It started with a pack of the inquisitive hyenas the Midgardians called reporters.
There were questions of every kind, from every side, as Thor strode next to him. Some of them were quite amusing. So amusing, Thor was distracted from the questions concerning himself.
“Mr. Barton, are you entirely ambidextrous, or just when it comes to shooting the bow? You appear to be able to shoot left- and right-handed with equal accuracy, and your loyal fans want to know…”
“Mr. Barton? Will you be switching to a uniform with long sleeves before the cold weather sets in? If so, would you be interested in an exclusive…?”
Hawkeye was indifferent. Until, suddenly, he was not.
“Mr. Barton—what was it like being under the control of the alien, Loki? You were completely powerless, correct?”
The Hawkeye’s confident stride seemed to falter, the sly amusement in his eyes wiped clean, replaced by cold, hard, blankness. Thor recognized the expression of a man recalling nightmares: those real as well as conjured, like whispering ghosts, in the dead of night.
“Were you aware of any of your actions while under Loki’s control?” another hyena joined the first, voice bright and cheerful, like a happy little bird taunting an eagle. Or a hawk.
The gall of it. He might be the Hawkeye, but they were the carrion-feeders.
“Mr. Barton, when Loki captured you—” the first hyena had that device called Micro Phone stretched out like she would assault the Hawkeye with it if he did not reply.
“—Enough of this,” Thor demanded, unable to keep the hearty indignation from his tone, for his temper was growing heated. He had not intended to step in front of Hawkeye, but the urge was nigh irresistible. The outstretched Micro Phone came only up to his chest, and he sneered down at it in contempt. “Be gone with this line of inquisition against a mighty warrior of Midgard. He has defended your planet, and you will show him the respect he deserves.”
A little path cleared through the throng of The Media, and all about they were subdued and less eager to approach with their recording devices and Micro Phones.
“Friend Hawkeye,” Thor said, turning with a pleased smile, “let us go.”
Hawkeye had a thoughtful expression on his face. It was mysterious and full of deep ruminations, as was the Hawkeyed one’s want, but it was also amused once more, which was highly satisfactory. It was also, perhaps, grateful.
The Hawkeye nodded. “Yeah. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Thor was beginning to understand these phrases better, in color of intent if not precise reference.
“I have relished this delight you call popsicle,” he mused. “It tasted of grapes. Very sweet, and most refreshing.”
They were in motion again, shoulder to shoulder, as it should be.
“I prefer ice cream,” Clint answered, footsteps sure once again. “There’s this place that serves a salted caramel cashew that’s to die for. You game?”
“I will always willingly participate in a game that involves Midgardian delicacies, my friend.”
The hyenas were forgotten entirely. And the salted caramel cashew was indeed to die for.
The second time, Thor was visiting one of the ale houses that the Midgardians called a bar. He had become familiar with this particular one from frequenting it with his fellow warriors on previous occasions. It smelled of smoke, and beer, and companionability. A most fitting place to throw back tankards and laugh with amiable Midgardians.
He had noted upon his entry the Lady Pepper and the Lady Natasha sitting at the long table where the drinks were poured. They had exchanged salutations, but Thor had then left them to their talk, for they seemed to have come for each other’s company, and each looked much wearied and in need of quieter speech and silent companionship than was his gift to provide.
Thor sought the corner where men hurled puny javelins at circular targets. It was like a children’s game for men too far into their tankards to manage more impressive feats. It was most amusing to awe them with his skills—tankard in one hand, and puny javelin in the other. He won much of the paper Midgardians valued as currency, but the others never minded very much because he generally used most of it in buying them all more to drink.
It was when he sat to drain his third beer that he noted the man with the leering eyes and the loud mouth, seating himself next to the Ladies Pepper and Natasha.
“Long day, ladies?” His words were offensive in tone, even unaided by the expression he wore.
He thought he heard the Lady Pepper’s exasperated mutter, while the Lady Natasha rolled her eyes. They did not answer his rudeness, only turned to each other to converse the more studiously.
The inebriated man continued to intrude upon their space, edging closer in his seat towards Lady Pepper, whose back was firmly to him. Whatever he said next was a mere whisper that Thor could not discern. Such assumed intimacy, however, in and of itself, was the liberty of an uncouth swine.
Lady Pepper turned to stare pointedly, and with heat at the man, words unnecessary to express her feelings toward him. A most admirable look, and fully matched by the Lady Natasha’s.
That the swine did not comprehend his danger was yet another sign of his imbecility.
“Giiirls,” he slurred, derisively, “always yak, yak, yak with you. Giggling and whispering your little girl secrets to each other, huh? How ‘bout you let me in on a secret or two, sweethearts.” His smile was slow, and drunken, and blatantly assessing. “Two redheads. Just my lucky day.”
In another second, one or both of them would most certainly have acted, Thor had no doubt. And perhaps it would have been a better lesson to the man.
But it was simply not to be born in a silence.
“Argr eldhúsfífl,” Thor growled, coming to tower over the man, who was very puny indeed, even seated on a tall chair. “You are a slápr and a veslingr.”
Some insults simply demanded to spoken your native tongue, and though the man blinked up at him without true comprehension, his tone conveyed enough, even to such a thick-pated dullard.
“How dare you talk about my mother like—” he began.
“—Fífl,” Thor retorted, leaning close, “I have no need to insult your parentage when your loathsome person supplies such adequate fodder.”
It took a long, slow blink for the man to contemplate his words. When he did, he swung—with a predictable lack of coordination and strength. Thor’s own hand could have engulfed the other man’s fist twice, but he stopped himself from crushing it utterly.
The man went rigid and made a high-pitched warble that was far from musical.
“I could crush you with a finger, little man,” Thor said coolly, still gripping his hand in a mockery of a handshake. “Or, worse, I could have left you to your fate at the hands of these two ladies of valor. Consider yourself most fortunate to escape so unharmed.”
A small shove was all that was needed after that to send the man slinking for the door.
Thor glanced around first, to smile and nod amiably around at those who had stopped to watch the encounter. Cheerful noise closed back in around them in a short time. Then he turned to his friends.
“My apologies for taking your due retribution from you. I intended no slight. It was for my own temper I indulged.”
Lady Pepper’s smile eclipsed weariness. “Hey, it was fun to watch.” As if to illustrate, she was enjoying a handful of pretzels with apparent relish.
The Black Widow leaned an elbow against the table. “But we had him right where we wanted him, you lug.” She, too, however, was smiling—not unlike the way he had seen her smile over episodes of Reality of the Television . “We should exchange favorite insults sometime. What’s eldhúsfífl?”
“A simpleton who sits by the fire at all times, and is good for nothing.”
“Eloquence in a word. Nice. I’ll remember that one.”
Lady Pepper nodded to the seat so recently and hurriedly vacated. “Join us.”
Thor raised an eyebrow. “Are there not indeed Secrets transpiring? I would not intrude.”
“Girl Secrets,” The Widow concurred with a sage nod, and a shared glance of amusement with Lady Pepper.
“More like Secrets of the Universe,” Lady Pepper added.
“Are they not one and the same?” Thor inquired, arranging his expression carefully into innocence.
Lady Pepper appeared to be immune to such ruses, laughing good-humoredly. “Alright, Knight-Errant. Sit down and let these extremely not distressed damsels buy you a drink.”
Thor sat. “And then you may tell me of the Secrets of the Universe.”
Lady Natasha called for fresh drinks before turning back and resting her chin in the palm of her hand. “Maybe one or two to begin with.”
“Then let us yak,” Thor agreed.
They nearly choked on their drinks with laughter.
It was altogether a very pleasant evening.
The third time, Thor was keeping Dr. Banner company, while scientists—Agents of the SHIELD—hurried to and fro in the facility lab.
More precisely, Thor had come in the hopes of persuading the doctor to join him in a midday feast. Alas, Thor had noted of the both the doctor and Anthony that they did not appear to understand the concept of rest well-earned. They seemed driven, every moment, as if they had something to prove to the world. There was an urgency behind all they did: urgency in a multitude of quests for knowledge that never ended.
Knowledge was a worthy quest. But even the wisest man required food and rest.
The doctor was a particularly difficult mystery to understand. He was a fierce warrior in battle. But here, among the inventions and the discoverers, he was perhaps most truly in his element. It was to be admired, such complexity and intelligence—the willpower that that kept at bay, when needful, that exceedingly powerful fighter, the Hulk.
Who was indeed stronger: the Hulk, or the man who commanded him to be still and wait for the proper time?
Thor watched the man, and wondered why he doubted himself so fiercely.
“Sorry—sorry, Thor. I’ll, ah…be with you in a minute,” the doctor was just saying, head bent over a rack of test tubes.
“Doctor Banner? The results you asked for.”
The man in the white coat was lanky, easily mistaken for a callow youth instead of a man grown. But it was his timid manner that made Thor frown at him as he thrust papers into the doctor’s hands and then snatched his own back as if he feared being bitten.
The look on the doctor’s face did not escape Thor, not then, nor a moment later when a young woman gave an altogether ridiculously wide berth to the doctor as she walked around him.
There was a tired, drawn expression that came over Banner’s face as he stood there holding the papers, observing all of this sidelong. He saw their aversion to touching him; their paranoia; their fear. It affected him deeply. It shook his faith in himself on some deep and private level.
Outwardly, the doctor only sighed, flipping through the papers. He muttered a soft oath of frustration. “I was off. I was way off. Bergman, you could’ve just said as much when you saw this, instead of waiting to give me the written—” he looked up, scanning the stiff posture of the young man in front of him, and the frustration bled from his voice. “Never mind. You don’t need to look so scared, I’m not about to…” He cleared his throat, showing neither injured pride nor wounds of any kind, despite another arrow having found its mark. “Thanks. Thanks for this, Bergman.”
Thor could not stay silent. He stepped forward from his vantage, and gave the Doctor a hearty clap on the back, exclaiming for the benefit of every coward scurrying by: “He is not made of glass, that you should treat him thus—like a stranger, like an enemy. He is an honored friend. A man of science, medicine, and much knowledge. “ He frowned at the still-present youth called Bergman. “You would do well to treat him as an ally and not a foe, young one.”
“Of…of, course, Sir,” the Bergman bleated, like a sheep, and made his disappearance.
Thor raised an eyebrow, and smiled at the doctor. “There. Let the man-boy have something real to fear.”
“Man…boy?” The doctor’s mouth was trying to smile, with or without the permission of still-solemn eyes.
“Surely he is too young to grow the beard of a man, yet he pretends to do a man’s work.”
“We’re not notorious, us lab monkeys, for being…paragons of manliness.”
Thor grunted. “You are not a callow youth, Doctor.”
The doctor shrugged, and now his eyes smiled, too. “Well. I can grow a beard, at least.”
“You must feast more often to keep up your strength,” Thor pronounced, decisively.
The doctor set his papers aside. “You know what? I could eat. A lot, actually. Like a steak, or something.”
“Enough to satisfy two warriors,” Thor beamed, prodding him in the shoulder with a fist encouragingly.
The doctor looked surprised and thoughtful for a moment, studying Thor. “You mean The Other Guy’s invited?”
“Always, Doctor. He is my comrade, as well.”
Something lightened—softening, easing—in the doctor’s eyes. He nodded. “Alright then.”
They feasted well indeed. The doctor introduced Thor to a new delight: the Contest of the 5-Pound Hamburger, a meal free of charge if consumed on the spot.
It was delicious fare, including the French Fries, surely worth the Bill of Twenty which Thor left for the wide-eyed maiden who had served table. He might have fairly won his free meal, but the lady had more than earned her own wages with her hard work and attentive service. The doctor seemed to find it all very humorous, remarking upon some loaf made of meat which he deemed would be “right up his alley.”
Thor would concede that though human appetites were truly unambitious, their tastes were frequently inspired. The Heinz had created sweet wonder in this red sauce, even if everyone seemed confused over whether it was made of fruits or vegetables.
The fourth time, Thor had sallied forth by foot to explore new territory with Anthony, and a new friend, a Colonel of the Air Force named James Rhodes.
They spent many hours experiencing the great city of New York, breathing unfamiliar smells, enjoying Hot Dogs, and pausing to sample several fine brews.
Anthony had regaled them at will. He told of how the colonel had attained by theft one of the suits he himself had crafted in likeness to the Man of Iron—and Anthony had laughed long over recalling the fight that had been waged between them, and the devastation they had wrought upon his home in the process. The colonel’s contributions were quieter, and he had smiled the patient look of a true friend. It was a look of patient affection not unfamiliar to Thor, and he thought perhaps he had seen it before on the face of Hogun.
Shortly thereafter, Anthony had led them confidently astray.
“You’re stereotyping yourself, Tony,” the colonel said with a sigh, as they cut between close buildings. “Let’s start by admitting we’re lost. Then we can ask for directions, or call Pepper and have her locate the GPS chip in your phone and, if it’s not too crushed…”
“We are not calling Pepper.” Anthony was imperious.
The colonel snorted. “Really, Tony? After all the stunts you’ve pulled, this is the one you’re too embarrassed to tell Pepper about?” He narrowed his eyes. “Wait. Don’t tell me you’re just sore because your Armageddon-proof Starkphone met its match.”
“I do apologize again, my friend, for damaging your communications device,” Thor interjected humbly, for he knew that such technology was a matter of pride to Anthony.
“Damaging? You annihilated it. With your freakishly heavy foot.” Despite the curious way Anthony had of habitually rambling like a child, he was quick to add generously, “An opportunity you were given only because I was clumsy enough to drop it right in the way of said freakishly heavy foot. And for your information, Rhodey, I am not sore. I am bemused. Bewildered. Be…thunder-struck. Yeah. That’s the word. The case on that baby’s been run over by tanks. Nuke-proofed. Designed to withstand the gumming and gnawing of a thousand teething toddlers.” He looked back at Thor. “You’re officially in on the next prototype testing, ‘k? Bring Mjolnir.”
“I would be honored.”
“Look, I’m glad you two have made up, and that it’s a date ‘n all,” the colonel said dryly, “but could we focus on being lost, with only my dumb jock’s phone to get us un-lost?”
“We’re not lost, you dumb jock, with your adorable technology,” Anthony scoffed lightly, sounding much like Fandral did when he was bent on adventure, and stubbornly set against letting any caution stand in his way. “We’re in New York. Walking along a…narrow street with…buildings…everywhere, and surrounded by a lot of exquisite…free expression.” He gestured to the colorful words and pictures painted across the red brick of a nearby wall. “Very…Avant garde. Very circa 2011.”
“Friends,” Thor spoke, unable to contain his amusement any longer, “why not camp beneath the stars, and strike out again at first light?”
“Ah…” walking a step ahead, Tony had to turn his head to cast a glance in Thor’s direction, “I think we’ll save hoboing it for a backup plan to plan ‘Z,’ if it’s all the same to you. My delicate genius’ constitution isn’t really up for that....back-to-nature stuff. Existential as the experience sounds, in theory.”
The colonel raised a hand and let it fall in exasperation. “Too proud to ask for directions, but too delicate to handle the fresh air. I take the stereotyping comment back.”
Anothony made a sniffing noise. “I should hope so. Aha,” he exclaimed a moment later, “behold the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“You mean the ominous flickering of a neon sign in the window of a creepy restaurant with torn curtains?” the colonel returned blandly.
“I’m thinking left,” the colonel said, nodding in the direction away from the ominously flickering light.
Tony folded his arms. “I’m leading this expedition, you mutinous cur.”
“I propose a contest of skills. I shall accompany the colonel to the left, and you shall choose your own direction, friend Anthony. We shall see who first shall acquire some means of transportation.”
They both turned to appraise Thor and his suggestion, then appraised each other, and nodded.
“You’re on,” Anthony grinned.
The contest proved tedious, as the only skill required was that of patience. Alas, that had never been Thor’s skill of choice, and he had little practice in it. Were he not aware of the rules and decorum appropriate to Midgard, he would have feign have stepped forth and commandeered the first mechanical vehicle that passed their way. But he was not a prince of this land—and, in faith, it would have been the act of a child, not of a warrior of able body, to do so.
Though Anthony jested of his delicate nature, they might yet sleep beneath the tapestry of the skies. Thor would have welcomed it, though the constellations were veiled by many lights.
More of the vehicles passed by—several of ruby, white, and sapphire shade, but none of the yellow, with the lit ornaments of the Taxi.
All thought of impatience fled when Thor’s ears discerned a sound of distress. And not just any man’s distress, but his friend’s. His comrade’s.
“There is trouble,” he rumbled, and did not wait for the colonel, but heard him follow without question. A soldier in name and deed.
“What manner of cowardice is this!” he roared, when he espied three men encircling his friend. His blood had scarce opportunity to grow hot, for they were indeed cowards, attempting to flee rather than fight. Two were felled by his own fist, and the third by the colonel.
“Wow,” Anthony panted, wide eyed in the dim light of oncoming night. “Hear that? That sound is the dying gasp of my last shred of pride being run over by a semi-truck.” He pressed a hand to his side. “But, hey. At least the ego’s not the only thing in agony now.”
“Are you in need of a healer?” Thor asked.
Anthony shook his head. “Bourbon sounds more appropriate.”
“You would have defeated them without our aid. We only sought to even the odds,” Thor said gravely.
“You only sought to save my butt. But thanks for that—the part where you save my butt, and the part where you try to make me feel better needing to have my butt saved.” He looked at the colonel, as if, despite his words, he was ready for more positive affirmation.
“Hey, don’t try the doe eyes on me, Iron Man,” the colonel said, with a shake of his head. “As far as I’m concerned, your pride could use some semi-truck therapy.”
“You’re a real pal, Rhodey.”
“And a true warrior.” Thor clapped the colonel on the back. “But perhaps we should now summon the Enforcers of the Law,” he added, observing the villains at their feet, who made neither sound nor movement. The fray had been altogether disappointingly brief. “Or shall I mete out justice straightaway?” The last, he managed to say with fierce enough expression to convince both comrades that he was in earnest. In truth, it was only part jest.
Anthony raised both eyebrows. “I can’t lie, I prefer option number two.”
“I can’t lie, I’m tempted to agree,” the colonel said, also observing the villains with a critical eye. “Especially since it’s hard to report an incident and ask that your assailants be arrested when you haven’t the foggiest where you are.”
“Mmm,” Tony said thoughtfully. “Alright then. Mete Out Justice Straightaway it is, Thor.” He smiled at the colonel’s hard expression. “Or…not. Because, while my pride lies writhing on the ground, why not call Pep and make tonight’s humiliation complete? I’m all about thoroughness.”
The colonel dutifully pulled out his communication device, speaking into the Cell Phone a brief report of their situation.
They did not sleep beneath the stars, nor was Thor allowed to mete justice. They rode in the Limousine, a black serpent among vehicles, and Anthony proffered drinks before they seated themselves companionably on one of the leather seats.
“I’m not your pillow, Tony,” the colonel stated, when Tony began to list in his direction.
“I was just almost-mugged by three goons,” Tony pointed out with ample self-pity. “Have you no consideration for my poor nerves?” he complained, in a fair imitation of a lady.
“Pride and Prejudice? You’re kidding me. Are you sure you shouldn’t be in a hospital?”
“What is this Pride and Prejudice you speak of?” Thor interrupted.
“A book,” the colonel informed him. “A famous one.”
“A book of the warrior’s code? Of the pride of valor, and of prejudice from foes?”
Anthony made a noise not entirely manly. “Something like that.”
“It’s a romance,” the colonel informed him with a pointed look for Anthony, but a curl of humor across his lips. “It’s a classic romance by a woman named Jane Austen.”
“An epic of love.” Thor nodded. “I must read this book.”
“Why?” Anthony slurred in confusion.
Thor smiled broadly. “My friend, are not such stories the essence of understanding how to win the affection of the lady you adore?”
“Oh, you sly dog,” Tony said, with comprehension, “you want to impress Jane.”
“I am no dog for my ambition,” Thor said, face studiously blank. It was an effort, for he understood the phrase as it was intended, but he did not intend to allow Anthony to grow to confident of his ability to jest at his expense without receiving retribution in kind.
Anthony blinked, uncomfortable for only a moment. “Ah…no. No. That’s brilliant, actually. I should read it, too. Although I don’t know about this Mr. Darcy. For all women fawn over the guy, he had some dumb pick-up lines.”
The colonel chuckled. “At least you’re both rich. I’m pretty sure ‘Have a Really Nice House’ is the moral of the story for guys trying to win fair love.”
“True.” Anthony cast a sidelong glance in Thor’s direction. “Tell ya what, Thor. We’ll cheat and watch the movie.”
“Kiera Knightly, or BBC?” the colonel wanted to know.
“Both,” Anthony decided.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the evening was persuading Anthony to allow them to see to his injuries. There was much grumbling and stubbornness, but, once allowed to examine the bruising, the colonel pronounced the injuries to his torso superficial—“No broken ribs”—whereupon Anthony grumbled further that they did not feel “superficial,” despite the fact that he had just moments ago been so intent on convincing them they were indeed nothing to be concerned with. His version of logic and contradictory nature were something the colonel had obviously learned to accept long ago, and it was something Thor was beginning to smile at, as well.
With a blue bag of ice forced upon a continually surly Anthony, they spent the night watching the saga of Lady Elizabeth and her fair sisters unfold. The Captain joined them, and the four of them ate Popped Corn, and Thor agreed entirely with the Captain of America when he grumbled at Anthony to “Can it,” when Anthony would have made commentary during the final scene, wherein Lord Darcy finally made a proper proposal of marriage to Lady Elizabeth.
Thor decided he would yet read this epic of love—perhaps aloud to his own Jane, who was surely more beautiful by far even when compared to the loveliness of the Lady Jane Bennett. Yes, the idea suited him. He would imbue this Darcy’s lines with fresh spirit as only a son of Odin, and warrior of Asgard, could.
The fifth time, Thor was in the midst of escaping the healers' clutches. The mechanical beast had not so much as singed him with its flaming breath, but these agents of the SHIELD were most thorough and difficult to evade.
The captain had not been so fortunate in battle. Though he had protected a child from harm successfully, with his worthy shield, he had paid for the action. The burns he had sustained were quite enough without the aggravation of being swarmed afterward by well-meaning but patience-trying healers.
Thor paused in his departure to observe the captain's plight. He was close enough to hear, though partially hidden from sight by one of the ridiculous white tapestries—apparently intended for privacy—that hung between the beds that lined the wall.
“Those will sting for a little while, even for you, Captain,” a woman with fair hair addressed the Captain of America.
The captain, seated on one of the beds, was surrendered to the care of another woman who was wrapping a white bandage loosely around his left bicep. Already, his torso had been wrapped in a similar manner. The only visible damage remained the red blistering across his left shoulder and the side of his neck and jaw. They were ugly wounds that would have taken weeks to heal on an ordinary man.
“I've met more than a few flamethrowers in my day, ma'am,” the Captain replied ruefully. “I know the routine.”
“Good, good.” The woman nodded. “Then I'll spare you the lecture. But perhaps you wouldn't mind staying for observation for a few hours. Overnight would be better.”
The bright, though pained, good-will in the captain's eyes dimmed with disappointment with each word she spoke, until he appear as crestfallen as a man doomed to imprisonment. Every time he became injured—whether it was as minor as bruises or life-threatening as stab wounds—the doctors wished to record his recovery in as much depth as possible. Weary as he was, he had clearly been hoping to evade the routine this time.
“I'm...really rather tired, doctor.”
“Of course. Even with the serum, healing takes energy, and requires rest. We’ll get you set up with a bed, and there’ll be plenty of time to sleep between checks. But we’d really like to get a look at these burns at regular intervals, so we can see exactly how your body deals with them.” The doctor smiled kindly, but her determination was clear.
Thor could not help but feel some indignation on behalf of his friend. Who was this doctor to treat the Captain of America as if he were a child? As if he were not a man who had already fought many battles, and learned the limitations of his own body?
“Maybe I could come back first thing tomorrow?” Steve suggested.
She shook her head. “Oh, I really don’t think that’ll do. You’ll already have begun to heal, and documenting the early stages could be very helpful, especially with second degree burns like this.”
The captain seemed less and angry, and more hesitant. However, the indecision on the his face lasted only a moment—a struggle of rebellion engulfed by the rising tides of duty. It was not the doctor's will that convinced him, but his own conscience.
Thor had witnessed the captain struggle in such a manner before, over matters great and small. And Thor could understand duty. He understood matters of loyalty, and the sacrifices that need to be made for the greater good. All this he had learned from his own father. But the captain had already sacrificed, to save the child and to defeat the enemy, and it was time he was allowed to seek his own rest in true privacy and more pleasant surroundings.
Thor stepped forward, and was not displeased when the doctor jumped at the sound of his voice.
“The captain has indicated his weariness.”
The doctor turned to appraise him, quickly recovering from surprise. “Ah, Thor. Have you had your post-mission assessment?”
“Do I appear to be in need of assessment?” Thor countered, crossing his arms.
The doctored sighed. “Very well. But I think the captain—”
“—Wishes to leave,” Thor finished.
“Guys...” the captain began, in the same tone with which he had interrupted a myriad of conflicts, the majority of which involved the Man of Iron and his sometimes too-ready wit. But this time, the captain seemed to have no point to make, or else no energy left to finish what he'd begun.
Thor turned his hot gaze away from the doctor, meeting the captain's eye, maintaining the contact, showing his own stubborn will to see this fight through. He locked eyes until the captain's expression changed from resignation to curiosity—and then to a new kind of resignation that was bemused, and waiting, and willing.
Thor nodded, satisfied. “Doctor, we shall depart now.”
They did, though first procuring a tunic for the captain that was open at the front, and loose enough to be worn over the bandages.
“Allow me to offer you hospitality, captain, where the eyes of SHIELD will not think to look.”
The captain frowned, securing the front of his tunic. “You bought a place?”
“Nay, but my Jane has rooms she rarely frequents.”
“Are you sure...”
“She would wish to aid you, captain.”
The captain had finally relented, and they hailed one of the many eager Taxis that waited. Thor recited the lines Jane had taught him as the address to the building she called an apartment, and they arrived in good time.
To his delight, she was not absent.
The captain seemed less delighted, and would have turned to leave, but Jane—of course—was most forcefully welcoming once Thor had told her of the captain's situation.
Jane winced in sympathy over the visible scarlet marks. “Burns are the worst. I know from experience.”
“They would have detained him, to study him,” Thor elaborated. “I have brought him here to elude their questions.”
“It's not really like... that, Thor,” the captain remonstrated. “They're just trying to find out all they can about the serum, and the only way they can do that is by observing me.”
“Well, you're more than welcome to elude them by hanging out here, Captain,” Jane said, sorting rapidly through the pile of missives heaped upon the table in the hall. “I just dropped by for a shower and a change of clothes before heading back to the lab.”
“But Jane...” Thor began, joy greatly diminished.
She turned, standing on her toes to kiss his lips, effectively silencing him. “Nope. No pleading, please.” She pulled back, and pointed a finger at him. “And no sad faces, either. You know I can't resist your puppy-dog charm, and I really need to head back.”
“I am no pup,” Thor retorted.
“A regular Golden Retriever,” she countered, smiling radiantly enough to disarm any man. She grabbed her satchel. “But, really, Cap. You're welcome here. Both of you, make yourselves at home. Have some dinner—crash on the couch.” She eyed Thor meaningfully. “Not literally. I want to see that couch in one piece when I get back. But, seriously, this place could stand see some actual use. I'll certainly feel better if it does, come time to pay rent.”
Thor could not help but feel the emptiness of her departure. But he rallied, for the captain stood in the hall examining a picture, and looking most unusually uncertain of where to place himself.
“Come, Captain. I know my Jane well. She will have plenty of the Macaroni with Cheese for us to feast upon.”
The captain turned a more hopeful expression upon him, trailing after him into the kitchen. Opening a cupboard, Thor instantly seized upon one of the blue boxes he was in quest of, and held it up with a rattle of noodles, proclaiming the quote he had found to be most true: “Only the cheesiest!”
Two more boxes were discovered, much to their mutual satisfaction.
They were of one mind, he and the captain, and soon the smell of cheese was joined by the smell of bacon. This, they cooked to crisp perfection, and ate upon their cheese with noodles.
“This stuff's amazing,” the captain said, running finger along the edge of his bowl to salvage the last of the cheese.
“Indeed. But I require yet more sustenance.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“A frozen pizza,” Thor decided. “Pepperoni. One apiece.”
The captain smiled. “I think we might owe Jane a run to the grocery store after tonight.”
“We frequent the marketplace together, my Jane and I,” Thor reassured him. “I know the isle of the Pop Tarts well.”
When they had feasted to their satisfaction, the captain would have aided Thor in restoring the kitchen to its former state. But Thor could see the captain was in need of rest, and finally persuaded him to be seated in the living room.
It was not long before the captain lay asleep on the couch.
When the knock on the door came, Thor set aside the bowl he'd been drying, slinging the cloth over his shoulder, and opening the door to find the Son of Coul on the other side.
“Thor,” he greeted.
“Son of Coul,” Thor greeted in return, though warily, not moving to unbar the way. Though he did not count this man a foe, he was an agent of the SHIELD, and had duties to perform. Duties that might well involve bringing the captain back for the healers to study. It would not happen this day.
The Son of Coul looked nearly as sage and all-seeing as Heimdall. But this was, in Thor's experience, his normal state.
“I know that Captain Rogers is here.”
Thor scowled. He would not play the fool, or mince words when there was no doubt in his mind that the Son of Coul possessed the means to know things that no one else did. Lying had always been Loki's game, just as stubbornness was his.
“The Captain of America will not be disturbed.” Thor crossed his arms across his chest.
The Son of Coul did not appear to be impressed. He did, however, look strangely pleased about something, nodding his head as if life were going exactly according to his plans.
“I'll only be a minute,” he said cheerfully.
He slipped by without waiting for an answer, going straight to the living room, only to stand next to the couch without making any move to rouse the captain. The captain, who had somehow managed to arrange himself on the small piece of furniture in a reclining position without actually putting his feet upon the cushions—as if he had simply slid sideways from a seated position, until his head had found a place to rest.
“No. That won't do,” the Son of Coul remarked, and smoothly lifted the captain's feet so that they were draped over the arm of the couch, his body aligned in a position that looked less back-breaking. “Better. Find a blanket, though.”
The Son of Coul nodded again, as he observed the captain, and the vivid red marks along his jaw and neck, just beginning to heal around the edges. He did not look like a great leader of men at the moment, but very young, and very tired.
The Son of Coul turned to leave, but lingered in the doorway to add, “And Thor? Anyone else comes knocking, looking for the captain...”
“They will find me, instead.”
The Son of Coul smiled briefly, before departing. He was a most clever strategist.
Thor seated himself in the kitchen, thoughtfully savoring the now-cooled remains of one of the pizzas they had made. No one disturbed the captain's rest that night.
The man's voice was like a droning insect. But words caught at Thor, battering him, forcing him to confront a reality he sometimes still preferred to ignore. It was a reality where a beloved brother had become an enemy. An enemy to Earth, and an enemy to him.
“...Despite the assurances we've received from Asgard,” the man droned, “there are some people who will, naturally, question the wisdom of leaving the punishment of someone so dangerous up to the discretion of his family. This is an enemy who would have achieved genocide without swift intervention...”
And so it continued. This little man, with his high voice, and beady eyes, he struck at Thor with his words, and Thor could only sit and listen. He had not voice to respond. This meeting had been gathered for discussion, but he could not answer—could not find words to explain the loss and the anger he felt towards Loki. His heart was too full for meaningful argument. He could not meet the gazes of his comrades, seated around him.
“Whatever Asgard deems fit punishment for this Loki, it will be filtered through perfectly natural biases of—”
The captain spoke up sharply, interrupting: “—Sir. With all due respect, I believe the proverbial horse has official been beaten to death. I, for one, have heard enough.”
Thor looked up in surprise. The captain addressed not the little man in the suit, but Director Fury, at the head of the long meeting table.
“Hear hear,” Anthony added, sprawled in his seat all the more disrespectfully, with a yawn for emphasis. “The horse is dead. Time to bury it. Like, really, guys, enough already. Now it's just stinking up the place.”
Bruce snorted softly. “I have to agree with that assessment.”
“Unless someone wants to go argue with Odin,” Natasha remarked blandly, “I think it's safe to say that it’s a moot point, anyway.”
“And some of us are sick and tired of the subject,” Clint grumbled, a dark look in his eyes.
There was a silence.
Then Director Fury said coolly: “Agent Gregson—next issue, and keep it pertinent, if you please. It's clearly past the Avengers’ nap time.”
“It really is,” Anthony said, with a second yawn.
The drone began again, this time with an edge of resentment behind it. But there was no sting to it any longer.
Thor cast his gaze curiously from one teammate to another, and each in turn met it solidly, with knowing looks, or soft, fierce smiles, or small nods of the head.
Wounds would heal, though they left scars. In the meantime, comrades were faithful.