?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (10/15)

December 30th, 2014 (09:02 am)
restless

feeling: restless

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




They started another project at work; Jane got her first article published regarding the quantum variations that might make interplanetary travel possible. Activity at the SHIELD base increased, and Selvig stopped communicating via email.

Darcy got a boyfriend, whom she talked about constantly and had sex with on a frequent basis.

Until, of course, Darcy broke up with her boyfriend for being emotionally needy, too old fashioned and, as she put it, an idiot.

Thor took Jane on dates; he kept up his exercise. He read widely, and helped out around town. He let his hair grow out, and took to keeping it in a ponytail. He mastered new tools and new trades, and he learned rapidly. He was now fluent in Spanish as well as English, and he found it oddly satisfying to be considered smart for the first time in his life. His friends, his loved ones, his coworkers -- they all thought him great for the simple things he could do and the simpler things he was willing to do.

Greatness had been all Thor ever sought.

Of course, these days, his definition of greatness had changed.

There would be no one around who could tell him it wasn’t for the better.

-o-

Then one night, he came home to find Jane in front of the TV.

The television was often on; Darcy said she preferred background noise, and Jane was often so engrossed in her work that such things were irrelevant to her. But while the channel was often set to some game show or reruns of popular sitcoms, tonight it was on the news.

More than that, Jane was seated next to Darcy, both of them transfixed on the screen.

“Is something wrong?” Thor asked, putting his keys on the table and glancing over at Jane’s abandoned workstation. It was later than normal, but he had been putting in overtime hours in an attempt to help meet their quota and avoid any penalties on their latest project at work.

“The president,” Jane started and then stopped, eyes still on the screen.

“They’re going to kill the president,” Darcy continued for her.

Thor frowned, striding closer with concern. Though politics had never been a particular interest of his on Earth, he had taken time to study the various power structures on the planet. Though presidents were not revered as kings -- nor were they as indispensable as a royal lineage -- they still commanded authority and importance. And Thor understood the inherent nature of power, even when it was granted by the populace. People in power had to retain that power; they had to appear invulnerable.

To threaten a leader so publicly was an ostentatious display of aggression.

No one wonder it had even drawn Jane Foster to the couch in horrible awe.

“Who?” Thor asked, even as his eyes scanned the ticker at the bottom of the screen to start learning as much as he could.

“It’s the Mandarin,” Darcy said. “The sicko who’s been doing all those attacks lately.”

“Terrorism?” Thor asked.

“This is a different type of terrorism,” Jane said. “This is something more intelligent and more targeted--”

Suddenly the screen flashed white, and the camera angle zoomed out frantically. The anchor’s voice hitched, and the screen cut to the studio shot before the screen showed a new scene, at what appeared to be a shipping platform.

A platform under attack.

Thor leaned forward, looking carefully at the picture. “Is that--?”

A figure zoomed across the view.

“I’ll be damned,” Jane said. “Iron Man.”

“Oh,” Darcy said. “Is that War Machine?”

“I thought he preferred the name Iron Patriot now?” Thor asked.

Darcy wrinkled her nose. “That’s way less cool.”

“Over the top patriotic,” Jane agreed.

Thor cocked his head. “But less violent.”

“Um, are you seeing this?” Darcy asked. “He’s a superhero; superheroes have to be violent. That’s sort of how battle works.”

Thor knew this, better than either of them. He knew what it was to go into battle; he knew what it was to rally one’s courage to fight a cause because it was good and just and important. He could still remember, being undaunted and proud. He could remember riding in with his head held high, ever confident in his ability to win.

A superhero.

A prince.

A warrior.

A god.

Thor watched the fight unfold, as the Man of Iron defended the good and protected the innocent. He fought against the evil in the world, even at great threat to his own well being.

This time, Thor was the spectator.

This time, Thor was one of the nameless masses.

This time, Thor would only watch.

While someone else saved the day.

-o-

The news went on late into the night. The fight itself lasted no more than a half hour, but the smoldering aftermath was full of more questions than answers. The news ran, uninterrupted, until at least the president assured the public that all was well.

Thanks to Iron Man, War Machine and assorted others, everything would be fine.

Life would go on.

-o-

Darcy slept on the couch, and even Jane retired without sitting beneath the stars. Thor got ready for bed, but found himself unable to sleep as he stared at the ceiling in his room.

It had been him, once. He had always been the first to volunteer, to ride into battle. He had been the hero for as long as he could remember.

But here, he had no such distinction.

He had no such power.

It was a hard truth that he had been forced to accept when Mjolnir refused to yield to him.

It was a hard truth even now, after all that he had built for himself. To think, if a threat faced Jane, he might not be able to stop it. Indeed, he might not even be able to save himself.

Alone in his bedroom, he chastised himself for forgetting. For all that he had gained, this was still a punishment. For all that he had accomplished, this was still a lesson in humility.

He had to learn his limitations.

He had to acknowledge them.

Because no matter what he accomplished on this planet, he would never achieve that kind of greatness again.

-o-

The news was still fresh at work the next day. His coworkers could not stop talking about it, trading stories of fear and confidence.

“At least we know we’ve got people out there who can watch our backs,” Jose said as they stopped to eat their lunch.

Ricky snickered, taking a noisy drink from his extra large soda. “And we think that’s enough? Some iron suit and a billionaire with a heart condition?”

“He’s a hero,” Jose said impatiently. “He risked his life--”

“Dude, I read the reports,” Ricky said. “It’s partially his fault.”

“Oh, come on,” Jose said. “If you truly think--”

“It was personal, is what I’m saying,” Ricky said.

“So they blew up Air Force One to get back at Tony Stark?” Jose asked pointedly.

“Stark knew the guy,” Ricky said. “He had a bunch of chances to stop him. Hell, half the reason Stark was there was to rescue his girlfriend--”

“Please, friends,” Thor said, unwrapping another sandwich for himself. “Do not forget that a hero is defined by his or her actions in the moment. Heroes make a choice to put themselves in the way of harm for a greater good. That decision is never easy, nor does it come without consequences.”

“You’re saying context doesn’t matter?” Ricky asked, chewing on a fry.

“I’m saying Tony Stark saved many lives,” Thor said. “And for that, he deserves our thanks, not our criticism.”

“Exactly, man,” Jose said, nodding readily

Ricky shook his head. “I’m just saying, what he does, in that suit,” he said. “It’s not that impressive. We could weld together some metal and go fight crime, right here, right now.”

“And yet, we do not,” Thor said, crumpling his wrapper and picking up his sandwich. “Do not forget that fact.”

-o-

The status quo returned, although with an uneasy equilibrium. The headlines were sensational for a while, but great pains were taken to establish that Earth was not without some protection. Iron Man and Captain America were lauded as humanity’s best defense against the impossible, and rumors swirled about other highly trained heroes who would fill the void if needed.

No one would say when, but the if grew stronger.

SHIELD stepped up its operations, and though Thor knew little of their going ons, he could sense the shift. There were more people in town, and he started to suspect one or two of his workmates. Jane scarcely had time to socialize anymore, with the readings she was getting. When Thor stole a glance at the night sky, he could just barely suppress a shudder.

Though they looked still and tranquil, Thor knew better. For in the reaches of the galaxy, in the lifeblood of all nine realms, a sinister darkness loomed. Thor had tapped the beast in Jotunheim, and he could not say with any certainty that it would not follow him here.

People dreamed of heroes; governments planned for catastrophe; Jane researched the impossible.

All Thor knew was that there was discord among the stars, and he could not predict if Earth and its heroes would be any match at all.

Therefore, Thor resolved to do the only thing he could. He stopped reading the headlines, and he no longer engaged in the small talk at work. He helped sort Jane’s papers, but he would not speculate with her.

At night, he did not turn his head toward the sky and he ignored the deep ache in his hand as he looked toward the horizon where Mjolnir lay idle.

These were things for other people, important people, powerful people,

Not Thor.

Never again Thor.

-o-

Despite the fact that Thor had nothing of cosmic importance to do, he found that he still had plenty to keep himself occupied. He had never been one to stay idle for long, and in a town like Puente Antiguo, it seemed there was plenty to be done.

He helped build a shed for Mrs. Edin. He housesat for Mary Ellen. He threw a birthday party for George at the hardware store. He leaned how to unclog a drain, how to ground an electrical socket and sing a baby to sleep.

When Jane forgot their dates, he brought dinner to her. When Darcy became too frustrated with Jane’s single-minded focus, he asked her about her favorite bands and took her clubbing on the weekends. He read Chaucer and discovered showtunes. He binged on television sitcoms from the 90s until he knew that Ross and Rachel weren’t meant to be, and that Seinfeld was not a very good person indeed.

These were things that would never save the world.

Ironically, they were the things that would save Thor.

-o-

When Agent Coulson arrived again, Thor was not surprised. He sat down at Thor’s table one morning while he was enjoying a quick breakfast out. Normally, he preferred eating with Jane, but with her working so much at night, they often had differing sleep schedules.

Thor was sipping on his coffee, reading the paper when the nondescript agent sat down.

“You have made a good choice for breakfast,” Thor commented, barely glancing up. “Though if you have been working in the desert all this time, I have to wonder why you would miss out for so long.”

“Been busy,” Coulson said.

“Your friends like it here, very much,” Thor said, nodding absently at the woman who was tracking Thor these days.

Coulson didn’t look, but he also did not deny it. “I assume you saw what happened a few months ago.”

“With the president?” Thor asked. “I hope safety measures have been taken. I cannot imagine Air Force One was easily replaced.”

“We saved what mattered,” Coulson said.

“Thanks to your Iron Man,” Thor said, smiling faintly. “Is he one of yours?”

Coulson shrugged. “In a manner of speaking,” he said. “Not that he’d admit to it.”

Thor tilted his head, looking at Coulson. “Is that your choice or his?”

“It doesn’t matter, mostly,” Coulson said. “What matters is that he will do what he can when he’s needed.”

The implications were not too subtle, but Thor had no notion to indulge them at this time. Not again. After nearly two years. “I have told you,” he said. “I have nothing that would benefit you.”

“You may not think so,” Coulson said. “But you may not realize what it is we need.”

Thor raised his eyebrows.

Coulson sat forward, folding his hands. “We believe something is coming,” he said. “We’re reading the signs, just like Jane Foster is.”

“Then I’m not sure--”

“There are more than signs,” Coulson said. “There are risks. There are unknown variables that are too dangerous to go unchecked. You saw what happened with Iron Man. And that was a human. Just a crazy psychopath with a mindset for destruction. If something comes from the sky -- something not of this world…”

Thor let out a breath, taking a sip of his coffee to hide his discomfort with the direction of the conversation.

“We just need to know what you know,” Coulson said. “We’ve been polite. We’ve kept our distance. We’ve asked nicely--

“And I have told you,” Thor said, putting his cup down. “If I had anything of worth to offer you, I would give it freely.”

“Come on,” Coulson cajoled. “You really want me to believe that you don’t know something? That you can’t tell us more about what happened that night two years ago?”

“It would not help you,” Thor said.

“You don’t know that,” Coulson said.

“You track the stars,” Thor said. “You prepare your defenses. I assure you, there is nothing more that I could possibly--”

“Donald,” Coulson interjected, saying the name with inflection. “You want to pretend you’re an MD who works construction? Okay. You want to make believe that you’re not living on a stolen identity and living with your girlfriend? Fine. But there’s a hammer in the desert that no one can move, and you call yourself Thor. Either you’ve got one hell of a sense of humor, or I’m stupider than I look. If any of the legends are true--”

Thor shook his head. “The legends you speak of are nothing but words in a book,” he said. “My life here speaks for itself, does it not?”

Coulson closed his mouth for a moment, working his jaw. “You like it here, right? You like living with Jane? You like the small town vibe?”

Thor narrowed his eyes. “Are you threatening me?”

“To the contrary,” Coulson said. “I’m reminding you that you have something to lose here. The legends are words in a book, but your life, that’s something more, isn’t it?”

There was something to that. Something horribly precarious and disconcertingly vulnerable. Thor had never been defenseless in his life on Asgard, but here, he had little to offer in terms of protection. The idea of knowledge, of sharing intelligence with those who were more capable was at once reassuring and disquieting.

He also knew it was folly.

For Thor knew of countless things. He knew of technologies and races. He knew of medical advancements and galaxies far, far away. He knew of hundreds of threats, each more telling than the last.

Too many to quantify.

Too many to predict.

Simply too many.

SHIELD would learn everything and still know nothing.

He shook his head. “You think you can build a weapon to protect yourself?” he asked. “You think you can prepare a suit of armor or an impenetrable shield to stop threats to this world?”

“If we can,” Coulson said resolutely.

“These things mean nothing,” Thor continued. “Might in battle is not determined by the strength of the weapon or even the power of the one holding it. Victory, in its truest sense, is only defined by the heart that fights and the bond by which a defense is mounted.”

Coulson watched him silently amid the clatter of the morning rush at the cafe.

“Are there threats? Of course,” Thor said. “Could I identify a few of them? Possibly. But you would find there are more threats than you could ever account for.”

“So you would have us be defenseless,” Coulson said.

“Not at all,” Thor said. “Train your men. Build up your team. Learn the nuances of the stars. Remind everyone that what they have is worth fighting for. Do not look to legends or fallen artifacts. You said it yourself, you have heroes that will heed the call when the time comes. Build on that, and you will be as well equipped as you ever could be.”

Coulson studied him for a moment, lightly chewing the inside of his lip.

Finally, he got up. “Thank you for your time, Dr. Blake.”

“You do not wish to stay for breakfast?” Thor asked quizzically.

Coulson put on his glasses. “Another time.”

Thor nodded. “I’d say I’m looking forward to it--”

Coulson smiled faintly. “But you wouldn’t want to be a liar now,” he said. “Would you?”

-o-

Coulson was worried; SHIELD was anxious. The world shifted uncomfortably in anticipation. Indeed, there would have been a time when Thor would be just like them, ever anxious to do something about the greater forces in the universe, even when he had no real concept of such implications.

He was the prince who had charged blindly into Jotunheim, starting a war over petty insults.

No more, however.

He had believed inaction to be less noble once, as though standing still was the direct opposite of moving forward. This was not the case, however. Sometimes standing still was the acceptance of uncertainty, the reality of humility. Thor could not strike out at what he could not see. He would not, for fear of the implications.

There was a part of him that would have thought this to be cowardice. But inaction was just as much a choice as anything else. Bravery was knowing the right time to act.

And waiting until such a time appeared.

For some, Thor realized, that may never come.

For lowly construction workers on the planet Earth, maybe there was nothing more to do.

It was a sign of growth, Thor had to think, that he was entirely and without guilt, okay with that.

-o-

Time, as they said on Earth, had a tendency to fly.

SHIELD’s presence did not abate, though they did not approach Thor again. He could feel them watching him, perhaps looking for a vulnerability or something that suggested of a greater knowledge. It was somewhat uncomfortable to be scrutinized so closely, but Thor had nothing to hide.

If anything, it only gave him motivation to live more purposefully. He laughed harder; he drank more heartily. He helped carry groceries and left generous tips to the waitresses at the diner. He paid for coffee for random strangers, and he helped change the tires or fix the engines of anyone who broke down on their way through town. He drank with his friends on Friday nights, and went dancing with Darcy on the weekends. He took Jane to dinner, holding her hand under the streetlights and stealing a kiss as often as he could.

This was life, and it was good. Whatever threats loomed, and Thor could only speculate, they only made this time more precious. Thor had lived for centuries in all the splendor of Asgard and the Nine Realms.

Yet, he had never felt more alive than in these last two years

Two years against the backdrop of centuries.

He cherished the former but still ached for the later. It was a strange kind of limbo, to live two lives and desire both so strongly.

He was fortunate, then, that the choice was not his to make.

It was merely his to accept.

And flourish under.

-o-

“Wait,” Darcy said. “Look at the date.”

Jane was making annotations on her latest work. “Hm?”

Thor glanced at the paper, chewing a bite of soggy cereal. “What of it?” he asked.

“It’s almost been another year!” Darcy exclaimed.

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” Jane said distractedly.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Since Thor’s...Thor Day,” she said.

Jane looked up, brow furrowed.

Thor chewed thoughtfully. “Thor Day?”

“You know,” Darcy said, gesturing aimlessly. “Since you literally fell out of the sky and Jane hit you with a car.”

“You keep bringing that up,” Jane protested.

“Well, you did! And you didn’t even want to go to the hospital!” Darcy said.

“Well, you tased him,” Jane said dourly.

“Which I am still not ashamed to admit,” Darcy said.

Thor laughed, shaking his head. “What of any of it?”

“So,” Darcy said. “It’s your Thor Day! We celebrate that, don’t we?”

“Ah,” Thor said. “I assure you, no celebration is necessary--”

“No, she’s right,” Jane said. “I’d been meaning to start planning something--”

“Honestly,” Thor said. “I don’t need--”

“You don’t need to celebrate,” Darcy said. “That’s why parties are so awesome. A little self indulgence does us good.”

“Are you sure you just do not want an excuse to buy a keg of beer?” Thor asked.

“I am not opposed to that,” Darcy said. “But Thor Day!”

Jane put down her pencil. “There will be a party.”

Thor sighed. “But your work is so busy--”

“And you’ve been awesome about it,” Jane said. “Just...let us have this one, okay?”

“If it will make you feel better,” Thor agreed.

Jane rolled her eyes. “Only you could make a party for you a favor.”

“I would be honored,” Thor said, realizing how his self deprecation could be received.

“Good,” Jane said. She paused, picking up her pencil again. “We have a lot to do.”

Darcy grinned, throwing her arms up in the arm in victory. “Thor Day!”

-o-

Though he wished to be helpful, Thor understood the importance of surprise when it came to these things. After planning their six month anniversary, he could respect Jane’s desire to do something as a means of showing her devotion.

He couldn’t deny, however, that it still made him uncomfortable. Of all the things he’d learned from his time on Earth, the humility of service was chief among them. He’d spent centuries being pampered and wanting for nothing in his father’s palace. He had grown used to the adoration of his people and the congratulation of his friends. It had been with that confidence that he had entered Jotunheim.

It had been that confidence that had seen him banished from Asgard and resigned to this place.

Sometimes Thor was aware just how deeply this shift had affected him, though as time passed, he found it easier to go about his daily routine without concerning himself too much. Yet, when he was put in a position to receive generosity from others, he found himself ill at ease.

It was fear, in many ways. Fear that he would revert, that he would become the man he had been back on Asgard. He did not wish to repeat the mistakes that had thrust the realms back into war.

More than that, he was afraid of losing what he had managed to build in the aftermath. The loss of Asgard had very nearly gutted him. To lose this life as well…

Thor could not imagine.

That was the irony, in many ways. That now he had to force himself to be idle, to let those he cared for dote on him. It was different now, though. Looking back, he could not decide how much of the camaraderie he had enjoyed was merely a result of his station. How many people had agreed with him because he spoke so loudly and so confidently? Who had followed him just because he was Asgard’s golden heir?

There were many doubts now, but not about that. He could not -- nor would he -- ever doubt that Jane loved him. He would deem himself unworthy of her affection, but she did not know him as a great warrior or a prince of many. She knew him as a crazy man, who fell from the sky and spoke nonsense.

She wanted to do this for him because she cared for him.

In this, Thor knew the most helpful thing he could do was to stay out of her way until the celebration was complete.

-o-

One night, when he got home from work, he was surprised to find Darcy alone at the equipment. She was leaned back in her chair, staring intently at her phone. Jane, however, was nowhere in sight.

“Is everything okay?” Thor asked, putting his keys on the table as he keenly scanned the room for signs that something was amiss.

“Dude, I’m about to beat my best score,” Darcy said.

Thor came closer to her. “Angry Birds?”

“Plants v. Zombies,” Darcy said. “I just need to get -- damn it! There are too many!”

“You need to invest more in your long range defenses,” Thor advised. “You are invariably weak because you let the zombies get too close to your home, giving them time to back up into each other and overpower your plants.”

Darcy put down her phone with a glare. “And you’re an expert zombie killer?”

“It is a simplistic game,” Thor said. “Hardly any strategy--”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you’re not annoying to be around.”

Thor drew a breath and shook his head. “My apologies,” he said wryly. “I am sure you are very skilled at zombie eradication.”

She smirked. “Hell, yeah,” she said. “In real life, anyway.”

Thor considered this. “I imagine you would be a formidable presence in any fight,” he said. “But tell me, where is Jane?”

“She left me alone with the equipment,” Darcy said, sounding truly put out. “Again.”

Thor looked at her in surprise. “Again?”

“She’s been doing it all week!” Darcy complained. “She keeps saying she has errands.”

“Errands?” Thor inquired.

“Party planning,” Darcy said. “Food and drinks and music and--”

Thor was perplexed by this. “Surely this is not all necessary.”

“You would think,” Darcy agreed. “But apparently after you gave her the best six month anniversary ever, she really wants to get this right.”

“Her love and devotion is more than enough--”

Darcy held up her hands. “Hey, I tried to tell her that,” she said. “Do you think I want to be stuck here in this lab nonstop so she can plan a party?”

“But you like parties,” Thor said.

“Um, instant gratification,” Darcy said. “I’m not that big into delayed benefits.”

“Ah,” Thor said. “Good things come to those who wait.”

“But good things happen to those who take them,” Darcy said. “Now, right now.”

“How’s that working for you?” Thor asked.

Darcy’s face scrunched up in what appeared to be genuine discomfort. “I am so bored.

Thor laughed. “What if I offered to make you dinner?”

“That would help,” Darcy said.

“Then it shall be done!” Thor declared.

“Can you also watch the equipment and monitor the results and file the paperwork?” Darcy asked.

“Not if you wish dinner,” Thor told her as he moved to the cooking area.

“Ugh, choices!” Darcy said. “I want everything!”

Thor opened a cupboard, pulling out a pan. He turned back toward Darcy with a smile. “Satisfaction,” he told her. “It is a powerful virtue. Much like patience.”

Darcy flopped forward miserably. “You better made biscuits, too.”

“Now, that,” Thor said, opening the fridge to take out some ingredients. “Is something you can have.”

-o-

When Jane arrived back, dinner was served and mostly eaten. “I know, I know, I’m late,” she said, coming around and pecking Thor’s cheek with a kiss before sitting down. “I lost track of time--”

“That’s okay,” Darcy said. “Thor made biscuits.”

Jane reached out, taking one. “You’re amazing,” she said to him.

“Um, the biscuits take like ten minutes,” Darcy said. “It’s literally Bisquick and milk.”

“But they’re amazing,” Jane said, chewing a mouthful.

“But ten minutes,” Darcy said. “I spent three hours monitoring your equipment!”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jane said. “Did you want a kiss, too?”

Darcy glared at her. “A little gratitude might be nice.”

“Isn’t that called a paycheck?” Jane asked, helping herself to some of the meal.

Darcy huffed. “You were so much easier to work for when we had no budget and no credibility.”

Jane grinned. “Come on,” she said. “It is way more fun now.”

“You got the research, the grant, the publications, the boyfriend,” Darcy said. “And I have?”

“Good food, good company, good pay,” Jane said.

“I filed your latest data in the wrong index,” Darcy said.

“You didn’t,” Jane replied.

Darcy shrugged. “Well if you have good food, good company and good pay, then what else do you need?”

“Your point is noted,” Jane said. “And ignored.”

“Besides,” Thor interjected. “We are all underestimating the value of good humor as well.”

“See,” Jane said. “Thor gets it.”

“Your Norse god of a boyfriend gets it,” Darcy said. “Wonderful.”

“It is not so bad,” Thor said. “I think I have enough ingredients to make brownies.”

“Now you’re bribing me with chocolate,” Darcy said.

Thor looked at her. “And is it working?”

“Of course!” Darcy said. “Because your brownies are like crack.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “Everything will be back to normal next week.”

“Um,” Darcy said. “Things haven’t been normal for two years, if you haven’t checked.”

Jane looked at Thor, who reddened. She smiled. “Okay, point taken,” she said, reaching out to squeeze Thor’s hand across the table. “I’m just not sure that’s a bad thing.”

Thor’s chest felt tight; his stomach churned. This feeling. The intensity of it. There were countless people in the universe, but none of them were like Jane Foster.

There was nothing normal about their life, no matter how mundane it might seem. There was nothing ordinary about their routine, no matter how ingrained it was.

For Thor had found a new life in a death sentence. He had found freedom in exile. He had found a family in being cut off from every person he loved.

For as impossible as it was to elucidate on these feelings, he was increasingly aware that he would never have to. Not when Jane knew exactly how he felt.

And, with one look, he knew she felt exactly the same.

“Oh come on,” Darcy said, eating another biscuit noisily. “Get a room!”

-o-

That night, on his way to bed, Thor stopped next to Jane at her work station. “Still busy?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said, sounding tired and distracted. “There’s just so much to do.”

“You really do not need to put so much time into the party,” Thor said gently. “You have already proven yourself more than dedicated.”

She looked up at him, eyes wide. “No! It’s not that,” she said. “The party has been a welcome distraction trust me.”

“I just do not like to see you so busy,” Thor said.

“It’s the data,” Jane said, gesturing to her papers. “It just keeps building. I can barely keep up with it anymore. I’m going to have to write to see if I can get funding for another assistant because at the rate we’re seeing information pour in, there’s no way we can keep up.”

“Still no indication what it means?” Thor asked.

Jane shook her head. “It’d be speculation,” she said. “But I don’t know how it’s possible that we haven’t had another event. From the looks of things, there’s travel all across our solar system, just not targeted here.”

Thor swallowed hard, refusing to say how much of a good thing that might be. Instead, he leaned closer, nudging her gently. “You are only truly happy when you are busy.”

Grinning shyly, she nudged him back. “That’s not the only time I’m happy.”

“Perhaps,” he said. He paused. “What do you say about some time under the stars? It has been awhile.”

It had been nearly a week, but Thor was aware that such record keeping was often frowned upon in relationships.

Her brows knitted apologetically. “I’d love to, I would,” she said. “But--”

He shook his head. “No need to explain,” he said. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “You should sleep--”

“Jane,” he said, looking at her seriously. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

She sighed with a smile. “If you want to start filing--”

Thor was already picking up the papers before she had a chance to finish explaining.

-o-

Saturday afternoon, Darcy took him shopping under the pretense of needing his help.

“To pick out a shower curtain,” she said.

“A shower curtain?” Thor asked.

“Yes,” Darcy said. “I need a shower curtain.”

“And you need help because--?”

“Because,” Darcy said. “Have you ever seen the selection of shower curtains? Do I want fabric or plastic? Do I want clear or white? Should I get new rings for the top?”

These were nuances Thor had not considered before, though he did use his own shower curtain frequently.

Even so, there was something amiss. “You value my opinion?”

Darcy made a face. “Yes?”

Thor frowned.

“Whatever,” Darcy said, sighing. “Jane needs you out of the house so she can set up and surprise you. So I really do need your help getting a shower curtain or she will spontaneously combust.”

“I thought spontaneous combustion was a myth,” Thor said.

“Really?” Darcy said. “That’s what you took away from this conversation.”

Thor nodded, duly sheepish. “Well, then,” he said, puffing himself up a bit overly grand. “We should really go find you the best shower curtain there is.”

“Or,” Darcy said. “We can skip the shower curtain and go get something to drink for an hour and come back and act super surprised.”

“I like the way you think, Darcy Lewis,” Thor said.

“Yeah,” Darcy agreed. “I like the way I think, too.”

“Though if you need a shower curtain--”

“Thor,” Darcy said. “Shut up and get your keys! Before you drive me even more crazy than Jane does!”

-o-

Though they had ample time to waste, Thor bought only one drink for each of them, must to Darcy’s dismay.

“Now is not the time to be a stingy date,” she lectured, eating a handful of pretzels.

Thor shrugged. “I am not your date.”

She shook her head diffidently. “Blah, blah, blah,” she said. “You know, I will have you realize that I am an excellent date.”

“I do not doubt it,” Thor said. “How is your latest boyfriend?”

“His name is Drew, and he’s not my boyfriend,” Darcy said.

“So you are not seeing him anymore?” Thor asked.

Darcy smirked. “I see quite a bit of him,” she said. “But he will never be boyfriend material.”

“Ah,” Thor said. Of all the nuances in Earth’s conversation, innuendo had taken the longest for him to detect. It was not that such things were not said on Asgard; it was that they usually had a lot more imagination and metaphor involved. Fandral had been quite adept at discussing relationships in regards to swords, flowers and untamed beasts. “I thought he seemed like quite a reasonable fellow.”

“Oh, yes,” Darcy said. “Very reasonable.”

Thor took a small drink. “Then what is the problem?”

“I don’t want reasonable,” Darcy said. “I think it’s your fault.”

Thor raised his eyebrows in concern. “Mine?”

“Yes, you!” Darcy said.

“I believe I live a very reasonable life,” Thor said.

“But you fell from the sky,” Darcy said. “You actually fell from the sky. And you’re strong and you’re handsome and you’re nice and you’re thoughtful. I mean, I don’t even understand how it’s possible for someone to be like you. You never leave the toilet seat down; you never pick fights with Jane; you never do anything wrong.

“Is that not a good thing?” Thor asked.

“It’s entirely unrealistic!” Darcy said. “Every guy who dates me doesn’t even come close to that.”

“Darcy,” Thor said, suddenly uncomfortable. “I had not idea--”

“Whoa, there, big guy,” she said. “I mean, I find you very attractive, but you’re like my oversized big brother.”

Thor nodded slowly, not sure he understood.

“But I’ve seen what you did for Jane,” she said. “I saw how you changed her without changing her at all. That’s what a relationship is. And I’m just so not ready for that.”

Looking at his drink, Thor chewed his lip thoughtfully. “Has my presence been bothersome to you?”

“You cook and clean,” Darcy said. “I’m pretty sure that’s never going to be bothersome.”

Thor glanced at her. “I value your friendship, Darcy,” he said. “I would never do anything to make your life more difficult.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “It’s a good thing, trust me,” she said. “What you and Jane have -- it’s grown up, it’s settled. And that’s nice and all, but that’s not me. Not yet. Maybe someday, some dude will fall out of the sky for me, until then I’ll take my pancakes and my non-boyfriends, thank you very much.”

There was an earnestness in Darcy’s answer, unfettered by conventional wisdom or presumptive narratives. Thor recognized something in that, the desire to live life and to live it fully. Thor had always endeavored such things on Asgard, and he had had no regrets for centuries. There was an innocence to that, even if one that had never been deserved. Most of the time, those who pushed the boundaries rarely understood the implications of breaking them.

For Thor, it had ended in disaster and exile.

Darcy, however, did not have to suffer this way. She would learn in her own time and in her own way. Most people grew up by degrees, not in a single, soul-rending incidence.

As Darcy’s friend, he would help her avoid the latter in order to see what the future held for her in the former.

Thor raised his glass toward Darcy. “To the freedom of youth,” he said.

She raised her glass. “May it never change.”

With a drink, Thor believed they both had reason to hope.

-o-

After finishing their drinks, Thor took Darcy back home. When the parked, she sighed. “You need to act surprised and all,” she said.

“Surely Jane knows--”

“Surely Jane just wants to get this right,” Darcy said. “I wasn’t kidding, you know. When I said you’d changed her. I worked for her a full year before you showed up, and I couldn’t get her to invite anyone over for fun, not once. And now, here she is. Throwing surprise parties.”

Thor looked out the window to the dimly lit lab. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been a burden.”

“Oh, please,” Darcy said. “If you have a flaw, it’s self deprecation. I would have left, I think, if not for you showing up. You make her human.”

That was the irony, then. That he made her human.

When it was her who was at the very heart of his own humanity.

“Very well, then,” Thor said as he climbed out of the car. “Let us go forth and be surprised!”

-o-

When they got inside, no one was hiding. Even so, everyone turned toward him and raised their glasses with a resounding chorus of surprise!

The crowd was much larger this year. There were many people from town, and most of his work associates and their loved ones. There were children he had babysat for, couples for whom he had walked their dogs. There were people from the gym, from the hardware store, from the cafe. Even Travis from the pet shop.

Then his eyes found Jane, standing at the center of them all. She was smiling so big, so true.

No matter how many times he saw that look, it was always caught him off guard.

“Nice,” Darcy said, leaning in close to him. “Very convincing look.”

Thor could not find the words as his chest swelled with pride.

For how could he explain that it was no surprise at all.

-o-

Last year, the party had been enjoyable. There had been food and friends, enough for several hours of good entertainment.

This year, however, the lab was overflowing. People seemed to grow in number as the hours went on, and Thor found himself at the center of attention all night. He tried to make it close to Jane, but he found that he barely turned around when someone else wanted to talk to him.

“Thor, tell him about the time you saved the entire project with one hand--

“Wait, what about the time you were able to sing the entire introduction to Bohemian Rhapsody--

“Well, I’ll tell you what, this boy can lift an entire refrigerator all by himself--”

“And he’s got this way with plants--”

“And kids--”

There were no gleaming halls and no stories of grand conquest. No one sang traditional odes or feasted at golden tables.

But this was all very familiar, still.

-o-

His friends came to enjoy themselves.

Thor did not intend to let them down.

He won most of the drinking games, and when they sang karaoke with the machine Jane had rented, he was louder than all the rest. He told dramatic stories of life on the job, and spoke grandly of Jane and Darcy’s work about the lab. He was easily the center of attention, mesmerizing his guests with his gravitas alone.

This had never been hard for Thor, to be adored and loved. He had often glowed like the suns on Asgard, and that was even easier here on a planet so dim and short lived.

He liked to think he had earned it this time. For feats not of conquest but of service. For acts of not of pride but of humility.

There were many reasons to be loved, and countless ways to be a hero.

Maybe worth was not something defined by a hammer at all.

-o-

The celebration lasted into the night. Though some of his friends went home, others settled themselves about the lab, too inebriated to safely return to their residences. Some were still talking and drinking, and Thor found himself looking around, searching for the one person he had not spent time with that evening.

Curious, he eventually found himself on the roof, where Jane was curled up on a chair, looking at the stars.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

She glanced at him, smiling. “Not too long.”

“You should be down at the party,” he said, settling in the chair beside her.

“It’s your party,” she said with a shrug. “Why aren’t you there?”

“It is mostly over,” he said. “I was looking for you.”

“Well, you seemed pretty busy,” she said.

“Do not think that I forgot you,” Thor said.

Jane looked at him, surprised. “No, Thor,” she said. “That’s good. That’s good that you were busy. In the two years you’ve been here, I’ve worried that you’ve been too secluded -- held back. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love being such a big part of your life, but all relationships need balance. People need balance. The fact that you have friends, that you have hobbies, that you have a life--” She shook her head, smiling again. “You’ve changed a lot from that first time I met you.”

“All thanks to you,” he said, reaching over to take her hand. “All of this, is thanks to you.”

“Thor,” she said. “You can’t really still think that?”

Thor cocked his head.

“Those people down there,” she said. “They came for you. They came because of the impact you’ve had on their lives. And I mean, just think about the impact you’ve had on my life. I can’t imagine where I’d be if you hadn’t stayed. This whole thing, it’s a two-way street.”

“I have always felt that you have given me more than I could ever return,” Thor confessed.

“And you think I don’t feel the same?” she asked. “Thor, I don’t know why this thing works between us. I mean, there’s no reason it should work except you made a choice to make it work. And I don’t know. That’s amazing, really. You’re amazing.”

It would be easy to deflect, as had become his custom on Earth. But Jane’s earnestness was important to him, and though he found himself eager to listen to all points of view, there was none he valued more than Jane. For she saw the world with a simplicity he had often lacked. She had been brazen enough to track him down and take him in. She had been curious enough to believe him, even when it seemed outlandish and all the evidence spoke to the contrary. And she had been vulnerable enough to trust him, when he was a broken man with nothing to offer.

There was no one he considered smarter or wiser.

He squeezed her hand. “Thank you,” he said. “Of all I have gained in this life, there is nothing more valuable than you.”

“Ugh,” she said, shaking her head. “Stop being so perfect.”

“I’m afraid that is impossible,” he said with a smirk.

“Then I’m just going to have to make you shut up,” she said.

“And how’s that?” he asked.

She drew close to him with a kiss.

He nodded in contemplation. “That might work--”

She kissed him again.

And Thor found that there was nothing left to say.

-o-

In the morning, Thor helped the rest of his friends home before starting to clean up the lab. Though Darcy did not rouse from the couch, work took the better part of the day until Jane declared that moving would just be easier.

“Easier,” Thor conceded. “But not better.”

Jane made a sound of discontent. “You’re lucky I love you.”

He grinned at her. “Very lucky, indeed.”

-o-

Two years down, Thor thought when the lab was clean.

Two years.

He smiled at the thought.

And so many more to go.

-o-

The next week, Thor went to work humming. He came home, ready to make dinner. He picked up around the lab with a smile, and he volunteered to do more chores than ever. He read books; he watched television; he texted his friends.

Mostly, Thor lived his life.

He wanted nothing more.

-o-

It was a Saturday evening, just after five, when Thor arrived back. He had just finished helping one of his friends at the gym with a window installation, and it had taken a bit longer than he had anticipated. Even so, he was pleased to see there was plenty of time to take Jane out for dinner.

That was his plan, anyway.

When he got back to the lab, he quickly realized he may have been presumptuous.

The lab was never particularly tidy where Jane’s work was concerned. She was not disorderly exactly, but given the sheer amount of data she dealt with on a daily basis, things tended to accumulate rather quickly. Thor had learned, over time, how to clean around her work in order to preserve her organizational systems and still keep things sanitary.

This, however.

This was different.

Jane’s work was everywhere. She had papers spread across every surface, and she had sheets taped to walls and windows.

He stopped, contemplating his words carefully.

“I know, I know, I know!” she said. “I look like a crazy person.”

Thor recovered his self control admirably. “I said nothing.”


“Ugh,” Jane said, running a frenetic hand through her hair as she sifted through another stack. “I feel like a crazy person.”

Thor walked forward carefully, perusing the papers. “I have only been gone for several hours,” he said. “What happened?”

“Well,” Jane said. “I had a thought about cross referencing the time and date with each lunar cycle to see if we could detect any other abnormalities, and then I was thinking about extrapolating the data on a much higher scale, because now that there are several years worth of data, we can start to draw much larger conclusions, and so I started to sort things out and I kept sorting and sorting and sorting…”

Thor nodded, turning toward her. “And soon all your work was posted on walls.”

She looked guilty. “It’s only two years worth,” she said. “I lost most of the rest when SHIELD took it.”

“I doubt we would have had space for more,” Thor said.
Jane groaned, slumping into a chair. “What am I going to do?”

Thor gathered a breath, going to her and settling his hands on her shoulders. “You are going to keep working,” he said. “Continuing sorting and keep at this.”

Jane looked up at her. “What about you? We were supposed to go for dinner?”

He smiled, cupping her face. “I will bring dinner to you,” he said. “And then we can eat it together while we finish this task. Together.”

“Ugh,” Jane said again. “How do I get myself into these messes?”

“You are a brilliant, dedicated scientist,” he said. “This is not a mess. This is innovation and progress.”

She looked as if she would concede that point.

“Besides,” Thor said. “You love this. The chaos before creation. The mess before the masterpiece.”

Her face started to widen. “Yeah, you’re kind of right.”

“I am entirely right,” he said. “Now, I have one last, very important question.”

She lifted her eyebrows expectantly.

He smiled boldly at her. “Pizza or Chinese?”

-o-

Thor ended up getting both, and it was very good that he did. They ate their first dinner at six. By ten, when they were still working, Thor was ready for more. Jane finished the last of the pizza at midnight.

It wasn’t the most romantic date, but Thor had no complaints.

-o-

“Uh uh,” Darcy said, shaking her head. “I don’t like the cut.”

Thor frowned, looking down at the pants in the mirror. “I don’t see any difference.”

“You’re not looking,” she said. “I mean, the fit is way different.”

“It feels exactly the same,” Thor said.

“No,” Darcy said. “Move around a little.”

Thor obeyed dutifully, trying not to notice as people lingered. It seemed like a strange concept, to have fittings be so public, but since he and Darcy were of different genders, there seemed to be no other way to get her opinion on the clothing items.

And, since she had picked most of them out, that seemed rather important.

Taking several paces, he frowned. “These do feel somewhat tighter.”

“Yes,” Darcy said. “That’s because they are.”

“Is that a sign that they are too small?” Thor asked, glancing back at where the jeans fit on his backside.

“Mmm,” Darcy said, shaking her head. “They are definitely not too small.”

Thor bent at the knees, before touching his toes. “These do seem to impede my movement to some degree,” he noted.

“Well, to be fair, the other pairs impede other things.”

Thor looked at her curiously. “What other things?”

“Your….assets,” Darcy said, keeping a straight face.

Thor frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Just buy the jeans, Thor,” she said. “Trust me on this one. For my sake. For Jane’s. For the good of humanity.”

“That seems a bit much for a pair of jeans,” Thor said dubiously.

“You have much to learn about humanity, then,” she said. “Oh, and you’re getting the black t-shirt. Five of them.”

“Five?”

“Yes,” Darcy said.

“I said I needed new weekend clothes, but I’m not sure how this will help me,” Thor concluded.

“Fine, two of the black t-shirts and the jeans,” she said. “And then whatever else you want.”

“But it is my money,” Thor objected.

“Thor, would you deny me this? After everything we’ve been through?” she asked.

“You are always quick to validate the time you tasered me, rendering me insensate in a hospital,” Thor pointed out.

“And Jane hit you with a car twice, and you still dote on her,” Darcy countered. “Please?”

Thor sighed. “I still do not see why these clothes matter so much?”

“Oh, trust me,” Darcy said. “They matter.”

-o-

Thor bought the jeans and two black t-shirts.

He also bought a pair of khakis and a pair of relax fit jeans. He found a football jersey that he liked very much, and he bought himself several vintage style t-shirts and a polo. To finish things off, he bought several new pairs of underwear before investing in a pair of tennis shoes and sandals.

Back at the lab, when he tried a few items on for Jane, he asked which she liked best.

“Those jeans,” she said without a moment’s hesitation. “And the black t-shirt.”

“See,” Darcy said smugly. “Told you.”

-o-