Jane wasn't sure what she was expecting when she and Darcy arrived at Stark Tower. Darcy was excited, and rightfully so, but Jane had her own private reservations. Not because she believed the hype about Tony Stark or anything like that, or even because she thought that Tony might want something in return for her offering her and Darcy a plate to stay. Actually, Tony made it clear from day one that they owed him nothing.
Actually, it was because she hadn't had much luck with other scientists. For the most part, science was still very much an old boy's club. Regardless of the fact that she was an astrophysicist worthy of renown, she couldn't shake the feeling that men were always waiting for her to prove herself. As though what little respect she'd earned was, contradictory as it seemed, permanently temporary, and the slightest misstep would be enough to prove them right.
It didn't take long for her to figure out that Tony (she'd started out calling him Dr. Stark because she knew how frustrating it was when other people didn't respect the title you'd worked so hard for. Then, when he'd made it clear he didn't care for being called "doctor", she had progressed to Mr. Stark. Tony lasted for about two hours before he flat-out asked her to just call him by his first name. The funny thing was, he kept calling her Dr. Foster for weeks after, until she figured out that he wasn't going to assume the familiarity of her first name until she told him he could.) was not one of those scientists.
He was the opposite, actually. Far from the room mentioned in the initial email, Jane and Darcy ended up with a whole floor to themselves. There was even a separate lab for Jane, which Tony only entered after she gave him permission. During those conversations, which grew quickly in frequency, she noticed that he never disregarded her opinion. Oh, they disagreed plenty. But their arguments were that of colleagues, two people on the same level talking science, and never a matter of Tony thinking her opinion didn't matter just because of her gender. The difference was subtle but poignant, and within two weeks she'd given him permission to call her by her first name.
Just as well, really. Practically from day one, Darcy was ready to adopt him as one of her own. Having Jane's tacit approval meant that Tony never stood a chance.
There were other benefits to living in the tower too, of course. And one morning, Jane discovered one inadvertently. She and Darcy were sitting at the communal table, eating breakfast. Tony was out with Pepper. Jane was nursing a cup of coffee and picking her way through a fruit salad to find the raspberries. Somehow (probably Darcy's doing) the conversation turned to Thor. And somehow, said conversation ended with FRIDAY volunteering to show Jane recorded footage of Thor. The offer was surprising, but since Tony hadn't said that she couldn't see it (and why would he? Evidently they lived there now, which meant he trusted them to some degree, and Jane didn't know why that was shocking but it was) Jane agreed.
She didn't know what she was hoping for. Some closure, maybe. Her heart ached to see Thor's beautiful face again, to hear the sound of his voice and his laughter, and if she closed her eyes she could still feel his body armor under her fingertips. It was almost enough to make her cry, but Jane had shed enough tears over men and she steeled herself. Women were not meant to cry over men they'd only know for a handful of weeks, especially not men who took off (leaving the planet!) without so much as a by your leave.
"Could I see more recent footage?" she asked, proud of how steady her voice was. This was older footage. She could tell by how short Thor's hair was. By the time he'd left, it was much longer.
"Of course," FRIDAY said. "Boss has employed security measures around the most recent footage of Thor. This is his second-to-last appearance in the tower to date."
Jane watched the party. She smiled in spite of herself at seeing Thor and Tony talking up her and Pepper. The smile died quickly when the party went south due to Ultron's appearance, and it was gone completely by the time that Thor stormed across a floor and grabbed Tony by the neck, effortlessly lifting him off the ground. She touched her own throat, hands circling it defensively, as Tony hung there for the long seconds it took someone else to respond. Too many seconds. What the hell was wrong with the rest of the Avengers? What was wrong with Thor?
She didn't know Tony well. But she could still see the panic in his eyes until Rogers stepped in. The footage ended almost immediately, probably because the conversation had turned to matters deemed too sensitive and confidential without the right security clearance. But that was okay. Jane felt like she'd seen what she needed to see. The image of Thor hurting someone - a human, someone like Darcy - stayed with her right up until the afternoon that FRIDAY announced out of the blue that Thor had just landed on the roof of the tower.
"Uh oh," Darcy said quietly.
"Uh oh?" Maggie repeated, looking a little baffled.
Without a word to anyone, Jane got up and walked out. FRIDAY took her up to the roof without having to be asked. She didn't know what her face looked like when the doors of the elevator opened, but it couldn't have revealed much of her emotions considering how widely Thor smiled when he saw her. He even opened his arms, clearly expecting her to go flying into them.
"Jane!" he said, with all the joy of a child coming home from summer camp. "I've returned!"
"I see that," Jane said. Her cool tone, as well as the fact that she was keeping her distance, finally seemed to clue him in to the fact that something was wrong. Some of the joy died away, replaced by trepidation, and he looked around warily before speaking again.
"Jane? Is something wrong?"
There was a lot she could've said. He'd left without telling her. His world was responsible for these weird new powers she possessed but hadn't asked for. But when her mouth opened, what spilled out was, "Humans are not the same as Asgardians. We're not as advanced as you. We're not as strong physically. But that does not give you the right to hurt someone because you're angry and then walk away like it never happened."
Thor's brow furrowed. "Are you well?" he asked, clearly confused. "I have no such memory of hurting anyone when the situation did not call for it."
"You grabbed Tony around the neck," Jane said. "You lifted him off the floor."
It pissed her off that he had to take a moment to figure out what she was talking about. Finally though, the light dawned and he looked back at her. "He was messing with powers he did not understand."
Jane stared at him. "And if that were Darcy?" she asked. Or, god forbid, one of the children now living in the tower. She wasn't overly fond of kids so she hadn't been around them very much. But she knew from a couple of Darcy's stories that Lila was especially curious. What if she tried to pick up mjolnir? Or touched something else that she wasn't supposed to?
"I would never!" Thor said, affronted by the very idea. "You are my -"
"Whoa. Let's not finish that sentence," Jane said, holding up a hand. She was pretty sure that Thor was about to call her the Asgardian equivalent of a girlfriend, and hearing that would just piss her off more. They weren't even dating at this point as far as she was concerned.
"Jane, Stark was my teammate. His curiosity could've ended us all," Thor said. "He needed to be taught a lesson. I admit that in the moment, my chosen method was hasty. But I'm not sure it warrants your cold reception."
And okay, she probably should've cut this conversation off entirely because that flippant explanation really did piss her off even more. Jane glared at him. "If he's your teammate, then you should've known that kind of reaction was out of line. A healthy relationship does not involve fists or hands around necks. Maybe that's okay where you come from, but that's not how we do things." She practically choked the words out, an ache deep in her chest. A chill. How many times had Thor rested his hands on her shoulders? In a fit of anger, he could've done so much more.
Thor sighed. It was kind of a patronizing sigh. A 'this woman is overreacting' sigh. Then he said, "Did Stark put you up to this?"
"No," Jane said shortly, suppressing the urge to yell. Because how dare he? As though Tony would ever ask someone else to fight his battle. Thor didn't know him at all. And maybe he didn't know Jane either.
He blinked at her, all stupid long blond lashes and blue eyes, and said, "I apologize for my actions."
"I'm not the one you need to apologize to," she said.
"I'm not sure Stark needs -"
"Then why don't you go ask?" Jane interrupted. "Because you and I won't be talking until you do. I need to know that you understand that you absolutely cannot react that way around here before we talk about anything else."
"This is unnecessary."
"That's not your decision to make. There are two people in this relationship, Thor. In any relationship. Your actions affect other people whether you like it or not. You don't live in a bubble. We're not dolls for you to do with as you will and then not face any repercussions. You can't just leave and not tell anyone and expect people to be waiting for you when you return." And oh, there was some of her own anger seeping into the mix.
He had the balls to look shocked. "I had important -"
"Don't finish that sentence either," Jane said. If there was any hope for her and Thor, and right now she honestly wasn't sure if there was or not, then hearing about how Thor hadn't given her a second thought would not help the matter. She didn't expect that he would consider her more important than everything else. That would be stupid. But a phone call. An email. A quick message passed on through someone else. Jane didn't consider herself to be a high-maintenance person, but she did need a little acknowledgement from any boyfriend before they left the country, never mind the planet.
"I am not sure what you want me to say, then," he said, and he was starting to sound upset. Not angry, not yet, but a chill still swept up Jane's spine. She finally asked the question that had been gnawing at the back of her mind for weeks. She'd alluded to it moments before, but now she laid it out plainly.
"If you were angry," she said, very quietly, "at me, would you choke me too?"
"What?! No! I would never!"
She'd been expecting that denial, so she just nodded. "Until I can believe you when you say that, we are nothing more than acquaintances."
Because if that was how Thor treated his friends, Jane wasn't sure she even wanted to be that close to him.
"Jane, really. This isn't - I would never harm you."
"And Darcy?" Jane said, raising an eyebrow. "Tony? What if he made you angry again?" She shook her head, drawing back a step. That tiny movement was what cracked his outward composure at last, and she saw his face crumble. She refused to react no matter how much it tugged at her heart. This was too important. Jane had dated guys in the past who were a little too quick to anger, a little too good at raising their hands. It seemed wrong to fit Thor into that category, but Jane was a scientist. She had to believe what the evidence was telling her.
"Jane," Thor said again, as though that was all he could say.
"I think you should leave," Jane said, meeting his gaze squarely. He didn't deserve her anger. He didn't deserve to hear her yell and scream. He didn't deserve the chance to try and win her back. Not until she could be sure that he wouldn't lift a hand to any human again if the situation didn't warrant it - and by that she meant, unless said human was actively attacking him or someone else.
Thor frowned. "I wish to fix this. I will speak to Stark."
"Why, so he can brush it off like it didn't matter?" Jane said wryly. "Don't, Thor. Don't apologize unless you mean it. Tony's had enough of that, I think. And so have I, for that matter."
"Then what do I do?"
"I can't answer that for you."
That clearly wasn't the answer he wanted judging by how his frown deepened. He cast her a doubtful look, started to say something, and then shook his head. Without another word, he was off. Jane watched him fly away, her heart in her throat, and didn't think once about calling him back. She stood there, looking into the too-bright sun, until the door to the roof opened behind her.
"You didn't need to do that," Tony said softly.
"Yes I did."
"I deserved it."
Jane glanced over her shoulder. "You can't believe that."
Eyes hidden by mirrored sunglasses, Tony said nothing. His silence spoke volumes. Jane shook her head.
"It had to be said," she said, deciding to let that lie for now. "He needs to know that's not okay no matter what the situation is."
"He's from another planet," Tony pointed out.
"That's no excuse." Jane knew very little about Asgardians when you came right down to it. Maybe that kind of reaction really was normal. If so, she and Thor would never be anything more than what they were right now. That was not a mistake she was going to make again. Because maybe now Jane had the power to protect herself - or at least, she would someday - but the people around her didn't.
"He thinks it is."
"Well, he's wrong. And just to make things clear, you shouldn't be so quick to brush it off either." She gathered her hair with her right hand, knowing it was a mess from the wind but not caring. She felt lighter now. In a way, she was grateful to Tony for provoking that reaction from Thor. It made her shudder to think of having an argument with Thor, only to see him charging across the floor at her.
"He's my teammate."
"You retired," Jane replied. "You're not an Avenger anymore. So technically, he's not."
Tony's mouth twitched. "Technically."
She went to awkwardly pat his arm and paused, realizing her fingers were alight with sparks. Thor hadn't seen them; she'd clamped down on her emotions too much for that, only letting herself get upset once he was gone. Tony followed her gaze and reached out, unhesitating, to touch a spark. Evidently it didn't hurt, because he smiled. That smile was gratifying in a way, and Jane smiled back.
"I wanted to ask him about it, but I started yelling before I could," she admitted.
Tony looked at her for a moment, and then he pushed his sunglasses up onto his forehead. His voice was full of confidence when he declared, "We don't need his help. We'll figure it out. We're scientists. It's what we do."