This chapter melted my heart, made me cry, and gave me a good parting feeling for this finale. I have my drabble collection with them, "What Buoys Me (Your Resolute Amity)" and another coming out just as soon as possible, along with a story that stars them, and Tony with Loki. Rewriting Marvel movies, one prompt at a time thanks to seizure7.
This one is for you guys. Thank you for making me feel so joyous by creating this, and for enjoying this pairing as much as I do. From the bottom of my heart, you have my gratitude.
Here's to AUs, superheroes and how they inspire us, and this beautiful pairing. Steve and Thor, thanks guys.
Every Certainty of Slumber, of Color, Part II
Throughout the week, Thor had granted him several other presents that he had expected fully, for Thor had hinted as subtly as he was able to about how much he would enjoy them when he understood their meaning.
None of this was made privy to the team, but there was no disguising the little skip in his step during that week, a week that made Clint smirk at him as if he knew precisely what was going on in the training showers, knowledge that made Tony alter between making gagging noises and outright inquiries on the consummating of the marriage.
"You know, if you two ran away and got hitched in Vegas a week before your birthday, I am both hurt and a little flattered. Hurt, because the craps table is my dear friend and I could have thrown you something as small as you would have liked - with fireworks - and flattered because you knew what you wanted and went for it." Tony's pride all but filtered through his gaze, for it showed Steve that Tony was that way and every-time, he got what he wanted.
Steve sighed and shook his head at the marital insinuations. "Sometimes things aren't as they appear." And with that, he left the grousing scientist and royal-pain-in-the-ass to his musings about whether or not he and Thor were legally bound or not. Mysteries could be fun.
The bread that had been the precursor to their first "official" time sleeping together and consummation of their relationship had been true to the assumption, delicious. The loaf all but melted against his tongue, the flavors permeating through his taste buds, as if in the attempt to bury itself deep within his memories. It wasn't enchanted, but it was made with all the care and the act of courtship behind the wheat, and every ingredient was selected, the yeast rising and bound immediately in the resplendent cloth so as to remain as warm as possible for the trip back to Midgard. The grapes were unlike anything he had ever tasted here, even in the local farmer's markets and places that used no artificial sweeteners to saccharine the organic fruit. They were sweet, seedless, and as far as he was concerned, the best grapes he'd had in his entire life.
To his chagrin, Thor caught him sucking his fingertips after the last grape was gone, and as cause, was met with a hearty laugh, a gentle squeeze to his shoulder revealing how the act had not made him think his lover fatuous or swine-like.
"I am glad they please you so; I selected them myself from a forest and trekked back to the palace to place immediately in the cloth. There are many sweet fruits known to Asgard and I shall bring you back many."
Steve immediately thought of a fridge and a crisper filled to the brim with a glut of seemingly mutated mangoes, peaches that seemed to possess an inner-shimmer to the skin of the fruit, and all the grapes he could eat, balanced on his stomach as he was being read poetry.
"If I'm not careful, I'm going to become used to being so taken care of." Mischief was not known to touch the sky-blues Steve adored, but this time was the exception. The truth all but sang through Thor's eyes: that was exactly what the Prince of Asgard wanted, for Steve to be used to someone dotting on him, someone taking the extra mile to prove that he was special, worthy of this privileged treatment.
"You see through my scheme yet; how am I ever to remain secretive around you?" The hand that had settled in its place against the meat of his shoulder slid down his back, Steve responsively leaning closer until he was nearly sprawled against the god's lap, his nose and mouth against Thor's neck.
"I don't like secrets. I like surprises though, but I've always thought there was a difference." His voice held a wavering tremor in the syllables indicating just how deeply, how sensitive his back was to this tender treatment. This provoked the god further, granting him a massage against his bones through his clothing, eyelids fluttering closed against Thor's neck.
"I am allowed to surprise thee? At least, to attempt a valiant effort?"
"Of course; go bananas."
Thor had no idea what this meant, but after an explanation of the hyperbole and the expression that meant to "go crazy" he laughed with genuine mirth. It was a happiness that was not on tentative ground, but one that had been earned - not poorly bought at the expense of the miseries of others - but remained as a show of what they had passed through, what they were still passing through. It was the laughter of someone who was beginning to feel better.
"I shall keep that in mind; your next gift shall be hidden until you have use of it." Steve wondered if he would find a little furry animal in his sock drawer or a plate of meats being set at his usual place setting for dinner, but the reality was far more solid.
In fact, it all-but glimmered.
His shield was in dire need of a replacement strap, and no matter how many times Fury claimed that he could always hire someone to make sure his shield remained top-notch and prepared for battle, he preferred to polish and replace the straps himself. There was something oddly soothing about the route and rhythm of shining the star emblem, of understanding how the shield had been made, of recollecting in his memories without falling into the mayhem of his thoughts, the murk far from his present state, this happy state. It was important to know where you had come from.
What he found the day he chose to replace the strap had elicited a double-take, suspect vandalism or some un-amusing joke Tony paid him - as pay-back for not telling him about why there was an extra smile on his face as of late - but the truth was little less than the next set of promised presents.
He believed that they were runes, runes emblazoned with gemstones that glittered against the vibranium and the paint that polished his shield to a spherical device of protection, of severing. At least, he thought that was what they were called. Symbols perhaps, symbols that no human or earth language could distinguish, symbols that were filled with rubies and diamonds, hints of sapphire lining the edges of the shield.
Instead of making the weapon appear feminine in any manner, or ostentatious as he feared, it added a certain gleam, a touch of weaponry that made the shield sing, proclaiming to all that he could both guard and emit beauty, both protect and reveal that there was more to him than red, white, and blue.
If anyone ever claimed Thor didn't listen, that would earn them a one-way ticket to getting their head slapped by his own hand.
"How in the world did you manage to place this here without being seen?" Thor chuckled faintly, pressing his fingers against the handiwork that had been made of his shield.
"That means that you find my tampering of your weapon permissible? I did no wrong?" Thor was many things, but pensive and doubtful of his actions would never be him. Until right now, until he had something to feel nervous about, someone to inspire this sort of fear within him.
And that person, to his disbelief and inner-skepticism, was him.
In some ways Steve reasoned, the god now knew how Steve felt when he had handed over the profile he had made of him, with the many emotions that arose as consequence of such a profound exposure of his soul, a gift from the heart that was known to inspire such feats, the thought that maybe he had pushed too far. There was no such thing with them.
It was Steve's turn to squeeze Thor's shoulder, clapping his back in a friendly show of affection that was reflected in the mirrors of the weapon's room as being simply that: friendly. The hand that lingered and released only to grip the god's hand showcased so much more, an admission that Steve would let anyone witness without shame or fear of being too intimate in public.
"I really like this. And it's activated by my fingers?" The gems would reflect off both sunlight and the moon, and if Steve chose to fly low on the radar, he would simply brush his fingers against the gems and runes, his desire to remain invisible transferring to the living and breathing decoration. The gift to choose freely, the gift of understanding that he was more than the costume, more than a weapon and fail-safe.
"Only by yourself; I forfeited all ownership when I placed the enchantment upon it. This took a little more care, but my payment remains in my sights," Thor stated all the while never taking his eyes off Steve's "a reward that I never knew I could gain."
No matter how often he was with Thor, and no matter how often the god's tendency to compliment him and treat him as if he was the greatest creation in existence, his skin always managed to retain a heated flush whenever such exchanges were made. His neck tingled and he was certain that he was blushing, blushing like a girl at the sock-hop who found that her partner could cut the rug and cut it good.
And no matter how often he tried, he couldn't disguise the coloring of his cheeks from Thor, who found it breathtaking, - the god's choice of words not his own - such a raw show of feeling.
"This means a lot to me, so much to me. Thank you." His fingers traced the symbols while Thor explained that they were runes for protection, granting him the worthiness of Asgard, of the Realms entire, as well as the show of just who gave him such a decoration: the Odinson, marking him as the official consort and partner of Asgard.
It had been permanent the moment Thor had pledged fealty to his person all that time ago in the darkened night, that if there had ever come a day when the world suddenly had no use of him, a day in which he was rendered comatose and frozen on ice, he would seek him out. This was just further evidence of what could come from words, what came from confession and growing close with another, with a fellow warrior who knew him better than almost anyone in the world at his current state.
As such, gratitude was given in silence, his eyes seeing nothing more than the tender gaze he was bestowed, his shield placed away with a gentle stroke of the armor which activated the symbolic decoration and gems for all to openly see. This granted him a guide to the wall, his mouth captured by willing forces, lips dripping with sentiment that was for his ears alone, wandering hands finding where they needed to be, lost warmth and limbs knowing no more loss.
The knock on the door to the weapon's room detached them momentarily, and they greeted Clint with a nod, Thor not bothering to disguise the way his hair had all but been parted to the right with Steve's passionate carding and Steve wondering if the mark that bruised his neck was really as purple-red as he believed it to be.
Clint met their pleasantries with a two-fingered wave as he grabbed three items, one of which looked like a very dangerous explosive device to be attached to arrows. Steve liked to think of Clint as the member of the team that missed nothing, and he had been one of the two who had bet that there was something going on between him and Thor far before he and Thor knew there was something going on themselves.
"That's why I knock; I don't wanna interrupt anything in any room. You didn't need to stop on my account." The arrow-smith winked and did a half-jog and skip out of the room, off to either greet Natasha or work on some invention that would leave any further gods of mischief hurtling off the backs of aliens.
Neither were too sure on what happened, but they knew that the mood hadn't been killed between them so much as it was slaked until they found their bedroom, and as such, both Thor and Steve left the room, grinning like two lovelorn fools who didn't have a care in the world. This was how it felt to feel carefree, to forget culpability and leadership and simply be, no matter if they had been caught in the act by a very intelligent, all-knowing archer.
Said all-knowing archer suddenly appeared in their line of vision not moments after they exited the room and if Steve could give his opinion, he would say that Clint seemed to be hanging from the door jamb, or the rafters by little more than his shoes. Were there shoes that could do such a thing nowadays, allow for Clint to walk on walls? Nothing would surprise Steve any more if that was truth.
With a wry smile that became a cheeky grin, Clint's purpose was revealed with a single sentence. "Oh, and happy early birthday!" The arrow-smith flipped himself up, seeming to disappear in the rafters that he was most comfortable perching in. If he lived in the ceiling, that wouldn't surprise Steve in the least.
Thor declared that he rather liked Barton and Steve was inclined to agree, not only to admiring the man's quirks with his obvious skills, but with the steadily growing reminder that he had been wrong in the most beautiful and self-salvaging way. The Avengers were far more than forced roommates and battle-buddies; they were thoughtful and earnest in their own way and right, some choosing biting humor, others with gentle and barely-there smiles, or in the manner of allowing lab access at all hours of the night.
They were not only co-existing because of necessity; they were getting along because they wanted to be.
And that made it a very early happy birthday indeed, knowing that the team that he was in the process of attempting to lead was making not only nice but very nice with each other.
It was good to be wrong sometimes.
There was the proof that he had survived another year with the passage of time, marking his day of birth as something that he celebrated with silent gratitude. Another year to make himself that much braver, that much better, more days to strive for self-improvement that he hoped would benefit the world in which he lived.
That didn't necessarily mean that he had ever made it a big deal. He had remembered little presents and a breakfast that his mother prepared in his childhood, waffles, pancakes, eggs and bite-size sausage for her growing boy. She couldn't afford a bicycle or that new robot that was advertised on the television, but she bought him clothes that fit snug to his body, clothes that didn't need to be darned for the third time that year, a new pair of pants or a much appreciated pair of tennis shoes or loafers. And every year, she had made him a small cake with butter-cream frosting, lighting a single candle in the middle of the messy scrawl of his name for him to blow out, for him to wish for something, anything his heart desired.
He had always wished that he could get bigger, stronger, better than he was before. If he had the capability of changing himself so that he could take care of his mother, of his friends, then perhaps he could learn to take care of the world.
'Give me the strength to make a change. God, give me the strength to make it.'
His wish was not only answered but fulfilled in the truest way possible. By all laws of science, he was lucky to be alive. A serum that could turn a scrawny little kid with health problems off the charts into the nation's best and brightest super-soldier? That sounded far too good to be true, far too dangerous to be anything other than a gamble on his life.
But it was a chance. It was a chance that he took and had the guts to follow through on, even when his blood was burning in his veins, when his body was screaming that he'd had enough, that there was no way that he could survive this. They would sooner wheel out a corpse than they would create something worthy enough, tall enough or battle-ready enough to serve his country.
'Give me the strength to survive this. God, give me the strength to survive this, I'm begging you.'
And survive, the little numbers on his clock that presented the neat hour of midnight on July 4th presented that he had bested the odds, survived against the brutality of fire and the trial of ice, and not only survived, but flourished.
That was as good a cause to celebrate as any, the truth that he was alive and breathing instead of locked in some fridge or heavily-guarded room, dripping his days away until his heart beat coursed harsh, cold life back into his body.
'I was given the strength to survive this. God, you gave me the strength to survive. Let me live in the moment today, no matter what the day may bring.'
Thor had watched the numbers on the clock click with him, for he had insisted on staying up with him to celebrate in the cool, dark light of their shared room. 11:34 p.m was recorded first, their conversation hushed and low, kisses exchanged and fingers interwoven together. 11:50 p.m came around when Thor drowsily poked his head out from the space in-between Steve's shoulder blade, cheerily reciting the time. Ten minutes and he'd be old enough to be an aging man in a soldier's body, in a young man's body.
When 12:00 a.m came on the dot, he told Thor that there was no one else right now that he would have liked to share this with. Had he been alone in his bed, without such a lover, he would have more than likely slept right through it.
No. No he wouldn't have. He would more than likely be shaking against his pillow, wondering if this was the moment when he would die, when the breath would be stolen from his body in a more permanent way, leaving him an ancient, withered thing on his mattress. He would be wondering if this was the year that he would die, for men were never meant to be immortal or live through nearly as much as he had. He had been spared, but to be cursed or struck from any chance at having a place in Heaven was as good as a death-sentence. He would think himself a damned thing, bound by time and out of time all at once, unfortunate for missing his chance at something normal, at something permanent, a time with Peggy and whatever Bucky chose for his life.
He wouldn't have been able to see that today was more than just a chance to reflect on what had passed, for that time had come and gone. He wouldn't have been able to see that today wasn't just another day, ordinary in every form. There would be no clear-sight, foolish misery coloring his vision in grey no matter the streamers and decorations that would have covered the mansion on Tony's none-too-gentle insistence on throwing him a party. He'd miss what was in front of him entirely, because there was no one to shake him from the tightly-wrapped cocoon that he had made of his life, complete with enough soul-searching to make even the most nostalgic and nomadic spirit weary.
That was why he was thankful to Thor for this reality, and for so much more.
He rolled over to rest his head in the space between Thor's neck and shoulder, the scent of the god's soap of choice mingling with his naturally sweet and masculine aroma nothing short of a reminder of his belonging. It was the thing that he needed that he could never find the words for, the thing that he would never be able to name or attempt to shape, this reminder of being soothed and contrary-wise, that he was in turn soothing the god.
The hand against the curvature of his hip was physically emthere/em and proof that the both of them were alive, their warmth and body outlines upon the mattress the evidence of how they had endured all, strove and found far more than impasses of the heart and mind.
This was real, true; they were alive.
This would be a day that he wasn't plagued by nightmares or by reminiscent haunts of that dangling, knife-sharp word of "what-if." Any day that wasn't spent in grim rumination was a day well-spent, which made it far past the ordinary.
Maybe, the lips against his ear whispered, the scruff of a neatly trimmed beard tickling his cheek all the while, it was time to start celebrating his life to the fullest of his abilities, beginning right now.
After all, he did have seventy years worth of birthdays to make up for.
The persistent buzzing over the mansion's AI intercom system at 10 in the morning roused him from his dreamless slumber, sleep-heavy eyes seeking the source of the disturbance. There were no giant speakers on the walls or the door, nor were there buttons or gadgets that would make his head spin that could have made such a sound.
"Morning guys. There's breakfast downstairs of all sorts if you want it, or if you just want it sent up to your room, I volunteer Clint; I've seen Thor naked too many times and I don't care for an eye-full today, especially when we have so much planned." Thor's rumbling laughter canceled out Steve's urge to grumble and bury his head in the pillows. Had everyone seen Thor naked at some point or another? And planned? What plans?
The voice was Tony's, making this unseen intercom system delivered straight from the heart of Stark technology. It figured that he wouldn't be able to find it and just shut off Tony's voice entirely, but the gesture was very kind, the kindest Tony Stark could be when promising bacon and eggs.
"Now, I know you didn't really want something extravagant, but I didn't hear you." Something that sounded like Bruce slapping Tony's arm jostled the sound for a moment. "Alright fine, I didn't listen because we both know how good I am at that. A guy only turns ninety-four once in his life and it's cause to celebrate." Something that sounded like a champagne bottle popping its clamped cork hissed through whatever room Tony and Bruce were in, and he heard what sounded like a good-natured chortle through the cloaked speaker-system. "So get out here and celebrate Rogers, we have a full agenda. I rented out a stadium, bought a petting zoo, and procured a blimp that will pass by the windows every five minutes that shows dancing girls saluting to your day of birth."
Now he was up. "He didn't." Steve was fully nude as he all about stumbled out of bed, hastily grabbing what looked like Thor's choice of sweatpants to cover himself. No matter how changed the century, he would never go to the window naked, despite the reasoning behind such an act or how seemingly "private" the mansion grounds claimed the land was.
He pressed his face to the glass, looking left and then right for a giant, egg-shaped balloon that showcased women on some technological do-hickie doing things in short outfits that had nothing whatsoever to do with innocent celebrating. There was nothing aside from the mid-morning sunlight to greet him.
An average day, but not in the least. Ordinary without being mundane, a day of possibility. And Tony lying about gifts fell neatly into such a category.
Thor however had no qualms about sitting up in bed, stretching with a contented exhalation, and padding through the half-maze of their clothing to the window, fully nude. The warm cage of familiar arms wrapped around his hips, his body falling against Thor's chest a reaction as automatic as breathing, conscious thought replaced with leaning into the towering heat that engulfed him, that greeted him with a silent good morning.
Five minutes more of half-heartedly seeking a scandalous balloon prompted conversation, Thor having relished enough attention on his neck to make up for time spent without Thor's lips on his skin.
"When you rose before me on this day, no matter how sweet the slip into slumber proved, I thought that a night-terror disturbed your sleep." No matter if the both of them had been roused by Tony's insistent tenor echoing in their heads, their present fear remained when either of them started awake suddenly: that the past would repeat, a past in which one of the both of them would be forced to endure the torment of their minds and what had transpired before once and then again, without end. There had been nothing thus far that proved that it was nothing more than a past, burning fear and it had remained simply as that: a trace of worry and nothing else.
"I haven't had a nightmare in months. It's hard to be scared when there's a big, strong guy next to you all the time." The only things he dreamt about lately were hard to discern, difficult to place into proper words. There was as Thor had proffered as the word of choice before, peace there, in the world that was entirely his, a world of imaginings in which the photograph Peggy gave him smiled, a time in dreams when he had been praying and felt Bucky press his physical hand to his shoulder and say that it was alright, a corner of his thoughts in which Elksine waved at him from his place in the lab and told him he did good. Images that burned bright and true behind his eyes, granted at the end by a pressing of very real warmth to his hip, representing that in this bed he was not alone, that if he needed it, he would be shaken gently awake and asked to regale what he had seen if he wanted to open up.
Thor laughed at the comment, a laugh that was free from the austerity that painted his inquiry with the doubt of what had passed between the two of them. "And contrary, there is no trouble I have in sleeping. Your presence erases any thought of my undoing by memory's plight and the woes of what has passed."
Both knew that Thor stated that because it hadn't always been that way with him. The night Thor professed what had happened to Loki, Steve awoke to Thor nearly tearing the mattress apart with his bare hands, as if he were seeking something with a desperation that no barrier, be it feather-filled or steel-plated could keep him from.
He had roused the god as gently as he could and was met with a hint of the savagery that colored Thor's actions a bleeding and unending red, the blood he would surely spill to have his brother with him, alive even. There was nothing Steve could say, no word that would bring his brother back, nothing that could reset what had been done, what was dead and gone. There was however the assurance of his arms, arms that Thor claimed he could find solace in on any given day or night or hour in-between, the way that he was so certain his grip would remain tireless and ever-patient to the trembling god in his embrace, knowing that if he pressed hard enough he would not break the god's bones.
All that time he gave an honest attempt at light thoughts, not wishing to blame a now deceased brother for the cause of the love of his life's tears and night-time grief. He succeeded and thanked God that his lover could not read his mind. There was no need to blame anyone; there was only the desire to move forward, to get through the shadow nights to the surely golden dawn that would light their way. Day by day, one step at a time, one shake and nudge to the waking world in which neither would leave each other's sides.
The night after, there had been no nightmares, no ripping of the sheets or padding of their mattress. There had been only slumber, only the repeated mantra that Steve was there for Thor, would be there for as long as he wanted him.
To which Thor had replied, "Always. Until the end of my life, and then in Valhalla you will be mine still."
Nothing grim touched them that night, or for many weeks afterwards. There was no need for a psychiatrist, for medication, for trying to get others to understand situations that they could only grasp at the fleeting impressions of themselves. They needed only one another for that, for they had gone so openly and naked before one another time and again that there was no other that could help them with this onward struggle, a struggle to find a better frame of mind.
Fully and truly, they had helped one another out of personal griefs and would continue to do just that.
"But no more of ill-thoughts: to the matter of this praised day, I wish to save my gift to you for later, my love. I do not want for it to outshine the rest, but I would prefer it in such an order. At present, I do not think it can compete with promises of gyrating women in your colors of choice."
Steve chuckled and resisted the urge to knock his head against the glass several times at the reminder of that terrible, foreboding balloon. "Tony means well. He just has a funny way of showing it. Also, the gift probably will. As horrible as that is to admit, your gift will be different than the rest because you're just you."
Lips curved into a smile at his neck, presenting two truths: he had succeeded not only in stroking the god's ego, but in making Thor feel good about himself and his excellence at gift-giving. This day would be more than being forced to sit through songs and exaggerated joy and wondering just how much others had spent on him; it was a day that was solely for him, something that his mind and heart tried to assure him that he deserved, that he had earned, that he was cared for and cherished to the point where others were willing to devote time and money on him.
"I am no other and will remain as such, for this is what you cherish and love. Besides, I can no more impersonate Lady Natasha than Stark can master the art of subtle presentation."
Steve laughed, long and hard at that statement, his very outline met with a contentment that all but seeped into the frame of his body first, skin and hair follicles coated with what was sure to be the joy of the day, his blood set to sing, lungs filling with had he last laughed like this? When had he felt so alive, so innocent, the promise of such a day bringing nothing but an unknown that would surprise him in the way that he loved most?
Not since he had woke up, in both the figurative and literal sense, to what the world had to offer. Shades of grey could be beautiful things.
As it turned out, the horrible balloon had been little more than many balloons that had been scattered throughout the kitchen, the rubber of the balloon reflecting many women giving him salutes with their bare thighs, while the clothes they wore could hardly compensate for being labeled as clothing. He had told Tony that maybe if he applied himself, he would be able to find a cure for cancer with the way he paid so close detail to every color of the leathery, shimmery clothing.
The presents had come first before the breakfast - Steve had insisted that he could wait until after breakfast, but Tony would have none of it - and he had reluctantly complied, sitting at the head of the table, leaning back in his chair to wait for whatever manner of surprises he would find.
"Are you going to sing to me?" Clint chuckled, revealing what looked like a harmonica from his back-pocket, gave it a quick look, and proceeded to toss it to the couch.
"Actually, I can't play the harmonica. But sure, yeah, let's do it!" The look on Thor's face from his place against the adjacent chair was a mixture of disbelief and utter confusion, his eyes scrunched together, as if his mind was working at lightning-fast speed to come up with a song on a whim to sing to him.
Before Steve could reach over and say it was alright, or quickly tell him the lyrics to the song he couldn't have possibly known, Tony piped in, chugging champagne all the while. "Ah! Wait! Thor probably doesn't know the song, do you big guy?"
Two minutes, a napkin with the lyrics and a surprisingly harmonious group of voices later granted him with the birthday song, all the while a cake was lowered from the ceiling on what appeared to be robotic claws, revealing a butter-cream cake, his name scrawled, a single candle in the middle of the confection.
Never had he enjoyed being the center of attention, especially when it was a matter of media necessity. He didn't think that he'd ever get used to having all eyes on him, on his face and outfit, ready and salivating for his flaws, for whatever he didn't want shown.
This was diametric circumstance at its finest, because the eyes that were on his were gentle, genuine, filled with the true want to sing to him - no matter how asinine or childish the concept was, for it was tradition - pinching his heart with how deeply he had been wrong in the beginning.
He was needed here more than he was wanted. There was no way anyone could fake these expressions, Tony with his inebriated yet steady gaze, Bruce and the way he began clapping with Clint at the end, Natasha and her illusory yet present smile, and of course, Thor's eager expression, his eyes never leaving his for one moment. He belonged here, of that he was most certain, and it was enough to set his soul afloat, the fact that he'd found anchors.
Anchors, like the way Thor reached over to take his hand unabashedly, his grip firm and set on providing Steve a sense of comfort he never believed he'd find, or experience again.
If anyone saw tears in his eyes as he blew out the single candle, no one commented, and for that, he was thankful.
"This is my favorite cake. How'd you know?" Tony tapped his head, then impersonated a French accent, twirling an imaginary mustache as he sought silverware, claiming that in a past-life, he was a baker named Sebastian Jean-Pierre and he specialized in cakes of this design.
"But enough of ze past; onwards to ze presents!"
Natasha stated something in perfect French then, and Clint clutched the table, his laughter infectious.
Bruce handed him a thick bundle, all sparkly wrapping paper and a gold bow in the middle, his smile sheepish and forthcoming all at once. "Happy Birthday. Hope you like them."
Steve accepted, proclaiming in earnest that he would, and tore into the paper with an exuberance he hadn't had since he was twelve and there was more than two presents under the tinsel tree in his living room.
There were five books total, some on science and others on how world view's had changed, pertaining to philosophy and breaking down history in easy to understand segments, referencing something called "pop-culture" and all the idiosyncrasies of each era. Something much-needed, something Steve could see himself reading with earnest.
"Oh wow. Thank you, thank you so much." Steve set them in a neat stack, affectionately rubbing his hand over the covers. Bruce ducked his head, his smile a present and easy thing.
Tony cleared his throat, placing a small box on the table, right beside a slice of cake that had been sliced for everyone, cake that Thor had begun eating only when Steve said that he could help himself.
"Now this might not be what you're expecting." Steve wondered just what the hell was in this box. If it was two plane tickets to some remote corner of somewhere in Vegas with a chapel, or a credit card with an endless limit, he wouldn't know what to do at all. "You have this whole Steve-in-headlights look right now. Just open it, it won't bite, and it's nothing bad. Breathe. Hee hoo hee. You with me?"
Steve's eyes flitted over Tony's, catching his expectant gaze, noting no hint of mischief there. He guessed he wasn't used to Tony behaving quite so well when it came to him.
He opened the box, noting what appeared to be a small silver...thing. That was really the only word for it, the thing in the box that was coated in lustrous metal.
"Now, this can do anything. Anything at all. A sonic-screw driver of sorts." Bruce massaged the space between his eyes, murmuring something about Tony being a closet fan of Doctor Who after all - who was the Doctor and why was he called Who? - all the while Tony kept talking, explaining that if he forgot a password, the keys to his motorcycle or anything, this device could open any door for him. It could also count as a can opener, a paper-weight, a dense enough weight about it that could be used as a weapon, a pen, pencil, and a true-and-blue screw driver.
"Just point and aim, and the device will do the work."
"Thank you. Thank you for making something for me, for taking the time to..."
Tony, none-too-gently, clapped his hand over Steve's mouth. "Hey. Enough of that. Enjoy yourself today, buddy. You're very welcome and all that." Tony released his hold on Steve's mouth, wiping his hand on the seat of his pants, turning to face Thor afterwards. "That, what I just did, that doesn't make you jealous or anything, right? Because I just want you to know that I'm rooting for you two and I have every intention of throwing you two a wedding one day."
Thor tilted his head, still chewing on his slice of cake, his mouth coated with a hint of frosting. "Not in the least, Anthony." With the way the god held his head, pronounced his tone and eyed Steve from the corner of his eye, it was as good as any proclamation that there was nothing Tony Stark - even if he was the Tony Stark - could do to interfere or harm what they shared.
"Good. Thanks. Thank you. Phew." Tony leaned against the table, his face all contentment and his ever-present smirk settled against his lips, stating that lovebirds ever would be lovebirds.
Natasha chose that moment to walk over, place a piece of paper by his plate, and kiss his cheek when he asked what was on the paper.
"Coordinates Cap'. Best place on Earth." She gave him a wink, her full lips turning into a gentle smile. "For you and Thor." A trip, the best place on Earth, a mystery. And he had always loved mysteries. Steve figured that this was her way of repaying her indifference earlier with this present - and though she had nothing whatsoever to atone for, Steve appreciated the effort and the product nonetheless.
While Thor lavished Natasha with praise for her generosity and consideration to include him on this special day, Clint placed a small, quarter-sized device by his fork.
"Be careful with this. It's an explosive and a stun. It'll attach to your shield when you want it to hit or temporarily incapacitate your target." Clint clapped his shoulder, eye-balling his slice of cake then, shoving part of it in his mouth. "You're a good guy," his frosting-laden voice proclaimed, earning him a good-natured "hoo-rah" and another "Happy Birthday" from the team, Tony drinking and Natasha lifting her fist with Thor for emphasis on his goodness.
"Now, I lied about the petting zoo, because I didn't know if you were allergic to goats or not, but I wasn't kidding about renting out a stadium downtown. It's ours. We'll see baseball, have a cook-out and watch the fireworks. Because, as it stands, your patriotism allowed you to be born on the 4th of July."
At that moment, the sound of rubber grating against glass alerted Steve to the truth: that Tony really had bought a blimp. Without the dancing girls, but a blimp nonetheless, and it was outside the window right then, attracting attention and giving Fury another ulcer mixed with an aneurysm with the amount of unnecessary publicity it granted the Avengers, even if one of their own was turning ninety-four today. Public outing or not, there was a blimp there with his name on it.
"Thank you. I've never ridden on a blimp before. And let me guess, you rented the baseball team?"
"Better. I bought them for the night. The Yankees and I have a strictly professional relationship however." Steve imagined Tony walking right up to the coach and throwing money at him, asking for permission to use the team for the night, while the fireworks were going off. "The rival team too, someone I've never heard of, but it'll be a hell of a game at the Yankee Stadium."
The Yankee Stadium. He rented out the Yankee Stadium for him, just because it was his birthday.
'Breathe. God, help me breathe.' "Thank you, really, thank you. Are you..."
"Don't make me shut you up again. It's fine, really." Steve swore that for half a minute, thirty seconds that made Bruce shake his head at the grin Tony managed to wrest from his lips, Tony looked like Howard Stark, like the father who believed in him and had a large hand in making him who he was. Not what he was, because he was not an object nor some instrument to be of use to the peace of the world, but an actual person, a human being with thoughts, feelings, and elated emotions mixing with a general anxiety about today.
Tony looked younger. In fact, they all looked younger, Clint licking the frosting from his plate, Natasha shoving his shoulder in a good-natured show of affection, Bruce grinning away in that subtle way of his, and Thor watching this all with a bemused, tender affection, the kind that camaraderie was akin to bringing.
It really was fine. It was better than fine, it was perfect. More perfect than he believed today would be had he been alone, celebrating by himself in a way that would have by no means been healthy in the least.
"And wait until you see the state-of-the-art stadium technology. You're gonna love it. Big enough for all of us."
He would take what was offered to him with good-graces and the proof in the care that was bestowed to him, in every incredulous and innocuous way that the group was known to give. There were two sides to gift-giving after all.
"Well, for now, we'll leave you two alone. To get to the private gifts and all that, and whatever that may entail."
Before Steve could speak up and say that no, Thor's gift was coming later, he and Thor were alone in the kitchen.
"That wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." Thor squeezed his hand, his smile endlessly tender, directed to him alone.
"Celebrations are never a thing to be feared, only enjoyed with endless merriment. Especially if the celebration is directed unto you, toward a horizon of cheer, drink, and gifts that mirror the hearts of those who you call friends." Thor took a moment to stand, kneeling before Steve on one knee, his fist over his chest. Another pledge of fealty that paralleled their first night, before they knew each other, before they knew how darkness and terror could bind them? "I pledge to make this a day, with my future gift, to balance and bless you, my love, with the joy that you rightly deserve."
"Where I call home, there is a tradition between lovers that when their day of birth comes, an extravagant feast occurs until the end of the day. Such music and gifts, succulent fruits and drinks that my description gives little in regards to credence. In the night-hours, the lover makes it their personal duty to grant their loved one a single act, a single gift that so represents their affection. For a god's love is a mighty thing, an important thing, even to gods amongst gods."
Thor took his hand, placing a kiss against his knuckles, the god's eyes closing with the act, as if he wished to memorize and commit the taste of his skin to memory, to bury it within his lips, branding this moment in his heart. "I vow to any listening ear that I shall make this special for you, as special as one such as yourself rightly deserves. Free from hesitance, misery, indecision, free from any ill-gained uncertainties; for this I am certain: I will grant you color, the peace that you have told me that I give to you, as well as a thrill for as long as you will have me."
Anything he could have said would have been pitifully derived, half-concocted forms of gratitude that slipped from his lips, tumbling and twisting to the god's ears. That wasn't what he wanted to give Thor, the chaos of his thoughts, the tongue-tied proclivity that trailed after him every-time Thor went so openly before him.
He went to his knees, his hands resting on their natural place on Thor's neck, lips seeking only to find the mouth he was looking for. He tasted the sweetness of his favorite frosting, the truth of the day not being anything to fear, as well as immortal provisions for his spirit, his soul aching, searching with a trembling hand for something tangible, sedate and sturdy for however long he would live.
And if the look Thor gave him was anything to go by, it would be an eternity, layered upon the beautiful and never feared thought of forever.
If he was to live, live with the certainty that it would be a long, long life, he would have in Thor an eternal companion.
"I have no doubts; you've already given me all that and so much more."
The game was, as Tony promised, fantastic. There were personal chefs in the stadiums, serving up an endless amount of hot-dogs, hamburgers, and bratwursts, catering to any whim of their stomach, which Thor used to his full capacity. Eventually, they ran out of hot-dogs.
Steve had never known Natasha to be a fan of the sport, but whenever the team scored a home-run against the rival team, she began shouting in a mixture of Russian and English, startling everyone but Clint, who laughed and drank a lot of beer, humming Happy Birthday all the while.
There was enough room for Bruce, who occasionally stepped out and got fresh air when the noise became too much for him, and when he returned, he always looked refreshed and asked who was scoring, because his knowledge of sports amounted to playing basketball in his elementary school gym class.
Tony made a bet - which didn't surprise Steve in the least - about the Yankees winning with some poor person that severely underestimated Tony wanting to prove that he was right, which bought Tony some island off the course of Hawaii. Clint just laughed about it, claiming the guy was a sap for even trying.
Steve wanted to ask just what it was that Tony and Clint made a bet about - with money nonetheless, God knew Tony had enough of it - when it came to the early stages of him and Thor, far before he and Thor were considered a socially-known "item" of sorts, but he figured it out with all the subtlety of a slap in the face. It was when he and Thor would become a socially-known item, not if and apparently, Tony thought they would come clean far sooner than Clint had.
He supposed it really didn't matter how fast or how soon it had happened, so long as it had happened. There was nothing worse than hanging in limbo, in the knife-sharp's edge of an ambivalence that was granted by yourself and your own shortcomings and misgivings that doubt could provide.
Everything was still in the learning-stages, a work-in-progress that was part of some larger learning curve that he was more than willing to participate in, more than willing to try his hand at, no matter any reluctant of hesitant part of him that stated that he should just go where it's quiet, avoid loud, spontaneous baseball fans, colors and streamers and cakes that were handed on him from Heaven by robotic, Stark-made hands.
The message was loud and clear, a message that overflowed with life, reaching out and shoving him in the most gentle and tender way possible toward the middle of the baseball field, because Tony let slip that it was his birthday, and that Captain freakin' America should pitch and know what it was like to feel the turf of the field.
Instead of politely claiming that although it was awfully nice of them to consider him to be the guy to throw the pitch, the special pitch, he would stay in his seat, no matter the jeers of those around him, claiming that he was chosen, that he was worth such an honor, he accepted the privilege more easily than he could believe, because he earnestly wanted to.
Thor stood in the middle of the encourage-filled half-circle that had become the Avengers, his arms crossed and head tilted, eyes steady on his own, an indulgent smile turning his lips to the skies. This was a stance that let Steve know that Thor knew he was worthy of this, to throw a ball to an experienced athlete, an honor that was bestowed to the privileged few, which he had somehow become in the past two minutes.
"Aim straight and true, my love," were the parting words Thor gave him, along with a wink that made the heat rise to Steve's face.
He held his tongue at bay all the way to the field, knowing that though he normally would have avoided things like this, things that threw him into the heart of attention, all eyes on his retreating form - and more than likely a few camera phones with camcorder capabilities - as he took the stairs down and down to the center of the field, his grin light and easy, tugging his lips to the darkening night sky by his own desire to smile.
He threw the pitch as easy as he was able to, the man up to bat hit the ball sky-high, and his friends went wild. Because at the end, at this end that felt more like a beginning in every sense of the word, he was as worthy as he allowed himself to believe, his life was filled with the people he chose to make part of his life and every-day existence, and there was no greater time than now.
He had slept enough. And if it took a god who gripped him in an ecstatic, cheerful embrace upon his return to the luxury seating to shake him to life, then that was what it took.
Gifts came in two parts: how well you received and thanked the giver, along with what you chose to do with what was granted yourself. And with this unexpected, twisted and often violent concept of life he knew, he chose to live, live to the highest extent that he could. Not out of desperation, he figured as he very publicly and without fear kissed Thor openly on the mouth, or out of some deep-felt fear that he would be rendered of little use to the nation, which meant that he had to make the most of the now, but out of his own choices to make it something wonderful.
Because there was nothing quite so wonderful as being around people who you were beginning to know and enjoy the company of, nothing quite like the levity that was awarded when a god laughed against your mouth with the happiness you could provide him, as well as the thought that you weren't despairing about time that passed without having any say in it.
"Steve, you've seen fireworks, right?"
"Of course. I'm ninety-four, apparently, not that old."
"Just checking. You're still over-the-hill though. Ladies and gentlemen, Happy mother fucking Fourth of July."
Before Steve could reprimand Tony for his language, because this holiday was what made the U.S independent and free from the title of the 13 colonies forever, explosions colored the sky the shades of dreams.
There were eruptions that looked like multi-colored dandelions, seeds drifting out and imploding into miniature rockets, scattering through the sky with smoke, coating the tapestry of a darkness he had once feared with pigments of indescribable beauty. His breath was stolen when the sounds went off, when the show created shapes, the whistling noises snowballing into star-song, dispersing only to begin again. Greens that became gold, reds that faded into blues, slivers of white light striking up and beyond, vanishing into spheres of orange that shattered the night.
Everywhere there was light, everywhere there was sound, color and chaos combined to create something he hadn't seen in far too long, a simple beauty of celebration that he had banished to his happy memories, to that treasure trove when the world was innocent and untouched by war and what it would mean for the nation. Now he had something more to add to that capsule, if not unlocking it and exposing it to all sections of his life now and what it would mean to be exposed, to be let loose.
He found himself struck silent for the first ten rounds, and then he came alive, whooping and hollering, clapping like a mad-man, noting that the national anthem was playing all the while, the lights that came and went stained forever red, white, and blue. Beautiful colors, a beautiful namesake and only a burden if he allowed it to become one.
Synchronized lights now, in half-circles that unleashed small circles of fire of all shades of the rainbow, filling his eyes with tears that he made no effort to hide. Because right now, he was young, young and with friends with someone who had proven time and again that he loved him, youth spattering the skies with hard-won, succinct victory but artistic allure, a beauty that he reveled in, absorbed and felt soaking his skin, burrowing this moment of clarity and euphoria into his veins, embedded in the stream of his blood that let him know that he was most certainly not alone, that this was a fresh beginning, a beginning by fire, by warmth, by the color of a certainty that helped him breathe, breathe air un-chilled by some corner of the ocean.
Peace was abundant here, a thriving thing. He was alive, living a better life than he never believed he was capable of. He had gotten his wish, to be strong and to do what others couldn't. That didn't mean that he had to go at it alone, by the book of solitude that never resulted in anything good.
"Happy Birthday, Captain."
There had always been a small forest in the back of the mansion, a forest filled with trees, a small amount of wildlife, and plenty of privacy given by the blackness of the night. A night filled with the present sounds of rockets, of fire-call in the distance, but private enough to have a conversation.
Or receive a gift, the one that Steve had no doubt was reserved for the last for a reason. After all, at some point or another, he had stated that he enjoyed surprises.
"Never have I seen you more at ease, more open than tonight, Steven." Steve laced his fingers in Thor's as they walked from the back porch, beginning the easy trek to the forest.
"It was fantastic. I couldn't help myself. I can't believe I cried, but well, it's been awhile since I've seen something so beautiful. I don't remember the last time I saw fireworks." His smile was something bittersweet then. "I guess it gets easier to be open when you're finally beginning to feel comfortable."
Steve had a feeling Thor was smiling with endless abandon, happiness coloring the god's eyes the shades of elation. All because of something he had said, with something he had done. He was making the guy happy, and that was a big deal, because they were both still grappling with the thought of laying the past and all the horrors of that truth to rest. It made sense to celebrate these times where happiness was present, times when they could help one another with whatever it was they needed.
'God, thank you for helping us through this.'
"True words, Steven. There was comfort all around today, and I observed that it was all pointed towards you." Steve turned and noted that he had been right, that Thor was smiling in that tender way of his that let him know that there was nothing the god needed right then than the simplicity his touch provided, than his company and presence. Comfort in a steady courtship, comfort that was more than stability. Comfort in simply being.
"I just can't believe there was ever a time when I doubted I could be close to them. I mean, look what they did for me. You just don't go through the trouble of baking a cake and getting a present for someone who you don't really care all that much for."
"That should be proof of how sacred you are, Steven. How sacred you are in the eyes of those who glimpse you, who witness you in the thick of battle and are struck with blatant, blinding awe. How there is a certain light you emit, a ray of hope that has little hope of being extinguished by any foul phantom that chases your goodness, drawing all near to you. Drawing myself near to you."
They were halfway to the cluster of trees when they stopped, their legs stopping ceasing to move altogether in mid-stride. Steve supposed that this was what it felt like to feel change rippling through you, to feel that stimulating inertia of falling, of that uplift and ascension to a place you never once thought could exist, unfathomable in the depths of a sorrow un-pierced, far too shackled within yourself to consider breath, a shattering, a plunge into still-born delight.
Until a god delved where no one else dared brush upon, breaking through hardened resolve, immersing himself into all the hurt and making it his mission to not only save him from a war that he couldn't win, but the minor battles as well, the gun-fire that awoke and fractured his sleep, the god that refused to leave his bedside even when he was troubled himself. A dual remedy, an analgesic that purged wounds with steadily-driven cathartic speed, drive and concision coloring his world, gray, black, and white fleeing to the shadow-halls where they belonged.
He owed Thor so much, if not everything. He probably wouldn't have stayed here if Thor hadn't heard him scream, crying out in the night on words he couldn't remember any longer, pushing his way into what he feared without a hint of preamble or warning of a life-changing rift that would be his saving grace, his own personal redemption that he had no idea that he'd even needed.
Their arms were around one another, hands resting on the places they loved the most, Thor with his hands on that little spot in-between his shoulder blades and his hands on the back of Thor's neck, bodies pressed against one another until Steve swore that they were one in the same, that there was no such thing as being separate, amity and union making their beating pulses one.
"You know, I never have any way of replying to what you tell me. You always have a way of making me out to be this great person, ever since the beginning. Especially then, even when you didn't know anything about me. How can I thank you? How can I even begin?"
There was thunder that had nothing to do with a gathering of clouds above them; it was just the laughter of the god, of the god that proclaimed his love for him in words that would echo in his heart until his dying days.
"Gratitude need not always be spoken." Thor placed his hand on his face, bumping their noses together. "Your silence is as resonating and descriptive as verbal eloquence upon any word-smith's tongue. And your actions speak volumes eternal."
His smile was immediate, sedating him fully, any hint of final worry he had leaving fully then. The words were not spoken to placate him into silence, but to usher him into knowing that he was doing right, that there was nothing he was doing wrong in what they had.
Their kiss was soft, assurance pouring from his mouth like the words he meant to speak, the way he yearned to open up about every nuance that scarred him. And with the kiss that was returned, it was gentle insistence that this was more than enough, that there was no need for such doubts.
In his ears, there was the distinct noise of a crash, of something that was being torn asunder, again and again. What was it? More fireworks overhead, coloring their world? A thunderstorm that Thor commanded? Or, was it the leveling of the ground, the shifting of plates and movement of the world beneath his heels, roots and verdant green shooting forward, up and up, towards the light, towards color and certainty, towards every notion of a future? He had always wanted a way to fill that emptiness, the void that was a given by being separate from others in strength and experience; by that want, he was granted a godly reprieve.
Thor pressed his hand against his shoulder, pulling him close, separated only by their clothing, skin rubbing against skin, passion undulating and a very palpable thing, lashing them with what felt right, with what awoke and shook them from reveries that held them in devastation's grip, fighting with every breath to feel better, to find the energy to smile no matter the lives that had been lost, the mistakes that had costed more than their ill-spent pride.
"My gift to you, my love." Thor removed his hand from its spot against his back, the slice of godly metal shimmering through the air with a shaking, sibilant tenor. The hammer was in his hand before Steve could open his eyes, and when he did, he was blind-sighted by sheer beauty.
The fireworks had been duplicated, ensnaring the both of them in a dome-array of sounds, the boom and whistle of rockets of all colors and sizes circling around them, bathing them in the heat of the pyrotechnics, tendrils of smoke and the burn of cinders tickling his nose.
"How...what..." He gave up trying to say anything after a moment, settling his body against Thor's, awestruck into a silence that made his heart soar. The gods could capture beauty, duplicate it at their beck and call, for the whims of their lover's pleasure and utter enjoyment. What did it feel like he wondered, to have such force of mind, such personal strength that was matched by the truth of the title god, how it felt to be able to summon the elements of the storms with an ancient, enchanted tool that was an extension of one's own will?
It must have felt like this, the power and energy of the beauty that seeped into his bones once more, the moment re-lived in the subtle shake of the colors that were now solely his own.
He had turned to say thank you, turned only to realize that he was crying once more, crying and cheering and squeezing Thor until he thought that he was surely going to hurt the god. Thor only responded by saying, "Happy Birthday, my love. And, there is one other part. Prepare yourself."
Steve noted the intensity of the kiss, the crackle that made rockets flare up into the sky, booming and crashing a splash of color all around, the background noise to the sights that were being written behind his eyelids.
There were towering, gilded spires that reached up, far beyond anything gold should have had the ability to do. To do so would be to touch the sky, to be gods. This was Asgard then, behind his eyes and revealed as being a very real, very pure thing.
Thor was showing him his world, amidst a beauty that he had successfully stirred in his soul for the second time that night, all the while searing his mouth with a kiss that exhilarated him, pumping him full with something without bounds, without mortal limits.
For the moment they remained as immortal spirits, tangled and twisting, shouting as they sped up and through rivers that emitted steam, immersing themselves in the beauty of a nature un-tainted by anything man-made, tumbling through halls of golden majesty, large sentinels with weapons keeping pathways safe against ever-clear skies, summer an eternal and thriving entity here.
Songs, melodies. Many people seated at a table who suddenly stood up, cheering and raising jewel-encrusted goblets to the direction of where he felt himself falling, appreciation and acceptance in the eyes of these beings of legend and now, pure truth. Thor's friends and family, clapping at him, seeing him in this sight in-between sight. Thor's friends and family, accepting him as their beloved prince's consort.
A sense of perpetual belonging. That was the gift.
A raven-haired woman pounding at the table. A giant man with an unruly beard raising what appeared to be a turkey leg in one hand and a goblet of wine in the other. A man with a face of angles, clapping and easing out of his typical austere behavior to do so. Another man with a beard and thick mustache clapping, chanting something he couldn't quite hear.
And at the head of a table beyond description stood a woman with sun-woven hair piled into coils, braids twisting around her waist with her clapping, tears filling her vision, her body enclosed with silk and natural beauty, alongside her husband, a man with a settled eye-patch over his right eye, his hair snow and silver all at once, wisdom in his one eye that was matched evenly by the fortitude that layered him with more glory than poets could describe.
Thor's home, laid bare for him to see, laid bare for him to be accepted, cheered, and given a feast in his honor. He wondered if in time, he would get to see these sights in the physical, obliterating any thought of there being something keeping Asgard from him, from the thought of a true world beyond the stars that were held aloft by his belief in them.
He blinked and was back on Earth, or Midgard as Thor knew it, blown thoroughly away by what the day offered, by the sanctity of what was given and accepted in a far more profound way than he could have ever imagined.
They were greeted by the ebbing traces of the show of fire that colored their world red-violet, tendrils of smoke sweet, the night-air settling them into a high that left them reeling, breathless and panting against where they wound up tangled in each other's skins, hands everywhere and mouths against half-parted lips, whispering benediction and praise.
"That was...that...your home. You showed me your home, didn't you?"
"Aye. As we speak and lay, there is a celebration in your honor, towards the soldier that has captured the heart of Asgard." Somewhere beyond the stars, there were people - no, gods - rooting for him, praying and giving their blessing upon his life, allowing for them to be with their prince and soon-to-be king.
He was never alone. He had never been alone.
"Thank you. Thank you." His breath hitched then, and for the third time that day, he wept with an abandon that he hadn't had since he was a child, his breathing jagged and raspy, baptizing his sights with the clear-cut vision of the god who gripped him tight, holding him close.
"Shhh. Hush, my love, hush." Repetition, traditions, something good and whole, the promise of betterment that began with the start of the day, or when you wanted it to start.
No more tears.
Steve wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, focusing on the end of the show that washed his vision with the clarity of an innocence that eased him away from any fraction of loss, of what had been stolen, of everything wrong and unjust; he had just been given the kiss of life after all.
"Thank you. For everything. For helping me through, hell, for helping me live again."
"A thousand times more would I have done all for you. Nay, two-thousand. For the remainder of my life, my love." Thor's hand settled against his face, his gaze nothing less than the tender light that buoyed his spirit, lifting it far and beyond the pinpricks of white against the summer sky, to some Heaven where he hoped every one who had died had found their way to.
'Thank you God, for helping me through this.'
There were no haunts; not in the crevices in the walls as they prepared for bed, not embedded in the fibers of the carpet that they padded barefoot against to get to the cool comfort of the sheets. The lights went off, and the only shadows that remained were the natural ones.
Warmth was found, heat placed against chests, fingertips stroking the hot furl of skin against shower-fresh abdomens, eliciting subtle moans between saliva-slick teeth, lips forming the name of a lover that would remain, that would help him find answers, that would be his genial encouragement in battle and in the tenderness of arms against his back, holding him together when everything threatened to unravel him.
Timeless comfort was found when Thor grunted against his mouth, whispering that the loss he had endured had been in some sense, necessary. Had it not been, had time not paved this path for them, they wouldn't be there right then, finding intimacy before a night that had once plagued them with the thought of nightmares, of screaming against the moonlight that so taunted them with rest. They slept fine now, better than before, the best sleep of their life.
There were some pledges that Steve was thankful he had taken, a vow that bound him to his own characteristic, guiding him to the driving force behind everything he had found, towards the home he had always yearned for after his awakening. Never would he be without a home, without any sense of comfort.
It was in the limbo of summer that they fell asleep, murmuring to one another about how they got to this point, about reminiscences that colored their dreams with flashes of red-violet and dandelion fireworks, of the smiles of strangers that became their brothers and sisters, of times that were good and pure, times and truths that let them slip into easy, contented slumber.
"I don't think I'll ever have a problem sleeping again." Thor turned his head, his skin gold-washed by the sun's light, eyes glistening with his awakening.
"Never? Even if I was to roll on top of you," Thor did just that, rolling on top of him, connecting their hips with a slight forward gyration, eliciting a surprised yelp from his mouth, one that made Thor laugh " lean forward and ask for you to share my bed for all time?"
For all time...for all time.
"Are you..." Thor nodded, his eyes austere, glimmering with unabashed certainty. "Yes. Yes. Of course. I do."
Steve wrapped his legs around Thor's hips, lifting his head to seal their resolution with a kiss. Not the kiss that would happen at the altar that Tony would more than likely have a field-day finding, but one that all-but dripped with the truth of following through, of moving forward.
Never would he go to bed alone again. Never would he be alone in another's company, not when the radiant smile of the god that pledged his fealty to him was within arm's reach.
"I had wanted to ask this of you for many weeks now, when I knew I was certain. But with the light of this day fire, stealing any thought of the darkness that threatened us, I found it more...fitting." Thor flashed a smile, rocking to his left, gripping Steve until they knew not where their shapes ended and one began, unity a thriving, skin-soft entity here.
They fit. They fit because they had become broken. But they were knitted now, as one person in two bodies, made whole during these quiet times in the early morning right before they dozed off once again, their minds remaining free from fresh damage.
Sleep remained a true, mercifully beautiful reality, protecting them from anything their mind could inspire.
And, on the night of their wedding - one that Tony had quite the hand in preparing - they found that they had never slept more soundly.
"...and if we could float away,
Fly up to the surface and just start again
And lift off before trouble just erodes us in the rain
Just erodes us and see roses in the rain..."