James wrapped his hand around the hammer's handle, and his world exploded.
"Thumper," said Officer Haynes, and James' sullen demeanour was split by a reflexive grin. Almost nobody used his real name, these days, bar the few local coppers who'd got to know him in their professional capacity, Haynes among them. It was always an obscure pleasure, but the thrill only lasted a moment before his frown returned. Smiling made his bruised eye ache.
Haynes crouched down outside his patrol car to address the fourteen-year-old ragamuffin in the back seat. "What was it this time?" he asked.
"They said I wasn't real," James replied sulkily. "They said I didn't have a mum."
Haynes clicked his tongue and looked over at the other boys, being tended by his partner and a first-aider. Between the four of them they had something like a decade and four hundred pounds on James, but they'd somehow still come off worse. Picking on a kid, though? They were asking for it.
"It would be inappropriate of me to say they were asking for it," the policeman said carefully, with a stern nod. "Come on then, you scamp, let's get you home."
In the milliseconds before it lit up he felt the atmosphere charge around him, and his perception of time slowed to a crawl. His hand was fused to the strange metal, almost magnetised. It fit like it was made for him.
"I just - I don't think you're as invested in this relationship as I am," said Fiona.
"Um," said James, staring back at her with that benign expression that she wanted to hug and slap at the same time. It wasn't that he didn't care, she knew, he just hadn't quite worked out what she was saying and knew that if he waited she'd explain it better, or it would become apparent, or it wouldn't matter any more.
"I like you, I really do," she continued. "But we're both young and - it feels like you're somewhere else. With someone else. Like, I don't know, an ex, or...?"
"I don't think so," he said brightly, and she immediately felt bad for suspecting, or even for pushing. Of course he would never run around on her. He was too ... loyal. Too trustworthy. And besides, he didn't have the imagination. She wanted to take it back and melt into his arms all over again. Instead she laid her hand affectionately on his face and looked into his eyes one last time. He looked back at her, but as always, she felt like he was seeing someone else.
"Goodbye, James," she said.
Twin white snakes slithered up his arm. A third leapt directly for his chest. His life flashed before his eyes.
"No, but if I'd wiped out my memories, and became - I don't know - Frank the bartender," said Robin Hood, "And then we brought back Robin, what happens to Frank? Does he die?"
"I don't know," replied Scheherazade. "With my memories gone, I was still myself, only with parts I could not remember. Restoring them filled in the blanks. To remove a whole persona ... is it right?"
She glanced over at James, who smiled back. He wasn't really following the conversation. It sounded important, but his mind kept slipping off the big concepts. Nobody seemed to immediately need any help, so he was content to simply listen.
"It may be necessary," said Lindy, firmly. "You heard what she said, he has to remember who he is..."
The energy surged upwards, through his body, lifting him off his feet.
A bolt of lightning has, broadly speaking, two stages: First the invisible leader, a charged pathway formed of ionised air. Then the visible discharge, the white-hot energy that surges along that path.
The return stroke.
"I don't know why we're bothering," said the weird boy who smelled of childhood as they walked towards the testing ground. "We all know it's going to be the dickhead from the Civil Service."
James looked around. Was there someone else here from the Civil Service? Surely he'd have been told.
His eyes caught fire and his brain lit up. He remembered: a childhood in the forests and mountains of home. A beloved sibling, a father and mother. A land of gods and monsters and a woman with hair of gold. A life of adventure and, ultimately, sacrifice.
And he wondered: What happens to James? Is this the end? Is he cast aside like an unwanted stand-in? Was he only ever a god, dreaming he was a man?
But as he arced through the air, as his life poured in, nothing faded. The life of James Foster was still a part of the whole, the latest chapter in this hero's journey. He remembered every Avengers movie, the show with the dogs, the stupid, overlong jokes he could somehow never get straight. Only now he remembered all of himself, filling in the blanks.
Thunder echoed in the air, and Thor Odinson fell to Earth, whole once more.