about how grateful he was that they came and thanking them for their hospitality.

He caught sight of Jane quite often, seeing her tending the food table or talking to a guest, but she stole as many glances at him as he did of her.

Thor had lost much in the last year.

But standing among those he called friends, he knew he had gained much as well.

-o-

The party lasted into the evening, though the small crowd dissipated by 9 PM. Thor started went about collecting the trash, which was strewn across the lab, when Darcy shook her head.

“You’re not supposed to clean up after your own party,” she said.

“You did all the set up,” Thor replied. “It is the least I can do.”

Darcy flopped to the couch. “Tall, blonde, muscular and a housekeeper,” she said. “You are basically like a gift from heaven.”

Thor chuckled, sorting the beer cars into the recycle bin. “I had a very enjoyable time,” he said.

Darcy shrugged. “It was no all night dance party or anything, but we did the best we could.”

“It was quite good indeed,” Thor assured her.

“I’m serious, though,” she continued, sinking deeper into the cushions. “No cleaning.”

“But it is--”

“It is a bother,” Darcy said. “To me. Jane’s been running me ragged for this thing. I am going to sit here on this couch and sleep.”

“It is only 9 PM,” Thor pointed out.

“So I’ll only have to sleep until 9 AM to get 12 hours,” Darcy said. “That’s perfect.”

Thor knew better than to think she was joking. Instead, he threw the last handful of garbage away. “Very well,” he said. “Thank you again, Darcy Lewis. Your friendship is quite meaningful to me.”

Eyes closed, she lifted a hand in a sloppy salute. “You keep things real around here, big guy,” she said. “Any time.”

Thor watched her, settling back into rest. She was unlike anyone on Asgard, but he could not help but think Loki would enjoy her caustic mannerism and off beat sense of humor. It was nice to have someone on the outside of the expected to keep him well and truly grounded. If only he had appreciated Loki, while he still had the privilege.

But then, he might never have met Darcy, and that, he decided, would have been a true disappointment.

-o-

With Darcy attempting to sleep in the lab, Thor made his way outside where Selvig was cleaning up the grill. In the few short months since Selvig had parted from their company, the man had grown older it seemed. The changes were subtle, with deepening lines around his eyes and a whitening of his hair. It was somewhat unsettling to see, just how much a human could wither away while Thor was not paying attention. It was the fate of mankind to be fleeting, and Thor had never had delusions otherwise.

Even now, it did not give him pause for his own sake. But the thought that Selvig would depart this existence ahead of him with so much left undone was hard to grasp.

“You look serious,” Selvig said, glancing up as he scrubbed a brush over the surface of the grill. “It’s a party, you know.”

“The party is over,” Thor replied.

Selvig lifted his eyebrows. “And that was a joke.”

Thor smiled gently. “I am glad you came, Selvig.”

“Of course I came,” Selvig said, standing up straight again. “You’re my friend, after all.”

“I feel that title has been hard won,” Thor said.

Looking out across the land toward Jane’s trailed, Selvig sniffed a little. “I am a loyal person,” he said. “I don’t make friends easily, but once I do…”

Thor inclined his head. “You have much wisdom.”

Selvig nodded, silence lingering for a moment. He chewed the inside of his lip, then turned his gaze back to Thor. “I trust you, Thor,” he said. “You know that.”

“You have made this sentiment clear to me.”

Selvig took a breath, letting it out heavily. “It’s been hard to explain,” he said. “I’ve been so worried about Jane that sometimes I lost perspective.”

“Perspective?”

“Jane’s not the only person involved with this,” Selvig said. He pursed his lips, sighing again. “My time at SHIELD has been...most informative.”

Thor was uncertain where this conversation was headed. He did not bring up the topic of SHIELD with anyone, and he had tried to shut his encounter with that organization from his mind as much as possible. It was not a question of trust or distrust, but a self defense mechanism. His time at SHIELD had been the lowest of his life. His failure to lift the hammer had been a mighty blow, one he might not have recovered from without the help of his friends on Earth.

“Jane has more concrete data than they do,” he said. “And her grasp of the bridge far exceeds their own, but Jane’s focus is almost entirely scientific.”

“There is another focus?” Thor asked, a little hesitant.

“SHIELD has a wide view of things,” he said. “Not just the science, but the political and social implications. Their theories about the bridge are still a work in progress, but their theories about you….”

Thor stiffened involuntarily.

Selvig shrugged. “I’ve always suspected,” he said. “But the evidence they’ve put together is compelling. I never would have made as many parallels as they have. You’re not a mad man, Thor.”

Thor swallowed hard. “That would be the easier answer.”

“No doubt,” Selvig said. “But with everything SHIELD knows, they still have the same question about you: why. Why would you be here? Why would the Norse god of thunder stay among mortals?”

To hear the title, to feel his identity so truly confirmed -- it evoked feelings Thor did not wish to have. It was pride and regret; it was uncertainty and doubt. “You assume it is a choice,” he said finally, voice flat in the growing night.

Selvig nodded, as if this was something he may have expected. “I don’t suppose you want to talk about it?”

Thor looked at Selvig, almost considering the offer. He trusted Erik Selvig; he counted this man among his most loyal friends.

And yet, there was nothing to say.

There was nothing he wished to explain.

He shook his head. “It was another life,” he replied. “Whether I mourn it or not, it is no longer mine to consider.”

Selvig nodded again. “I can respect that,” he said, starting to clean the grill again. “There is one more thing, though.”

Thor waited.

“SHIELD isn’t a bad organization,” he said. “But it’s not idle. They’re not just here to watch Jane, you know.”

“I am of no value to them,” Thor said.

“The god of thunder, even stripped down to mortal form -- that’s valuable, Thor,” he said. “In more ways than you might be able to realize.”


“I wish them no ill will, but I have no desire--”

Selvig paused again, holding up his hand. “I know, I know,” he said. “I just wanted you to be aware.”

Thor nodded, though he did feel suddenly more disconcerted.

“And Thor,” Selvig said. “Just know you’re not doing this alone.”

“I do not wish to put Jane or Darcy in any position--”

Selvig gave him a look. “I didn’t just join SHIELD for Jane.”

Thor looked at Selvig, who looked back unflinchingly. The implication was not hard to discern but the sentiment caught him wholly off guard.

He had friends who would house him and feed him. He had friends who would teach him and be patient with him. He had friends who would throw him a party.

He had friends who would protect him.

In his youth, Thor had thought heroes were only made on battlefields.

Now, he could see, that heroes came in many sizes and shapes.

He extended his hand. Selvig looked surprised, but reached out to grasp it.

Thor shook it with a steadfast nod. “I find that I am again in your debt,” he said.

Selvig smiled. “Anytime, Thor,” he said. “After all, what else are friends for?”

-o-

Thor offered to help, but Selvig had declined. He said that small, normal things were the things he missed at SHIELD, and apparently Selvig needed such things at the moment.

Thor was not one to argue. At least, not anymore. If living for a year on Midgard had taught him anything, it was that certain things in life simply must be accepted. In the bigger picture, retiring with idle hands was entirely insignificant.

Though not altogether without its trials. It was late but Thor did not feel tired. The very opposite, in fact. The celebration had left him with the desire for...something.

What, he did not know. It was a strange, poorly defined sensation, nagging in the pit of his stomach and lurking in the back of his mind. Thor had never been one for doubt, and he had never been one to pay something too much heed. His father had lectured him often on his impulsivity, and his mother had decried his lack of forethought many times.

Thor, of course, had never listened.

He had always been one to learn from experience.

Even so, he was not sure what to do with this feeling or even what it meant at all. After spending a night in the company of those he called friends, he had almost forgotten all the rest. He had almost forgotten the ill fated trip to Jotunheim, the war he’d started and the rage in his father’s voice before he’d been cast out. It had almost not mattered, as though his existence was no longer defined by that last failing.

For it had not been his last. No, in the year since then, Thor had failed many things. True, he had not started a war and he had not been banished from another realm, but the day to day failures still carried weight.

As did the successes.

Mostly, Thor realized, he was no longer that same person. The people around him had never known that man, and indeed, Thor would hardly recognize him either.

With nothing to do, Thor did not think he could sleep. Darcy was now asleep in the main room, so Thor sought a refuge of his own in the place he found most comforting.

On the roof, Thor looked up to the stars. He enjoyed the private space in his room, but the roof had always been more than that. Here, beneath the vastness of space, Thor had always been forced to remember from where he had come. It had been a steadfast reminder of all the truths that he still wished to forget. The things he did not wish to know.

What it was to be so small and insignificant. To be nothing.

Standing there, one year later, this sky was still the same. The innumerable stars stretched above him, endless and bright. He would never see them as Jane did, with the scientific minutia. But, with a steadying breath, he began to realize why she found them so comforting.

To be small and insignificant meant that mistakes were mere ripples in the universe. To be nothing meant there were no expectations.

It meant he could be anything.

This planet, these people, this life -- it was a wealth of possibilities. If he could not travel amongst the stars, he could settle amongst good people. If he could not fight battles for Asgard’s cause, he could defend the benevolence of his neighbors. He could build things; he could share drinks; he could lend a hand.

He could be human.

It was given to him as a curse.

A year later, he looked up at the stars and wondered if it was something of a gift instead.

The wars and the conquest, they were nothing to Thor now. They were specks, distant lights, as small and insignificant as Thor himself.

Thor was a legend once.

Now, he was just a man.

If he could not live up to one, he would devote all he had to the other. And he would not trade that now.

Not for all the stars in the sky.

-o-

Thor was not certain how long he stood there, head turned up, but he was not surprised to hear the sound of footsteps behind him.

“Hey.”

Thor smiles, dropping his gaze and turning.

Jane was standing across the roof, shuffling her feet and using one hand to fiddle absently with her hair.

“Hey,” he replied.

“I thought you’d have gone to sleep,” she said, making her way closer to him.

“I felt guilty with you and Selvig still working,” he said.

She rolled her eyes, smiling shyly. “It was your party,” she reminded him. “You don’t do work for your own party.”

“So I’m told,” he said.

She chuckled, shaking her head as she comes up along side him. “Haven’t you ever had anyone throw you a party before?”

Thor’s stomach twisted at the question, and he had to make an effort not to let his smile falter. “To the contrary, I have had many parties thrown in my honor.”

“So it shouldn’t be so hard,” Jane surmised. “To accept a little goodwill from those who care about you.”

This time, Thor’s smile did fall and his throat felt tight. He glanced at her, feeling a pang of hesitation. “I never used to think of it at all,” he said. “There was a time when I took it for granted. I even expected it, and thought nothing of the effort it must have taken.”

Jane’s own smile fell. “You mean...before…”

Thor took a breath, looking up again. “Before.”

There was a silence, much as there always was when they talked of Thor’s life prior to the night he arrived on Earth. Though Thor told Jane of all the realms and the way they were all connected, they did not talk about the life Thor had left. He had told her the names of the planets and the nature of each realm, but he had never made it personal. He had not told her of his station on Asgard or the power of his father’s halls. He had not talked of war on Jotunheim, or any of his other foolish conquests.

He had kept nothing of the science from Jane, but he had kept his life, his history -- himself -- a secret from her. At first, because he had not thought he would see her again. Then, because of the shame of failure. And in the weeks and months that followed, because there had been seemingly no point. Because it would sound crazy; because maybe it was crazy.

Because maybe it hurt.

He sighed, looking at Jane again. “Do you not have questions for me.”

She looked at him, a little taken aback. “I’ve asked you just about everything I could think of--”

He shook his head. “Not of the stars,” he said. “Of me.”

She stopped, breathing catching for just a second as the implications settled over her. Jane Foster was a smart woman; she no doubt had many accurate suspicions regarding him. It was probably only respect that kept her from needing concrete answers from him. “Well,” she said. “I mean, yeah.”

“Yet you will not ask?” he said. “You will not seek to know more about me?”

“You have your reasons,” she said, shrugging one shoulder.

“But you have accepted me into your life,” he said. “You have treated me like family, and yet there is so much, Jane. There is so much you don’t know.”

Her eyes searched him. “I know what I need to know, Thor,” she said. “I know you’re a good man. I know you work hard, and you’ve learned so much. Who we are is not a list of facts. It’s not even a backstory. It’s who we are in the moment. The choices we make now.”

He knitted his brows together. She was offering him the easy out again. She would not press him in this, and she was a kind person for this grace. But Thor may not have been ready to tell this to Selvig. He may never be able to tell anyone. But Jane was different.

Jane, who had trusted him from the beginning. She had accepted him, she had given him shelter and refuge. His father had cursed him to humanity, but she had made him human.

“You deserve to know,” he said. “I cannot give you all the answers to unlock the mysteries of the stars. I cannot advance your research or promote your cause among your people. But I can give you this one last thing, which I trust to no one but you.”

She watched him, eyes fixed on him.

“I will tell you the truth,” he said. “Because you have known me for a full year, but I have lived a lifetime before that.”

“Well, so have I--”

Thor shook his head. “A lifetime on Asgard can span for millennia,” he said. “The legends of your forefathers, that speak of gods, are not fantasies. They are idealized interpretations, not even of my ancestors. Of my family and my kin. Of me.”

Her mouth closed, her face darkening in thought.

“I am Thor,” he told her resolutely. “The god of thunder which your myths depict. In this, I am not merely an alien to this world. I am the son of Odin, who keeps order in the nine realms and has sat on the throne of Asgard for centuries.”

She wet her lips. “I suppose I knew that,” she said, with an awkward laugh. “I mean, we’ve all heard the legends. Thor’s hammer. Selvig even showed me the book when he was trying to show me you were crazy.”

“We are not gods, but there is much truth to your legends,” he said. “Asgard has sought to keep order amongst the realms, and I was raised in the golden halls with the sole purpose of inheriting that cause and assuming the throne for myself when my father was ready to retire.”

At that, she balked a little. “Wait,” she said. “You’re saying that you’re not just an alien. You’re royalty. Like, the prince of Asgard. Or, you know, whatever.”

He nodded, but drew his lips together. “It is true,” he said. “At least, it was.”

She shook her head. “What happened?”

“Surely you must presume to know something,” he said. “For if you gave the legends any credence, what would a prince of Asgard be doing amongst the mortals of Midgard?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Royalty are people, too. You may have to sow your wild oats. Or something.”

Thor let out a heavy breath. “I have sowed many oats, as you say,” he said. “Which is how I ended up here, but not as you presuppose. In my haste, I disobeyed my father and provoked a conflict that has threatened the realms as we know them. In my folly, I may have destroyed the peace that all planets have enjoyed for centuries.”

Jane frowned, but clearly did not know what to say.

Thor’s shame burned in him, but he forced himself to continue. “That is why I have come here, not by choice,” he said. “My father stripped me of my power and my title and exiled me to this planet. He sent my hammer, once the testament of my worth, as a sign that I am no longer the man I was. I have lost my father’s favor and the comforts of my home. I have forfeited the rights to my inheritance. I have lost the kinship of everyone I held dear. My mother, my brother, my friends and my people--”

He cut off, forcing himself to swallow.

“Your people thought of me as a god,” he said. “Even you entertain the notion that I am a good man. But I am nothing of the sort. I am a lowly, rejected being, unworthy of position, title and friendship. And this punishment is just, and it is entirely my own fault.”

Her eyes widened.

“So you see, Jane,” he said, voice threatening to break. “I am not the man you thought I was. I stand here with you every night. I live by the very nature of your good grace. But I am unworthy of your friendship. I want to live in peace among you, I want to give you something in return for your kindness, but there is nothing I can do to earn any of the affections you have shown me. Every time I think I can let go and accept my penance, I see the stars and I am reminded not of who I was, but who I am.”

It hurt to speak, the pain radiating from his chest and tightening in his throat and behind the eyes. He had nothing left, nothing to hide, nothing to offer. He had given her everything he could in the last year, culminating in the truth.

That he was unworthy.

That weight was as heavy as it was a year ago, when his father had cast him out.

Jane’s expression broke, her shoulders falling. “Thor…” she said.

Ashamed, Thor tried to turn away. “I am sorry--”

“No,” she said, reaching out and taking him by the arm. When he stopped, she reached up, putting her hands on his face. He had no choice but to look at her. “Thor.”

In her eyes, there was no condemnation. There was no judgment.

There was still the same acceptance and kindness he had always come to recognize in her.

And, it seemed, there might be something more.

“Thor,” she said again. “I know you well enough. I know you.

“Jane,” he tried to reply, but found himself choked.

She swallowed hard, eyes bright in the starlight. “Thor.”

The tears threatened to break him, but she squeezed his arm. Once and then twice. And before he could break, she reached up, putting her hand in his hair and pulling him down until their lips met.

Acceptance and kindness, he knew.

And this, he realized as he kissed her back, haltingly putting his hands to her face and drawing her nearer still, was greater than both.

One year after falling from honor, Thor had found something more valuable than the crown, more important than kingship.

Thor had found love.

One year ago, Thor had lost everything.

Tonight, however, Thor had found the one thing he needed.

He wrapped his arms around Jane, lifting her up.

For he would never, ever let go again.

-o-

Jane retired early, and Thor found the lab quiet. In his room, he readied for bed, but he could not put his mind at ease. Too much had transpired; too much was left undisclosed.

Too much.

Restless, Thor took a walk, pacing down the long stretches of the road in Puente Antiguo. When that did not satisfy him, he followed the road out into the country until he found himself at the blocked roadway that led to the SHIELD facility.

It had been more thoroughly developed since Thor had last visited. The barricades were no longer temporary, and the lights were mounted with a fence surrounding the facility. Thor kept his distance, noting the armed guards. They looked imposing, but Thor did not fear them. Even in this mortal form, he knew they were of little competition. If Thor wanted to, he could enter.

He could go in to take what was his.

Even now, standing alone in the night, he could feel it. Though Mjolnir was stuck to the rock, it was not dormant. Its power sung to him, calling him forth with the insistent pull he had known even as a small child. He could still remember, though centuries had passed, the thrill of first lifting it, of taking up the hilt and feeling the power connect with him.

It had been the most important moment of his life. It had changed him.

It had defined him.

Holding the hammer, he had known his purpose. He had felt his calling, feeling it pulse through every fiber of his being.


Of all the things he had lost, he would never be so foolish as to say the hammer hurt the most -- no, for he missed his family and his friends dearly. But the loss of Mjolnir had changed him more than the rest. When he had come to take it up and reclaim his identity, the hammer had rebuffed him and only then had Thor understood the reality of his current station.

Even now, with his acceptance of life on Earth, it called to him. He could feel it, the desire burning through him. His hand ached, fingers tingling in desire and anticipation.

He could go after it. He could go in and seek his station again.

But to what end.

Standing at the edge of a dead end road, Thor knew there was nothing to be done. No matter what he wanted, he could not fight the reality of his fate. Mjolnir would always call to him, but it was no longer his to take up.

It was no longer his.

He took a breath and let it out.

Then he fisted his hand, building up the energy and letting it out.

This was not the only thing that called to him. Not anymore.

He looked back toward town, where Jane and Darcy and Selvig and Puente Antiguo were.

In the end, it was no choice at all.

Releasing his fist, he shook out his hand. Then he turned and started the long walk back to town, flexing his fingers the whole way home.

-o-

Despite the happenings of the weekend, life resumed much as it was the following week. Thor went to work; he came back to the lab. Selvig returned to SHIELD, and Jane labored under the stars with Darcy’s help.

“There’s something happening,” Jane said excitedly over dinner. “These readings, they’re even more dramatic than when you showed up a year ago. I mean, it has to be only a matter of time before we have some kind of event that we can pinpoint, which is just going to blow this whole thing wide open.”

Thor raised his eyebrows, serving a helping of steaming food to each of their plates. “What sort of event do you envision?”

“Maybe it’ll be another hot guy tumbling from the sky,” Darcy said. “The next one’s mine.”

Thor laughed.

Jane shook her head, so caught up in the notion to respond to Darcy’s irreverent humor. “I don’t even know,” she said. “I mean, it’s all speculation, but to think about moving beyond theory to application -- I just can’t even explain it.”

Thor smiled kindly, settling down next to Jane at the table. “You can,” he said. “And you will. I trust in your powerful intellect. The answers will come.”

Jane grinned. “I think you’re right,” she said, picking up her fork. “Something’s changing, I can feel it.”

Thor picked up his own fork and started to eat.

Whatever changes were coming, Thor had to think the most important ones had already occurred.

Not that he would dare tell Jane that. He would not risk her disappointment.

Nor her scientific wrath.

Change, after all, was relative to those who experienced it.

“Tell me more,” Thor said eagerly, for her sake more than his. “Have you finalized your equation?”

Jane’s eyes lit up at the question. She loved many things, but nothing made her as happy as her quest for answers. Thor did not seek such answers, but for Jane, he would always entertain more questions.

“As a matter of fact--” Jane started, putting her fork down again.

Darcy groaned. “Here we go again.”

Thor’s face broadened with a smile, his attention on Jane.

Here they went again.

And here Thor would gladly go, time and time again, until this mortal formed failed him altogether.

-o-

When Thor was at work, he strove to be the best employee. He showed up early and worked late. He was the first to volunteer and always made himself available when a colleague needed assistance. He made many friends and shared many jokes, and found himself content.

When Thor was around town, he took pleasure in making conversation with as many people as possible. He learned their names and their interests. He assisted in the little things and made time for the bigger things as well. He could greet his cashiers by name, and he understood the nuances in the moods of those he passed on the street.

When Thor was at home, he set to making Jane’s life as easy as possible. While this still included performing basic household tasks, he also dedicated himself to learning some of her trade. Jane had a brilliant mind, and she liked to discuss her theories. Thor’s goal was to be her willing companion in all things, not just the things that interested him.

He wondered what life would have been like if he had learned this earlier. He wondered if he would have seen the people of Asgard with more concern and if he would have understood the fragile alliance with the Frost Giants more clearly. He thought perhaps his father would have had less cause to discipline him, if his mother would have had more to be proud of, if Loki would have found more solace at his side.

When Thor was under the stars, he could no longer see the distant truths. A year was a lifetime to him now, and Thor could find nothing amongst them to bring him comfort.

Nor was there anything to cause him pain.

There were just stars, after all.

So he took Jane’s hand and ceased his thoughts all together.

-o-

It was approximately a month later when Coulson arrived. Thor was finishing up his workout one Saturday when he saw the man standing next to the vending machine. It was an odd choice, being so public, and in his well trimmed suit and sunglasses, Coulson did nothing to fit in.

Thor had never been one for retreat, and indeed, he had no means to do so here. Instead, he wipes his face with a towel, taking a swig of water from his water bottle.

“Agent Coulson,” he said.

The man tilted his head. “Donald.”

Thor did not flinch at the borrowed identity. “Have I done something to arouse your curiosity?”

“You’ve been a model citizen,” Coulson said. “You like the job? Construction work isn’t glamorous, but it seems like you’re good at it. Hammers, and all.”

Thor did not rise to the implication. “I seek to earn a wage for a necessary job,” he said. “I realize that it is not a highly respected station, but there is no higher calling than to serve a need for the greater good.”

“Sounds like you and I are not so different,” Coulson said.

“Somehow I doubt that you came here to pursue a friendship,” Thor commented.

Coulson took off his sunglasses, putting them in his pocket. “That’s not so far from the truth,” he said. “You and I have a lot in common. I see no reason why the two of us can’t build a partnership.”

Thor almost smiled. “A partnership wherein one is held in custody and charged with serious accusations?”

Coulson did smile in return. “I’m sure you can look past that,” he said. “If I’m willing to look past breaking and entering, attempting theft and identity fraud.”

There was no response to that Thor could make. Instead, he sighed. “Tell me what it is you seek.”

“All I’m offering is exactly what you’re looking for,” Coulson said. “Earning a wage for a necessary job.”

“With your SHIELD Agency?” Thor presumed.

“Your friend Erik Selvig has found himself quite at home there,” Coulson replied.

“I trust Selvig to have his own reasons,” Thor said.

“And you?” Coulson prompted.

Thor shrugged. “You say you offer what I am looking for,” he said. “But I do not think you know what I seek.”

“There are things happening,” Coulson said.

“So I’ve been told,” Thor replied.

“Things that could change life on this planet,” he said. “If something is going to change, it is our job at SHIELD to manage that change.”

“I fail to see my role in this,” Thor said. “You have many agents who can do your bidding, many who I am sure are strong--”

“If this was just a question of strength, maybe,” Coulson said.

“Well I have no superior intellect,” Thor countered.

“These changes, they started a year ago,” Coulson said. “About the time that you showed up and tried to steal the hammer. I don’t believe in myths. And I don’t believe in fairy tales. But I also don’t believe in coincidence.”

Thor sighed. “I will not fault you for asking questions and doing what you deem necessary to protect your people,” he said. “But believe me when I tell you, I do not have the answers you desire.”

“So you showing up a year ago,” Coulson said. “Your attempt to steal the hammer.”

“Mere chance for the first, and utter folly for the second,” he said. “Tell me, aside from my transgression at your facility a year ago, have I done anything to arouse your suspicions?”

A muscle twitched in Coulson’s jaw. “No,” he admitted after a long second.

Thor nodded his head, making his way to leave. “And I assure you, I never will.”

Coulson turned, looking after him. “We don’t have to be enemies, you know,” he said. “I think if you got to know me a little better, if you understood SHIELD--”

Thor paused at the doorway. “Enemies are for times of war,” he said. “I only desire to live in peace here. I want to make a life, nothing more.”

Coulson nodded, getting out his glasses and putting them on. “Good luck with that.”

“Thank you,” Thor said, smiling. “But I don’t think I will need it any longer.”

-o-

Though much of Thor’s life fell into a familiar pattern, there were still things to learn. True, his work was often repetitive. And yes, his routine was increasingly predictable. But his relationship with Jane Foster was an unending source of discovery.

He had learned some of courtship during his time on Earth. It was often depicted in television and movies, and Thor had observed the interactions of people around town. He found many such courtships to be especially volatile from time to time, and many were not as enduring as Thor had been used to on Asgard. On his birth planet, formal courtship was a conscious and prolonged decision that could last years or even decades. While dalliances were not discouraged, they were often made with no long term commitments in mind.

In that, relationships on Asgard had been fairly straightforward.

Thor found that was hardly the case on Earth. While marriage was still a formal commitment, it was not the culmination of every relationship. Some couples dated for weeks before getting married; others dating for years before even considering such a thing.

And even the term dating lacked proper description. Dating could mean any level of intimacy, from simple hand holding to the utmost intimacy. There were couples that practiced open relationships and others who insisted on the strictest levels of commitment.

Moreover, many people on Earth chose not to qualify their relationships with terminology at all. Boyfriends and girlfriends were subjective terms that often meant different things to different people.

Mostly, the more Thor learned about romantic entanglements, the less he understood.

Which made it all the harder when it came to Jane Foster.

After they kissed on the roof, Jane had been more openly affectionate. Uncertain, Thor had hesitated to reciprocate her advances for fear of misinterpreting her intentions. Yet she touched him more often, lightly on his arm or sliding an arm around his back.

And when they were alone beneath the stars, she often bid him farewell with a kiss.

After several weeks, she greeted him with one as well.

After a month, they would kiss after a half hour of discussion.

Within two months, their meetings on the roof were mostly used for this type of physical contact. Of course, they still talked and dreams, but they kissed more frequently and more passionately until Thor found the question of restraint ever more disconcerting.

He did not know what was expected of him, and he did not know what he could expect of Jane. He had no idea if this was dating; if he was Jane’s boyfriend and if she was his girlfriend. He did not know if they had entered into some form of courtship or if this was something as simple as friends with benefits, as he had heard it called.

Basically, Thor had no idea how to explain his relationship with Jane Foster.

He just knew he didn’t want it to end.

-o-

It was not merely Jane whom he grew closer to. His acquaintances at work were quickly becoming more casual, and he often fielded invitations to join his friends for drinks or a meal out. Eventually, they invited him to join them while attending sporting events or to watch an important game at one of their homes.

In this, he met their families and learned about their lives. He met Jose’s two young daughters, with pigtails and wide brown eyes as they danced an elegant ballet during commercial breaks. He learned about the local hunting options from Cody, who decorated his home with antlers and camouflage. Ricky had a collection of shot glasses from every state he had ever visited, and Tyler had spent an entire summer working as a road assistant for a punk rock band.

He found this fascinating, the ever growing diversity providing more insights into this world he now called home. On Asgard, people had been largely all the same, entrenched in centuries of tradition and routine that Thor had often found comforting.

He could see now how it might be limiting, especially to someone on the outside. Loki had chafed often against the expectations heaped upon him, and although their mother had insisted that his pursuits were noble, it had been impossible to see his scholarly ventures on an even field with wartime heroics.

And why not? On Asgard, people lived for centuries. After several decades of personal experimentation, most residents found a comfortable habit to live by and never wavered. It was safe in its predictability, and Thor had always flourished there.

But here, people did not live long enough to establish themselves thus. Culture evolved too quickly, spawning more options than any one person had the chance to keep up with. It was up to individuals to pick and choose, to find what mattered to them and stick with it.

With every friend he made, Thor understood this better. That Earth was not merely some lesser world, but that it was a place of infinite design. Some would liken its diversity to a toddler’s indecision, but Thor found himself enamored by it and the people.

They worked hard, not just at their jobs, but to define themselves. Nothing was taken for granted, not as it was on Asgard.

For the first time in his life, Thor was confronted with the reality that there was no right and wrong choice. There was no absolute will to rule him. The endless possibilities were all equal before him, and he would not be chastised for whatever path he chose. He could like baseball or football; he could enjoy darts or pool. He could prefer a steak over chicken, and he could enjoy wearing red instead of green.

In essence, Thor could be.

Whoever it was he wanted.

-o-