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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

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

December 30th, 2014 (09:16 am)
exhausted

feeling: exhausted

For other parts and notes, check the master post.




For a moment, Thor thought he was dreaming.

It would not be out of the question, after all. His dreams had become quite vivid recently, and perhaps he had dozed off after parking the car. Maybe he was still asleep in his bed.

Because this couldn’t be real.

This wasn’t real.

“Thor,” Loki said, head held high, the light through the windows glinting off the horns on his helmet.

Thor inhaled, feeling himself start to tremble. He shook his head. “Loki,” he returned. “This is a dream.”

Loki arched his eyebrows, looking around the partially finished space. “More like a nightmare,” he said. His eyes narrowed in on Thor again. “Is this truly how you have been living in your exile?”

Thor stared back at him, blank. “I have had no other choice.”

“These mortals are weak in mind and spirit,” Loki said. “Surely you could have--”

Loki trailed off, wetting his lips under Thor’s plaintive shock.

Clearing his throat, Loki let out a measured breath. “It is not important,” he said. “For I have come to take you home.”

Dream or not, Thor almost laughed. “I am glad to see your wit has not left you, brother,” he said. “For surely, you jest.”

Loki gave Thor a quizzical look. “I assure you, I am quite serious.”

Thor’s laugh tapered into an incredulous snort. “This is my home now,” he said, gesturing to the walls around them. “This is where I belong.”

“You cannot be serious--”

“Your humor has always been greater than mine,” Thor reminded him, his ire starting to rise just slightly. “And if you will recall, father has sent me away, bidden me never to return--”

“And you thought that was the end of it?” Loki asked, his own incredulity usurping Thor’s own. “You did not at least try?”

“I called for Heimdall,” Thor said. “I asked for mercy, but there was none to be had. I did not think it was possible--”

“The curse was nothing that cannot be undone,” Loki said.

Thor’s humor faded entirely. “But Mjolnir--”

“Mjolnir waits for you, Thor,” Loki said. “Though we both pined for it, we both know it was always yours.”

“But it did not yield to me,” Thor said.

“Well, when did you try it?” Loki asked.

Thor frowned. “Three years ago,” he said. “Not long after I arrived.”

Loki let out a short, curt laugh. “And that was it?”

“I was cursed as unworthy,” Thor said.

“Do you actually believe that?” Loki said.

“I am mortal, brother,” Thor said. “My body ages faster; I feel the weariness in my bones. I stood there with the hilt in my hand and it ignored me as it does every other being in this universe.”

“So try again,” Loki said. “You cannot believe that the All Father meant for you never to return? That he wished you, his favored son, to stay here forever?”

Loki said it as if the answer were obvious; as though Thor should have known.

The thing was, Thor had known. At the very least, he had come to terms with the answer.

“Well,” Thor said. “Yes.”

Loki snorted. “Then you truly are stupider than I thought.”

Thor stepped forward, hackles bristling in the way only Loki could bring forth. For if this was not real, his subconscious remembered well just how frustratingly smug his brother could be. Most of the time, Thor had refused to let it bother him.

But under these circumstances--

Well, Thor had endured too much to suffer sleights from his brother, real or imagined though he may be. “I was cast out with nothing,” he said. “The hammer has sat just beyond my reach, taunting me for three years. I have learned to accept that. I have learned to flourish in a culture that is not my own. I have worked hard and made a life by their standards. I have learned humility and submission, and I have devoted myself to correcting the error of my ways. It has not been easy, nor has it been without its regrets and doubts and guilt. Because I am haunted every day by the things I sacrificed so foolishly and all the consequences left to play out that I would have no ability to fix. So, yes, I was stupid, but I will not stand here in this state to endure your insults, brother.

Loki’s expression softened, almost breaking. “Thor,” he said, keeping his voice even. “You misunderstand me.”

Thor squared his shoulders defensively. “I do not see how.”

“Mjolnir,” Loki said. “The worth it speaks of is not about power. It is not about a warrior or even a king. The worth it speaks to is about whom you’ll serve. About putting yourself last. That is the lesson the All Father wanted you to learn. He realized neither of us understood kingship at all.”

The gentle tone was odd, coming from Loki, but it was hard not to be mollified. “That still does not explain why you are here,” he said. “I assume Father had forbid contact.”

“He did,” Loki said.

“And you came without his permission?” Thor asked.

“I did not need his permission,” Loki said. “I tried to respect his wishes, but his orders no longer stand the test of time. Not when the All Father is asleep.”

The anger drained from Thor, and the revelation was like a splash of cold water. “He’s asleep?”

Loki nodded, grimly. “I have been on the throne for nearly three years.”

Thor’s eyes widened. If this was a dream, it was a strange and cruel one. One he could not trace to his subconscious; one he could not fathom at all.

Though it made sense, now that he looked again. The posture was taller; the staff shone brightly for him. Even though three years was nothing for a being like Loki, the look on his face was older and wiser. He was worn, just as Thor was, and Thor realized that the last three years were not only his trial.

“But what happened?” Thor asked, almost at a loss.

“Your exile, the threat of the Jotuns--” Loki started but he couldn’t finish. “There was more…”

There was more -- Thor could only imagine. So much more that Thor had missed. It was written on Loki’s face, carried on his shoulders. He’d known life had gone on back on Asgard, but he had not been able to fathom how much. He had not been able to fathom this.

It was one thing to imagine his friends and family happy without him. It was entirely another to imagine them suffering.

He blinked rapidly, trying to keep control of his spiraling emotions.

“You are king?” he asked, his voice almost gone as he looked over Loki in the grandeur of his posture.

“I am,” Loki said, but his voice was strangely devoid of pride. It was hollow almost, more vacant than Thor remembered. “Mother feels it is only a matter of time before the passes--”

“Then you should go,” Thor said with new urgency. “Asgard will need you now--”

“That’s why I’m here,” Loki said, and he hesitated, showing an uncharacteristic moment of weakness. “Because Asgard needs more than me.”

“You are her king,” Thor said. “You are brave and wise and good--”

“I am none of those things,” Loki said, shoulders sagging visibly now. “You are not the only one who needed a lesson in kingship, I’m afraid.”

“But Asgard--”

“Is at war,” Loki said. “I rebuffed peace with Jotunheim, because I thought it would make me weak. Now the war has spread, unchecked. It is consuming the realms, and though I have enlisted the best soldiers I can find, we are losing this war, Thor.”

“Think back to your training,” Thor said. “If you talk to Sif or the warriors three--”

“They are faithful generals, but I am no leader for them,” Loki admitted. “I need a warrior--”

Thor blinked, taken aback. “Loki, you surely can see,” he said. “I am no warrior. Not anymore.”

Loki stepped forward earnestly. “But you are,” he said. “Now, more than ever. I can see the wisdom in you now. I can see the restraint and the reason. You are better than you were, I see it as plainly as I see you in front of me.”

“And I am still not sure how this cannot be a dream,” Thor said.

Loki reached out, a cold hand on Thor’s arm. Thor turned, surprised. His brother did not initiate contact, but it was still a touch he knew.

A touch that no dream could replicate.

“You have changed on this planet,” Loki said, as kind as he had ever been. “For the better.”

Thor held his brother’s gaze, seeing a fear he had not known before. A doubt so pervasive that it made Thor weak. “And so have you.”

Loki’s mouth twisted into a rueful smile. “In my case, not for the better.”

“Do not be so sure, brother,” Thor said. “There are many ways to learn humility.”

Loki nodded. “Indeed,” he said. “And many ways to regain your worth.”

Thor smiled. “You should go,” he said. “Asgard needs her king, and you always were better suited.”

Loki shook his head. “No,” he said. “We were both meant to be kings.”

“But there is but one throne, and it is rightfully yours,” Thor said.

“One throne,” Loki said. “Two princes.”

Thor studied his brother, but there was no hint of malice or trickery. There was no derision or mockery. Loki was being genuine.

Honest and clear and true.

“And you think it is so easy?” Thor asked.

“Thor,” Loki said. “Has anything about these three years been easy for you?”

Thor shrugged.

“Me neither,” he said. “I thought I could be king; I thought I didn’t need help. I was wrong.”

“Not as wrong as I was,” Thor said.

“Brother, there is much you do not know,” Loki said. “Come with me, and I will tell you everything.”

It was an open invitation. It was a warm acceptance. It was a pathway to Asgard.

To home.

Something panged in Thor’s chest.

For three years, this had been his home. This small planet and its short lived people. This small town and these four walls. This was the home he had built for himself, the one he had claimed, the one that had accepted him when he had nothing.

And yet, he was still of Asgard. He had centuries there, and though they had felt like but a dream, Loki reminded him how real they were. He could no more deny them than he could deny this.

Thor was a man with two homes, divided by two lives. To be a king or a pauper; to live in glory or to live simply.

“I don’t know if I can,” Thor finally said, voice catching breathlessly in his throat.

Loki’s expression faltered, slipping from hope into fear. “War will consume all the realms,” he said, more ardently now. “Even this one. It is only a matter of time; surely you know this.”

Thor had suspected, but to hear it confirmed was not easy. Because this was his fault. The burden of war was his, and he could not leave Loki to carry that weight. Not when it was Thor’s.

Too many people had already paid for his mistakes. He could sacrifice no one else to his selfishness.

Well, almost no one else.

He drew a breath and let it out. “I will go with you,” he said.

Loki’s face brightened.

“But,” Thor said. “There is something I must do first.”

Loki pressed his lips together. “Time is of the essence.”

“Trust me,” Thor said. “Time can spare me for a bit longer yet.”

-o-

When cast out of Asgard, he had not had the opportunity to say goodbye. He had had no closure; the things he’d wished to tell people had all gone unsaid. Even now, he could only hope that his friends and loved ones had understood that it was his arrogance, and not his lack of passion, that had led to his punishment.

This time, however, he had the chance to make amends.

The irony, of course, that he had no idea how.

Walking stiffly, he made his way out of the house and across the yard toward the lab. At the door, he hesitated, watching that activity inside. It was bustling with energy, vibrant and full. Thor had never fully grasped the science, perhaps, but he had always thrived in that atmosphere. He had always felt lucky to be a part of it.

Standing outside, however, it was abundantly clear just how set apart he was. Perhaps he had been fooling himself; maybe he had never belonged.

He swallowed hard and refused to think it. This was a part of him, a part of him he did not part with easily.

Steadying himself, he opened the door.

With so much activity, his presence was hardly noticed. He could see that they were all hard at work, and the prototype was looking more advanced than before. However, with the paneling removed, it was clear that it was in need of fine tuning.

It was a crude thing, honesty. Thor had adapted easily to Earth technology, given how primitive it was. The bulk of the prototype looked unwieldy, and Thor found it remarkable that such a bulky device would do what Jane said it would.

It would open a portal to another world.

No doubt, it would have limited capacity. It probably would not be very precise, and it probably would not provide stable passage. Thor remembered tales of life before the Bifrost, though they seemed like mere myth to him now. Thor wondered if his ancestors had created something much like this before taking to the stars and never looking back.

Perhaps that was Jane’s future. It would be fitting for her, to live among the stars she dreamed about her whole life. It was entirely possible, Thor had to conclude, that she would be better off without him.

“Hey!” Darcy said, almost running into him. “Tell me you’re going to make dinner.”

Thor startled. “What?”

“Dinner,” she said. “I tried to talk one of the new guys into making something earlier, but all he did was give me a bag of Doritos. Which, I ate, mind you, but dinner, Thor. Are you going to make dinner?”

“Ah,” Thor said, trying to remember how to respond. He had spent the last three years in this role, but he suddenly felt conspicuous. Worse, he felt guilty. “Not tonight, I’m afraid. Perhaps it is a good night for takeout.”

Darcy made a face, sighing melodramatically. “I was hoping for pancakes,” she muttered. “But I suppose pizza will do.” She paused, looking out at the workers. “Did you hear that? Somebody needs to order pizza, and now.”

It was so normal -- so blissfully simple -- that Thor’s chest ached. For it was not the big things, it was nothing grand, but the little things -- the small day to day realities of life on Earth -- that was what had made him feel connected. That was what had made this home. Darcy Lewis did not have Jane’s brilliance, but she was a remarkable person all on her own. For she had taught him how to embrace life and how to defy expectations. She had shown him, more than anyone else, that sometimes heart mattered more than the mind.

That the greatest accomplishments were things no one looked for, things you felt inside.

He smiled fondly. “Surely with so many resources, you could have simply hired a cook,” he suggested.

“That is actually a really good idea,” Darcy said. “But then, what would you do?”

Thor chuckled. “Tell me,” he said. “Where is Jane?”

Darcy looked around, looking a little surprised. “Huh,” she said, finding Jane to be absent just as Thor had. “Oh, you know, I’ll bet she’s on the roof. She wanted to recalculate one of the sequences and said she couldn’t think--”

“And the roof is good for thinking,” Thor remembered. Thinking, and other things. Jane had showed him the view from the roof, modest though it was, and Thor had never needed to look beyond that. Until now.

“Yeah, probably,” Darcy said, shrugging indifferently as she shuffled through a stack of papers. “Some of us don’t have that luxury, though.”

Thor reached out, putting a gentle hand on Darcy’s shoulder.

Darcy looked up, eyebrows raised.

“I trust that you will prevail,” he said. “In all things you attempt.”

Darcy looked at his hand questioningly. “Uh, okay.”

It was awkward, to be sure, but Thor knew it had to be said. “I want you to know, I value your friendship,” he said. “You are one of the few people on this planet I would trust with my life.”

“Um,” Darcy said. “Thanks?”

Thor squeezed her shoulder once more. “I need you to know that,” he said, letting his hand fall.

She wrinkled her brow. “Dude,” she said. “I always have.”

“Indeed,” he said. “Even so. It is worth saying, and I fear I do not say it enough.”

Darcy shrugged. “I guess,” she said. “But hey, next time? Just say it in pancakes, okay?”

Thor grinned so wide it hurt. “Most certainly.”

With that, he retreated, moving toward the back door. He hesitated, watching as Darcy got back to work, running the lab seamlessly. It was hard to imagine what this place would have been like without him. It was hard to think what might have become of Darcy and all these other people.

One person could change everything. Thor had learned that for the worse on Jotunheim.

But he liked to think he had learned it for the better on Earth.

Finally, he turned away, exiting the room and letting the door shut firmly behind him.

-o-

In the last three years, Thor had been to the roof countless times. He could still remember that first time, when Jane brought him up there, when it had been just the two of them, alone beneath the stars.

Thor’s world had been a mess, then. Thor had been broken and resigned, and somehow, when she showed him her dreams, he had found his own.

Much had changed since then. In fact, very little on the roof was the same. The furniture had been updated, and even the view had changed.

But the stars still filled the expanse in the growing twilight.

And there was Jane.

He stood silently for a moment, just watching her. It was hard to explain how she had changed him, or even why. It was a difficult thing to pinpoint, the way he had transformed. She had offered him more than a second chance. No, she had merely offered him a place and a friendship.

A relationship.

A home.

In Jane, he had seen that victory is a matter of perception. Sometimes the greatest battles are those you fought inside yourself.

If he had met Jane before his fall, he would have been polite and charming before going on his way. He wouldn’t have looked twice; he wouldn’t have thought a lowly Earth scientist would have anything to offer him.

He could have gained the throne of Asgard.

And lost so much else.

Across the roof, Jane turned, her face brightening when she saw him. “Hey!” she said. “I thought that was you.”

Thor swallowed hard, and forced himself to walk forward. “I apologize for disturbing you--”

She rolled her eyes, putting her paperwork aside. “I think I’ve just about got it,” she said. “I mean, it’s not perfect, but I think the only way we’re going to refine it now is to do actual trials. Which, I’ve got to talk to Stark about safety protocols, but seriously. I think we’re almost there. In a week we could be trying to open a portal through space. Can you imagine?”

He sat down next to her, still struggling to gain control over his emotions.

“Of course you can imagine,” Jane said. “I’m sure it seems so primitive to you, but maybe I’ll get you clearance or whatever and you can tell me how it compares. You are the only one on Earth qualified to write reviews of wormhole travel.”

Thor laughed, but the sound was choked.

Jane’s smile faded when she noticed.

For she certainly would notice.

Three years ago, perhaps not. But Jane had changed as well. She had grown more attuned to the needs of others. Science, though a major drive in her life, was not her only passion. She had opened up her mind, body and spirit to Thor.

Which made this so much harder.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, frowning now.

He drew a breath but scarcely knew what to do with it. He had never lied to Jane, not once. She knew of his every shame and every disgrace. She knew his crimes; she knew his weakness.

And none of it had been so hard to confess as this.

“Thor,” she said, reaching out to him now. “Is something wrong?”

When he met her eyes, the emotions nearly broke him. “Jane,” he started, voice cracking precariously. “I--”

The color drained from her face. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Did something happen?”

“Yes,” he said. “To both. I am...very well. Better than well, in fact.”

Jane looked confused. “Okay,” she replied slowly.

Thor gathered himself, mustering every ounce of courage he could find. “Loki has come to find me,” he said finally.

Jane stared at him, waiting for more. “Loki,” she said. “You mean, your...brother?”

Thor nodded. “He is waiting in the house,” he said, gesturing toward their home.

Gaping, Jane’s breath caught. “Thor,” she said. “That’s...amazing! I mean, your brother? I know you’ve missed him -- and he’s here? That’s great! Isn’t it?”

Thor inclined his head tautly. “I have missed him a great deal,” he said. “And I did not expect to see him again.”

“Then you should go to him,” Jane said. “I mean, three years. You two have a lot of catching up to do, and I would love to meet him--”

She stopped short, however, when she saw the look on Thor’s face.

He let out a shaky breath. “He has come with tidings,” he said. “And I’m afraid not all is well on Asgard.”

Jane kept her composure. “Oh.”

“War has been inflicted upon the realms,” Thor explained as best he could. “Worse still, my father has fallen into sleep.”

Jane looked uncertain in her response.

“And has not woken in three years,” Thor continued. “My mother does not believe he will rise again. It may be only a matter of time.”

“Thor,” Jane said. “I’m sorry--”

Thor shook his head. “That is not even the worst of it,” he said. “My brother has gained the throne, but the weight of the war has taken its toll. He will not say it, but I fear the fate of Asgard teeters on the brink. And if Asgard falls, then all the realms will be lost to darkness.”

Jane had no response to this, for what response would there be? For as much as Jane dreamed of the stars, this was nothing she could fully grasp. Not with the scope of horror with which Thor felt it in the very essence of his being. For this was his fault. This was his mistake.

And now, it was his responsibility.

“Loki has come not merely to offer me passage to Asgard,” Thor said gravely. “But to seek my help in turning the tide of this war.”

It was too much to ask one person to understand, and though Jane was smart and quick, the weight of his revelation caught her entirely off guard. Thor hated himself for this -- he wished he could have waited.

But the fate of the universe hung in the balance.

Thor could not sit by idly.

Not when he had the power to make a difference.

“I have to go with him,” Thor continued helplessly. “For the risk of war spreading is too great. It will consume the realms. Millions of people will die, and it is only a matter of time before it comes to Earth and finds every person here defenseless. I cannot let that happen. I am no warrior anymore, but I cannot abide such a fate when there is a chance I would make a difference.”

“Wait,” Jane said, her own voice thin. “You’re saying your brother showed up and recruited you for a war. And you’re going.”

Thor swallowed. “Loki is proud,” he said. “He would not have come if he did not truly needed my help.”

“Well, if he could come, then why didn’t he come earlier?” Jane asked. “And hell, do you know what they call Loki in our books? The god of mischief. You’ve told me about his pranks. Couldn’t this be one of them?”

“My brother has changed,” Thor said. “I fear for his safety as well.”

Jane let out a staggered breath, her entire body starting to shake. “Three years,” she said. “Three years, and he shows up now?”

“Time is very different on Asgard--”

“Three years, and you’re telling me you want to leave now?” Jane said, her voice rising. “If you wanted to break up with me--”

“Jane,” Thor said quickly, reaching a hand up to her hair.

She shook him away.

His shoulders fell. “This war is my fault,” he said. “I started it. It is my duty to finish it.”

“But what about our plans?” Jane asked. She pointed out into the night. “You’re building me a house. You’ve been talking about marriage. You told me you’d never leave, that you’d always be there--”

“Promises I meant,” he said. “And promises I still intend to keep.”

“When?” Jane asked. “How?”

“When the war is over--”

She shook her head, getting to her feet and turning away from him.

Thor stood as well, following after her. “It is true that Loki’s offer to let me return home fills me with happiness,” he said. “But I could never stay away from Earth.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, still faced out toward the night. “You’re crazy,” she said. “I should have taken Erik’s advice three years ago and had nothing to do with you. You tell me you’re some exiled alien prince, and I believe you because apparently I’m an idiot. But here you are, leaving just like everyone else.

Her words stung, but Thor reminded himself that this could not be about him. Not right now. “Jane,” he said. “Please--”

She whirled on him. “Please what?” she asked. “Please marry you? Please give up every great opportunity in the world for you? Please change everything so we can be together? Please believe your promises of undying love and your declarations of commitment?”

“Please,” Thor said again. “Know that you are the best thing that has ever happened to me. I cannot say that I am glad to have started a war, but I will always be grateful that my arrogance led me to you. I spent hundreds of years on Asgard, and became a foolish, selfish person. Three years with you, and I am finally someone that does not need to hold a hammer to know his own worth in this worth.”

Her anger wavered, and her eyes glistened. “Three years,” she said, voice staggering. “Three years is nothing but a blink of the eye.”

He stepped forward. “Or a lifetime,” he said, reaching his hand up again.

This time, she did not shy from the touch, turning her cheek into his hand and closing her eyes. A tear slithered down her face and she half choked on a sob. “I think I always knew you were too good to stay,” she said, opening her eyes again. “I knew that I couldn’t be the only one to see just how incredible you are.”

“I don’t need anyone to see it,” he said. “Just you.”

She tried to smile, almost grimacing with the effort. “You’re sure this is real?”

It was a valid question, for it was one Thor had asked himself more than he let on. It was the question he’d been asking since he woke up on Earth, since he first saw Jane Foster’s face.

It would be easy, after all, to see these three years as an aberration. To forget them as quickly as he embraced them, for time was fleeting. Perhaps that was why the dreams had been so vivid.

Perhaps it was even fate.

Thor knew better than to fight fate. His life on Asgard had taught him that over the centuries.

However, these three years on Earth had taught him a different lesson. The power of free will. For he could not fight fate.

But he could pick his life.

It was up to Thor to find that balance, to fulfill his destiny and live up to the promises he made.

He reached down, taking her hand in his. “This is real,” he said, lifting her hand and holding it to his chest. “When I doubt anything, I merely look to you and I am grounded in the things that matter most. I used to think that my father sent me here to punish me, but I realize now that he wanted me to learn.”

“Learn what?” Jane asked.

“How to lead,” Thor said. “How to rule. He needed to break my pride and my ego until it fit the mold, until I could return to Asgard as a better man and a much better leader for my people.”

Jane swallowed with trepidation. “Well,” she said. “I didn’t know you before, but I’d still say he probably succeeded.”

“In all ways but one,” Thor said.

Jane wet her lips, looking up at him, almost afraid to be hopeful.

“I have gained humility and wisdom, this is true,” Thor said. “I am a better man, and I’m sure I could serve my people with far more integrity than ever.”

Jane’s eyes didn’t leave his face. “But?”

“But I have no heart for battle,” he said. “I no longer crave the throne. Loki has come here offering me power and glory, and I want none of it. All I want, Jane Foster, is you.”

“Then why are you going?” she asked.

“Because it is a battle that must be fought,” Thor said. “I started this war with a blood lust. I will end it for the sake of peace for all the realms. This is a victory I desire not for my own glory, but for the good of others.”

“And me?” Jane asked, voice small in the night.

“For you, as well,” he said. “I would not have the strength to fight, if not for you. Nor the motivation to win.”

Her face crumpled then. “You can’t go. You made me believe it was going to be me and you--”

“And it shall,” Thor said, more readily now. “I swear to you, I will return.”

“You’re going to fight a war,” Jane said. “Some huge cosmic war that might destroy everything. You have to be a lunatic. I’m in love with a lunatic.”

“I never lied to you,” he said.

“Sure,” Jane replied. “And it was easy to believe that you were from outer space when I didn’t think you’d ever be able to go home. I mean, maybe the crazy was sexy. Maybe I just felt responsible. Maybe I’m the crazy one.”

“Jane,” he said, gently again. “I will admit, there were times when my past life seemed like a dream to me as well. It haunted me, no matter how hard I struggled to let it go.”

“Three years,” she said. “You moved on in three years. How long will it take you to forget Earth? To forget me?”

“It is not possible,” he assured her, with all the confidence he had ever known. “For I know now what is real. And it is not power or victory. It is not conquest or redemption. It is people. It is life. It is you.”

She took a breath. Then another. “So you’ll come back.”

“It’s just for a little while,” he promised.

She laughed, bitter and wry. “Just a month, right?”

“Give or take,” he agreed. “But I swear on my life--”

She shook her head. “I’d rather you not.”

“Jane, you know me better than anyone.”

“I thought I did,” she said.

“You do,” he said. “I have unfinished business on Asgard, but I also have unfinished business here. I have every intention to attend to both.”

She nodded, blinking rapidly. “You better,” she said.

“This is my home,” he said. “I will protect this home, just as I protect you.”

“Just do me a favor out there,” she said.

“Anything.”

She reached out, fussing with his shirt. “Protect yourself, too,” she said. “Because the house isn’t going to build itself.”

He smiled. “You have my word.”

She pursed her lips. “I don’t want to believe you,” she said. “But you’re the best man I know. I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

“Finish your prototype,” Thor said. “Build your gateway and attain the stars.”

“Fine,” she said. “As long as you go and save the galaxy or whatever.”

“Deal,” he said, tilting his head forward to rest against her forehead.

She inhaled sharply, nuzzling against him. “Deal.”

-o-

Time was pressing, but Thor had waited three years.

One more night would not hurt.

He could not be certain when he would return again, and he wanted to spend these fleeting moments with Jane. To hold onto this life while he could, to cherish it and honor it while it was still under his purview.

He didn’t want to forget. Not the view from the roof, not the stars from Earth. Not the vast New Mexico landscape or the scent of Jane’s skin. Thor wanted to remember everything, every last detail, until he came again.

One more night under the stars, where everything was good and peaceful.

Where everything was possible.

More simply put, where everything was.

-o-

He bid Jane farewell in the morning with a small amount of fanfare. She offered to go with him and bid him a further goodbye, but he did not want to implicate her as far as SHIELD was concerned. No, this was something he had to do alone.

Instead, he tidied his room and kissed Jane one last night. He tucked the ring box under the floorboards in the bedrooms, right where the light hit the ground.

This was still the dream, then.

But it would be the reality someday.

Thor would make sure of that.

-o-

Out in the desert, beyond Jane’s property, Thor met Loki. His brother looked more confident today, if only by the slight swagger in his posture and the sarcasm in his tone.

“Are you sure you have said all your goodbyes?” Loki asked. “I imagine it must feel something like leaving behind your favorite pet.”

Thor was not amused. “They are more than that, Loki.”

“No, brother,” Loki said. “You were simply less.”

“I might have believed you once,” Thor said. “But then, Father’s exile would have been for nothing.”

Loki seemed to concede that point. “I watched you, you know.”

Thor looked at his brother curiously.

“From Asgard, Heimdall had a clear view,” Loki said. “It made me wonder, how you did it. If I had been cast to Earth, I would have found a way to rule.”

“And that would have missed the point,” Thor said.

“Given my current predicament, I might have to agree,” Loki said.

“This predicament,” Thor told him. “It is not yours. These are my mistakes. I return only to fix them.”

Loki scoffed. “Your time here has not broken you of all your pride, then.”

Thor cocked his head.

Loki sighed. “I goaded you into Jotunheim,” he said. “I even lured the Jotuns to come on the day of your coronation. I wanted to show Father and all of Asgard that making you king would be foolish.”

The admission was startling, both in its candor and in its scope. “Two guards were murdered,” Thor said. “And I slaughtered Jotuns in retribution.”

“You were so confident,” Loki said. “So brash and unrefined. I wanted you to make that mistake, just as I had seen you make so many others. But you have to believe, I never thought that Father -- I never imagined--”

It would be easy to get angry. It would be easy to rage and turn Loki away.

Yet, Thor could find no space for anger.

Instead, he laughed. “Then I owe you a debt of gratitude,” Thor said. “For being the only one willing to admit just how horribly suited for the throne I was.”

“Well,” Loki said. “It turns out I am no better suited. All of Asgard’s resources, and I have brought us nearly to ruin. I got everything I wanted, and have nearly lost it as by my own shortcomings. So imagine my surprise to look down and see you so happy.

“The irony is not lost on me,” Thor said. He studied Loki for a moment. “You did not need to be so desperate to come to me.”

Loki’s mouth curved up ruefully. “Actually, I think I did,” he said.

Thor let out a breath, shaking his head. “It is not matter,” he said. “We will join together; we will show the realms what the sons of Odin can do when you united.”

Loki’s smile faded. “About that…”

Thor gave his brother an assessing look.

“Maybe that is a story best told later,” Loki said. “Our first priority is a return to Asgard.”

Thor nodded. “Very well,” he agreed. “What are we waiting for?”

Loki raised his eyebrows.

Thor shrugged.

“I believe you’re missing something,” Loki said. “Something important.”

Thor looked down at his vacant hand.

“Mjolnir,” he said.

“I assume you know where it is,” Loki said.

“Indeed,” Thor said, looking out again. “But it will be...difficult to get it.”

This time Loki’s smile was devious. “Thor, we are on Earth,” he said. “Trust me when I say nothing is difficult for me.”

Loki had a point, of course. With a little magic, getting to Mjolnir would be easy.

But for Thor to pick up the hammer.

Well, that would be a little harder.

-o-

Loki did most of the hard work. With a small amount of magic, he transported them to the SHIELD facility. It only took a small sleight of hand for Loki to get them access, and with Loki’s easy facades, no one even looked twice as they entered the restricted area. With the door shut -- for SHIELD had built the entire facility around Mjolnir -- Thor turned and faced the hammer for the first time in three years.

There it was, still embedded in the rock. The ground had been laid around it, and light came in through the skylights SHIELD had constructed as a roof. There was equipment nearby, evidence of their attempts to understand the hammer, but Mjolnir showed no signs of distress or change.

Indeed, it looked the same as ever. Waiting.

Thor flexed his fingers, feeling a familiar tingle start down his spine.

Waiting for Thor.

“I don’t mean to hurry you,” Loki said. “But sooner would be better than later.”

Thor nodded absently, starting a slow approach. He remembered this, as if from a dream. The landscape was different, to be sure, and no one was there but Loki, but it was still somehow the same.

For despite everything else in the dream, it had always been about the inexplicable pull of the hammer, the way it called to him, down into every fiber of his being.

“I think this may still be a dream,” he breathed.

“More like a nightmare,” Loki quipped.

“How else could I be here?” Thor asked.

“Because I brought you here,” Loki said, just a touch of exasperation in his voice. “Honestly, Thor--”

“And that as well,” Thor said. “In what reality have you ever come to me for anything?”

“Just because I knew your weaknesses better than most does not mean I was unaware of your strengths,” Loki said.

“But to admit them?” Thor asked, still approaching slowly.

“To be fair, brother,” Loki said. “You have gone out of your way to prove them now.”

Pausing, Thor looked back. “You truly have changed.”

“There is no need to be insulting,” Loki said. “I assure you, the change in you is far more dramatic.”

Thor shook his head. “Do not underestimate yourself,” he said. “Your honesty and vulnerability -- it is something I do not recognize in you.”

“It was hard won, I assure you,” Loki said. “I believed I could prevail, even after Father fell into sleep. I had the might of the military; I had the loyalty of the people; I had the worth of the crown.”

“You had everything you wanted,” Thor observed.

“And every scheme I made to keep it backfired,” Loki said. “Every move I made was countered by our enemy. Every plan I came up with had a complication I did not expect. I lost soldiers; I lost good people; I lost friends. I saw my people suffer, and for the first time in my life, I realized that mattered to me.”

Thor’s gut twisted. “I am sorry I was not there, brother,” he said. “You should not have had to go through that alone.”

“Do not be so quick to apologize,” Loki said. “Remember that it took me three years to come to you.”

“Pride is a hard habit to break,” Thor mused.

Loki inclined his head. “Harder still when it breaks you.”

Thor looked back to the hammer. Mjolnir was singing to him now, a familiar song Thor could never forget no matter how hard he tried to put it from his mind. He still knew every note, and he could feel the energy start to swell around him. “We are not so different, you and I,” he said.

“Three years ago I would have denied it,” Loki said.

“And now?” Thor asked, his breath starting to hitch, his heart skipping a beat. Above him, the clouds started to darken over the skylights.

“Now,” Loki said over the distant sound of thunder. “I could not deny it, even if I wanted to.”

Thor was closer now, close enough to read the inscription still emblazoned on the side. The runes were practically glowing now as the rock started to vibrate. “And the people,” Thor continued. “Are you sure they still want me?”

“Thor,” Loki said, almost aghast. “They call for you. Your name is still revered in the streets. The speak your name with hope that you may still come and deliver them.”

Thor started to lift his hand, feeling the air ripple as the first raindrops fell on the ceiling above. “And Father?”

“He loved us both, I believe,” Loki said. “Even if he had a terrible way of showing it.”

Thor inched forward, fingers visibly trembling now. “And you, Loki?”

“I tried to forget you,” Loki admitted. “I tried to tell myself I had no brother -- I had no need of one. But that, more than all the rest, was the thing I was most wrong about. You are my brother, Thor, and it has taken me three years to realize that nothing will change that. I want you to come back with me, Thor. I want you to stand by me in this time of need. I want to fix this together. I want you to come home.

Home.

To Asgard.

The lightning flashed; the rain started to pick up as the wind whipped against the building.

Thor couldn’t walk away.

Not from this.

Not from Loki.

Still, he hesitated. “And if this does not work?”

“Thor,” Loki said. “Surely you cannot doubt now.

The thunder rumbled; the rain intensified. The storm was gathering, and Thor’s heart was pounding in his ears. “It has been three years.”

“That is nothing,” Loki said.

“It is a lifetime,” Thor replied.

“Fine,” Loki said, coming up alongside Thor. His presence was sure and steady. “Then let me believe for us both.”

Thor couldn’t look away from Mjolnir. Emboldened by his brother, his fingers extended as he closed the last of the distance. He had craved this, dreamed of it. He had ached for it, needed it, yearned for it.

But now that he was here, Thor was scared.

He was terrified.

For he was so small; he was so insignificant.


Worth had seemed so obvious to him once.

Now he hardly understood it at all.

Mjolnir did not seek victory or might.

Mjolnir wanted a pure heart, not a perfect one. But one that sought the betterment of others, one that sought to serve, that sought to be a vehicle for the betterment of the galaxy.

Worth was what you found when you finally stopped looking.

Worth was not picking up a hammer.

Worth was knowing the right time.

His fingers closed around the hilt, and the rush was instantaneous. The storm burst forth, shattering the skylights. The wind swept around him, swirling like a tornado as the lightning filled his eyes and the thunder churned in his chest.

The rock gave way, crumbling beneath him, and Thor hoisted the hammer, lifting it into the air. The elements were called to it, and Thor felt himself transform. The armor appeared on his body, the cape billowing out from the nape of his neck.

And more than that. He could feel it, renewed his mind and body. His very cells were rejuvenated, and he could feel the weight of mortality lifted from him. His chest expanded, and his grip strengthened. His arm steady, and he felt the roar build up in his chest as he bellowed out to the heavens, reclaiming the destiny that was and always had been rightfully his.

When the whirlwind died, he turned, facing his brother once more drawn to his full stature.

Loki let out an indignant laugh. “And just when I thought I might like you,” he said.

Thor was nonplussed. “Come,” he said, striding to the door.

“And where are we going now?” Loki asked.

Thor stopped, meeting Loki’s gaze before looking up. “To Asgard.”

-o-

For Thor, it had ended with the hammer.

His exile; his redemption. The salvation of his people and the restoration of peace throughout the realms.

Three years he had spent, struggling to hold onto his worth once more. The journey had not be easy.

Now, he would stop at nothing until he fulfill his promise to Jane and returned to Earth.

Until he returned home.

For it ended with the hammer.

And he vowed, with all his worth, that all the rest would start with it, too.

Comments

Posted by: Settiai (settiai)
Posted at: December 30th, 2014 05:27 pm (UTC)
Loki & Thor -- settiai

Oh, wow. This was amazing. ♥

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 30th, 2014 09:06 pm (UTC)
thor angsts

Wow, I sort of assumed no one would read this fic. I've been meaning to find someone to beta it so I can crosspost it elsewhere with fewer mistakes, but I needed to get it up on LJ for my hc_bingo card. So I'm impressed you made it through it!

All of which is to say, thank you!

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