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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (8/15)

December 30th, 2014 (08:58 am)
exanimate

feeling: exanimate

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




Not that everything was serious.

Yes, the pressure to learn more at the lab was pressing. And true, Thor’s job did take a cumulative toll on his body. No one could possibly deny that Selvig’s warning didn’t carry significant weight.

But Thor had never been one to take things too seriously for long.

Which was fortunate when Darcy took him to something called karaoke.

Thor had heard mention of these antics, but the stories had always confounded him.

“It’s amazing,” Darcy said. “Alcohol and music and public displays of idiocy. You could not possibly ask for more.”

Jane rolled her eyes. “It’s stupid,” she said. “And it’s ridiculous.”

“Which is why it’s fun,” Darcy said.

“Where can we find such fun?” Thor asked.

“Oh, lots of bars will have a karaoke night,” Darcy said. “Puente Antiguo is just so small that no one seems to remember how to actually do anything besides drink.”

“They’re in bars because you have to be a little tipsy to even get up on stage,” Jane said. “It’s not that fun.”

“Ugh,” Darcy said. “It’s amazing, and we’re going.”

Jane started. “You can go--”

“You have worked me until 9 PM the last three nights,” Darcy said. “Tonight we are taking off at five and driving to the closest karaoke bar, and you are singing. Both of you. Loudly. To whatever song I choose. Understood?”

“Hey, I thought I was your boss,” Jane protested.

“Then try paying me overtime,” Darcy said. She glanced at Thor with a thoughtful grin. “Besides, you know you’re curious to see how Thor performs under pressure.”

Thor raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, please,” Jane said dismissively.

“I have always been quite good under pressure,” Thor said.

Darcy shrugged her shoulders sagely. “Only one way to find out.”

Jane stared at Darcy. Then she glanced at Thor. She drew a breath and huffed. “Fine, I’ll go,” she said. “But I’m not singing.”

“Sure,” Darcy said.

Jane glared. “I’m not.

“I’m going to change,” Darcy said, moving toward the bathroom. “Be ready in ten!”

Jane looked at Thor, scowling a little bit. “I’m not.”

Thor reached over and hugged her. “Of course not,” he assured her, rubbing her arm. “But it does sound fun.”

“Ugh,” Jane said, pulling away as she rolled her eyes. “I’ll meet you in the car.”

-o-

Jane sulked on the way, but Darcy did not seem to mind. Thor tried to engage her in polite conversation, prompting her about science, but Darcy cut him off.

“La la la,” she said. “No science.”

“I was just trying to ask a question,” Thor said.

“You’re trying to be nice and polite and a good boyfriend and all that,” Darcy said. “I get it. But the only way to get her to lighten up is to give her a few drinks and put a microphone in her hand.”

“I told you,” Jane said from the driver’s seat. “I’m not singing. Someone has to drive us home.”

“Thor has the metabolism of a Norse god,” Darcy said. “Kind of literally, actually. He can drive.”

“I would be happy to limit my consumption--”

“Uh uh uh,” Jane said. “I’m driving! No singing! Driving.

“That’s sort of the point of a karaoke bar,” Darcy said.

“Your idea,” Jane said. “Not mine. We really should be back at the lab--”

“Oh, come on,” Darcy said. “If you bring up work once, then I’m going to make you sing.”

“Fine,” Jane said. “No science, no singing. That’s my deal.”

“Ugh, whatever,” Darcy said. “As long as there’s alcohol.”

-o-

There was, indeed, alcohol. The bar was already crowded when the arrived, and Thor secured them a table not far from the stage. They started with a round of beers, but Darcy finished hers promptly and went looking for another.

“You know,” Thor said. “Darcy has been working hard.”

“I know that,” Jane said.

“So she is entitled to some recreation,” Thor said. “We all are.”

“I know that, too,” Jane said. “And if she wants to sing karaoke, then I’m totally here supporting her.”

“But maybe it’s not just that,” Thor said. “It is not just what we do, but who we share it with.”

“I’m her boss,” Jane said.

Thor looked at her.

“Well,” Jane said. “I mean, technically--”

“We have been through many things together,” Thor said. “And you and Darcy have spent even more time together.”

“She was my only job applicant,” Jane said. “She’s totally qualified for anything other than what she’s doing.”

“And yet she stays,” Thor said. “And you still keep her employed.”

Jane sighed. “You’re saying I should sing.”

“I’m saying she’s your friend,” Thor said.

Jane slouched. “Since when did you start teaching me about being human?”

Thor grinned. “Everything I know I learned from you.”

She brightened, leaning across the seat to kiss him. “I love you.”

“Enough to sing with me?”

Jane scoffed. “Don’t push it.”

-o-

On the stage, Jane looked nervous. Darcy smirked as she handed Jane a microphone. For a moment, Thor felt guilty at the trepidation on Jane’s face. His primary goal was to protect, and seeing her so clearly uncomfortable went against his nature.

But Darcy was beaming, and when the soundtrack started, it was entirely too late to second guess any of it now. The music sounded dated -- the 80s, as best Thor could tell -- but before he could further identify the song, Darcy started singing.

She wasn’t particularly talented, but she made up for it in passion. Next to her, Jane rocked awkwardly to the beat, waiting for her cue. As the music swelled, Darcy looked at Jane, and Jane started to sing.

“If you’re lost you can look and you will find me,” they sang together, voices not quite meshing, Jane just a half beat behind Darcy. “Time after time.”

Someone in the audience whistled. There was smattering applause. Jane grinned in embarrassment, and Darcy raised her voice louder as the music made her bold..

“If you fall I will catch you, I’ll be waiting,” they harmonized. Jane’s eyes turned out, settling on Thor before her voice steadied on the tune. “Time after time.”

On the second verse, Jane took the lead, leaving Darcy to dance impassionedly beside her. The crowd was cheering as they entered the chorus again. “You said go slow, I fall behind,” came the words, more confidently now if not more in tune. “The second hand unwinds…”

It was a remarkable thing, to watch them come together. To see them fall in synch with one another. In his many years, Thor had seen countless feats. Even from Jane and Darcy, he had seen far greater things that the world would deem more worthy.

But watching them, Thor wondered it that missed the point. It would be a mistake to diminish the accomplishment on Asgard or on Earth -- for they did indeed matter. But in an unending quest to conquer the unknown, sometimes it was easy to overlook the greatest battles inside the heart. The fear of stepping outside your comfort zone. The vulnerability of opening up your heart to someone you care about. The tentative audacity to put someone else first.

Such things were sometimes the hardest feats. At the very least, Thor thought they might be the most important.

Jane’s eyes turned toward him, smiling as she sang to the dimming soundtrack. “Time after time.”

Thor smiled back, feeling more fortunate than ever to have the privilege of witnessing such things.

-o-

After leaving the stage in a chorus of applause, Jane ducked back to her seat, face red. “I can’t believe I did that.”

“It was very good,” Thor said.

Darcy took a swift drink of the beers Thor had ordered. “It was more than good,” she said. “It was amazing.”

“I think I might have been off key or something,” Jane said.

“Oh, you were,” Darcy said. “You’re practically tone deaf and you have no sense of rhythm.”

Jane’s brow furrowed.

Darcy finished her drink with a satisfied smirk. “Which is why it was so very, very amazing.”

“Well,” Jane said. “Now that that’s done--”

Darcy shook her head. “Uh uh,” she said. “I asked for a night off, and you are giving me a night off.”

“But what are we going to do?” Jane asked.

“You can sit here and stare dopey eyed at your boyfriend or whatever,” Darcy said. “I am going to leverage my newfound acclaim and the comfortable buzz I’ve got going right now. I get until daybreak, understood?”

Jane faltered, at a loss for words, while Thor raised his eyebrows.

Darcy grinned at them, making a grand exit toward a pair of men at the bar.

“Well,” Jane said, looking to Thor with a small, scoffing laugh. “What do you want to do?”

Thor shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “The entertainment is not so bad.”

“And they have pool,” Jane said.

“I have gotten much better since the last time we played,” Thor told her. He leaned forward. “Though I must admit, Darcy’s suggestion of staring dopey eyed at one another actually sounds somewhat appealing.”

Blushing, Jane obviously could not stop her smile. “I’m not usually very good at dopey eyed,” she admitted, biting her lip for a moment. “But buy me another drink, and I’ll see what I can do.”

Thor was only too happy to comply.

-o-

Thor had had few talents outside the training grounds. Although he was duly literate, he had no great affinity for figurative language. He could appreciate a thing of artistic worth but would be hard pressed to recreate anything similar. In most things, Thor was competent, but unremarkable. Only after he had lost Mjolnir did he appreciate that he gained as much worth from it as it gave to him.

Musically speaking, it was much the same. His mother had insisted upon basic music education as part of his tutoring program, but he had lacked any aptitude for it. Music made gaiety more lively, and he had found some pleasure singing the oral tales of his forefathers, but to say he was less than endowed in this area would be an understatement.

Therefore, he was somewhat surprised to find that most of the people who took the stage at karaoke night were as poorly endowed as he was.

Some were even worse.

Thor’s ear was not finely adapted for nuanced, but he had listened extensively to music while Earth. Some of the songs being sung were even ones he recognized, if only by the lyrics and score. The vocals, however.

Well, they varied wildly. Some people were too timid. Others were dreadfully off key. Some rushed the tempo while others seemed to be singing a different song entirely. As far as performances went, the musical selection was hardly worth noting.

Yet, Thor found that he had never seen anything so engrossing. For those who took the stage did so almost in clear understanding of their limitations. They did not need to be excellent. They only needed to be themselves.

Earth, in many ways, was a planet of mediocrity. Its people were short lived and painfully naive. Some might see their boldness as diminutive, but Thor wondered if worth was not what you were limited by but what you dreamed for. It was not so much a question of talent but a matter of effort that defined them. It gave them worth where others might see none.

Sitting close to Jane, he clapped loudly for each performance, each one more than the last, feeling a strange sense of hope solidifying in his chest with every passing song.

-o-

Hope gave way to alcohol.

By Darcy’s second performance, her inhibitions were gone entirely. During her third, she hung off the arm of a gentleman Thor had never seen before, giggling as she somehow sang an entirely different song.

He and Jane played a game of pool, but when she started the tequila shots, the contest became anything but. Though Thor was careful to stop ordering drinks for his friends, he could not bring himself to entirely regret their ambiance. For they laughed heartily, and Jane held him mostly closely.

“I meant it, you know?” she said. “I’ll be there. Time after time.”

“You have already proven this,” Thor assured her.

Jane swallowed, looking as serious as she could. “I’m so glad I hit you with my car,” she said. “Twice.”

Chuckling, Thor pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “Me, too.”

“Oh, hey!” Jane said, sitting up suddenly. “I have an idea!”

Thor looked vaguely apprehensive.

Jane tugged on his arm. “Come on,” she half whined. “Trust me.”

That was a request Thor would never deny.

-o-

Thor was scared of nothing. There had been no trial he’d face that he’d felt daunted by. He had charged into Jotunheim, surrounded by his enemies with everything to lose, and been undeterred.

But standing on that stage, looking out over the other patrons of the bar, Thor felt a moment of uncertainty. He had been forced into many foreign situations; he had undertaken numerous embarrassing tasks. But with the lights in his eyes and the faces of strangers turned toward him, he felt his throat tighten.

Nervously, he adjusted his grip on the microphone, feeling himself start to sweat. The music started, and Thor glanced at the screen anxiously.

For all that he could appreciate the feats of others on this small stage, he found himself less than confident. He had made it his goal to live simply on Earth, to blend in and fit into their culture. He had not sought out acclaim, and the so called limelight was suddenly more than he could take. To think, there had been a time he had strode into the thrown room, brashly wielding Mjolnir to a crowd of thousands.

Now, he stood on a small wood stage, clutching a microphone while his heart hammered in his chest.

He had fallen far. Maybe too far. In his lowly state, what did he hope to accomplish? What did he think he could do?

Jane reached out, taking his free hand in hers. He looked at her, and she beamed at him, squeezing his fingers.

His heart steadied. His stance solidified. Smile wide, he turned back to the crowd, glancing at the screen before Jane started to sing.

“They say we’re young and we don’t know,” her voice trembled as she looked back at him. “We won’t find out until we’re grown.”

With his cue, Thor joined in. “Well I don’t know if all that’s true,” he started, even though the sound of his own voice sounded awkward over the background music. But Jane’s eyes were bright, her eyes fixed on him. “Cause you got me, and baby, I got you.”

“Babe,” Jane said, linking her voice with his. “I got you, babe. I got you, babe.”

The crowd tittered, and Thor took a moment to wipe his palm on his shirt. He was nervous, but strangely exhilarated. All the times he had sought attention, and now being in front of an audience meant nothing to him.

The only thing that mattered was Jane.

She took her cue from the screen, starting again. Perhaps Darcy was right, and her voice was less than perfect. And perhaps Thor had neglected his music lessons far too often. Perhaps they fumbled the lyrics and fell off beat. But they laughed over the hard parts, twining their fingers as they kept up to the pace of the music.

“Don’t let them say your hair’s too long,” Jane said, flicking his hair over his shoulder with a grin. “Cause I don’t care, with you I can’t go wrong.”

Thor felt the emotion rise within him. “Then put your little hand in mine,” he sang. “There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”

“Babe,” they sang together. “I got you, babe. I got you, babe.”

It was not an eloquent poem. The tune was not epic in its scope. It was a simple song born of simple people in a simple time.

Yet, nothing had ever felt more true.

Nothing had ever felt more right.

Thor had lost so much, but what he had mattered.

What would his father say, if he saw him like this? What would his mother do, seeing him taking pleasure in such menial things? What would his friends think? What jokes would his brother make?

It did not matter, for none of them was here.

Jane was here, though.

And so was Thor.

“I got you to hold my hand, I got you to to understand, I got you to walk with me, I got you to talk with me,” the song went on. “I got you to kiss goodnight, I got you to hold me tight. I got you, I won’t let go. I got you to love me so.”

It was a promise. It was a last hope.

Better still, it was a first hope.

“I got you, babe,” they sang as the song drew to its end. “I got you, babe.”

Jane devolved into laughter as the crowd clapped. Flush with adrenaline, Thor pulled Jane close with a kiss, which just made the crowd cheer more. He lifted her in his arms, twirling them both before setting her down.

“I mean it, you know,” he said. “I got you.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, beaming at him now. “Lucky for both of us.”

Thor had thought of his banishment as a punishment. He had thought of it as a trial. He had thought of it as a curse, a hardship, a fate.

He had not considered it a stroke of good fortune.

But as he walked off the stage with Jane, he thought maybe it was time to start.

-o-

At that point, Thor would have gladly gone home. Though he had always enjoyed revelry, he found a new appreciation for withdrawing to more private quarters.

Especially when he had someone to withdraw with.

He had never left a celebration early in his life back on Asgard, but many things had changed for him on Earth.

However, it was not to be that night. Although Jane was not quite drunk, she was moderately affected by her alcohol consumption, which made her more amenable than usual. She seemed to be having fun, singing and playing pool, telling jokes and reminiscing about her life growing up. While Thor would be quite glad to go back home, it was not often that Jane was able to free herself so completely from work, and Thor could not bring himself to change that.

Moreover, he was learning quite a bit about her, from her pet dog during childhood to her initial courtship with the real Donald Blake.

She would never be this forthcoming in a normal situation.

Plus, they had to stay for Darcy. Where Jane was tipsy, Darcy was probably past the point of no return. She was, however, surprisingly agile in her inebriated state, and Thor found himself keeping a close eye on her as she found her way to almost every eligible person in the establishment.

It wasn’t so hard, though, given that she spent half of that time on stage. She did have an impressive repertoire of musical experience.

So Thor would gladly have gone home.

But since most of what he cared about was right here in front of him, he was just as glad to stay.

-o-

“I mean, I know I wasn’t great at it,” Jane said, gesturing widely. “But honestly, I at least tried. I mean, sure, I stood him up for a couple dates but only because of science. Because I literally didn’t know what time it was -- you know how I get!”

Thor nodded seriously.

“And he was all, you have to choose, me or your work, blah, blah, blah,” Jane said in what Thor could only hope was a horrible impersonation of her ex-boyfriend. “Which was totally ironic since he never put me before his job. I understood when he was on call. I understood when there was an emergency. But what I never understood was how I was expected to bend over backward to accommodate him and his career. Like, he thought it was no big deal, I could just move to Chicago except what I study is very specific to your location. For him? There are doctors everywhere. And I’m the unreasonable one.”

“Well, I can understand how he might want to be with you,” Thor said.

She scoffed. “Only when it was convenient!” she said. “Like, he wanted me on his arm for every event but when we got there, I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Like, if I even mentioned the stars or quantum theory, he would get all bent out of shape, saying it was his time and his night and it was just too much.”

Thor gave her a sympathetic look. “If he did not appreciate your intellect and respect your contributions, then he did not deserve you,” he said. “You made a wise decision.”

Jane’s face twisted sadly. “He dumped me,” she said. “I visited him in Chicago and he told me he’d met someone else. A nurse. He actually left me for a nurse because he is completely a cliche.”

“His loss,” Thor said. “It is my gain.”

She smiled at that. “But what about you?” she said. “If you’ve been alive for, like, hundreds of years, don’t you have some exes?”

That was a question. Thor had never been wanting for company, and he had been known to indulge from time to time. However, the question of courtship had always been far from his mind, though his mother had hinted that it might be prudent for the future king of Asgard to settle down and take a wife.

Thor had thought her advice to be limited.

As it turned out, it hardly mattered.

He shook his head. “Our dating rituals are vastly different than yours,” he said.

“Oh?” Jane asked.

“We take the idea of courtship very seriously,” Thor told her. “While dalliances are not uncommon, we view a committed relationship as a profound step.”

Jane actually looked surprised by this. “So, you live thousands of years and only settle down once? Really?”

“Well,” Thor said, shrugging. “After several hundred years, the appeal of playing the field lessens.”

Jane laughed. “So you never settled?” she asked. “There was never someone you wanted to commit to?”

“I had many other things in my life on Asgard,” Thor said. “I thought myself too busy for family. I was preoccupied with my training and thoughts of ruling.”

“Well, work is a big reason a lot of relationships don’t work out here, too,” Jane said.

Thor frowned, thoughtful for a moment. “I always thought there were more important things,” he said. “I believed I was too important.”

He looked at Jane.

“I was wrong, though,” he said. “There is nothing more important.”

Her smile brightened her face, and she shook her head. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?” he asked.

“Know the exact right thing to say at the exact right moment,” she said.

“Well,” he murmured, picking up her hand and pressing it to his lips. “I have some compelling motivation.”

Flushing, she shook her head again. “Your gallantry is good,” she said. “But right now, I think we should skip the chivalry and totally make out.”

And that, Thor decided, was the best idea of the evening by far.

-o-

Thor was not drunk.

Although he felt giddy and elated, he could attribute such emotions to the natural high of spontaneous singing and intimacy with his girlfriend. Although Thor had discovered the had what humans considered to be a high threshold for alcoholic beverages, he had also learned that drinking more than a few beers before getting into a vehicle made people nervous, and he had quickly obliged the customs and refrained from drinking in such quantities when he was expected to drive.

As the designated driver, he had been dutiful in limiting his consumption. This was all for the best, he decided, for there was no need for anything to make him feel good that night.

In fact, in his many years, it was hard to say when he had felt better. Feats in hunting and tournament had been exhilarating, to be sure. And there was always a certain thrill of talking his friends into covert exploits that his father would berate him for. At least, that was what Thor had thought until he’d snuck into Jotunheim and started a war.

Looking back, it occurred to him that he had few accomplishments outside those realms. He had shared good moments with his friends, but rarely outside competitive contexts. True, he did love entertaining a night with Fandral and whatever women they happened to woo. And yes, he very much liked being hosted at Volstagg’s home, where his children made him laugh plenty. He had even taken trips with Hogun, pressing over mountains to watch the sunrise together in companionable silence, standing at the top to look out over the expanse with a quiet satisfaction.

And Sif had provided him a wide range of company, from being his best sparring partner to being his closest confidante. He had enjoyed her company and her conversation greatly over the years.

Above them all, however, he had taken pleasure in his time with Loki. Though he and his brother had entertained divergent interests in their later years, there was still no one that could rouse his energies quite like his brother. Their exploits around the palace were something of legend, and Thor could recall many late nights when Loki snuck into his bed chamber just to talk until the morning light broke lightly through the windows.

He had overlooked all of these, of course, and traded on them for greater glory in his own eyes. He had never understood the worth of those experiences in such a way that he probably had never deserved them at all.

Sitting with Jane, nestled side by side in a back booth in a dim corner, he was not sure he deserved this either. A place to belong; someone to love.

Someone to love him, not for his exploits but for who he was.

Thor was not drunk.

But, as the saying seemed to be on Earth, he was riding higher than ever before.

-o-

When Thor first heard the commotion, he thought little of it. This was a place of drinking; scuffles were not unheard of. In fact, he found that humans were actual far less noisy when pursuing an altercation with one another. Most of them were actually quite timid, no matter how much bravado they seemed to possess when inebriated.

But then, he heard Darcy.

“What the hell?” she exclaimed.

Thor turned, directing his attention to the bar where Darcy was currently seated with several others, mostly men.

“You let me buy you drinks all night, and then you say you’re not interested?” the man said.

Darcy scoffed. “I had a good time and all--”

“Because I bought you the drinks!” the man said, voice rising now as he got out of his chair and loomed over Darcy.

Darcy, though slight in stature, was not slight in confidence. Thor would not forget that this small woman was the one who had tased him his first night on this planet. “I never asked you for anything,” she said, getting up off her own stool. She swayed for a moment, but righted herself quickly, which was remarkable given that Thor had to assume she was, in fact, very drunk. “I think I should just go--”

The man’s face was twisted with rage, the kind Thor had seen mostly on the battlefield. The kind of hatred that swelled from injustice, whether it is perceived or valid. The kind of rage that precipitated action.

Only this wasn’t a battlefield. There was no injustice. There was no action the man could take that Thor would tolerate. Not for Darcy; not for anyone.

The man reached out, hand moving to grasp Darcy’s arm, but he never had the chance.

Not when Thor was on his feet, cutting his way across the floor in less than a second.

Positioned in front of Darcy, Thor pulled himself to his fullest stature, squaring his shoulders to look down at the man.

The man made a face of contempt. “What the hell, man?”

“I think it is you who should go,” Thor said flatly, his tone leaving no room for argument.

This man, however, seemed not to realize his own peril. For though Thor was mortal, he was still a strong, capable man. Though he felt weak compared to his former self, he knew from experience that he was regarded as one of the strongest men in New Mexico.

More than that, he took some satisfaction in knowing he had downed Earth’s very best at the SHIELD facility. At the time, he had assumed he had his powers, but in retrospect, he’d realized that it was just his natural mortal ability. He was a trained fighter, and he was a very good one.

And this man -- in addition to be skinny and unimposing -- was drunk.

The fact that he dared challenge Thor was laughable.

Indeed, in other circumstances, Thor might have made light.

But this was no other circumstances.

This was his friend with her safety in jeopardy in a bar. This was a woman, with her honor publicly maligned.

Mostly, this was Darcy.

The man stepped closer, puffing his chest out in utter vanity. “Yeah?” the man asked. “You going to make me?”

Thor did not flinch. “Trust me,” he said. “You do not want it to come to that.”

The man wrinkled his nose. “Are you saying I’m weak?”

“I’m saying it is plain to everyone who is the lesser man,” Thor said. “And it has nothing to do with your drunken state or your diminutive stature--”

The man’s face contorted, and he reared back, throwing a punch hard at Thor’s jaw.

At least, Thor could only suppose that was his intention.

Thor saw the motion easily, and intercepted the punch before it landed. Neatly taking the man’s arm, he twisted, pushing the man face first toward the bar and leaning forward with enough pressure on his arm to make him yelp.

The crowd gasped, going eerily silent. Thor was readily aware that though he was not on stage, he still had an audience.

His heart was pounding; his adrenaline raged.

He had always gone for the kill before. He was not one to relent, even in the face of better judgment most of the time.

But Earth had rules. It had laws and regulation, and Thor was subject ot them as much as he had been subject to his father’s laws. He had suffered his father’s wrath.

He would not endure such punishment here.

Instead, he leaned forward. “As I said,” he told the man. “You were just leaving now.”

Purposefully, Thor let go, stepping back but not stepping away. The man righted himself, red faced as he adjusted his shirt. “Fine,” the man replied sharply. “You can have the little bitch.”

Before Thor could say anything, Darcy stepped forward. “For the record, if you need to buy beers to get a girl to like you, then maybe the problem’s not them,” she said. “It’s probably you.”

With that, she turned, stalking toward the door. Thor watched the man for a minute, assuring himself that the man intended no further action, before following after Darcy. He caught up to her quickly. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“What?” Darcy said. “Oh, yeah. I mean, that was totally awesome. Except I’m totally drunk right now.”

“Do you need assistance?” Thor asked.

Darcy faltered. “Yes,” she said, steadying herself on Thor’s arm. “I do believe I do.”

-o-

Depositing Darcy on the bench of the booth, Thor turned his attention to Jane. “I will go pay our bill,” he said. “Then I do believe that we should retire for the evening.”

On the seat, Darcy giggled. “Retire,” she repeated, inexplicably amused.

Thor shook his head. “I will just be a minute.”

“Hey,” Jane said. “You know, what you did there--”

“Was nothing,” Thor concluded for her.

“I totally thought you were going to lose it,” she admitted. “Like, that time back at SHIELD. When you knocked through all those guys.”

“I used to believe that violence was a simple answer to any number of problems,” Thor told her.

“And now?” Jane asked.

Thor glanced at Darcy before looking at Jane again. “I would fight always for what is right,” he said. “I have merely discovered that my fists are not always necessary.”

Darcy swore, giggling again. “Especially not with a body like that,” she said. “I think you could win half your fights just by showing up.”

Thor gave her a look.

“She’s right,” Jane said. “You’re impressive.”

Thor lifted his eyebrows with interest at Jane.

“I mean, your restraint,” Jane said. “And your body. I mean. Just. I’m impressed.”

Thor tried to hold back his smile. “I have never felt so commended for not fighting in all my life.”

Jane wrinkled her nose. “Really?”

“I should pay our bill,” he said, quickly changing the topic. “If either of you need to use the bathroom--”

“We’ll be ready,” Jane said.

“For the record,” Darcy said, holding up one wobbly finger. “This is still the best night out. Ever.

As Thor cashed out for the evening, he considered that. From the singing to the bonding to the near fighting, it had been eventful to say the least. But he had learned to not only how to embrace humility, but vulnerability as well. On a stage in front of strangers, sharing stories with the woman he loved, facing down an enemy without resorting to his fists.

Darcy was right.

This was probably the best night out he’d had in a long, long time.

-o-

The bill was much less than Thor had expected, though Darcy had spent the better part of the evening accumulating new friends to indulge her. Even so, Thor left a generous tip and apologized to the bartender for the near conflict before going back to collect Jane and Darcy. Darcy was lying back on the bench, and Jane was nowhere to be found.

“Where is Jane?” Thor asked, looking keenly about the room.

“She had to pee,” Darcy said. “I think. I might have imagined that, too.”

“Too?” Thor asked.

“Like the part where I imagined that you stripped naked and started dancing on the table,” Darcy said. “Unless that’s a premonition?”

Thor laughed, reaching down to offer her a hand. She complied, grunting as he pulled her aloft. “You already saw me sing in front of people,” he reminded her. “That is enough excitement for one night.”

“It would have been better to do it naked,” Darcy muttered petulantly.

“I will take that under advisement,” Thor told her. “Now, are you ready to walk?”

“Sure,” Darcy said. “If by ready you mean ready to pass out on the floor.”

“Ah,” Thor said. “So we will go slowly--”

With that, he pulled her to her feet, waiting close by while she steadied herself. “You know,” Darcy said, leaning heavily on Thor for balance. “You really didn’t have to do that earlier. With that guy.”

Thor looked at her curiously.

“It was just a dick being a dick,” Darcy said. “I’m not so drunk that I couldn’t have dealt with it.”

“I do not doubt your skills,” Thor said. “You are the one who tased me on the night we first met.”

Darcy laughed. “Oh, that’s right, I did,” she said. “Have I apologized for that?”

“Numerous times,” Thor assured her. “But truly, that is not why I intervened.”

“Yeah?” Darcy asked.

“I know something of being out of line,” Thor told her truthfully. “It is unbecoming to behold.”

“So, what,” Darcy said. “You were defending my honor? That’s a little archaic, even for you.”

“I was defending my friend,” Thor clarified. “I don’t care what you call it; it was merely the right thing to do.”

Darcy looked at him for a long moment before nodding. “Thank you,” she said.

Thor smiled back at her. “Any time,” he said. “Now. Shall we?”

“We shall,” Darcy said. She started forward. Then stopped. “Right after I go throw up.”

With that, she bolted to the bathroom, almost running into Jane as she came out. Jane came toward him, looking concerned. “Everything okay?”

Thor nodded. “Besides the hangover you and Darcy will share tomorrow?”

Jane made a pained face.

Thor put an arm around her, reassuringly. “Everything is fine.”

-o-

They made it out to the car without further incident. Darcy was asleep in the back seat before Thor could get the car out of the parking lot, and though Jane hummed in the front seat next to Thor, she was asleep not long after that. The hour was late, and with the alcohol that had been consumed, this was not unexpected. Thor would have enjoyed some company, but in his exile, he had discovered that he did not mind silence.

There had been a time, not so long ago, that silence had made him uncomfortable. In his previous life, he had been accustomed to keeping his own company. He had never been wanting for distraction because one was always provided for him if he sought it. He had thought that to be a blessing, one of the benefits of his station.

He had not wanted to reflect or to think too hard. He had had little interest in his own personal betterment outside the battlefield.

While he still enjoyed crowds and parties and friends -- for Thor would always be social -- he now realized the benefit of silence. To think on what he had lost and what he had learned.

To think of what he had gained.

He checked the mirror to see Darcy. He glanced sideways to check Jane.

It was funny, really. To win a fight with restraint. To stand for a cause without smashing it to smithereens. He had always thought Mjolnir was his strength, but perhaps he was wrong about that as he was many other things.

Perhaps his strength was more than that.

He no longer had to be worthy to live a worthwhile life.

That was a significant change, not proven on a battlefield or a throne room, but in a small town bar. No one would commemorate this night with song or poem -- indeed, no one would probably remember it in the morning -- but Thor would count it as a victory all the same.

-o-

The following morning, Thor was up early but did his best to keep himself quiet. He was a natural early riser, and he always had been, much to Loki’s chagrin. Back on Asgard, he had found it amusing to rouse Loki before his younger brother was ready in the name of good brotherly fun.

Thor thought fondly of those days. It only occurred to him now that Loki might not share those feelings.

At any rate, he knew that Jane and Darcy would likely sleep late, and he set himself about his morning routine. He tidied up and made himself something small for breakfast. He started a pot of coffee, and then read the morning paper. It was a tedious way to get news, but Thor found the archaic means of turning oversized pages to be somewhat quaint.

Besides it was a tactile experience, and Thor had always preferred such things. He liked to learn by doing, and sometimes clicking on headlines on the Internet simply felt lacking. This way, he also got to read the comics, which he was learning to be amused by. Sometimes the humor was too nuanced, but simple physical amusement could not fail to make him laugh.

His father would be appalled. His mother was bemoan his lack of culture.

Since they were not here, however…

To counter such things, Thor also did the crossword puzzle. He found it most educational, and he enjoyed the challenge. It felt truly accomplished to fill in the last blanks and cross off the last clue.

Once, Thor had defended planets.

Now, he could conquer the New York Times.

Thor would take his victories wherever he could find them.

That being concluded, Thor turned his attention to the clock. The morning was slipping away, so he decided to take the initiative to make a late breakfast for when his friends finally awoke. Though Jane did not drink heavily often, he had learned from experience that she was not likely to sleep past noon. Darcy, on the other hand, would prefer to sleep as late as she could, but if Thor made waffles, she would inevitably be drawn to the smell.

He turned on some music – his what the hell playlist, as Darcy had entitled it, declaring that this assortment of songs could not reasonably be collected in any of his other playlists -- and hummed contentedly to himself while he cooked.

Jane was the first to come in, trudging in from her trailer in the clothes from last night. Her hair was still messy, and she looked at Thor with a grimace. “Why did you let me drink so much last night?” she asked.

Thor shrugged. “You were having fun.”

“At what cost, though?” Jane moaned, flopping into a chair at the table. “Seriously, what kind of boyfriend are you?”

“One who respects that you are a smart, resourceful, independent woman, fully capable of making her own decisions,” Thor said, putting a plate of food in front of her.

She huffs. “I hate that that’s the best answer ever,” she said morosely.

Thor brought her a steaming cup of coffee. “Cheer up,” Thor said.

“I’ll feel better soon?” Jane asked hopefully.

“No, you may feel sick for hours,” Thor said. “But I assure you, Darcy will feel worse.”

Jane made a face. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

Thor shrugged. “It shouldn’t make you feel worse.”

Jane grunted, taking a sip of coffee. “My boyfriend,” she muttered. “Intergalactic optimist.”

Though he said nothing, Thor rather liked the sound of that.

-o-


As expected, Darcy appeared when Thor put on the waffles. Jane had drank one cup of coffee and a small helping of eggs when Darcy trudged out of Thor’s bedroom, where he had helped her to bed last night.

“Waffles?” Darcy asked.

Thor smiled broadly. “Almost done,” he told her.

“Waffles are amazing,” Darcy said.

Jane wrinkled her nose. “You feel okay?”

“My head is killing me and I sort of want to die,” Darcy said.

Thor raised his eyebrows, serving her a plate of food.

“But not until my waffles are gone,” she said. “Damn. Are you sure you want to stick with Jane? Because you would be an excellent boyfriend.”

Jane glared at her, but Thor merely laughed. “We do not have to be dating for me to show you the kindness you deserve.”

Darcy poured syrup liberally over her plate. “I guess I can live with that.”

“Next time,” Jane said. “We don’t need to take a night off quite so literally.”

Darcy cut into her waffle. “Next time, maybe we won’t have to,” she said.

Jane inclined her head. “That may be a fair point,” she said. “But we do have a lot of work to do--”

“Ugh, Jane,” Darcy said. “We will always have work to do.”

“Okay, okay,” Jane relented. “But karaoke?”

“We drank, we sang, we conquered,” Darcy said. “And now, we’re eating waffles. How is this not a win?”

“Um, the pounding headache--”

“Which would hurt a lot less if you weren’t complaining while I try to enjoy these waffles!” Darcy said.

Thor settled down with his own plate. “Please,” he said reasonably. “You are both right. Life must be a balance of work and recreation. We need to accomplish our tasks but still be true to ourselves. We must live cohesive lives, entirely integrated for the maximum productivity and self satisfaction.”

Jane stared at him.

Darcy chewed. “Someone’s been watching Dr. Phil,” she commented. Swallowing, she took a swig of coffee. “I take it back, Jane. He’s all yours. I’m just here for the waffles.”

Jane shook her head. “How is it possible for you to be respectful, eager, pleasant, insightful and a good cook?”

“It is no great feat,” Thor said.

“Um, yeah,” Jane said. “I think it is.”

Thor shook his head dismissively. “I have a good life,” he said. “I have much to be positive about. You call it optimistic; I see it as a natural reflection of the good things I have been given.”

“Well,” Darcy said. “At least we can be sure that he’s really not from this planet. Because no man talks like that. Except on television and movies, and you know, even then, it’s not so impressive.”

Thor rolled his eyes. “You exaggerate.”

“Not by much,” Jane said. “I mean, every time I think about being down or unhappy, there’s you.”

Thor had to smile at that. It was not a grand commendation. It was not a feast to his greatness. It was not a coronation in his father’s halls.

But he had never felt anything to be more hard won in his life.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” he asked. “More waffles?”

“Mm,” Darcy said around another mouthful. “Yes, please.”

“Jane?” Thor asked.

She shrugged. “Whatever you feel like getting.”

Thor willingly obliged them both.

-o-

Thor had always liked to please people. However, on Asgard, he had enjoyed earning approval with praise and accolades.

On Earth, he preferred to work for the satisfaction of making someone else genuinely happy.

“Now you’re sure you can do it,” Travis said fretfully.

“I have handled animals often in the past,” Thor promised. “Many of which were wild.”

“That’s sort of my concern,” Travis said. “The first day you came in here, you wanted to ride a dog.”

“Or a cat,” Thor said.

Travis looked distressed.

Thor shook his head. “It was a poor joke,” he said, still feeling sheepish for his audacious demands his first few days on Earth. He had been presumptive and vain, and he had caused havoc and insulted people. Though most of the town seemed to have forgotten his eccentric first appearance on Earth, Travis had never been so easily won over. That was what Thor hoped to rectify.

“It wasn’t funny,” Travis said.

Thor drew his eyebrows together gravely. “I have nothing but respect and love for animals,” he said. This much had always been true, it just so happened that house pets were not common on Asgard. Animals were far more utilitarian, and it had struck him as perplexing that goats and sheep were so small on this planet. “Please, I only wish to help.”

With a long suffering sigh, Travis relented. “I do need someone to walk the dogs,” he said.

“Wonderful!” Thor said.

“But to start, just around the block,” Travis said.

“Of course,” Thor agreed. “Whatever you are comfortable with.”

Travis pursed his lips. “One block can’t hurt,” he said, as if to assure him.

“I will take excellent care of them,” Thor promised.

“And no riding?” Travis asked.

“Not in the least,” Thor said. “Though when we get back, if you need help grooming them--”

Travis’ demeanor changed. “Really?”

“I am here to help, Travis,” Thor said. “In any way I can.”

Travis considered this, nodding slowly.

Thor smiled benignly.

He would win over Travis, he had resolved this week, no matter what.

-o-

One block turned into two, and when Thor volunteered to hose the animals down, Travis was only too willing to give Thor that responsibility. Thor was careful to be gentle -- these creatures were small and somewhat more fragile than what he was used to -- but at least that made the chance of incidental injury to his own being somewhat less likely.

“Hush, little one,” Thor soothed to the whiny cocker spaniel as he scrubbed behind its ears. “A little wash is not so bad. I know you do not like the water, but it is good for you.”

The puppy wriggled and whined, looking up at Thor beseechingly.

Thor stroked it in commiseration. “Things will be better,” he promised. “Just wait and see.”

Thor had thought himself quite convincing.

The puppy, however, had other plans.

By the end of the bathing period, Thor was just as wet as the cocker spaniel, but nowhere near as clean. He sighed, picking up the puppy and lifting it to look it square in the eyes.

“You clearly do not know who I am,” he said.

The puppy yipped, licking Thor’s nose.

He laughed, returning the puppy to its pen. “Or maybe you do.”

-o-

It took the better part of a day, but Travis was pleased with Thor’s work. When Thor cleaned out the cages and put the newest puppy’s hair in a small braid on the top of her head, the other man beamed.

“That’s excellent!” Travis said. “You’re welcome back any time!”

Thor inclined his head. “If you ever need anything--”

Travis nodded eagerly. “I’ll know just who to call.”

-o-

Travis did call him, many times in fact. So did everyone else. Though Thor was unfamiliar with many tasks he was asked to complete, he was always willing and eager to learn. He had never been particularly exceptional in his academic studies on Asgard, but he had always flourish with hands on work. That fact combined with the antiquated ways on Earth, and Thor was soon regarded as something of a local legend.

If you need something, just call Thor.

Need something down from your attic? Thor can do it, no problem. Have a heavy box you need lifted? Thor is always more than happy to help -- and he takes payment in fresh lemonade and homemade cookies! Thor could pack a moving truck more efficiently than professional movers. He knew how to tame unruly dogs for a jaunt around town, and he always cleaned up their messes. He knew how to tell if a plant needed more water or if it was in danger of being overly saturated.

A fix-it man. A well rounded citizen. A friend.

It was not quite the same as being the god of thunder, but Thor thought it wasn’t so bad.

-o-

If the rest of his life was becoming a well worn routine, his time with Jane was ever more experimental. Though they conversed much as they always did, Thor quickly understood the nuances of a dating relationship. There was much more to be gained from such a relationship in terms of intimacy, but it also required a lot more to be given as well.

At first, Thor tried the expected Earth customs. Flowers made her smile, and she did like chocolate, but Jane did not seem to respond to these gestures with as much enthusiasm as he might have hoped. Fine dinners were well and good, but even those seemed no more noteworthy than their homemade meals after hours at the lab.

To remedy this problem, he sought advice from his friends.

“Girls want to feel like you’ve gone above and beyond,” Ricky counseled on the construction site. “The more inconvenient and the more expensive, the better.”

“Nah, that flash is just temporary,” Jose countered. “Make it personal. A woman wants to be acknowledged.”

“They want the flash,” Ricky said, smacking his gum while he shook his head. “Or bling. You can’t go wrong with sparkle.”

Thor nodded, very serious. “Flash and sparkle.”

Jose rolled his eyes. “All that will do is get you broke.”

Ricky laughed. “Or laid.”

Jose sighed. “Ignore him, Thor,” he said. “Just think of your relationship as a construction project. You know what you want it to look like, but you need to have the blueprints in order to figure out how to put it together. If you put things together wrong, you compromise the structural integrity.”

“And the whole damn thing comes tumbling down,” Ricky said, making a mock explosion noise. “You know, that explains why I can’t keep a girlfriend for more than two months.”

“That and other things,” Jose said. He nodded at Thor. “So just break it down. Think about what Jane likes. Think about what would be special to her. And that’s where you get the real bang for your buck.”

-o-