I seriously think there's a curse on New Year's Eve. Or maybe just on me. Either way, it always seems to turn out miserably.
Last year, I was buried in research, hoping to engulf myself in the blissful distraction of science—until Darcy barged in at midnight and dragged me out of my office for a drink.
The year before, I'd been a little more of an obvious wreck—trying not to mope, but spending most of the evening watching self-indulgent Meg Ryan movies, eating mint chocolate chip ice cream, and trying not to wonder whether they celebrate the new year in Asgard, too.
The year before that, I'd still been reeling from a breakup—apparently, Christmas had seemed like an ideal time for Don to tell me that this wasn't working out, that he needed some "space." Which translated roughly to, "I'm bored with this relationship, and with you."
And the year before that…well, you get the idea.
But this year is going to be different, I know it. For one thing, I am in a—well, I wouldn't exactly call it stable when your alien boyfriend could get summoned to one of the eight other realms for some cosmic battle at any moment—but a happy relationship, at least. Even if he weren't the god of thunder, I still wouldn't deserve him.
And I've started giving lectures at the university on Einstein-Rosen bridges and the various theories, including my own, surrounding them (although it all sounds so mundane putting it in academic terms after seeing the Bifröst with my own eyes, and I can never really articulate to my students why it's so awe-inspiring without sounding completely crazy). Science classes are so odd now that life on other planets—and the existence of giant green rage monsters—is an openly acknowledged fact.
But I know that tonight will be special because we are going to a New Year's Eve party at Stark Tower, of all places. Thor has already introduced me to Tony Stark (or the "man of metal," as he calls him), but I've yet to meet the other Avengers. It's exciting, but also kind of terrifying. I'm intimidated and awkward enough with just one superhero in my life; six in one room together sounds a bit dangerous.
Still, it was so nice the way Thor's eyes lit up at the prospect of introducing me to his new friends, how eager he seemed, that of course I said I'd go with him.
I've been a little worried about him lately. It's been a while since I've seen him so enthusiastic, so maybe tonight is just what he needs to forget his troubles for a bit.
Sometimes I want to ask him if he's okay, if there's anything I can do—but what can you really say to someone that lost half of their family in the span of a few days? And while he talks of Frigga often and fondly, he never mentions his brother, so I do not bring him up either.
I know he thinks about him, though.
When we pull up to Stark Tower—I'm driving in my embarrassing rattletrap minivan, since Thor still doesn't have a firm grasp on Midgardian traffic laws—it's already swarming with people. I smooth my hair nervously. I don't wear dresses very often, or very much makeup, but tonight is different and I have made more of an effort.
I'd felt confident walking out the door, but now, surrounded by all these socialites and celebrities, I am having flashbacks of middle school—
Of a mousy girl with braces and a distinct lack of social skills, who wore her father's oversized glasses even though they made her eyes hurt, just so that she could feel close to him again, and maybe, just maybe, she could see the world as he did, as an intricate puzzle full of wondrous possibility, begging to be solved. That girl who had always tripped over her secondhand boots. That girl who had spent most of her lunch periods buried in scientific journals, because nobody else seemed to understand why String Theory was so exciting whenever she tried to explain it. The girl who had always felt out of place at parties, like she did not deserve to be there.
College had been kinder to me, I remind myself. I had learned to make friends with like-minded people, more or less, and outgrew my awkward phase.
Yet that mousy, gawky little kid is still locked away somewhere, resurfacing occasionally at the most inconvenient moments. Such as this.
Thor takes my arm gently and says, "You look stunning, Jane."
Gods, why do I always blush like a star-struck teenager around him? His easy smile says that he absolutely means it. I look him over in his new suit—for some reason, I still can't get used to him wearing Midgard clothes—and say, "You clean up pretty nicely yourself."
He chuckles smugly, as if to say, "I know," and I give him a reproving look for his lack of modesty.
We push through the throng together, looking for our hosts—or rather, Thor creates a wide path for me to follow. There are hundreds of guests packed into the lobby, drinking champagne and chatting, but Thor leads me over to the elevator, shows his invitation to the attendant—who blanches, realizing who he is—and we ride all the way to the penthouse at the top.
Come on, relax. This is nowhere near as terrifying as Asgard. You've met Odin, for crying out loud, surely you can handle these people.
I try to take a deep breath. Tony Stark's penthouse is luxury itself—sleek, modern, tastefully minimalist. Unlike downstairs, where the music blared until my eardrums felt like they were going to bleed, up here is a more intimate, exclusive party of a few dozen.
"Oh look, the Patriotic One is here! Come, let me introduce you," Thor says eagerly, grabbing my hand and weaving through the crowd towards a young blond man.
Thor's booming, jovial voice carries easily across the room, and the man looks up instinctively, smiling in recognition. He is handsome, clean-cut, not quite as burly as Thor but nonetheless has a soldier's build, and something about his genial-yet-quiet demeanor makes him seem remarkably wholesome.
"Thor, good to see you," he says, as they clap each other on the back. "Happy New Year!"
"I must tell you, my friend, in Asgard we do not celebrate the passing of a single year; it would be much like you mortals marking the passage of a week. However, I will never turn down the opportunity for festivity," Thor explains, grinning.
"Fair enough," grins the blond man.
"Jane, I would like you to meet my patriotic friend, the one they call 'Captain' of this great land of yours," Thor says, beaming.
I shake his hand numbly. "Captain America?" I stammer, flushing as if I'm meeting a damn celebrity. Which I guess I am. "It's an honor."
"Thank you, ma'am, but just 'Steve' is fine," he says sheepishly.
"Nice tie," I blurt out, because I just can't take my eyes off the ridiculous star-spangled tie he's wearing with his otherwise conservative formal wear.
"Oh—yeah—Christmas gift from Tony," Steve mumbles. "To be honest, I can't tell if he's mocking me again or not."
"I shall return in a moment," says Thor, "I believe I see another of our companions."
Once Thor has left us alone, Steve Rogers offers me a drink, and I accept.
"So you're Miss Foster," is all he says, scrutinizing me. He has the slightest hint of a Brooklyn accent.
I blush. "Has Thor talked about me before?"
"Only a few dozen times a day," he remarks. "All good things, ma'am," he adds, seeing my embarrassment. I can't tell yet whether I am more bashful or gratified.
"You're a scientist, right?"
"Yeah, an astrophysicist."
"You should talk to Dr. Banner and Stark," he says, rolling his eyes. "Half the time I swear they're not even speaking English."
I giggle, deciding not to point out the vast differences between our fields of study. There are so many things I want to ask him, but I don't want to be weird or intrusive—like, what was your life like back in the 1940s? Do you know anything about the serum they used to make you practically invincible? Is it hard getting used to the new technology? Is New York really different from when you were growing up?
But in the brief pause that ensues, he seems to have become pensive as well.
"2014," he sighs, shaking his head. He seems amazed that the year even exists, let alone that he's lived to see it.
Before I can reply, Thor has returned, and he is dragging a slight, nervous-looking man with wire-rimmed glasses. He is as rumpled as Steve is neat.
"Banner, this is Jane Foster," Thor says. "Jane, this is the scientist, Dr. Banner—also the one who becomes large and green when he is angry—"
"Yes, nice to meet you, Dr. Banner," I say, shaking his hand and trying not to laugh at Thor's curious descriptions.
The evening wears on, and I meet the others, Natasha Romanov and Clint Barton (or "the spider and the bird-like one," as Thor describes them). Even Nick Fury makes a brief appearance, but he doesn't stay long. I sense that Dr. Banner does not care much for large gatherings, as he remains aloof except when Tony and Pepper drag him back into their conversations. He plays the piano in the corner. Occasionally, we give him requests.
As I expected, Thor is the life of the party, laughing the loudest, telling stories about his adventures in the other realms with the Warriors Three. Somewhere around ten, when Clint, Tony and Bruce are clearly getting tipsy, Thor starts to teach them some Asgardian drinking songs.
But every now and then when he hears a joke, I glimpse a moment of sorrow flicker across his face, and I know it's because he thinks his brother would have found it funny. And I wonder how much of his enjoyment is real and how much he is putting on a show.
It's a few minutes to midnight. I've gotten caught up in conversation with Pepper—who really is sweet and hospitable—and I realize that I haven't seen Thor for a while. He left to talk to Natasha, who honestly scares me a little, but I haven't seen him since, and I don't see him in the room.
In honor of New Year's, Bruce is playing "Auld Lang Syne" on the piano, and the others are gathering around to sing, mumbling through the lyrics they don't know.
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne…
Now I see Thor. His unmistakable silhouette is outside on the balcony, where no one else has ventured because of the cold. It's not like him to wander off by himself, so I wonder whether I should go to him, or if he would rather be alone.
I can't just ignore him, though, so I step out onto the balcony and hesitantly join him at the railing. He is staring off into the distance, at all the city lights. Idly, I wonder how he can stand Midgard—it must seem so mundane and so dreary compared to his home—but then again, he always seems enamored with our technology, so maybe it's all in what you're used to.
He has a glass of champagne, which looks like it will crack at any moment in his broad hand. His eyes are a little red—and it hits me like a knife that he's been trying not to cry.
"Are you alright?" I ask, regretting it instantly. What a stupid question to ask.
"Yes, I am well. Thank you, Jane." He tries to smile. His voice is hoarse.
I wish that we weren't both so terrible at expressing our feelings with words. I wish I knew the right thing to say to him, so that he would know I'm here for him. But what if I just make things worse by bringing it up?
"You know," I say slowly, putting a hand on his arm, "it's okay to not be okay. I mean…" I hesitate, but finally it spills out. "I know you're not really the 'sharing' type. I know you've got the whole warrior-mentality thing going on Asgard, where you've got to be strong all the time and just keep going, and all that. But it was just two months ago, Thor. When I lost my dad, I sure wasn't over it that fast."
He doesn't say anything, and panic courses through me. I shouldn't have said anything.
"I'm sorry. If you just want to be alone—"
I take a step back from him, but he tugs me back suddenly.
"Please, stay," he murmurs. "You are the only good thing to happen to me this year, Jane."
As much as I like Thor's bravado, often bordering on arrogance, his charm, his courage, I realize that it's the vulnerable Thor that I love. All of his strength and all of his honor can't fix his broken family, his broken heart. I wish I could.
He clasps my hand—it seems so tiny and fragile under his—and we stare out over New York City. I wonder if he sees the present, or if he is thinking about battling his brother on this very spot, begging him to stop the invasion. Maybe I should get him inside so he won't think about that, but I'm not sure how.
He takes a sip of his champagne, but he doesn't seem to care much for it. He prefers mead, I know.
"Loki would have liked this drink, I think," he says finally. "He never did have a great deal of tolerance for alcohol, so it is fortunate that he had better temperance than I. I only saw him truly inebriated twice, and it was very amusing."
It's the first time I've heard him say his brother's name in months. I'm not sure what to say, but I think he just needs someone to listen; he's just thinking out loud.
"He always hated revelries," Thor muses, his voice still hoarse, but he smiles faintly. "He always skulked in a corner until he could sneak away to his books."
I can't pretend that I had any love for Loki. I barely knew him for two days. Everything I heard about him made me angry—his betrayal of Thor especially—but I have to admit, as much as I stubbornly want to hate him for everything he's done, I can't. When I hear his name, I can't picture the megalomaniac trying to conquer New York City (even though I should); instead I see a man shielding me with his body from an explosion, because he knew I was important to Thor; I see a pale, broken figure lying limply in Thor's huge arms, apologizing in a small voice like a child before breathing his last.
God, what's wrong with me? He wasn't anything to me, and after all the misery he put Thor through, surely I could properly hate him? Thor's grief is certainly way more than Loki deserved.
"He died thinking I had given up on him, Jane," Thor says in a hollow voice. "One of the last conversations we had, I—I—"
I put a hand on his cheek, trying to soothe him. "If he was really as smart as everyone says he was, then he had to have known that wasn't true," I say firmly.
"I don't wish to burden you with all this," he mumbles.
"It's not a burden. I care about you. I want you to tell me things, if it helps." The words sound a bit stilted, because I'm not used to saying them out loud, but I hope he knows how much I mean them.
We hear the voices from inside, still singing a little off-key:
We two have paddled in the stream
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us broad have roared
Since auld lang syne.
I can't really be sure, but I don't think Thor even sees New York City anymore. His eyes are far away. I think he sees two little boys sparring with wooden swords in a palace courtyard.
"We were once inseparable, Jane. He got me out of trouble just as often as he got us into it. He always knew what to say to make me laugh. For a thousand years, we were the Odinsons, future protectors of the Nine Realms, eager to spend our lives by each other's sides—and then suddenly I looked, and there was a great chasm between us."
I press my face against his shoulder, trying to impart what comfort I can. For some reason, I feel wistful too—not just sorrow for Thor's sake, but nostalgic for that idyllic past he describes, romanticized though it might be.
Suddenly, a great commotion—shouts from inside and from all around the city.
"It's midnight," I realize. "It's the New Year."
I raise my glass. "To those who have gone on before us," I say; "gone but not forgotten."
He seems to appreciate the gesture. I realize he must be lonely, the only one really grieving for Loki, because he smiles just a little bit as he toasts with me.
"To Loki and Frigga," he agrees.
We finish off our champagne. Thor puts his arm around me when he notices I'm shivering in the softly falling snow, and I realize this is the best New Year's Eve I've ever had—not because it was romantic or fun, but because we are closer than we were before.
He's not alone anymore.
~~Author's Note: Thanks for reading. This is only the second fanfiction I have ever written in my life, and I'm afraid my inexperience shows. Any advice on how to improve my characterization or style is appreciated. I know it meanders a bit, I didn't really intend to make it this long.
(Please note that this is ONLY based on the MCU, as I am not familiar with any of the comics.)
I did my best to try and make Jane a little more interesting-not that I have anything against her, but I feel there's a lot we don't know about her, so I attempted to fill in some of the blanks.
Sorry it got so sappy at the end (actually no, I'm not sorry, I have a lot of feelings...).