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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (3/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:38 am)
nauseated

feeling: nauseated

For other parts and notes, check the master post.



Thor did not intend to seek out company, but it was inevitable. Although he was still wary of some Earth customs, Thor was a social man. He liked people, and as he grew more comfortable on Earth, it was hard not to say hello.

After all, there was a comfortable familiarity in the town of Puente Antiguo. People worked their jobs, day after day, and though the task seemed menial, Thor knew his own daily routine was certainly not auspicious. In some ways, it was comforting to see the man called Jerry behind the cash register at the hardware store. He liked to walk by the woman named Tina at the supermarket. Rick and Eddie were good companions at the workout facility, and he very much liked exchanging pleasantries with Ella as they crossed paths at the diner.

And he did not know why the young woman at the post office smiled at him so much, but Thor always smiled back.

Yet, he did not know quite how to proceed. When Jerry commented on his purchases, Thor smiled and replied honestly that Jane had many unique needs. Tina was always keen to remind him of sales on his favorite items, and he was always effusive in his thanks when she told him about the latest flavors of things like Pop Tarts and soda. Rick and Eddie were good sources of information about sufficient human hydration and how to properly structure a diet with proteins, and he found Ella liked to talk in great detail about the latest weather developments, a topic which Thor found he was quite knowledgeable.

However, after a month, he found that his new acquaintances were asking more questions. About where he came from and why he was here. Some assumed he was a scientist; others seemed to think he had some other connection to Jane or perhaps Darcy. They seemed a bit surprised that his name was Thor, but many told him it suited him. But when they asked for additional details, Thor hesitated.

Should he tell them he was of Asgard? Should he talk of his father, the king, or his brother and his comrades? Should he tell them of the war he started and the disgrace he brought his family? Should he point to the stars and explain the great conflicts brewing, ones that Thor could only hope would be squelched by his father’s might before they had a chance to meet this realm?

What age should he report? What schooling should he share? Thor did not enjoy lies -- no, his brother had been much more adept with them -- and Thor grew increasingly flustered and confused.

“I have no ill will against these people,” Thor explained to Jane, Selvig and Darcy at dinner one night after Ella wanted to know his birthdate. “It seems rude to offer them untruths for such genuine interest.”

“If it helps, I’ve been telling people the truth all along,” Darcy said. “All those pics I post totally use the tag god of thunder.

Jane glared at her. “Well, it’s not that simple--”

“It’s really not,” Selvig said. “We barely got Thor out of SHIELD’s custody in the first place. We make too much noise and they may take him back.”

“I have nothing I can offer them--”

“Like that will stop them,” Jane muttered. “But it’s not just SHIELD. It’s just how it sounds. Most people will think you’re crazy.”

“Wait, we don’t think he’s crazy?” Darcy asked.

“And those who don’t will start a conspiracy out of it,” Selvig said with a shake of his head. “You don’t want to go around claiming that you’re an alien from an advanced race.”

“The truth is the only viable explanation, though,” Thor said. “Lies would be self seeking.”

“I’m not really big into lies,” Jane said, “but I think Erik’s right. If people actually believe you are Thor, the god of thunder -- then all this changes.”

Thor frowned. “What would change?”

“Well, I mean, it wouldn’t be impossible to back up with data,” Jane said. “The convergence spike and the images we took--”

“I still don’t know why SHIELD let him go in the first place,” Selvig said.

“I am useless to them,” Thor said. “The truth is nothing but a cautionary tale--”

“Thor,” Jane said, sitting forward and looking at him intently. “You may think of coming here as falling from grace or something like that -- I don’t know, you don’t really talk about it -- but people here, they wouldn’t think that. If people believed you, if they really thought you were a fallen god, they would never leave you alone. People would interrogate you; people would accuse you of things; they would make fun of you.”

“And if they didn’t, they’d probably just laugh at you,” Darcy said. “Either way, it does sound kind of sucky. Especially since the toilet would get nasty again if you left.”

Jane rolled her eyes, reaching forward to place her hand on Thor’s. “You said you’re never going back, right?”

Thor swallowed, feeling vaguely ill. “I see no viable means of return.”

“Then this isn’t a lie,” she said. “It’s a reinvention. A rebirth.”

“Oh!” Darcy said, getting excited. “Does this mean we can do a makeover?”

“In a way,” Jane said. “We’ll need to work out the details together, because more questions are going to come up.”

“I do not wish to implicate anyone else in any fraud,” Thor said.

Jane smiled reassuringly. “That’s what friends do.”

Darcy nodded sagely. “Yep,” she said. “Friends totally lie for friends and help them reinvent their entire backstory to avoid them from being take into government custody and accosted by reporters for the rest of their lives.”

Jane closed her mouth.

Thor looked distressed.

Selvig groaned. “I’m going to regret this even more than I already do.”

-o-

It was somewhat reassuring that his friends found his situation as vexing as he did.

It was also somewhat disconcerting to know that it was, indeed, a problem that could threaten his long term happiness or the well being of his very generous friends. Over the last month, Thor had discovered himself to be adept at many things, but as they brainstormed possible solutions to the question of his identity, he was reminded just how dependent he was on them.

He had no way to navigate these issues. He was wholly dependent on them. Thor, who had been a god, the greatest of all Odin’s warriors, was counting on three mere mortals for the most basic needs in his life.

This humiliation would have been more bothersome were he not hampered with the nagging fear that he was simply more trouble than he was worth to them. If they asked him to leave, he would, but after his time here, he found the notion of leaving to be troublesome.

“You’re sure,” Selvig said, looking at him again. “You have no form of identification.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “If he comes from another planet--”

“We still don’t know that for sure,” Selvig said.

“Do you really think he’s still crazy?” Jane asked.

“Maybe a weird brain injury from when you hit him with the car,” Selvig replied.

“He’s fine,” Jane replied indignantly.

“Maybe when I tased him,” Darcy added.

“He’s fine,” Jane said. “Are we really going to run around this again? He came out of the anomaly. He knows things he shouldn’t know.”

“So the only logical conclusion is that he really is an alien?” Selvig asked.

“You have to be willing to entertain all scenarios in science,” Jane said. “The evidence fits.”

Selvig sighed. “But there is no evidence. We just have a man with no paperwork or verifiable history who showed up in the desert.”

“You don’t trust him?” Jane asked.

“This isn’t about trust, Jane,” Selvig said. He looked apologetically at Thor. “We just need to be sure here. Just think about the other possibilities. If there is a head injury; if he’s had some sort of other trauma; if he’s created some history for himself -- there could be people out there, Jane. People who are looking for him right now. If we make the choice to go ahead with a false identity, there’s no telling who we might be cutting off.”

Jane’s eyes turned to him, flashing with guilt.

Thor shook his head, unwilling to sit idle anymore. “There is no one looking for me,” he said. “There will be no one coming for me. I do not ask you to believe my history, but please know it is my every intention to stay here.”

“Thor,” Selvig said. “Think about what you’re saying. Whether you’re really the god of thunder or just a man looking for a new start, if we make this decision and go ahead with it, you’ll be closing the door on the past. You’ll choose a story for yourself and you will stick to that. Whoever you are or whoever you were is not who you will be anymore. Is that what you want?”

The words were not meant to be cruel, but the proposal set before him did give him pause. He had resigned himself to life on Earth; he had accepted it. But accepting it for one day and the next was one thing.

To think of this as the rest of his life, however short that may be.

To renounce his bid to the throne. To let go of his status as a warrior. To forfeit his family and his friends and his planet.

That wasn’t how it was, though. He had already made that choice; indeed, he had made it the minute he went to Jotunheim and started a war against his father’s wishes. It was all gone -- all of it -- with no hope of retrieval. He could cling to blind hope.

Or he could accept the inevitable.

He nodded steadily. “I have few options before me,” Thor admitted. “I have told you of my home and of my people, but I will willingly stop such conversation in return for safe harbor among you.”

Selvig drew a deep breath. “Okay, then,” he said.

Jane leaned in, smiling. “Let’s see what we can do.”

-o-

“I can totally make a fake ID,” Darcy offered.

“I really don’t want to know that,” Jane said.

“Well, technically we already have an ID,” Selvig said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, producing a card. “I had this one made up to get him out of the SHIELD lockup.”

Jane’s mouth fell open. “Donald Blake?” she asked incredulously. “You gave him the identity of my ex-boyfriend?”

“It was the easiest option,” Selvig said.

Darcy cackled. “That’s brilliant,” she said. “The guy was an ass.”

Jane gaped at them. “You can’t steal the identity of my ex-boyfriend!”

“You have to admit, he kind of deserves it,” Darcy said.

“Look, we won’t exactly let him get a credit card,” Selvig said. “We just need something to let him get by in town.”

“Hey, so I guess you’re lucky that Donald never did end up visiting you out here,” Darcy said with a smirk. “So people will know the name but they’ve never met him.”

Jane shook her head. “This is not happening.”

“It’s the easiest option,” Selvig said.

“And it’s not like he’s coming back or anything,” Darcy said.

Jane huffed. “He was my boyfriend--

Thor shook his head, finally too perplexed to stay silent any longer. “Am I not also a boy friend?” he asked.

Darcy choked on a laugh; Selvig raised his eyebrows.

Jane turned red.

Flustered, Thor frowned. “I believe you will have to explain this concept to me,” he said. “Because I do not understand the importance of this Donald Blake.”

“Yeah,” Jane muttered. “Join the club.”

-o-

Relationships, as it turned out, were just as transient as everything else on Earth. Though people did marry, they often did not stay married, and some people did not marry at all. Boyfriends and girlfriends were romantic attachments without any necessary long term commitments. Although there were still apparently rules and a certain etiquette, clearly these rules were not hard and fast.

And clearly Donald Blake had performed poorly in such regards.

Therefore, while his companions decided that Donald Blake’s identity was the most logical choice, Thor was not certain he wanted it.

“But he was a dishonorable man!” Thor protested.

“But you’re not really him,” Jane said. “And it’s not like we’d go around calling you Donald.”

“Donny, maybe,” Darcy said. “You could be a Donny.”

Thor frowned.

Jane shook her head. “You know, it would hardly come up at all.”

“What are we going to call him, though?” Selvig asked.

“We already called him Thor,” Jane said. “It could be a nickname.”

“Probably from college,” Darcy said with a nod. “Biceps like those, no one is going to think twice about a call out to the god of thunder.”

“That’s the point, though,” Selvig said. “We don’t want him to get attention.”

“Sincerely,” Thor said. “I do not wish to be any trouble--”

“You’re fine,” Jane told him.

“No, he’s illegal,” Selvig said.

“Along with a few million other people,” Darcy remarked.

Thor felt himself growing tense; the conflict was grating at him. “If you require me to leave--”

“No one is leaving!” Jane insisted.

“It’s a risk for us -- and him,” Selvig said. “If the government finds out--”

“Oh, will they try to deport him to space?” Darcy asked.

“He’s not going,” Jane said with an air of finality. “He’s part of this. He’s part of us.” She looked at him. “He stays, at least for as long as he wants.”

There was a steadiness in her. In all that changed on Earth; in all that evolved and flew by, there was still something constant in Jane. At her core, Jane was solid and unshakable. She lived in a world that flew by her; her life was fleeting, and her own mind was at a constant state of movement. Yet, Jane Foster was. She accomplished more in her short days than most of Asgard could own in a century. And she took to change -- she embraced it. Thor was a stranger to her, more trouble than he was worth, and yet she defended him with the passion of the fiercest warrior in all the realms.

He was indebted to her.

He was infatuated with her.

He could not be worthy of much, but he did hope someday to be worthy of her.

Selvig signed. “Well, at least we’re in a remote location,” he said. “We should be able to keep a low profile.”

Darcy lifted her phone. “So Donald Blake it is!” she cheered, snapping a photo. “Facebook will love the update.”

Selvig groaned again.

Thor merely smiled.

-o-

So it was decided. Thor started talked with more confidence, and he made friends easily. People greeted him by name, and he gladly returned the favor. He mastered the pleasantries and excelled in conversation. The lives in Puente Antiguo were simple but busy. There was never much want for conversation.

They also adapted to change with an ease Thor did not expect. After only a month, he was welcomed among them as though he had belonged there all along.

Goats, his father called them. Thor had expected them to be small and petty and violent.

Small, yes. Petty, perhaps. And elements were prone to violence, given what Thor had seen on the television.

But they were strong willed and capable; they were eager and adaptive. They welcomed him.

Though he still missed home, sometimes he had to wonder if he’d ended up on the better world.

-o-

Thor was picking up lunch for his friends when Earl, one of the local ranchers, complained heartily of the news.

News, Thor discovered, rapidly shifted on Earth. There was always news, of world events and national politics. There were scientific discoveries and political positioning. There was also plenty of local news, of new grandchildren and the latest hookups.

Thor was proud of his growing understanding of the lingo. So it was only natural that he leaned in earnest to hear what was causing Earl so much grief.

“They closed the whole damn road!” Earl said, gesturing wildly while the waitress poured him a cup of coffee. “It took me an extra hour just to get around the section they taped off.”

“That sounds dreadful,” Thor said. “How is such a tactic legal?”

He had learned much of the legal systems during his time, and he enjoyed having relevant points to add to any discussion.

“Damned if I know,” Earl muttered. “They flashed these fancy badges, like that was supposed to mean something to me.”

“So they were part of the law enforcement?” Thor asked.

“Not any division I know of,” Earl said. “Nah, these were government folk.”


“Interesting,” Thor said. “I am aware that the government sometimes claims jurisdiction as it sees fit.”

“Bastards,” Earl said coarsely.

Thor patted him warmly on the shoulder. “Though it is inconvenient, it is important to remember that such decisions are usually made with the best of intentions.”

Earl huffed, but said nothing as Thor gathered his order to go. He was leaving a tip when Earl shook his head. “Maybe,” he said. “But I knew there was more out there than they let on. That wasn’t no satellite. I don’t usually buy into those conspiracy nuts, but seems a bit coincidental. Something falls to the ground and a month later they’ve claimed the entire damn area?”

Thor stopped short, a shiver running up his spine. “This is where exactly?”

“In the desert,” Earl said. “Where the space junk fell last month before the government blocked it all off. Not that they ever left, but apparently it’s going to be a permanent facility. Our own personal Area 51.”

Thor numbly put his wallet back in his pocket -- the back pocket, as was the local custom -- and mumbled a goodbye. Suddenly the diner was too small; the people were too fragile.

Outside, the sunlight blinded him, and he hurried down the street, barely nodded at Ella before taking a quick turn down a more shaded side street. He forced himself to keep walking, even as his heart pounded.

It meant nothing, he told himself. It was not as if he imagined Mjolnir had disappeared. It was not as if that were even possible.

Still, even with that rudimentary acceptance, Thor had never considered what would happen to Mjolnir. He had not thought of it as a monument to his foolishness; nor had he considered it as a source of ongoing interest for other parties.

He should have known better.

Of course, there were many things he should have known.

As it was, this meant nothing to him.

It meant nothing.

-o-

When he got back, he laid the food out on the table. When his friends came to eat, Jane gave him a look. “Everything okay?”

Thor smiled, handing her a plate. “Everything is fine,” he said.

-o-

It was no more than a week later when Thor first noticed the men. Though they were dressed casually, it was easy to see they did not belong. Thor knew the people of this town, and he knew the look of the weary travelers who stopped here.

These men, though they tried hard, were of neither group.

They had a trained stealth that reminded him of Loki, watching him even without turning their eyes directly on them. Thor thought about being subtle in return, but that was not his forte. He pinned them with icy glares as they drank their coffee at the table, staring at them for a long moment before paying his bill an leaving.

Different men showed up on the street; and a woman, too. There was something about them -- they were trained in a way that no one else paid them heed, but Thor knew them in the way a warrior always knew the enemy.

But Thor was no warrior, so he ducked his head and kept on walking.

-o-

It was no surprise that Darcy was the one who discovered it first.

It was surprising that it took her nearly a week to bring it up, however.

“So, you know the how we don’t talk about the site in the desert anymore?” she asked.

Thor looked at her.

Jane shook her head. “Yeah, so--”

“So, I think maybe we should talk about it,” Darcy announced.

Selvig looked up with apparent concern. “Why?”

“Well, this is a sign that you two need to get out more because apparently this is old news,” she said.

Thor swallowed and stiffened.

“If it’s old news, then why are you telling us now,” Jane asked.

“Because I prefer news that’s actually interesting,” Darcy said. “And I refuse to follow anyone local on Twitter.”


Jane glared. “You’re not making any sense--”

“The site in the desert,” Darcy said with exasperation. “They’ve shut it down.”

“Wait,” Jane said, putting down her paperwork. “Shut it down?”


Darcy shrugged. “Locked it up? Literally built a base around it?”

Selvig’s face darkened, and Thor purposefully diverted his gaze.

“A base?” Jane asked. She turned toward Thor, then toward Selvig. “You mean--”

“I mean, a base,” Darcy said. “The thing is massive. They must have annexed, like, half the desert out there. You can’t get close, and all the access roads are cut off and heavily guarded.”

Jane gaped.

Selvig went white.

“So, yeah,” Darcy said. “I guess that means you really didn’t know, huh.”

Thor felt his cheeks flush. Flustered, he ducked his head. “Excuse me,” he said. “I believe I have some--”

He didn’t finish.

He couldn’t.

Instead he left. For the first time since meeting Jane Foster, he could not bear to look back.

-o-

Thor made it halfway down the block before he realized how entirely irrational he was being.

The facility in the desert meant nothing to him. Humans were naturally inquisitive, so it was only natural that they would want to study the Bifrost site and Mjolnir. If Thor had any semblance of forethought, he would not have been taken off guard at all.

Moreover, the study would gain them little. The Bifrost site would provide minimal information about the technology, though they may be able to trace some of the symbols back to ancient Viking culture, which Thor knew had some influence from Asgard. By now, however, any residual energy from the travel corridor would have dissipated, leaving them with less than Jane started with over a month ago. Indeed, the only advantage of the site would be its view of the stars, but it was uncertain if the government would know enough to leverage such a position to any actual effect.

Even with Jane’s research, they were likely decades off from any significant advancement, and with Thor’s banishment, the All Father had probably restricted movement in the direction of Midgard.

This was why he had felt so guilty for Jane’s behalf, and why he had pledged to provide her with any additional insights to spur her research further. He had no way of knowing how adept these other people were -- Jane seemed exceptional to him, but Thor had no means of being certain -- so it was impossible to know if this facility would yield any additional information in a timely fashion.

If they directed their attention to the sky, perhaps they would have a chance, but Thor knew their interest was probably more keenly set on Mjolnir. The thought of mere mortals poring over it was hard for Thor; they would try to take it apart or dissect it. They would attempt to provoke chemical reactions or elicit any kind of sign from it.

Mjolnir would not yield, though. Not for Thor, not for them.

It was hard to imagine, though, so worthy a weapon, sitting so vacantly. It deserved better.

And Thor had failed it.

Now, Mjolnir would sit in exile with Thor -- and beyond.

The weight of his failure was heavier than before, and he felt it profoundly. He flexed his fist, missing the familiar handle.

Yet, that was not any cause for concern. In truth, that had been true since the beginning. This had started with Mjolnir, when it rejected him that night in the rain. What happened to the hammer now was ultimately of no concern to him. It did not call to him, and he would not go to it.

But the presence of the government was concerning in other ways. Because if they were still studying Mjolnir; if they were making a permanent presence; that meant that this wasn’t over yet. If they came for Thor, he would not be able to fight them. If they took him into custody, he would have no choice but to comply.

Worse, if they came for Jane’s research, Thor would be powerless to stop them.

Thor was a danger to his friends.

Thor was a danger.

That was why he’d been sent here. He’s risked the lives of his friends and his brother; he’s risked the safety of his people and the peace among the realms.

And he was doing it again.

Thor never learned. He was slow and stupid, blind and bumbling. He deserved exile -- and worse.

Turning down the main street, Thor saw two more of the strange men. His senses prickled, but there was nothing to be done for it. Thor had nowhere to hide. There was nowhere to run.

Whatever his fate, he was powerless against it.

Head down, Thor kept on walking.

-o-

When Thor ran out of sidewalk, he stopped at the edge of town. The highway stretched before him, an undefined length of road he knew nothing about. It would take him away from here, he knew that much.

For a moment, he considered it to be the better option.

The nobler one.

Even if he could not evade the authorities of this world, leaving would perhaps spare his friends any further hardship on his account. The ongoing presence in the desert was cause for concern.

Still, he remembered his promise to Jane. He could not forget the way he had felt this past month wherein these comrades were the only thing that made his exile bearable.

That, perhaps, was more reason to leave. His word was valuable, but not as valuable as his distance.

Yet, where would he go? What would he do? Would it matter anyway?

As he stared out, all he could think of was Jane’s face and her implicit trust in him. Thor still thought it nobler to leave.

But Thor was no longer noble. He was weak and broken and humbled. It had come to this, then. The Mighty Thor, felled so low. At least he hoped he could fall no further than to be hopeless and dependent and so openly in need.

Shoulders slumping, he turned back toward town.

-o-

Though he could not bring himself to leave, Thor also did not have the courage to face his companions. Instead, he ate lunch out and poked through a few stores. Killing time, he believed the phrase was. It was difficult to make polite talk, however, and rather than face questions from the well intentioned people of Puente Antiguo, Thor eventually made his way back to Jane’s lab.

He lingered for a moment, hesitating. It would be plain and logical to simply enter and address the issue. Or enter and ignore the issue.

Just enter.

Divested of his power with his hammer stuck idly in the desert, Thor Odinson was currently a coward.

Skirting around the back of the building, he found the metal staircase and headed to the roof. Without looking over the vast expanse, he sunk low into one of the chairs and stared at the sky, hoping for solace.

Solace evaded him, though, much like everything else.

-o-

At the dinner hour, Thor’s stomach rumbled but he steadfastly ignored it. His back began to hurt from the awkward position, but he merely stretched himself out and closed his eyes. For some time, he believed he dozed, and when he opened his eyes again, it was night.

He was also no longer alone.

“Hi,” Jane said, standing some distance away.

Thor felt his cheeks redden and he hastily sat up. “I apologize,” he said. “I didn’t--”

“We wondered where you were,” she said. “But, um, I figured you might need a little space.”

Thor swallowed, easing his posture a little even as she tentatively approached.

“Do you?” she asked.

He raised his eyebrows.

“Need space,” she said. She gestured over her shoulder. “If you need me to go--”

“No,” he said. “I never crave any distance from you.”

A brief smile flitted across her face, and she sat down in the chair next to him. “Everything okay?”

He gave her a look.

“Okay, stupid question,” she admitted with a self deprecating chuckle. “I was worried that you left.”

Thor sighed. “I very nearly did.”

It seemed to take some semblance of self control for Jane to keep her emotions in check. “But you didn’t,” she said, and it was neither a question nor a consolation.

“I am not proud of the decision,” he admitted.

At that, she huffed. “Thor, I thought we settled this--”

“Jane,” he said, shaking his head. “I tried to pretend like it was unimportant. I wanted to believe that I could lead an insignificant life here, that I could fade away anonymously among your people and never be a burden to you or your friends.”

“Thor--”

“But I can’t promise you that,” he said. “The facility in the desert is indication that this is not over. Just as you do not stop your search, neither will they. I was foolish to think I could pretend it was irrelevant.”

She chewed her lip for a moment. “How long have you known?”

Thor looked down at his hands. “Several weeks,” he said.

“And you didn’t say anything,” Jane continued for him.

He looked up at her again, feeling even more pathetic. “I was scared,” he said. “I was weak. I didn’t want to consider the implication--”

“Thor--”

“I was willing to put myself first over your needs,” he continued, unable to stop himself. “Even today, I was unable to walk away.”

“But -- why?” she asked. “Why would you leave?”

“To protect you,” Thor said. “These people in the desert; if they are going to continue their research, they will find me again. They could take your research again. They could incarcerate you.”

Her mouth fell open. “And you think that’s the issue?” she asked. “You think that’s what I’ve been thinking about at all?”

“It should,” he told her. “You have been so kind to me, and yet I pose a persistent risk to your livelihood.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she said firmly.

Thor tilted his head. “It’s...not?”

“No,” she said, emphatic. She sighed. “Thor, those people out there; that base they’ve built. It’s covering up your history and your past. It’s studying something that matters to you. You, and basically no one else. And I care about you, and I know how that must feel.”

“It is my own fault--”

“You keep saying that, and I don’t know, maybe it is,” Jane said. “But you have feelings, Thor. And you have feelings about that.”

She gestured, pointing stoutly out into the desert. Thor followed the jab of her finger.

“Sentiment,” he mused softly. “I have been told it was a weakness.”

“If it is a weakness, it’s one everyone has,” she said. She reached over, squeezing his arm with a small smile. “Human or not.”

Her comfort was so tempting; her absolution so easy. Things changed so rapidly on Midgard. He found grudges were hard to keep here, fleeting within days when they lasted centuries on Asgard. People accepted shortcomings and mistakes, and Thor could not deny that he wanted to believe in such forgiveness.

Yet, here he was. Human and in exile.

There was no forgiveness for him.

There was no redemption.

He looked away.

Jane’s hand fell, and she let out a breath. “It’s probably SHIELD,” she said. “I mean, Erik went out there again, and that’s what he said. Which, if it is, then they already know about my research. And my grant is public knowledge. It’s not exactly hard to figure out. But just because they’re a risk doesn’t mean I’m going to let them control my life.”

Her bravery was inspiring, though it was naive. Thor knew little of the SHIELD Agency, but he did not doubt that they were formidable against him in his current state. And to think, he hadn’t even told Jane about the men watching him in town.

“And, okay, so they’re setting up a base,” Jane said. “So they’re doing their own research and maybe they’re monitoring us right now. But they haven’t come for us yet. They let you go. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be careful, but splitting up and going into hiding -- that means they win. I don’t know about you, but I’m not big into surrender.”

He glanced up, lips twitching into a smile. “No,” he agreed. “There was a time when I was not either.”

“Well, and you can be again,” Jane said, grinning now. “We’ll get through this, Thor.”

He watched her. To think, his people thought minds like hers to be nothing. That they ignored them and mocked them. The ways on Asgard were good and true, but the life on Earth--

Jane Foster was exemplary. Her warmth and her compassion and her utmost dedication.

Thor did not deserve her.

But he would not forsake her either. “I cannot bring myself to leave,” he said finally.

“Good,” she said. “Because I don’t want to have to track you down.”

He chuckled. “You wouldn’t.”

She raised her eyebrow. “You really believe that?”

“Well, if you had your mind set on it--”

“It is,” she told him. “It is very set on it.”

“Very well,” he relented. “The topic shall come up no more.”

“Good,” she said. “Now that we’ve squared that away, do you want to talk about you?”

He tried to hide it, but his face fell somewhat.

“If they do stay out there, is there anything that they might learn from, um, the hammer? I mean, things you don’t want them to know,” she ventured.

Thor shook his head. “Mjolnir will tell them little.”

“They’ll analyze it,” Jane said. “I mean, I just don’t want to think of them damaging it--”

“They would not be able to, even if that was their intent,” Thor assured her. “No matter what tests they run, they will never fully grasp it. Even if they do manage to identify the materials imbued in the metal, they will never understand its full capacities. Indeed, I held it many times, and I believe I failed to understand its nature.”

Thor trailed off, his voice distant in the stillness of the night. Out across the expanse, they could not see the threat. Though Jane deemed it acceptable, Thor still felt it building against the back of his mind, like Mjolnir, a weight he could not longer move, no matter how he tried.

Jane reached over again, a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t imagine what this is like for you.”

Thor found himself unable to speak.

“If you want to talk about it…”

But Thor shook his head, eyes still turned out. There were no words for it; there was nothing he could say. Perhaps the time for words had passed, or maybe it had not come.

Either way, Thor did not know what he wanted to say. He knew nothing.

Nothing except that he found comfort here with her, and they sat together, staring out at the sky until the stars faded and the sun broke over the horizon.

-o-

There was something about dawn on Earth. Something hopeful and fresh.

Thor had always been one to rise with the sun, and it was true that he had always been anxious for the light. But it was different here. It was not that he had more important tasks -- his activities here were quite mundane -- but there was a fresh possibility. With every day, he was faced both with the knowledge of his failure.

And the hope of his exile.

For exile was not death.

He was alive, and he was among friends. His battles were different now, but smaller did not make them lesser.

He had had no need for hope on Asgard.

Here, he found it to be everything.

-o-

He skipped his morning workout and opted to make an elaborate breakfast instead. If he was going to stay with these people and be a burden to them, he had to offer something in return.

In truth, he found comfort in that. In the days he’d spent pining to be king, he’d thought no other purpose could satisfy him. It had been a fallacy, though, like so much else. Thor merely wanted to have a place. He wanted to add value.

Wielding a hammer or sitting on the throne.

Making breakfast and laughing with his friends.

If he was looking for a cause to fight for, then there was none better than that.

So Thor drew his battle line, and he dared the powers of this Earth to cross it.

Even if he knew he would be powerless if they did.

-o-

“This is amazing,” Darcy said. “You have mastered making bacon and eggs in a month.”

“It is surprisingly easy,” Thor said. “The recipe book is quite explicit.”

“Explicit, sure, but I’ve spent the last 20 years on this planet and I still have no idea how to do it,” Darcy said.

“Well, have you ever tried?” Jane asked.

“That’s really not the point,” Darcy countered.

Selvig rolled his eyes. “You know, this doesn’t really change anything,” he said, chewing another bite of food. “We’re at risk--”

“And we’ve talked about it,” Jane said. “We’re not talking about it again.”

“I assure you,” Thor said. “I will do everything in my power to keep difficulties from befalling any of you.”

“You have no power, though, Thor,” Selvig said.

“Erik,” Jane said.

“I’m just saying what no one else wants to say,” Selvig protested. “There’s a bigger picture--”

“My work is already on their radar,” Jane said. “They’re going to be watching that as much as they are Thor. I mean, they know about my work. They don’t know anything about him.”

“Jane--”

“Selvig,” Thor interrupted. “Your motives are pure, and your intentions are good. I have offered to leave many times.”

“And yet here you are,” Selvig said with a sigh.

“My motives are the same as yours,” Thor promised.

“But there are things you can’t control,” Selvig said.

“I am aware,” Thor said. “But I belong nowhere else.”

“Erik, we’ve talked about this,” Jane said.

Darcy nodded. “Like, a lot.”

Selvig sighed. “I just don’t think any of you realize what’s at stake. We have to be careful, but instead we’re waving meat under the nose of a lion and hoping nothing happens.”

“I know your fear,” Thor said. “I have nothing to offer that can assuage it.”

Selvig shook his head, taking another bit with a growl. “If you weren’t so damn good at making eggs…”

Thor chuckled, recognizing the implicit deference in the deflection. “Then you shall have them as often as you wish,” he promised. “I seek only to be a part of your company, if not an equal party then a contributing member.”

“Well,” Jane said, lifting up a glass of orange juice. “I think I can drink to that.”

Darcy snapped a photo of her plate. “No one back home is going to believe that I get paid in breakfast foods.”

Selvig took another bite with a scowl.

For his part, Thor could only smile.

-o-

Thor had learned how to dress and act like a human, but he still found himself unduly conspicuous. People tended to look him over, offering more scrutiny than seemed warranted.

“I fear I am doing something wrong,” he said.

“Of course not!” Jane said.

“Well,” Darcy said. “You do sort of look like a Greek god.”

“That’s not the point,” Jane said.

“We don’t want extra attention,” Thor said, feeling somewhat distressed. “Perhaps if I wore long sleeves?”

“I think that’d be criminal,” Darcy said.

“He is right, you know,” Selvig said. “He does draw attention.”

“Perhaps if I shave,” Thor suggested.

“Or cut your hair,” Selvig said.

“And I know that’d be criminal,” Darcy said.

“Thor, listen,” Jane said. “Yes, you attract some attention. But that’s not a bad thing.”

“I thought we had to be careful,” Thor replied.

“We do,” Selvig said.

“And we are,” Jane said. “But seriously. Don’t touch your hair.”

“You think it will help me in the long run?” he asked.

“No, we think it looks amazing,” Darcy said.

“But it’s not too much?” Thor asked.

“Thor,” Jane said, as seriously as he had ever seen her. “Do not touch your hair. Promise me.”

He furrowed his brow, a bit taken aback. But he could deny Jane nothing. “Very well,” he said. “If that is what you desire.”

Jane grinned and Darcy looked relieved.

Selvig rolled his eyes. “At least we know if we get caught, we didn’t sacrifice his hair.”

“And that price will be well worth it,” Darcy said.

Jane shrugged apologetically. “I’m with Darcy on this one.”

-o-

Thor had learned much in his time on Earth, but it never failed to surprise him how much he still had to master. Slang, international politics, American history, racial segregation.

Driving.

“These vehicles are not complicated,” Thor said behind the wheel. “I do not see why you must lecture me.”

“Because cars are dangerous,” Jane said. “They’re not toys.”

“I have flown many crafts more complicated than this,” Thor assured her.

“Sure, and then you ended up alone and abandoned on Earth!” Jane insisted.

“It was not reckless driving that earned my exile,” Thor said.

“Well, I guess that’s reassuring,” Jane said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still one of the most dangerous things you’ll probably ever do on Earth, and I’m not going to take that lightly.”

She was serious -- very serious, in fact -- and though it seemed silly, Thor would not fight her. As the engine rumbled to life, he was struck by the strange realization that she was right.

After fighting wars and besting opponents in battle, this would be the most danger he would have. Here, in a mundane vehicle, with limited mobility and speed limitations.

Swallowing hard, he placed his hands neatly at ten and two, as per Jane’s explicit instructions.

If this was to be his most dangerous task, he would approach it with a flourish worthy of his name.

-o-

Driving was easy.

Earth’s traffic codes were less so.

“Your laws are not intuitive,” Thor complained, manually turning on his blinker. “Why should the biggest car on the road not have the right away?”

“Because you really think if two guys come to an intersection, either will yield for the bigger one?” Jane asked, tensing as Thor made the turn, timing it perfectly between the oncoming traffic and navigating seamlessly into the correct lane position.

“Men do have foolish pride,” Thor reasoned. He used the brake, coming to an easy stop. He noticed that he had arrived second and he waved politely to the other driver.

Jane stared at him, a little impressed. “Some do, anyway.”

Thor laughed, pulling out from the intersection. “Do not be impressed,” he told her knowingly. “I told you I have driven many vehicles more complicated than this.”

“I know,” Jane said. “And yet, here you are. Being the perfect citizen.”

“Is that not what I should strive to be?” Thor asked. “If this is my home, I should excel at all things.”

Jane nodded, starting to relax. “The world would be a better place if more people thought like that.”

Thor carefully approached a stop light, maintaining a following distance of three cars from the closest car. He tried not to think that Asgard was a better place without him.

Instead, he smiled. “I have no higher goal,” he assured her. “Now, where would you like to go?”

“I don’t know,” Jane said.

“Back to the lab?” Thor asked.

Jane was thoughtful. “You know,” she said. “Let’s just take the afternoon off.”

Thor looked at her in question.

“Honestly I thought it’d take all afternoon to teach you,” she said.

Thor nodded his head. “Ah.”

“But, since it didn’t, what do you say to a drive?” Jane asked.

Thor cast her a small glance, his smile spreading. “I say it sounds very good.”

-o-

In his time on Earth, Thor had explored the town of Puente Antiguo quite thoroughly. He was well acquainted with the town, knowing the businesses, the people and the general layout. He had a rough grasp of the area outside of town, mostly from on-site data collections Jane desired.

He had been content to stray no farther. Part of him had probably supposed that there was nothing that would appeal to him, but as they drove down the highway, Thor realized how limited that sentiment was.

Though Earth was primitive compared to Asgard and many of the other realms, it was still a vibrant and developing planet. He had not fully appreciated Darcy’s complaints about how small it was or Selvig’s solace in the quiet. Because that mean there was more to the world.

A lot more.

Thor was exiled, but it was hardly a prison cell. Driving with his hands firmly on the wheel, the speed exactly at 65, he began to realize there were possibilities. Life, short as it might be for him now, could be full and exciting.

It could have meaning.

Something fluttered in his chest, and he faintly recognized the surge of adrenaline. How long had it been since he felt such exhilaration? How long had it been since he’d been taken with possibility? How long had he been satisfied and not happy?

Flexing his fingers on the wheel, he found himself smiling. However long it had been, he suspected it would be no longer.

-o-

At the next town, Jane told him to just keep driving. Dutifully, Thor obeyed, following her directions as they merged from a highway to something Jane called an Interstate. This road was bigger with more lanes and far more cars.

“You think you can handle it?” Jane asked. “I mean, this is a bit much for your first day driving.”

Thor laughed. “I have conquered armies,” he boasted. He flashed a smile at her and winked. “I think this is well within my grasp.”

She grinned back. “Well, just don’t get pulled over,” she said. “You don’t have a license and we’d get in all sorts of trouble.”

“If it is a concern, you are more than welcome--”

Jane shook her head. “We can’t get you a license for all the obvious reasons, but I also can’t keep you sequestered,” she said. “I mean, what kind of life is that?”

“A safe one, perhaps,” Thor pointed out as he expertly navigated the traffic.

Jane snorted. “Safe doesn’t get us very far,” she said. “If I cared about safe, I would have taken the teaching job and married Donald.”

Thor gave her a quizzical look.

“This is better,” she told him. “Trust me.”

Of all the uncertain things in his life, that much was constant. “Always,” he told her. “I trust nothing else.”

Her smile widened, and she looked down, tucking her hair behind her ear. “You really are far from home, aren’t you? I mean, to trust me--”

“Jane, I do not exaggerate when I tell you I have done many foolish things in my life,” he said. “But trusting you, I swear, will never be one of them.”

She blushed, nodding as she tried not to smile. “Well, okay then,” she said. “Get off at the next town.”

Perplexed, Thor frowned. “You wish to return home?”

“No,” she said. “You said you trust me? Then let’s prove it.”

He remained skeptical.

“Science is important,” Jane said. “But Darcy is always telling me to get out of the lab. Erik, too. I don’t want you to think life is all about work.”

“If it is important to you--”

“It’s more than that,” she told him. “You’ll see.”

Thor nodded his head, turning his signal on before moving over to the exit ramp. “Very well, then,” he said. “I will see.”

-o-

This town was larger, which Thor had thought to mean it would be just like Puente Antiguo only with more streets. However, the infrastructure was much further developed. The buildings were larger and more plentiful, with more options for shopping, eating and more.

First Jane directed him to a shopping mall, which was a large structure that had a multitude of stores inside. Thor was impressed by the pace, and he soon discovered the advantages of such size. Whereas the selection in Puente Antiguo was adequate, this mall had everything.

More clothing, more books, more movies, more games. Thor spent a period of time staring contentedly at a large screen TV, broadcasting a strange looking movie that Jane said was meant for children. He played video games and secretly wished he was able to earn money to purchase one. He read books and magazines, and drank a coffee from an establishment known as Starbucks. Jane took him to a movie in what was called 3D before they finally settled at a barbecue restaurant for a filling meal.

Thor was eating a rack of ribs, licking his fingers noisily when he noticed Jane was watching him.

Chagrined, he used his napkin to finish cleaning. “I apologize,” he said. “I have forgotten Earth etiquette--”

“No,” Jane said quickly. “That’s actually pretty appropriate for this kind of place.”

Thor still wiped his fingers, but gave the establishment a look of approval. “I like it,” he said. “This town, it has a lot to offer.”

“And this isn’t even a big city, Thor,” Jane told him. “I know you don’t think there’s anywhere for you to go, but there’s a whole world out there. It’s a lot more than what we have back at Puente Antiguo.”

She was offering him an out, he realized. All the times he had thought to leave, it had never been for his own well being. He had always considered it for Jane’s sake. The idea that something out there might appeal to him more was hard to fathom.

He had had fun, but life was more than fun. It was more than good meals and vast entertainment.

He fixed his eyes on Jane. “This has been a very pleasant day,” he said. “I thank you for the experience, but please know I have every desire to return to Puente Antiguo with you. I wish to return home.”

Home. It was the first time he’d used the word in conjunction with anything on Earth.

But as he watched Jane’s eyes light up, he knew it would not be the last.

“Okay,” Jane agreed, motioning to their waitress. “Let’s go home.”

-o-

They started to travel after that, taking trips to nearby towns and attractions. Jane showed him geological wonders; Selvig took him to academic institutions. Darcy took him to raucous musical events called concerts that Thor found chaotic and strangely invigorating. Once they travelled to a place called the Grand Canyon, which cut open across the land.

Thor thought of a time when he would have wielded Mjolnir, summoning it to take him across in a single bound.

Standing on the edge, he was bound by the laws of gravity just as any other mortal, and he could only look down in awe.

He heard people whisper, wondering what it would be like to fall.

At that, Thor turned away, for this was a question he had already answered the hard way.

-o-

Still, Puente Antiguo was home. Jane went about her work, and Thor did whatever was needed of him. Around town, he was still being followed, but he would not lurk.

No, he would not yield.

Thor had lost much of his pride, but not all of it.

At least, not yet.

-o-

When he first accepted his place as permanent on Midgard, Thor had grown quiet about his home. But as he settled comfortably among his friends, it was impossible not to talk of it. Darcy talked of growing up and skipping classes with her friends to go shopping at the mall. Jane talked of her lab experiment in college that nearly burned down an entire building.

And Thor talked of hunting bilgesnipe across the forests on the eastern coast, and learning to pilot gliders on the high mountains of the west. He told them of royal dinners and training as a warrior. He talked of feasts that went on for days, and celebrations that were immortalized in the stars.

At night, when Darcy and Selvig were asleep, he told Jane of his father’s stories and his brother’s magic. He told her of his mother’s lullabies, which made the stars themselves dance until he finally succumbed to sleep.

She shook her head. “Sometime I really think you are crazy.”

He hummed in agreement, looking up at the sky. They seemed farther every night now, more distant and impossible to attain. It seemed like another lifetime when he had thought them his domain. “Sometimes I think I am, too.”

-o-

He was making breakfast when there was a knock at the door. With Darcy nowhere to be seen -- it was before noon, after all -- and Selvig away on business, he found himself to be the only one available.

Turning down the temperature of the hash browns on the stovetop, he wiped his hands on his jeans before answering the door.

“Agent Coulson,” Thor remembered.

The man removed his sunglasses, smiling blandly. “Doctor Blake.”

The name was still somewhat foreign to him, but Thor was moderately adept at acting. “I did not imagine I would be seeing you again,” he said.

“Well, given that you haven’t been breaking into highly secure government facilities, I would guess not,” Agent Coulson quipped.

“Indeed,” Thor said. He paused. “But here you are.”

“Here I am,” Agent Coulson agreed. He rocked on the balls of his feet, glancing around Thor. “Do you mind if I come in?”

Thor didn’t move. “While you were within your rights to apprehend me, you also took various items from my friends that did not belong to you,” he said. “I am afraid you are not welcome here.”

Agent Coulson nodded, chewing his lip for a moment. Then he reached into his jacket and pulled out a small thumb drive. “Did I mention I come bearing gifts?”

Thor narrowed his eyes.

“It’s Dr. Foster’s research,” he said. “At least, most of it.”

“And Darcy’s iPod?” Thor pressed.

Agent Coulson sighed, reaching into his pocket again, producing a small, well worn device.

Thor reached out and took both, stepping aside. “Please, come in,” he said. “Breakfast is nearly done.”

-o-