Jane is deep in her studies in the lab, though she has given him free use of the books in the room she is now calling home. It has a couch, which transforms into a bed for sleeping, and a table, though much of the extra space is taken up with boxes.
He flips through a one labeled Fantasy, in the hopes of perhaps finding the fourth novel of the wizard Potter, the first three of which he read as the guest of Tony Stark.
Instead, the second book he comes across – after So You Want to Be a Wizard? (he does not) – has as the cover a scene of an old man sitting in a tower, overcome it seems with grief. He turns to the back, now knowledgeable in the manner of Midgardian texts, and finds The Two Towers comes after The Fellowship of the Ring. He is glad; it is a much larger text than most of the tales of Harry Potter he has read as of yet, but if there were but one he would be finished long before Jane returns. He begins his search for the others of the trilogy.
"How came Tolkien to know of the story of the Nine Walkers?" Thor asks, running his hand through Jane's hair, her head resting against his leg. She sets down her electronic reader, to listen. "Despite the naming, Middle Earth is clearly not your Midgard, and such a great tale would surely have been passed along by Heimdall to the joy of the court. Yet he speaks of translations, and tellings altered by the years."
He glances down, to meet Jane's thoughtful look. "It's always possible he found the – seed of the story from another world," she says, after a moment. "People say he was inspired by the stories of the Scandinavians, but he said something about – oh, I'm going to get this wrong." She glances at her electronic reader, frowning, but Thor knows in this location it cannot connect with the Internet and find the knowledge she seeks.
"I would listen still to your telling of it," he says, serious, and smiles as her expression lightens.
"Well, in some places he talks as if he's spoken to the descendants of Hobbits, but in another book he wrote of someone who travelled through the fog between worlds, and learned the stories of the people living in Aman. Oh, that's not – it's the place the Elves go," she clarifies, seeing his confusion. She glances to the back of the couch, as if able to see from there to her boxes. "Remind me to find The Silmarillion for you?"
"I will," he promises.
Jane nods, finding her line of thought. "Well, he said the traveler brought them back to our world, in—the Middle Ages, sometime. And Tolkien studied the writings of the Middle Ages, so it's always possible he found a – manuscript, or telling, but if he did that -- he edited and changed a lot. He kept all of his old versions, there're books that show how the story changed over his writing of it."
"Perhaps, then, he only sought to make his tale sound as if it were true?" Thor asks, troubled. False stories he gladly listens to, but false stories disguised as truths are uncomfortable close to lies.
"Probably," Jane agrees, though she's clearly still thinking about manuscripts discussing journeys to other worlds. "And Heimdall still would have seen it, if it'd occurred on a world that wasn't one of the Nine?"
"He saw the machinations of the Chitauri," Thor says, "so he'd see those of Middle Earth, save if Sauron curtained the world from his gaze in the same way he manipulated the Seeing Stones."
"I'm going to assume Sauron didn't know to hide, because if he had he would've tried to win Heimdall over. So if Sauron didn't know, he wouldn't hide, and if he didn't hide, Heimdall would have seen – probably." She blinks out of her thought, and smiles up at him. "I'm guessing it was a literature thing." She reaches up, hand against his cheek, thumb rubbing against his beard. He tilts his head into it. "We don't really have epic stories, anymore, and Tolkien loved them. And maybe Middle Earth seemed real to him."
"He sought to emulate the style he loved," Thor says. "Very well, then – he was accomplished in his artistry."
Thor is starting to get drunk, but it is the sort of drunkenness that inspires thought rather than warfare. And Bruce Banner, his mighty companion, is a great listener.
"I feel the desire has twisted him," Thor says, slowly, "as the desire to possess his precious so twisted Gollum from the fair and learned creature he once was."
Bruce glances up, from where he's engaging in his ritual of creating Midnight Pancakes. "You think he's being influenced by an outside source? I mean, that the desire's unnatural?"
Thor thinks on this. If Loki were being manipulated (and a part of him says he must be; this twisting of a brother so far from his memory of his youth – but how often did Thor look closely to his brother, see why and how he was troubled?), he would have someone to be angry at other than himself for failing—someone other than Loki, for not telling him so he could offer aid. "I know not," he says, eventually. "But if so, it is the type that reaches into one's heart so deeply as to skew perception of what is true. I think, to him, only his vengeance seems real."
Bruce is quiet for a few moments, flipping pancakes. "Even Gollum found himself, somewhat, when he wasn't confronted head on. Maybe you should talk about-- normal things, not the ones that hurt you."
Thor nods, and then his heart and face fall. "Gollum could not be saved."
"He could be, he just wasn't." Bruce pauses, and looks up. "Do you want any of these?"
He is re-reading the tale of Beren and Luthien, eating a Pop Tart (he carefully brushes away any crumbs; these books are on loan from his fair Jane's collection), when the warrior Natasha sets a glass of milk and a bowl of cereal across from him. He had not known she had a mission in New York, but he is glad to see her.
"The Silmarillion, huh?" Natasha asks, scooting herself into a chair. "I never really got the chance to read that one."
"If you would wish it," Thor says, "I am certain Jane would be willing to lend the book to you as well."
Natasha's smile quirks up, honest. "Thanks."
Thor watches her for a moment then tucks the ribbon he was given into the book, and sets it aside. "Are you a – fan, of Tolkien's works?"
She shrugs, with the same careful precision another would use in battle. He is growing used to it, even if it makes him feel on occasion that she is never at ease. "I've only read Lord of the Rings, and some of his short stories. Leaf by Niggle's pretty good. The rest are… sort of childish."
"I have not read it," he says, earnest. "But I find the tales of Middle Earth and the surrounding Realm of Eä to be some of the most intriguing I have read. I am also a fan of the story of Harry Potter's coming of age, and the Internet travails of the cat Maru that Darcy linked me to."
"Lord of the Rings is pretty good," Natasha agrees, after a bite of cereal. "Who's your favorite?"
Thor tilts his head at her, not quite certain he grasps her meaning.
"Well," she says, drawing it out a bit, "my favorite's Legolas, because he's a warrior, but not invested in the Elven habit of always being serious. Or Arwen, because you can tell she's a politician even from how little she shows up."
"She reminds me of my royal mother," Thor agrees, serious, and considers this question. "I feel most strongly for the story of Éowyn, for I have also left my duties to seek glory in battle. I hope she finds, as I have, a way to win glory outside of it, so she does not rush into it unnecessarily." He pauses for a moment, thinking. "I should say I am also fond of Samwise the Brave, for his spirit was hearty even when his body was not."
Steve comes in from the gym, drying his hair. "What're you guys talking about?
Natasha tilts her head to Thor, so he explains: "The Lord of the Rings, friend! Have you read it?"
It is several weeks later, Thor's curiosity having been briefly sidetracked by a mad scientist who created killer robots that operated through commands in Old Slavic. Thankfully, the linguists of S.H.I.E.L.D. are doughty, and Russia gave them permission to fight on their soil, even if Steve has started to make embarrassed remarks about his costume whenever they are in a foreign land. Thor is not certain of his worries; all know Thor is of Asgard. Bruce says it is something to do with the politics of Earth, and Thor puts it out of his mind to consider later, for political discussions often become divisive amongst his Earth friends.
After, they rest at Tony's place, with pizza, though Stark himself has left to find Pepper.
"You need to see the movie version," Clint says, gesturing with his slice. Natasha taps her knee into his, and he stops, folding the slice to keep the loose toppings from falling off. "Seriously, they did a great job. And New Zealand is gorgeous."
"Where is New Zealand?" Thor asks.
"Near Australia," Bruce says, and Thor nods his thanks.
"Are you also a fan of this movie translation?" Thor asks Natasha.
"It's okay," she says, and shrugs. "It is pretty. They changed a lot, though, because movies can't fit as many things in as books."
"I have seen adaptations for the stage," Thor agrees. "I think I shall see it."
"Yes," Clint says, drawing out the 's'. "Movie night! Or a few movie nights. They're pretty long."
"Can you watch them if you haven't read the book?" asks Steve, from behind one of the pizza boxes. Steve eats more than all of them, except sometimes Bruce, though Thor is certain Volstagg could out-eat him. Volstagg eats so much for sport and pleasure, though, while his Midgardian companions appear to do so by necessity.
"Yeah," Bruce answers. Clint closes his mouth, grins. "They kind of fell out of popularity before the movies came out, so a lot of kids saw the movies first. I hadn't read them since high school."
"I've never finished the first one," Clint admits. "It was just too dense for me."
"I have the Extended Editions," Natasha says, wiping some sauce from the side of her mouth with all the graciousness of a very royal cat. (One with much more dignity than Maru.)
Clint bumps her knee with his, this time, grinning.
"You are very kind, good Natasha," Thor says. He is glad to spend time with his friends.
"I didn't know you cared so much about literature. Who are you, Hermione?" Tony says, and Thor frowns.
"There is no shame in defending the honor of a noble man, even if his life is a story. To undermine him is to undermine the principles he embodies."
Tony waves his hand, dismissively, and takes a drink of his green slurry. "No, actually, I'm curious now. Do people even read in Asgard?"
"Many things are written down," Thor says, uncertain. "Half the days I read to prepare for the tutors' explanations the day after, before practicing on the fields. I learned to read swiftly, that I may have more time to train."
"Thor, God of Speed Reading. Nice. I still say Faramir's way more interesting in the movies, though. Not quite so probably-based-on-Captain-Boring-except-with-an-extra-side-of-borings."
When he returns to Asgard, he brings with him the texts of Tolkien and Rowling, newly purchased. He brings them to his brother's cell, and lets his guard take him the texts, so that Thor can give him some respectful space. His brother is voiceless, as he has been sentenced to give him the space to think without being drawn into argument. Thor knows Odin is wise, yet his brother being silent will always trouble him.
Loki's watching him calmly, though with a touch of confusion.
"They are good books and fine tales," Thor says. "I think you shall enjoy them more than I have, for their telling is complex; but I enjoyed them well." He pauses, uncertain as to his wording. "I look forward to speaking of them with you."
Loki doesn't smile, but Thor knows his brother well enough to see the wryness in his face as he nods gracious acceptance.
Thor inclines his head, and leaves; not willing to impose his presence on Loki longer than he must. But his brother does not leave his mind.
There are many things Loki can become, Thor knows. But in his heart, the brother he once thought he knew – he was the one, among them, most able to become as Faramir. A dangerous man, yet one with a heart turned towards peace and a mind turned towards knowledge.
He hopes that future has not collapsed.