Just a little story I felt like putting together for the 4th of July :D It gets a little bromantic toward the end but hopefully its not too OOC O.o So I'm completely guessing at Steve's age here; I think he's in his mid-late 20s in the movie so I'm just going by that. Also, the token Thor gives Steve in the end is completely from my head canon, its all lies! Lol, that's my tactful way of saying I made it up =p It gets a bit gory in the middle with the flashback so turn back now if that bothers you! Hope you guys like it! :D
Disclaimer: I own nothing =/
Warm, red-gold sunshine flickers off the surface of the pond, reflecting back the fading daylight and approaching evening. Long shadows scrawl across the ground, dark and curling in the receding light, and the expanse of the park is dusted in a soft pinkish glow as the sun hovers just on the edge of the horizon. Children are playing on the playgrounds spread out across the park, couples are lounging on blankets and lawn chairs, and a few people are engaged in playing games of fetch with their dogs. Vendors are lined up along the sidewalks selling hamburgers and hot dogs, cold drinks and ice cream to fight the heat of the afternoon. There's an air of excitement in the park and the entire atmosphere buzzes with energy. Overall, it's turning out to be a pretty good Fourth of July.
The currently unassembled Avengers are all camped out under one of the many pavilions that line the park, sitting at a long metal table that spans the length of the building. This park was their final stop for the "Happy-welcome-to-your-first-birthday-in-the-new-millenium-Steve!" day they had planned and everything had gone exactly according to plan. They had accompanied Steve all over the city, going to every museum and art gallery the super soldier had suggested. They'd gone to a baseball game earlier that afternoon and even despite the massive heckling Steve had gotten from Tony for his birthday ("You were born on the 4th of July? Are you serious? I would almost think that was a marketing plot if you didn't look so surprised right now."), the billionaire had even indulged him in a trip to the Statue of Liberty even though hardly anyone seemed impressed by it other than Thor.
The park was the last stop, the beautiful weather and the wide open spaces drawing crowds of people from all over the city. They had been there for close to two hours already, buying dinner from street vendors and relaxing in the shade of the pavilion as they watched the people enjoying the park around them. It was nice to have a day off, a day without the constant threat of total destruction from some kind of villain or hazard. This hadn't happened in a while and they were planning to enjoy it to the fullest extent.
Clint and Natasha are standing a few feet away from them now, pointing out various buildings in the distance and discussing the easiest way to climb up one side and repel down the other without being caught. Natasha is insisting on flat surfaces and Clint is countering her about curves and angles and their argument is so out of place in the serenity of the park that Steve almost laughs. He's actually kind of relieved that neither assassin is armed at the moment (at least not to his knowledge) because the way their argument is escalating, it could result in a weapons draw by the end of it.
Thor is talking to Bruce about baseball, asking the scientist all kinds of questions he doesn't appear to have the answers to. He'd been entirely fascinated by the game, commenting on the use of clubs to propel the balls away from the players and then the precision that had been used with each hit to get it into the outfield. He's asking about the history, the use of such clubs as weapons in the face of battle, and Bruce is answering to the best of his ability but he seems just as lost as Thor is. He could probably tell the demi god that baseball had originated in Paris and Thor would be on the next plane to France to thank the people of Paris for their innovation. Everyone is a bit curious to see how he's going to take football in the Fall…
Steve smiles a bit and takes a sip of his lemonade, setting the cup down on the table deftly. Tony is to his left, his gaze trained out into the park and his eyes hidden behind the dark lenses of a pair of sunglasses that probably cost more than Steve's apartment. Though he'd adopted the same nonchalant expression for most of the day, Tony had been the one to suggest the baseball game to the others. He'd long since given up trying to get Steve drunk (it usually left him with empty pockets and a legendary hangover the next morning) so his normal approach of just passing off a bottle of top quality liquor for a birthday present quickly became null and void. He'd seen Steve's report though, how he knew he wasn't in the right timeline by listening to a recorded baseball game, and had easily figured out that Steve was an avid baseball fan. Tony never saw much in the game, found it boring, really, but he figured he could put that aside for one day and let Steve enjoy it.
He glances at Steve from the corner of his glasses, shifting the lenses a bit with one finger. "So, this is your first birthday since the 40's. That would make you…what? 96? 97?"
Steve laughs softly and shakes his head. "24."
"24?" Tony looks genuinely surprised for a second, his eyebrows raising behind his sunglasses. "Wow, no wonder they say only the good die young."
"Is that what they say?" Steve asks, his mouth still curved up in the formation of a smile.
"Yep, that's what they say," Tony looks back out at the park, absently fidgeting with a small bag of peanuts he'd gotten from one of the nearby vendors. He opens the package and pops a few peanuts in his mouth, chewing deftly. "So how was it? First birthday in 70 some odd years?"
Steve smiles again and shrugs. "It was great, a lot better than some of the ones I had when I was younger. Actually, I think I more or less stopped celebrating them by the time I was 12; just never seemed to be much point. But, you know, I guess growing up during the Depression there wasn't much point celebrating anything."
"And there you go ruining a perfectly good moment," Tony quips, ruffling with the bag on the table. He knew Steve wasn't looking for pity or sympathy; he was pretty sure Steve wouldn't know how to do that even if he tried, he was simply stating a fact. Still, Tony isn't good with heartfelt moments or bonding moments or any kind of moments for that matter and he usually tries to talk his way out of them as quickly as possible. "You can be a real buzz kill, you know?"
"So you've told me," Steve counters but he doesn't seem mad or put off by the comment; he seems content just to sit there in the park with his teammates and enjoy the afternoon. In all honesty, this had been one of the best birthdays he'd ever had in his life and certainly the most memorable. The only other one that compared was going to the neighborhood bar-b-que when he was 14 and holding hands with Emily Johnston. Her mother had given him a pair of socks and a comb. It had been a truly magical night.
"So what time is this thing supposed to start again?" Clint asks from a few feet away, looking up like a large clock was suddenly going to be presented in the night sky.
Bruce looks down at his watch. "8:30 I think."
Steve frowns in confusion and looks at Tony for clarification. "What thing?"
Tony shakes out a few more peanuts into the palm of his hand and then pops them in his mouth. "Fireworks display. Supposed to be the biggest one in the city and this is best place to see it." As if in response to his explanation, a loud boom unexpectedly shakes the park and everyone is suddenly on their feet, pointing up at the darkened sky. A bright burst of light fills the sky and there's a collective gasp of pleasure from the patrons of the park in response. "Oh, look at that," Tony says, slipping off his sunglasses and hooking them in the collar of his shirt. "Looks like the show started early."
He stands and Steve follows him, both walking out to meet up with others who are now standing away from the pavilion. Everyone's eyes are trained up at the sky, watching in rapt fascination as each firework lights up the night sky in brilliant flashes of color. Thor is absolutely thrilled, asking Bruce a whole new litany of questions about the fireworks and Bruce, being more in his element with explaining the chemical reactions is takes to make the fireworks explode and make different colors, gladly explains them to him. Clint and Natasha are standing side by side, watching the display with neutral expressions but their eyes are lit up with the kind of excitement that fireworks bring to most spectators. Tony is watching as well, hands on his hips and trying for all the world to look as disinterested as he can but failing miserably; his eyes are glued to the sky and he watches with close scrutiny. The only one who seems to be unmoved by the fireworks' brilliance is Steve.
Another boom ripples through the air and Steve feels the muscles in his back tighten and tense instinctively. His body is rigid and stiff, every muscle fiber tight like a bowstring and ready to snap at a moment's notice. His mouth goes dry, a wave of dizziness sweeps through him, and a cold sweat breaks out at the base of his neck and spreads down through his shoulders and into his back, freezing him from the inside out. The cup in his hand is crushed easily, cold, sticky lemonade covering his hand and fingers and dripping down to the ground. Steve doesn't even notice.
Tony does, however, and glances at Steve from the corner of his eye. "What's the matter, super soldier? Fireworks not your thing?" The question is meant to come across as teasing but there's an underlying hint of concern in it that Tony won't put to words just yet.
Steve looks at him and tries to tell him that no, actually he loves fireworks and there was one time that he and Bucky got so close to the launch site that neither of them could hear anything for two days afterwards but the words don't come out. They stick in his throat, heavy and unyielding like they're covered in sharp barbs that have dugs themselves into the lining of his throat and refuse to let go. His fist is clenched so tightly as his side, the plastic broken and useless in his hand, that he's starting to lose feeling in his fingers. His heart is pounding hard and fast against his ribs and the dryness in his throat has increased to an uncomfortable degree. He can't take his eyes off the fireworks, the bright explosions of light, the smoke, the booms, and its so damn loud…
Someone is talking to him, concern heavy in the voice now, but Steve doesn't answer. He can't. He feels heavy and buoyant at the same time, like his body weighs a ton but he could float away at any moment. The edges of his vision are fuzzy, the smoke blurring in his eyes and making them water. This isn't right…he's too far away…he's too far away…
Someone touches him then, unfamiliar hands with foreign faces, and Steve reacts before he can stop himself, swinging wide and feeling a satisfying thud as his fist connects with something solid. Voices again, shouting, shouting, shouting, and he's still too far away…There's another explosion, high above his head, and Steve is only aware that he's running, only aware that he needs to get back as soon as possible.
It had been a trap the whole time, misleading information and faulty directions. They had known…there was no way they couldn't know… and now they were all caught in the crossfire. He can feel the road beneath his feet, the heat from the flames licking at his skin as he runs, and dammit, he's still too far away! His men were out there, unprotected and waiting like lambs to be led to the slaughter! Another explosion and he's knocked from his feet, a brief sensation of weightlessness before he lands heavily on the unforgiving asphalt. He's bruised and one arm is bleeding, ears ringing from the blast, but he gets up and runs again. Too far away…too far away…
He nearly collides with a mother fleeing with her children, one bundled in her arms and the other clinging to the side of her shirt. They're crying, terrified and screaming, and the ground trembles beneath them as another blast ripples through the air. Too late the sirens start, loud and long and wailing like a wounded animal, and there's no time to seek shelter before the full extent of the bombs rains down. Fire is everywhere, hot and blistering his skin as he runs.
Voices again, murky and distorted from the ringing in his ears, and there's snow steaming from the heat of the fire. A face appears before him from the smoke and steam, eyes panicked and expression grim. Timothy Belknap, an eighteen year old private from Delaware. He's yelling and pointing but his words are lost in the concussive blast of another bomb falling. The ground explodes, showering them both with dirt, and a splatter of hot blood hits him in the face as a piece of shrapnel ricochets off a tree and lodges itself in Timothy's neck. The boy's eyes are wide, hands clawing, and he dies choking on blood.
He doesn't have time to mourn or even pull the body away from the path; he runs into the trees. His men are spread all around, taking cover under fallen trees and frozen chunks of rock. Several are dead, limbs scattered all across the snow covered ground like pieces of a macabre jigsaw puzzle.
There's blood on the ground, bright and shiny and red, red, red against the white snow. Its on his face, his hands, his uniform, and he can taste it in his mouth mixed with the tang of ash and the greasy layers of smoke that cover the roof of his mouth. Someone jerks him down behind a fire-blackened log and he finds several faces looking at him for direction.
He's the one yelling now, pointing and directing them off into the trees toward a dark patch of forest that's nearly impenetrable with shadows. They don't question him, they run, and he calls out to the others nearby to relay the information. A few start to run in the direction with others but there are two who don't move, frozen and terrified as they are. They're young and inexperienced and he led them here; lambs to the slaughter.
He's running across to them now, ground shaking beneath him and trees trembling and falling with each blast. He reaches them, grabs both by the back of the shirt and hauls them away from their frozen position just as another bomb lands a few feet away. It explodes, deafening, and catapults them backwards. His back hits a tree, the air knocked from his lungs, and for a second all he feels is the hop, skip, jump of his heart across his ribs.
Sound comes back slowly but when it does its horrible. Moaning, screaming, crying…all around and suffocating. One of the men he pulled away is gone, disappeared into the trees. The other lays in a crumpled heap at the base of a tree, bright, slick blood gushing from beneath his helmet. His skull had been crushed upon impact with the tree; the helmet is dented and caved in on one side too deeply for the damage to not be superficial. There's more men scattered around the crater left by the bomb, broken and dying and useless. One is missing both legs at the knees, another lays there gasping as he tries to breathe past the gaping wound in his chest and stomach. Some just lay there, eyes fixed on the sky, unseeing and silent.
He's getting up again, legs shaky and weak and blood oozing from his ears and dripping down his neck. He needs to find his men, get them out of here, get away from this forest and the bombs and the death that's scattered on the ground like leaves in the Fall. He runs around the wounded and dying, helping those he can and comforting those he cannot. The bombs have stopped for a moment, the forest silent and dark, and all he can hear is pain and agony washing through the trees.
The snow is red and black and muddy; it squelches rather than crunches beneath his boots. There's blood on his hands, his neck, his face but he's not sure how much of it is his own. The smoke is thick, blinding him, seeping into his lungs like an acrid cancer and causing him to cough and gag. He can taste it in his mouth, greasy and coppery with the tang of blood.
He's lost count of the dead, he's found five living, and there's dark hands reaching out through the trees to take them from him. He recognizes their faces, the men he sent away at the first drops of the bombs, and he's relieved and angry at the same time. He wanted them to get to safety but he admits that he can't handle all of the wounded on his own. He finds a few more survivors scattered among the devastation like broken Easter eggs, their shattered limbs painted bright with blood and black with charred flesh.
More soldiers appear, moving quickly and silently through the trees, and take the wounded from his hands. No one is left alive and there's nothing more he can do so he follows them back into the forest. They need to get far away, get the injured soldiers medical attention, and find out what the hell happened with this mission. They had walked right into a trap and now at least fifteen soldiers were dead…
There's a dull whistle high up above, raining down fast and horrible toward the forest. He hears it before the others even with the damage done to his ears. He's shouting at them, telling them to scatter, but there's a loud blast behind him, a disjointed feeling of weightlessness as he's flipped through the air, and then the world goes dark for a long time…
"Steve, hey. Can you hear me?"
"Come on, super soldier, snap out of it."
There are hands on either side of his face, another set resting on his shoulders, one resting on his chest, and he's only vaguely aware of lying flat on his back. Steve blinks a few times, staring up at the dark, quiet sky and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. He feels hazy and heavy, his limbs weighted down and leaden like he's waking up from a very deep sleep. He's not sure where he is, the walls on either side of him are high and made of brick, nothing like the open air pavilion he'd been in earlier. The pavilion…the park…the fireworks…
"I believe he is coming back to us," a deep voice rumbles overhead and Steve blinks again. He recognizes that voice but it didn't belong to a soldier from his unit…
"Steve?" One of the hands taps the side of his face gently and Steve finds his attention drawn to the side slightly to see a very concerned Bruce Banner hovering over him. "Hey. Can you hear me?"
"Banner…?" Steve asks, unable to keep the slight crack out of his voice as he speaks.
"Yeah, Steve, its me," Bruce is looking at him carefully, both hands still cupping either side of Steve's face. "Do you know where you are? Do you know what year it is?"
Steve thinks for a second because this answer should be obvious but, then again, nothing has been obvious since he was defrosted by S.H.I.E.L.D agents over a year ago. He thinks hard for a second but draws a frustrating blank. "Not 1944...?"
"Good call on that one, kid," another voice quips from overhead and Steve turns his head just enough to see Tony crouched by his side as well. He releases his hold on Steve's shoulders and sits back on his heels, keeping his eyes trained on him carefully. "At least Thor didn't knock all your screws loose when he brought you down." The words are teasing but Tony's expression is not, his usual mask of snark and sarcasm replaced with something akin to concern. Steve still isn't really sure what happened but he realizes it must have been something serious if Tony is expressing concern.
"Forgive me, my friend," Thor rumbles from above him and Steve is finally able to place his voice. "I was only trying to prevent you from hurting yourself during your episode."
His episode? What episode? He tries to think back but its like a large, physical wall has been placed right in the way of his train of thought. The harder to tries to remember, the more he drives those thoughts into that wall.
"Same can't be said for Clint, though," Tony continues and Steve finally manages to look past him to see Clint and Natasha standing a few feet away, watching him carefully. Clint's lip is split open and blood is trailing down his chin and staining his shirt but he doesn't look angry, he looks stricken. Natasha holds the same concerned expression that the others do but her shoulders are tense and her posture rigid like she's waiting to jump in and neutralize the threat if it comes down to it. Seriously, what the hell happened?
Steve wants to ask this, wants someone to fill him in for the sudden gap in his memory, but all he can get out is, "I punched you?"
Clint shrugs and smiles ruefully, the expression painful around the cut in his lip. "Not like it's the first time I've ever been punched before, Cap," he says, trying to make the comment come across as nonchalant and light-hearted. It doesn't work; Steve feels physically sick because he doesn't remember ever touching Clint, let alone punching him. He'd hit his own teammate and he didn't even remember throwing the punch!
"What-?" He tries to ask but that's all he manages to get out. He feels completely disoriented, confused and unsure of where he is, and talking seems to be a real effort. His head aches a bit but he's not sure how much of that is from whatever just happened and how much of it is from the possibility of his head bouncing off the concrete when Thor tackled him. Nothing really makes sense right now and it must show on Steve's face because Bruce is talking to him in a soft, soothing tone most doctors use when they're about to tell a patient bad news.
"Steve, I think you had a flashback set off by the fireworks just now," Bruce explains gently, watching his expression carefully. "Something about the lights and sounds triggered some intense memories for you and you lost touch with reality for a bit. It was actually very common among men who fought during WWII and the Vietnam war."
Steve thinks for a minute, trying to process what he was being told. Flashback? That didn't seem right; sure, he'd had nightmares before but never a full blown meltdown where he completely lost touch with the world around him. It felt so…foreign. Like someone had taken over his body for the past few minutes and used it to their advantage. He suddenly has an all new respect for what Clint was dealing with when Loki was controlling him. Still, he was Captain America for God's sake, he wasn't supposed to show weakness and completely lose his grip on reality because of a few fireworks.
He tries to hide his embarrassment with a sheepish smile, hoping the others will forget this moment as fast as they can. "Can you help me up?" He asks to no one in particular. "I feel kind of silly laying here on the ground." He tries to sit up but realizes he's still pinned down by Thor's hand on his chest. A faint smile in the demi god's direction gets his attention and he removes his hand, staying close nonetheless. Between Bruce and Tony, Steve manages to get his feet back under him and he's standing up slowly, taking stock of the alley he'd ended up in. He's still not really sure where he is or how far away from the park he'd gotten but he figures all of that will be explained in due time. He takes a step forward and the world literally comes crumbling down around him as his knees buckle and he plummets back to the ground.
Even with both of their hands still on his arms, neither Tony nor Bruce are able to catch Steve as he falls. Thor, however, steps forward just as Steve's legs begin to give out and catches him easily, lowering both of them back down onto the ground and wrapping both arms around him. Steve is trembling, fine, miniscule tremors running through his body that he can't seem to control. He feels physically exhausted, mentally unbalanced, and completely ashamed that this is happening. He can't move, can't think, all he can do is stare at the wall opposite him and wait for it to be over.
Thor says nothing, he simply envelops Steve in his arms and bundles him in his lap like a child seeking comfort after a nightmare. The others seem to realize the futility of the situation and they all come back into the alley, sitting around Steve and Thor quietly. No one speaks, no one moves, they just sit there and offer the comfort of their presence and silence.
They don't ask him about the flashback, at least not yet, though its obviously on everyone's mind. At some point Natasha reaches out and lays her hand very gently on Steve's arm and Clint gives him a reassuring nod from beside her. Bruce is watching him openly like a hawk, looking him up and down every few seconds to see if another meltdown is about to happen. Tony is less obvious with his approach but keeps casting glances at Steve from the corner of his eye, probably hoping his scrutiny will go unnoticed in the darkness of the alley. Thor says nothing, he just keeps his arms wrapped tightly around Steve like he can somehow shield him from whatever demons the soldier is facing.
Steve isn't sure how long he sits there before the tremors wear themselves out and he's left limp and exhausted in Thor's arms. Now that they're gone, he can't feel much of anything anymore, his body has taken on a kind of numbness that blocks out his thoughts and the dulls ache in his head. He's embarrassed, ashamed for his moment of weakness and the instability he'd showed in front of his team. Sure, the nightmares got pretty bad sometimes, he'd woken up screaming more times than he could count, but they never affected him in the waking hours. He needs to be strong for his team, prove that he's worthy of being their captain just like he did back during the war, and tonight didn't prove anything. It proved he was still unstable, a shaky foundation to build anything on. He felt disgusted with himself.
He knew the others had their own demons they faced but they all seemed more balanced than he did. Of course he didn't see it when they did have their dark moments; they all had their own ways of coping and it usually involved being left the hell alone. He knew Tony and Bruce would lock themselves in their labs for hours, sometimes days, only emerging for meals and even that was subject to change most of the time. Clint and Natasha would often go spar with each other, fighting more desperately and viciously than they normally did as if they were taking out their past pain and aggression on a willing partner. And Thor would often disappear to the roof of the Stark tower, gazing up at the star-studded sky and still as a statue for hours until someone finally came up to retrieve him. Steve usually had his under control, usually managed to keep everything under wraps…until today.
He's not sure how long they all sit there in that alley. Ten minutes? An hour? Time seems to have no meaning at the moment but then suddenly Thor is standing, keeping one hand tangled in the back of Steve's shirt and maintaining a tight hold on him in case he goes down again. The others are standing up too, eyeing him carefully like he's made of glass, and Steve hasn't felt this weak and helpless in a long time. Clint leads the way out of the alley, Natasha close behind him, and Tony walks a bit more slowly than usual, hanging back just a bit in a way he hopes no one notices. Bruce stays close to Thor and Steve, giving them room to walk but keeping a careful eye on them none the less.
Steve walks forward mechanically, his steps slow and methodical like a single wrong move could lead to disaster. He can feel Thor's hand still resting on his back but that's all he feels, the rest of the world feels a bit numb right now. He follows the others out of the alley, away from the park, away from the fireworks, away from the memories, body numb and soul raw. He can still smell the smoke and gunpowder in air and this time it doesn't remind him of the bombs, it reminds him of the remnants of the fireworks; brilliant, beautiful, and bright in the night sky. He has to convince himself not to be sick as they walk away.
After a few failed attempts at getting him to talk and several failed attempts of Steve apologizing to Clint ("Steve, seriously, its not that bad. You didn't even hit me that hard; I ducked at the last second. If you'd hit me head on it probably would have broken my jaw. Ah dammit…no, dude, I didn't mean it like that! It's fine, I swear!") the rest of the Avengers decided the best thing would be for Steve to open up when he was ready. They all knew how futile it was to force painful memories out of one another and Steve was no different; time was the only thing that would make it easier to talk about since the memories were so fresh in his mind at the moment.
That's how Steve ends up on the roof of the Stark tower, sitting cross-legged with slumped shoulders like all the air and energy is being siphoned out of him. His eyes are trained out on the twinkling lights of the city, taking in their brilliance. Its like a thick velvety blanket had been laid out across the city and then dotted with a million stars. Its beautiful and impressive and sometimes Steve hates it. Its all so different, so completely unlike the city from his time period, and Steve still has moments when he feels intensely foreign in this new era. He's been trying to get more comfortable here, feel more in touch with this century, but there are still moments when all he wants is to be refrozen and pray that he somehow wakes up back in his own time with Peggy smiling down at him.
"Your mind is troubled, Captain," a voice rumbles from behind him and Steve turns to see Thor approaching from across the roof. Steve smiles faintly as he gets closer, wondering how the hell he missed the demi god's approach in the first place.
"I didn't hear you come up," he says as Thor drops down onto the roof beside him, sitting close enough to be comfortable without making Steve feel crowded. They'd all found out early on that Thor wasn't big on things like personal space so it seemed to be easier just to accept it instead of trying to change it.
"I can adopt stealth tactics when they suit me," Thor answers with a smile, turning his attention out to the lights of the city and then up to the stars in the sky, taking in the similarities in one sweeping gaze. "I knew you would seek refuge up here."
Steve lets out a somewhat startled laugh and looks at him. "What? How did you know I'd be up here?"
Thor simply shrugs, his eyes still trained up at the sky. "Because this is the place I always come to when I am feeling overwhelmed by the world below."
Steve smiles and looks back out across the city. "It can be overwhelming, I'll give you that."
The demi god returns his smile with a slight nod of understanding. "That it can." For a while they sit in comfortable silence, neither making any attempt at conversation and both content to simply gaze out at the twinkling city below them. The lights are uncommonly bright, almost harsh against the darkness of the night, and Steve vaguely wonders if they look like this back on Asgard and maybe that's the reason Thor comes up here at night. He dismisses the idea almost as quickly as it comes because he knows why the Asgardian prince seeks refuge up here. The stars.
"Do you wish to speak about what troubles you?" Thor asks quietly beside him and Steve nearly flinches at the question, gentle as it was. In all honesty he doesn't want to talk about it, he doesn't want to relive the experience and bring anyone else into the horror that plagues his mind. He doesn't want to tell the others because it was his fault and that's his own guilt to bear. Steve glances to the side, catching the demi god's gaze and holding it for a second. Thor isn't pressuring him, he isn't trying to worm the truth out of Steve because he's curious; he's asking because he's concerned.
Steve feels his resolve begin to crumble a bit and he takes a long, slow breath. It takes him a few seconds to gather his thoughts, to think clearly enough to vocalize the tumble of images in his mind. Thor sits beside him patiently, quietly, giving him the space of silence. "There was one mission we had toward the end of the war," Steve starts finally, keeping his voice soft like he's telling some great secret. In a way he guesses he is; no one had ever known the full details before except for the men in his unit and Col. Phillips and after that it was locked away in a file he never saw again. "It was a disaster…a complete and total disaster. We'd been given orders to secure this bomb factory in this little town outside of Hanover…" Steve pauses because he can still feel the cold wind biting at his skin and swell of smoke filling his lungs. He coughs and clears his throat before continuing.
"I told the company following me to wait in the woods for my signal while I went ahead and checked it out. There was something wrong though, the factory was empty, abandoned…" Steve frowns out at the city and he can feel Thor's eyes watching him carefully. "It wasn't a bomb factory at all; it had been used to make mattresses and box springs. It was a trick." Steve shrugs a bit and continues. "Of course the Colonel didn't know it was a decoy, his information had come from a reliable source, but somehow it had been intercepted…the directions or the location had been changed…something had happened…and we had walked right into a trap." He shakes his head angrily, glaring at the glittering lights of the city. "We figured it out just before the first bomb fell right into the trees where I'd left those soldiers…"
Suddenly his thoughts are too loud, the images to sharp and real, and for a second Steve can't breathe. He tries hard not to think about it, not to fall back into the memories like he did before, but its like teetering over a precarious edge and there's no way to go but down. His hands grip for purchase on the roof, fingers sliding over flawless tiles and paving stones and he vaguely feels that if he doesn't get a grip on something soon, the world will tilt at an awkward angle and he'll topple off the roof to the street below. He clenches his hands into tight fists against the roof, short fingernails digging into the palms of his hands painfully. His knuckles are going white from lack of blood flow and the joints in his fingers creak and complain against the grip he's subjecting them to.
A hand covers one of his own, warm and strong and grounding. It's a friendly gesture, familiar and safe, and it has the desired effect. A little bit of reality seems to be returning to Steve and he flips his hand over beneath the one covering it, catching the fingers and gripping tightly. Thor says nothing, he sits silently and lets Steve squeeze his hand so hard it would probably break the bones if he were human. His eyes flicker over the young man sitting beside him, taking unhealthy pallor of his skin and the quick dart of his eyes as he struggles to make sense of whatever is going on inside his mind. Thor stays silent for a while, contenting himself to looking out over the sparkling layout of the city while rubbing slow, calculated circles over the back of Steve's hand.
Finally, the younger man's grip loosens just a fraction but he doesn't let go. He blinks a few times, coming back to the rooftop and the city and the new millennium. He still looks shaken, eyes a bit wider than usual and face pale, but its nowhere near the episode he experience earlier. Steve takes a deep, shaky breath and tries to laugh it off but it sounds choked and forced. His hand comes up and impulsively wipes his face; he's almost certain it will come back red and blood from where Timothy's blood had splashed across his face. His palm comes back clean and Steve is both sickened and relieved. "Sorry…I don't know what…I just-"
"You blame yourself for the failure of the mission," Thor answers simply, glancing at Steve from the corner of his eye. His voice isn't accusatory or filled with blame the way Steve expected it to be; its very matter-of-fact and calm, a statement rather than an accusation. Steve can't find a way to refute that, he does blame himself and he has ever since the night it happened. How could he not blame himself? He'd led those men to that location, they had followed him willingly, and they'd been slaughtered. It was his fault and no one else's.
"I do," he answers after a few seconds of silence. "I do blame myself because it was my fault. I should have known something was off, I should have seen the signs or…something. But I didn't. I led those men to that forest, to that factory, and they were little sitting ducks under my lead. They were killed in droves because I didn't realize it was a trick until it was too late."
Thor remains silent for a few seconds, his expression neutral and his gaze steady out at the glittering city. His silence unnerves Steve, it makes him antsy and self-conscious, and he's almost made up his mind to flee the roof for the gym in the basement when the demi god speaks up.
"Your plight is not uncommon among men of your kind, Captain. I have seen reactions such as this in many of the bravest warriors I have fought with and their guilt too weighed heavily on their hearts." As a warrior himself, he'd witnessed men and women wake with a start, eyes wide and weapons instantly in hand in anticipation of an attack. He'd seen them get lost in the silence of their minds, fighting demons only they could see and losing every time. He'd seen them scream, cry, and shout, call out for dead comrades and friends lost in battle. He'd seen all of this back on Asgard but not here on earth, not like that, not until tonight.
"You should not let your guilt consume you," Thor continues softly, watching Steve's reaction from the corner of his eye. "The failure of the mission was not by your hand alone and the soldiers who followed you into battle were brave and loyal. They knew of the risks of which they were taking. They followed you willingly."
"And we see where that got them," Steve mutters bitterly, shaking his head slowly and looking down. "How do I get over it? Get over the images of watching them die, of seeing the bombs blow them to pieces all over the forest floor? How do I get over the fact that I led them there and they were killed because they were following my orders?" Steve's voice cracks a bit, just a small fissure that's barely noticeable, but he grits his teeth nonetheless. "How do I get over the guilt of leading seventeen soldiers to their deaths in those woods?"
Thor's response is soft and matter-of-fact, the same way his answers have been for the majority of the night. "You honor their memory," he answers simply as if it's the most logical thing in the world. "You keep them alive in here." He reaches out and presses the flat of his palm against Steve's chest, right over his heart. "Remember their sacrifice and put their memory and legacy toward your battles. Use their strength, their bravery, in your times of doubt and do not let their deaths be in vain."
Steve smiles humorlessly and looks at the demi god sitting next to him. "Does that really work?"
Its Thor's turn to be contemplative now and he's silent for a few minutes before he answers. "It will not help you forget, it won't diminish the memories, but it will make them more manageable. I am infinitely older than you, Steven, centuries by your count, but I have seen the horrors of battle firsthand just as you have. I have seen good men fall while those who should be punished prevail. I have led men to their deaths, watched them die and get mutilated on the battlefield because of an attack I devised, and the guilt is sometimes nearly too much to bear. But I remember that they were there because they chose to be, they were loyal to me to the end and the only way I can repay them for that loyalty is to remember their bravery in battle and the sacrifice they made. I carry their memories with me into every battle, rely on their strength when I question my own, and it makes their lives and deaths more meaningful."
For the first time that evening Steve felt a sense of peace wash through him. The tight ball of tension that had formed in his stomach and chest since the flashback had caught him off guard slowly begins to ease away a bit and he feels like he's able to take a deep breath for the first time all night. It doesn't really make the experience better or easier to deal with but it helps to know he's not the only one who's experienced something like this. Thor's experiences in battle, while not identical to his own, were similar enough to liken Steve to a kindred spirit, a fellow warrior scarred by the memories of the battlefield. His advice was wise and logical, probably passed down for years and years to younger warriors who had only just begun to experience the horrors of war; something to set their minds at ease when reality became too much to bear. It wasn't a cure all or even an straight answer but it made as much sense as one and for the first time in a long time, Steve felt somewhat at peace.
"Here, I'd like you to have this." Steve looks over to see Thor handing him something across the small space that separates them. Steve holds out his hand curiously, confusions crossing his features as Thor places the object in his hand. It's a small, metallic disc, about the size of a half dollar and made out of a bronzy metal Steve has never seen before. There's a very small figure in the center, the details diminished over the years, but it looks like some kind winged goddess, her arms outstretched toward the heavens. Symbols line the outsides of the disc, words and phrases that Steve can't read, but they're circular and never ending, each symbol linking into the next like it was written in one fluid pass. The image is the same on either side, the metal warm and solid in the palm of his hand, and for a moment, all Steve can do is stare at it.
"It's a token we give to our warriors on the eve of their first battle," Thor answers before Steve can ask, his gaze shifted downward to the metal token in the younger man's hand. "It symbolizes honor and bravery, camaraderie and brotherhood on the battlefield. We give these tokens in the hopes of safety and protection, the prayer around the edge signifying an eternal link among our brothers in arms whether we die in battle or live on to carry the names of those who do. I have seen many great men carry these tokens of valor on Asgard and I can think of no greater man I would have carry one here on earth."
Steve stared at the token speechlessly, thinking about everything Thor had just told him. It was a beautiful token, all the more so because of the meaning behind it, and he felt incredibly honored to be given such an important item. "Its beautiful," he says quietly, closing his fingers around it protectively. "Thank you so much."
Thor smiles then, warm and gentle like it's the greatest compliment he's ever been given. "It is my pleasure, Steven."
They sit in companionable silence then, eyes gazing out over the expanse of the darkened city. Its late now, the traffic dying down on the streets and the city falling into nocturnal silence. Its peaceful up here beneath the blanket of stars with the glittering lights of the city spread out before them. Steve keeps his hand closed firmly around the token in his hand, the metal warm and comforting as it sits in his palm. For the first time in hours, he allows himself a real, grateful smile.
Hope you all liked it! :D