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Thor fic: The Measure of a Man (14/15)

December 30th, 2014 (09:15 am)
tired

feeling: tired

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




Thor meant what he said, every last word of it. He would stand by Jane, no matter what. He would spend time with her in whatever manner she could afford. He valued her dreams above his own, because that was what love was truly all about.

In this, he had no second thoughts. He had no regrets.

That did not mean, however, that it was easy. The hours were long; the work was consuming. Jane breathed science on the best of days, and now she was wholly consumed by it. She ceased engaging in normal human pleasantries, and she was relentless in her management of every detail. Darcy was her second in command, organizing the information before it got to Jane while also managing the rest of the staff.

Stark was true to his word, providing ample staff, equipment and other resources. The flat screen TV was even promptly delivered, and though Thor found Stark’s confidence off putting, he could not deny the fact that the man had good taste in waffle irons.

As for Thor, he still maintained his job at the construction site and kept his current social obligations. For Jane’s sake, he took command of the calendar, coordinating with Darcy on a daily basis to make sure they were hitting their production goals. With all this, he had little time to keep working on the house, but he did what he could.

The hours were long, and he rarely had conversations with Jane that were about anything other than science. He kept everyone well fed and sanitary, and when Jane fell asleep, he tucked her in where she lay, sometimes sleeping nearby just to make sure she didn’t tip over in the night.

The nights he found himself in bed, he still found little reprieve. For his mind was restless, and his subconscious clung to things Thor could not have.

On the plain, Mjolnir was still buried in the rock. This time, Thor hesitated, glancing around only to find himself alone. He drew a breath, contemplating turning back. Mjolnir was not his; this was a pointless exercise.

Yet, he could not leave. Indeed, he could not even look away. Mjolnir was a tool of greatness, and here it lay, abandoned and discarded. It could not be forgotten; it would not be forgotten.

The pull was irresistible, and his foot moved almost against his will and better judgment. The sky started to dark, a low rumble of thunder in the distance as Thor approached, one step at a time. The hair on his arms started to prickle, the overwhelming force almost stealing his breath as he drew closer still.

Electricity sizzled in the air, and Thor stopped short, his fingers twitching as he reached down.

The familiar carvings; the worn handle. It was just as he remembered, and it felt like only yesterday he’d taken it in his grasp, lifting it aloft.

If he be worthy…

He hesitated, fingers brushing against the hilt, and he could fight it no longer.

His fingers clenched closed, the power surged as the thunder clashed--

Just in time for Thor to wake up, breathless and alone.

And painfully empty-handed.

-o-

Thor checked off the days on the calendar, charting the milestones for Jane’s project. It was convenient, probably that softball ended, and Thor’s social commitments cleared up dramatically. On Friday nights, when Ricky asked him if he’d see Thor for a round, Thor smiled politely and told him he had other things to do.

In a month, he promised himself. He promised to have Ricky over when this was over; he set a date for a dinner at Jose’s house several weeks when the prototype was to be completed.

There would be time -- later.

Thor had to focus on now.

-o-

Focus, however, was hard to come by.

During the centuries that preceded his time on Earth, Thor had admittedly taken details lightheartedly. This was not so much a lack of ability but a lack of need and desire. He had been cavalier, because he had thought it was as much his birthright as the throne of Asgard.

He was wrong about both, as it turned out, though on Earth he could only rectify one of them.

To that end, he had been earnest in all his pursuits. The problem was that Thor was only human.

True, he embraced his humanity in many ways. He celebrated the way it made him compassion and humble; he reveled in the way it made him feel alive and vibrant.

What he had to come to terms with now, however, was that it meant he was still fallible. His body could only handle so much stress; there was only so many things he could do before something finally had to give.

Everyone said it wasn’t his fault when the rigging slipped and two men fell. No one blamed him when one of those men ended up with a bad concussion and the other had a badly broken arm. His boss assured him that he had done everything right, all the paperwork, all the supervision, all of it.

But if Thor had done everything right, things wouldn’t have gone wrong.

Guilt, after all, was one of the most human emotions of them all.

-o-

There was no time to dwell, however. There were deadlines at work; there were deadlines at the lab; there were deadlines with the house.

Thor had grown used to the limitations of his human form, but these weeks found him more exhausted than before. He slumbered fast and heavy, almost dead to the world as his dreams took hold.

And the dreams were just as persistent as all the rest.

It was Mjolnir again, as always. Calling to him, no matter where he was. Wearing a hard hat at the construction site, stationed at the stove to make Jane dinner, on his back in the house to finish the wiring. But when he turned around, there it was.

The sky grew darker with each passing night, the growing thunder starting to rumble in his chest. A bolt of lightning lanced across the sky, and Thor reached his hand down.

There was no reason to expect results. He knew his worth, which was to say he had none. He had dreamed this before, and even his subconscious refused to grant him the acceptance he knew he did not deserve.

Yet, he had to try. He was compelled against his will, until his fingers brushed the hilt, wrapping around.

He closed his eyes, the energy flowing into him. It was like a rush of adrenaline, peaking through his system so fast that he almost felt dizzy. His fingers clenched unconsciously, and he felt the hammer give in the rock beneath.

Opening his eyes, he looked down in wonder as the rock trembled and crumbled, and Mjolnir started to yield.

Lightning lit up the sky, so bright it blinded him.

When Thor woke up, his eyes were burning and his fingers were tingling.

Swallowing hard, he rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. He might have succeeded, but he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes.

-o-

The dreams became more real with each passing night. They were both enlivening and frightening, so Thor found it to be fortuitous that he had plenty of other things to do besides sleep.

Of course, he probably would have preferred some of those things to be good.

“No!” Jane screeched over the cacophony in the lab. “No, no, no!”

Thor looked up, immediately concerned. She was in no pressing danger, but the same could not be said for the hapless employee in front of her.

His name was Derek, if Thor remembered correctly, and he was one of the newer employees hired by Stark. He was likeable enough, but he was also in danger of being punched in the face by a diminutive scientist going on a few hours of sleep and three pots of coffee.

“I ran the simulation just like you said--” Derek started.

“And then you deleted the data!” Jane said. “You can’t close the process until it has finished writing, do you know that? Do you know what it does when you do that? Do you?”

Derek stammered.

“It deletes an entire day’s worth of work,” Jane said. She slammed her papers down, her hand clattering on the table. “A day. We don’t have a day. Do you want to tell Tony Stark that we’re going to be late because you decided to be a total idiot?

Derek was all but cowering now, despite the fact that he was several inches taller than Jane. The rest of the lab had grown silent and still, and Thor could see that the situation was spiraling out of control.

When no one seemed ready to intervene, Thor knew what he had to do.

For there had been a time he had been prone to fighting.

And now he was good at making peace.

“Here,” Thor said, slipping between them. “Why don’t we look at the process that was deleted and see what we can piece together. We have lost the digital copy, but surely someone has the notes?”

He looked around, making eye contact with Darcy.

“Amanda,” Darcy said finally. “That was Amanda’s process yesterday.”

“Good,” Thor said. “So Derek can work with Amanda and restore the lost data, and not as much will be lost, yes?”

Derek nodded quickly, but Jane’s gaze was hard. “We can’t afford mistakes,” she fumed.

“Indeed,” Thor said, taking her gently by the elbow. “So let them fix it, shall we?”

Jane was stiff.

Thor pulled her gently. “Jane,” he said, softer now. “If I could have a moment--”

She looked at Thor. “We don’t have a moment,” she snapped.

He smiled. “I think maybe we do.”

She wanted to fight him, but there was nothing to fight. He was on her side and always would be. As consumed as she was, Thor knew Jane would remember that, even if unwillingly.

Drawing a breath, she let it out heavily. She gave Derek a menacing look but yielded to Thor’s touch. “I’ll be back in three minutes,” she growled. “Three minutes. I want a solution by then.”

Derek nodded convulsively, ducking off toward a workstation while Thor guided Jane toward the door. She pulled away from him, marching herself outside. The door had barely closed behind her, when she could no longer contain herself.

“It’s an amateur mistake!” she exploded. “It’s unprofessional, and more than that, it’s just stupid, okay? It’s stupid, and it’s not something we can afford. Not now. Not when we’re on this kind of deadline--”

Thor took a breath, doing his best to remain calm. “Jane.”

“I mean, this is who Stark hires?” she grunted incredulously. “This is the best he can come up with? I don’t care if he has a degree from Stanford, if he can’t do the work, then we can’t hit our deadline. I have half a mind to call up Stark--”

“Jane,” Thor said again.

“--because if he thinks he can give me high demands and subpar workers, then he has another thing coming,” she continued. “Because you can buy a flat screen TV but you can’t buy competence--”

“Jane!” Thor said, louder now and firmly.

She stopped, looking at him in surprise.

With her attention, he let his posture ease. “The mistake is done.”

She snorted. “And for the worse--”

Thor shook his head. “There are two lessons to learn from this,” he continued. “The first being that the past cannot be changed, but only reconciled. Fortunately, you are a smart, competent scientist, and I have every confidence that you can take this setback in stride based on your skills and goodness.”

The anger faded on her face somewhat. “And what’s the second?”

Thor moved closer to her. “That this mistake has afforded you three minutes alone with me,” he said. “And those are three minutes that are deeply craved.”

She stepped into his touched, pushing herself up on her toes for a kiss. “Well,” she murmured. “Maybe we can make it a few more minutes.”

“And we’ll blame Derek,” Thor returned.

“Oh, yes,” she said, taking him by the hand toward the trailer. “It is definitely all Derek’s fault.”

-o-

It was strange, really, to be the calm one. On Asgard, it had been all his friends could to do keep him in check. They tried to talk him out of his most careless plans, and Loki had been fool hardy enough to attempt getting him to see reason. There had been too many times his friends had dragged him away from a conflict, against Thor’s most vehement protests.

He owed them all apologies, and deep debts of gratitude.

Not that it mattered now.

It was Thor’s turn to be responsible, for Jane’s sake if not his own.

He would not let her down as he had so many people before her.

-o-

Life did not make it easy for him.

In retrospect, things had gone surprisingly well over the last three years, so much that Thor had probably taken it for granted. Yes, there had been a steep learning curve, and adjusting to his newfound limitations had taken time and energy. But he’d been fortunate to have a good life among good people. He had found success in all things he tried, and there had been few setbacks.

This last month had more than made up for it.

Not only did they have too much to do, but things kept going wrong.

At his work, with the lab -- and then at the house as well.

His work had slowed to a crawl, and he realized one morning that he’d forgotten to finish the wiring for his electrical inspection. When he called to reschedule, the inspector had been overbooked.

“I can’t do another one until next month,” the man explained.

“But without the inspection, I cannot move ahead,” Thor said. “My work will be at a standstill.”

“Look, buddy,” the man said over the phone. “It’s not my fault you missed the appointment. It’s just a month, right?”

Thor seethed, and had the sudden fantasy of dragging the man here, of checking all the boxes for him and getting that stamp of approval. He knew his work was impeccable; he knew that it was an inspection he would pass.

He just needed time.

A little leeway.

He had neither.

Worse still, he had to take it. He was the calm one, and more than that, he was only human. He had to play by these rules, even when he felt they were beneath him.

Especially then.

“Very well,” Thor said, voice nothing more than a low growl. “A month from now.”

The inspection could wait, he supposed.

Just like everything else.

-o-

Time was pressing in reality, but in his dreams, it ceased to have meaning. Every night, without fail, he dreamed of the same moment.

There was no reason to think things would be different, but Thor was compelled by a force beyond him -- to try.

He had to try.

The storm darkened the sky; thunder clashed and lightning raged. The power surged from Mjolnir, teasing into his hand as it wrapped around the hilt.

He breathed in, seeking to control the overwhelming energy. He remembered this; he knew this. Every synapse of his body sung with anticipation, and he felt the certainty flow through him.

If he be worthy.

If he be worthy.

Thor had been worthy once; maybe he could be again.

Maybe he could defy his curse, maybe he could overcome his exile.

All he had to do was take hold of Mjolnir, reclaim what was his birthright and lift.

The rock shook, the wind picked up, Thor’s muscles burned as he pulled back.

When he woke up, he was still straining.

It should have felt futile, he knew.

But somehow it felt like anything but.

-o-

There was no time to dwell, least of all on the dreams. Those things were fleeting and insubstantial, and each day had trials enough without the question of what trials his subconscious was creating. They could be a sign of internal conflict. Perhaps they were an indication of growing confidence of his role. Maybe it was guilt, regret, hope, need.

Perhaps it was nothing at all.

Thor did not have the luxury to concern himself with that, not with his job as busy as it was and life in the lab as chaotic as it seemed inevitably to be. Jane worked doggedly, with an expertise that Thor saw fully realized in her. Even Darcy had buckled down, moving every element of the lab like a well oiled and perfected machine.

For Thor’s part, he checked off the days on the calendar, watching the approaching date with due anticipation. Just two weeks, he told himself. Two weeks.

That was the date that mattered.

The fact that his three year anniversary was a mere week away was unimportant. There was no time for a party; Jane said nothing of it. Not even Darcy remembered.

They would celebrate later, in their own way. It was just another day, after all.

Three years was the same as two or one. Or five or ten or twenty.

Thor did not need accolades or celebrations.

Not when it was the time that mattered.

-o-

No matter how he tried, however, things kept going wrong.

They missed a deadline at work; Thor’s progress on the house stalled entirely. He and Jane had not touched in a week, and work at the lab went on unabated. Thor burned a batch of cookies, and he cut through a floor board at the house, causing him hours of repair work. When parking the car one night, he backed up too far, breaking a tail light on the car.

Getting out, it was a minor thing.

Thor could handle that.

Thor had to handle that.

He could not let Jane see; he could let no one see.

It was fortunate, then, that no one was around when he slammed his fist into the wall, leaving his knuckles frayed and bleeding.

Inside, Thor cleaned it off and wrapped it gingerly before starting dinner.

No one noticed.

Thor told himself that he was grateful.

-o-

In his dreams, he truly was.

His dreams came with growing ferocity, and Thor felt more alive in them than he did in the grind of daily life. The taste of electricity in the air; the ripples of energy through his skin as he strode to Mjolnir, with more confidence every night.

He smiled this time, not hesitating as he reached down. When his flesh touched the hilt, the two seemed to fuse in a perfect harmony of magic and humanity. Grinning now, he pulled upward, feeling the hammer respond to his touch as it had so many times before.

Though it was heavy, he heaved it up, holding it over his head while the elements swirled above him. The storm was reaching its fevered pitch, and Thor felt himself wavering as the wind picked up and power erupted once more.

It was too much, though, and Thor went spiraling out of control, tumbling back to consciousness as he lay panting, alone in Jane’s trailed.

It was just a dream, he reminded himself numbly.

It was just a dream.

-o-

The next day, Thor made a point to work on the house, running his fingers along his handiwork, to remind himself what was real. He clapped Jose on the shoulder and shook Ricky’s hand. He made meatloaf, just to churn the meat with his fingers, and he scrubbed his hands clean under hot water.

He put his hand on Jane’s arm, kissing her on the top of her head for a long moment.

She looked up at him, perplexed. “You okay?” she asked hurriedly.

He smiled, squeezing both her shoulders with his hands. “Fine,” he promised. “I’m fine.”

But when he let go, his fingers ached, deep and nagging and worse than before.

-o-

Persistence, Thor told himself. Dedication and discipline. These were the lessons he had been forced to reconcile in his exile, and he would not forsake them now.

He would prevail in this.

He worked harder at his job. He went above and beyond in his support of Jane. He spent late nights and early mornings at the house, making sure every detail was perfect.

So set on this pursuit, that he barely noticed the storm building on the horizon. In fact, when the thunder started, he thought perhaps he was slipping into sleep. It was not until the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down that he realized it was real.

Tool still in hand, Thor went out to the front porch. The storm system blanketed the sky, and he walked across the boards while the lighting illuminated the sky and the thunder resounded so loudly that it rattled in his chest. With a step down, he exited the covered overhang, taking two more steps until he was on the muddy ground.

There he stood, letting the rain wash over him. It soaked him quickly, drenching his hair and seeping right through his clothes.

This was real, he told himself, watching as the rain ran in rivulets down his arms, feeling it coat his cheeks and wet his tongue. This storm was true and strong, and he could feel it, burning down into the pit of his stomach and tingling in the tips of his fingers.

With a breath, Thor tried to ground himself, closing his eyes as he felt the call of power. It was in his head, he reminded himself. It was nothing but powerful illusion.

Because this storm was not his to control.

No, Thor was subjected to its power. He was ruled by its superiority. He was nothing to this storm, just a speck of dust, lost in the elements. Unimportant and easily washed away by the deluge.

This storm represented pure power and unbridled tension.

Thor, however, represented human weakness and resigned unimportance. He would make no mark on this planet that anyone would remember; his entire existence would be washed away by the encroaching storm of time. He was weak; helpless.

Unworthy.

The truth of it broke him, and Thor opened his eyes, turning his face up to the storm with a wrenching cry. The lightning sizzled; the thunder cracked.

Thor fell to his knees, humbling himself before the things he used to have, the things he did not deserve, the things he would always yearn for but never possess.

And there he stayed, bent and soaked, the god of thunder, bowed down before his own creation.

-o-

Thor was not aware of time. Indeed, seconds passed with the pounding rain, and his anguish grew in measures with the cadence of the thunder. It was as much despair as it was hope, and Thor found himself still fixed beneath the storm when Jane arrived.

“Thor!” she called to him over the melee. “What are you doing?”

Half blinded by the rain, Thor swallowed with effort. “The storm…”

“Yeah, I can see that!” she said, pulling her rain slicker tighter over her head, holding the front together with her other hand. “Which is why we shouldn’t be outside!”

There was no way to tell her, of course. That this was what he wanted. This was what he missed. That he would let the rain soak him if only to remember what it was like to bring it forth. The rain moved on his skin, much the way it had when the storm had moved inside of him.

This was where he belonged.

Jane reached out, a cold hand on his shoulder. “Thor!”

He looked at her, and he could see she was desperate, too. But where the storm called to him, it spurred her away.

She was the smart one, though.

The storm could lead him nowhere.

Jane, though. Jane could take him home.

Numbly, he got to his feet.

“Come on!” she said, nodding toward the house. “Let’s get inside!”

Stiffly, he forced himself to follow.

-o-

Inside, Jane hurried closed the door behind him, stamping her boots on the unfinished floors. “That storm came out of nowhere!” Jane said. “They’re worried about flash flooding.”

Thor stood listlessly in the doorway, still dripping wet.

Jane threw back her hood, running her hand over her ponytail to rearrange it. “I barely noticed, of course, but when someone said you weren’t in your room, I started to get worried,” she said. “Why didn’t you take shelter?”

Thor swallowed, shrugging. “It was just a little rain.”

“A little rain?” Jane asked incredulously. “It’s a downpour out there. We’re under a severe thunderstorm warning; they’re telling people to take shelter on high ground, if possible.”

Thor wrinkled his nose, quizzical. “For a storm?”

“Thor,” she said. “This is more than a storm. In your entire three years here, have you ever seen a storm like this?”


Thor thought for a moment, and realized she was right. He had seen many storms much worse than this, but they had all been on Asgard and all of his own doing.

“You have to be careful,” Jane continued, voice stressed with worry. “When I saw you out there--”

“I’m sorry,” he said, somewhat hoarsely. He met her gaze, trying to smile. “It was not my intention to worry you.”

“It was just your intention to get struck by lightning?” she asked.

“I am not afraid of lightning,” Thor told her.

“As a general rule, neither am I,” she said. “But I also don’t condone standing outside in the storm of the decade with a metal tool in my hand.”

Thor looked down and he realized he was still carrying his wrench. It seemed ridiculous, all of a sudden. To stand before the storm with a human tool and to expect anything except electrocution.

Awkwardly, he put the wrench down.

“Hey,” Jane said, reaching out and touching his arm. Her touch was warm -- just as much as his own skin was cold. When he met her gaze, she looked even more worried. “Is everything okay?”

He blinked at her, finding himself at a loss. Nothing had changed, in all honesty. He was still the same as he had been the day his father sent him to this realm. Everything was fine.

Except -- his throat grew tight -- and he almost smiled. “I love you.”

“And I love you,” she said. “But that’s not why you were standing in the storm.”

He wet his lips, shaking his head. “I just got lost in it, that’s all,” he explained. “The power of it -- is humbling.”

She was watching him carefully. “You can tell me what’s bothering you,” she said, gently now.

What was bothering him? The storm outside? The lack of progress on the house? The incessant dreams, night after night?

All of that and more. All of that and nothing.

For what did any of it mean -- when Jane was standing right in front of him. What was the storm in the face of her intellect? What was a mere dream in the reality of her touch? What was what might have been with the palpable possible of what could be?

“I wish to marry you, Jane,” he blurted finally.

Her brow furrowed, almost in surprise. “What?”

“You are more valuable than anything else on this planet,” he said. “There is no future without you, and I know you do not desire marriage, but I long to be united with you in that way. To make a statement, to stand proudly before our friends and proclaim my devotion to you.”

Her mouth opened. “Wait,” she said. “That’s what’s been bothering you?”

Thor blinked.

“All these weeks, that?” she asked.

“I didn’t realize you’d noticed something was different,” Thor admitted.

“Of course I noticed,” she said. “I’m busy, not stupid.”

Thor’s cheeks started to burn. “I am embarrassed to admit that I could not find the words,” he said. “I do not want to force you into something.”

“Oh, come on,” she said. “Just because I don’t think about marriage doesn’t mean that I can’t understand why you might. If it matters to you then, okay.”

She said it so simply, so plaintive, that Thor thought he must have misunderstood. “Okay?”

She grinned. “Okay.”

He let out a breath, the tightness in his throat easing.

Reaching out, she ran her hands along his wet arms. “You’re like ice,” she said. “How long were you out there?”

“How long has it been raining?” Thor asked.

Jane rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get you warm.”

“We have no clothes here,” Thor reminded her.

She cocked her head. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Thor did not hesitate to follow this time.

-o-

The storm raged throughout the evening, and Thor and Jane took refuge. They huddled together underneath a few spare blankets Thor had used once to protect some of his work, tucked against each other as they looked up at the dark skies through the skylight in what would be their bedroom.

“It’s funny,” Jane murmured. “All that we’ve been going through lately, this is what it takes.”

“Hmm?” Thor mused sleepily, nosed pressed into her hair.

“The storm,” she said. “It’s the thing that made us both stop long enough to connect.”

She turned toward him somewhat, keeping the blanket on top of them pulled close as she looked at him.

“I feel like it’s all getting away from us,” she said.

He looked up a bit, stirring himself more awake. “We both knew this month--”

“But it’s always going to be a month, isn’t it?” she asked. “One month and another month and another, and then our entire lives are just going to be gone.”

Stroking her hair, he shook his head. “We would not let that happen.”

“Would we?” she asked. “I haven’t even been human these last few weeks.”

“To the contrary,” he assured her. “You have been very human, and I love you all the more for your dedication.”

Her brows knitted guiltily. “What if it’s not worth it, though?”

Propping himself up, he intensified his earnest gaze. “Jane,” he said. “We must do what we must do. You cannot fight your calling, and I would never ask you to. We will get through this month. And if there is another, we will prevail against that as well.”

A watery smile spread over her face. “I don’t know why you get it.”

“Well,” he said, kissing her. “There’s nothing like getting hit by a car a few times to make things abundantly clear.”

She snorted a laugh. “I suppose that would help,” she agreed, pulling closer to him again under the blanket. “Still, I’ve never been more glad to hear thunder.”

As she tucked her head against him while the storm raged on above them, Thor could only agree.

-o-

The storm ended, and life resumed. Thor took a long hot shower, trying to rid himself of the mud that clung stubbornly to his body. He dried himself and dressed warmly, and tried to resume life as normal.

It wasn’t normal, though. The deep ache in his chest did not abate, and he grew restless when he was supposed to be sleeping. Dreams haunting him when he closed his eyes, and his body grew wearier with each passing day.

He pushed on in the vain hope that it would get better.

It had to get better.

-o-

It was Jose who finally said something, one day at work not even a week later. Thor had struggled through most of the week, but as he tried to keep himself upright through another workday, he was faltering -- and badly.

“Thor,” Jose said. “You sure that you’re okay?”

Thor was about to assure his friend that yes, everything was fine. After all, Thor had been through battle. He was a warrior, no matter what his current state on Earth. He was not one to be laid low, not on this planet or any.

But as he straightened, getting back to his feet, the words never came. They seized up in his throat and locked deep in his chest. His head went light and his knees went weak, and then he everything was falling down--

-o-

Down, Thor remembered. Spiraling through the Bifrost, tumbling head over heels, down and down. He had been caught off guard three years ago, uncertain what would break his fall, if anything would break his fall.

He’d hit the ground hard, and stumbled to his feet. Turning, the glare of light blinded him.

On his back, he looked up and there was only one thing to see; one image that anchored him.

“Please don’t be dead,” Jane said. “Please don’t be dead.”

-o-

Thor squinted, swallowing hard and wincing. Jane was there again, a cool hand pressed against his forehead. “Thor,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”

He struggled to clear his throat. “I am fine.”

Jane gave him a withering look, but it was laced with worry. “No, you’re not.”

Thor wanted to protest, but he lacked the strength. In fact, he could barely focus on Jane’s face. He was only dimly aware that he was still at work, propped up on a cot with a cool cloth pressed against his head.

“Come on,” Jane said, coaxing him to sit up. With Jose’s help, she got him to his feet, supporting his weight as he took a fumbling step. “Let’s go home.”

-o-

He slept most of the way back, head pressed against the window. Jane helped him out, calling for Darcy who helped him to his bedroom. Thor shook his head as they put him in bed. “At least put me in the trailer,” he said. “I do not wish to be in your way.”

“You can’t be in the way,” Jane said. “This is where you belong.”

“Besides,” Darcy said. “You’re way too heavy to get to the trailer.”

Jane smoothed a hand over his brow, and Thor had no choice but to relent to her touch. “Just let me do the worrying, okay?”

“But your work--” he croaked.

“Hey,” she said in gentle admonishment. “Work’s important, but it’s not the most important.”

“But your deadline--” Thor protested.

“Tony Stark can wait,” she said with a small, defiant smirk. “You’ve given up a lot for me. Let me return the favor, okay?”

Thor shook his head, trying to say no, but the words wouldn’t come. Nothing would come, not as Jane plied him with medicine and helped him take a drink. When she pulled up the covers and pressed a cool washcloth to his forehead, he had no choice but to succumb.

It occurred to him, then, that he’d been falling for three years.

There was no reason to stop now.

-o-

As Thor fell, the fever climbed. The Aesir are a hearty race, much more resilient than most. They are not plague by illness, and though Thor had been treated for a range of injuries for his rambunctious ways, he had rarely been seriously confined to bed rest. Those few times he had been ordered to stay put, he had been more annoyed by the order than the malady itself.

Though Thor had lived hundreds of years, therefore, this experience was still entirely new.

For he was bedridden by necessity, unable to muster enough strength to care for himself. Jane helped him to the bathroom and minded the time for him to eat, drink and take his medicine. In fact, Thor lost all sense of time and self, submitting himself wholly to her control, obeying wordlessly at her suggestions and compulsions.

Sometimes Jane sat silently by his bedside, hunched over a tablet with the TV on low. Other times, Thor often slept, slipping in and out of consciousness at uncertain and undetermined intervals.

He preferred the times when she talked, however. When she rambled about anything and everything.

“The house will be perfect, you know,” she said, feet up on his bed. She tapped her pencil absently against her cheek. “I was thinking about that bathroom, actually. I’ve been living in a trailer so long that I haven’t really had a bath since, well...ever. Maybe we can get a Jacuzzi tub? Something with jets? And travertine tile in the shower.”

Thor trembled beneath the sheets, head tilted toward her as he watched her through lidded eyes.

“And we’ll have so much space, you know,” she continued, a little dreamily. “We could do anything, I think. Anything.

Of everything, that was Thor’s reason to hope.

-o-

Hope was hard to hold onto, though. For this was a new kind of weakness, more pervasive, more insidious. It ate away at his fortitude, ebbing his strength away until he was feeble and needy. How far would he fall? What more would he be forced to endure?

Thor had always embraced life, no matter where he was at. As a child, he had dealt well with change and had handled shifting responsibilities with little concern. Even in his exile, though traumatic, he had adapted well and he had flourished. The idea of giving up -- it had not crossed his mind.

Surrender, it seemed, was just not in his nature.

But this was more than that. This was more than anything. This was a foe he could not fight; a situation he could find nothing to redeem by. While Thor had clung to hope with a stubborn tenacity, this illness reminded him just how helpless he was.

He was not so different than the other humans on this planet. Plagued with weakness of mind and spirit. Their lives were but breaths, a blink of an eye. Three years or thirty years, the result would be the same.

Thor would come to the same, lowly end.

This much he had accepted for he had seen the good in his existence.

Now, however.

For the first time in his life, he was forced to think maybe death would be the better option.

-o-

Worst of all, Thor could not escape the dreams.

They grew more real as the fever climb, and Thor bordered on delirium as the intensity took hold. The storm grew violent in his dream, with eddies of wind and rain pulling from the sky as Thor approached Mjolnir. There were many reasons to turn back, but he did not. Step by step until he took the hilt in his hand and pulled the mighty hammer aloft.

With it pointed up, the storm shifted, as he felt himself pull it in. The wind no longer swirled around him but to him, and the rain broke in sheets around him. His breathing caught; his chest hurt; but he did not flinch while the power surged forth, and Thor felt the hilt tremble in his hands as it escaped the hammer and spread through him and up into the storm.

The lightning flashed; the thunder roared. Thor held fast while the winds surrounded him and the power eclipsed him. He was no longer standing vacantly, but the energy vibrated until his human clothes started to transform. The chain mail fleshed out over his arms, the weight of his armor replacing the thin t-shirt. The cape fluttered out behind him and Thor roared at the storm, his own voice louder than the echoes of thunder off the plain around him.

He was here now, fully restored to his greatest. He was here, Thor, the god of thunder. Redeemed and made new.

As if he had never left.

As if the fever had burned away the facades, as if it had cut through his failures and doubts, revealing the very heart of what was left behind.

What had never left.

-o-

Whether it was Jane’s support or Thor’s inherent perseverance, the fever subsided. It was not even a week later and Thor was back at work, trying to make up for lost time. Jane’s deadline was ever looming now, and though she said she did not mind missing it, there was a silent agreement among all of them that all effort would be put into meeting that goal.

And why not?

It was not as if Thor had anything else to do.

Instead, he resumed his countdown, crossing off the days, trying not to linger on the date tomorrow.

Three years.

It had only been three years.

It was no dream; it was no fever induced hallucination.

It was real, indisputable truth.

In many ways, he was glad there was no time to commemorate it this year for, in truth, Thor did not feel much like celebration.

Thor did not know what he felt at all.

-o-

That night, Thor dreamed of Mjolnir, flying through the air and bringing the hammer down hard on the ground, clearing the space around him for miles. When he got to his feet, he was the only one still standing, proud and in his truest glory.

That night, Thor dreamed of victory.

-o-

He woke modestly, to the faintest creak of his door. Blinking a few times, he squinted out, and Jane smiled apologetically as she entered. “I know I probably should have let you sleep,” she said, hastily making her way to his bedside. She put down a tray. “But we never exactly have a lot of time.”

Thor propped himself up, looking sleepily from Jane to the tray. “Is that…?”

“Breakfast,” Jane supplied, sounding nervous. “I know it’s not much -- I probably should have just taken you out -- but I wanted to do something special.”

Thor sat up further, taking the tray carefully onto his lap. There was a bowl of cereal and some toast next to a lackluster pile of eggs and soggy bacon.

“It’s not going to be very good,” Jane apologized. “But, I don’t know, I tried.”

“It’s wonderful,” he said, taking a large bite of eggs to prove his point. He chewed, cocking his head. “But what is the occasion?”

She actually looked somewhat surprised. “Well, it is your three year anniversary,” she said, matter of fact.

Thor’s stomach churned hopefully, a warmth spreading in his chest.

“Darcy and I will plan a party when we’re done with this prototype,” she continued. “But I didn’t want you to think I forgot. Or didn’t care. Or something.”

He looked at the breakfast again, scooping up more eggs on a piece of toast and putting it in his mouth. True, Jane was not a refined cook, but it tasted good. Around the mouthful he smiled. “You have too much work to do to be wasting time on this,” he said.

“It’s not a waste--” Jane started.

Thor shook his head, swallowing. “I am grateful,” he said. “Though I admit, I feel sheepish.”

Jane made a funny look. “Why?”

“My behavior recently has not warranted any special attention or privilege,” he admitted. “I feel that I owe you an apology.”

At that, Jane scoffed. “Thor,” she said, almost in disbelief. “You’ve been amazing. Supportive and flexible and...most people wouldn’t stay through something like this.”

“But I have been distant,” Thor said. “Distracted.”

“And why not?” Jane asked. “It’s been science around here, 24-7. I know you care for my sake, but it’s not your thing. I would want you to be distracted or I think you’d go crazy.”

She was being understanding, and unduly so. Because she did not understand the depth of his distraction. Nor did he know how to explain it. Did he even understand it himself? Did he know what to make of the dreams? How could he tell her that he pined for the one thing he could never have, even when he was so close to getting everything he’d ever hoped for on this planet.

It was a choice for him. He’d had no say in his exile, but he had a say in this. He would build this life with Jane, no matter what. His resolve could not waver. Not when he was so close.

“Still,” he said with a steadying breath. “I want you to understand that I am fully committed to you, no matter what.”

“Hey,” Jane said. “Relationships -- they’re give and take. And you’ve given more than you’ve taken, Thor. Please believe me when I tell you that.”

While the dreams seemed real enough, this was his reality. Putting the tray aside, he reached out, taking Jane’s hand and guiding her to the bed next to him. “I love you,” he said. “There is no cause on this planet that could ever compel me to leave you.”

She smiled. “I know this is your anniversary, but I feel like it’s mine, too,” she said. “I don’t know who you were before, but I have never met anyone as strong as you -- and I don’t mean physical strength. I don’t care if you can pick up a hammer or whatever. It’s your character. It’s who you are. By any standard, you’re the strongest man I know.”

His chest clenched now, something burning inexplicably behind his eyes. He drew a breath, letting it out as he reached a hand up to cup her face. “I will spend my life trying to be worthy of you,” he promised, more vehemently than he had sworn allegiance to his father and the people of Asgard so long ago. “I will stay with you as you finish this deadline. I will finish our home together, and we will build or life. I promise you that. I promise you.

She nodded, smiling again as she leaned in to kiss him. “Good,” she said, inching forward and sliding her hand under his t-shirt. “Because I’m sort of counting on that.”

-o-

Thor went to work smiling. He finished his paperwork before the rest of his team arrived, and when he asked for the afternoon off, it was a request his boss gladly gave him. Even so, Thor worked extra hard in the morning, catching the schedule up so the entire project was back on track. He bought lunch for Jose and Ricky, before politely excusing himself for the afternoon.

He drove with the windows down, the air warm as he turned the radio on loud. He stopped at the bank, making a withdrawal, before finally arriving at his destination.

“Hello,” he said, pulling out his cash and putting it on the counter. “I have this much money to spend.”

The woman behind the counter looked at the money anxiously. “And what would you like to buy today, sir?”

“An engagement ring,” he said. “The best one I can afford.”

Her fingers flitted through the bills before she looked up at him with a smile. “Well,” she said. “I think I can help you with that.”


-o-

Exiting the store, Thor pocketed what little change he had left. In the sunlight, he opened the ring box. He could have purchased a more extravagant ring, but the quality of the stones would have been compromised. Instead, he had opted for the most perfect diamond he could afford, nearly flawless and mounted on a simple ring.

It was not much -- on Asgard, he could have given Jane a palace of gold -- but it was something he had worked for. Something he had earned. He was worthy of it, and it was worthy of Jane.

The diamond glinted in the sun, and Thor closed the box with satisfaction. He would be ready to propose -- and soon. Once the prototype was done; once the house was complete.

Then Thor would take Jane into their home, walk her from room to room before showing her the stars through the skylight.

That would be when he asked her to marry him. That would be his defining moment. That would be the moment Thor would have everything he wanted.

That would be the moment Thor would be home.

Putting the ring in his pocket, he grinned as he headed back to the car. It wouldn’t be long now.

And Thor could not wait.

-o-

Back at home, he parked the car. Glancing inside the lab, he could see Jane and Darcy, still hard at work. Jane was fully engrossed with it, modifying the almost functional prototype with specific calculations that he was sure only she could come up with. With so many employees working around the clock, Thor didn’t want to bother her -- not when they were so close.

Instead, he went around the building toward the house. He had a few hours before dinner, which would afford him the time he needed to get things ready for the inspection tomorrow.

Whistling, he climbed the stairs, letting himself in. His tools were still in place, and he bent over to pick up the hammer when he stopped.

Something was different.

The hair on his arms stood up, and Thor felt ice run up his spine. His stomach flipped, and he found himself on alert as he gripped the hammer tight and straightened.

Something had changed.

Bringing the hammer to bear, he turned and stopped short, the hammer almost falling out of his hands.

Something was not different.

No, something was familiar in a way it hadn’t been in a long time.

In three years.

For standing across the unfinished floors of Thor’s living room, in his full armor and holding their father’s staff, was Loki.

-o-