A two-shot, originally intended as a one-shot. This piece has the pairing of Steve/Thor, with more intimacy notions coming later on in the end of the story, with friendship first and foremost. Mature, graphic at times, angst-filled, poignant in parts, and at the end, hope. A sadder version of the Captain, a comforting Thor and a subtle spatter of humor.

I own nothing aside from the way these characters own my life now. Yes, I'm looking at you, Loki.


Part I: Pledge Without Silence

Sleep had never been an elusive reality, darkness and blissful subconscious filling his veins with a fair amount of peace until the sun's first light. He had no idea if it was due to the serum-induced physical strength he was bestowed, granting him with the ability to slip into dreams as easily as flipping the page of a dog-eared novel, or something internal, an amity of his thoughts giving way to rest.

It did no good to consider that the ones who crafted the elixir responsible for his hyper-sensitive condition sought perfection, a modern Prometheus that became their greatest weapon and nation's failsafe. It was all in the past, no more than a photo-album of culpability, lives and an entire country that he had unintentionally disappointed. The thought of considering himself an invaluable hero and all of the self-deprecation that came with it would only plague him; Steve Rogers, Captain Steve Rogers would find some way to heal.

Health came from unlocking that capsule of horrors, peering inside to examine the mottled and dilapidated ruins that came from it and talking about it with whoever happened to be around and willing to listen. The cost of altering his existence, the wicked notions that gave birth to the consequence of gaining far too many enemies would be under the scrutiny of his conscience the longer he shoved it to the side.

He could ask Fury for a nice therapist, a psychologist who wouldn't judge him, who would see past the muscles and physical prowess to the trembling, consternated young boy underneath a triad of red, white and blue. Surely there had to be someone who understood him, who could deal with memories of a war long since won and shoved away into dusty relics and ink-washed history books? There had to be someone.

What he was seeking, he realized at last, a grim whisper speaking to his inner-ear alone, was an ideal. Yes, he believed in humanity, so much so that he would fight any threat to the world in which he lived in, his firm sense of justice and truth uncompromising. Yes, he believed in the possibility for self-betterment, the Earth becoming a place of hope once more, after the smoke cleared and the rebirth began with the breaking dawn. But beneath that, there was no one who could share similarities with him, not a one who wouldn't inflict their personal biases on the confessions he revealed. He could see it now: narrowed eyes, inquiries dying on lips that didn't know how to form the questions, and pity taking the place of barely held together friendship. He was not only born far beyond his time, but hurled into a bewilderment of technology and social unrest that he was still not ready for. He was, at the end of the day, the greatest outcast and liability to his team, the scrawny young man again who was once so eager to prove that he was worthy to fight for his country.

Worthiness. In God's eyes, he was worthy. But in the eyes of far too many, he was nothing but a fraud, a fantasy woven by the media to fuel their longing for something beyond the mundane. In the eyes of his team, he was nothing but a stranger with a different dialect and background, an old man with the body of a soldier who did his best to keep them together; if one segment splintered, the rest of the kaleidoscope wheel of their almost-but-not-quite family unit would shatter entirely.

Once again, he was responsible for a greater part of the masses, people who he cared about and would die without a second thought for. And that realization, the fact that he was so heavily relied on once more collided with his mental stamina, jarred him to the point of no return. If he failed again, he would lose more than his life, but the lives of his comrades, if not the world entire.

The past coalesced and the pattern repeated into the future, though his mission was to keep that from becoming true once more.

It should have been apparent to him from the very beginning how fragile the operation of S.H.I.E.L.D really was. They saved the Earth, yes. They stood as one and remained firm in their beliefs that if they were called to duty once more, they would dispose of any threats, yes. But as to bonding and really getting to know one another...that was a reality that had yet to be determined. There were stories, personal details that he was completely ignorant of when it came to these people. He had led men into battle and knew their life's stories, tales of their wives and loved ones, children and siblings that meant the world to them, along with their aspirations and ambitions. To this present team, he knew next to nothing. He had no idea how Black Widow managed to maintain a tandem of charisma and brutality, where Clint had learned to hit his bullseye without fail with each and every notch of his crossbow, and where Tony's plethora of wide-ranging habits came from. Bruce he could have something in common with, but with the way he created purposeful distance registered as a "do not proceed" sign of caution to anyone in the near proximity. And Thor was a god in another realm, a place that stupefied his mind to a state of he didn't know was possible, and complete with a weapon that could control storms, he was mighty intimidated of him.

God worked in mysterious ways and never gave mankind more than what they could handle. He was the Captain, Atlas, a stronghold and the needle and thread all in one and he would stand with the team, for it was for the good of the whole.

None of the encumbering duties had ever disturbed him until now, now when the safe-haven of a world he had saved from war once relied heavily on his aid once more.

The one advantage he had foolishly believed he had left was his ability for sound slumber; even that had become haunted as of late.

Dreams had been either vivid imaginings or non-existent for him up until this point; there was no middle piece when it came to his slumber.

These times were different. From the moment his head touched his pillow-case, a twilight sleep invaded his mind, tugging his eyelids, his body curling around his mattress out of old habit. But no true rest came. Hypnagogic elements consumed his heart, a state of mind that he dreaded with every waking hour before it was lights out. Not only due to the lack of sleep, or the acting charade he drilled himself on to disengage worry in his comrades, but because of the understatement of this place of mind: in nearly every way, he deserved this, a sin that he had to come to terms with, suffer through, and endure until he emerged as a new man, a hero that was ready to face any manner of foe that threatened the world he was in charge of saving.

This state of mind went far beyond the simple word of nightmare. His eyelids became the backdrop and curtain for a whirlwind of terrors far beyond his control, seizing his rationale and scattering it with the remnants of logic and sanity that he attempted to preserve in these bleak times. His prayers were whispered, hushed pleas that begged God to take him out of this, to give him one night of pure rest, a sleep he sought with a greed that shamed his heart.

And sins, he considered with a muffled whimper, couldn't go unpunished.

Every heightened aspect of his senses was under siege, a battalion of torment that spread through his flesh, embedding itself in his pores, his blood tarnished with the scent of smoke and bullet-fire, the permanent stench of death permeating his gear. The cloying moment stretched, giving him the full experience of a scare that rattled his self-reserve: living through every moment of persecution, time and again until his dream self screamed for an end, shrieking until his voice was a raw tangle of begging phrases and half-remembered prayers.

The end he sought was never within his reach. There was Bucky, his eyes vacant as he came to terms with his own death, free-falling to the extent of his own mortality. His friend, gone, and with luck serving the Lord at His feet.

In his mind however, Bucky became savage, a partially limb-less specter who screamed in his face, asking him to save him, over and over again until his ears knew nothing but the echo of what he in all of his parades and campaign boasting left out: that even Captain America couldn't stretch his arms out that far to save his friend, that he was after all, painfully human.

There were his old bunk mates, blown to pieces because of a call he had made that in turn, ended their short lives. This he knew to be false, for that had never happened. Memories were beginning to amalgamate with fake reality, truth becoming nothing more than a disjointed pattern of happenstance and pain, stolen chance and the blood-stippled American flag that had become his signature.

In some of these visions, his enemies won. The night where the Red Skull leered over him, tearing his shield into shards of metal and paint with fingers - no, claws now, bright red - and then his face, peeling the skin until bone and screams rimmed the air with his own defeat stood out above the rest. He had paced the expanse of the room that night, his fingers reaching up to touch his face, as if to make sure it remained intact and whole, evaluating just what in the world was wrong with him.

Was he going mad then? Was he so delusional, so filled with self-hate and a pity for himself that knew no bounds, that he was beginning to create frightening illustrations of what was and never would be? What frightened him the most was, that he had no answer for that.

The following night the latest battle filled his thoughts, a world plunged into insanity by a tyrant whose plan prevailed. There was the nation he had sworn his allegiance to protect, a shadowed version of the Earth as it was ruled mercilessly by Loki. Hundreds, thousands, millions bowed on one knee to the god of green and gold, his horns glistening, burning out his retinas, his final coherent sight before the blindness of this dream devoured him the sight of his friends, broken into bleeding pieces all around him in a mess of a human puzzle.

These were fears he knew and comprehended every morning. This, the coffee cup in his hand with the odd design and gloss, the weight of his breakfast on a porcelain plate with an equally odd design, the training tape around his knuckles; that was all real. Fear had no place here, in the waking real world he had awakened to not long ago. He had spent far too much time asleep; it was time to wake up, to embrace what he had allowed to happen to him. It was time for acceptance to be his mantra, for the smiling faces of those who he came into contact with, be they his teammates or simple occurrences in the street to reign over the disharmony of his sleeping state.

In moments of weakness however, he couldn't help but consider if God was no longer on his side. Was it a sin to allow himself to become a human guinea pig all those years ago, for the mere child that he had been to be created into a weapon outside of mortal restraint? When men played god, there were repercussions; perhaps these nightmares were the perdition that he was bestowed, a hell on earth that he deserved. God brought His beloved sleep; was he no longer His beloved?

Those moments turned into minutes which became hours on his knees, sometimes sobbing, sometimes whispering fervently that he begged for forgiveness, that all he wanted was to create a better world with the power that he had been given for the good of all. The folly of hubris, of pride; was that was this was, pride? The pride that made him believe that he could be salvaged, that his sleep could go without interruption for one night?

The serum amplified everything that was wholesome about a person, or rather, unwholesome. Did that mean that he wasn't the hero he believed himself to be at times, and was just a shade of an ideal, grasping for air when there was nothing to reach for? He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure of anything anymore.

Exhaustion claimed him, granting him the reprieve of a few hours at most before the visions returned. And he was sick of it, so very sick of waking up screaming, of waiting for the onslaught of terror to cease the wave of nightmare.

A small part of him, a part that festered in doubt, stirring the black parts of his spirit told him that the reason he sought out his comrades in the middle of the night was not to keep them company, but for his own selfish pursuits. He wanted companionship, especially if he knew one of them was up, late into the night with their own fulfillment's and work.

Bruce didn't mind when he perched on his stool, asking as many questions as he could form about everything in his lab, to the multi-colored liquid in beakers to the glowing fonts of Stark-related technologies Tony built himself, enabling an easier access to data. Steve offered reassuring smiles and promised him that he would do his best to keep his friend's mind at ease, that way "the other guy" wouldn't emerge at random and destroy the mansion.

Natasha and Clint were never around in the late night, but they were always up with the dawn, in and out of the kitchen as fast as fleeting shadows come the sunlight, scattering to their own business. They would greet him and exchange a few words, but they didn't know one another nearly enough to begin physical conversations. He asked if he could begin training with them in their area of expertise, and to his disbelief, they both agreed. Olive branches, when they were created with consternation and desperation were still olive branches.

The rare times when Bruce fell asleep, passed out on a cot that he bolted to the wall of his lab, Steve made his way to Tony's personal work area, knowing full well that he would be awake. The man always managed to run well on four hours of sleep when he was working, and with an endless supply of alcohol, his genius was an unstoppable impetus. The man was infuriating at times, swore like a few commanding officers he had known seventy years previous put together, and went against a lot of - if not everything - what he believed in. Nevertheless, he had witnessed first hand his bravery, the way he would sail on the winds of his equations and devices to save the world, sacrificing his own well-being for a world that he had come to terms with. From what little he knew of the man's past, Tony always had a way of getting even with those who had wronged him, no matter how evil or powerful they appeared to be to the public eye. He was stubborn, foolish, and someone he respected fully.

Tony agreed to his company, allowing him to sit wherever he wanted as he crafted blueprints and algorithms that appeared to him as another language, weapons that would preserve the world's amity with each other, codes that were locked away in an uncharted facet of the man's brain that only knew the company of pens and glass tumblers. He never asked him if there was something wrong, and contrary wise, Steve remained silent about the questions he had, the inquiries that he wanted to talk about. He figured it wasn't his business to force open closets that held more than the remnants of skeletons in their black depths; if his teammates wanted to talk to him, he had made it perfectly clear that he would listen.

Regardless, he did manage to learn from each and every one of them. Clint revealed a hint to a clue about how he aimed so well from impossible distances, Natasha taught him a few Russian phrases and how to not only evade enemies, but take them out as efficiently as possible in the shortest amount of time. Bruce seemed to be smiling a lot more than usual, and he always greeted him with a handshake and acknowledgment whenever they were in each other's presence. Tony shared with him the secrets of the perfect vodka and offered him enough drinks to render an elephant comatose on many an occasion, regardless of his body's immunity to alcohol.

His tactic was working, no matter the selfish inception that it derived from, a part of him that would do anything to fill the void of personal loneliness and solitude, so much so that he would more or less force himself to learn more about his comrades to deter self-oblivion.

And despite nostalgic talks about rockets, nostalgia and still-budding friendship, the terrors remained. There was no pill he could take for insomnia, no drug that would bless him with a drowsy haze, a state he often scolded Tony for participating in every so often, nothing that would work. The very endurance he was granted, a zenith that freed mortal limitations gave way to the curse of the inability of a night's sleep.

"Need something off your chest?" Tony always did manage to come up with conversation points, where other members of the team preferred companionable silence.

"Just a nightmare. Peggy Carter's face was melting from a photograph she gave me during my final mission." Something like concern, ladened with lust for the woman of the past flitted over Tony's features, granting Steve with a comment about how it was a shame, for that face was certainly something else. He also stated that nightmares were never as bad if he gave it a voice, and then broke into a small explanation about the brain and how dreams were science.

This was just the way Tony was: consoling at times, but with an undercurrent of apathy, seeking answers to everything in fact, dictating specific emotions for humor and vanity's sake. He had Steve's respect as a man and an undeniable hero. But he wasn't what he needed at the moment, not another speech about neurons and synapses.

What he needed was sleep. He bid Tony goodnight, convincing the man as he gripped the door jamb that no, he hadn't offended him, his lips pinching with a strained smile. Within a few minutes of an almost-apology, he was back to face the barrage of horrors for the second time that night. He wished for a stalemate, a way to meditate himself to a state of blissful unconsciousness, his body hovering just over the riverbed of what he couldn't undo and the things that had yet to become him, a cessation of his spirit that mingled into a place that he didn't wish to surface from for at least a few hours.

They began once more, illustrations that painted his comrades in blood, a canvas dripping with a claret sheen, friend turning against friend, the mansion in ruins as fire leached from the skies. It was the closest thing to hell that he had known, a hell in which Bruce chased him through a dripping wood, a forest of rot and bone, Natasha's screams mingling with Clint's cries of elation, Loki's control reigning dominion over his mind. His feet hit the earth with a frantic padding, crunching in metal until he recognized it as not only metal, but as the Arc Reactor that kept Tony alive. Somewhere, in this ochre-shaded madness, Tony had breathed his last.

Thor was in the clouds, fighting against the skies as it spewed fire and lightning, his storm turning against him. His screams were not in usual triumph, for in an obliteration of trees, god-made metal crumbled to an ash that rendered Mjolnir useless as the last of the god's life fled, the world churning into a blaze of hell.

In his mind, he realized with a barely repressed scream, one that lacked the will-power and energy to properly form the cry, was that he was an orphan once more.

Darkness greeted him, the darkness of 3:45 a.m, his room a humid space of walls and covers, sweat and nightmare aromas. His chest had been heaving and as consequence, his heart thudded between his ribs as if he had circled the whole of Manhattan that night, if not the once Brooklyn that had been home. Tony would be awake, and maybe Bruce. He'd lift himself from the bed, have some water and maybe a shower, and begin the day anew.

But he couldn't. There was no personal volition to leave the bed, to dismiss the illusions as simply that. Was there a villain he had been unaware of, a nemesis that slithered past Fury's all-encompassing wisdom that was toying with his sanity? Was Amora out there, weaving some semblance of magic, attempting to lower his guard to create a counterattack of some sort? Could Loki have the free picking of his mind, disassembling his strengths to find the mottled and endless weaknesses of his heart?

In the gloom, he reminded himself that he had been through much worse. He valued his strength and the abilities he had been granted from the serum, valued the lessons that he had been taught about loss, about what it meant to sacrifice. A born leader, a stronghold carved from the marble of every adversity that created the being in this bed, a creature that wasn't sure if he was losing his mind, or his ability to communicate with the people under his roof.

He needed, above all, someone to confide in.

The knock pounding through his door would either solidify his conviction or destroy it entirely. Whoever it was either had some urgent plan to escape the mansion, for Tony had managed to light part of it on fire again on accident, or they had heard him screaming. Screams led to talking which led to confessions, something he was willing to engage in.

Besides, at the end, all of them were very much human.

Except for the Asgardian god, - a sleepy, but concerned one at that - that was waiting outside of his doorway. Steve wasn't sure when Thor had returned to the mansion, but he hadn't been at dinner that night. If he had just gotten back and was yearning for sleep, his screams had more than likely killed off any chance of restful slumber for the moment.

"What troubles you so, Captain?" Despite obvious fatigue and the half-light of the room, Thor's eyes were bright, filled with concern for him, and oddly inquisitive towards the conduct of such a ruckus late in the night/morning.

He was too tired to do anything but oblige, letting Thor into his room at his gentle prompting when a simple dissuasion wasn't enough to abate Thor's curiosity. The lights came on when he asked them to - a new modification Tony bestowed to every room - and he sat on his mattress, absently running a hand through his bed-mussed hair.

"Nightmare. A pretty bad one too." The scraping of a chair alerted him that Thor wasn't leaving anytime soon, despite how late it was and how tired the god must have been.

Silence resonated, the tenor of the god's voice slicing any implication of quiet-time. "I have found that if I give voice to the petty fears, the great ones always seem manageable."

Steve raised his head, meeting even blue eyes, eyes with a wisdom in the electric current of sapphire. Thor's hair was sleep-pressed and tangled, a line crossing his cheek where it had once been ensconced in pillows, and clad in only a pair of loose sleep-pants. He had usually slept nude - which he proclaimed without shame at the breakfast table one morning - but chose for modesty's sake to remain clothed while there was a female warrior in the house, that female warrior being Natasha. He appeared tired, but there was nothing but earnest care on his face, a comforting lion of a man that would snap the neck of anyone attempting to harm him hitherto. In every way, he had Thor's protection for the moment.

And with the wise words that served as nothing but relief to Steve, he found his own. Despite his efforts at saying that this would be a bit of a long story, Thor would hear none of it. He wanted to know how he was faring before he so much as thought of laying his head down for sleep once more, or so Thor stated with mirth.

The heart of the matter was revealed, leading up to when the visions began two months previous. Sugar-coating was a lie in Thor's eyes, and he didn't want to be accused of being anything of the sort. The story tumbled from his lips, doubt taking the form of syllables, his throats making sounds, the tenor of his own voice. Had he grown so quiet that he hardly recognized the octaves that his own throat could make? He spoke of the serum, how all of those years ago, the scientists might not have made the best choice in choosing someone so unstable for the job, no matter his experience thus far. He spoke of his fear that God was punishing him for going against the fabric of nature, of being the by-product of a god-play that would serve as nothing but this night-time anguish.

He had always been good at talking, at striking up conversations and getting to know people. But for whatever reason, there was some sort of block keeping him from releasing his guard, from melting the steel from his mind and heart.

Halfway into a small explanation, he uncovered an instant of both verbal and mental clarity, the root of fear: if he was plunged into a situation that involved the renouncing of his transient entitlement to his life, another sacrifice, he would cease to adapt. Change was necessity, part of the world and America, for without it, direction would stop altogether.

He would wake up to more wars, to the endless ways humans pointed the world towards its own self-implosion.

If he was weak, if he gave a voice to something that was wrong, he would be just another weak link, something that would be severed before he so much as had the chance to speak up. As childish as that sounded, without a shred of the valor and bravery so many people claimed he had within him, that was what was wrong: fear, a fear that refused to leave, a fear that clung to his skin, tattering his sleep.

The entire time he spoke, he noted Thor's silence, a respectful quiet without so much as a grunt of approval; he wasn't even sure if he had swallowed once. Thor spoke not a word for the full hour that he had divulged in the god until he was certain that Steve had nothing else to add to his admission - an admission that shocked the speaker about as much as the listener - before opening his mouth.

"I am honored that you bestowed me with your trust, Captain." It was all eloquence and waxing loquacious with Thor, but Steve knew it was the furthest thing from a prideful air. As much as Thor boasted, he did so with such enthusiasm that after awhile, it was either the most annoying or endearing trait for all in his company. It was hard to roll your eyes to someone who had such jubilant energy all of the time, a passion for living that belonged to the golden-years of youth. Especially since he was genuine and completely honest with those in his company.

The Norse God shifted his weight, pectorals meeting the back of the chair, his feet providing stability for the rest of his body with the leverage. He was an imposing creature, all muscle from training, biceps and triceps rippling with a strength that was earned and forged through planetary battles, without any form of a serum. Whereas there had once been arrogance, there was humility in his stance, a humble quality that swept away the taint of past follies. At least, that was how Steve had always perceived him. Steve had the feeling that he was one of those people who would sit with you and talk for hours about your problems, or the big brother he had always secretly yearned for, one who would make it his personal mission to see that the Brooklyn bullies paid for their insolence, even in the 40's.

"It's Rogers, Steven Rogers. You don't need to be so formal; I'm the one that's keeping you up." Thor smiled, a full-toothed grin that lit up his eyes, a sapphire current charging not only lapis depths, but a coiling warmth in Steve's stomach lining.

"Rogers it is then. Or as everyone else calls you, Steve?" Steve nodded, feeling as if Thor had become a type of therapist for him, and he was gliding past the introductory period into an uncharted area of their friendship and subtle stages of still-getting-around-to-it bonding. "Steve, you were right to tell someone about these night visions; you were in fear, and the way to fight fear is ultimately to fight?" Thor clenched the edge of the chair for emphasis, his features a caricature of a battle-ready expression.

"Yeah...yes. But I couldn't think of anything other than their faces. It's...it's as if whenever I close my eyes, I see them. My failures, the people I couldn't save." He licked his lips, his saliva tasting bitter to his tongue. The past was the past, but he hadn't the proper time to physically deal with the drastic shift in his life, much less his surroundings. When could he have come to terms with the transpirations? When he was submerged 10,000 feet below in the North Atlantic?

Now. Now was when he would deal with this, no matter if it took a re-animation of skeletons in a steadily opening closet. "I thought it might go away on its own, or that I was cursed or damned or something."

Thor chuckled low in his throat, a sound of comforting mirth alone, the furthest thing from a mockery. "Steven, you are the furthest thing from damned." In the tenor of his voice, a timbre that dripped with the faintest traces of an accent, Steve believed him. For those that didn't believe him, Steve had a feeling the god would repeat himself as many times as it took to get his point across anyone's mind. Thor did like to hear himself talk, yes, but when it counted, he was undoubtedly truthful, if not complimentary. "You're very fearful of something, of being left behind again. The enemy then is you, which is what makes this such a lofty battle to fight I am afraid."

Steve had no words, exhaustion not being the conduct of being struck suddenly mute. The epiphany was there, and it made him feel really stupid, as if he had just been thrown into battle with little more than a butter-knife and a cardboard shield when the orders had clearly been to take cautionary preparations.

All this time, all he really had to do was talk with someone, and this would go away. Not just anyone of course, but a member of his team, someone who he could trust and firmly rely on. But the problem linked to that, trailing after it like a well-worn chain of encumbering debt was that he was terrified. Terrified of being labeled as a failure, as just another failed experiment in the name of science, marked and labeled for the trash receptacle, dismissed and tossed aside as if he had become a rusted rapier, too frayed for use. He feared abandonment, betrayal, the thought that just as he was beginning to lay down some roots, he would be torn from the earth before the germination of sentiment could even have the chance to begin.

That's what happened after all: he had made plans to save the world, stop the war, and even learn to dance. And then any thought of a permanent guarantee was stripped from him, grids and colors revealing the bombs in the plane, the truth that, unless he went for a long swim in the water, he wouldn't make it home for an 8 o'clock date.

History repeated; he was the embodiment of America after all, and that he knew for certain. Would he be placed into those situations again, rendered in the glass-cage of immortality, the world shifting and flitting, but he remaining constant? Men were not made to be timeless weapons.

It had become habit to murmur prayers, Bible scriptures and pieces of sermons he had heard more than sixty years before. His lips formed the words, his eyes closing, the mantra and knitting of his fingers keeping him physically together, connected; if he released himself, then what? Then what would come of him?

A hand clapping his shoulder cut off his prayer in mid-sentence, his eyes meeting an inquiring Norse God's. There was a question in Thor's eyes, his lips parting to form the words, but he never did. In the silence, the silence of a gentle scrutiny, a reassuring squeeze of his shoulder, Thor respected his business and his religion as well, knowing that choosing the right form of comforting him was essential to keeping him sane. He was still sane, wasn't he?

For one horrifying moment, Steve believed himself to be in another form of nightmare, one that was more corporeal than all the others put together. He had been able to perceive his senses in the other dark imaginings, so why not this one? Why was this any different? Would Thor become a multi-armed aberration with fangs and claws, hell-bent on tearing out his throat and killing off every member of the mansion?

The hand on his shoulder was strong, the fingers warm, heat pressing into his shoulder blade in the most gentle way, reassurance undulating in waves from the god's hand. For a being that was capable of summoning the storms, of fighting terrible entities from deep space, he had a surprisingly soft touch, reserved for those who had earned it.

"This is not a dream, Rogers. I feel whole, yes?" He managed a small nod, feeling a total of five-years-old again, five-years-old and learning that there was no such thing as monsters in his closet, but outside of his house in the real world of Brooklyn. "You feel your breath, your heart, the bed under your body, yes?" Another nod. Yes, this was happening, Thor wouldn't become a hideous monster, and he had actually managed to confide in a member of his team.

Reality didn't have to be so bad then.

"Then allow me to make a pledge, if you would accept it?" For whatever reason, when he pictured Thor pledging, he imagined the god standing in front of a red, white and blue backdrop, pledging his allegiance to America in the loudest voice possible, capable of rousing the entire country to a patriotic stand-still, the President weeping and cabinet members clapping. He managed a third nod, and watched as Thor eased out of the chair, the hand that was on his shoulder released, the heat dispersing as quickly as it had come. The god was then on one knee, his fist clenched to his chest, eyes glimmering with metal-threaded intensity that declared that he meant this in truth, with every fiber and cell of his body.

Thor was bowing to him and he would find out why that was within a few seconds.

"Without histrionics Steven, I pledge that, if there ever comes a day shrouded in darkness that you are cast aside, deemed unworthy by this world, I will make it my mission to find you. For gods have very long lives, and my lightning will be able to melt any ice you are placed in. If any dark time should become reality, I will find you. You have my word, as an Asgardian and as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D."

Oh. That was what he had meant by pledge. His mode of silence transitioned his mind, basking his body in the customary quiet that he knew was part of who he was now. But for someone who barely knew him, someone who knew him in battle but not on a personal level to ensure that he was given his trust and care, he had to say something. He couldn't just let silence and his inability to speak his mind hurt the god.

"I...I...thank you. Yes, thank you. You barely know me, and you've just signed up to be my personal body-guard. You're a good man." Technically, god, but Thor understood. The god's face split into a smile of genuine mirth, his cheeks filling out with a happiness that Steve had known on the faces of children when their fathers returned home from work, an innocent quality that he had seen written on the expressions of the youngsters that had seen his films so many years ago. It was a look that stated that even a god could have a sense of wonder and wisdom about him, a redeeming note to humanity. If Thor was on their side, a comforting and fiercely protective soul, the world would be just fine.

"You are very welcome." Standing up with a grace that didn't match his size, Thor gestured to Steve's bed. "Now, rest. I am thankful that you confided in me, but it's time to dream of glories undiscovered and battles that have yet to be fought."

Steve honestly believed that he could sleep now, alone, without the thought of waking up in sweat or by the sound of his own screams, but Thor would have none of it. Instead of going back to his own room for much-deserved sleep of his own, Thor took the chair that he had previously been seated in, placed his feet on the bed at an angle, and closed his eyes.

"I will be here. You rest." Steve was about to argue and say that he was a grown man, more than likely the closest person in age to Thor, but what he heard in the god's voice killed the words before they were spoken. It was the softest voice he had ever heard Thor speak in, a notch of volume barely above a whisper, filled in full with vulnerability.

This was what someone would have done for a younger brother, for a sibling that had a nightmare. This was what an older brother would do for a sister, for a brother or a cousin that crawled into bed, trembling from the dark of the night and the visions in their head. This was a more grown-up version, but it was far more than simply keeping one another company: ultimately, it was therapy for the both of them.

He had never asked what happened to Loki, if his brother had been sentenced to death or thrown into a realm without fear of the trickster escaping. He was curious with the rest of the assemble, yes, but when Thor had returned two weeks after Loki's capture, there was no approaching him with the subject. Steve had never seen anyone look more broken. Blue eyes were downcast shards of painted glass, smears of black under his eyelids exposing sleep-loss, or a complete aversion to the act in full. His movements were disjointed, his flesh and bone sorrow's puppet, tragedy trailing him wherever he roamed. The saddest part was when he kept looking up from whatever he had used to distract himself, be it a piece of technology, training, or a meal, as if expecting for someone to walk in the room, for someone to complete the circle of his life. Something was missing, but forlorn's paramour was an ill-fitted substitute.

Thor was hurting just as deeply as he was, but for a completely opposite reason. The god needed purpose, something to drive him into the creature that he once was, just so that he could be healed.

One truth was for certain, Steve considered as he settled himself in bed, listening to Thor's method of waking him up if he was to rouse - a small kick to the right calf - : the god would be in his prayers tonight, more so than before.

He wanted to say something, something of importance and healing significance that would show Thor just how deeply he appreciated this, the fact that someone cared enough to sit him down and talk and not only talk, but it never happened. Steve was greeted with a gentle snore, a sound of surprising soothing quality that ensconced itself into his mind, beneath his body.

The covers were still warm, the lights dimmed, and nightmare noted the thunder god in the room, fleeing back to the shadows from which they came.

Sleep wouldn't be an issue tonight, as it was a very certain reality.


...'Cause all I'm feeling now.

Is the weight of the world bearing down.

I don't have answers to any of my questions anymore...

End of Part I.