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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (12/15)

December 30th, 2014 (09:06 am)
indifferent

feeling: indifferent

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




It took a good amount of time to unload the vehicle. When it was finished, the main room in the lab was cluttered so badly that it was impossible to tell just how thoroughly Thor had cleaned.

“I did not think you took so much with you,” he commented while Darcy collapsed on the couch.

“We didn’t,” Jane said, edging anxiously toward her lab space. “But, you know, we only packed for a week.”

“And we were giving a stipend for living expenses,” Darcy said.

“I still have most of mine,” Jane said, starting to power up some of the equipment.

“I don’t,” Darcy said. “But it was well worth it, trust me.”

“You could have done laundry,” Jane said.

“And missed the opportunity to shop at stores that aren’t designed for people over the age of sixty?” Darcy asked. “My laziness was only part of the motivation.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “Anyway,” she said. “We’ll have to get the equipment up and running soon. We were lucky enough to have access to Stark’s labs while we were there to keep up with the collection and collation, but we haven’t been able to install the software needed for refined analysis--”

“Oh, come on,” Darcy groaned. “We literally just got back.”

“But it’s been a month,” Jane protested.

“Of work,” Darcy said. “It was a month of work.”

“You hardly did anything except flirt with interns and go shopping,” Jane said.

“I know!” Darcy said, putting her arms dramatically over her head. “That is the most work I’ve done in years.”

Thor laughed. “Your presence has been sorely missed,” he said. “Both of you.”

“Well,” Jane said. “I don’t plan on leaving any time soon.”

“Which is why we can take the night off,” Darcy whined.

“But the sooner we get back up--”

Darcy groaned again.

Thor looked at Jane sympathetically. “I would very much like to spend some time with you.”

Jane hesitated, but straightened away from her work station. “I know,” she said. “I’m a horrible girlfriend.”

“No,” Thor said. “You are merely a dedicated scientist.”

“Do not encourage her!” Darcy declared from the sofa, flopping her arm over her eyes.

“One night,” Thor said. “I promise it will be worth your while.”

Jane drew a breath, and nodded with a newfound fortitude. “I promised myself I wouldn’t work tonight anyway,” she admitted. “But seeing the equipment, just sitting there!”

“Very well then,” Thor said. “We will simply have to go out.”

Darcy perked up at that, moving her arm from over her face.

Jane considered it.

“You did say I needed to express my gratitude,” he said. “Let me start by taking you both out to dinner.”

“Ugh, yeah,” Jane said, stepping away from the station entirely. “I need to get away from work.”


“Thank you!” Darcy exclaimed.

“We can get started first thing tomorrow anyway,” Jane said.

“Perfect!” Thor said.

“Totally amazing,” Darcy intoned, though she sounded less than enthusiastic.

“Don’t complain,” Jane said. “I’m letting you tag along on a date with my boyfriend.”

“He invited me,” Darcy said, brow furrowed.

“He was being polite,” Jane told her with a smirk. “Third wheel.”

Darcy looked perturbed, but she got to her feet nonetheless. “Unfortunately for you, I have no pride in this area,” she said. “This third wheel is ready to roll.”

-o-

At first, Thor had considered taking Jane and Darcy to the next town, where the dining options were more extravagant. However, he had noticed during their conversation in her absence that she had eaten widely an exotically. Though Tony Stark was not royalty, he clearly understood the burden of being a generous host much like Thor had learned in the halls of Asgard. Guests were treated to feasts and succulent delicacies. To which end, Jane would not likely be in need of something decadent.

Nor would she want to travel far.

No, Jane would want the comfortable and familiar.

Which made the diner a perfect option.

It made Jane quite happy.

It also made everyone else quite happy.

Thor was not the only one who had missed Jane. The locals fawned over her, providing prompt service and soliciting information about her journey to California. By the time they were eating their pie, Thor had barely gotten a word in edgewise.

Even so, he found he could not complain. It was something indeed just to watch her. To see her smile; to hear her voice.

“I hadn’t realized anyone would notice I was gone!” Jane said, voice hushed as she slid her fork through her cherry pie and ice cream.

“You are quite popular,” Thor said, enjoying a piece of banana cream.

“And this town is so tiny that it is desperate for news,” Darcy added.

“At any rate, we are all glad you are home,” Thor said. He paused to take a drink. “You still feel good about your progress, then?”

“Good?” Jane asked around a mouthful of pie. “The more I think about it, the more I can hardly believed it happened. The grant money had been good the last two years, but being backed by Tony Stark? That gives me more tools and more exposure. This whole thing, it’s going mainstream. I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt like a nut job sometimes.”

“Now you’re a nut job with a following,” Darcy said.

Jane hardly acknowledged her. “It’s just been galvanizing,” she continued, eyes alight with passion. “Plus, I still have the autonomy I need to do things my way. I really think I can make this happen.”

“Of course you can,” Thor said. “I have never had any doubt, and it is to Tony Stark’s benefit that he can recognize brilliance when he is faced with it.”

“He’s surprisingly scientific minded,” Jane said. “I always knew he was good -- just considering the scope of his Iron Man suits -- but he’s always seemed so cocky and, I don’t know, he got his start in weapons--”

“The past is not always a clear indication of the future,” Thor reminded her. “Perhaps Tony Stark has learned.”

“Tony Stark has enough money that learning is a luxury,” Darcy said, then she sighed. “I want to go back.”

Jane finished another bite, shrugging her shoulders. “But anyway,” she said. “Enough about me. What about you? You’ve been awfully quiet on the phone recently. What have you been up to?”

“You know the things my life entails,” Thor said, slicing off another bite.

“Usually you hang out with us a lot,” Jane said. “Surely you didn’t spend all your free time reading or doing Sudoku.”

Thor chuckled. “I have completed all the works of William Shakespeare, if that is what you mean.”

“Wow,” Darcy said. “That’s sad.”

“You did more than that,” Jane said.

“Well, perhaps,” Thor said with a noncommittal shrug.

Jane waited a moment. “Like what?”

He shook his head, eating the last bite of his pie. “That is a conversation for later, I believe,” he declared. “I want to hear about your prototype.”

It was an obvious point of distraction, but he knew Jane. And he knew how much she loved her work. Even if she recognized his ploy, she was too excited to ignore it. “Well,” she said. “I hadn’t fully anticipated the power matrix I would need, which is why a collaboration with Stark Industries is so genius. We have some preliminary specifications already, but I need to tweak them some--”

Darcy groaned. “Oh, come on,” she said. “I just sat through meetings like this for a month.”

“But he asked!” Jane said.

“And science!” Darcy intoned sarcastically. “I’m going to see if they’ll serve me a beer.”

Darcy started to flag down the waitress, and Jane shrugged, leaning in as she continued. “I’ve had to change the overall parameters, which means I’ll have to do some more testing, but I think it’ll work. I really, really do.”

Thor sat back, sipping on his water, while he listened to Jane go on. Her technical discussion was more than he could fully grasp, but he found that it did not matter.

Not when she was sitting there, across from him.

Not when she was back.

Not when they were together.

He did not need Jane Foster, perhaps.

But he did indeed want her very much.

-o-

After dinner, Thor helped Darcy collect her things before taking her back to her home. Although Thor bid her a fond farewell for the evening, Darcy seemed too unmotivated to offer him more than a meager hand wave in return.

“She really did enjoy herself there,” Thor concluded, watching until she was safely inside.

“That would be an understatement,” Jane said.

Thor looked to Jane. “And you,” he said. “Are you sure you do not regret coming home?”

Jane laughed, as though she thought Thor was joking. When his earnest expression did not change, she shook her head. “Thor,” she said. “I told you. I missed home.”

“But your work could have flourished there,” he said. “You spoke yourself of how much this Tony Stark had to offer you.”

“I guess,” Jane said.

“I know how important your work is to you,” Thor added.

“That’s it, though,” she said. “That’s the thing. I know you think I saved your life or whatever, but you’ve given me just as much as I’ve given you.”

He wrinkled his forehead. “I do not see how--”

“You gave me a life, Thor,” she said. “Before you came, I was all about science. That was all I cared about. That was all I did.”

“Well, your work is very important--”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Jane said. “My work is still very, very important to me, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world, but that can’t be the only thing in my life. I don’t want it to be the only thing in my life. I want friends; I want family; I want a home. Before you arrived, the lab was just a lab, and the trailer was just a place I slept. Now, though. Now it’s more than where I live. It’s a part of me. It’s my home. Stark Industries can do a lot for me, but it can’t give me that.”

Her words were not so much as a surprise as a welcomed confirmation. In his loneliness, he had wondered how she had fared, if she had truly missed him as much as he missed her. Such thoughts were small and petty and should have been beneath him, but Thor was human, after all.

He smiled, putting the car into gear again. “I am glad to hear that,” he said. “Because I have something to show you.”

-o-

She eyed him curiously the whole drive home, and though she did not come out and ask, it was clear that she very much wanted to know.

“I got you a few things, too, you know,” she said as he parked the car.

“Oh?” Thor asked, opening his door.

“A few souvenirs that made me think of you,” she said. “For some reason I decided you’d probably like squashed pennies.”

He looked at her over the car.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I also bought you a stuffed whale.”

“Because I like whales?” Thor asked.

“Okay, I admit, I just thought of you a lot and bought the first thing I saw,” Jane said. “There’s a reason I’ve never won an award for girlfriend of the year.”

Thor chuckled, unlocking the door to the lab. “Well, my surprise is different than such things,” he said, holding the door open for her.

She went inside, dutifully ignoring her still packed bags. “I think you’d have a hard time finding a squashed penny around here.”

“I am most curious about these squashed pennies,” he said.

“Uh uh,” she said. “You first. You started this whole thing, and now I want to know.”

Laughing, he shook his head. “Very well,” he said. “Just...wait here.”

Obediently, she stood at the table, watching as he retreated back to his bedroom. Although the rest of the house was impeccable, his own room was still in a state of moderate disarray. He had repurposed a card table for a desk, which took up a good portion of his floor space. Hastily, he rolled his plans, ignoring the way his heart skipped a beat as he turned back toward the main room.

As he approached, Jane was doing her best to look nonchalant. However, her eyes were bright and zeroed in on the roll of papers immediately.

With no fanfare, Thor laid the roll down, starting to spread it open on the surface. He used a pair of cup to hold it open on the ends before stepping back and beaming at it proudly.

“This is it?” Jane asked, bending over to take a look. “It’s…”

“A blueprint,” Thor supplied for her.

She leaned closer, eyes scanning it rapidly. “It’s a house,” she said.

“More than that,” Thor said, starting to rock on his toes expectantly. “It is a home.”

If she noted the distinctive, she made no acknowledgement of it. Instead, she flipped from one page to the next with a furrowed brow. “Three bedrooms, three baths and...a lab space?” She looked at him, the question evident in her eyes.

“Yes,” Thor said with a nod. “It is not just any home. I hope it will be our home.”

For a moment, she betrayed no expression, staring at him almost blankly. “Our home?”

Thor nodded. “You own the land on the plot adjacent to the lab, which was already zoned for residential development,” he explained. “It is a somewhat modest plot of land, but there is plenty of space for a single family dwelling and a small yard. I drew up these plans based on New Mexico’s building code--”

“Wait,” she said. “You know the building code?”

“I do work in construction,” he reminded her.

“But these look like professional blueprints,” she said. “Did you consult an architect?”

Thor shrugged. “There was no need,” he said. “I have worked with blueprints for over a year now, and with a little online research, it was an easy skill to master.”

“You know most people go to school for architecture,” she said.

“You know that I spent hundreds of years with the best teachers on Asgard,” he reminded her.

She blinked at him.

“At any rate, the plans will have to be approved by a state official for compliance,” he said. “But I wanted you to see them first in order to gauge your feelings on important questions. I opted for an open layout, but I wanted to make sure there was plenty of windows, and I thought that although we have an observatory here, you would like something for your personal use as well. It would be easy to change, of course, based on your feedback.”

He trailed off, looking at her.

She looked back.

“I’m not sure how to take your lack of reaction,” Thor admitted finally. “Are you upset?”


“No,” she said. “I mean, no. But, I. Are you asking me to move in with you?”

Thor considered this for the first time. It had not been his explicit intention, although that clearly was an implication. To Thor, it had seemed like a natural extension of their relationship. He realized at that very moment, however, that it was somewhat presumptuous. “The construction would take a significant amount of time,” he said. “I would only be able to work in the evenings and weekends, so we would not have to rush any decisions.”

She drew an uncertain breath. “It’s just...a lot.”

“Jane,” he said. “My feelings for you have always been plain. I have never hid my attachments to you, nor do I intend to start. If you wish our relationship to stay as it is for the rest of our lives, then that is a decision I will respect. If you ask me to leave, I would do so without argument. But, if you feel as I do, then let us start building our future together. I do not know what it will look like, but I do know that this is home. More than a building, this is home. The connection between you and myself, and I would like to build you this home as a testament to those feelings.”

She laughed, almost in disbelief. “You are asking me to move in with you.”

He wet his lips, suddenly nervous. “And what would your answer be?”

“Yes,” she said. “My answer is yes.”

The tension unfurled in his chest, and he came forward, sweeping her up into his arms again. He laughed, kissing her. Pulling away, he rested his forehead against her. “I am glad you’re home.”

She smiled warmly. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Me, too.”

-o-

It was remarkable to Thor, after his weeks of pining, how easily life slipped back into normal. He went to work: Jane and Darcy got the lab up and running. It was life as it always had been, how Thor hoped it would always be.

And yet, that was not to say that it was all the same as it was. Jane approached her work with a newfound vigor. Within days, there was a small construction crew on site to make the necessary changes to connect Jane’s lab with Stark Industries. Thor noted their work curiously, realizing just how connected Jane now was to Tony Stark’s company. With this connectivity, he could also recognize the enhanced potential of her work. Because with the modest changes to the interior space, they also added new antenna, updated equipment and a plethora of other technical upgrades.

It kept Jane and Darcy quite preoccupied -- Jane for the science, Darcy for Kevin, one of the more attractive construction crew members.

It was just as well, though. Thor was not going to pout, not when Jane was back and more accessible to him than ever. Besides, he had his own things to do.

With Jane’s feedback, Thor tweaked his floor plan, adding in small features like a rooftop balcony and a walk-in shower in the master bathroom. Darcy also offered her advice and drew in notes for surround sound speakers and recessed lighting, though he was fairly certain her suggestion for stadium seating in the living room was not a good choice for day to day living.

Thor was so excited about his plans that he often worked late into the night, and he and Jane both found themselves drinking copious amounts of coffee in the morning to compensate for their altered sleep schedules. They still made time for each other, though, stealing moments when they could. It was a simple as a brush of hands in the morning, the press of lips at night. For they had nothing to prove to each other, and everything to gain.

Normal, Thor decided, was the best kind of happiness there was.

-o-

Things got better still.

Jane’s work progressed, and she hired several new people with the infusion of funds from Tony Stark. Since much of the data could be processed remotely, their research surged ahead, and Jane was able to start working on a paper to supplement the ongoing development of a prototype. Darcy took well to this new paradigm, because she was afforded new responsibilities over her newer colleagues.

Thor enjoyed the activity of the lab, and he found it pleasurable to cook for larger groups. He picked up baking in the evenings, and soon mastered a wide array of cakes and cookies, which always seemed to disappear before the night’s end.

At his own work, Thor received good news. He was granted a promotion to supervisor, a role that afforded him a more substantial paycheck and increased responsibility on the job. This he took very seriously, studying the building plans with more care and attention, and he took great care to ensure that all of his coworkers were on task accordingly. Under Thor’s supervision, workplace productivity increased by a sizeable margin, and workplace accidents saw a noticeable decrease.

On weekends, he spent his time refining his plans, completing more research about building codes and design trends. He sought Jane’s opinion when she was available, though sometimes such moments were hard to find. Still, it was worth it to see her face light up at his more thoughtful suggestions.

“Built in shelves?” Jane asked. “That would be amazing--”

“And here,” Thor said. “Look what I did here in the master bedroom.”

She squinted, leaning forward. “Is that--”

“Skylights,” Thor concluded proudly. “So the stars can be the last thing you see when you go to sleep at night.”

Grinning, she looked at him. “I don’t know how you think of everything.”

Thor merely smiled back, hugging her close and pressing a kiss to her forehead. For he could not imagine thinking of less, not when time was precious and years were few.

-o-

It was not all work, of course. He and Jane went on dates on the weekend, by mutual agreement. Jane’s work and Thor’s house plans could preoccupy them both indefinitely, but they had both learned the power of priorities.

Thor took great care in this as well. He tried new things with Jane, taking suggestions from friends and magazine articles. They went bowling; they played games; they went to movies. Thor learned about the best coffee shops in the surrounding towns and took Jane to theater productions. Sometimes they went shopping, and other times still they played frisbee golf or attempted to canoe on a nearby lake.

With everything, there was little time to look at the stars together, but Thor made sure that every Saturday they spent together on the roof, sometimes roasting marshmallows or drinking hot chocolate, but always with Jane looking up.

And Thor, with his eyes fixed on her.

-o-

It was not a particular special day when Thor came home and found the letter waiting for him. He received a variety of mail these days, but the official address from the county office piqued his interest. It had been several weeks since he submitted his building plans and the appropriate payment, and several more before that when Thor had consulted an architect from work. All in all, it felt like a lifetime had passed since he’d first come up with the notion to build his own home, and he was restless to make progress.

Ripping the envelope open, he started reading, scanning through the letter with sweaty palms and a pounding heart. From across the lab, Jane looked up. “Thor, is everything okay?”

Thor swallowed; he read the letter again.

“Thor?” Jane asked.

Thor turned, beaming widely. “We were approved,” he said. “Our building plans were approved.”

“That’s great!” Jane said, moving across the room toward him. “Everything passed?”

“Every single detail,” Thor boasted.

“So we can start?” Jane asked. “We can start building our home?”

“This weekend,” Thor said. “We could start right now, if you wanted.”

She laughed. “You know, it sort of seems like we already have.”

“In many ways, I believe you are right,” Thor agreed.

“Still,” she said, beaming at him.

He smiled back. “Still.”

-o-

They broke ground that night, just the two of them after everyone had gone home. The night sky was alive and vibrant, and Thor carried the shovel while Jane brought the champagne.

He had already marked the area some weeks ago, just to get a sense of the scale, and they had moved Jane’s trailed to the area designated to be the backyard. With a rough guess, he walked to the back end of the home, where their bedroom would someday be.

“Here,” he announced, tapping the tip of his shovel on the ground. “This is where we will rest when this is all over.”

Jane chuckled. “That seems like a long time from now.”

“Not so long,” Thor said, mentally envisioning the space. He could see the California king bed with soft silk sheets, poised under the generous skylights. “Time has a funny way of moving faster than you think it will.”

She was watching him for once, and Thor found himself blushing.

“I apologize,” he said. “I am excited--”

“No, it’s great,” Jane said. “It’s so good to see you like this. To believe in something so strongly that I believe you’d do anything for it.”

“It is for us,” he said, earnestly now. “It is our home.”

She nodded warmly. “Okay, then,” she said. “Shall we?”

Thor offered her the shovel. “Would you like to make the first move?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I have the stars; this one, it’s yours.”

Grinning, Thor nodded. He took the shovel in his hands, feeling the grip run along the familiar callouses on his palm. He had grown competent with tools, from shovels to wrenches to hammers.

There had been a time, of course, when such a primitive device would have seemed positively quaint.

Now, however, he recognized its potential. For he could build a future, and it would take time and it would take effort, but it would be entirely his own.

Starting with this.

He dug the tip into the ground, pushing it deep beneath the surface. He used his weight to drive it deeper, than shifted his balance to prop it up, bringing a shovel full of earth with it. Tossing it to the side, he looked at the small hole. It was almost insignificant to the unknown observer, but Thor understood what it meant.

Thor understood all too well.

Jane cheered. Handing a glass of champagne to Thor, she said, “To us!”

Raising the glass, he inclined his head, meeting Jane’s gaze and holding it. “To our home.”

-o-

Thor got to work as soon as possible, and soon he was devoting as much time as he could to the venture. He had secured financing for a home construction loan already, so he spent a great deal of time at the hardware store with his budgeting sheet and supply list. He was thrifty but thorough, and he stored his equipment as securely as possible, though he doubted anyone locally would be tempted to steal from him or Jane.

Fortunately, through his work connections, he knew many people for subcontracting, and though Thor had budgeted for every service at full retail price, he found that no one would accept full payment.

“Friends and family discount,” he was told for pouring the foundation.

“For you, Thor? Please, I feel like you’re doing me a favor letting me help,” he was told for plumbing.

And his friends volunteered, one after another, to help out on weekends, which made his progress move along ahead of schedule.

Better still, it was more enjoyable that way. He liked passing the time telling jokes and stories, listening and laughing. Though he worked hard all day and then worked hard each night, he hardly felt weary for it.

It was almost as if he had found his calling, though it did not make him ache like Mjolnir once had, he found it just as satisfying.

Almost, anyway.

With so much time removed from his previous existence, he could hardly remember.

It didn’t matter.

No, Thor standing amid the framed structure, pounding in each nail, that was what mattered.

Thor had no doubt.

-o-

Between Thor’s construction and Jane’s science, they scarcely had time for anything else. But when he cooked her meals and reminded her to eat, she reminded him to take time for himself.

“I like building,” he said.

“Thor,” she said. “I know you. You need to work out. You need to go be social.”

“I am still doing both,” he said.

“Balance,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always lacked, and that’s what you’re making me remember. So, you need to keep it, too.”

He sighed, a little exasperated. “I’m fine--”

She narrowed her gaze at him. “Thor, you need to get out of this place much more often,” she said sternly. “It would be good if you didn’t always have a hammer in your hand.”

“Are you sure that you’re not just tired of hearing me use power tools while you’re doing advance calculations?”

She knitted her brows together. “That’s not the point.”

“It’s not?”

“Thor!” she said. “Come on! You trust me, right?”

That, of course, was no question at all. “You know that I do.”

“Then get a hobby,” she said. “Something that gets you away from building all the time. We could build all day, every day, and never be done, I think. So make the time for yourself, and make it now.”

He regarded her thoughtfully. “And you will also take up a hobby?”

“Oh, I have to work--” She trailed off.

He raised his eyebrows.

She groaned. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll also get a hobby.”

He grinned broadly. “Deal.”

-o-

Jane, after much advice from her employees and Darcy, decided to take up fitness. Darcy had actually suggested a myriad of other things, from belly dancing to origami, and Jane had taken up a membership at the gym in order to avoid such extremes.

Thor, for his part, found the advice somewhat more difficult. He thought everyone had good suggestions. At the bar, he fielded suggestions that ranged from magic tricks to knitting. The art of deception intrigued him, though he knew Loki would find such a pursuit facile compared to Asgardian magic, and knitting struck him as potential quite soothing and very productive.

There was also rock climbing, piano playing, chess, whittling: all of which Thor tried and promptly mastered within days.

No, he would need a hobby that was not so individualistic. He needed something he could continue to pursue.

“No, man,” Jose said. “You need a hobby to do with people.”

“Do people knit in groups?” Thor asked.

“Maybe,” Jose said, shrugging. “But I was thinking about a sport. I’ve got a softball league that’s starting up. I’m sure I could get you in.”

Sports, Thor thought. He knew the rules of all major earth sports, and he was, in fact, quite loyal to several teams. He enjoyed athletic feats, and he certainly relished competition.

At least, he used to. He had played many sports in Asgard, or at least the closest equivalent. He had been quite talented as well, always among the best. He had worked hard to hold in his competitive spirit in his time on Earth, but perhaps such an expression in a healthy, neutral context would not be so bad.

He nodded finally. “I think I would like that very much.”

“Great!” Jose said. “First practice will be next week.”

“Is there anything I need to prepare?” Thor asked.

“Just a glove and some cleats,” Jose said with a shrug. “I’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time.”

-o-

Thor bought a glove. Then he bought some cleats.

Then he spent two nights researching softball. He learned about competitive female leagues; he studied recreational co-ed leagues. He looked into pitching styles, batting techniques and field arrangements. He memorized the rules, watched games online and studied the history.

To be safe, he purchased several balls, a bat and a helmet. In this, he learned to swing and pitch; he learned to catch and throw.

The night of his first practice, he was anxious and eager to prove himself. He made sure his pitches were accurate and fast; he worked hard to make sure he could make the throw from the outfield to home base without a cutoff. When he took his first at bat, he hit the first pitch over the fence.

Distressed, he looked at his new teammates, who were gaping at him. “I apologize,” he said. “I am new to this game--”

“No, no,” Jose said. “That’s not it, man. I mean. Did you see that?”

Thor winced, eyeing the fence. “I can retrieve it--”

“No, Thor,” Jose said, shaking his head. “You’re good. You’re really, really good.”

Thor wasn’t sure what to say.

“Forget that,” one of his new teammates said. “He’s our best player by a mile.”

“No kidding,” another agreed. “We’re going to be awesome this year.”

“Finally!” Jose cheered as they all converged, offering Thor handshakes and high fives.

“Did you see that hit?”

“And that arm!”

“We’ll have to get an XXL jersey for his biceps alone.”

Thor blushed, receiving their praise with a hint of embarrassment and more than a touch of pride.

Jose clapped him on the shoulder. “Welcome to the team, man.”

“Thank you,” Thor said, nodding to as many of them as he could. “I cannot express just how glad I am to be here.”

-o-

As preoccupied as Thor was with work and the house and his relationship with Jane, it would be easy to think he had no real energy to put his attention elsewhere. At the very least, that was what he had assumed. In his mind, joining a softball league would be a small, forgettable distraction.

He was surprised, therefore, when it became the highlight of his week. He never missed a practice, and soon he was fielding the ball better than all his teammates. And during games, he relished the way the outfielders backed up to the fence, especially since their small act didn’t matter.

When Thor hit the ball, he hit it hard. It was not difficult to make contact, and with a certain amount of reflection, he was able to position his bat perfectly every time to avoid popping up or grounding out. It was an act of vanity, perhaps, to always swing for the fences, but Thor could not help himself.

He had resigned himself not to seek glory or praise among men.

But he was not so humbled that he would not hit a homerun, every single time.

He liked rounding the bases, jogging back in with a smile on his face as he crossed home.

-o-

As much as he enjoyed softball, he did not deter from his focus. He made good progress on the house, and he was meticulous with every step of the process. He measured all his cuts three times, and referenced the building code often. It was a tedious amount of work, and though Thor was familiar with the process of building, he wanted to be sure that everything was right on this home.

It had to be perfect.

He once ripped out a doorframe when it found it to be slightly bowed. He spent extra for industrial grade pipes and wiring. Thor had cut many corners in his life, but he would not sacrifice anything here.

In the night, when Thor was still doing what he could in the low light, Jane would join him sometimes. He fitted her with a hard hat and a hammer, letting her pound nails absently into the framework while she rambled about her own work. She had much to tell them of her progress, and Thor listened between the bangs, asking questions at appropriate intervals.


He never bothered to tell her that he took all the nails out the next morning.

No, the nails were far from the point.

The real value was the two of them together, and he loved to listen to her talk about her day and her life. He liked the intimacy of knowing her mind, of falling in love with her again while listening to her enthusiasm for things beyond Thor’s grasp.

He liked to imagine that this would be how it was when the house was finished, when Thor cooked dinner at the large stove with a roast cooking in one oven and a cherry pie in the other. Jane would be at the breakfast bar, drinking a chilled glass of wine while she told him of her latest publication and her next discover. They would eat together and then curl up on the couch to watch the news or a movie.

In bed, Jane would stare at the stars until she fell asleep, and Thor would sleep turned toward her night after night.

For the rest of their lives.

Thor could hardly wait.

-o-

Not that it was always easy or entirely perfect. In fact, the further along the process got, the more difficult it became.

As Thor struggled to maintain a healthy work-life balance, he found Jane to be less receptive to such things that he was.

Which was why, then, it was not a surprise when Saturday night came around and he found her still engrossed in her work.

“No,” she said to one of her newer employees. “I need you to rerun the process accounting for the new value. We have to have it right--”

She trailed off when she saw Thor, dressed and ready to go. He had taken the time to wash and dress in his sleekest clothes, braiding his hair and leaving it loose about his shoulder, the way he knew Jane liked.

“It’s seven, isn’t it,” Jane said, faced pinched in apology.

“Almost eight, in fact,” Thor said with as much patience as he could muster. Jane had made it clear that incessant reminders as to the time were more aggravating than helping, and she had objected to his loitering when he clearly wanted to leave. Thor had obliged her, but the problem was, of course, that then Jane lost track of time entirely.

“I’m just in the middle of this thing--” she started, trailing off at Thor’s withering look. “I really need to make this deadline--”

“That was your excuse last week,” Thor said. “And the week before that.”

“Well, we’re trying to get the prototype--”

Thor took a breath. “Jane,” he said. “We have made promises to each other. I feel it is important to honor them.”

“I know, I know,” Jane said. “But we got a spike of activity again -- higher than before--”

She stopped again, holding Thor’s gaze.

Thor momentarily considered his response. He wanted to object even more stridently, to remind her of her promise, to tell her that he felt slighted by her continual brush off. He was giving up much for her, and he wanted to feel like it was reciprocated.

Which was, most certainly, part of the problem.

Relationships were a delicate give and take, but he could not take what the other person was not willing to give. It was not a question of love, for he knew Jane loved him very much. It was about accepting Jane exactly the way she was, even when it was difficult or inconvenient.

As a prince, this had never been a problem. Things had always been on Thor’s terms, and he’d marched straight into Jotunheim believing he could do no wrong. Indeed, those around him had never told him no, and though he placed no blame on Sif, Volstagg, Hogun or Fandral, he could not commend their willingness to concede his stupidity from time to time.

He wanted to demand her attention. He wanted to assert his authority.

Except he had none. They were equals in their relationship, and if Thor was to live a life of humility, he could not compromise himself on this.

He had to swallow his pride; he had to put himself second. He had to understand where Jane was coming from and respect her needs even to the frustration of his own.

And it was very, very frustrating.

Purposefully, he wet his lips. Swallowing, he nodded.

“Thor,” she started, shoulders starting to fall.

“Jane,” he said, not letting her finish.

She fell silent, eyes wide as she looked at him.

He drew a breath, forcing himself to smile against all his baser instincts. “Your work is quite pressing,” he said. “I understand.”

“You...do?”

He nodded, rallying his strength. “I believe we both need to be committed to our relationship, but I also respect the demands of your life,” he said. “I could never, in good conscience, ask you to choose between your work and me.”

She looked surprised. “You...couldn’t.”

“Of course not,” he said. “May I suggest take out, then?”

Still surprised, she seemed to collect herself to some degree. “Um, yeah,” she said. “Maybe Chinese?”

“That sounds wonderful,” Thor said. “I’ll get extra crab rangoons.”

“Only because you eat all of them,” Jane joked. “And hey, maybe pick up a movie? You could hit a Redbox.”

“Something romantic?” he asked.

She wrinkled her nose. “Nah, let’s go for explosions.”

This time, when he smiled, it felt less strained. “Chinese food and explosions it is.”

“Oh, and Thor?” she asked.

He paused, looking to her.

“Have I told you lately that you are the absolute best boyfriend ever?”

“You may have mentioned it,” he said. Then, he winked. “But I do like hearing it again.”

-o-

It was persistence and dedication, the virtues his mother had often lecture him about but he had found too tedious outside the training fields. Life was a series of repetitive tasks, which often seemed separately mundane but taken on a whole, represented the core of his existence.

At his job, he supervised with more tenacity that the post probably warranted, and though it was a long cry from the throne of Asgard, he thought the idea of leadership was much the same. In his relationships, he had to remind himself to stay humble, a task that was not always easy as time went by and he grew more confident in his station on this planet. With the house, he had to maintain his own schedule and budget or risk the entire project falling off the rails. It was a true act of self-discipline, and it was also an act of devotion.

More than that, it was a testament that solidified his transformation. On Asgard, he would have inherited the kingdom of his forefathers, sitting on a throne that he had not built or earned. This home would be modest by comparison -- indeed, it hardly warranted a comparison at all -- but it would be built of his own blood and sweat.

That made all the difference.

-o-

All that said, he could not help but dote on Jane.

He had worked hard to find the adequate balance, and though he sought to retain his humility, he had come to terms with the reality that he was no more or less than Jane Foster. They were equals in a committed and meaningful relationship. He learned how to express his desires without being overbearing, and they weathered various conflicts with admirable aplomb.

But he could not -- nor would he -- stop himself from attending her needs, especially when she was so prone to neglecting them herself. With her work as hectic as it was, she often forgot to eat or sleep. He sometimes followed her around with food until she resigned herself to take a bite, and he often covered her with a blanket when she fell asleep on the couch, still slumped over her latest calculations.

One such night, as he tidied up the lab in the dim light, Darcy stirred from her spot on the reclining chair, adjacent to the couch where Jane was still sprawled asleep. Darcy groaned, squinting up at him. “What time is it?” she mumbled.

“A little after midnight,” Thor said softly, watching carefully while Jane slept heavily nearby.

Darcy groaned again, sitting up a little and stretching her back. “I really need to talk to Jane about overtime,” she said. “This is getting ridiculous.”

Thor raised his eyebrows, picking up several dishes from the coffee table. “You seem to be enjoying it.”

Darcy made a noise in the back of her throat. “What makes you say that?”

Thor shrugged. “You show up to work on time; you willingly stay late,” he said. “Sometimes you almost sound as excited as Jane when new data becomes available.”

Darcy made a face like she was about to protest. Then, she slumped back again with a curse. “You can’t tell her.”

Thor deposited the dishes on the counter and made his way back. “What? That you like your job?”

“Yes, that,” Darcy said sullenly. “Then I will lose all leverage with her.”

“Do you really have doubts as to the strength of your relationship with Jane?” Thor asked. “She will always do what she can to provide for you; her success will be yours.”

Darcy wrinkled her nose, looking at Jane. “You know, I never intended to stay this long,” she said. “I swear to God, I just wanted a summer job to pay the bills before footing it to New York.”

“What was in New York?” Thor asked.

“I don’t know,” Darcy said with a shrug. “Adventure. Possibilities. I thought I could go out there and just live, you know? Do what I wanted, just the way I wanted it.”

Thor smiled fondly. “Life has a way of changing on you,” he said. “Why did you stay?”

Darcy sighed. “Laziness.”

Thor made a face.

“Or, I don’t know,” Darcy continued. “I had no idea what the hell she was talking about half the time, but she made me want to learn it. The way she cares about things, the way she pushes until she gets what she wants -- it’s sort of addictive.”

“She does have that quality,” Thor agreed, looking at Jane’s slumbering form once more.

“Now, I think I’d miss it,” Darcy said. “I’d actually miss this backwater little town and this weird, quasi-family thing we’ve got going on here.”

“Well, that I cannot fault you for,” Thor said. “I think what we have here is good as well.”

Darcy settled back, a little more contented now. “Plus, you’re, like, the best cook,” she said. “I don’t even know how or why. But I’d stay here forever if it meant I never had to cook. Or do laundry. Speaking of which, did you do the whites?”

Thor laughed. “First thing in the morning.”

She nodded, smiling a little. After a moment, she said, “You know, everything is perfect.”

“As close to perfect as is possible,” Thor said.

She snorted, getting to her feet and reaching for her purse. “Just wait until you ask her to marry you and screw everything up,” she commented wryly.

Thor stopped, blinking stupidly.

Darcy stretched in an exaggerated motion. “I’m going to head home,” she said. “Tell Jane I’ll be in before lunch. And I’m counting on those whites, okay?”

Thor watched as she crossed toward the door.

Turning back, she waved. “Night.”

Thor didn’t managed a reply. Fortunately, Darcy was out the door before he had the chance to feel reticence for his silence. Instead, he turned his eyes back to Jane.

Just wait until you ask her to marry you.

Marriage, Thor realized with newfound clarity.

Marriage.

-o-

Though there was still more to clean up, Thor found himself too distracted to work. Even when he retired to bed, he discovered sleep difficult.

Marriage.

There had been a time, of course, when it had been expected of him -- but always in the future. He had been so preoccupied with other things to entertain the idea of a courtship seriously. On Asgard, where centuries could pass in the blink of an eye, Thor had always thought himself to have more time.

Time, however, was the one thing he no longer had so much of. Time was against him now, and though he valued his moments more closely now, he was aware that they were fleeting. He wanted to use them as best he could, and that was why he was embracing this life, as lowly as some might deem it to be, to the fullest.

That was why he took the promotion at work. That was why he was building the house.

That was why he was working so hard in his relationship with Jane.

He was seeking concrete things, tangible progress. A home, a job -- a wife?


He had always assumed to live the rest of his days by Jane’s side, but had he anticipated the rituals that might entail? Had he thought through the nuances of that commitment? Had he even thought to ask?

Suddenly, despite all that he had learned, Thor thought he still had a lot of things left to discover.


-o-

Thor paid more attention to the state of marriages in people he knew. He watched married couples down at the diner, those who still showed attention to one another and those who were too preoccupied with other tasks to seemingly notice the person at their side. Some still held hands after decades together, while others dragged young children behind them in silent and beleaguered unity.

He watched couples argue at the hardware store; he saw them discuss produce at the supermarket. He saw them kiss, touch each other on the arm, and walk perfectly in unison. He saw some with pronounced distance, and other who looked as if they fit together like two pieces of a puzzle.

The disparity was glaring. There was no simple, uniform image. The variety was as vast as humanity itself, and things just got more complicated when he asked his friends about their thoughts on the matter.

Ricky nearly choked on his soda. “You can’t really be thinking about getting hitched, can you?”

Thor shrugged, trying not to seem obvious. “I suppose it has crossed my mind.”

Ricky groaned. “Don’t be another victim, man,” he said. “Don’t give in to the societal pressure and sell your soul.”

Thor furrowed his brows in consternation.

Jose rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure you’re the best person to give advice on the subject.”

“Never been married,” Ricky said, bucking himself up proudly. “Never hope to be. No way I’m going to tie myself down like that.”

“With an attitude like that, that’s for the best,” Jose observed.

“But you, Jose,” Thor said. “You have been married for some years?”

Jose nodded, chewing a bite of his sandwich. “Just over 11 years now.”

“And you like it?” Thor pressed.

Jose smiled a little. “That’s a bit too simple,” he said. “Marriage is complicated.”

“And that’s my point,” Ricky chimed in.

“Complicated isn’t always bad,” Jose said pointedly. “There are good periods and bad periods, but when both people are equally committed, I think it can be a worthwhile thing.”

Thor chewed in contemplation.

Ricky bounced his leg. “Is Jane dropping hints?”

“Hints?” Thor asked.

“You know,” Ricky said. “Telling you her ring size; looking at bridal magazines. Taking you to jewelry shops.”

“No, she has given no indication that it is on her mind,” Thor said.

“Even better!” Ricky crowed.

“I have been told, however, that most long term relationships are expected to result in marriage,” Thor said.

“Maybe at one point,” Jose said. “That’s changed a lot, though. Couples can do what they want at whatever level of commitment they’re interested in.”

“Which is none, thank you,” Ricky said.

“Do you know how Jane feels about marriage?” Jose asked.

“Honestly, it has never come up,” Thor said.

“Then, you shouldn’t bother talking to us,” Jose told him. “That’s a conversation to have with her.”

-o-

Since first arriving on Earth, Thor had discussed many things with Jane. Indeed, she had seen him at his very worst, so he had no delusions of inflated pride around her. Yet, the topic of marriage was daunting to broach. After all, it did not come up naturally in conversation. Any attempt to segue to such a topic seemed obviously contrived and full of innuendo. To ask her about marriage suggested that he himself was thinking about marriage, which would naturally influence her response to any inquiry.

He was not sure what distressed him most: not knowing her genuine response or what assumptions she might make regarding his response.

It was the sort of thing he would have paid no heed to in the past. No, in his previous life, he had been undeterred by this type of thing. He had known nothing of hesitation and restraint; he had cared not how others perceived him for he had always assumed they saw him in total greatness.

That was an attitude he could ill afford to have now. He had fallen too hard and too fast to ever assume such confidence again. More than that, he respected his relationship with Jane for what it was. He often did not know how he had come to be so lucky as to be with her, and he sought daily to maintain that connection with all he had.

And Thor had a lot, he had discovered. Without thoughts of kingship and leadership, he had much fortitude to apply and though he did work hard in other things, his relationship with Jane was at the center of his existence on this planet. It was the thing he valued above all else, the thing he would protect at the expense of every other thing in his life.

He was afraid to ruin it by making any assumption about the future.

If Jane wanted to marry, would she be offended that he had not brought it up yet? If Jane did not want to marry, would she feel awkward by the suggestion? What if discussing the future made the present less palatable?

There was no easy answer. Indeed, there was no answer at all, and though Thor had learned much since his exile on Earth, he had never come to accept indecision as a viable means to anything. While it was true that he would not be riding headlong into battle in Jotunheim again any time soon, he was not going to sit idle while the question burned in the back of his mind. Some risks, even now, had to be taken.

“What do you think of marriage?”

Jane was chewing on the back of her pen, her papers still in front of her even as they watched a movie on the television. “Marriage?” she asked absently, not looking up from her work.

Thor took a breath to steady his resolve. “Marriage,” he said again. “What do you think of marriage?”

“Oh, you know,” she murmured. “It’s fine.”

Thor narrowed his eyes. Fine was the not the answer he was expecting, nor was it one that was particularly useful. He was used to having half-conversations with Jane when she was engrossed in her work, and usually he knew better than to approach her with serious conversations when she was preoccupied, but in his defense, she was always preoccupied these days and Thor could not stand waiting any longer with this question nagging at the back of his consciousness.

“No, Jane,” he said, more purposefully now. “What do you think of marriage?”

The question was the same, but Thor let his tone carry the necessary inflection. The last word lingered, and he waited, looking at her expectantly.

Shaking her head, she looked up. “I told you, it’s fine,” she said. “Marriage is--”

She stopped, voice trailing off a little and Thor saw the pieces fall into place as she finally understood his question for the first time.

“Marriage?” she asked, voice lilting just slightly now.

Encouraged by an actual response, even if a vague one, Thor nodded readily. “We have been dating for quite some time by Earth standards,” he continued. “And it has been brought to my attention that many people in long term arrangement discuss the official status of their relationship as things progress.”

“Marriage,” Jane supplied for him. “You mean we should talk about marriage.”

“It seems like a relevant topic for us to define between ourselves,” he said.

Jane drew a breath before pressing her lips together. She drew another breath as if to speak, but shook her head. “I,” she started. “Are you proposing to me?”

“No,” Thor said. “I am merely asking as to your feelings regarding the future of our relationship.”

She nodded, a little hesitant. “I really haven’t thought about it,” she admitted. “I mean, we’re good together. And we’re happy, I think. And I don’t want you to leave, and I don’t want to leave. But marriage?”

The question was not quite rhetorical, but it also did not warrant an obvious answer.

After a moment of awkward silence, Jane shook her head. “Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it,” she said. “Not seriously, anyway. When I think about all the things I’ve wanted to do in my life, that’s just never come up. You know?”

Thor stared, blank for a moment. Did he know? In some ways, yes. Because in all that he had sought to accomplish on Earth, a legal union had been far from his mind. He had been too busy trying to figure out what it meant to be human to preoccupy himself with legalities.

“I believe I might,” Thor said, a little slowly as he processed the notion. “I just came to realize that I have not always been overt in my intentions with you.”

Jane laughed. “There’s nothing we can’t do without a wedding,” she said. “I mean...if you wanted--”

Thor reddened. “I would not presume--”

“I wouldn’t either,” she said, rushed now. “I mean, we could, you know. If you wanted. I just...wasn’t sure how that worked. You know, you being an alien from another planet and, um--”

“From what I can tell I am fully human now,” Thor said.

“Oh, yeah,” Jane said. “So we could--”

“I was waiting for you--”

“And I guess I was waiting for you--”

“You don’t have, like, super powered sperm or something?” Jane joked. “You do use sperm, right?”

Thor blinked. “We may have to compare the anatomy.”

Jane blinked back. “Wait, what are we talking about?”

Thor shook his head, brow starting to scrunch up again. “I am on longer certain,” he admitted.

Jane took a breath. “I haven’t really thought about marriage,” she finally said definitively. “But other things….”

She trailed off, biting her lip as her fingers slid upon his thigh.

Thor cocked his head. “Other things,” he agreed, fingers on top of hers as they traced up and up and--

Jane exhaled, putting her work aside. “Do you want to talk about this in the bedroom?”

Thor closed his eyes, pressing his lips together with a small moan. “Yes, please.”

-o-