The thing, the bridge-maker, was secure, in one piece, on the roof of the lab. The steel struts which bolted it down made it look like a giant, squat spider, crouching at the ready. The feeling Jane had gotten looking at it was much like the feeling of drinking too much champagne on an empty stomach.
They retired inside for the evening and Erik had cooked one of the half-dozen or so recipes he'd ever mastered, a nice Italian red sauce over pasta and veal, and left Jane's kitchen looking like a hurricane had gone through it. Very conveniently, he had to leave immediately after dinner to walk back to his apartment before it got too cold out. And Luke, though he sat on one of the vinyl chairs and watched her work without even pretending to be busy, did not offer to help clean up.
Jane's resentful muttering lasted only through washing the pots, soon replaced by humming. She could never hold much of a grudge.
"Erik Selvig should prepare your meals more often, Jane," Luke said matter-of-factly as she stacked the last few plates on the overcrowded drying rack. "You would be far more adequately fed."
"He has a very limited repertoire." She sniffed, allowing the words you smartass to remain implied. "Besides, under normal circumstances, he's hardly here all the time like this." She dried her hands and walked over to flop down into the chair nearest to his, turning to study him.
Luke sat there in a state of casual awareness, letting her watch him, his eyebrows slightly raised as if expectant but his gaze focussed on his own fingers where they toyed with the edge of his armrest. "You have a question," he said finally, prompting her. "As always."
Jane wasn't embarrassed or surprised that she was that easy to read. "What did you really want to know before, about the traveller?"
Staring into space, his fingers still fidgeting languidly, he seemed resigned rather than eager about resuming the conversation. "I wanted... I should like to know what you observed about his manner, his way of being?"
She guessed the question made a lot of sense- if she knew anyone with the slightest serious background in cultural anthropology, she'd be very tempted to tell them about Thor and get their thoughts. Still, she was bizarrely uncomfortable with going into too many specifics about him as a person, about what had happened while he was on Earth, and she could not shake the conviction that the topic was dangerous ground. "He was sort of, like, old-fashioned. I mean, like Dark Ages old-fashioned, mediaeval. He had these formal manners, but he was also really abrupt and demanding. Uncouth, I guess would be the word. Kind of oblivious, super confident. He seemed to think things would work the same as wherever he was from, which wasn't gonna happen. He did learn pretty fast, he picked up on things, but at first he wasn't interested in trying to fit in at all."
Luke digested all of this without giving her any hint as to how he felt about it or if it was the sort of information he was after. "He appeared to consider himself superior?"
"It was like a given. You know, granted his... race, or whatever, is obviously more advanced than us in some ways, but you can always learn something from a society that's completely different to yours. And he thought people should still be riding horses, which- what? Mostly he seemed to find our culture totally irrelevant until..."
"Until?" he looked at her at last, something fierce in his eyes.
"Something happened. I don't know what, he didn't exactly explain much to me. All I know is: he tried to get my stuff back from SHIELD's base in the desert and something went down. They captured him, locked him up for a while until Erik sprang him, and he was different after that. His ego took a massive hit in there. I guess he found out he wasn't as invincible as he thought, since they stopped him in his tracks. He was pretty convinced that he could just walk in there and take whatever he wanted, but he couldn't, and it made him try to live like the rest of us mere mortals. Rules and all. He was way easier to get along with after that."
Luke just nodded, there was a tightness around his mouth.
"He thought he wouldn't be able to go back," Jane added, remembering the quietness of that morning. Thor helping her with breakfast, chastened somehow, warm and cautiously optimistic. He had been so sweet, so accepting. She couldn't imagine being that calm at the idea of never going back to absolutely everything she had ever known, losing her life's work, nothing she had ever done mattering, her whole identity having to change. It had made her a little wary of him, that sudden equilibrium. She was waiting for the hammer to fall. So to speak.
"Yet he did."
"Yeah," she agreed, peering at Luke and trying to figure out his disinterested, melancholic posture. "Why didn't you ask me about him before? I mean, I was pretty evasive when I first told you about it and if it were me hearing that, there was a whole lot I would have questioned."
He rubbed at the exposed skin of his neck above his open collar, his eyes rolling upwards. "Because I am capable of patience."
"And I'm not?"
He stared at her impassively, leaning on his elbow.
"I'm giving you all kinds of time to tell me the truth," she protested, annoyed. "And it's not like it's not eating at me- it is gnawing at me- but I wait because I said I would. So just... you just keep your judgemental eyebrows to yourself and thank your lucky stars I'm not half as brusque as you're making me out to be."
"Pestering me incessantly is hardly leaving it well alone, Jane." Condescension practically radiated off of him.
"Hey. No. I've been really good about it. Not just for me, for anyone." And, as everyone I know is so fond of reminding me, you really haven't done anything to earn that, so don't make me regret it.
Luke rapped his knuckles against his armrest and looked out the window, chewing the inside of his cheek. He didn't seem to know how to respond to her anger. "I attempted to express gratitude."
"With stuff!" A dam of frustration broke inside her and she felt herself losing all control of what was coming out of her mouth, throwing up her hands as she let things veer off. "Didn't anyone ever teach you that everything isn't tit for tat? Just be-"
"No," he cut her off decisively, raising his voice. It was probably the most curtly he'd ever spoken to her, and it reverberated around the lab like a command. His eyes were flinty as he met her gaze. "No one ever did teach me that. Experience certainly hasn't."
Jane bit back the urge to throttle him and settled for frowning ferociously. "Why are you still so convinced that you're only worth what people can take from you?"
He sneered at her, but his hands were subtly shaking. "I warn you, Jane. I have finished indulging you."
"No, really," she pressed, leaning her forearms on her thighs and clasping her hands. "I'm trying to help you here. Why can't you be important just as a person?"
"Because that's not what I am," he snapped, as if this should be self-evident. His hand came up like a shield. "Don't speak. There is a limit to my endurance and you have reached it. Don't speak."
"Yeah right," she said sarcastically, but her heart was pounding.
"Then tell me how you did it!" he leapt to his feet, the chair clattering to the floor behind him. His voice seemed strangely amplified even though he was far from shouting, the harsh demand ringing unnaturally in her ears.
"Did what?" She sat back to look up at him, trying not to seem completely bewildered.
He scoffed at her, spreading his hands in a sweeping gesture. "How did you befriend your extraterrestrial traveller, Jane Foster? How did the alien become your personal guardian, how did you humble the star-walker? What could you have offered him, one lowly human scientist alone in the desert?"
This little speech, which had begun dripping with scorn and anger, dwindled to confusion and- inexplicably- something approaching despair. Jane couldn't unravel it, her anxiety melting away in the wake of the puzzle, though the adrenaline rush kept her thoughts racing. Was he jealous? Had he tried to make contact before with his physics-bending technology and been unable to provoke any kind of response- hence now wanting her help? Or maybe he was a xenophobe who wanted to sever whatever link existed between Earth and Asgard, however tenuous it may be. He was an overreacher, she knew that was true with her soul, he sought out knowledge, he was thrilled with their progresses and their breakthroughs. It couldn't be that he was going to sabotage what they'd worked for. She'd stake her life on that.
"I found out he was inside the event so I followed him, even when I shouldn't have, and I helped him because he promised to tell me whatever I wanted to know if I did." She kept her tone matter-of-fact, watching him carefully. "Then I just... I guess I was just there for him. I told him about my work and he tried to explain his cosmology. Whatever happened between him and SHIELD really threw him for a loop, but after Erik got him out and we talked, I told him he could stay at the lab for as long as he needed to, since he figured he was stuck here forever. I felt kind of responsible for him. That was all, really."
He stalked closer, looming over her like some Gothic gargoyle. "You spoke to him of your science?"
"He was interested?"
"Sort of." Thor had been more charmed than interested, as if it were very endearing that the tenacious little human had managed to lightly brush the edges of what his people already fully understood. He'd been slightly proud of her, she'd thought, and it was both nice and condescending. She didn't particularly blame him, given the circumstances. He had the self-assurance of someone who knew just enough scientific theory to feel like the vastness of ignorance was being conquered and not enough to realise that the more science discovered, the more terrifyingly enormous that vastness appeared. It was the confidence of the educated layman.
Luke smirked at her, something feverish about his expression, and clasped his hands behind his back. His sturdy stance emphasised the breadth of his shoulders and the fine musculature of his long limbs; it would have been intimidating if Jane were the least susceptible to that kind of debate body language.
"He didn't seem like a science type," she added with perfect honesty.
His real laugh, that distinctively light and musical laugh which she had so seldom heard even as he'd warmed up to her and started cracking what were undeniably jokes, shocked her out of her memories of Thor. Luke's eyes were downcast, but she could see a slight shine in them that confirmed his amusement was fond and genuine. Sensing her questioning look, he glanced up and smiled at her. "Jane, for a woman who continues to surprise me, you are so wonderfully predictable."
"Thanks?" The question came out sounding appropriately sardonic, but she was feeling a bit adrift.
"Then your bond of friendship was built on simple hospitality?" his tone was very tentative, but his posture had changed to a familiar one of only slight visible tension, and he sidled towards her like he always did when he was particularly interested in the bit of physics she was explaining. "Convenience and your curiosity?"
"More or less," Jane said. There'd been an attraction and a lot of adrenaline in there somewhere too, but more or less.
Luke tucked a hank of hair which had partially obscured his face behind his ear as he tilted his head to look sideways at her. "You command enormous loyalty from those who know you, Jane Foster. I wonder if you are fully cognizant of how great a power you possess."
She touched his hand, unable to resist making contact when it was dangling so close to her. "You know, the trick is that it goes both ways."
His teeth came together and she could see his Adam's apple bob in his throat as he swallowed.
"Even aliens seem to be people, too, and people tend to give what they get." Maybe if she just held out a little longer, he'd break and tell her what this line of inquiry was really about, where it was really going. He always had a goal. She squeezed his fingers as they went slack in her grasp.
Suddenly his hand turned over in hers and he hauled her to her feet, only his iron grip preventing her from smashing her nose against his chest. "This generosity of yours is very hazardous. The traveller could have been the scout of a conquering army, and you aided him. If I am as Erik Selvig fears that I am, I have had you at my mercy a hundred times over and may be sparing you at present only for some further purpose."
She wanted to giggle at him. The difference between when he was trying really hard to show her how scary and dangerous he was and when he was legitimately losing his temper was becoming so stark and plain to her that it was almost ridiculous. "I think I'm a great judge of character. I was right about him, I was right about you, I was even on to who the most reasonable people to needle at SHIELD were. I haven't gambled and lost yet."
"You could still be very wrong to trust me, Jane." He was leaning down into her, close enough that she could feel the warmth of his breath.
"Nah," she said, smiling up at him ingenuously. "I don't think so."
He stared at her, slightly round-eyed, looking exposed and lost all over again. There was something so affecting about his eyes, something somehow innocent. His prickly moods and constant suspicions always had an uphill battle to wipe away that vulnerable, and strangely sweet quality in his face. She had a hunch he was at least semi-aware of this weakness and that it probably caused him a lot of grief. He'd certainly be a much better liar if his expressive features weren't always giving him away.
"You were nice to Darcy, you saved Erik, you put up with my circular ramblings and annoying questions for hours on end, bitching aside you still stay to eat with me, and you didn't have to do any of that. If you just wanted to ingratiate yourself, all you had to do was be professional and show me your stuff. You know it and I know it, so don't tell me any stories about dark motives for everything. You like me. I may not know what your thing is with the wormhole, but I know that you don't hate hanging out with us."
"Perhaps I don't," he said quickly, sounding discombobulated. "That doesn't mean I will not..."
"Whatever," she interrupted, "You're not going to betray me. You like picking my brain and teasing me too much."
His mouth shut and a faint blush dusted his fair skin. "Jane..."
"Your total inability to deny it is really precious."
He cleared his throat and stood up straight, looking down his nose at her with all the seriousness and haughtiness he could muster. "You wish to know how to direct the bridge?"
It was a real struggle in Jane whether to let him get away with this blatant diversion, but he certainly knew exactly which bait to use so that she would be unable to resist his change of subject. She could tell he wanted to turn away and put some space between them as well, but she still had hold of his hand. Using it as leverage, she pulled herself up onto the tips of her toes and kissed his cheek just above the jawbone, which was high as she could reach. "Of course I do." She turned and walked into the kitchen to get them some glasses of wine, ignoring his swift intake of breath. "Go ahead, I'm listening."
Flustered or shocked, she heard him clear his throat again before he managed to say anything. "I've spoken to you of will, have I not?"
"I guess." Jane sipped at the cheap Malbec she'd poured. It wasn't half bad for the money, not that she was much of a judge. She made a gesture towards the table with a second glass, and then put it down in front of the chair perpendicular to the one she would sit on. Curling one leg beneath her body as she sat down, she leaned against the back of the chair and blinked at him over her wine.
Luke eyed the set up warily, then stalked over with the dramatic, jungle cat walk which he didn't seem to realise that he had. He was such a bizarre combination of awkward and smoothly predatory; sometimes managing to seem almost small and shrinking, sometimes looking even bigger than he genuinely was. And he was certainly a big man, she thought, as he took his chair with theatrical casualness and stretched his long legs out in front of him. They reached clear to the other side of the table and would have completely invaded her space if she hadn't already folded herself to the side. That had to be on purpose. He smirked at her slightly, basically confirming it.
"What about will?" Jane prompted, casting a disapproving glance over his deliberately provocative pose.
"The power which defines all things is a triune power, made up of order, chaos, and will."
Now her eyes snapped back to him, trying to read his game plan on his expressive face. Something seemed familiar about this. "Okay," she said, waiting.
Her total acceptance and expectant attitude seemed to excite him. He sat up and leaned forward, using his hands to illustrate as he spoke, "The universe, Jane, is something like a mind. It is physical, it contains matter, and this matter explains itself very well up to a certain point, as in your Newtonian physics, of which you have had me read so much. The deterministic, 'Classical Physics' universe your people once thought they fully understood is like the material brain- but the subatomic, all quantum mechanics, is the inexplicable lightning of life. Probabilistic waveforms exist simultaneously and paradoxically with particle behaviour. Superposition and perspective make mock of the orderly Newtonian world. This is like consciousness. Neither the material nor the immaterial is the mind. They are both the mind. Now! To effect one's will on the universe is simply to acknowledge and comprehend that one's will exists. Your mind has downward causal efficacy because your mind is no more merely a brain than a proton is a single particle which can only be in one place at a time.
"To open the bridge," he said, parting his hands slowly, the fluidness of the gesture mildly hypnotising, "You drive the wedge of your will through the uncertainty of a quantum function and you walk there, between a single particle and itself, in the liminal moment before concreteness and determinism asserts itself, before the observation is completed and the waveform collapses. To direct it, you seize a particle here and reach out across entanglement to find its twin in the place you wish to be."
"But-!" she exploded, almost falling off her chair in agitation.
"Don't ask how!" He held up a finger and looked over it at her, then shifted his head so their eyes were level. "I've told you. I've given you everything you need."
"You haven't told...!"
He shook his head, not unkindly or snobbishly, but matter-of-factly. "You would not forgive me, I think, if I spoon-fed you this answer."
She stared at him, her focus shifting all around his face. His eyes, shining with anticipation; the deep curve of his high cheekbones; the slight, encouraging smile to his slim lips; the starkly black curl resting on the right side of his forehead; even the sharp cut of his strong jawline. She could find nothing to help her, no tell, not even any trace that he was mocking her or that this was some kind of test. In fact, she suddenly felt that she knew how much this meant he respected her, how much he wanted to share in the joy of discovery instead of lording his superior understanding over her. Whatever his concept of science was, he saw that in their love of apperception they were the same.
Inspiration fired in her neurons and she slapped the table so hard that it slid crazily as one leg became momentarily longer than the others. "I know where to start!" she screeched. It wasn't quite 'I get it!', but it was what she had.
Luke smiled- the slow-spreading smile which began in the left corner of his mouth and made something ache in her chest- so big, so brightly, that it lit up his whole face.
"Of course you do," he said, like he'd never doubted it.
Acting, as ever, on impulse, she leaned over and kissed him. He jerked away minutely as her lips touched his and she was already thinking Oh God, I've really done it now, this will be the most awkward, humiliating... when he pressed tentatively back. Testing the waters, she opened her mouth and gently teased his bottom lip with both of hers. After a heartbeat's hesitation, he copied her, slowly mirroring her subtle movements as he returned the kiss. It was tragically brief, but the jolt of chemistry or recognition or whatever it is when sparks fly, was so strong that she felt weightless and jittery as they parted.
When she looked up from his mouth to his eyes, he seemed almost frightened, his eyebrows drawn upwards in the middle with some enormous consternation.
"Jane," he whispered, shocked, "Why did you do that?"
She stopped herself from laughing and kissing him again, but only just. She smiled instead, reaching up to tuck his hair back behind his ear. "Because I wanted to."