?

Log in

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

Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (11/15)

December 30th, 2014 (09:04 am)
gloomy

feeling: gloomy

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




It was not long after when the letter came.

Thor was good about picking up the mail, though he found that he received very little. At first, he had enjoyed the volume of so-called junk mail, reading through each item carefully before Jane had finally convinced him that it was either political propaganda or excessive advertising.

To be fair, Thor did enjoy the coupons to fast food.

It was Jane who was the recipient of most of the mail, and he had long since stopped trying to discern what the items may be. Most of them were from academic institutions or scientific journals. He did his best to weed out the advertisements, of which Jane had no use, to simply supply her with those items which he had come to realize were relevant.

Therefore, when he did not recognize the letter, he did find it curious. It was a heavier weight than most of the letters they received, and it did not appear to be a publication. The high grade postage indicated that it was a more urgent matter, so Thor delivered her the letter with some curiosity.

“Just put it over--” she started, then stopped, actually looking at the letter. “Wait. Is that--?”

Without finishing the ill formed thought, she snatched the letter, ripping it open. Her eyes scanned it quickly, darting back and forth across the lines as her jaw dropped open.

“Hey, what is that?” Darcy asked, leaning over her shoulder. “That looks like Stark Industries.”

“It is,” Jane said, still gaping somewhat.

Darcy turned in earnest now, half leaning on Jane’s shoulder. “Did you just get a letter from Tony Stark?”

“No, no,” Jane said, shaking her head. “It’s better.”

Darcy looked doubtful. “I’m not sure you can do better than Tony Stark--”

“It’s Pepper Potts,” she said. “Who actually runs the thing--”

“So it is from Stark Industries,” Darcy clarified. “Because I really want to try on an Iron Man suit.”

“I did not realize he was involved with academia,” Thor said, hoping to focus Jane’s reading.

“He’s not, directly,” Jane said. “But Stark Industries does a lot with research and development and--”

“--and they want you to present at the expo!” Darcy said, half jumping on Jane now.

“The expo?” Thor asked.

“A technology expo,” Jane said, still reading the letter distractedly. “They showcase the latest technologies; they dream big about the future--”

“It is a big deal?” Thor asked.

Jane laughed. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s sort of the biggest deal. I mean, I know they focus on weapons, but Stark Industries has technologies that could advance the world on a whole bunch of fronts, from energy to communication to--”

“Intergalactic travel,” Darcy said.

Jane looked at her, still in shock.

Darcy grinned. “That’s what they want, isn’t it?”

“They’ve been following my work,” Jane said. “They think if we present, we could get more backing and more funding--”

“Oh, yeah, I’m so getting a raise,” Darcy said.

“That could give you means to expand your lab,” Thor said. “To increase your production.”

“I know!” Jane said. She shook her head in disbelief, looking at the letter again. “It could take my theory and make it a reality.”

“With Tony Stark as a backer, this whole thing will become a much bigger deal,” Darcy said. “I mean, the press coverage alone. You’ll be doing interviews--”

“It could all happen,” Jane said. She stopped, shaking her head and laughing again. “This could be it. This could make everything happen.”

She looked at Thor, the depths of her passion unmatched. Thor was used to seeing Jane full of wonder and curiosity. He found her pursuit of knowledge and her insatiable curiosity to be among her most noteworthy traits.

But this was different somehow. This was more than the potential.

This was the realization.

It was familiar, Thor realized, because he had seen it in himself more than once. It was the settled assurance of success. It was the long waited promise of triumph. It was the touch of greatness that few experienced in life.

And in that moment, Thor saw something else as well. He saw a life where Jane was too busy for nights on the roof. He saw a reality where she was too important to stay in a small New Mexico town with her boyfriend who worked construction. He saw a world where she achieved greatness.

A world where Thor would not.

The suddenness of this doubt, the depth of the unknown -- it came stark and unbidden. It was insecurity, of course. A very human emotion, born of his humility. But there was a darkness to it now; a desperation.

For Thor did not know how he would bear to part with her.

Yet he knew it was not a choice for him to make.

No, the only choice Thor could make would be to support her, no matter what. This life was no longer about him. It was her success he craved, at any cost.

If this was a test, he would pass.

Smiling broadly, he placed a hand on her shoulder. “This is good news then!” Thor said. “Come. We should celebrate!”

Jane let out a breath. “I...I have to get started,” she said. “I have to contact Stark Industries and start working on a presentation.”

Darcy perused the letter again. She swore. “This thing is in three weeks?”

Running a hand through her hair, Jane turned nervously back toward her lab. “Maybe this won’t work--”

“Nonsense,” Thor said. “We will do it together. Why don’t you make the phone call, and Darcy will start finishing the paperwork from today’s research.”

Darcy frowned petulantly. “What about you?”

“I will make dinner,” Thor said. “Unless you object to chili?”

“Carry on, ye god of thunder,” Darcy said dutifully. “Carry on.”

Jane squeezed his fingers, standing on her toes to kiss him. “Thank you.”

“You’re the one who has done all the work to earn this,” he pointed out.

“Yeah,” she said. “Still.”

He bent, kissing her back, because her gratitude was not hard to see. Even if sometimes he did not understand it, he would not take it -- or her -- for granted. “Still.”

-o-

For two days, there was nothing but excitement. As soon as Jane formally accepted the invitation, more letters arrived with information about the presentation and the conference. Jane made frequent phone calls, filling out copious amounts of paperwork while she shuttled Darcy about the lab to find the necessary papers. In her spare time, of which there was nearly none, she set to working on a model and miniature scaled prototype, while relaying the necessary data to Darcy to make a power point presentation.

Thor, of course, did what he could. He supplied coffee and made meals. He kept things organized, and tried to find ways to make Jane laugh. He kept Darcy’s iPod charged and did his best to ensure that Jane remained properly hydrated while she worked.

It was exciting. So much activity. Seeing Jane so engaged. The air of anticipation was enlivening, her enthusiasm nearly contagious.

And then the travel arrangements were mailed.

Darcy whistled as she looked at them. “First class!” she said. “They’re actually flying us first class.

“Well, they offered a private jet, but I didn’t think--”

Darcy scoffed. “Of course you didn’t.”

Jane glared at her. “First class is more than generous.”

“I’m not going to complain,” Darcy said, settling her shoulders primly. “As long as you promise me that while we are not presenting, I am free to mingle.”

“It’s a scientific expo,” Jane said.

“And Tony Stark is a millionaire with amazing taste,” Darcy said. “Besides, I am well overdue for a vacation.”

“It’s not a vacation,” Jane said.

“It’s a first class, all expenses paid trip to California,” Darcy said. “I’m calling it a vacation.”

Thor, who was busy doing the dishes, turned at that. “California?”

“Yeah, that’s where it’s at,” Darcy said. “A week on the beach.”

“A week?” Thor asked.

Jane looked at him, as if she realized something for the first time. “Oh, Thor,” she said. “I really should have mentioned this part earlier.”

“Mentioned what?”

“We’ll be gone for a week,” she said. “Darcy and I. We’ll be gone for a week for the expo.”

Thor blinked a few times. This was not exactly surprising. He had known the expo was an extended event, but he hadn’t truly thought about the immediate implications.

The thought of Jane and Darcy both being gone.

For a week.

“You know,” Jane said, coming closer to him. “I could buy you a ticket.”

“Dude, just ask for another one,” Darcy said. “They can afford it--”

“We’ll work something out--”

Thor shook his head, almost too surprised to realize the full extent of what was happening. It was not merely the fact that he’d be alone. True, this did cause him some trepidation. For all the times he had ventured into the unknown fearlessly, he had grown quite attached to Jane Foster. He knew he could live a life without her, but he had never wanted to, and that desire was a presumable difference.

Even so, a week was a small amount of time. Thor could cook and clean and fully manage all household affairs. Moreover, he had friends and hobbies and really, it might be nice to have some time to himself.

No, it was not that. And it was not even the lapse in telling him this in the first place. In the excitement, it would be an easy detail to overlook. Whereas Thor had once been the center of his own universe, he now readily accepted that this was no longer the case. This wasn’t about him, not in the least.

But that look on Jane’s face.

It was pity.

She was pitying Thor.

He had lived for centuries. He had been victorious in all realms. He had once been destined to be the king of Asgard.

And Jane Foster pitied him.

Thor had learned humility. He had accepted his fate, embraced it even.

But he was not a man devoid of pride.

Straightening, he shook his head. “That will not be necessary,” he said, trying neither to sound brusque nor offended. “I will be quite all right--”

Jane stepped closer to him, even more sympathetically. “Thor, I should have thought--”

He pulled back just slightly, out of a reflex he’d forgotten that he had. “Please, Jane,” he said. “I am not a child that I need a babysitter--”

“I know that, I--”

“I mean what I say,” Thor said, gazing at her intently. “I am very happy for you, but you need not worry about me.”

Jane closed her mouth, appearing somewhat uncertain. “I just...I mean, I’d love for you to come.”

“You forget,” Thor said. “I also have a job. One that requires my presence here.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” Jane hedged.

“I am most certain,” Thor declared, refusing to be cowed any longer by these implications. “Now. Tell me more of this first class.”

-o-

Jane and Darcy were not slated to leave for several weeks, but there were times when it seemed like they were already gone. Jane was preoccupied by her work under normal circumstances, but with the deadline in front of her, she was wholly consumed. Darcy, though she could be temperamental as an assistant, prove her mettle. They were often both still working when Thor came home at night, and they pored over their work at the breakfast table while still in their pajamas. Darcy took to sleeping on the couch full time, and there were some nights Thor heard them still talking while he went to bed.

Thor did what he could, of course. Just as he always had. He used his spare time to catch up on some reading, and he finished another of Shakespeare’s plays before reading through the strange diction of William Faulkner. He listened to the complete symphonies of Mozart while mastering another book of Sudoku. When he was bored still, he took to sketching, and though art had never been a particular talent of his, he found that he liked to draw scenes of nature, with dark skies and ominous clouds.

He kept himself occupied and upbeat and readily available should they need anything. He lingered hopefully, taking simple pleasure in being near them both. He laid in his bed at night, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the sound of their voices like a reassuring whisper as he slipped off to sleep.

-o-

At work, his friends congratulated him on the time off.

“A week, man? You better take that while you can,” Ricky said over lunch one day. “A week with the toilet seat up and dirty dishes in the sink, no one harping at me. Thank you, please.”

“Why would you leave the toilet seat up?” Thor asked. “If it belongs down--”

Ricky snorted with a giggle. “You are whipped.”

“He’s respectful,” Jose said. “There’s a difference, not that you would know it.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Ricky said. “The point is, this is a win-win for you. You get to play the good boyfriend by letting her go off and do her thing, plus you get out of any and all responsibilities while she’s gone. And she’ll be grateful when she gets back, if you know what I mean.”

Thor chewed for a moment, swallowing a bit of his sandwich. “Your insinuation is that I should be focused on what I get out of this.”

Ricky rolled his eyes. “My insinuation is that this is a good thing,” he said. “Really.”

Jose shrugged diplomatically. “A little break is good now and then,” he agreed. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder and all.”

Considering this, Thor ate another bite. “I suppose there could be some gains.”

“You’ll be fine,” Jose said, smiling with assurance. “And hey, if you need anything, just call. We’d be happy to have you over for dinner.”

“Dude, this should be a bachelor’s week,” Ricky said. “Just buy some beer, put the pizza delivery on speed dial, and you’re good to go.”

Jose shook his head with an exasperated chuckled. “And why would he want advice from you?”

“Better than you,” Ricky said. “Married and used up. It’s pathetic, man. Everyone knows that.”

“It’s only a week,” Jose said, both to Ricky and to Thor. He smiled. “You can survive a week.”

-o-

“Oh, you poor, poor dear,” Martha at the diner said. “A week all by your lonesome? That hardly seems fair.”

Thor smiled kindly. “I assure you, it is no big deal.”

“Of course it is!” Martha cried. “A week without anyone around. I can’t even imagine.”

“I will be quite well--”

But Martha shook her head. “You will just have to come in for your meals,” she said. “And don’t worry about the cost at all, please. And I can make you one of those cakes you like, all for yourself.”

“Well,” Thor said. “I do love your cakes.”

“That’s settled then!” Martha said. “The cake and some meat loaf. And maybe chicken pot pie, doesn’t that sound nice?”

Thor laughed. “Martha, your cooking is exquisite and your offer is very generous, but I am quite a capable cook. I do most of such chores for Jane and Darcy--”

She smiled sweetly at him. “I’m sure you do, dear,” she said. “But it’s different on your own.”

“It is only for one week,” Thor reminded her.

“One week that we will all make sure you are well cared for,” Martha promised him. “You just call me. Or you come down here. Any time, dear. Any time at all.”

Thor finished counting his change, laying out a generous tip on the counter. “You are far too kind, Martha.”

She reached out, patting his hand warmly. “Funny,” she said. “Because we’d all say the same about you.”

-o-

The advice, though superfluous, did make Thor feel better. It was a reminder, at the very least, that he was not as dependent on Jane as he might think. Yes, Jane was the primary factor in his life, but without her, he certainly was not alone. He had an entire network of friends, and though Thor knew that humans were prone to offer things they did not always wish to follow through with, he did not doubt that if he truly needed something, he would have assistance.

Maybe this was a good thing, even. To remind Thor that he was not so needy or lowly as he sometimes thought. In this humble life, Thor sometimes forgot all that he had accomplished.

He was Thor.

His trip to Jotunheim had been ill advised and poorly executed, but he could not forget – he would not forget -- that he had lived hundreds of years with countless successes.

He would learn his fallibility, but he did not need to succumb to crippling doubt. He could still achieve greatness in his own time and in his own way. Devotion did not need to be the end of him. He had built a life around Jane, but it had become more than that.

He was more than he had been that night he’d first been banished to Earth.

Thor would never be the god of thunder again, but that did not mean he could only be Jane Foster’s boyfriend. His identity was more than that, and it could be greater still.

He just had to remember what it was to be self assured, to be independent, to be confident.

He had to remember what it was to be Thor.

And it seemed like there was no better time for that than now.

-o-

As the weeks passed, Thor convinced himself all would be fine. The helpful chorus of support from his friends certainly did help the matter, and he found Jane’s concern to be both exasperating and endearing. Indeed, it was nice to think for once that he meant as much to her as she did to him, but her behavior was coming dangerously close to coddling.

Even if Thor would miss Jane, he did not need to be coddled.

“Maybe you could still get time off,” Jane said while she finished packing the afternoon before her scheduled departure. “I know we can get you a room--”

Thor sighed. “I do most of the household chores as it is,” he reminded her, not for the first time. “I have no reason to suspect I will suddenly become incapable should he be gone.”

She folded another pair of pants, shaking her head. “It’s not that.”

“Then what?” he asked.

She stopped, looking up at him. “It’s just different to be alone,” she said. “Even when it’s good and even when it’s healthy, sometimes it’s hard to be alone.”

“I will hardly be alone,” Thor said.

“That’s not the same thing,” she said, pulling a few undergarments from her drawers and putting them in her suitcase.

“And how is it so much different?”

Jane stopped again, inhaling deeply. “When I broke up with Donald, I knew it was the best thing for me,” she said. “There was never any doubt about that, but when the dust finally settled, when I was finally alone, it was still hard.”

She was trying hard, and Thor recognized her vulnerability for what it was. The ability to express doubt or uncertainty was very important on Earth, and Thor had learned to both embrace the weaknesses in others and to not shy away from his own.

Even so, he could not help but think her concern was misplaced this time. “You will only be gone for a week,” he said again.

She crossed closer to him. “And we’ve never been apart for more than two nights, max,” she said. “It’s different.

He reached out, placing two steady hands on her shoulders. “Maybe this time, different will be better,” he said.

Holding his gaze, her expression tightened for a moment. When she smiled, there was something bittersweet in the fondness. “Even so,” she said. “I want you to know that I wish you could be there.”

“Even so,” he said, leaning forward to press a kiss to her forehead. “I will be here when you get back.”

-o-

Thor had planned a comfortable evening for the two of them, since Darcy had insisted on having the day off to finish her own packing. He had hoped that with Jane’s impending departure, she might have time to spare for something a bit more romantic, but those hopes were quickly dashed.

After packing, Jane still had to finish loading up her gear and due to a mishap with the transportation company, she spent the better part of the evening on the phone. When she was done with that, she fretted over her presentation until Thor offered to listen to it -- again -- before assuring her in so many words that it was brilliant.

As it was, Thor ate dinner alone and enjoyed the better portion of two dozen cookies for himself while she finished the final touches on her work. He waited for her hopefully, but found himself dozing before too long until he came to with a start and realized that quiet had finally prevailed.

Sitting up, he blinked. The lab was dim, save for a lone light across the way. Jane’s work station was vacant, and her bags were by the door.

On his feet, he saw that she had eaten several cookies. Glancing out across the way, he could see no sign that she had retreated to her trailer. He looked at the clock --it was a little past one in the morning -- which meant that Jane probably should be asleep.

But, knowing how anxious Jane was for tomorrow, Thor had a feeling that he knew just where to find her.

-o-

As he climbed the stairs to the roof, he realized just how long it had been. In the beginning -- indeed, for much of his first year on Earth -- their time on the roof had been a near nightly occurrence. But with time, they had had less time together in this manner. It was the natural way of things, Thor supposed. With Jane’s increasingly demanding schedule and with the way they had settled so naturally into their time together.

He hadn’t even thought to miss it, at least not until he got up to the top and saw her.

She was amazing, his Jane Foster. And he knew it was presumptuous to even think that way. Not that there was any doubt as to her beauty, but that she was his. Thor had once controlled the forces of nature, so perhaps it was natural for him to think he had such power still, but Jane Foster was unpredictable like a thunderstorm. True, she did not rage like thunder, but the light in her eyes flashed like lightning, and her mind worked like a deluge, until all else was drowned out.

He was still enthralled by that, even after all this time.

But he had never controlled it.

No, now all he could do was stand back and appreciate it, hoping to stand close enough to reap the benefits.

She looked back from where she was seated around the small fire. “Hey!” she said. “I was going to ask you up here, but you looked so comfortable--”

He walked over to her, sitting down in the seat next to her. “I feel bad that I dozed off unexpectedly,” he said. “I intended to stay awake for you.”

She knitted her brows together apologetically. “I’m sorry I got so busy,” she said. “This whole thing just got away from me--”

“You don’t need to explain,” he said gently. “I understand.”

“I know you do,” she said. She laughed, turning her eyes back to the sky. “I honestly don’t know why or how, but I know you do.”

Thor followed her gaze, looking vaguely at the expanse of stars. “I had thought maybe you were tired of being up here,” he said, giving her another look. “It seems as though we no longer meet in this manner.”

“Oh, I know,” she said. “But that’s not by choice. Things just get so busy. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what it’s all about.”

Thor nodded, watching her as discreetly as he could. “The stars?” he prompted.

She looked at him, a little surprised. “Yeah,” she said. She nodded back up at the sky again. “I mean, all the things I’ve managed to accomplish, and this is what it is still all about.”

He sat back thoughtfully. “You have charted them all,” he said. “You know them each. Do you not grow weary of seeing the same things?”

“I see the same things, but not in the same way,” she said. “The more I look, the more I think about what I don’t know.”

“And is that not worse?” Thor asked. “Seeing the problems you can’t solve.”

“Just because I haven’t solved them doesn’t mean they can’t be solved,” she said. “It’s not even that they’re problems. No, it’s like...they’re opportunities, you know? I look up and I see the things we might discover.”

She sighs contentedly, gaze still turned upward.

“Everything I accomplish just seems to pale in comparison,” she said with a small shrug. “Because when I think about what there is still to learn…”

She trailed off for a moment before looking at him.

“I just have to keep my eyes fixed on what matters,” she said. “No matter what happens, I have to stay focused on that. You know?”

Thor didn’t completely understand her passion for the stars. Nor would he ever be so truly infatuated by science.

But, watching her look up, he still knew exactly what she was talking about. Because, all bravado aside, she was still the thing that had turned his exile into something different entirely. He could not be so conceited, after all. Not when he still owed her more than he would probably ever be able to repay.

Not when he loved her the way he did.

“Yes,” he said, drawing closer to her. “I think I do.”

She leaned into him as he settled an arm around her shoulders. He rubbed a hand over her shoulder, pressing his nose into her hair for a moment. They stayed tucked together for a while longer still, Jane with her eyes up to the stars.

And Thor, as always, with his eyes on her.

-o-

Thor was up early in the morning, making coffee and breakfast. Darcy, for once, was prompt on her arrival, with a whole host of bags behind her.

“It’s only a week!” Jane said, looking somewhat concerned.

“Uh, I know,” Darcy said. “I was going to bring more.”

Jane made a face. “What do you think we’re going to be doing there?”

“You, I’m sure, are going to be doing something very science and boring,” she said. “I, on the other hand, intend to make friends with millionaires. Lots of them.”

“Darcy, this is a technology event,” she said.

“That’s just what we’re telling Thor, right?”

Jane groaned.

Thor ate a pancake almost in a single bite. “I trust both of you will have a fantastic time.”

Jane looked uneasy. “I’m not so sure--”

Darcy started to protest, but Thor leaned forward, resting a reassuring hand on Jane’s shoulder. “Please, Jane,” he said. “You’re going to have a great time.”

“But I feel like you should be coming,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gotten this far if not for you.”

“Of course you would have,” Thor said. “Perhaps even further, had I had preoccupied so much of your attention.”

“It’s not like that,” Jane said.

“Isn’t it?” Thor asked.

“Everything changed that night,” Jane said. “For all of us.”

“And two years later, here we are,” Thor said, smiling grandly.

Jane collected a breath and then smiled herself. “Here we are.”

Thor patted her fingers one last time. “Trust me,” he said. “Everything will be fine.”

She held his gaze, nodding faintly as he willed her to agree.

“Good,” he said, getting to his feet again. “Now, who would like more eggs?”

-o-

Thor had offered to take them to the airport -- that was a thing, he had learned, that loved ones did for one another, and he had been quite fond of the idea -- but apparently the Stark Expo was a big deal. They were sending a car.

That had seemed nice.

Except the car that arrived was nothing short of a limousine.

Granted, at first glance, the large vehicle was actually somewhat unimpressive to Thor. The long body was sleek, but it was still a primitive automobile with extra amenities. On Asgard, Thor had been used to golden chariots with intricate carvings.

Although he had been told that limousines had a mini bar inside, which Thor thought was a fascinating idea. With the private interior, Thor imagined riding in such a vehicle would indeed have some perks that even a man accustomed to Asgardian decadence could appreciate.

Suddenly, the nice idea made Thor feel relatively small.

“Seriously,” Jane explained to the driver. “There must be some mistake.”

“No, Dr. Foster,” the driver assured her. “Mr. Stark believes in treating his high level guests with the utmost care.”

“But I was literally a last minute substitution,” Jane protested.

“Not that we’re complaining,” Darcy said, bouncing on her feet a bit while she gazed longingly at the limo. “Jane is kind of a big deal.”


Jane shook her head. “That’s not the point--”

The driver smiled politely. “I assure you, Dr. Foster,” he said. “Mr. Stark insists on showing you the respect and comfort you deserve. He looks forward to hearing all about your ideas, and he is grateful that you have chosen this venue to share your work on a wider platform.”

Jane gaped for a moment. “I -- um--”

Darcy slipped by her. “Well, you can tell Mr. Stark that he is very, very welcome,” she said, ducking into the open door.

The driver inclined his head, holding his hand open as a gesture to Jane to follow suit.

Jane closed her mouth, clearly frazzled. Thor came closer to her, slipping a hand around her waist. “It is a thoughtful gesture,” he said. “And one you clearly deserve.”

She glanced up at him, almost nervous. “This is about the science.”

“Jane,” Thor said patiently. “Science or not, your work is a form of greatness. Enjoy the honor when it is bestowed upon you.”

“I just…,” Jane started, but trailed off. “It’s just hard to think of it being at that point, I guess. This isn’t something that ever just ends. There’s always more to do.”

“All the more reason to stop and take a moment while you can,” Thor said. “It is one car ride.”

Jane looked longingly at the awaiting limo.

Bending down, Thor kissed her. “Go,” he said. “Before Darcy drinks all the complimentary beverages.”

From inside, Darcy called, “I heard that!”

Jane rolled her eyes. She looked at Thor. “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She nodded. “I’ll call you, okay?”

“Just have a good time,” he said.

She stood on her toes, kissing him again. “Feel free to call!”

He waved at her as she climbed inside. “Enjoy yourself!”

The driver closed the door, loading up the bags. He nodded to Thor before getting inside himself. Thor stood on the sidewalk, and though he could not see through the tinted windows, he waved anyway.

Then he stood, watching as the limo pulled out and down the street. He stood there until it turned a corner and the faintest sounds of its ignition were gone.

Alone, he sighed, turning back toward the lab.

A week, he reminded himself.

It was just a week.

-o-

Thor still had much to do. He readied himself and went to work, checking his phone with a smile when he got word from Jane that they had landed safely. He discussed matters with his coworkers before returning home. He considered a quiet meal, but his presence had been insisted upon at the diner, and Thor was not one to disappoint.

Dinner turned into dessert, which turned into coffee. He stayed until late in the evening, and before heading home, he volunteered to help with some of the stocking in back. Back at the lab, he tidied up briefly, though without Jane or Darcy present, he found that there was far less work to do. With his spare time, he watched a little TV before settling down with a book in bed.

The next day, Jose had invited him over after work. Ricky took him out for drinks the following day. He fielded texts from Jane and talked to her each night, listening to her go on about the people she’d met and the things she’d seen.

“How are things with you?” she asked, after sharing her meeting with Pepper Potts. “Everything going okay?”

“Everything is fine,” Thor said, filling in a few more squares of his Suduko puzzle..

“Not too lonely?” Jane asked. “The lab can get a little creepy when it’s too quiet.”

Thor chuckled. “Not in the least,” he said. “I have spent a great deal of time out with friends.”

“That’s good,” Jane said. “I just worry about you there.”

“You have no need,” Thor said. “Truly, I have been having a wonderful time. Plus it is quite nice to be able to watch the sporting events as loudly and as long as I like without you or Darcy complaining.”

“I’m not that bad,” Jane protested.

“Do we really wish to argue this point?” Thor asked wryly.

“Okay, fine,” Jane relented. “I’m glad there are some perks then.”

“I tell you honestly,” Thor said. “I haven’t had much cause to miss you at all.”

“Well, then,” Jane said. “Way to make a girl feel loved.”

“That is not what I meant--”

“I know, I know,” Jane replied. “But seriously, I’m glad things are going okay.”

“There was never any doubt,” Thor said, doodling in the margin of his Sudoku book. “I have been more concerned with you. Do you think you will meet Tony Stark? The Iron Man?”

“I don’t know!” Jane said. “Ms. Potts made it sound like a possibility, but he’s got so much to do--”

“He should have more than enough time for you,” Thor said resolutely, drawing a line of stick figure warriors, each more astute than the last.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jane started.

“I do,” Thor interjected, putting his pencil down. “Unequivocally.”

“You may be a little biased,” Jane said.

“Why? Because I recognize your astute brilliance and choose to acknowledge all that you have to offer this planet?”

“Because you’re my boyfriend.”

“Ah,” Thor said, picking up the pencil again. “Of that, I am most definitely guilty, though I fail to see your point.”

Jane laughed. “I miss you.”

“And I you,” Thor said.

“Just a few more days,” Jane added, trying to buoy some enthusiasm into her tone.

“Please,” Thor said. “Do not worry about me.”

“It’s not the same without you,” she said. “I miss you.”

Thoughtful, Thor put the pencil down, sitting up a little straighter. “Where are you?”

“On the bed,” Jane said. “Darcy just stepped out--”

“Can you get to the window?”

“Um, I guess--”

Thor was on his feet, crossing across the room. He opened the back door, stepping out into the cool night. “Go to the window,” he said.

There was a rustling over the line. “Okay, okay, I’m at the window.”

“Now,” Thor said. “What do you see?”

“Um, buildings,” Jane said. “The skyline--”

“No,” Thor said. “Look up. And tell me what you see.”

There was a pause. “The stars,” Jane said. “I see the stars.”

“As do I,” Thor said, staring up at the glittering expanse. “We may be far apart, but we still share this, Jane. Just as we always do.”

It was quiet for a moment, and even over the phone, he could hear her breathing. “You should be here, Thor,” she said finally.

“Just look up,” he said, as reverent as a promise. “And I always am.”

-o-

For most of the week, Thor kept himself quite busy. Between his work and tending the lab, there was still plenty to preoccupy him, and with the forward thinking of his friends, he was not wanting for attention. He missed Jane and Darcy, to be most certain, but he felt a certain satisfaction in managing the affairs on his own.

All this time he had spent on Earth, and he was just now realizing he could stand on his own two feet. He was much indebted to Jane, but there was no doubt in his mind, he could survive in this existence without her. He was no longer a warrior, but neither was he so cowed by the fight.

It was a different kind of confidence. One that grew from actual worth.

He did not need a hammer to tell that to him.

Not when it was a truth he knew, deep inside.

His father had punished him not for pride, but for self indulgent ego. His father had punished him not for failure, but for poor decisions.

This was no longer the case.

Nor would it ever be again.

-o-

With his confidence at a new found high, Thor tackled ever more ambitious tasks. He started to study plumbing; he took up jogging. He learned to cook Indian food, and he fixed a hole in his favorite t-shirt all by himself. He waved to SHIELD’s operative, and taught himself how to improve his vocal range. He tried line dancing and mastered several more tenses in Spanish.

And then he applied for a management position at work.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Jane asked.

Thor would only laugh as he reassured her once again.

-o-

All was well.

In anticipation of Jane’s return, Thor had scrubbed the floors and installed two new filing cabinets to fit the work that Jane had overflowing from her current storage solutions. He was contemplating adding a new coat of paint to the walls, just to brighten things up, when he got the call.

He recognized it immediately, since he had Jane’s number set to a special ringer.

“Jane!” he said when he answered. “I did not expect to hear from you until later--”

“I--” Jane started. “Thor, hi.”

Even without seeing her, he still knew the sound of her voice. There was something different, something just slightly off. There was no hint of peril, but the anxiety was plain. He put down his paint swatches and looked up in concern. “Is everything all right?”

“What?” she asked, far too quickly. “Yes, of course. I mean, yes. Everything’s fine.”

It was not a lie -- at least not exactly. But Jane was keeping something from him. “Jane,” he said. “Something is troubling you. Did your final presentation go well?”

“Yes,” she said, and in that she sounded more than a little certain. “It went great, actually. Really, really good.”

“That is excellent!” he said, turning back toward her lab space fondness. “I had no doubts.”

“It went better than I thought possible,” she admitted. “And I mean, Stark was there--”

“Tony Stark?” Thor asked. “The Iron Man?”

“Yeah,” Jane said. “And he thought my theory could work. Like, really.”

“Well, of course he did,” Thor said. “Your work is brilliant.”

“Thor,” Jane said, her voice sounding funny. “I--”

Thor cocked his head. “What is it?”

“Stark didn’t just think it could work,” she said. “He wants to give me the resources to build a prototype. He wants to take my theory and turn it into a reality.”

Thor stopped. “Jane--” he started.

“I told him that I’d have to work from Puente Antiguo, of course,” she said, all in a rush now. “And he agreed, like, completely. He’ll double my grant money, and we’ll be able to expand and hire more staff, and if all goes well, we should have a working prototype within a year.”

In disbelief, Thor laughed. “That is excellent news!” he said. “You must be--”

“But I have to help get it started,” Jane cut him off, voice wavering a little now. “I mean, there’s paperwork and legalese, and we have to establish a working branch at Stark Industries in Southern California--”

“Jane,” Thor said. “I don’t understand--”

“Which means I have to stay here,” she blurted. “Just for a little longer. I have to stay here.”

The words were clear enough, and their meaning was not ambiguous. And yet, as Thor stood alone in the lab, he found himself struggling with Jane’s intentions.

“It’d be another two weeks,” Jane said, trying to sound upbeat. “Maybe a month.”

“You have to stay,” Thor said. “You’re going to stay in Southern California.”

“Not for long,” Jane reiterated. “Just long enough to get this started, and then I’m coming home, I swear.”

Thor frowned, turning the other way. A week, he had told himself. A week had not been so bad.

What was another week after that?

And another?

What of Thor’s confidence? Was it not more than bravado? Was he not still the same person as he was this morning? Competent and calm and happy?

Over the line, Jane’s breathing tightened. “Thor?”

“Of course,” he said, somehow finding the words. “You should of course stay.”

“It’s not permanent,” she said. “And, I mean, I could fly back to visit soon or buy you a ticket to visit--”

“Jane,” he said, somehow finding the willpower for a diffident laugh. “Your work is very important. This opportunity is one that must be pursued. You hardly have time for visitors--”

“But I miss you already,” she said.

“And you will see me when you get back,” he said. “And we will continue to talk. Everything will be fine.”

“I don’t know, Thor,” she said. “This all happened so fast. I mean, I was giving my presentation, and then Tony Stark was talking about making it happen, and then I was meeting with Pepper Potts, and I don’t know what happened.”

“I know exactly what happened,” Thor said. “You spoke your mind. You shared your ideas. And I am not at all surprised that others wanted to invest themselves in you.”

“You’re being so understanding,” she said. “I’m a horrible girlfriend, and you’re being so understanding.

He smiled. “Did I not tell you?” he said. “That I could not give you the stars, but that I would stand with you until you discovered them for yourself?”

“Yeah,” she said, her voice small.

“And this is it,” he said. “This is your opportunity.”

She drew a breath and let it out heavily. “Two weeks,” she said with finality. “I’m coming home in two weeks.”

“And I will be here,” he said. “Ready to welcome you back with open arms.”

-o-

Nothing had changed.

Jane was coming home, just a little later than he had anticipated. He still had his work, and he still had his friends. He still talked to Jane each night and exchanged texts with Darcy.

And he had projects to do.

He mastered the subjunctive tense in Spanish. He finished Titus Andronicus. He listened to an entire opera. He painted the lab.

It was all very good.

Thor told everyone who asked.

And most of the time, he believed it was true.

-o-

Still, there were moments. When he set to make breakfast and only had to crack four eggs. When he wanted to make meatloaf but could not see the point in feeding only himself. When he had voicemail messages from all his friends, but all he could do was think of bar hopping with Darcy.

When he lay awake at night, missing the sound of her voice, the feel of her hair, the touch of her hand on his face.

He was Thor.

He was worthy.

He was strong and confident and capable.

None of these things, though, were the things that mattered. Because Thor could be all that and more, but he was also lonely.

Cast out, rejected, left behind: it mattered not the means.

Just the end.

Where Thor stood alone.

-o-

One week became two.

Thor stopped doing the dishes every night, for there seemed to be little point. He found he could not do laundry for days at a time and there was no one to know. He did not get dressed on Saturdays, and he had not put the furniture back in place after finishing painting the lab.

Two weeks became three.

He declined invitations out with his friends, and thanked Martha for her generosity but could barely finish her baked goods, no matter how many she gave him. He even started to leave the toilet seat up, and braided his hair to avoid caring for it as meticulously as he once had.

After a month, Jane sighed on the phone. “I have a plane ticket for next week,” she said. “I swear. No matter what Stark says, I’m coming home.”

Thor closed his eyes and worked to control his breathing.

“Do you hear me, Thor?” she asked. “I’m coming home.”

He managed a thin, watery smile. “That is good news,” he said. “Very good news.”

-o-

Though Thor made himself a good dinner, he found himself to be lacking in appetite. He tried watching a game on television, but was too distracted to enjoy it. He sat listlessly with a book in his lap, but when he found that he had read the same page half a dozen times, he gave up.

Thor gave up on everything.

It was not that his confidence was wavering, for he was entirely self sufficient. But there was more to life than a series of task. His worth was more than a list of accomplishments. If his value was not determined by circumstance, then at the very least his happiness was.

Feeling vacant, Thor retreated to the one place he had avoided this entire time. On the roof, the night was clear with stars standing countless against the inky night.

Though he had spent much time up here, it had been quite some months since he had truly looked. He had long since shared all his knowledge with Jane, and though she liked to speculate on the farthest reaches of all the realms, he had been so preoccupied with her to look up with her.

That was not entirely the truth, however. Indeed, Thor did prefer to spend his time focused on Jane, but he also saw no need to look up for what it represented. For Jane, it was possibility. For Thor, it was loss.

Tonight, however, Thor looked up.

And he saw.

He saw the stars and the galaxies. But he saw more than that.

There, he thought, were the warriors three. Volstagg was laughing, one of his children perched upon his knee. As for Fandral, he nursed a drink, guiding a beautiful woman by his side. Hogun was training studiously, looking chagrined at the exploits of his comrades. Sif, though, outdid them all, moving seamlessly between her armor and her elegant dress, eyes still turned out as if waiting for Thor to return.

And what of Loki? Had he flourished in Thor’s absence? Had he taken his place as the crowned prince, to be most beloved by the people? Had they finally seen what Thor had known all along, that Loki was smart and capable and clever, that his magic was an asset and not a weakness.

He wondered if his mother still grieved, if his father ever looked down in regret. Did Heimdall report back all that Thor had done or did the guard turn his eye from Thor as well? Was he well and truly alone in his exile?

Though, he had to reflect, if any of that were even possible. It could just as easily be that there was no time to reflect; that there was no ability to look back. The warriors three could be dispatched to the front lines, risking their lives for Thor’s mistakes. And Sif, the noblest warrior of them all, would not rest until all threats were vanquished, even if it cost her her life.

It was impossible to say the toll this would take on Loki. He had never been keen on battle, not like Thor was, but that was not to assume he performed poorly. No, in the heat of conflict, Thor trusted his brother more than all the rest. Loki’s cunning could end a battle before it started.

Indeed, it probably should have, if not for Thor’s impulsive nature.

The prolonged conflict, however. If it lingered still. It would weigh on Loki’s soul, and there would be no one to serve as his counsel. Would Loki find a better confidante? Would Loki turn the dark into golden sun before this cruel hour was over?

How many of Asgard’s best would fall? Would his father march off to war and leave his wife worried in his stead? What would happen to Thor’s people? Would the ice of Jotunheim threaten to freeze the sun-lit halls of Odin’s palace?

What horror had Thor unleashed? What legacy had Thor created? Would they remember him at all?

These thoughts were not new, but he had not allowed himself to dwell on them. Alone, though, he found himself unable to keep them at bay. For in the stars, Thor could only imagine the destruction he’d left, for his people, for his friends, for his family.

For the galaxy.

And what of him? What of Thor? So small and forgotten? Exiled and lost? What right did he have to even wonder of such things? What vanity did he assume to think he mattered now at all? Whatever Loki and the rest were doing, it was no business of Thor’s. Asgard’s fate, while his fault, was no longer his responsibility for it was not his home.

Thor was not going to return.

Not in a year, not in two years. Not in three or five or ten or twenty. Not in all the years of his now fleeting life.

This was home.

This was home.

A small, overlooked planet, full of small, overlooked people.

Thor was not here to rule or conquer. He was not here to defend or protect.

He was here to live.

To build relationships with people; to build a career. To build a life.

It was ironic, then, that Thor had always been gifted with the most powerful hammer in all the realms. He could use it now, to build himself a home.

It was no matter, however.

Because Thor was more than a hammer.

And he was going to prove it.

-o-

Thor did not sleep that night.

Nor did he sleep much the night after that or the night after that. He was no longer listless, however. His mind was consumed now, every free moment preoccupied. He was nearly distracted at work, so consumed that he barely managed to be conversational at the diner. He worked out twice as long as he intended some mornings, so lost in thought as he was.

When Jane called each night, he was glad to hear her voice, even if keeping secrets was difficult for him.

“You sound different,” Jane finally said.

“To the contrary,” Thor said. “Everything is very much the same.”

Jane laughed, as if she couldn’t quite come up with an argument to that even if she wanted to. “Well, I’ll be home tomorrow.”

“And you’re sure I cannot meet you at the airport?” Thor asked.

“No,” Jane said. “Stark’s got another driver for us. I was going to say no, but Darcy begged--”

“Well, you wouldn’t want to disappoint Darcy,” Thor agreed.

“I think she would stay here, if I wanted to,” Jane said. “I’m a little surprised she’s actually willing to go back.”

“Darcy may speak ill of Puente Antiguo and her job with you, but I think time has proven her to be a loyal ally,” Thor mused.

“Yeah, you didn’t see her here,” Jane said.

“But I will see you both tomorrow, will I not?” Thor asked.

“You will,” Jane said. “You definitely, definitely will. I can’t even believe it’s been a month.”

“This was important to you,” Thor said.

“It was better than I could have imagined,” Jane said. “I just -- it’s not the same without you. I miss you. A lot.”

Thor smiled. “And I, you,” he said. “Now, really, you should get some rest.”

Jane groaned. “But I want to see you now.”

“The sooner you sleep, the sooner it will seem that you are home,” Thor lectured her patiently.

“Maybe I can get an earlier flight,” Jane suggested.

“Jane,” Thor said. “I will see you when you get back. You have my word.”

She inhaled and then let it out. “I’m counting on that.”

-o-

After hanging up, Thor looked at the phone fondly. One more day. He had so longed to see Jane, to hold her in his arms and kiss her -- and there was just one more day.

He glanced at the clock; it was quite late.

Which meant Thor had much to do.

And just one day left to do it.

-o-

With all he had been doing, Thor had let the housework slip even further. He hated to admit it, but he needed to spend a good portion of the night tidying up and cleaning. He wanted everything to be spotless for Jane’s return. He wanted everything to be perfect.

If that meant he had to clean the toilets and scrub the sinks, then so be it.

Thor was ready to do anything.

That was no exaggeration. Nor was it a figure of speech. It was a simple truth, and Thor would make that very clear soon enough.

-o-

Thor was waiting when she arrived.

At first, he had thought not to be too conspicuous. After all, he had taken such pride in being his own man; the thought of looking desperate while waiting at the door seemed to run contrary to the entire image Thor had tried to cultivate in Jane’s absence.

That said, however, he did miss Jane.

A lot.

He could not find enough shame to keep himself from waiting at the window, trying to be patient.

It helped that he had tracked her flight online, so he knew when it landed, and he did not know much of this Tony Stark except that he seemed to be among the elite in Earth society. Given the generous accommodations afforded to Jane so far, Thor could only imagine that her return drive would be prompt and comfortable.

That was his hope, anyway. Since he was going to wait by the window regardless of how efficiently Tony Stark’s car service might be.

Besides, Thor knew too much of loss to cling too stubbornly to pride. He had once been the god of thunder.

Now, however, he was a man who missed his girlfriend.

If there was shame in that, Thor would endure it.

That was, perhaps, one advantage of his lowly position. No one cared to judge him here. Thor only had to satisfy himself.

And he would not be satisfied until Jane Foster was home, then so be it.

-o-

As it was, he did muster enough willpower not to greet her at the curb. Instead, he watched as the limousine pulled up and he was standing dutifully by the door when Jane disembarked from the oversized cab. The driver was removing bags from the trunk, but Jane seemed to pay him no heed.

For when she stepped onto the street, she turned, looking straight at Thor.

There was a moment, a small, suspended second, wherein their eyes met. The time and the distance faded; it was as if she had not been gone at all.

It was the look in her eyes, after all. The first thing he remembered seeing when he opened his eyes on Earth. It had not been the stars, nor had it been the dusty ground. It had not been the car which had hit him or Darcy or Selvig or anything else.

It had been Jane Foster.

She was his home, more than anything else.

Her face broke into a smile, and she took off toward him. In two steps, Thor was out the front door and he pulled her readily into his arms. He spun her once, lifting her fully off the ground, and when he came to a stop, she pushed herself up into a kiss.

Thor held back a moan, running his hands up her back and into her hair. She kissed without abandon, her body hot against his until the world around them seemed to disappear.

When she finally pulled away, she looked up at him, breathless and grinning.

Eyes gleaming, he said, “Welcome home, Jane.”

“It’s good to be back,” she replied.

“Yeah,” Darcy said. “I’m sure you’re all glad I’m back, too.”

Reddening slightly, Thor let go of Jane, stepping back just a little. Suddenly a bit more self possessed, Jane fussed with her hair.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “I assume you’re going to tip the dude?” she asked, hauling one of her bags toward the door. “Someone? Anyone?”

Clearing his throat, Thor reached into his pocket and retrieved his wallet. Jane shook her head, digging into her purse. “No, no, let me,” she said.

“It’s not a problem--”

“Really,” Jane said. “It was my conference after all.”

“But I am very grateful for his service in returning you to me,” Thor said.

“Well,” Jane said, handing a few bills to the driver. “We’ll see what other ways we can use your gratitude.”

Thor was not sure what that meant.

But he liked the sound of that very much.

-o-