All characters © Marvel Comics
After being told that his charm lies in his naivety, Thor decides that he should downplay his knowledge of Midgard in efforts to win the affections of his mortal friends.
A Study in Stupid
Jane Foster is one of those people who, when nervous, has a mouth that runs like undercooked clam chowder. At the first sign of fluster she begins to ramble, dribble; drooling farragoes of things best left in her subconscious for the sake of the few friendships she has. Darcy is always the first one to call her out on it, occasionally offering a wry homage to Mean Girls in the process but more often than not just telling her to sit down and shut up.
Some months following the attack on Manhattan, which some New Yorkers now refer to as the "Iron Sky Invasion," Thor had returned to Earth in a coruscating explosion of runes and electrical discharge that was more destructive to the surrounding landscape than usual. The accuracy of his Einstein-Rosen Bridge (Jane cannot quite call it a Bifröst yet) remains questionable due to its recent reconstruction, hence Thor had ended up twenty miles outside Santa Fe and had wandered around for two days before some natives of the Nambé Pueblo had found him.
Upon his request that S.H.I.E.L.D wait out the week before flying him to New York, Thor now has a tent set up outside Jane's work trailer despite her broken-record invitations to sleep inside.
Darcy is mercifully (or not so mercifully) absent.
When the air cools after twilight Jane cooks steamed corn and Thor prepares an assortment of potatoes, vegetables, and meat. His culinary skills are surprisingly adequate, rivaling Jane's deeply-ingrained belief that princes, Earthly or otherwise, always have someone to do the cooking for them. The two of them eat outside under the desert stars and Jane finds that despite the occasional awkward moments, the experience is quite enjoyable.
S.H.I.E.L.D will be by in the morning to pick up Thor. For their last evening together Thor grills some steak and garnishes it with green beans and spices, insisting on the "pie of apples" for dessert. As the smoke from the cooking meat pools around him he stares at the grill thoughtfully, rubbing the peppercorn stubble covering his jawline.
"It is a shame we could not procure any jackalope for this evening's feast," he says.
Jane narrowly misses her index finger as she slices through an onion harder than usual. "What?" she asks, looking up.
Thor leaves the grill and approaches the counter that Jane is chopping on to get more seasoning. "Your natives speak of a rare beast, much like a rabbit albeit with antlers," he replies. "I have been keeping an eye out, though not in the literal sense like my father—"he laughs—"but in a figurative one for this legendary creature."
Jane frowns. "Thor, there...there aren't any jackalope," she says, her frown soon curling into a grin when she sees the look of utter dejection on his face. She should not smile but it is, quite frankly, adorable.
"Perhaps they are simply hiding underground, like the desert foxes and the dogs that pray."
"No, not like the prairie dogs," Jane says (by now she is laughing). "Jackalope don't exist. They're just a tourist gimmick."
Thor, still looking a bit perplexed and a great deal disappointed, reaches up to open the cabinet above Jane. As he leans over her and his side brushes her shoulder, Jane stiffens. He smells of barbeque smoke and spices and a curious, underlying mineral smell that Jane cannot quite pinpoint. All at once she becomes aware that he is too close, and she can practically hear her pulse start to do the Macarena beneath the thin frame of her chest.
"A pity," Thor is saying. He seems to shrug off his prior letdown, dips his head, and proclaims, "I shall find myself a buffalo then."
He is still rummaging around in the cupboard, and Jane realizes that she should probably move out of the way. She tries, but despite how flustered Thor's closeness is making her it also makes her feel inexplicably safe. So instead she feels her mouth drop open, the moat to the forbidden fortress whose absence allows all the verbal knights to charge forward mercilessly. This hardly bodes well.
"You know you're like a golden retriever sometimes," she says, before she can stop herself. Thor pauses at this and peers over at her from around his shoulder. His bright blue eyes squint questioningly.
"You compare me to a dog, Jane?"
"That's right," she replies. "One of the sweetest breeds there are. Loyal, good natured…um, bright and excitable too, even though they have so much to learn in comparison to humans. It's cute."
Thor grabs a container of arugula and pulls back, now looking mildly amused and somewhat flattered. "Cute?"
The moat is down; the knights are loose. Jane realizes she has to finish what she has started, which has the effect of making her bumble even though Thor has given her a little more breathing room. "Well the dog is cute, yeah, but—"
"So I am cute because I am excitable like a dog," Thor concludes. His lips are pursed and he looks confused.
"No, no—"Jane shakes her head and sets down the knife. "I'm saying that…well, when it comes to Earth you're, um, somewhat of a naïf," she tries, throwing in a toothy smile to assure him that being a naïf is a compliment. Which is debatable. "It gives you charm."
"Ah," Thor nods, chuckling. "I see. My lack of knowledge about this realm increases my charisma because it makes me seem naïve."
"Something like that," Jane sighs, sweaty with awkwardness. That is not the way she would have put it, but she is eager to change the subject before she enweaves herself into an even stickier web of verbal failure. She takes a breath to do just that and the oven interrupts with a happy ding. The pie is done, and the matter is dropped in favor of warm apples and soft supple crust.
Or so Jane thinks. She should have known that Thor would take everything she said quite literally. In retrospect, she should have never opened her mouth in the first place.
Thor, whose ego and self-confidence has slipped several massive notches since his first trip to Midgard, does indeed take Jane's words literally.
Although he cannot remember his exact age anymore, he knows it is well over a thousand. He was certainly not born yesterday; yet he admits that his prior arrogance has shielded him from obtaining a better grasp of the Midgardian realm. As a boy he had glorified Asgard and had not shown a particularly academic attitude toward his studies of the other realms. Perhaps that is why Loki seems flagrantly more comfortable in other worlds than he.
And perhaps it is this past ignorance that makes Thor's heart tumid with blame for what happened here in the spring. He supposes that if his natural amiability can win the approval of the Midgardians, they may forget about his family's dreadful imprint on their realm.
Thor realizes that despite his shaky but durable concept of Earth, showing a certain innocence towards things increases his charm and therefore his chances of being accepted and forgiven by the humans. During the plane ride from Albuquerque to JFK he silently thanks Jane for pointing out this crucial fact to him.
He stares past his reflection in the plane window, out at the diaphanous puffs of milky clouds, watching as their shadows slide over the topography with fainéant ease. He thinks.
"I'd like to know why S.H.I.E.L.D is using the Tesseract to build weapons of mass destruction," Thor can remember Doctor Banner saying, his voice all too clear in his head.
He can also remember Nicholas Fury pointing an accusing finger and replying, "Because of him;" Nicholas Fury meeting him square in the eye (one-eyed, just like his father) and asking him, "What are you prepared to do?"
Two hours into the flight, he decides to strike experimental conversation.
"I recognize that river," he exclaims to the agent piloting the private jet. He points to a long blue vein snaking along the tan-and-green flesh of the American acreage below. "That is the Missus Pippy."
The pilot takes a moment to laugh. "You mean the Mississippi," he says, and Thor can hear the smile in his voice. "Largest river in America."
Naturally, Thor knows it is called the Mississippi River. The agent's mood towards him, however, seems a little less hostile than it had been when leaving Albuquerque. Perhaps Thor is simply imagining it, or perhaps Midgardians truly find the misinformed amusing.
Autumn seems to drift over New York almost overnight, and Thor can appreciate the beauty of Midgard's culture for perhaps the first time since arriving in this realm. The leaves fall and crumble on the ground, the horse-driven chaises come out in Central Park, and the air turns musky with the aromas of wood and fire.
The Avengers have assembled once more to help with a wide scale city clean-up commissioned by the mayor, so any battles that commence are purely verbal. Often Stark and Rogers will be found arguing over where to better send S.H.I.E.L.D's funds (typically Rogers will want to fix broken pipes and infrastructure while Stark thinks the money should go towards rebuilding NYU Stern on 44th). Banner and Agent Barton will bicker with beleaguering columnists from the Daily Bugle, and Nick Fury has a sore spot on his temple from the constant rubbing.
Thor visits the graveyards of the fallen, picturing them all dining and laughing in Valhalla's golden halls. He knows they are happier there.
Rogers and Barton leave the confines of the gym to train outside while Natasha and Banner rise before the sun to meditate on the patio of the Avengers Mansion.
As the leaves continue to drift into piles and the reedy hum of leaf blowers fill the air Stark, demonstrating his typical élan, attempts to sing Vernon Duke's Autumn in New York in a gravelly and decidedly terrible Louis Armstrong impression for an entire week until both Pepper and Steve threaten to tackle him.
Midgardians celebrate the coming of Haustmánuður with many holidays and customs, some of which are a little bizzare, yet all imbue the air with a warm, communicable yet unspoken bonhomie.
Thor asks many questions that he knows the answers to.
They spend Halloween Eve arguing over paperwork and the repairs of the Chrysler Building.
In the middle of a particularly heated discussion relating to the notoriously broken spire, Stark rubs a hand across his face and makes a remark about spending Halloween with some deco-loving lawyers with compasses up their asses.
Thor, uncomfortable since the beginning of the meeting (in part because he remembers breaking the spire in the first place), decides that a little sidetracking will diffuse the tension in the room. He picks a sump of silence and fills it with the offer to throw a Halloween celebration after the meeting.
The others pause, their erstwhile conversation halted at the premise of a new subject matter. Rogers is the first to respond, blowing out his breath in a sigh and resting his chin in his elbow. "You know, that idea doesn't sound half bad," he says.
"I have booze," Stark offers.
"You always have booze," Barton says.
"And don't you forget it," Stark replies. "After we sort this out I'll go get my list of 'Ways to Scare Bruce.' "Doctor Banner gives a dry smile and rolls his eyes. Thor feels the mood in the room brightening like a light that is slow to turn on and feels inwardly proud of himself.
An additional push could do no harm. "But you are forgetting the snacks," he says. "I can venture to the pharmacy and purchase some shrimp and watermelon."
Natasha raises an eyebrow and Banner uses the guise of straightening his glasses to hide a grin. Barton, on the other hand, gives Rogers a look. Rogers clears his throat and says, "Uh, unless the customs of Halloween have changed in the last few decades, you're supposed to give out sweets, Thor. Confectionaries."
"All the stuff that makes your teeth fall out," Barton adds, whose secret sweet tooth twinges at the thought.
"Forgive me," Thor says, making a show of bowing his head, "I was not aware that you only consumed desserts on this night. I shall get many assortments of sweet comestibles for this occasion."
"It's okay big guy," Stark says, leaning back in his chair and fiddling with an expensive-looking ballpoint pen. "Just don't come home with a dead pheasant like you did for Columbus Day." There are a few snickers then, and Thor rejoices that his naivety has yet again proven himself to be funny and likable in the eyes of his comrades.
It is only Tony who notices that evening, after the somewhat anti-climactic party, that Thor had somehow managed to get all the right brands of candy despite his previous ignorance to the snacks of adolescent trick-or-treaters. However Tony shrugs it off, assuming that somebody in the store had helped him.
There are several Midgardian customs that Thor finds he has to pay close attention to: increased personal space, waiting on lines, tipping, and a handshake as opposed to a shoulder punch for a greeting among many. There are also the strange fascinations and obsessions with time and commercialized sex. Americans do not wear headgear indoors, they are not defined by how many beasts they have slain, and they do not duel to resolve their issues.
Thor feels out of place in this realm of fast-talking, electronically galvanized eccentric business people, yet his basic understanding of the land allows him to maneuver through it without too many people staring. He discovers he can gain more favor with New Yorkers if he feigns ignorance, and asking for help is the perfect way to initiate conversation.
Over the next few weeks Thor experiments within the Avengers Mansion. He breaks the microwave seventeen times, uses the ironing board to chop food, and flushes garbage down the toilet. He deliberately messes up his Hälsing-to-Fahrenheit conversions and voices his beliefs that cars are fueled by animal fat and not by gasoline. It occurs to him that he may be overstressing his point, but the bubbling laughter he seems to engender from others always assures him that his actions, however catastrophic, are receiving positive response in one way or another. The other Avengers do not often laugh, and Thor prides himself on being able to squeeze some snickers out of them.
If they still blame him for his brother's actions, they do not show it.
And yet, there are times where he must doff his cloak of stupidity for the sake of aiding a comrade, all the time attempting to ignore the voice at the back of his head that whispers Don't be a know-it-all. Loki was a know-it-all, and nobody likes him.
"Yyyoouu just helped me repair my gauntlet rotator," Tony says, slowly.
Hel and her two beasts, you blew it.
"The Bifröst connecting Asgard to the other realms is just another form of engineering," Thor explains quickly. It is a sunny Sunday afternoon, rare in the instance that they are not being bombarded by reporters. The look Stark is giving him, as pale apricot rays flood into the workshop, is flat and narrow-eyed.
"We are all taught its basic workings at a young age. This—"Thor gestures to the dismantled Iron Man arm on the table—"is simply another variation on that." He laughs a quick, dry laugh that sounds too loud as it bounces off of the Rolls Royce and twangs the various metal contraptions lying around.
Stark still has that peculiar expression on his face. Abruptly, he seems to unfreeze. "Right," he says, clapping his hands together and sniffing good-naturedly. He pats the metal arm. "Let's grease the hinges and get this bad boy back together. My aim's going to be so good Barton will wish he'd stayed at the circus juggling cans."
Thor highly doubts the veracity of that statement, but he is glad that Stark has forgotten about his sudden burst of Einsteinian wit so he does not object.
Bruce Banner enjoys being trapped in toolsheds almost as much as he enjoys warmongering extraterrestrials. It does not matter that the shed is bereft of any tools; the four walls alone bring back the phantom-sting of his father's hand, the spatter of tears and blood on dust, the vestige of stifled cries.
The door to the shed has been spelled-locked by Amora for yet another domination ploy Bruce finds both uninteresting and insensible. Yet, as insensible as her efforts may be, they always seem to succeed in their intended purposes. The only trouble with spells, as both Bruce and Thor know, is that against it, all the brute strength in the world is as effective as trying to speed-paint the Taj Mahal with a toothbrush.
He has lost the sweaty celadon pallor that he had a few minutes ago, mollified somewhat by the fact that they are not in immediate danger and by the fact that Thor is with him in this. Slits of bright November sunlight peeking in through the boarded-up windows streak Bruce's face in yellow bars. That and the dust in the shed is enough to make his nose crinkle and he rubs his face, breathing deeply.
"Fear not, Doctor Banner," Thor says. "The others will find us before the Enchantress returns. She still has a lot to learn, leaving her captives unattended."
"Perhaps not as much as you'd think," Bruce says. He sighs again. "I've spent the last twenty minutes scoping this shed. There is nothing that we can use to escape or to break her spells."
So they wait for a while; Bruce streaming invisible equations along the shed wall with his eyes, Thor slowly pacing the perimeter with his eyebrows drawn together. After some immeasurable amount of time, Bruce is startled out of a particularly complex formula by Thor clapping his hands together.
"The Enchantress is not as clever as she assumes herself to be," Thor announces. "She leaves us with a tool of escape." He gestures to the scuffled table, where a few rusty wrenches and nails lie scattered along its surface. Bruce gives him a questioning look. In response Thor picks up a large circular piece of glass, smears aside the dust with his thumb, and holds it up to his face. He grins.
"That probably used to be part of a magnifying glass," Bruce says, frowning. He does not see how this can possibly free them.
"And the Enchantress' confining spells," Thor concludes, "are written on parchment."
"You, uh, want to use a biconvex elliptical form to burn the spell paper," Bruce says, eyebrows raised.
"Aye, I wish to concentrate the rays of the sun," Thor agrees. "It is as my people once did, mastering light and fire through polished glass."
Bruce walks over to one of the windows. Amora has stuck a piece of cursed parchment to the outside of the window in an effort to prevent them from tearing off the wooden boards. "I…think there is just enough space between these boards," Bruce says as he measures the amount of sunlight spilling in with his index finger and thumb. "Unfortunately I'm not sure how to calculate the ratio of the phase velocities and I don't remember Snell's law very well…"
"You are talking about angles, yes?" Thor asks. He brings the glass over to the window and bends over it, hair framing his face. "I have done this many times," he assures Bruce, who has lost his eyebrows somewhere beneath his hair. And Bruce is astounded to see, in a manner of minutes, the paper on the outside of the window start to smoke.
Thirty minutes later they have burned all the enchantment paper surrounding the shed and the door swings wide open.
Bruce lets his chest expand with cool, fresh air and as he straightens his glasses he casts Thor a sidelong glance.
"That was some good work back there," he remarks as they head for the Avengers Mansion.
Thor gives a wary grin, for he has become familiar enough with Doctor Banner's tone to know that there is a flip side to the compliment. "Thank you," he says, and leaves a silence for Banner to fill, if he chooses.
After a few more steps Banner does indeed continue. "You know, it's, uh, not really my place to say," he starts, "but it kind of makes me wonder. Sometimes you can't even operate a washing machine, but sometimes you seem to…well." Bruce scratches the base of his hairline. "You just displayed a rather profound knowledge of optical refraction."
"Is this a bad thing?" Thor asks. Know-it-all, his mind hisses. He hopes that the others will not be angry with him.
"No," Bruce replies, looking pained, "but I get the impression that you are…um. Hesitating. Especially after today. I know I'm not exactly the best person to talk to about these things, but…"
"You feel this is an issue that needs to be addressed," Thor finishes for him, his heart sinking when he sees confirmation written in Banner's eyes. "Very well. I shall talk with Rogers and see what he thinks."
Bruce offers a wan, yet somehow winsome smile. "I just think that you could be even more of an asset to us if you're not allowing something to hold you back," he tells Thor.
Amora, somewhat taken aback that she had not been able to keep the two strongest members of the Avengers out of the picture, retreats with some vitriolic remarks and a curse that is guaranteed to turn all foods in a three-block radius into gruel for a week.
That evening, Steve Rogers visits Thor's private quarters and ensconces himself into the armchair across from the bed. He is wearing plain gray sweats and his hair is haphazardly swept into a side part. A few straw-like strands pop up but he takes no notice of them. Thor thinks to himself that Rogers, like this, looks less like a captain and more like a guy in his mid-twenties.
"Doctor Banner told me about your escape today," Rogers says, sparing him the minutiae of small talk. "I'd say I was impressed if I didn't think you were capable of it."
Thor is perched on his bed in a lotus position, shirtless, looking slightly uncomfortable. On such a leonine physiognomy it sits oddly. He resists the urge to fidget and runs his fingers over the patterns on his duvet instead.
"It's not just Banner," Rogers adds. "Stark and Natasha and, well, all of us, really—"he crosses his legs. "Based on some of your actions, we've started to think that you actually know more about things than you let on."
Thor swallows, his throat clicking.
"We're not going to kick you out or anything," Rogers says, noticing how visible the whites around Thor's eyes are. "I guess we just want to know why you pretend not to know as much as you probably do."
And damn it, Rogers is giving that Angels-in-Valhalla-smile again. The one with the crinkled eyes and that little upward quirk of his eyebrows. Thor takes a breath, his face meeting Rogers's, and tells him all about his past week in New Mexico; about apple pie and Jane and the jackalope and the laughter of the mortals. Rogers listens patiently, waiting until Thor has finished before speaking.
"Thor. You know you don't have to dumb it down in order to get people to like you. You don't need our approval."
"I was under the impression that my youthful mettle brings smiles to their faces," Thor says.
"Take it from someone who's also had to adjust to a different world," Rogers replies, his tone dry. "They're not always laughing with you." His eyes narrow as another idea comes to him—something that he had missed earlier, and is most likely the underlying problem. "Why are you so determined to win our approval?"
Thor's lips tighten at the corners and his brow furrows. "Do you not remember, Captain?" he asks. "Because I could not protect this realm from my own kin over three thousand of your people lost their lives in battle. Because of me, S.H.I.E.L.D was using the Tesseract to build armaments."
Rogers leans back in his chair and uncrosses his legs. "So you feel guilt."
"I suppose so," Thor admits. He has never confessed this aloud before (and in his youth he would not have even dreamed of discussing his feelings with another soul), but there is something about talking to Rogers and spending time with Rogers that can change a man. He wonders, not without some awe, if that is part of Rogers's own "charm."
"I've learned not to blame myself for things that were out of my control," Rogers says. He spreads his hands out on his lap, palms open. "I can't change anything that happened, and even if I had the option to I wouldn't. Sometimes you just have to be yourself and trust that people will forgive and accept you regardless of what you do or don't know."
"And I will not lose what Jane calls my charm?" Thor asks. Some of the gravity has left his eyes and his thick fingers twist a lock of hair hopefully.
Rogers smiles. "I'm sure Doctor Banner or Stark would agree with me when I say that intelligence in a person is more appealing than not," he says. "It gets you more respect than clowning around."
"I shan't feign ignorance any longer," Thor assures him. Stark must indeed be tired of buying new microwaves.
Rogers nods and scratches behind his ear. "You know this can work two ways," he says. "It's not like we're not curious about Asgard. Between the collateral damage, the lawyers, and operation cleanup we've never actually had the time to learn more about your world."
Thor frees his own legs, stretching like a satisfied cat after a meal. "Then I shall be happy to regale you, Captain. I have a millennium of tales and pursuits."
A little silver box on Thor's wall suddenly beeps, interrupting anything Thor might have said next. It is an intercom—one of many, that Stark has installed in every room of the mansion. The box crackles and gives off a few seconds of susurrous rustling before Stark's voice can be heard. He sounds sheepish. "Um, guys." Thor and Rogers look at one another.
"Bruce and I were down in the lab and, uh, were conducting a magneostatic experiment on the Mark VIII and we sort of…miscalculated the flux density and the force field kind of. Well." Stark clears his throat. "There's somewhat of a mess. Can somebody send down my Roomba?"
"In all truthfulness I do not know what this 'Miroomba' is, Captain," Thor confesses, shrugging his broad shoulders. There is some more noise over the intercom (along with what sounds like an "Ow. How did that even get over there?"). Rogers snorts and shakes his head.
"Neither do I," he says.