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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (13/15)

December 30th, 2014 (09:13 am)
lonely

feeling: lonely

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




Thor got no clarity regarding marriage.

Somehow, he did not mind.

“Oh, my goodness,” Jane said, flopping back against the pillows. “Why did we wait so long?”

Thor propped himself up on his side, looking at her with a smile. “I thought perhaps it was your preference--”

“I thought maybe it was a cultural difference,” she said. “You talk about it there, and it seems so old fashioned so I didn’t know if it was taboo or something--”

“And I did not want you to feel pressured into an uncomfortable situation,” Thor added. “I was trying to be polite--”

“I know!” Jane said. “And I was trying to be sensitive!”

“There was no need,” Thor said.

“Same here,” Jane agreed enthusiastically. She hesitated. “And you’re sure about the sperm not being super powered?”

“I am fully human,” he said.

She nodded suggestively. “So you want to--?”


“Well,” he said with a sly smile. “We do have to make up for lost time.”

-o-

For Jane marriage was not an issue. Though the conversation had been awkward, Thor couldn’t deny that they had made some positive progress as a result. Their relationship felt stronger and better than ever before. Most of the time, Thor was too fixated on the new tier of his intimacy with Jane to even think about marriage at all.

It was not on her mind.

Yet, somehow, it was still on his.

He could not quite help himself, he found. When he watched her sleep at night, her body tucked against him between the sheets, he dreamed of her in the ceremonial gowns on Asgard, hair swept up gracefully as she looked at him through the veil worn by his mother and his grandmother before her. He thought of a white dress and a church on Earth, saying I do just like in the movies.

The idea came to him unbidden, the thought of her as his wife and he her husband. When he was making breakfast or going about his work at the construction site.

Marriage was not an issue with Jane.

But he was starting to wonder if it were an issue with him.

-o-

“Jose,” Thor finally said one day while they were clocking out for the evening. “When did you decide to marry your wife?”

Jose grinned at him a little. “The moment I realized I couldn’t imagine my life without her,” he said. “Which was pretty fast, I will admit.”

“Did she make her intentions clear?” Thor asked.

“I think we both always knew,” Jose said. “Did you talk to Jane?”

Thor nodded. “I did.”

“And?”

“And she says marriage is not something she thinks about,” he said. “She does not feel it is necessary.”

“Well, that can make things easier,” Jose said, clearly trying to be helpful.

Thor tried to appear reassured.

Jose knew him better than that. “And what about you?”

Thor looked at him, surprised.

“How do you feel about marriage?”

To that, Thor had no response.

“Look, Thor,” Jose said. “You care about Jane, and you need to respect her opinions and beliefs. But it’s a two-way street. She may not think about marriage, but if you do, you need to tell her that.”

“I do not want her to feel pressured,” he said.

“And you have to trust that she wouldn’t want you to feel unhappy either,” Jose said. “Maybe you two decide you want to get married. Maybe you don’t. But you have to tell her how you feel.”

“And if I don’t know how I feel?” Thor asked.

Jose chuckled. “Then that might be a good place to start.”

-o-

What did Thor feel?

That was a good place to start perhaps, but it was not an easy one. For feelings were complicated, and Thor had spent the better part of two years relegating his own feelings to lesser importance. He had spent so much of his life fixated on his own desires and whims that the rapid shift to undo that had been drastic and nearly complete. Thor was not the same man he’d been on Asgard, and that was mostly for the better. He had worked hard to deconstruct his pride and to let go of his ego.

This was the hard reality of his exile. To accept what he’d lost, not just in terms of its quantity but its fault as well. To make amends, Thor had striven to be selfless and devoid of pride. To protect what he had built on this planet, he had dedicated himself to the well being and overall happiness of those around him.

In this, he had found great satisfaction.

He had not thought he would need more.

But this issue with marriage was bringing the conflict back into focus again. For there was still something of self that was worth fighting for; to put himself second all the time would not always be possible. Jane had told him this much; she had asked him for honesty between them. And as Thor became more comfortable on Earth, his sense of self was starting to rebound.

It was unsettling, of course, and he fought against it out of instinct. He did not want to fall victim to his ego once again, but there was a difference, he had to think, between rash over indulgence and healthy self esteem. Human selfishness was among the least attractive qualities of the people on this planet, but their embrace of the individual did hold some merit that Thor found attractive.

Not just for others.

For himself.

Which made the question even more relevant: how did Thor feel about marriage?


He already knew how he felt about Jane Foster, and he had never attempted to minimize his commitment to her. He had always made his devotion plain, and he did not intend to change that, regardless of their relationship status.

That being said, the idea of marriage was suddenly something more appealing than he might have thought. On Asgard, marriage was an enduring contract. It weathered all seasons of life and was not made lightly nor was it exited easily. On Earth, the strength of this contract was clearly far less, for their divorce rates were higher. This was to be expected, Thor decided, given the individualistic nature of their society and the fleeting reality of their lives.

The point being, of course, that Thor’s sense of marriage did not mesh entirely with the human conception of the union. Though he found the fleeting realities of humanity to be empowering most of the time, he could not deny that he still relished the seemingly archaic notion of Asgardian marriage.

Because it was not merely a social contract. Rather, it was seen as an intellectual, emotional and spiritual connection. The intensity of it was the main reason he had never pursued it on Asgard -- he had not felt ready to settle down.

But Thor was settled now. Thor was irrevocably settled, no matter how short his year might be. And he craved that level of commitment with Jane, for he loved her more than anything and, like Jose had said, he could not envision his life without her.

Yes, Thor wanted to marry Jane Foster by any standard. He wanted a piece of paper to denote their bond; he wanted a ceremony to celebrate their commitment with friends. He wanted a ring to symbolize the depth of their devotion.

These things were not necessary; they would change nothing.

Thor wanted them all the same.

It would be easy to talk himself out of this. He could tell himself that he had not right to want anything, given the intergalactic chaos he had caused. He could remind himself that he risked alienating Jane by professing a desire that she did not share. He could tell himself that he was unworthy, as the hammer lying dormant in the desert testified painfully on his behalf.

These were all realities of what were.

They did not have to be realities of what was to come. Thor was changed by his past, but he could still build the future of his own desire. He had to be cautious, yes. He had to show compassion and concern and foresight. But it was still his future.

Sooner or later, he would have to come to terms with that.

-o-

The determination did not come easily.

Making changes based on this determination came even harder.

Thor had never been timid; he had never been shy or awkward or uncertain. But whenever he tried to venture into the conversation of marriage again, he was so flummoxed by his own emotions that he could not think of a thing to say.

It did not help that every time the conversation lapsed, Jane gave him this look.

“So, um, do you want to--?” she would say.

And the only thing Thor could think to say was, “Yes.”

-o-

Thor could become preoccupied, but he considered it fortuitous that he had ample distractions. Between work and the house, he was not in need of things to do.

Then, to make matters even busier, Selvig arrived.

They had heard less from Selvig in recent months, though it was difficult to say who was entirely to blame. Though it was quite likely that Selvig was busier than ever with SHIELD, Jane and Thor had both been preoccupied themselves. So when the older man showed up in the lab one evening, it took them all a good minute to realize he was there.

“Erik!” Jane said, almost shrieking. She dropped her work with a clatter, startling one of her employees as she took off across the room. “You’re here!”

Still holding his travel bag, Selvig smiled tiredly, embracing Jane as she threw herself at him.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she asked, stepping back as Thor and Darcy crossed closer to the reunion.

“Well,” Selvig said, shrugging. “I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever get the time off.”

“Things are busy, then,” Jane said.

Selvig wet his lips, glancing at Thor for a brief moment. The look in his eyes was momentarily cold before he offered Jane a smile. “Things are always busy,” he said. “Which is just as true for you. I saw that you and Stark are working together now.”

Jane’s eyes brightened even more. “I wouldn’t have predicted that one myself,” she said. “I mean, he’s a weapons guy, and he’s always struck me as conceited and self serving--”

“And amazing,” Darcy added.

“But he’s got a mind for science,” Jane said. “And Stark Industries has the resources and the clout--”

“Hey, no arguments here,” Selvig said. “You deserve the recognition. I think you and Stark can get things done.”

“SHIELD’s probably watching anxiously, huh?” Jane asked with a mischievous grin.

Selvig chuckled. “SHIELD is watching everything,” he said. “They know more about Stark Industries than they’d like people to know.”

Jane paused. “Wait, should I be concerned?”

“No,” Selvig said. “No, no, no. No matter what SHIELD watches, surely we all can agree that Tony Stark will always play by his own rules. And that’s to your benefit this time.”

“We’re so close, Erik,” Jane said. “Just wait until you see it. We’re so close.”

Selvig smiled, the corners of his eyes wrinkling warmly. “I can’t wait,” he said. “But first, maybe I can get settled--?”

“Oh, right, right,” Jane said, as if just realizing Selvig was still holding his bag.

“Here,” Thor said, reaching out to take the bag. “Let me.”

“We’re a little crowded here these days,” Jane said apologetically.

“Which is to say we usually have people sleeping on the floor now,” Darcy said.

“But you can have my room,” Thor said.

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Selvig said.

Thor smiled, glancing purposefully at Jane, who blushed. It did not warrant mention that Thor did not use his room near as much as he used to. “It is no bother at all,” Thor promised.

Selvig nodded. “Well, I suppose--”

“Are you hungry?” Jane asked. “We could make something--”

“Oh, sure, ask him if he’s hungry,” Darcy said. “You work me to death without even thinking about my stomach.”

Jane shook her head. “Ignore her.”

“Well, it’s true,” Darcy protested.

“Fine,” Jane said. “Then we can go out. Do you want to go out?”

“I want to go out,” Darcy mumbled.

“Ah,” Selvig said, rocking back on his heels. “It’s good to see that some things never change.”

-o-

They had much to discuss. Selvig made various inquiries, mostly as to the state of Jane’s project, and they discussed in some detail the number of employees and the new processing methods that had greatly amplified their yield. However, when Jane started to explain the fluctuating atmospheric conditions, Darcy interjected quite forcefully.

“No, no, no,” she said. “This dinner is strictly casual.”

“Indeed,” Thor agreed. “Selvig, you have probably not had a vacation in months. You should have the chance to unwind.”

“I don’t mind,” Selvig started.

“No, they’re right,” Jane said. “Science can wait.”

Selvig raised his eyebrows. “That’s not something I’d expect to hear from you.”

Jane smiled sheepishly. “Just until after dinner,” she said. “Besides, a few things have changed.”

“I can see that,” Selvig observed, glancing between Jane and Thor. “I assume everything is still good?”

Thor cleared his throat, nodding hastily.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jane said. “Very good.”

“They’re going at it now,” Darcy supplied.

Jane gaped, and Thor felt his cheeks redden.

Selvig stared at her.

Darcy nodded. “Every night,” she said.

“Darcy,” Jane said incredulously. “How could you--?”

“Know?” Darcy asked. “We basically live together. And Thor must be kind of amazing, because you never screamed like that with Don.”

Jane’s mouth fell open; Thor looked studiously away.

“But I’m not complaining,” Darcy said. “If not for Thor, she’d never stop working.”

Selvig let out a snort. “Thank goodness for small blessings, then.”

There was an awkward silence, and Thor glanced between his friends, unable to determine who was more embarrassed. Finding them all to be equally mollified, he decided to change the topic. “We started building a house.”

Selvig looked to Thor, almost grateful for the change of topic. “That’s the construction, then,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if you were adding on to the lab.”

“With all of our processing going off site, we don’t need more space yet,” Jane said.

“And if we do need to expand the lab, I have drafted a few plans that could allow for upward expansion,” he said.

Jane looked at him. “You didn’t tell me that.”

“Well, it was very preliminary,” Thor said. “But with the space, you could make an impressive observatory--”

“And that’s work talk,” Darcy said. “Tell him about the house.”

“Yes, of course,” Thor said. “I’m doing most of the work myself, which is why it is going rather slow, but we should be able to customize it to our exact specifications.”

“It’s going to be amazing,” Jane said, grinning now. “I mean, it’s going to have a chef’s kitchen, and the open concept is going to be great for entertaining. And with two extra bedrooms, we’ll have room for people to come and stay, so whenever you’re here, you won’t have to bunk in Thor’s room. And the windows -- and the skylights--”

Jane paused, as if imagining it. The details were things Thor knew, better than Jane in fact. But, to hear her talk of it, to her her boast of it -- that was something unexpected. For Thor had told her all of these things, but he had never been certain if it meant as much to her as it did to him. She had been good natured, of course, but this was more than that. This was not her humoring him.

This was Jane, sharing his dream. Though she had not wanted it, she wanted it because he wanted it. Because what mattered to one of them would always matter to the other. This was why Thor talked to her about the stars, why he helped her with her measurements. This was why he sat with her under the night sky for hours, just to let her look and look and look.

Because relationships were about humility, about putting the other person first.

Because Jane loved him as much as he loved her.

And no realization could possibly matter more to him than that.

Jane smiled at Thor. “Thor has really thought of everything.”

He had, most certainly. But the fact that she noticed--

“So it sounds like you intend to stick around,” Selvig said, breaking Thor’s train of thought. “Both of you.”

“With my research as it is--” Jane said.

“And I see no reason to go,” Thor said.

Selvig nodded. “That sounds great. Really great.”

“Yeah, what sounds really great is pie,” Darcy said. “I don’t know who’s paying, but you’re buying pie.”

Thor rolled his eyes and flagged down the waitress.

-o-

Back at the lab, Jane tried to keep things casual, but Thor did not object when she finally lured Selvig over to the equipment to start discussing her latest developments. Darcy slipped out not long after, and Thor cleaned up for a bit before retreating outside himself, leaving Jane and Selvig to share their passions.

It was somewhat late, but Thor was not tired, and he did have many projects he wanted to complete on the house. The structure was mostly in place now, and he’d managed to get the roof in place, which made it easier to protect his progress. However, he was having some difficulty properly preparing the walls for the wiring, and the meticulous work took a long time to complete.

In truth, he had been procrastinating to some degree. Not that he wasn’t fully invested in the project, but even Thor had things he preferred.

Still, he could hear Jane’s praise. He could still see the enthusiasm in her eyes, a look she normally only shared for science.

This was her home, too.

That was the only incentive Thor needed to pick up his tools and start working.

-o-

Unsurprisingly, Jane and Selvig did not stop their scientific exchange for the better part of the next day. It was unclear to Thor just how long Selvig would stay with them, but he saw no need to fret about it. Instead, he joined them for meals and politely reminded the rest of Jane’s employees to keep some distance and baked cookies.

Because cookies were amazing.

Other than that, Thor kept to himself, making good progress on the house throughout the better part of the day. He was thinking about his next project when there was an unexpected thump on the floor behind him.

He turned, surprised to see Selvig standing there.

The older man was looking around, nodding in approval. “It looks good,” he said, running his hand along one of the planks of wood. “You do good work.”

Thor smiled. “You sound surprised.”

Selvig shook his head. “Just making an observation.”

“As you can imagine, I’ve always had some skill with a hammer.”

“A joke?” Selvig replied. “Now that surprises me.”

Thor shrugged. “You are one of the few that would appreciate it.”

“SHIELD still doesn’t know what to make of it, by the way,” Selvig said, sauntering inside. “They have all these theories.”

“And?” Thor asked.

“And they’ll only have theories,” Selvig concluded. He was silent for a moment. “You don’t miss it, do you?”

Thor considered that, for it was a question that was not without relevance. Mjolnir was more than a possession; it was more than a relic. It was not just a sign of his past life -- rather, that hammer had been part of him. It had come to define him, and the absence of that would always been something of a yawning hole inside of him.

He did miss it in this regard, just as he would always miss Asgard, his friends and his family.

“It is not a question of missing it,” Thor replied. “It is a matter of accepting the reality I have been given.”

Selvig nodded absently. “Is that why you’re building this?” he asked. “You’re accepting the reality?”

Thor looked about the room, at the carefully constructed frame and the tedious work he’d embarked on. “The hammer in the desert is a statement to what I’ve lost,” he said. “This home, here in Puente Antiguo, it is a testament to what I have gained. I cannot control the first, but this -- this I can control.”

“Well,” Selvig said. “It is going to be a beautiful home, Thor. For you. For Jane.”

There was an odd tension in his voice, something subtle that Thor might let pass in other circumstances. “Do you still approve of my relationship with Jane?”

Selvig looked at him again, and it was his turn to appear surprised. “How could I not?”

“You seem reticent around us,” Thor noted.

“Worried, is more like it,” Selvig said.

“I have told you my intentions--” Thor said.

“And I know that something is still coming,” Selvig interjected. The look of resignation deepened on his face. “Something is coming, and I can’t help but think you’re going to be a part of that.”

“I know of nothing--”

“But you do, Thor,” Selvig said. “Whatever is coming, it’s coming from the same place you knew. You may not be able to predict it, but I’m pretty sure when it comes, you’re going to be one of the few who will understand it.”

Thor shifted his feet. “Has SHIELD sent you to recruit me?”

Selvig’s snort was short and bitter. “They would like that,” he said. “But no. I didn’t come here to recruit you.”

“Then why?”

“I came here to make sure I could still trust you,” he said. “That no matter what was coming, I knew you would put Jane first.”

“She is not some defenseless creature that needs to be defended,” Thor pointed out.

“No,” Selvig agreed. “But she’d march into danger in the name of science, and someone has to be there to make sure she doesn’t become a martyr.”

“You fear it is that bad?” Thor asked quietly.

“I fear it’ll be worse,” Selvig said. “And I can’t be there if I think you’ll leave.”

Thor drew a breath, shaking his head. “As I have said--”

“Things change,” Selvig said. “More than you will ever be able to predict. You may think Earth is your safe haven. You may see this as your perfect, rebuilt life, but things change.

“I want to ask Jane to marry me,” Thor finally blurted, unable to endure more.

At that, Selvig stopped.

Thor shrugged. “I want to ask her to spend the rest of her life with me,” he said. “I want this home to be the place where we build a family. A life. Whatever comes, this is my home.”

Selvig swallowed. “Have you asked her?”

Thor shook his head. “I have not,” he said. “I admit, I am uncertain she would say yes. She has said that she does not think of marriage.”

“That doesn’t mean she’d say no,” Selvig said.

Thor tilted his head. “So you think she’d say yes?”

“I think she might surprise herself,” Selvig amended. “Like I said, things change.”

With renewed hope, Thor stepped forward. “So you think it’s a good idea?”

“Well,” Selvig said. “I don’t think it’s a bad one. No one has ever made her put science aside, not like that. Others, they’ve tried to change her. But you -- you’re the only one she’s wanted to make room for. You’re the only one she’s wanted to meet halfway.”

Thor broke into a smile. “So you do think it’s a good idea.”

Selvig sighed wearily. “The future is impossible to predict,” he said. “People at SHIELD, they spend their careers on that kind of thing. And there’s never any way to know for sure.”

“So what do you recommend?” Thor asked.

“You keep pounding in nails,” he said. “And hope like hell that you’ve got a strong enough foundation for when the storm comes.”

Thor eyed the other man carefully, not certain what response would be appropriate.

Selvig looked around again, face pinched. “Because you can trust me on this much,” he said. “A storm is definitely coming.”

-o-

When Selvig left the following morning, Jane begged him to stay longer. Darcy said he was making his visits too infrequent, and Selvig smiled sadly.

“Work, you know,” he said. “I promise, I’ll make it back soon.”

Thor shook his hand; Jane hugged him tight; Darcy waved goodbye.

From his car, Selvig looked back, lingering for a moment. Thor could see the older man watching the rearview mirror as he pulled away.

It was a sad thing to see Selvig go. He did miss the other man’s company and counsel.

It was sadder still, though, that Selvig was lying to them all. Not about his job or his fondness, but that last simple sentiment.

Somehow Thor knew Selvig would not be back again soon.

The future, after all, is fraught with change, and not always for the better.

“Come,” Thor said, slinging an arm around Jane’s shoulders. “The day is still young.”

Jane sighed, letting her head rest against his shoulder. “I could get a little work done--”

Thor gave her a look.

“Or,” Jane suggested. “Maybe it’d be a good day to relax. Watch some movies; make some popcorn.”

“Yes, this,” Darcy said. “We’re doing this now. Before you change your mind.”

Thor gestured forward grandly. “That settles it,” he announced. “A day of reprieve.”

Not just from what had been, Thor knew. But also for what might be.

-o-

Selvig’s visit changed very little. Jane still had much work to do, and Thor still had to keep at the house. Yet, somehow, things felt different if not in the actual day to day routine, then the purpose behind said routine. Because Thor wasn’t going through the motions.

No, Thor was building his future, one day -- one nail -- at a time.

-o-

He hung the drywall and installed the wood floors. With help from Jose and Ricky, he finished installing the windows and managed to get most of the plumbing in order. He worked with a subcontractor on the electrical systems and meticulously applied the abode exterior.

Jane got another article published, this time with international recognition. A news crew from Good Morning America came, conducting an on-site interview that brought more press to their door. It would not be long now, she said, taking frequent calls from Pepper Potts herself at Stark’s offices in California.

Darcy started dating one of the new employees. When that didn’t work out, she started sleeping with a different one. When she declared them all to be useless, she put in an application for graduate school, because, in her words, she might as well make it official that she’s smarter than the rest of these losers.

It was coming together, with every piece of data, with every floor board, with every quip. It was softball games and movie nights and kissing Jane beneath the stars.


It was all of this and more.

So very much more.

-o-

Time passed.

At first, the days had seemed insignificant on Earth, even as weeks turned into months and then years. But the accumulated time was weighing on him now, for he could feel not only the hope of the future but the reality of change.

His hands grew dry and cracked, with nubbed fingernails from the grind of his work. His skin, despite using sun protection, felt leathered and worn. The signs of age were starting to show on his face, with fine lines around his eyes and traces of gray in the long braids he pulled into a ponytail for work.

He had known he was human, but the decay of this flesh was still a startling reality. He would grow old here, old and weary, until his body failed and he withered into nothing. He would die, forsaken by his family and his friends back on Asgard. They would blink, and he would be gone, nothing but a footnote to their ongoing joys and tragedies.

But the starkness of his change was also a gift. A reminder of what he still had, and what he risked losing. He could ill afford to waste time, not when it was suddenly his most precious commodity. He would build a future that honored his past. He would create a future that embraced that now.

Thor would continue to live as a man saved, a man redeemed.

A man changed.

-o-

He was working on the house -- getting the electrical in place in time for an inspection next week -- when he sensed the presence.

Lifting his head from his work, he smiled. “I am losing track of time,” he said. “I had not realize that the date was so near.”

Agent Coulson smiled benignly. “To be fair, I’m early this year.”

Thor put down his tool, wiping his hand on his jeans. “You think that will improve your odds?”

“No,” he said. “But I figured I might as well say hello.”

Thor reached for another tool. “I didn’t realize SHIELD had time for social visits.”

“You’re an active asset we monitor,” Coulson explained, nonplussed. “It’s good to have on record that you aren’t interested in helping us and are not a current threat to the stability of mankind.”

Thor chuffed. “I’m neither a threat nor an asset.”

“That’s good to hear,” Coulson said. “Though not really for you to determine.”

Thor straightened, bringing his shoulders back defensively. “And you came all the way here to tell me this?”

“No,” Coulson said.

Thor gathered a breath. “I have told you--”

“I know,” Coulson said. “And it will be noted. However, this year, I’m not just here for you.”

Frowning, Thor tightened his gaze.

“Jane Foster has made some pretty impressive strides in her work this year,” Coulson said.

“Her work is hers, you cannot--”

Coulson shook his head. “We could, actually,” he said. “But that’s not why I’m here.”

“You think she’d want to work willingly with you?” Thor asked.

“I think we have a pretty compelling offer,” Coulson said. “And Erik Selvig and Tony Stark would agree.”

“If you knew Jane--” Thor started, bristling.

“Then I would know to appeal to her love of science,” Coulson said. “I would know to appeal to her intellectual curiosity and her sometimes eccentric methodology. I would know to talk to her about the greater good, about achievements that matter, about not cutting corners. I would tell her about the good she’s doing now, and how we can help her do more. For herself, for mankind. For you.”

Thor stiffened.

“I told you,” Coulson said. “We’re not the bad guys.”

With due hesitation, Thor stood his ground but said nothing.

Coulson nodded to the house. “You’re making good progress,” he commented. “You must really know your way around a hammer.”

Thor’s stomach turned painfully, and he had no reply as Agent Coulson exited the room as easily as he came. Walking to the window, Thor watched as the man crossed the property toward the lab, knocking at the door. As the door opened, he removed his glasses. With one look to Thor, he disappeared inside.

-o-

Thor tried to keep working, but he found himself more than somewhat distracted. He watched at the window more often than not, waiting nearly 45 minutes before Agent Coulson left the lab.

It was all Thor could do not to march over there right now and demand to Jane as to Coulson’s intentions.

As it was, he managed to wait five minutes.

Entering the lab, he tried to act casual, starting to get a few things out for dinner. Even so, he watched Jane carefully, looking for any indication of distress or concern.

There was none.

Finally, he cleared his throat. “I saw that you had company.”

“What?” Jane asked distractedly from her work station. It was a Sunday, which meant the lab was mostly empty. It was probably not coincidental that even Darcy and the other staff member usually assigned to weekend monitoring was absent that day.

“You had company,” Thor said again, a bit louder now.

“Oh, yeah,” Jane said, looking up now with a grin. “SHIELD, of all people.”

“Everything all right?” Thor asked.

“Well, considering that this time they didn’t come in and steal all my work, yes,” she said.

Getting a few more ingredients down for dinner, Thor tried to remain nonchalant. “So did he want anything?”

“Hmm?” Jane asked, looking at her work again.

“Did he want anything?” Thor repeated.

“Well, yeah,” Jane said. “He offered me a job. On my terms. With lots and lots of benefits.”

“Ah,” Thor said, not sure what response would be appropriate to convey support and apprehension at the same time. “That sounds too good to be true.”

Jane appeared thoughtful. “This time I think they might mean it,” she said. She paused, starting to make her way closer to Thor. “Erik’s had positive things to say about them.”

“They believe the end can justify the means,” Thor said cautiously.

At the counter, Jane nodded. “Oh, I know that,” she said. “I would never sign away the rights to my work or give them full control over anything. But he had a point, you know. About what SHIELD can do with the work that I probably can’t.”

“That’s what they’re telling you, anyway,” Thor said.

“It’s about the science in the end,” Jane said. “I explained that my position is unchanged. Whatever I discover -- none of it is going to be top secret. I’m not playing with red tape and classified intelligence. What I create, it’s for the good of everyone.”


Thor raised his eyebrows expectantly. “And he agreed?”

She nodded. “I was surprised, too,” she said. “You know, he’s actually not terrible, when you talk to him.”

“He is trained in the art of subterfuge,” Thor said skeptically as he placed a skillet on the stove.

“I’m not naive, Thor,” she said. “But he had good points. And, I don’t know. My work is for everyone. More than me. More than Stark Industries. That probably includes SHIELD, too.”

She was being rational, which was only natural since Jane was nothing if not rational in her life. Thor trusted her judgment -- he truly did, probably more than his own -- but he couldn’t stop himself from feeling anxiety.

It was probably to be expected, and Thor knew enough to suspect he was just projecting. After all, he had charged into a secure SHIELD facility with no doubts and with every expectation of being victorious. That had gone spectacularly bad, and though he had gained his freedom, he was always aware to some degree it was not by his own doing.

No, without the compassion of Erik Selvig, there was no telling what would have happened to him, if he would have gained his freedom at all.

That was the thing, then. Good or bad, SHIELD was powerful, and Agent Coulson could talk about the greater good, but like any organization entrusted with the well being of innocent people, it would made the choices it had to make. Thor knew how that was; that was why he’d charged brashly into Jotunheim. Because he’d believed the ends justified the means, and his lack of foresight had cost him and so many others more than he could ever truly grasp.

SHIELD could boast no better. It took so little for the power to do good to be used to make fatal mistakes. Thor wanted nothing to do with such responsibility, and he hesitated to approve of such a thing for Jane.

But that was not his decision to make. She did not need his approval; she only warranted his support.

“I haven’t decided anything,” Jane continued, sounding somewhat apologetic now. “I don’t trust them, Thor. I really don’t. But if we can help each other…” She trailed off with a shrug.

Thor took some meat out of the fridge. “What did they offer you?”

Jane blinked.

“I assume they offered you something,” he said.

“Well, like I said,” she said. “They offered facilities and support, which I don’t really need with Stark Industries backing me.”

“So?” Thor asked.

“So,” Jane continued. “They offered me access to their files. To their work. I’d get to see where they were at with things.”

“That seems quite magnanimous,” Thor said.

“They just want to see what I’m doing in return,” Jane said. “Which, it’s all public. I mean, I’m published now. They did a report on Good Morning America. This isn’t top secret.”

“And that’s that?” Thor asked, turning on a burning and putting the meat in the skillet.

Jane opened her mouth, then drew her eyebrows together. “To see their information, I’d have to go to their facility,” she said.

Thor said nothing, studiously breaking the meat up over the heat with a spatula.

“And I mean, they said you could come,” she said.

He looked up, this time truly taken aback.

“No questions, no expectations,” she assured him. “But he said you’d be welcome to come. Stay with me if you wanted. Look around.”

Thor puffed his chest out belligerently. “SHIELD has nothing--”

“They said you could see the hammer,” she blurted finally.

Thor stopped cold, and the silence between them grew. The meat started to sizzle as the stovetop warmed up.

Jane sighed. “I thought you might like to see it again,” she said. “I know it’s important to you--”

“I would tell them nothing about Mjolnir,” Thor started.

“I know,” she said. “And I told him that. And Agent Coulson said there’d be no strings attached. I know you think about it. I know you have to. I think about it, and it’s not my hammer--”

“Nor is it mine,” Thor interjected, voice going soft. He looked at her, a small, tight smile on his lips. “Mjolnir is mine no longer. It does not respond to me as it once did.”

“But have you tried--”

“Jane,” Thor said, moving toward her now. “You are thoughtful to think of this for me. And if you are serious about a partnership with SHIELD in any capacity, I respect your choice. But do not do it for me.”

“I just know it’s the one thing you want and can’t get,” she said.

“Jane,” he said, reaching out to cup her cheek. “The only things I want are right here in front of me. Mjolnir is my past. This, Jane. This place. You. That is my future.”

She leaned into his touch. “I’d do anything for you,” she said. “I want to help you.”

“You have, very much,” Thor said, letting his hand drop as he smiled. “Now all I ask is that you be careful. SHIELD may have good intentions, but they are still unknown. That makes them dangerous.”

A smile tugged at her lips as well. “I know it’s probably a little old fashioned, but I love it when you’re protective of me.”

Going back to the meat, Thor chuckled. “I love you in all ways, at all times.”

She followed him, running her arms around his waist. “You know,” she said. “The lab’s empty right now…”

Thor glanced back.

Jane grinned at him.

Needless to say, dinner was a bit charred that night.

Neither of them minded.

-o-

Thor had much to be thankful for. A good home; a loving girlfriend. He had a job he enjoyed and hobbies he excelled at. He had friends; he had relationships; he had meaning.

He wanted for nothing in this life.

But that night, when he finally fell asleep, he dreamed of Mjolnir.

-o-

It was a fluke, most certainly. Dreams were mostly a collection of subconscious thoughts, thrown together haphazardly. Darcy talked often of her dreams, which were strange and sometimes quite explicit. Jane talked of dreaming about scientific equations, and even Thor had dreamed from time to time on Earth of construction equipment.

Jane’s mention of Mjolnir had just stirred that memory, bringing it to the forefront of his mind.

It meant nothing.

Two weeks later, that was still what he told himself.

-o-

Fortunately, there was still plenty to do. Thor was lining up all the inspections for the house, which he needed to get done before he could put the drywall in place. He was pleased with his progress.

That was the good news.

The bad news was when Tony Stark showed up at his doorstep.

Thor had never met Tony Stark. Jane had only spoken highly of him, and Thor had learned of some of his more eccentric antics from the Internet and Darcy’s first hand account. By all measures, Tony Stark was something of a character, among the elite of Earth’s society.

That was all well and good, as long as Tony Stark was a name on a check and a face on the television screen.

Having him at the lab in Puente Antiguo -- well, that just had never been part of the plan.

Jane was working, naturally, and with no one else to answer the door, Thor had taken it upon himself. He recognized the man, of course, which was no surprise. It would be impossible not to, given how much publicity Tony Stark seemed to enjoy.

What was a surprise, however, was how quickly Thor decided that he did not like the man.

There was no reason for that. The man had said nothing, but from the first smile, Thor felt his stomach flip and his fingers start to twitch. It was a gut reaction, one Thor had always gotten when he found himself in a situation he could not fully trust.

It had often happened in battle and training. It had occasionally happened during diplomatic missions his father had sent him on.

There was no reason for it to happen here.

“Hey, you must be Thor,” Stark said, still wearing sunglasses and a dapper suit.

Thor frowned. “Why would you say that?”

“Because, Point Break, you’re not one of my scientists,” he said. “And I’ve met Jane Foster. There are just two things in her life that matter: science and some dude named Thor. Simple deduction.” He smiled, holding out his hand. “I’m--”

“Tony Stark,” Thor supplied for him, feeling inexplicably disdainful. “I am aware.”

Tony pulled back his hand, looking impressed. “I wasn’t aware we’d met.”

“You are quite fond of appearing on television,” Thor reminded him.

“No, the television is quite fond of me,” Stark said. “Can I come in?”

Thor had no reason to be resentful. His response to meeting Tony Stark was nonsensical and not based on any definable fact or reality. Jane had always spoken fondly of Stark, and Darcy was quite enthusiastic on the topic. If anything, he should be grateful to Tony Stark. Not only had the man funded Jane’s research and supported her ambitions in ways Thor could not, but he was a hero who had saved Earth several times now. Tony Stark, by all accounts, was a hero.

And no one seemed to know it like he did.

Attractive, popular, rich, with the entire world at his fingertips. Thor distrusted him because Tony Stark was just like him.

Which was also why, then, his predisposition was unfair. He could not dislike someone for reminding him of himself, especially when Thor had no indication that Tony Stark had made mistakes nearly as catastrophic as Thor had.

Stepping away from the door, he gestured inside graciously. “Please,” he said. “Do come in.”

Stark pulled off his glasses, tucking them in his pocket. “Don’t mind if I do.”

Thor gritted his teeth, and reminded himself that Tony Stark was Jane’s partner. He was probably her friend in some regards. Mostly, he was a guest, and Thor had no right to judge anyone, even if they did strike him as condescending elitists with an over inflated sense of themselves.

Closing the door, Thor did his best not to glare at the driver in the limousine.

He only marginally succeeded.

Inside the lab, the conversation shifted, small titters turning into gasps. Darcy squealed. Jane startled. “Mr. Stark!” she exclaimed, hurrying over from her equipment.

“Jane, please,” he said. “It’s Tony.”

“You gave me millions of dollars to get my work done,” Jane said with a breathless laugh. “You can be whoever you want.”

“Well, yeah,” Tony agreed. “Speaking of which, that’s sort of why I’m here. I’ve read all the reports, but I sort of wanted to see it first hand. See exactly how the money is being used.”

Jane beamed. “Well, that depends how long you’ve got.”

“I cleared my schedule,” Tony said. “You’ve got me as long as you want. Or, I mean, until Sunday, but close enough, right?”

“Honestly?” Jane said. “We better get started.”

Tony smirked. “A woman after my own heart.”

This time, Thor did not attempt to hide his glare as Jane led Tony to the first workstation and started to talk.

-o-

They talked for several hours. Thor served dinner, and they sat for several minutes before taking their plates and talking over the equipment some more. The rest of the employees went home, except for Darcy, who insisted on staying, and they talked still.

They talked while Thor did the dishes. They talked while Thor watched TV. They talked when Thor excused himself and they were probably still talking when Thor ran his power tools as loud as he possibly could.

It was unreasonable, of course. Thor had never begrudged Jane her work, and he had always been quite pleased that her partnership with Tony Stark had been fruitful. And he trusted Jane, so even if there was something of jealousy, that wasn’t it.

It was the same reason he couldn’t trust SHIELD, for those with power were inherently dangerous. Those who sought to control, to rule, to conquer -- they were the ones who would dictate, destroy, obliterate. Tony Stark could be a genius and a playboy and a billionaire, but he did not understand the full scope of consequences.

Nor could he possibly fully appreciate Jane’s precarious role in this.

She was pure in her intentions, and her intellect was her only guide. She had no questions of safety, and people like Tony Stark had no sense of boundaries. Why else would he show up unannounced and expect a full account? Why else would he come into Thor’s life and take the attention of the only person that mattered? Who did he think he was? Was Thor really so little to people like Tony Stark? Was he just the boyfriend? So easily cast aside and forgotten?

Thor had worked hard for his life; he had worked too hard.

He deserved more, and yet he was subject to people like Tony Stark and Agent Coulson, unworthy--

His breathing caught, and his fingers tingled. There was a sudden snap, and Thor looked down.

The wood he’d been cutting -- it was snapped in half, splinters in his own exposed palms.

Blinking rapidly, Thor grounded himself, allowing the pain and blood to remind him of his place.

A human.

And a lowly one at that.

He could not allow his prejudices to control him in this manner, if not for his own sake, then for Jane’s. Tony Stark deserved his respect and his gratitude, and Thor would grant him that willingly.

Even if he did think the man was bad news in the long run.

-o-

Thor said goodnight to Jane, who barely noticed. Stark barely acknowledged him as he excused himself to go to sleep. Though he often slept in the trailer these days, he chose to stay in his room, where he could still hear Jane and Stark talking in the next room, the soft drone lasting until Thor finally drifted off to sleep.

That night, Thor dreamed of Mjolnir again. This time, however, the scene solidified, and Thor became aware of himself in the dreamscape. The ground before him was vast desert, and Thor had no idea how he came to this place or why.

He could not bring himself to care, however. Not with Mjolnir, so close. Close enough to touch.

How long had it been? What was three years in his life? How did he think he could forget?

The hammer was buried in the rock, hilt turned toward Thor, beckoning him. Swallowing hard, Thor inched forward, and he was aware quite suddenly that he was not alone. As desolate as the landscape was, there were others there, friends and enemies alike. The closed in around Thor, but Thor could not turn his attention away from Mjolnir.

Drawn forward, he lifted his hand, reaching it out. But before he could make contact, the metal pulsed. Thor could feel it, like a jolt of electricity, and he didn’t have time to brace himself when the hammer crackled to life, emitting a powerful burst of energy.

The force of the impact sent him back, sprawling down on the ground hard enough to make his ears rings. When he managed to get his bearings, the hammer was embedded in the rock and the crowd was sprawled around him, still unmoving from the force.

He turned now, surveying the damage. There, he could see the Jotuns. Further still, a pack of bilgesnipe. And there, was Coulson and his SHIELD agents. And even Tony Stark, rubbing his head as he tried to get to his feet.

Thor was beaten and wearied but not defeated. He still stood tall while the rest faltered.

In many ways, it should have been a good dream.

When Thor woke up, though, it felt like anything but.

-o-

As it turned out, Thor was right. Tony Stark was bad news.

Rather, he brought bad news, no matter how he tried to veil it as good news.

“A month?” Jane asked, her tone somewhere between incredulous and outright amused. “You want it in a month?”

“You know the science as well as I do--”

“Better,” Jane said.

“Exactly,” Stark said. “So you know that things are converging--”

Jane nodded, as if she already knew this. Which, of course, she most certainly did. “I’m sort of surprised we haven’t seen an event already--”

“And that’s the point,” Stark said, emphatic now. “Look, whatever’s coming, it’s going to have the heads up on us. That’s not a position I’m used to being in, and it’s not one I intend on being in. Not when we have the technology--”

“We have the science,” Jane corrected. “It’s theory--”

“Jane--”

“Doctor Foster,” she said coolly.

“Doctor Foster,” he amended. “I believe in you. I believe in your work. That’s why I decided to fund this thing, and that’s why I’m here. I’m on your team.”

“Then you’ll know we have to do it right,” Jane protested.

“Sometimes you just have to do it,” Stark said. “The rubber has to hit the road sometime--”

Jane crossed her arms over her chest. “And if it doesn’t work?”

Stark was unperturbed. “You think it won’t?”

Jane blinked a few times, her posture softening. “No,” she admitted. “It just takes time--”

Stark snapped his fingers. “Time is money,” he said. “So I will give you money -- as much as you need or want -- and you give me the time.”

“Well, I’d need a bigger staff,” Jane said.

“Done,” Stark said.

“And probably more equipment,” Jane continued. “Another 3-D printer--”

“Done and done,” Stark said.

“Oh, and a new flat screen TV,” Darcy chimed in. “With HD. And you know, a stereo system. And a new waffle maker. You wanted a new waffle maker, right?” She looked at Thor.

Thor looked back at her.

Stark rubbed his hands together. “I love waffles,” he said. “I’m down with all of that. In fact, I’ll give you a discretionary budget. You can get what you need to keep you inspired.”

Jane looked concerned. “Well, I don’t--”

“It’s already done,” Stark said. “And you will give me a prototype in one month. Am I right?”

Jane’s brow creased, but she nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah.”

“Fantastic,” Stark said. “Now. I would love to stay, but I have to go. You can expect a check tomorrow, and if you need more, just contact the office. Pepper loves you, by the way. If she knew I came here without her, she’d probably kill me.”

“Well, tell her I said hi,” Jane offered.

“And will you get the flatscreen delivered?” Darcy asked.

Stark winked at her. “With that waffle maker,” he said, making his way to the door. “One month, everyone. I will see you all in one month!”

With that flourish, he was gone, his limousine gone from the curb before any of them could think to speak. They were still seated at the breakfast table, as it were. The pancakes were actually still steaming.

Jane shook her head. “Did I really just agree to get all my work done in one month?”

“Yeah,” Darcy said. “I think I just sold my soul for a flat screen.”

“And a waffle maker,” Thor offered.

They lapsed into silence.

Jane finally shook her head. “I can’t do it in a month,” she said. “I’ll have to call him, to tell him--”

“But he’ll take back the TV!” Darcy protested.

“We have too much to do!” Jane said. “I mean, building all the components from scratch is just the start. We have to test each part and then test them together, and then run controlled trials and there’s just not enough hours in the day--”

She was starting to lose it, more than a little. Jane was brilliant, and there were few times he ever saw her truly flustered. Her intellect kept her duly in control, and her curiosity usually guided her through turmoil.

So to see her like this, Thor knew that it was no small thing. Tony Stark had grand ideas and could pull of an inspirational speech, but he was underestimating the duress it would cause Jane. For she was one person, and this was one lab, and the idea of consolidating her entire life’s work into a single month was almost impossible to imagine.

And yet, even more impossible to ignore.

Because it would be hard, but Thor knew Jane better still. It would not be impossible. Not with the resources and the staff Stark had offered. Not with Jane’s unwavering and undeterred focus.

Tony Stark brought bad news.

Thor would only offer her the good.

“Then you will work nights as well,” Thor said, as simply as he could.

Jane looked at him, somewhat desperate.

“And I will make you coffee,” he said. “Pot after pot. And when that is not enough, we will learn the art of power naps and hire three people just to replace you during those times.”

“But our lives--”

“Can be on hold for a month,” Thor said. “Our dates will be over data. We will romance each other with scientific equations. Instead of watching a movie, we will watch the printer create your latest part.”

“That’s not fair to you, Thor,” she said.

“Jane,” he said, reaching across the table and settling his hand on hers. “It’s one month to realize your dreams. Stark is right. If the timing is right, then we should not hesitate.”

Jane shook her head, skeptical. “It’ll be hard--”

“And we are up for that challenge,” Thor assured her.

The look on her face suggested doubt; it suggested fear. If he asked her to, she would back out. She would tell Tony Stark no, she would tell him it wasn’t possible, that it wasn’t worth it. She’d believe it, too, because Jane Foster loved Thor.

But Thor loved Jane Foster, too. He wanted to ask her for the rest of her life, so the least he could do was give her a month.

He squeezed her fingers. “Trust me.”

A smile twitched on her lips. She nodded. “Okay,” she said. “One month. One prototype. We can do this.”

They would do this, Thor knew.

Everything else would just have to wait.

-o-