The night was quiet. Well, as quiet as a Monday night at the beginning of a new college semester could get, anyway. Classes didn’t start until Wednesday and in the distance Thor could hear the music and the raucous laughter from Greek Row. He paused a moment and considered turning his feet in that direction. Not so long ago he wouldn’t have hesitated to make his way to the biggest, loudest party he could find, but he found he wasn’t in the mood that night. Besides, he wasn’t even a student here, so it seemed inappropriate.
He wandered away from the noise and the light of the main campus towards the practice fields. It was a warm night, but not too warm, the first breath of autumn made the air pleasantly temperate after the heat of the day.
He wondered if Loki had made it home from his support group, or if he’d made a friend and opted to go out. Thor hoped Loki had at least made the effort to meet new people. He probably had, if only because Mother had asked it of him before she returned home.
Thor’s feet brought him to the sprawling sporting fields, the open space dark but for the stars overhead. At first glance he thought the fields were empty, until his eyes found a dark shape sprawled on the grass in the middle of the football (soccer, he reminded himself, they call it soccer here) pitch. Curious, he headed towards it, thinking it might be an animal that would bolt when he got too close.
When he drew nearer he saw that the shape in the grass was a young woman, sprawled on her back. “Miss? Are you all right?” he asked, concerned and curious.
She squeaked and flinched. “Jesus fuck!” She rolled up on her stomach to glare at him. He couldn’t see her face clearly in the dark, but he could almost feel the heat of her eyes.
“My apologies,” he said, holding up his hands placating. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“It’s fine, you just gave me a heart attack is all,” she replied, rolling back over onto her back, her hand pressed against her chest as she tried to catch her breath.
Thor drew closer to stand over her, more curious than ever. He followed her gaze up to the night sky and the bright blanket of stars overhead. “Do you know any of the constellations?” he asked.
“Working on it,” she replied. “I recognize some, but these are different than the ones I’m used to seeing back home.”
“Where’s home?” he asked, looking back down at her. She was a small woman, in her mid- to late twenties if Thor were any judge, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt.
“New Mexico,” she replied.
“Are you a student here?” he asked.
“Grad student,” she answered tersely.
Thor knew that tone well enough. Loki used that tone when he was distracted with something else and wanted Thor to leave him in peace. Thor shrugged to himself, unconcerned, and turned away to head back to campus. He’d been the one to interrupt after all. And besides, the campus grad student population wasn’t so large that he would never see her again. He would try to talk to her later, when she wasn’t so engrossed in other things.
He’d only gone a few steps when she called out to him.
“Hey, do you have the time?”
He paused and looked down at his watch. “Nearly one o’ clock.”
She grumbled a profanity that he couldn’t quite hear, then, louder: “Thanks.”
“You are welcome.” He turned to keep walking then stopped and looked back. “Do you not have a cell phone with you?” he asked, carefully. Perhaps she was just too lazy to reach for it to check the time herself?
“Forgot it in my room.” He saw her shoulders twitch and her hand came up to cover her face. “Wow, that was a dumb thing to say,” she muttered. He didn’t think she meant for him to hear.
Thor considered his options and knew that there was really only one thing he could do. This part of campus was dark and nearly deserted, too far from the dorms for a cry for help to be heard and well out of sight of any security cameras. He walked back to where she was laying and sat down on the grass a few feet away. “In that case, I will walk you back to your room when you’ve finished.”
She jerked up and turned to frown at him. “What?”
Thor smiled at her and waved a hand. “When you’ve finished your stargazing I will escort you back to your room,” he repeated.
She scowled at him and clambered to her feet. “I’m perfectly capable of getting back on my own.” She stalked away across the field. Thor got to his feet and followed, his longer legs allowing him to catch up easily.
“But think of how guilty I would feel if something happened to you when I could have prevented it,” he said, falling in step beside her.
She shot him a wary look from the corner of her eye and moved away, putting a safe distance between them. “And how do I know you’re not planning on hurting me yourself?” she demanded. He heard the soft jingling of shifting metal. He glanced down saw her draw her room keys from her pocket to fit them between her knuckles like jagged blades.
Thor wanted to be offended by the question. Of course he would never do such a thing, but then, how could she know that? They’d only met two minutes ago, after all. He paused, his expression thoughtful. She stopped too, well out of his reach and poised to run.
Thor reached into his pocket and held his StarkPhone out to her. “Would this help?”
She hesitated before reaching out to take it. Thor shoved his hands into his pockets and watched her activate the screen to check the signal and battery life. “Just don’t steal it,” he said lightly. “My mother will murder me if I lose another one this year.”
She smiled despite herself, her shoulders relaxing minutely as they began to walk again. “You lose a lot of phones?”
“I break them, mostly,” he admitted. “Or forget they’re in my pockets when I do laundry.”
“I’ve done that before,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s why I buy insurance for them now. And left myself a note over the washer to check my pockets.”
“My brother took over laundry duties when we moved here, he’s much better about checking pockets then I am.”
“You live with your brother?”
“Yes, he’s a student here. He didn’t want to live on campus and our mother felt he would do better if he had family with him.”
“He can’t have liked that very much. I mean, don’t most people go away to college to get away from their families?”
Thor shrugged. He quite liked this young woman, but he wasn’t about to discuss Loki’s mental health history with her. “You said you are a graduate student? What are you studying?”
She smiled, her eyes bright and Thor felt his chest tighten. She had a lovely smile. “I’m studying astrophysics with Dr. Selvig,” she said. “I’m writing my thesis on Einstein-Rosen bridges.”
“And what is that?”
She started talking. Thor found that he understood only half of what she said by virtue of high school physics classes, but also found that he didn’t care. Her passion for her subject was endearing and he would have gladly listened to her speak for hours. She talked with her hands as she described her thesis research, and Thor watched the delicate appendages flutter through the air like birds, her fingers long and delicate but the nails cut short. He wondered if she would agree to see him again.
“…Oh.” A few minutes later she trailed off, her cheeks flushing bright red as she dropped her hands to her sides. “I’m sorry, I tend to get carried away. I didn’t mean to talk your ear off.”
He smiled at her. “It’s quite all right, I enjoyed listening. You’re very passionate about your work.”
She laughed and rubbed a hand over the back of her neck, avoiding his gaze. “Darcy calls it an obsession, but she’s got no room to talk when it comes to gender studies. She’ll rant for hours if you let her get going.”
Thor chuckled. “My brother is that same way with his anthropology studies.”
“Yeah. I guess we wouldn’t be studying it if we didn’t love it, right?”
She came to a halt in front of the grad student dorms and turned to him. “This is my stop.”
“It was a pleasure, my lady,” he said solemnly. She grinned up at him, biting her lip to keep from giggling out right.
“It really was,” she agreed. She moved to hand him his phone but hesitated and took it back. He watched, bemused as her nimble fingers danced over the touch screen before she handed it over. He looked down at the phone and saw that he had a new contact: Jane Foster. He smiled, pleasure pooling warm and light in his chest as he held out his hand.
“Thor Odinsson,” he said. “It was very nice to meet you, Jane Foster.”
She accepted his hand. “Likewise, Thor. I’m free most weekends if you, you know, ever wanted to get together.”
“I would like that very much. Good night.”
Neither of them released their grip for a long moment. Her hand was slim, warm, and dry, the palm callused and her grip strong against his fingers. Finally their hands slipped apart and she stepped back towards her door, tripping over the bottom step before disappearing inside.
Thor turned away and started the long walk back towards his apartment, a wide, goofy grin on his face and his step light with giddy euphoria. He wondered if tomorrow would be too early to call, to hear her voice again.