The longer Thor is on Midgard, the more he can see the boons and pitfalls of the decision to leave this world largely to its own devices, apart from the rest of Yggdrasil's children. They have grown strong in many ways, remain woefully vulnerable in others, and Thor does not think it an accident that he is here now to protect them as these vulnerabilities are exposed. The Allfather keeps his own counsel and while Thor does not think Odin maneuvered Loki into his actions, he is not so sure about himself. Cleverness and subterfuge were never the first arrows he drew from his quiver, although he has had to reach for both more often of late.
Jane is very clever -- and learned and beautiful and brave -- and if she is not the type of damsel he would have chosen in his younger years for a playmate, she is exactly who he would choose now that he is ready for something more. And she has chosen him, which he is learning is of greater importance. (Sif has much to say about this, mostly without saying a word at all.) She sees their differences as minor and surmountable even as she learns the magnitude of them and he is grateful for that not only because they are not minor, but also because not everyone on Midgard is so accommodating.
After centuries of isolation, Midgard has been attacked from without not just the once and its denizens are fearful of strangers, especially strangers with abilities beyond their understanding. But they are also disdainful of anyone, regardless of strength or ability, who does not possess a working knowledge of their local custom and tools and he finds this amusing and offensive by turns. The wounds to his pride are lessened because Captain Rogers ("Steve, please"), a great hero of this realm, is treated with the same patronizing attitude. The Captain does not remark upon it, but Thor can see it is not because he is unbothered. Captain Rogers's exile is unexpected -- he thought he was headed to Valhalla after a noble death -- and his reactions are muted by shock and despair even as he proves his worth in battle to a new generation.
Thor does not spend much time among the Avengers, however. His ties to them -- and their ties to each other -- are not of the same type as those between the Warriors Three and the Lady Sif and himself. They might eventually grow to a breadth and depth that become welcoming and self-sustaining, but for the moment there is no desire (and possibly no capacity) on anyone's part to put in that nurturing effort. And so he spends his time on Midgard with Jane and her cohort, gaining a new sympathy for his brother -- at a point when it is otherwise at a low ebb -- as he finds himself accepted more as beloved of the ringleader than on his own merits. Erik Selvig is the descendant of those who once worshiped the Aesir and it is difficult for him to forget that even as he worships no gods at all; the Aesir are still culturally powerful even if there are no more shrines to leave offerings in hopes of favor. Jane's rotating corps of junior scientists, there to both assist and learn, treat him as an especially dull child, Jane's sexual plaything, and he does not disabuse them of the notion because it amuses her so much. Which does not mean he will not loom or glare at them should they go too far in their disparaging comments; Jane pretends to disapprove, but they both know better.
Darcy Lewis treats him as both child and Jane's "boytoy" as well, but with affection and approval and she takes great joy in the lessons; he is one more person for her to caretake and she clearly delights in the task no matter how much she pretends to mind the burden. She treats them all like children and he doesn't protest despite his millennia of seniority, especially because in many ways, he is childlike by Midgard's standards. He cannot read or write any Midgardian language, a skill set much more valued and valuable here than on other worlds. He is literate and numerate, of course, in more than just the language of the Aesir, but that does not help him in London or Cleveland or New York. He cannot tell whether the bottle contains soap or condiment, he does not know what a telephone is, or why it is that red lights in the street mean "stop" but on a machine means that it is "standing by" and ready to be used. He cannot contribute to the running of Jane's household, nor is he of any possible use in her work, and the lack of function grates, although he is careful not to take out his frustration on -- or give voice to any doubts about his chosen path to -- Jane or Darcy or Selvig.
Eventually, though, he acclimates enough to make a place for himself and find utility in his continued presence beyond being the reason Jane smiles when she returns home at the end of the day. He learns the alphabet for English, which in turn allows him to begin learning how to read the language. Written English is a deceptively tricky beast to slay, the letters forming in combinations that defy all logic. There are homophones and homonyms and deciphering them requires context, which in turn requires a command of the language he does not quite possess. (Few sentences make less sense as written than "I threw Mjolnir through the wall." Which after a day of spelling and pronunciation errors, he is occasionally tempted to do.) He has a much easier time of it with Icelandic after Selvig gives him a book in that language because of its similarity to his own native tongue, but English is far more necessary to master and so he works on it daily. He sounds the words out aloud and Darcy sometimes corrects him and sometimes puts on her headphones so that she does not have to hear him.
Darcy is very attached to her music player and still nurses a grievance against SHIELD for briefly taking it from her years ago. It is expensive, Jane explains to him, and Darcy does not earn much working for her. Darcy's favor extends beyond its dearness, though. It is a totem of her past, he comes to realize, collecting songs that have been meaningful to her at various points of her life. It is also, more vainly, a way to prove herself at the forefront of musical trends, which is paradoxically to discard them entirely and curate a selection that is defiant of cultural pressure, thus proving her own mastery of it. He asks her why it is so important to display a collection that is more about what other people like or dislike instead of what she prefers, especially when the machine's window is so tiny and nobody can hear anything without the headphones. She tells him to keep his old man wisdom to himself, but she is smiling as she does so.
He is gifted with his own music player by Tony Stark in what he suspects is an afterthought by either Stark or his helpmeet Pepper after a similar gift to Captain Rogers. Darcy is both envious and excited by the gift as she knows that he will need her assistance in mastering it and, indeed, seeking Midgardian music he would want to listen to. He admits to finding Jane's taste a little peculiar, although there are some songs he likes for their own merit and some he likes because Jane smiles as she sings along to them. He asks Darcy and Selvig for suggestions, which leads to a few more songs he would add to his own collection, and then the musical oracle that is Pandora. All he does is enter the names of singers and songs that he has found appealing and it produces others, all variations on themes present in the original, and he spends days exploring these pathways.
And then Jane tells him about audiobooks and podcasts. She is a fan of the latter, concise discussions about science and nature -- she assures him there are podcasts on every topic -- that she can listen to as she exercises or sits in the laundromat. But she believes the former will be more to his taste as they are tales well told. "It's not quite the same thing as what you'd be used to in an oral tradition," she explains one evening as they sit together hunched over a laptop. "They're reading what's on the page instead of just telling a story, but it's very similar."
She assures him that this is not a crutch being offered while he still has trouble reading English, that audiobooks are common enough for those who lack the time to sit and read for themselves. "One of the guys I used to share an office with when I was at Boulder used to listen to books on his drive to and from work. He had a double doctorate, he wasn't listening because he wasn't smart."
Jane puts so much faith in scholarly degrees as demonstrations of quality and intelligence, which has caused her to fall over herself apologizing when she remembers that he has not one diploma, let alone the three or more she considers adequate. He studied until his tutors deemed him sufficiently educated to stop; he does not consider himself of lesser quality on any count than Loki, who soaked up knowledge from any and all sources until they had nothing left to give him. Knowledge, like any other tool, bears the virtue of its wielder; Jane uses hers for the betterment of all and that is part of why he is so fond of her.
"What spoken books would you have me listen to, then?" he asks because she is still fearful that she has offended.
The search for books is even harder than the search for music. There is no Pandora for this, at least no reliable one after both Jane and Darcy make themselves breathless with laughter at some of the Amazon's suggestions. Neither of them are willing to make selections from their own recent reading, deeming them unlikely prospects for a match. He asks to make that judgment for himself, but Selvig quietly shakes his head and assures him that Jane's stash of Georgette Heyer would not be to his taste.
"Big Man may like the Regency romances," Darcy offers with a shrug, but her voice has the little upward lilt at the end of it that means she does not believe what she is saying. Her own reading tends toward the very modern and he has never quite understood her explanations when he has asked her in the past.
He smiles at Jane. "Is that what you read? Tales of romance? Am I failing you in that regard?"
She blushes charmingly. "No," she assures him although she can tell he is teasing her. "I like them because they don't make me think too hard and yet they don't insult my intelligence."
Selvig is sparked by the idea of romance and suggests he listen to the Norse sagas, especially since they are available in the original language. "They should be similar enough to what you know to be comfortably familiar, but different enough to make it interesting." He also suggests the equivalent tales from cultures that did not have Norse ties, which is how Thor acquires The Tale of the Heike and that of Gilgamesh. From there, Darcy adds The Lord of the Rings, Jane suggests Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and Selvig chooses Don Quixote, The Three Musketeers, and The Count of Monte Cristo.
A week later, he is in New York for a gathering of the Avengers to commemorate an anniversary of the Battle of New York and the unveiling of a memorial plinth. There is a dinner at Stark's home that is welcome not only as a break from the solemnity of the day's tributes, but also as an opportunity to reconnect with his allies. He tells Captain Rogers, who insists once more upon being called Steve, that he has made much use of the device Stark gifted him with and is enjoying soliciting suggestions from his friends.
"I think it was probably intended to be more of a 'laugh at' than a 'laugh with' kind of gift," Steve says wryly, "but everyone seems to be enjoying getting their say in what we're supposed to be doing with these things."
Thor shows him what he has had put on his device and asks if he has any suggestions; Steve comes from a different time and place than Jane or Darcy or Selvig and his choices might be quite different.
"Oh, geez," Steve sighs, rubbing at his face. "I don't know where I'd begin for books. What have you read so far that you liked?"
He ends up adding a composition by Glenn Miller, a song sung by Rosemary Clooney, and novels by Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Dorothy L. Sayers. "The last is a bit more modern than the rest of what you've got," Steve warns. "It's from a hundred years ago, which might as well be a thousand with all of the changes, but you might like it. It's a different kind of adventure."
There is a tone in Steve's voice that makes Thor curious and so the last story is the one he starts next. It is of a very different sort than the others, that is true, with enough about it recognizable to his surroundings to appreciate what is not. It is the tale of a wealthy man seeking to stave off boredom by solving crimes and he can understand the appeal it must have had to Steve in his youth, impoverished and not yet in possession of his physical gifts. Peter Wimsey is clever and thrives on his wits and it must have seemed as heroic as Hector.
Back with Jane and their friends, he offers Rosemary Clooney to the oracular Pandora and Selvig laughs happily, saying that this was the music his grandmother used to dance with him to as a child. He sweeps Darcy up and into a dance that is disjointed yet oddly graceful once Darcy stops squealing in protest and pays attention to where Selvig is leading her.
"Don't get any ideas," Jane warns him, but he has no intent on joining the dance, not with Jane in his arms on the couch, the laptop resting on both their legs.
A few days later, while Darcy is dancing alone to the Brian Setzer Orchestra and he is looking for the pink ruler, he finds a primer for Old Norse. It is not quite the language of the Aesir and the written forms are completely different, but it is close enough to be understood.
"You shouldn't be the only one learning for us," Jane explains when he shows it to her that evening. "I know it's not just for me, but..."
But it is a very thoughtful gesture, one perhaps much grander than his learning English. She has no need to learn the language; anything said in Asgard will be understood by her already.
"If you would desire it, I will get you a primer from Asgard," he offers with a smile. "You may even have my own, if it can be recovered. It is full of impertinent drawings in the margins, though. Not all of them mine, I should hasten to add. The birds are all mine, however. I had a peculiar fascination with hawks in my youth."
The book was tucked into the chest with other mementos, at least the ones that had survived both his and Loki's childhoods intact, by his mother. "For your own children," she had told him when he'd asked, still too young to even conceive of such a time. He can conceive of it now, of course, and the thought is no longer so laughable to him as it had been even after he'd understood the necessity of it for succession purposes. But he is still young by the standards of the Aesir and what he has with Jane is too new by the standards of Midgard and he does not want to add the weight of expectation to what is still fragile in its infancy. It will not be a token of the prince of the realm to the future mother of his children; it will be a gift between ambassadors of two worlds ill at ease with each other. If he can find it, of course; much was lost in the attack on the palace and, even if that damage is largely repaired, his mother's ways remained obscure until the end and finding the chest might be a quest worthy of a greater prize than even the smile on Jane's face.
Which he has already won.
"I would like that very much," she tells him, rising to her toes to kiss his cheek. "I would love, someday, to read from Asgard's library."
There is a flash of pain on her face; her first visit to Asgard was full of peril and terror and grief. He must have an answering expression to match as she puts her arms around him and her head against his chest in comfort. He squeezes back gently.
"Heimdall can see all," he says. "Perhaps he shall find it."
"And then I can learn all the terms for your science," she muses into his shirt. "Because if I hadn't seen it up close, I would not have gotten 'quantum field generator' from 'soul forge.'"
He can't help but laugh at her indignation. "You shall and you will."