“Look, all I’m saying is that I have no idea what I’d do for a thesis. I mean, you know what that was like, yeah? Totally freaky.”
Erik gave her a very mild look and sipped his coffee. “I think you’d do just fine in grad school – I’ll certainly write you a letter for anything and anywhere you need, and so will Jane. Isn’t that right, Jane?” When they got no answer, Darcy got up, pouring a fresh cup of coffee and taking it over to her boss.
“Hey, Wonder Woman,” she said, nudging Jane’s shoulder. “Coffee.”
Jane started before she took the cup absently, not looking away from her computer screen. Darcy hovered next to her a moment longer, eyebrows rising at a rate probably steady enough to be used as some kind of mathematical constant.
“Yes,” Jane replied dreamily. “I mean thanks.”
“C’mon, Jane,” Darcy said. “All you’ve done since Muscles got out of the SHIELD hoosegow is work. I know you want to find a way to get him home and prove your theories and all, but working yourself down to the bone isn’t gonna help anyone. Besides, your boyfriend gets this awful neglected look like a puppy that’s been bad. It’s like, the saddest thing I’ve ever seen, and that’s counting those ASPCA commercials that always use Sarah McLachlan songs to guilt-trip you into giving them money.”
“Thor isn’t my boyfriend,” Jane protested, but twin spots of color had risen on Jane’s cheeks, and she pushed back from the loaner laptop she’d bullied Culver University into sending out.
“Where is he today?”
“Doing some work for the Simonsons,” Jane replied instantly. “They needed a hand putting up a new barn and he offered.”
“It’s good that he’s keeping busy,” Erik said. “I can’t imagine what a change it’s been, going from what he says he was, to, well…”
“At this rate there won’t be anything else left to build in this no-horse town. He’ll have built it all.”
“At least it keeps him away from SHIELD,” Jane muttered. They still hadn’t returned her things and didn’t seem inclined to, and it had been over a month. Worse, they wanted to cart Thor off to some top-secret facility (Darcy was sure it would be either Area 51 or Stargate Command) where they’d probably dissect him and grow pieces of him in culture dishes to see how he worked. The first time they’d told her – a mistake in and of itself, because there were very few people in the world who could tell Jane to do anything she didn’t want to do – she had, predictably, dug in her heels and threatened them with all kinds of legal action if they tried. She’d proceeded from there into a diatribe about the fate of her equipment, and the three of them had simply sat by and watched with pride (Thor), amusement (Darcy), and horror (Erik) as Jane had said things that probably would have made any one of the SHIELD agents watch them right now blush like schoolgirls.
The only things that made Jane herself blush were things concerning Thor, a fact that had only become increasingly apparent after they’d all gotten apartments across the street from the lab. Ostensibly Thor was sleeping on Jane’s couch, but Darcy had been in Jane’s apartment, and it sure didn’t look like it. When she’d shared this juicy tidbit with Erik he’d gotten a pained look on his face and dropped an Alka-seltzer into his water, a fact that amused her greatly. Darcy was happy for Jane, though; up until Thor had run into them face-first in the desert, it had been difficult to remember Jane was even human sometimes.
“Someone needs to be able to pull you away from your work without having to take the tools out of your hands,” Darcy said briskly, and sprawled back in her chair. “He might still be talking like he’s an extra in some period action flick, but he’s pretty good at getting you to stop working.” She smirked as Jane tried to hide her blush and failed. Jane had gotten better since Darcy had started on with her about learning when to stop, but only just.
Thor had changed himself, though; he’d seemed more subdued, thoughtful, since Erik had busted him out. Sometimes Darcy caught him looking at the sky, or in the direction of that crater west of town. She wondered if he was thinking about home, because he always looked a little sad, which made Darcy want to drag him inside and force-feed him doses of Adventure Time until he laughed again. Seeing Thor down seemed to upset the natural balance of things, though she had to admit she was glad to see he wasn’t completely cocky anymore.
She could understand why he was so sad though. She was pretty sure Earth was Tatooine to his Coruscant.
“He’ll be back for dinner,” Jane was saying as she leaned on the counter to finish her coffee. “I was thinking we could all go for pizza tonight.”
“He needs to be introduced to the best vegetable in the universe,” Darcy said, pulling another book on Norse culture and tradition toward her. “He’s gonna be here a while, it sounds like.”
“Pizza is not a vegetable.”
“It totally is. And even if it isn’t it has all the food groups on it.”
“It’s still not a vegetable, Darcy.”
Around four, Thor came barging back into the lab. He was head-to-toe red desert dust, but Jane didn’t seem to mind that as he swept her into a hug and one of those cheesy-but-effective kisses on the hand. She did send him off to shower and change clothes before she’d let him near her equipment, though, but it was said with a laugh and a warm look in her brown eyes.
Darcy took this as her cue to order pizzas and have the place put a rush order on them; once Jane sucked her Asgardian boy-toy into her vortex of work enthusiasm it took more work than it was worth to peel them away.
Her equipment might still be in the clutches of SHIELD, but Jane wasn’t going to let that stop her from getting things done. In one corner of the lab, carefully tucked in behind bookshelves and couches that obscured the view of any lurking SHIELD agent thugs, several key pieces of equipment were being rebuilt. It was slow going – some of it Jane had to scrounge up from electronic-waste centers, some she had to hound Culver to give her the funds for, but she was doing what she could with what she had.
Jane peered at Erik as they ate dinner beside the second of the two big projects. “Did you get to the library and the copy center today?” she asked.
“I did. The pictures are over there.” He gestured with his forkful of salad – heartburn sadly preventing him from the joys of a fresh pizza pie – at a small end table with a thick manila folder on it. “Jane, you don’t—“
“Yes, I do,” she cut in. “It fits in with what we’ve heard and read. It fits the myths, and it fits my theory. I think these… branches of Yggdrasil,” and she gestured at the wall covered in printouts and notes and strings linking things together, “Are stable wormhole connections between points in space. Completely stable and established – anchored, even – Einstein-Rosen bridges. Can you imagine it?”
“I can imagine the kind of reception you’ll get in the scientific community.”
“I think we’ve moved past that at this point,” Jane said. “I think we were past it a long time ago. I believe Thor. I believe there’s a way to Asgard.”
They all exchanged looks at that, but again, all were different. Jane was determined, her brows drawn together in that stubborn look of hers; Erik’s shoulders were slumped. Darcy watched Thor glance at Jane a moment, mingled pride and longing in his eyes, and bit in to her own slice to keep from pressing her lips together. She couldn’t keep up with them when they went on one of their science-and-magic benders (though the magic part of it was way easier for her to understand, she’d grown up on Harry Potter after all) but she didn’t think that it was as impossible as Erik thought. They just needed the right toys to get to the playground.
But after a few minutes more she couldn’t stand the awkward silence and so she asked Thor how he liked pizza. Much to Darcy’s delight, Thor declared pizza one of the many wonders of Midgard, and they all laughed. The tension wasn’t gone though, not completely. It was just set aside for a little bit, but that temporary relief was just fine with her.
Later, after Darcy had gone back to her trashy reality TV and Erik to his own work, Jane went up to the roof of the dealership to find Thor laying on his back on one of the deck chairs. He was staring up at the sky, as he often was. The lights of the town obscured the view somewhat, but the stars were still brilliant enough to shine through the minimal light pollution from the main street. Jane hesitated by the roof access door a moment, wondering if he was trying to find an arrangement of stars that looked familiar, so he at least knew where his home might be.
The thought made her sad, so she cleared her throat and stepped into the wash of light from the neon signs. “Thor?” Jane called softly. In the desert, all things sounded louder. “I brought coffee, if you wanted some.”
He looked over at her and sat up, broad shoulders blocking out part of the town’s neon glow. “My thanks, Jane Foster,” he said quietly as he took the steaming mug from her hands, and tucked a thick blanket around her shoulders when she sat. A frigid wind flapped at the ends, blew her hair into her mouth; it was supposed to snow later in the week, but Jane figured that they’d just get freezing rain. They’d still have to bring everything inside, though. Later.
“The stars are close here,” Thor said, after they’d sat in calm silence for a time. “I understand again why you like this place so. You are close to what you love.”
The way he said that made her look over. They were shoulder to shoulder – Jane liked it, not to mention Thor made a decent windbreak – so she had to look up at his profile, dark here but backlit by the town and the stars. “What’s it like?” she asked, finally. “What are the stars like in Asgard?” She had that one chart from when he’d first arrived here, but hadn’t had occasion to get any others, and she’d spent so much time asking other questions of him she hadn’t asked any about Asgard itself. Jane and the others had carefully avoided bringing it up, too. They all figured the pain of homesickness was too close.
Thor was silent a moment, and Jane worried she’d stepped over a line, jumped the gun – like with other relationships of hers – but then he grinned and when he spoke, his voice was full of gentleness and longing. “We are closer to Yggdrasil’s branches – indeed we are where its trunk splits into many ways,” he said. “So the sky is brilliant with its colors. But the stars are brilliant too, a whole river of them flowing across the sky—“
“A galactic arm, maybe,” Jane murmured to herself.
“—and the rest twinkle through the veil like gems on a lady’s gown. And Asgard itself glows beneath it all.” Thor looked at her then, his blue eyes twinkling. “You would like it – love it, I know. And I could show you the golden halls, the libraries, the places I knew well as a boy… the beauty of Asgard. Of my home.”
“It sounds lovely,” Jane said, and meant it. But not for the first time she wondered what he thought of Earth, when he had that paradise to compare it to?
She lifted her gaze from the tiny bubbles on the surface of her coffee and met his. “Yeah?”
“You seem sad.”
“Oh, no, I’m all right,” she replied quickly. “And I promise, I’ll get you home to Asgard. It’s just…”
“I’ll just miss you, when you go home.”
“Why, you shall accompany me home, of course!” Thor said enthusiastically. “I would show you my home, Jane, and I would share it with you. If that was what you desired.” There were implications there, she was sure of it, but Jane’s mind had already moved on and would not revisit them until late at night when she lay awake with Thor snoring peacefully beside her. But Thor’s face had fallen again, and he looked back up at the stars. “But the way home is closed to me, and even were I to be able to travel the Bifrost, the peace with Jotunheim is conditional upon my banishment.”
“It seems harsh, doesn’t it?” Jane asked. “I mean, couldn’t you go home and make a formal apology to the leader of the frost giants, and just… stay away from Jotunheim? Why is it this way?”
“Before he died, my father wished me to learn a lesson. I am still learning.” There was pain as he mentioned his father, and as he lay back on his deck chair she did too, rolling into the blanket. “I went before Laufey with the intent to fight, to kill when my people had already shed so much Jotunn blood,” he continued softly. “I did kill. My brother’s skill with words is great, so I am lucky that they did not demand the blood price for what I did. It is meet that I be stripped of my titles and never threaten the safety of Jotunheim again. With my father’s death, it will be all my brother can do to keep the realm together. Loki was never meant to take the throne, but it is my mistakes that have put him there. I have wronged him as much as I have wronged Laufey and Jotunheim and my own realm.”
Jane reached over and took his hand, but her thoughts were her own, confused, conflicted. They had brought up the matter of Loki’s reputation in the myths, but Thor had dismissed it on the whole. His brother was solitary, he’d insisted, and prone to tricks and the occasional bout of equivocation, and certainly he was an expert at spinning tales that sometimes were meant to hurt. But his brother would not lie to him, surely – they were brothers, they had grown up together, that kind of bond meant something.
“Maybe when things cool down, you can go home,” she said quietly at last, giving Thor’s hand a squeeze and feeling her mouth go dry when the muscles in his arm that lay alongside hers flexed under the flannel coat he wore.
“Things usually move more slowly when the people of a realm do not live such short lives as the people of Midgard,” Thor murmured. “Slights, insults… they are not so easily forgiven or forgot.”
“Then I’ll take you there myself and change things,” she replied briskly, and Thor laughed.
“You and Loki would be great companions, I think,” he said. “You are both clever in the ways of science and magic, and as determined as anyone. Perhaps you are both too clever and determined by half for the good of either one of you, but it is not something I would want changed.” He turned onto his side and put his arm over her, and Jane curled against him comfortably, feeling his voice rumble against her cheek as he said “I would be curious indeed to know how he fares as king.”