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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (7/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:56 am)
grumpy

feeling: grumpy

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




“I believe it is time for me to have my own place,” Thor announced one day at breakfast.

Darcy glanced at him over her coffee cup.

Jane stuffed a bite of toast into her mouth. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I believe it’s time for me to have my own place,” Thor said again with a resolute nod.

Jane stopped chewing to stare at him.

Darcy raised her eyebrows.

Thor’s boldness faltered. “Is that not acceptable?”

“Well, sure, it’s acceptable,” Jane said.

Thor bolstered himself, smiling. “Very good.”

“But, I mean, you’d need rent money,” Jane said, wiping the crumbs on her pants. “And a down payment. And there’re not a lot of options in town. And there’s furniture--”

“I have money in the bank account you created for me,” Thor said with a steady nod. “That should not be a problem.”

Jane’s mouth opened. Then her brow furrowed. “But I mean, you might not find anything close by.”

“I saw an advertisement for board at the cafe,” Thor said. “I believe it would not be so difficult.”

Jane’s expression turned vexed.

Thor could only conclude that he had breached some form of etiquette that he was not aware of. In some fashion, he had offended her. “Is there a problem?”

“No,” Jane said quickly and very unconvincingly. “I mean, you’re a grown man. You’re entitled to do whatever you want to do.”

“But you do not like the idea?” Thor presumed.

“I just, I mean,” Jane said, flustered now. She lifted a hand, flitting it through her hair. “I don’t really understand--”

“She doesn’t understand why you’d want to go,” Darcy interjected. “She likes you living here.”

Jane shot Darcy a glare.

“Well, you could keep on fumbling it and then he’d move out because you can’t make yourself admit it,” Darcy said.

“Well, it’s his choice,” Jane hissed.

“And we’d all be miserable,” Darcy said. “I mean, come on. Thor, I get that you might want some space but you don’t pass up free rent. Trust me. And Jane, you need something to look at when you’re not star gazing and he’s the only thing that’s competed in three years--”

Jane flushed red. “Darcy--”

“And hey, I love your eggs,” Darcy said. “Plus, you clean toilets. I will do anything to keep a man around who cleans toilets.”

“It is not so hard,” Thor said. “The cleaning fluid is quite effective, and after we purchased the curved brushes--”

Darcy held up her hand. “My point exactly.”

Jane shook her head. “The point is, why do you want to leave?” she said, a little rougher than usual. “It just seems rather sudden.”

Thor nodded, for this was an understandable question. “Your hospitality has been unparalleled, and I am very comfortable here.”

“All of which are reasons to stay,” Darcy said.

“But I have visited many people,” Thor said. “And all of them have homes that reflect who they are. Their homes are not merely places where they rest or eat; they are places where they live. They have furniture to suit their comforts. They have decor that reflects where they have been. And besides, they have all been quite gracious to me, and I have no way to return their hospitality.”

Jane laughed, almost sounding relieved. “Oh, so that’s it.”

It was Thor’s turn to be vexed. “I am serious--”

“No, no, no,” Jane said disarmingly. “I know you are and that’s totally reasonable.”

“So I should start looking,” Thor concluded.

“I mean, if you really want to,” Jane said. “You have the money and the resources.”

Thor nodded. “Very well, then--”

“But,” Jane said, almost hesitating. “You don’t have to.”

“Your kindness has been great--” Thor started.

Jane shook her head. “We’ve told you from the start, this is your home as long as you want it,” she said. “So instead of putting your money on a deposit, go to the furniture store and buy some things you like. You can do anything you want in your room; you can do anything you want out here.”

“And please,” Darcy said. “Invite people over. Especially attractive single people, who may have an interest in clubbing.”

Thor looked at them carefully, ascertaining their level of comfort with this solution. They appeared not only willing to make this accommodation but eager for it.

“That is,” Jane said. “Unless you want to go.”

Thor’s stomach clenched unexpectedly. “I only wish to create a place to call my own within infringing on your property.”

Jane’s face widened with a smile. “It’s our property, Thor,” she said. “And trust me, you’re not infringing on anything.”

Thor grinned back, feeling a new feeling of optimism buoy in his chest.

“Awesome!” Darcy said. “We’re so going shopping!”

-o-

Having spent over a year on Earth, Thor had been shopping many times. Indeed, he was an expert at the grocery store and the hardware store. He was decently well versed in the pharmacy section, though he still did not understand Darcy’s apparent glee that he would be willing to be feminine personal items upon request.

He had spent time in bookstores and entertainment sections. He had looked at sporting goods and clothing. But in this seemingly vast shopping experience, he had spent little time in home goods. True, he had purchased the odd piece of cooking equipment from time to time -- for Jane’s selection was dreadful -- but there had never been much need to look at home decor.

Need, however, should not be confused with want.

It was true, his time on Earth had taught him to do without many things. The opulent comforts of Asgard were no longer things he expected, and he had not wasted time in pining. But, after reviewing his financial statements, he had decided that he had several hundred dollars he could spare, and he was committed to purchasing items for his own purposes.

They were frivolous, in a sense, but he could not say that conclusively. This was his chance to express himself. This was his chance to make his small quarters much more than that. This was his way to solidify his home.

“So,” Jane said. “You can think about lighting, bedding, wall hangings--”

“Oh!” Darcy said, picking up a strange looking device. “You totally need this!”

Thor tilted his head. “What is it?”

“It’s a lava lamp, and it’s amazing,” Darcy said.

“It’s useless,” Jane said, putting it back.

Darcy glowered. “This is Thor’s shopping trip.”

“Exactly,” Jane said. “So stop trying to get him to buy all the things that I’ve told you no to repeatedly.”

“But he could like it,” Darcy said. “Which, we should totally consider a popcorn maker.”

Jane huffed. “That’s -- actually not a terrible idea.”

Darcy crossed her arms smugly. “See.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “Go on, Thor,” she said. “This is your project. You’re in charge.”

Thor looked at the aisles hopefully. He adjusted his grip on the cart and then forged ahead.

-o-

On Earth, Thor had learned the subtle art of following. He had learned to take orders as well as suggestion, to consider the perspective of others as superior to his own. This had been a means of survival, as a stranger to this land, and it had also been a growing realization that he was not the unassailed warrior he once was. There was much he had to learn, of Earth but more than that. There was much he had to learn about being a good man and a gracious person.

This was good, Thor knew, and he had no regrets.

But he still had the inclination to lead when it presented itself. He liked to take charge, whether it was a weekend meal at home or a project at work.

Or, as the opportunity now presented itself, in the home goods section.

Thor shopped fearlessly, considering each item with due attention. He assessed the price in conjunction with the inherent appeal of each piece, and assembled a good collection of items to call his own.

At the checkout line, the girl at the register gave him a curious glance as she rang up his total. “Some redecorating?” she asked.

Thor beamed. “Indeed,” he said proudly.

She picked up an alarm clock with the visage of a man of iron. “Nice choices,” she said. “But I’m more of a Captain America girl myself.”

“Dude, Iron Man is way better,” Darcy said.

“Captain America represents ideals,” Jane argued.

“And have you seen butt in that spandex?” the girl asked.

“Indeed I have,” Thor said. “But that device not only tells the time and gives alerts, but it also serves as a light. It has diverse functionality.”

She bagged the item with a shrug, picking up the next with a frown. It was a piece of art with bold colors and strong shapes. “Huh,” she said, glancing at Thor again. “Your tastes certainly are...eclectic.”

“That’s one word for it,” Jane said with a smile.

Thor found he could only beam.

-o-

Eclectic, the clerk had called it.

Interesting, Jane had concluded.

Surreal, was Darcy’s comment.

Thor thought it was all true. He had been quick to pick up on the sports memorabilia, and Jane had mentioned that he had a preference for modern art. Thor was not sure what made it modern, but he liked the clean lines and geometric shapes for their bold clarity. He also had purchased a number of items with ornate golden finishes, include a classical-style mirror and gleaming sconces. The bright shag rug had been a question of sheer comfort, and the bedding had caught his eye for its silken texture.

True, it did not look like any other room he’d seen on Earth. It most certainly did not resemble the halls of his father’s palace. He had not put any forethought into the design, and he could see that some might call the collection disparate.

But as Thor looked around, he could only think of one thing: home.

-o-

Thor spent the better part of the day in his room. While there technically wasn’t more to do in his room than before, he did find the ambiance to be quite suiting.

Besides, it was easier to play the latest games on his iPhone without Darcy peering over his shoulder.

Even so, he was not so naive to think that this room was really what home was all about.

No, just as his father’s palace had not been the heart of Asgard.

It was the people.

After texting Darcy and several other friends back and forth for a while, Thor put away his phone and stared restlessly at the ceiling. He watched the new glow from his sconces, flashing the screen of his phone to bright the movement to life. He was uncertain how long he laid there, when there was a knock on the door.

He sat up, just in time to see Jane.

“Jane!” he said.

She smiled. “Hey. Still enjoying your new place?”

Thor nodded. “It is very comfortable.”

Glancing around again, she nodded back. “I’m really glad you like it.”

“I am very glad you helped me make it possible,” he said.

She laughed. “It was your money, Thor. It’s not like you need my permission.”

“But this is still your property,” Thor said. “And you have often given me courage when I am uncertain how to proceed.”

“You know you could have gotten your own place, right?” she said, sounding a little hesitant.

“I suppose--”

“I mean, I never meant to force you into anything,” she said, her words rushed now.

“Jane,” he said, sitting up a little straighter. “I meant it when I said I wanted to be here.”

She let out a breath. “I just...I don’t want to hold you back.”

Now he got to his feet. “You have done nothing but support me--”

“That’s my point,” she said. “I don’t think you realize what you could have. I mean, you live in this small town, working this small job, living this small life -- and look at you. You’re….you could do anything, Thor. I need you to know that.”

He stepped closer. “Jane Foster, I have done everything,” he said. “Both good and bad, I have lived a life with more adventure than you could imagine. And I did not come here by choice, but I find that I cannot regret finding this town and this home. I cannot regret finding you.”

She drew her lips together, swallowing.

“I don’t want anything,” he said. “I want what is here, in front of me. Never doubt that.”

She smiled again, cheeks flushing. “Okay, then,” she said.

He reached up, cupping her cheek. “Okay, then.”

Dipping her head, she averted her gaze with a nervous giggle. “So, um,” she said. “Do you want to go to the roof?”

Thor nodded resolutely. “Yes, please.”

-o-

Thor had learned something of restraint since being on Earth.

Still, when Jane half forced him to the lawn chair on the roof, he was not about to complain. She kissed him first, but he kissed her harder, gathering her up with as much passion as he could temper.

She was an amazing woman, Jane Foster. So smart and so talented. And so beautiful.

Her fingers found their way under his shirt, running her hands up his stomach.

It was almost too much.

Inhaling sharply, he pulled back, sitting himself up and looking at Jane.

Still on the chair, she looked up at him, a bit bewildered. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” he said. “At least, I don’t think so.”

A little breathless, she sat up. “You don’t think so?”

He sighed. “I feel...very passionate about you.”

Jane laughed.

“I do not fully understand the nature of our relationship,” he admitted.

“Ah,” she said, smoothing a strand of hair behind her ear. “So you want to have the talk?”

He glanced at her. “The talk? I thought parents had the talk with their children in your culture--”

She chuckled. “No, the Define the Relationship conversation,” she said. “It’s where two people sit down and talk about where they’re at together.”

“Yes,” Thor said hopefully. “That would be most helpful.”

Jane sighed, not looking nearly as enthusiastic.”

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“I just..,” she started. Then she shrugged. “I’ve never been very good at relationships. So I guess it was easier when this wasn’t anything. Then I couldn’t mess it up.”

“Well, I behaved so abominably that I was cut off from all my relationships,” Thor pointed out. “I have no better experience.”

She looked at him. “The last guy I was with was a total disaster,” she said.

“Donald Blake?” Thor asked.

“Yeah,” Jane said. “I mean, he seemed like he should be great. A smart, talented doctor. Good looking and likeable.”

“And?”

“And, it died,” she said. “We moved in together and nothing worked. I was so relieved when he finally left, that I basically swore I’d never let myself get distracted like that again.”

Thor’s shoulders fell self consciously.

“But then, you came along, literally out of the sky,” she said. “And at first, I mean, it was all science. But it’s more than that now, isn’t it? And I just don’t want to screw it up. Not with someone who I love.”

Thor’s eyes widened.

Jane made a face. “Oh, man. That was not how I was going to admit that,” she said. “I was going to tell you, flat out and honest. I was going to say it.”

Thor nodded, trying not to sound eager. “You may say it still.”

She drew a breath and let it out. Then she shrugged helplessly. “I love you, Thor. I really do.”

Thor’s chest tightened. His stomach flipped. He found himself smiling.

“Well,” she said, expectant. “You’re just going to sit there? You don’t love me back? I mean, I can’t believe I say these stupid things, and you sit there and smile like I’m some sort of crazy person--”

“Jane,” he said, gentle but firm.

She stopped, looking at him balefully.

“I have chosen to stay here for many reasons,” he said. “In truth, I do not know where else I’d go. I enjoy this town and these people. I like my job and my friends. But I stay mostly for you.”

Her expression flickered, jaw tightening.

“I stay not because you are beautiful and smart, though you are both of these things,” he said. “I stay because you have shown me what it is to be human. You have shown me what it is to be good. I stay because there is no one else on this planet that I hold as dear as you.”

Jane swallowed, blinking tremulously.

“I love you,” he pledged. “And there is no other person under these stars that I can imagine spending my days with.”

She blushes, averting her gaze with a silly smile. “Okay, so that was a pretty good comeback,” she admitted.

“I do not expect you to take my word for it, though,” Thor said. “Let my actions speak for me.”

He leaned down, kissing her.

She kissed him back. Grinning, she pulled away. “So does that answer all your questions?”

Thor grinned back. “I am not sure,” he said, leaning closer again. “Let me ask again.”

Their lips met, and she shook her head. “I think maybe we need to talk a little more,” she joked.

To that, Thor had absolutely no objections.

-o-

Life was good.

It was hard to believe sometimes, that he could find so much joy in an exile so harsh and so sudden. But time had mellowed those wounds, and Jane’s companionship certainly was an apt distraction. It was true, he still did not know what the future held, but as long as Jane was in the picture, he thought he could manage it just fine.

Suddenly his greatest trials were how to contain his pleasure. He went to work with a smile and clocked out eagerly. He ate and drank and made merry. His heart heightened its pace at the thought of Jane, and seeing her made him hinge with anticipation.

In public, Thor still made efforts to respect Jane’s privacy. She did not seem overly eager to share the news of their relationship with those around them, and though Thor did not totally understand, he would show restraint on her behalf. It was not so hard, since Thor had always been prone to gallantry. But back at the lab, he found it increasingly difficult to act as though nothing was different.

He wanted to touch her, to kiss her. He wanted to confess his adoration every moment of every day.

Instead, he sat across from her at breakfast and smiled.

A lot.

Jane laughed.

Thor kept smiling, unable to take his eyes off of her. She was beautiful; she was spectacular. She was the queen of his life, and he could imagine no sight in all the realms as awe-inspiring.

Jane blushed and laughed some more.

Darcy looked between them. “Okay, seriously,” she said. “You two are acting super weird.”

“What?” Jane said, rather too quickly. “We are acting totally normal.”

“There is nothing unusual about smiling,” Thor agreed.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “You guys must think I’m stupid.”

Jane shrugged.

Darcy sighed. “Not about science,” she said. “About this.

“Breakfast?” Thor asked, hopefully obtuse.

“You two,” Darcy said. “I mean, you’ve always been a little goofy around each other but ever since the party--”

She stopped, eyes widened.

“Wait,” Darcy said. “Did you two--”

“No,” Jane said, quickly once again.

Thor’s brow furrowed.

Darcy raised her eyebrows.

“I mean, not that,” Jane amended. She sighed, flustered. “I mean, we kissed. A lot. And, I don’t know, we may be together now.”

Darcy glanced between them again. “So you two haven’t--?”

Jane shook her head.

Darcy narrowed her eyes. “But you two are--”

Thor nodded.

“Look, I know it might be weird,” Jane started in again. “But I swear, nothing will change, and it won’t be hard--”

Darcy just rolled her eyes. “Please,” she said dismissively. “I’m just amazed it took you guys so long.”

Jane stopped, mouth open.

Thor considered this.

“It’s almost the definition of star crossed, considering that you met while looking at the stars,” Darcy said, flitting her hand through the air. “And the unresolved sexual tension has been going on for months. I had to go get laid just to keep this place from imploding.”

Jane gaped.

“I do not understand what you are referring to,” Thor said.

Darcy nodded, patting Thor’s hand as if in commiseration. “You will, buddy,” she consoled. “You will.”

Jane drew a breath. “Anyway,” she said, a little too loudly. “Now you know.”

Darcy smirked. “I think I knew before either of you two.”

Thor clapped his hands. “This is good!” he declared, even though he was fairly certain that parts of this conversation had made very little sense to him. “Now we may display affection while in your presence, correct?”

“Go for it,” Darcy said.

Thor brightened.

Jane shook her head. “No,” she said. “I just. No.”

Darcy clucked her tongue, going back to her food. “It’s a good thing you guys are so attractive together,” she said shaking her head. “Or you two would be a total mess.”

-o-

If Darcy took the news some joking, the rest of the town seemed to embrace the change much more graciously. When Thor started holding Jane’s hand, people said how cute they were. When Thor ran errands for Jane, they commented how lucky Jane was. When Jane let him order two meals instead of one, Thor was told to remember what an amazing woman he had.

They all saw it, it seemed, well before they did. It was perhaps unsurprising that Thor would be the last one to realize. Thor was a slow learner, after all.

But the lessons he learned, he learned well.

He squeezed Jane’s hand in his, smiling at her fondly.

He learned very well.

-o-

Thor did not delay in inviting his friends over. He organized a group to watch an upcoming baseball game, and took great pains to have everything in order. He cleaned the house until it was immaculate, and he prepared a great assortment of food.

“Wow,” Jane said when she saw his spread.

“Seriously,” Darcy said. “How many people are you having over anyway?”

Thor frowned. “Is it too much?”

“No,” Jane said. “I mean, it’s just….”

“A lot,” Darcy said.

Thor did not feel reassured by this.

“It’s fine,” Jane said.

“I do not want to be overbearing,” Thor said.

“It’s a little over the top and indulgent,” Jane said. “But that’s you. You like to go big. Anything less wouldn’t be right for you.”

Darcy nodded. “Besides,” she said. “We’ll be able to eat leftovers all week.”

“I only want to do this right,” Thor said.

“Thor,” Jane said. “It’s a group of guys over to watch a game. It’s called friendship. It’s sort of hard to do it wrong.”

“You would be surprised,” Thor lamented.

“With you?” Jane asked skeptically. “I doubt it.”

-o-

His friends were surprised by the amount of attention he had put into setting up a comfortable setting for their viewing pleasure.

Even so, not one of them complained.

Indeed, they ate heartily and drank merrily. They cheered raucously and told many tales. Jane joined them, laughing as she heard about their work environment, and Darcy found herself quite cozy with Greg, one of the younger members of the party. When the game was done, his friends stayed to talk and play games, and Thor was glad he had had the presence of mind to buy enough meat to grill.

It reminded him in snatches of the celebrations on Asgard. The long, drawn out spectacles where food was in abundance and good favor was aplenty. Thor had always thought those feasts were to commemorate great feats, but he wondered now if they had been designed to recognize the people. Not just what they could accomplish, but who they were.

That was what made the feasts memorable, after all. His mother could hire the best chefs and arranged for the best entertainment, but the food and the music and all the like had paled in comparison to the bond he shared with his fellow warriors. Even now, Thor could hear Volstagg’s laugh and see Fandral’s sly wink. He could still remember Hogun raising his glass in toast as Sif held her chin high with pride as she retold their feats once more.

Those were the moments he still missed, the lingering things he thought about when he remembered Asgard.

There were no feats of greatness, and miniature hot dogs in dinner rolls was hardly an opulent feast, but Thor felt it was close enough.

As he raised his glass with his friends, he wondered if friendship had always been the greatest feat of all.

-o-

After they had all eaten their full, the party went on into the evening. When his friends finally departed, they thanked him most gratefully.

“Best party ever.”

“We should do it at Thor’s place every week.”

Some offered to help pay, but Thor declined.

The expense had used up most of his spending money for the month, but as he shook the hands of those he counted as friends, he thought the cost to be worthwhile.

-o-

Thor’s confidence soared. His sense of contentment was at an all time high.

That was, until, he came home from work to find Erik Selvig in the lab.

“Thor!” Jane said. “Look who came home to visit!”

Selvig looked at him. He was not smiling. “Jane was just telling me the latest news.”

Thor swallowed hard.

“It seems things have been changing since I was gone,” Selvig continued.

Thor faltered. He had done nothing wrong, and he knew that, and yet somehow when faced with Erik Selvig’s critical eye, he felt himself waver. It wasn’t as if Thor was impervious to mistakes, after all.

Or disappointing those who have entrusted him with the most important things.

Erik Selvig did not cut nearly as imposing a figure as Odin, but somehow the terse gaze was one he had mastered with all the alacrity of an ageless king standing watch over an eternal realm.

Thor had made every effort to live up to his promise to Selvig.

He could not be sure, however, that falling in love with her was part of Selvig’s directive.

“I’m dying to show you the latest numbers,” Jane said.

Selvig looked at her. “You know, tomorrow,” he said. “All I’ve done for the last four months is stare at numbers. I need a break.” He looked at Thor. “And a drink.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jane said. “You two should totally go out for a little bit. When you get back, we’ll catch up on everything else.”

Thor said nothing as Jane leaned up, pecking him on the cheek.

“Have fun!” she said.

Thor looked at Selvig.

Selvig’s gaze intensified.

Fun, Thor thought, probably wasn’t the word.

-o-

At the bar, Thor ordered two beers. There was an awkward silence as the bartender complied, and Thor took a ready drink.

“How is work?” he asked, in an effort to be polite. In his time on Earth, he had become quite proficient at the art of small talk.

Selvig sloshed his drink contemplatively. “Busy,” he said after a long moment. He cast Thor a look. “Sounds like things have been busy around here.”

Thor took a breath. His apprehension was not without reason, but there was nothing dishonorable in his conduct. If he had faced countless foes all throughout the galaxy, then surely he could engage in a form of mortal courtship without trepidation. “I assume you have talked to Jane.”

“She tells me you two are an item,” Selvig said.

“Yes,” Thor replied, finding strength in the simple admittance of that fact. “We have been dating for several months.”

Selvig nodded, finally taking a drink. He swallowed hard. “You know, when I asked you to look after Jane, that isn’t exactly what I meant.”

“I assure you,” Thor said. “My commitment to Jane’s well being has not been altered. If anything, our current state has made me even more aware of her needs and desires.”

With another drink, Selvig shook his head. “Romance is hard,” he said. “Things we say will last forever rarely do.”

“Forever is a long time,” Thor told him. “And yet not nearly as long as you think it is.”

“I’m not being poetic, Thor,” Selvig said. “I’m being realistic. Relationships on Earth, they blossom and they burn -- and then the fail. Romance is the quickest way to screw up a friendship, let me tell you.”

Thor took a drink of his own, considering this. He supposed it made sense, given the transient nature of this realm. To attain affection so quickly was intoxicating, but he could see the folly of such entanglements. Courtships on Asgard, though much slower, often had long term results. Of his friends and acquaintances, many referred to ex-girlfriends or former husbands. Broken relationships, it seemed, were a common human experience.

While Thor could understand this in theory, he had to admit, the application was hard to grasp. In the realm eternal, things were static. While this was inhibiting in some sense, it also offered its own kind of comfort. Though Thor had come to understand how fleeting many pleasures were on Earth, he could not see the people as expendable. Indeed, Darcy and Jane and even Selvig -- they were a part of him. If Jane did not wish to pursue a romantic relationship, Thor could respect that. What he could not do, however, was live without her.

“Relationships change,” Thor said finally. “When I first arrived here, I admit that I had not considered Jane in any deep sense whatsoever. It was only through her continued dedication that I discovered her to be a person of supreme worth. In that, I developed a respect for Jane, far deeper than what I might have thought possible.”

“That’s fine for now, but when things go on--”

Thor shook his head. “You do not understand,” Thor said. “Relationships change. The dynamic may shift. Love can burn with passion or settle into contentment. I do not know. But if I am her friend or if I am her lover or if I am something else entirely, it will not matter. I love Jane Foster, no matter how she wishes to define that. Even in this world, where things change with the beat of your heart, I have to believe some things can be constant.”

“Not many things,” Selvig said into his glass.

“Do you hold out so little hope?” Thor asked.

Selvig looked at him, a half smile on his face. “I’ve lived a long time,” he said. “I’m not alone by choice.”

“And yet, your commitment to Jane, that remains, does it not?” Thor asked.

“Because Jane is like my daughter,” he said. “Family is different.”

“Is it?” Thor asked. “I will stay with Jane, no matter how she may want me.”

Selvig sighed, taking a drink. “I just think you need to understand, is all,” he said. “It’s complicated.”

Thor shrugged. “I think it’s actually rather simple,” he said.

Sullenly, Selvig took another swig. “I just don’t want her to get hurt,” he said.

“You have no reason to be concerned about my intentions,” Thor assured him.

“And what about you?”

Thor cocked his head.

“I’ll admit, your commitment is unusual,” Selvig said. “Are you really certain that you could handle it her feelings do change?”

“So you doubt Jane?”

“No,” Selvig said. “She’s human. We’re all human. Sometimes I worry you don’t completely know what that means yet.”

It was something he hadn’t considered. The idea of loss in a realm so fleeting. On Asgard, he had gained much and lost it all in the most painful fashion possible. He had never gotten the chance to say goodbye. He had never made amends. There had been no closure, just a violent shift in his world that left him irreparably changed.

That
was loss. That was wrenching, devastating loss. That was a void inside of him that he might never truly understand. That was the gruesome reality of having eternity ripped from your soul and being left with snatches of time that would never amount to anything.

During his time on Earth, he had been so fixed on recovering from that that he had scarcely considered another trauma. He had not fathomed that anything else could hurt that bad.

But if he lost Jane Foster. If he were forced to leave Puente Antiguo. If this life that he had built for himself was taken from him.

In this, Selvig did have some wisdom. Perhaps restraint was not wrong. By the gods, Thor knew he had needed more of that his entire life.

And yet, what was life if not for living? He had learned much in his exile, but the reality of holding on to what mattered most was foremost in his mind. What he had on Earth was not glory or power. It was not conquest or honor.

It was a job of integrity. It was a community to call his own. It was friends who knew his name.

It was a woman he loved.

If there was risk involved, he would endure it.

He had to endure it.

Or else, what would the purpose of living be at all?

He took a drink, savoring the liquid for a moment. Then he nodded. “Would you say Jane is not worth that risk?”

Selvig looked at him. Then he laughed. “That’s a damn good answer.”

Thor brightened hopefully. “So you approve of our relationship?”

“Thor, it’s not my place to say anyway,” he said. “It’s Jane’s choice, and she’s clearly made it already. And besides, I don’t like the idea of anyone with Jane, but you’re a good man.”

“Your confidence is quite important to me,” Thor said. “Although I do have to question that last part.”

“A good man?” Selvig asked.

“Or at least, a good boyfriend,” he said. “I do find sometimes that the nuances of such a relationships are harder to navigate. I have learned of various expectations of men in my position, and I find it difficult to know which things are true and which are not.”

At that, Selvig rolled his eyes. “Everyone thinks they have the answer,” he said. “And most of them are divorced.”

“So you do not think I should listen?” Thor asked.

“Listen, sure,” he said. “But you have to find what works for you and Jane.”

“But I wish to be more than adequate for her,” Thor said. “She deserves much more than I feel I know how to give.”

“Look, Thor,” Selvig said. “Consent doesn’t mean I want to know.”

“I merely thought--”

Selvig waved a hand through the air, making a face. “Just put her first,” he said. “If you’re going to listen to anyone, listen to her. The rest will fall into place one way or another.”

“Is it that simple?”

Selvig chuckled, clapping Thor on the shoulder. “If you think that sounds simple, then I think we need another round.”

-o-

With the revelation regarding his relationship to Jane out of the way, it occurred to Thor that Selvig had other reasons for visiting. In fact, when they finished their drinks, Selvig seemed somewhat reluctant to return back to the lab. When Thor asked if there was something wrong, Selvig forced a smile and said it was nothing.

Nothing, as it seemed to Thor, was the universal term for everything.

-o-

There was a time when Thor would have thought it was not his place to ask. Selvig was his friend, however, which meant it was exactly Thor’s place. He had plans to take Selvig aside later in the evening to have such a discussion.

His plan, as it turned out, was entirely unnecessary.

“I think you need to go,” Selvig announced at dinner.

At first, Thor thought Selvig was talking to him. He stopped mid-bite, stiffening painfully. But then he realized Selvig was not looking at him.

He was looking at Jane.

Jane scoffed, putting her glass down. “Um. Okay.”

“I’m serious,” Selvig said.

Jane stared at him, blank for a moment. Then she shook her head, trying to laugh as if it were still a joke. “You’re...I mean….” She stopped and shook her head again. “Erik, what are you talking about?”

In some ways, it was a relief to not be the center of a debate between them. But the look on Jane’s face did not make him feel any better.

Nor did the look on Selvig’s.

Darcy, to be fair, looked just as uncomfortable as he felt.

“Things are happening,” Selvig said, leaning forward. “Things I’m not sure any of us are ready for.”

“Well, yeah,” Jane said. “I’ve been tracking the science--”

“This isn’t just science,” Selvig said. “Science is all theory and possibilities, but I’m talking about actual threats.”

“Of course there are risks,” Jane said. “We’re talking about portals to other worlds, so--”

“That’s what I’m saying,” Selvig said, more forcefully this time. “It’s not just risks; it’s threats.

Jane made a face. “What have they been telling you?”

“They don’t tell us much of anything,” Selvig said. “But it doesn’t take much to put it together. Look around, Jane. Outside your equations, into the world. All the things that have happened while you’ve been looking through equipment screens. People trying to take over the world. Heroes rising to miraculously save us all. You don’t think it’s all just a coincidence, do you?”

“So, what, we’re basing this on conspiracy theories?” Jane asked.

Selvig took a ragged breath, letting it out. “They’re pushing us,” he said. “We work nonstop, round the clock. SHIELD may not have equations like you do, but it has something. They know something’s out there.”

“Of course something’s out there--”

“Something bad, Jane,” Selvig said, lowering his voice now. “They’re ramping up defenses. They’re reallocating all resources. There’s an entire defense unit being built up on out the desert.”

Jane’s eyes were wide, her mouth open. There was a taut silence, and Thor looked between them with growing unease. It was not just the tension between two people he cared so much about it. It was Selvig’s implications.

Because though Jane clearly thought Selvig to be overly dramatic, Thor could not deny that the man was probably right. Over the last year and a half, Thor had thought often of life beyond Earth. He had looked to the stars in question, wondering how the realms fared. He had entertained the possibility of war more than once, thinking of his friends and family fighting a conflict that Thor had started.

It was possible, he knew, that war with Jotunheim had not resolved quickly. Moreover, he could not deny the possibility -- or even the likelihood -- that the conflict would soon expand to include other realms. The balance of peace was one Thor had grown up to take for granted. With his brashness, he had shattered the peace, and it could be splintering through the nine realms and beyond.

In this, it was only a matter of time before Earth was involved. Before someone thought to conquer Midgard or sought refuge on its unimportant lands.

Thor had known this, had thought it often in the beginning. But time had made him forget; it had made him think it was not his cause anymore. He had felt so small and distant that perhaps he had foolishly assumed that the consequences of his action could have no import on him here.

Perhaps it had been denial, a desperate hope that he could take solace in the finite possibilities of his punishment.

Maybe Thor had not changed so much after all. Maybe he was still the same, selfish child he had always been. Maybe for his pained hope, he had left his friends in the gravest danger there was.

Selvig sighed, the anger fading. In its wake, the other man simply looked old. He did not like to bring this news, nor did he like enforcing it. But Selvig had the tenacity to do the right thing, even when it did not make him popular. Even when it was no easy.

Even when it was so very, very hard.

Jane finally let out a breath, shrugging her shoulders. “So, what? I should just...stop?”

Selvig’s shoulders fell. “I know what I’m asking here, Jane,” he said. “But you have to understand. Whoever opens a portal first, whether it’s you or SHIELD or something from another planet, is going to be in the gravest danger possible. I can’t stand to think about you in that kind of position. You’re brilliant, Jane, but I’m working around people in full gear. You need to be protected--”

“You said the same thing with Thor,” Jane objected.

“Next time, it won’t be Thor,” Selvig returned ardently. He turned his gaze to Thor. “Will it?”

The blood drained from Thor’s face, and he startled with the conversation suddenly shifted toward him.

Selvig knew, and Darcy still looked confused. Jane, however -- Jane’s gaze always had the power to make him wither.

He would do anything for her, and there was no opinion he valued more. He prized her intellect; he considered her compassion to be boundless. In Thor’s universe, she was as much the sun as anything else he had ever known.

Which made his honesty as important as it was difficult.

“He’s right,” Thor said, voice quiet.

Jane scoffed again. “You have got to be kidding me--”

Thor shook his head. “The dangers out there are far beyond what you have allowed yourself to imagine,” he said.

“Thor, we spend all our time together looking at the stars,” she protested. “You know what it means to me.”

“Your sense of wonder defines you,” Thor agreed. “And it makes your intellect even more powerful. But you see possibilities, when in fact there is also real danger. I have told you of the things I left. I cannot say for sure what has happened since I arrived here, but I can only assume things are not going well.”

Jane made a face. “How can you possibly assume that?”

Thor pressed his lips together.

Jane paused, tilting her head. “The activity,” she realized. “You think it means Selvig’s right. Something is coming.”

“Or, at the very least, things are happening at an increased rate,” Thor said. “The universe beyond this realm is vast but most realms are not nearly as fluid. To see this kind of activity--”

“The spiking indicates that things are changing,” Jane continued for him. “And probably not for the better. And I mean, if we’re talking about a bridge between worlds, this kind of uptick would be a result of increased traffic. Which, I guess could be trade, but if there are established relationships, that much increase is probably unlikely. So we’re looking at a mass exodus, which would only happen in case of emergency or trauma. Of it could be relocation or conflict or--”

“War,” Selvig concluded for her. “It could be war.”

“Whoa,” Darcy said, speaking for the first time. Although the younger woman was prone to mindless chatter, she was never, in fact, mindless. She, too, sense the gravity of this situation. “When did we move from the theoretical to the actual?”

“Well, it’s always been about both,” Jane said. “But we’d just had more theory than actual to deal with.”

“But I’m an intern,” she objected. “And now you tell me we’re studying war?”

“We’re not studying war,” Jane said with exasperation. “We may just...stumble into it.”

“Which is why you need to go,” Selvig reiterated, emboldened by her concessions.

This time, Jane was at a loss. Her objections were still plain, but her respect for Selvig and the fact that his argument had merit was giving her pause. Jane Foster was nearly impervious in the face of opposition. She had rebuilt everything and excelled after SHIELD had tried to dismantle her work. Jane knew no bounds.

But this was Selvig, as much a father to her as Thor could tell.

In many ways, Thor wanted her to concede this point. As much as he cared for Jane, he wanted to keep her safe, and the idea of something else falling from the sky and putting her in harm’s way was more than he could take.

But he would never ask her to stop.

Especially when he knew it would be pointless.

“It wouldn’t matter where she went,” Thor said.

They looked at him again, all in surprise.

“The universe is not as vast as you might think,” Thor said. “If danger does come to this planet, there would be no place safe. Not for Jane; not for any of us.”

Thor’s words settled over them. It was Darcy who grunted. “Well this conversation just went from hostile to depressing.”

“So what, then?” Selvig asked. “We do nothing?”

“Or we do something,” Jane said. “If we can figure it out--”

Thor shook his head. “There is nothing to be done,” he said. “It is why I have not mentioned this before. We do not know what awaits us. We do not know what comes for us. All we know is the here and now, doing the best we can with what we have.”

“And if that makes us vulnerable?” Selvig asked.

“Then at least the acknowledgement gives us strength,” Thor said. “I know you all, each of you. Whatever comes, there is no one more ready to face these challenges.”

Selvig sat back, slumping in his seat.

Jane furrowed her brow.

Darcy clapped. “Two people with advanced degrees, and the dude working construction wins the point,” she said. “I’d be more congratulatory except all the parts where you talk like we’re going to die soon.”

“Our lifespans are miniscule,” Thor said. “We’re all going to die soon either way.”

Darcy laughed; and then Jane laughed. Finally, even Selvig laughed.

Thor couldn’t help but find himself smiling. “It wasn’t a joke,” he admitted.

“Yeah,” Darcy said. “That’s probably why it was funny.”

“I still think it’s risky,” Selvig said.

“I still don’t know what else I’d do,” Jane said.

“Whatever we face, we must do so together,” Thor said resolutely. “Promise me that much.”

“Of course,” Jane said. “I mean, not that I’m going to tell SHIELD anything, but I am listening. Erik, I swear. I take you seriously.”

Selvig pursed his lips. “I never actually expected you to listen to this,” he said. “But I figured it would be worth a try.”

Jane smiled, almost apologetic. “I appreciate that.”

“Aw, that’s so cute,” Darcy said. “But really. After this, I think we need something more than wine. I’m totally getting the vodka.”

Jane laughed. “Well, maybe this once--”

“Definitely this once,” Selvig said.

Darcy retrieved the alcohol, and poured them all even shares.

“To science,” Jane said.

“May it save us in the end,” Selvig agreed.

With that, they drank, and Thor quietly accepted another round as the mood eased. Darcy turned the conversation to lighter topics, which Jane readily joined. Even Selvig seemed relieved to think of something different.

Of the simple things. Of the passions that started this. Of the good, the hopeful, the human.

These were the conversations Thor had always enjoyed most in his time with Jane. And though he talked of the sports teams with Selvig and shared tales of Darcy’s antics in the lab, he could not shake the feeling. The nagging dread, the sense that though he had been cast out, he would never be beyond reach. That no matter what he did to move on, the world might not move fast enough.

They drank heartily, until each was tipsy. Selvig fell asleep on the couch, and Jane talked with wide hand motions about her latest theory regarding quantum physics. Darcy giggled until she passed out, and Thor merely finished the bottle.

He did not have the heart to admit that before this was over, they might need a lot more than alcohol.

-o-

They drank heavy that night, but even when his friends had all succumbed to sleep, Thor found himself restless. Taking another beer, he went to the roof and looked out.

He studied the stars, wishing he could know more about them. If only he still had some knowledge, something he could offer his friends. He wanted to protect them, offer some kind of safeguard, but so far removed and without his powers, he had no insights.

In this, he was useless. Impotent and powerless.

Sighing, he studied them in vain desperation. It was hard to imagine, how Jane could look up and see such awesome wonder. And Selvig, well, he saw danger.

Thor, though.

Thor saw nothing.

And that was the most bitter truth of all.

-o-

In the morning, Thor had barely slept. He was tired and achy, the weight of the alcohol settled deep in his stomach. He did not quite feel ill, but he scarcely felt like himself.

Even so, he was better than the rest of his company.

In that, he felt some responsibility. For all his friends had offered him, he could only return the favor as he was able.

With everyone still sleeping, he made an ample breakfast and brewed a pot of coffee. When they roused, they ate wearily.

“I don’t know why I ever drink that much,” Jane groaned.

Selvig popped an antacid. “I do.”

“Come now,” Thor cajoled with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. “The morning is not so bad.”

Selvig grunted, and Jane took another drink of coffee.

Darcy looked at him with a wrinkled nose. “Did we discuss possible worldwide destruction last night?” she asked.

Thor’s jawed clenched. It was easier to forget such things in the light of day, though he supposed it was a flight of fancy to imagine it all so easily put aside.

“Huh,” Darcy said, when no one disregarded her. “I had been hoping that was part of my drunken stupor.”

Selvig grimaced, and Jane sunk down miserably. Despite their resolve to keep on, it was clear that it was not so easy to put the doubts aside. Thor understood. He had stood beneath the stars and searched for a purpose himself. They all would strive for their purpose, to discover and define.

And Thor would strive for his.

He had no great intellect or power, but he could do this much: he could believe when they could not. He could reassure when they doubted. Even if the stars held nothing for him, he could help them reach for the heavens when they faltered.

That was his calling.

And slight as it seemed, it was everything on a morning as sober as this.

“We should look on the bright side,” Thor said, making his best effort to sound upbeat.

“I wasn’t aware there was a bright side to worldwide destruction,” Darcy said.

“If such a thing is daunting it is only because we have much to lose,” Thor said. “And that, I think, is a very good reason to stay strong. To stay optimistic. It is only in the face of our greatest challenges that we discover the things that matter most.”

It was all he had to offer. In the heat of battle, he had been good at rousing speeches. He had been able to talk his friends and his men into many antics they would have been better to avoid. Thor could lead anyone into battle.

Today, however, he had needs to lead his friends to something far simpler and yet far harder.

To live.

In the face of the unknown, to simply live.

Such a feat was one Thor had learned the hard way -- the hardest way. But such a truth was the only hope in his exile.

The only hope he had at all.

“So we should face the unknown,” Thor said. “We should not forfeit that which matters to us. We must work. We must continue to laugh and eat and make the most of our lives. No matter what end awaits us, the victory is in how we live each day in the face of that.”

Jane was holding her cup, looking at him. Selvig looked pained while he listened. Darcy wrinkled her nose again. “Yeah, it’s too early for inspirational speeches.”

“Oh,” Thor said. “Should I try again after lunch?”

“Try again when I’m not dead,” Darcy moaned.

“And when I don’t want to throw up,” Jane added.

“And generally when the room stops spinning,” Selvig said.

Thor chuckled. “I suppose that is fair,” he said. “Does anyone want more coffee?”

All three groaned their affirmation.

-o-

For all that humans were small, short lived and mostly powerless, they were surprisingly resilient. By the time the afternoon came around, Darcy had excused herself to visit other friends. After half heartedly watching some TV, Jane had found herself back in her lab. Selvig, for all his protestations, was not far behind her.

Thor turned a sporting event on the television, watching it with the volume on low. He could still hear the exchange of ideas between Jane and Selvig, discussing variables and decimal points with growing enthusiasm.

He had to smile. It appeared no rousing speech was necessary after all. Jane could not stop her mind, and Selvig, for all his grousing, was almost as bad. They had an innate desire to learn. To live.

No matter how long or short the future may be.

100 years or 10 years or 10 weeks, Thor supposed it did not make much difference. It did not matter how long they had left. It only mattered how well they lived.

-o-

That night, it was Thor who went to bed early. Jane offered to watch a movie with him, but Thor knew her mind was set on other things. Though Thor and Darcy were helpful as they could be, it was rare for Jane to have another scientific mind to exchange ideas with. Though Jane might try to be polite, Thor kissed her gently and excused himself.

In his room, he could still hear them. Voices quiet at first, but slowly building energy. He could hear Jane’s inflection -- vibrant and provocative -- against Selvig’s steady stream of questioning. Loki would have liked that, working into the night on riddles of mind and magic. On Asgard, Thor had lacked the interest. On Earth, Thor simply wanted to give Jane her space.

If something was coming, it would be Jane who found it first, Thor had no doubt of that.

Whether that was to be good or bad was yet to be determined.

Still, the sound of her voice through the walls was comforting, and Thor almost felt guilty for sleeping so soundly that night.

-o-

The following morning, Thor was surprised that he was not the first one up. Despite working late into the night, Selvig and Jane were already putting together a sparse breakfast. They dined amiably before Selvig said he really should be on his way.

“Are you sure?” Jane asked, sounding hopeful. “I could really use a little more help.”

Selvig smiled. “You don’t need any help,” he said. “And I am sure. I was lucky SHIELD let me away at all.”

“We wish you safe passage,” Thor said. “Your presence is often sorely noted.”

Selvig gathered his bag, shaking his head. “I’d rather be here, all things considered,” he said. “But we do what we have to.”

“You could stay,” Jane said. “With the grant money I’ve got now, it’s more than enough for all of us.”

“Jane,” Selvig said fondly. “You know it’s more than that.”

Jane sighed. “Yeah,” she said regretfully. “I guess I still had to ask.”

“I know the feeling,” Selvig agreed. He paused, reaching out to hug Jane. Pulling her close, he patted her on the back. “Be careful.”

She stepped back. “I’m not so great at careful.”

Selvig made a small grunt of affirmation, turning his attention to Thor. “Then you be careful for her,” he ordered.

Thor stepped closer to Jane, putting an arm around her. “You have my word.”

“Well, then,” Selvig said. “I guess there’s nothing left to do but to get back to work.”

Jane hugged him again; Thor shook his hand. Selvig left in the quiet, sober morning.

They all had jobs to do. Jane with the stars. Selvig at SHIELD.

And though Thor worked construction and served as a fix-it man around town, he knew now what his calling on this planet was. He knew exactly what he had to do.

He was here for Jane.

To honor her, to protect her. He would pledge his life to her.

If he did not have centuries to give her, then the scant years to follow would have to count for something.

Thor hoped, perhaps in his lingering vanity, that they might count for everything.

-o-

Selvig’s visit made little difference to what they did. Their lives remained largely unchanged, despite the growing depth to the threat that might await them. Thor still had to get up and go to work; Jane still tended to her studies. Darcy still assisted as best she could with her colorful commentary as she served at Jane’s side.

What they did remained unchanged.

How
they did it, however, was another story.

This was how it was with humans, Thor had learned. Under a pressing threat, they were more likely to rally harder than give in. It was as if the looming possibility of losing what little they had was all they needed to fight harder to retain it. They did not have centuries, but decades, and humans pressed hard for every year they had.

Jane worked harder, turning to her work with more ferocity than ever. She lived and breathed the science, muttering equations under her breath and getting up from dinner when a new revelation hit. Her data collection outpaced Darcy’s ability to log it, and there were many nights when she did not have time to come up to see the stars at all. She had much to learn, and she seemed unwilling to accept the thought that she might not have time to learn it all.

Darcy, though dedicated to Jane, took her life in another direction. With a sense of foreboding, Darcy seemed to take her moments ever more seriously. Which was, to say, that she didn’t take them seriously at all. She went out often, meeting people and trying new activities. She partied hard on the weekend, and watched movies, downloaded music, bought new clothes. It was a different kind of learning, to be sure, but Thor would not be so rash as to deem it unimportant at all.

As for Thor, he pushed his own horizons. Though he did not crave science and he had steeped himself in popular culture over the last year, he sought to learn more about what it was to be human. He read books and attended plays. He looked at art and photography, looking back of the history of mankind with awe and fascination. He found that he quite enjoyed Shakespeare, though the valiant conflict of Dante was quite inspiring as well. The tale of Beowulf left him sad, but he found hope in Frodo’s triumph in Lord of the Rings. He pondered mortality with Yossarian in Catch-22 and dreamed of faraway lands where anyone could be a hero in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

It was Thoreau, however, that left him awake at night, wondering how he had missed something so plain for so long. For it was not the grandeur or the conquest; it was not the ceremonies or the honor. It was the power to live deliberately, to suck out all the marrow of life.

The answer to exile, the answer to danger, the answer to death -- was all very simple.

To live.

Fully and unabashedly.

Day after day. Week after week. Whether life be long or short, spectacular or small.

To simply live.

-o-