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If Anyone Can Aid Me 'Tis My Brother in the Army
"Are you sure that'll wash out?" Steve asked. "It's very…vivid." Though he'd known about Thor and Darcy's plan, he'd still been taken aback when Thor had swaggered in with his hair carrot red rather than his usual glowing blond.
"Darcy assured me it was temporary," Thor said confidently, shaking his new ginger locks proudly.
Steve wasn't so sure a color that intense could be temporary. "Sometimes I think we trust her too much."
"I would trust her with my life. My hair is much less important."
What she'd said was, "You're gonna stand out no matter what, bud. This will make you look less like yourself and more like you're just big into the holiday." The dye had smelled like weed killer and she'd had to wear gloves as she slathered it on his hair, but they were both pleased with the outcome.
Now he wore a green t-shirt featuring a cartoon leprechaun and the words "Get Lucky." "I think you'll fit right in," Steve said. "Ready?"
Thor pulled a plaid flannel shirt over his t-shirt, and Steve marveled yet again at his ability to withstand the cold. It wasn't quite spring yet, and there was still a chill in the air, though the day was bright and clear. Steve opted for a hoodie for warmth and a baseball cap (green, of course) for anonymity and they headed out.
It would be stupid to even try to drive, and neither of them minded walking, so they strolled the busy streets looking for a good place to watch the parade. "This Patrick was a saint, correct?" Thor asked as they walked. "So this is truly a holy day?"
"Yeah, he was a saint, but it's not so much a religious holiday anymore. Now it's just about celebrating Irish heritage." Steve looked around at the people passing, the usual kaleidoscope of metropolitan humanity. "Even if you don't technically have any Irish heritage."
"But what did Patrick do? How did he earn all this?" Thor waved his hand expansively, indicating the myriad shades of green around them.
Steve thought briefly, wondering how much of what he knew was myth and how much was fact. Darcy would know; if she were here she'd explain it perfectly, legend and archaeological evidence alike, with the right balance of humor. Words were so much easier for her than they were for him. But he had to try, because Thor was waiting. There was something about a shamrock…
"The one thing I remember is that he supposedly drove the snakes out of Ireland. That's why there are no wild snakes there today." Steve shrugged helplessly, but Thor nodded, a dark look on his face.
"The defeat of serpents is a worthy deed. I have had dealings with a serpent that were not as successful as Patrick's, so I must praise him for his achievement." There was definitely a story there, though apparently it was not one Thor felt like telling at the moment. He didn't look pleased by the memory of it, which Steve could understand if the snake had somehow beaten him. It would have to have been one hell of a big snake if that was the case.
Anyway, time to shift the subject to things less contentious and slithery. "You ever been to Ireland?" Steve asked as they stopped so Thor could get a hot dog.
Thor nodded, handing the seller a five. "Long ago." His "long ago"s were even longer ago than Steve's; Darcy had actually gotten angry when Thor had seen a picture of some ancient Viking treasure and said, "I remember that cup!" He shoved about half of the dog in his mouth and asked around it, "Have you?"
"Nah. But it looks nice, in the pictures I've seen."
"It is. It was," Thor amended, considering. "It has been many years since I visited." Steve tried to imagine Thor "visiting" anywhere, and the shock his sudden appearance, however affable, must have caused.
"My parents were born over there, but they never really talked about it. I got the feeling they didn't miss it much." He knew it couldn't all have been idyllic countryside, the way travel agents liked to portray it, with sheep grazing peacefully on perfect green hills. There were cities there, just like in the States, and crime and disease and hardship and poverty. He wished he knew why they'd left—wished they'd survived long enough for him to think to ask—but knowing why wouldn't change anything. And because they'd left, he'd been born and raised in the United States, and he'd forever be grateful to them for that.
"I remember a fierce people. Mighty warriors," Thor said, approvingly, "but also great artists." He clapped a hand on Steve's shoulder. "They would not be amazed to see all that you have achieved, my friend. In fact, they would expect nothing less."
Thor was always full of surprisingly insightful observations, but that didn't stop Steve from feeling a little choked up. "Thanks, pal. I appreciate it."
As they walked, Steve tried to remember what the holiday had been like during his youth. He couldn't remember anything this massive in Brooklyn. There were people everywhere, which wasn't saying much, given that it was New York; but these masses were much more festive than the usual crowds. They wore green like it was going out of style: shirts, pants, jacket, ties, scarves; face paint, plastic bowlers, headbands with glittery shamrocks on wobbly antennae, even hair dyed green. Much to Steve's relief, the two of them by no means stood out any more than usual, surrounded as they were by outlandish costumes. That wasn't to say that no one paid them any attention; Thor got plenty of questions about whether or not his hair was natural and if he was Irish and if he was a giant leprechaun. He laughed and posed for lots of pictures, which Steve happily snapped, using a variety of phones and cameras. As long as they acted more or less normal, they were safe, and Thor did his best to sound Midgardian. Luckily New York was such an eclectic city that people just tended to assume that Thor was a foreign tourist when he was out in public, and today so many people were already tipsy that no one would be likely to notice if he slipped up.
When they found an open spot on the sidewalk, they staked out a spot at the back of the crowd. As they waited for the parade to start, Steve heard someone ask, "Excuse me?" and looked over to see a woman gently touching Thor's arm. A girl, maybe six, with green bows in her tiny black braids, stood next to her. "Would you mind putting my granddaughter on your shoulders so she can see? I meant to get here earlier so we could get a closer spot, but…" She shrugged helplessly, looking at the crush of people around them.
"It would be my honor," Thor said. He crouched by the girl. "Is this agreeable to you, little one?"
She nodded, braids bouncing. Thor lifted her gently and placed her on his shoulders, then stood. The girl towered over the rest of the crowd and Steve saw her smile in delight at the view.
When the parade reached them, the street echoed with police sirens and bagpipes. There were politicians and bands and people dancing past. The crowd cheered wildly for the NYPD and the members of the armed forces and the veterans who marched by. Through it all the little girl bounced happily on Thor's shoulders, laughing and clapping; Thor himself was delighted with the spectacle and declared his love of it all several times. The whole thing did Steve's heart good.
When the parade was over Thor lifted the girl from his shoulders and placed her on the ground. They said their goodbyes; then Thor asked Steve, "What now?" Clearly, from the god's view, the festivities were not over by any means.
Steve looked around. There were probably plenty of things to do if they just wandered around to find them, and he said as much. They picked a direction and started walking.
"Where does one find a kilt?" Thor asked, spotting a piper.
"I don't know. I mean, you can get them in Scotland and Ireland, but I don't know about anywhere around here. Why, do you want one?"
"Do you think Jane would allow it?"
Steve shrugged. She'd let him dress up as a unicorn; a kilt couldn't be that bad. "I don't see why not. Darcy would have a field day, though." Darcy would love it, more than Steve cared to consider.
Music was spilling out of a bar ahead, and Thor gazed at it longingly. Part of Steve thought that it would be a waste to go in and drink overpriced beer that wouldn't have any effect on them, but the rest of him thought that it had been a long while since he'd sat in a bar with a friend, singing and drinking a little. He didn't want to remember the last time he'd done it, the way it seemed such a short time ago but was really half a lifetime. But this time would be different. With Thor there he wouldn't be able to be sad. It was impossible to even imagine it. So he nodded and was rewarded with a wide grin from his friend.
The bar was pretty full, though it was only early afternoon. A duo with guitars was playing in the far corner, barely audible above the din. Steve spied two open stools and moved to secure them, while Thor made his way to the bar to order. Beers obtained, he held them above his head as he made his way to where Steve sat. "Cheers," he said, hefting his glass and clinking it with Thor's.
"What do they say in Ireland?" Thor asked, and Steve hitched one shoulder up, mouth full of beer.
"Sláinte," offered a voice from a nearby table. Both of them turned, Thor's shoulders bumping Steve's, to see a man in a tweed flat cap hoist his own pint. There were no strangers to Thor, only friends or enemies he hadn't met yet, so he lifted his glass and repeated the toast. Then he introduced them and they met Joe and Frank and Heidi, who told them about their backpacking trip in Ireland the previous year. Steve saw Thor's eyes shining at the idea of walking across a country, and knew he'd have to talk the Asgardian out of trying to walk across the US. They chatted amiably, Thor full of questions (including where to buy a kilt) as usual; he was especially fascinated by the myths and legends. Of course he just loved hearing stories in general, but Steve made a mental note to ask him if he'd ever seen half of the creatures Joe described. Thor listened raptly to tales of Finn MacCool, from cooking the salmon of knowledge to the giant tearing up the causeway that led to Scotland when he saw the size of Finn's "son."
Steve excused himself to use the restroom as Frank went to buy the next round. When Steve returned his new beer tasted sweeter than the previous. He lifted an eyebrow; Thor winked conspiratorially. "I added a little something from home," he said, quietly as he knew how. Oh, boy. Steve had forgotten that there was still some of that mead floating around the Tower somewhere.
"You didn't…?" He nodded at the others, who were momentarily distracted by their phones. Thor shook his head and Steve sighed in relief, then immediately felt disappointed in himself. It was a holiday, for Pete's sake; he should be able to let go and stop worrying about things all the time. So he picked up his glass and chugged the meady beer. Thor whooped his approval, drawing the attention of nearby patrons.
"Thirsty?" Joe asked, eyes wide. Steve just smiled and nodded.
They chatted for a while longer until a group of revelers who looked scarcely old enough to drink noisily pushed their way into the bar. Joe and Frank exchanged looks and Heidi checked her cell phone. "We're going to move on," Frank said. "Want to join us?"
Steve glanced at Thor the ever-amenable. "Why not?" Thor tipped the rest of his beer into his mouth, and they gathered their coats to go.
The crowds outside seemed to be just as tipsy as the ones inside. Their progress was slow, though, as they kept getting stopped by girls wearing "Kiss Me I'm Irish" shirts and pins. They pointed to the words with flirty smiles and more often than not they were the ones doing the kissing, rising up on tiptoes to press their lips against Thor's cheeks or lips or whatever part of his face they could reach. Steve stood by, laughing, until one of them lunged toward him and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the lips. The girl's friends squealed and the others laughed, Thor's voice booming over the rest. Eventually her friends pulled her away and she slipped a string of green plastic beads from around her neck and over Steve's head. Then the girls stumbled down the street, waving over their shoulders at a grinning Thor and beet-faced Steve.
He tried to look sternly at Thor, but the twinkling of the other's eyes made him crack. "I'd ask you not to tell Darcy," he said, slinging an arm around Thor's shoulders, "but we both know that she'd do the same thing."
His arm rounded Steve's shoulders in return. "Correct, my captain."
Somehow, with the hip young person's unerring ability to find a good party, the others found an upstairs backroom bar that wasn't stuffed to capacity. A band, guitars and accordion and bodhrán, was playing a driving tune. Heidi went to the bar and ordered a round of whiskeys; Thor topped Steve's and his off with mead, and with a toast to Ireland and St. Patrick they all drank.
After that things got a little fuzzy for Steve. The mead-laced drinks, Thor's joy, and the general feeling of celebration and conviviality all had him feeling loose and happy. The music grew louder the longer they sat in the bar. Thor demanded to be taught the songs and Heidi ended up wedged between the two incognito Avengers, Thor's arm around reaching clear over her to rest on Steve's shoulders. A few of the songs sounded familiar to Steve, or at least felt like they should be familiar. In his mind, even beyond the memory of men singing to a jangly piano in a London pub, was a vague recollection of his mother humming in the kitchen. He could barely remember her face—in his mind she was turned away, stirring a pot over the stove with the sun behind her, leaving her featureless—but the voice was sure and steady.
Of course, he was sure she hadn't been humming "Whiskey in the Jar." Thor couldn't pick up any of the verses quick enough, but he could keep up with the chorus, and did so with gusto. It was a perfect drinking song, Steve thought as Frank brought around some concoction of Guinness, whiskey, and Irish cream; you could make up words to the chorus and no one would notice. He was sure Thor would be singing it for weeks, driving them all crazy, and he would probably have been right, but then the band started playing "Star of the County Down." It was all they could do to stop Thor from trying to get up and dance in the middle of the bar. He insisted that Heidi write the name down for him so that he could listen to it later, and, lacking any paper more substantial than bar napkins, she scrawled it down his forearm.
A few pints later the others decided to leave. Outside on the sidewalk they said their goodbyes; Thor, not content with mere handshakes, pulled them all into hugs. Then their new friends climbed into a cab and Thor and Steve waved as it drove off.
Thor picked a direction—despite the fact that he often saw things from above, his sense of direction was generally pretty trustworthy—and they started walking. When they were passing a deli Steve felt his pocket buzzing and stopped to pull out his phone, holding it between his ear and Thor's.
"Phillllll! How are ya?"
Coulson was inscrutable as always. "Steven. Are you drunk?"
"'Tis a feast-day, Coulson. It was necessary to toast Steven's forebears."
"Right. Did you gentlemen enjoy the parade?"
"Yeah, it was great." Thor described their day, hot dogs and all, and Coulson listened patiently. When Thor had finished, he asked,
"And what are you doing now?"
"Now we're goin' home and we're gonna buy a kilt on the internet."
Coulson was glad he hadn't been drinking anything when he heard that. "For whom?"
"Me!" Thor cried at the same time that Steve asked, "Who d'you think?"
"Do you not think such a garment would suit me well?" Thor asked.
"I can see it now," Coulson admitted. If any of them could pull it off, Thor could, easily. Coulson foresaw many, many Braveheart references from Darcy and Barton.
Steve said, "It's okay, 'cause he's worn a dress before," as if that explained everything.
Shaking his head as he stood and pulled on his jacket, Coulson asked, "Do you need me to send a car?"
"Nah, we're almost there. Are you comin' over? You should come over." He sounded so young and guileless and happy that Coulson couldn't imagine refusing, although he'd planned to go straight home.
"Indeed, so we may drink together to the holy serpent conqueror." It took him a minute to work that one out as on the other end Thor grumbled loudly about the treachery of slithering creatures.
"I'll be there in thirty minutes."
"Good. That gives us time to get some food." Steve didn't hang up before Coulson heard him ask Thor, "How many sandwiches do you want, pal? 'Cause I want about eight."
Twenty-seven minutes later Coulson found them on the couch, beers in hand as Thor jabbed at the remote. Steve was wearing a tweed cap that Phil had never seen before, and Thor's hair was redder than Romanoff's. He also had something written on his arm in ballpoint pen. "Join us, Son of Coul," he commanded kindly.
"Yeah, c'mon, Phil," Steve said, patting the seat next to him. "We're watchin' a movie."
"What movie?" he asked blankly, moving toward the couch. He wondered if, in their slightly inebriated state, they'd actually managed to buy a kilt online and if so who'd paid for it (he hoped wistfully that they'd stolen one of Stark's credit cards), and furthermore, how much the large pile of corned beef sandwiches on the table had cost.
"It's about Irish guys fighting crime in Boston." That could be any number of movies, Coulson thought, most of which would scar Steve for life. "It's called..." he leaned sideways to look at the DVD case, "Boondock Saints. Tasha recommended it."
Of course she did.
He really shouldn't; he should take away the beers, warn them and put on something more suitable, like Darby O'Gill and the Little People, something that wouldn't cause Steve to fret about morality and inspire Thor to buy a black trench coat and sunglasses. But it was a holiday, sort of, and the smell of the sandwiches literally made his mouth water, and it would be worth it to see the look on Steve's face, and the debate about vigilantism that followed the film would certainly be one for the ages. He'd have to ask JARVIS to record that.
So he shucked his coat and tugged his tie loose. "Got any more beer?" Thor passed him a bottle as he sat, settling next to the Asgardian. Steve leaned across and offered the neck of his bottle for a toast; Thor touched his bottle to his, and Phil added his.
"A toast to your coffins," he said, and the other two looked at him quizzically, Steve's head cocked to one side like a confused golden retriever puppy. "May they be made of hundred-year-old oak, and may we plant the trees together tomorrow."
Grins appeared on both their faces, Thor's first and then Steve's, as they got it. "Same to you," Steve said, bumping his shoulder against Phil's.
"Sláinte," Thor said, and the three drank to many long years of friendship to come.