When the press conference that has left Agent Hill anxious and foreboding in alternating waves concludes, Thor visits Jane for the first time in what feels like a considerably long while. In the past few days, he has been briefed on how to answer questions where no good answer exists, how to deflect questions that he either cannot speak of or does not wish to, and how to phrase answers in a way that limits their ability to be taken out of context. Agent Hill has been worried about Thor and Bruce in particular, Bruce because his presence is required but requires contingency plans above and beyond the call, Thor because what the media knows of Loki is that he too hails from Asgard, not that he is Thor's brother. In a strategic sense, it had been wise to withhold that information at the time, but they are all still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Jane smiles when she sees him, warm and sincere and achingly fond. Her happiness begets his in turn, and he finds himself smiling back. She is but a breath of fresh air unmarred by the battle and untouched by the spidery blight of grief still lingering as SHIELD finishes committing their fallen onto the glory of Valhalla. By day he tells his team of Loki, the god of mischief, his strengths in battle and the weaknesses he would deny ever having. By night he tells the lady Jane of Loki, his brother, he who carried Volstagg across barren lands on his back and knelt at Frigg's beside, their mother, alongside Thor.
The moment breaks when Jane trips over a stool, and Darcy promptly laughs so hard she falls into a chair.
"Er," Jane says eloquently, when Thor approaches to inquire after her well-being. "Maybe—."
Thor's gaze sweeps the room in the time it takes Jane to put the papers she'd dropped back in order, taking into account the state of the lab. An open program on the workbench's laptop catalogues new data while the mass spectrometer in the corner hums quietly, standing by for further instructions while its master finishes the remnants of a late lunch. Lines upon lines of math scrawled out in Jane's messy hand fill all the available space on the two whiteboards in the corner and then some, equations tilted vertically in a big finish rather than break the train of thought. He isn't familiar with the symbols used here on Midgard, Allspeak not extending to the written word, but he recognizes the rhythm to it in the underlying concepts and the way she has rearranged the equations to isolate and take a crack at understanding the building blocks of the universe.
As much as he misses her company, her mind, and her affection, he would never want to come between Jane and her first love, the science of physics which she approaches with all the reverence of an art.
"Would you be amenable to feasting with me this evening?" he says, revising his earlier plans. Clinton says that when courting individuals you are serious about, a touch of formality is appropriate. Thor prefers the ease of being oneself with one another, of whiling the night away under the stars as they had in Puente Antiguo while the embers of their fire dwindled away to nothing, but he defers to what he is assured is considerable expertise.
"Does six work?"
Darcy claps him on the shoulder. "That means she's in, cowboy."
He realizes later, while rather belatedly surveying the meager contents of the kitchen he shares with his brothers (and sister) in arms, that he lacks the ingredients needed to produce such a feast as he has promised. "Sir JARVIS," he addresses the voice who inhabits the walls, a system who in Tony's words, "controls everything mechanical under the sun, where 'under the sun' refers to my kingdom, that which you see around you, now pass me that wrench before this goes critical and blows a hole in the wall." Anything that powerful is deserving of Thor's respect. "Where is the grocery list devised earlier?"
"Captain Rogers took it with the declaration that he 'needed to feel useful.'"
Hmm. While Thor genuinely enjoys the company of each his teammates, trusts them all equally at his side in battle, he grants that Steve Rogers is perhaps the person he understands the most. After all, the good Captain continues to experience a very similar kind of culture shock to Thor himself.
As it turns out, Thor can explain some elements of the modern day to Steve (air travel is commercially available and its applications no longer restricted to military usage, both mobile phones and laptops are commonplace but technology along the lines of Tony's tablet is not) and Steve can explain some elements of Midgardian society to Thor (tipping is customary in some situations but not others, some television programs like Tony's cartoons and Bruce's soap operas are fictional, their scripts imagined by authors and their characters acted out). Some things neither of them know, and they bond over their shared confusion (just how much is a gallon of milk these days? Who is Jack Bauer, and why does Tony compare Natasha to the man?)
"Where is he now?"
Thor spots the officially sanctioned follower three blocks from the tower, when the agent holding a cursory distance of twenty feet misses the curb, goes face first into a puddle large enough to bear a current, and promptly shoots upright on a sprained ankle insisting he is fine. He recognizes the mentality rather than the face, the holstered weapon at the man's hip rather than the plainclothes he is wearing. He is used to his travels not being his own as a prince in line for the throne, though usually his bodyguards are more visible and his tails more subtle. It's been awhile since he travelled with an entourage, and it's a novelty now rather than the chafing restriction it had been before he grew strong enough to defend both himself and his unarmed companions.
"Come," he says, backtracking to ease the young agent's anxiousness that his target has moved out of range. "Let us seek out medical attention for your ankle."
"I'm fine!" comes the quick response. Thor identifies it as false, the statement a falsehood told to placate. His new friends are prone to such misdirections as well – they are perfectly fine right up until they aren't, an event that is usually accompanied by a marked loss of consciousness. Thor can compensate for their tendency to downplay injuries, but he doesn't understand it; strategically, a commander must compensate for his warrior's weaknesses; personally, all wounds obtained in battle are honourable, whether they draw blood or break bone. Or sprain ankles, as the case may be.
"Will it bear weight?" he asks instead.
Clad in a pair of denim pants (ripped in what Darcy claims to be a fashionable manner) rather than the professional attire the agents Thor has encountered so far usually sport (another thing he does not understand – they are a military organization yet the suits many wear are not designed for battle), he sees an underlying stubbornness in the man before him that must have served him well on the career path leading to this moment. It reminds him strongly of Sif, and he spares a moment to miss both her and the Warriors Three.
Sensing that this is not a battle he is likely to win, Thor hauls the man upright, settling him on the ground gently. "See? Fine," the agent grumbles, shifting weight onto the affected ankle with a drunken sway. His face goes ashen almost instantly, and Thor eases him back to the ground before he can take out the vendor's table on the corner and all the confections it carries.
"Oh, God," the agent cries. Thor laughs – Agent Hill has had a discussion with him on religious colloquialisms and the unlikely case that anyone using them is actually referring to him, but he can't help himself – and the agent flushes. "Oh, bloody hell," he follows it up with, and Thor has to take a minute to parse that as hell, a fiery and unpleasant version of the afterlife, rather than Hel, a version rather the opposite.
"It's my first week on the job," the agent admits miserably, drawing the ankle in close to prod it gingerly. "I got promoted to field agent to fill the gap after, well. I'm Agent Owens, by the way. Cole."
"I am Thor," he returns."My friend Bruce has been teaching me something in the way of field medicine," he continues, easing the sock off Cole's foot to get a better look. The joint is tender to the touch and Cole's pain level is obviously higher than he would like Thor to know. The tissues aren't swollen, but they wouldn't be, yet. The vendor from the store on the corner offers him a bag of frozen peas which he wraps around the joint, securing it in place with a belt before he concedes to having exhausted his limited knowledge.
"I should probably check in with SHIELD medical," Cole admits. "Agent Hill's going to find out I'm out of commission at one point – if I get lucky, it'll be after the painkillers."
"There is no shame in injuries obtained in valor," Thor frowns, at once both serious and imploring.
Cole blinks. "I was following you. On a trip to the grocery store. No points for bravery in that one."
"Ah," Thor grins, "But you joined an organization devoted to the protection of society as a whole in the first place, did you not?"
"Uhm," Cole says, the rest of that thought dying on his lips as Thor lifts him in one arm, Mjolnir circling overhead in the other. He'd intended to walk the short distance to the grocery store on this fine summer day, but having the hammer close at hand is habit in these unfamiliar lands. "My hero?" Cole adds, amused and just a tad bitter.
"I prefer Thor."
He has learned, he thinks, that while the glory of battle is a feeling unmatched, the good opinion of friendship is something altogether more desirable. For this, who takes his lesson from Loki, who prized his legacy over his personal relationships and made a mess of them both.
He flies the few blocks back to the grocery store where Captain America is still grocery shopping, if JARVIS' information is correct. He stumbles across Steve in the produce section, staring at a spiked yellow fruit like it holds the answers to the universe. Thor doesn't recognize it, but the sign proclaims to be 'pineapple'. It bears a remarkable similarity to an Asgardian fruit by the name of ubikiberry, except that those are approximately five times bigger than the pineapples in the display and blue in colour.
"Captain," he booms. Steve turns his way, smiling first out of politeness and then out of genuine affection as he recognizes his teammate.
"I have come to aid you with the grocery shopping, as I promised Jane a feast this evening."
Steve perks up, abandoning his remarkably earnest contemplation of the fruit and returning it to the basket. "Oh! I read in the file how you two met, but I wasn't aware that you – er, fondue."
Fondue, as Thor understands it, is a dish rather than a relationship state, but then again these mortals have a remarkable amount of idioms for such things. "Perhaps I should make her fondue," he suggests instead. "I hear it's quite good."
"I'd say ask Clint," Steve says wryly. "But, well…" There are some things Clint takes absolutely seriously – proper weapons protocol down range, which isn't surprising; the sanctity of the magician's code, which is. Thor's romantic entanglements don't qualify.
They decide to pass it by, picking up the ingredients for a simple pasta dish instead. Steve has a complex about the conscientious consumption of food, and while he doesn't say anything when Tony leaves the table without cleaning his plate or when– well, Tony's the main problem; Bruce has ceased making alternate dinners since they discovered his shellfish allergy.
The store grows more crowded as the work day lets out, people weaving overflowing carts around the two of them with practiced ease, and Thor watches as Steve straightens unconsciously, the Captain pushing his way to the surface to take control of the situation with a battle plan.
"Alright, Thor, I need you to look for vegetable shortening – you'll find it in one of the aisles, most likely grouped with baked goods. It comes in a rectangular block. The brand name I remember is Crisco, though I'm not sure if it's still around."
"Aye, Captain," Thor nods. "I shall find this shortening and return with haste."
Thor gets sidetracked in the soda pop aisle, and he is forced to withdraw the promise of haste he had given Steve so freely. His fascination with the multi-coloured liquids lasts up until he turns around and is greeted by rows upon rows of a product called 'potato chips.' In the past few weeks, he's had potatoes in a variety of forms including mashed, scalloped, and caramelized, but he has yet to encounter them in this one. What a form it must be, though, judging by the sheer variety they have available! There's quite a wide variety of condiments, with ketchup, salt and vinegar, and sour cream and onion – although no mustard, he is saddened to see.
It's while he's surveying these that an arm extends beside him, skimming the top shelf but falling just short of reaching the items located there. He's just turning to ask if there is something he might reach for its owner when he realizes who the hand belong to.
"An elderwoman!" he crows reverentially.
"Would you mind handing me a jar of ranch dip, young man?"
Thor is many decades old in his own right, with a lifespan several times the scale of those here on Midgard. As he surveys the way the lines of her face have deepened, her mind sharp with time and wisdom both though her stature has grown smaller and she moves more slowly than the people that surround them, this matters very little. Standing before her, he feels very young indeed. It's a humbling experience, one he hadn't been expecting in joining the Avengers. The act of taking up arms to defend is a young person's game in this realm.
"Of course, madam. Is there any other way I can be assistance to you?"
"I have been sent to find toothpaste," Thor informs Steve when he next finds the man again. This time, the cart is neatly tucked against the freezers of the meat section, out of the way of other shoppers as Steve compares two cuts with a critical eye. Thor adds the vegetable shortening he had been sent for to their bounty.
"Which of these look better to you?" Steve asks, offering up the two packages he is torn between.
Thor blinks. He's not accustomed to choosing meat in this manner; when he is at court, meals are prepared for him; when he travels with Sif and the Warriors Three, they eat what they catch.
"Right, then," Steve backtracks, running a hand through his hair. "I think I'm going to go with this one – after army rations during the war, I swore to myself I'd never turn down a better cut when it was available. I'm just concerned it won't last long enough to be savoured, though -- Clint and Natasha burn through an awful lot of food when they're training." It's true, the weekly shops have grown alarmingly large to suit the demands of feeding six active individuals with highly divergent tastes. Bruce's omelettes contain enough jalapeno peppers to down a horse, while Natasha has a passion for brussel sprouts that they overlook, albeit reluctantly when the distinctive smell lingers in the kitchen.
"There is a larger package available, if you are concerned about quantity."
"Yeah, but I can't justify spending that much…" The familiar list is almost unrecognizable in Steve's hands, where items that have been picked up so far have been annotated with prices and a running subtotal has been kept at the bottom.
"Anyways, you shouldn't worry about me," Steve says. "What was that you were saying earlier?"
"I am on a quest for toothpaste," Thor repeats, "only I am not sure what to look for."
Steve mouths the word, brow furrowing in confusion. "I imagine it's like tooth powder? Try the pharmacy for that one."
There is absolutely not a call to the mansion where Steve regretfully informs Tony he cannot find any fruits in the shape of loops, and it absolutely does not go like this.
"Calling to ask about the groceries? This is downright domestic, Cap."
"Hey, Tony. Listen, I've scoured the store but I can't find any Froot Loops – and are you sure you spelled that right?"
"Blame Kellogg's if your noble opinions on spelling strike a fire in your loins. And that's fine, just get Cheerios or something then."
"—er, I'm not familiar with that type of fruit. What does it look like?"
"Tony? Are you still there?"
"You think froot loops are actually a type of fruit."
"What store are you in? I'll hack the security cameras, I want a picture of this moment to hang on my wall and keep forever."
"Just so you know, Natasha has found three separate ways into your workshop."
"Yes, but you would never let her use them because it wouldn't be conducive to team unity, right Cap? …Cap?"
Thor finds the toothpaste in the pharmacy section, as Steve had predicted. Sadly enough, the box is sealed and he doesn't get to see the actual paste which professes to both whiten teeth and fight off gingivitis. 'Tis a warrior's invention indeed. Were it not for Thor's excellent dental hygiene, he might look into purchasing some himself.
He returns with his bounty to Madam Ross. "What else do you seek?"
"Well, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, I need some waffles."
This may or may not end in two boxes of waffles ending up in Steve's cart. Thor can't say for sure until he's tried them, but they just might be better than pop tarts.
Their paths don't cross again until the checkout. Thor has just finished moving the entire contents of the cart to the conveyor belt with one sweep of his arms when Edith's hand goes to her mouth. "That's Captain America," she says quietly.
"Indeed it is," Thor says back, just as quietly. Confidences such as the one she has drawn him into are not to be broken lightly.
"My sister used to have the biggest crush on him."
Thor looks over, but Steve's still loading groceries onto the belt, a carton of eggs balanced precariously on a head of lettuce and container of orange juice in an arrangement that shouldn't be stable but seems to have reached an equilibrium of some sort anyways.
"He embodies many admirable qualities."
He doesn't let on anything further until they are halfway to Madam Ross' car, her groceries in Thor's arms. The careful way she walks suggests to Thor that she suffers from an inflammation of the joints. It's altogether different from Agent Owens' sprained ankle, as the pain seems to come not from bearing weight on the joint, but it ails her nonetheless and Thor regrets that he cannot help her in the same manner. "Your vehicle, Madam."
Steve, right on time as always, exits the store just as he's finished loading the groceries into the trunk of her car. "You said your sister admired Captain America," Thor says. "Would you like to meet him?" Thor takes her blush to be an answer in the affirmative, and gestures his teammate over.
"I can't wait to tell her this," she says, two hands clasping the polite hand Steve has extended. "Captain America buys soda pop, too."
Steve's stock 'interacting with the public as Captain America' smile melts into something a little more genuine as Madam Ross smiles proudly. "I just won a sixty year old bet."