More Than Heroes

Chapter 5: Dreams; Gifts; Transformations; Worlds

Steven was, of course, keeping respectable pace with his drinking among the Asgardian company, but staying nearly sober. For the first time he was very happy about his inability to get drunk, because he had no interest in forgetting or losing focus on any of this.

He danced with Sif, both of them exuberant and quick long after the majority of the humans had bowed out, Darcy complaining of aching feet, Clint, that he was bored, and an extremely drunk Tony being dragged away by Joshua before he could say anything embarrassing, incriminating, or both. Bruce and Peter were actually engrossed in a conversation in one corner, something about redesigning one of the spectrometers in the tower to make it easier to use, although the last time Steve had come around they'd been talking about food. Steve had a sudden worry that one of them might try to sneak a golden apple back to Earth to analyze, despite the dire warning they'd received from Thor. But Peter was too honest, he reassured himself, and Bruce too wise. Then Natasha came around to get them and take them to the Bifrost, as the others were ready to be home.

Steve had no idea how long it had been, and he didn't care a great deal, either, but he was starting to think that he might be done with the large crowds of people, and that it would be nice to be alone with Sif.

"You think the party might start to wind down soon?" he asked her as he looked around at the still steadily drinking and dancing Asgardians.

"Oh, no," she said. "Not until at least dawn. But I think perhaps we should leave them to it and go to our home."

"Our home," he said, smiling helplessly. "I like the way that sounds."

So they left, taking enough of the warm glow of celebration with them that they hardly felt the cool night air as they traveled, both of them on one horse for the short ride to the house that was Sif's, now theirs. It wasn't enormous, or entirely made of gold, to Steve's relief. Sif, true to her word, lifted him easily and carried him through the door. The walls, from the inside, were a mixture of smooth bluish stone, tile (and here there was some gold embellishment), and woven screens that mixed wood and metal.

Sif smiled at Steve, as she set him down inside the house, and Steve was suddenly very conscious of her presence and her proximity and the fact that they were alone and newly married, and he was reminded of being the skinny little kid trying to ask his superior officer to dance. He blushed.

"My beautiful, virginal wife," Sif said, taking his face in her hands. Steve looked to see humor in her eyes, but found none. Instead, there were the beginnings of tears. "How could I have found someone so perfect. You are everything I wanted and everything I did not think to ask for. I think I will spend eternity thanking you for existing."

"Sif," Steve said, then couldn't think of what to say next. At this moment he loved her more than ever. She had been the consummate warrior at the ceremony, even through the feast, where her golden gown did nothing to stop her from looking fierce and dangerous. But just when he was feeling unsure, inadequate, she showed him this, all the tenderness she had to hide from Asgard, all the regard she had for him.

He leaned down to kiss her, and even this wasn't something he'd done a lot of, but there was a warmth to this that made the clumsiness fade away, and also Sif clearly knew what she was doing, because before he knew what was happening, her tongue was on his, stroking it, drawing it out, and he just wanted to be inside her in every way possible, and he wasn't worried any more because he was too busy being in love with Sif and feeling her against him and in his arms and mostly under his lips and tongue.

He wasn't even conscious of the fact that she was unbuttoning his jacket until she was pushing it back off of his arms, and he could feel the smooth press of her fingers against his shoulders, now covered only by the thin material of his shirt. He let the jacket fall to the floor, hardly sparing it a thought as he continued to explore Sif's mouth.

She was definitely the one in charge here, and Steve felt grateful for that, because he was overwhelmed and disoriented and in a haze of delightful feelings. He didn't know when he'd gotten to be laying on the bed with his shirt unbuttoned, but with Sif's mouth brushing whisper-soft against the skin of his chest, it didn't seem to matter.

Her lips drifted lower, pressing softly into the skin of his belly as she unfastened his pants, and her hands brushed against him through the fabric. Every sensation was sharp and clear and yet he felt completely unable to do anything except lie there and take it in, not lost at all, in fact found, held to the bed by the sheer force of the knowledge that this was where he was meant to be. All he could do in response was to pet her head and shoulders (like satin and silk under his touch, but so much stronger, he knew), and speak her name, reverently, over and over.

She tugged at his clothes and at last her fingers found the naked skin of his penis, and he gasped. The motion of her hands was everything, too much and not enough, dangerous and reassuring, bewilderingly new with every moment and yet grounding and steady.

"Sif, Sif, oh," the sounds tore out of him, strangled-sounding with the sheer tension between extremes. He thought there could be nothing more... anything, that this was the pinnacle of experience, the most exquisite wanting. But then, in one motion of her head, he was drowned in so much more.

He came apart, his words unraveling into gasping cries, and as her tongue began moving, he could only cling to her and make little, aborted movements, moving his hands from her hair to her shoulders and back again, moving his hips the little distance she would allow him to.

It was like fire, and water, and everything that moved or burned or crested, the sound of many voices raised in song, the crackle of pine branches thrown on a fire, the flow and burn of alcohol in the throat. It was like every sensation layered over each other and combined expertly to make the one most beautiful thing that could be wrung from everything.

She was everything.

She was everywhere, enveloping him, her hands sliding across his ribs, and her mouth moved with too-soft-too-much pressure, up and then down again, and when he came it was like dying, losing his breath and his will and trembling uncontrollably, except instead of fading away, everything was crisp and bright and present; she was there; the immediacy of the moment hit him like a truck, and a startled cry escaped him, all pleasure but half pain as the pressure of her mouth became altogether too much.

Her mouth gave one last ripple as she swallowed around him, and he made an agonized noise, squirming under her as she pulled away with a satisfied sigh. He breathed again, and it was like breathing in the color blue, a cloudless autumn sky, with the way it arched over everything, calm, undifferentiated, passive and yet no less than glorious. He breathed again, and closed his eyes, not finding the impetus in himself to move but filling with joy and a final, softer flood of pleasure when Sif shifted up the bed and pressed her warm, soft body against his side and chest.

"Sif," he breathed. "Sif." No message occurred to him but her name, because her name meant her, and she meant everything. As he regained a little will to move, at least enough to shift his fingers, he tangled them in the hair at the side of her neck, moved them lazily across her skin. "I love you so much, Sif," he said, tugging her closer at last and wrapping both arms around her and feeling the heat in his chest brighten and roll in response to her breathing.

"I love you," Sif told him in return, voice raw with a mixture of strong emotion and a slighty abused throat. "I've never known anything more surely than I know that now." She propped herself up to look at him, staring, taking in the sight of him, hair more disheveled than she'd ever seen it and cheeks and eyes bright with sex, with pleasure and with love.

After a time the movement of his hands grew more steady, and after just gazing at her for several minutes, he spoke again.

"What can I do for you?" he asked. "Can I make you feel like that? Teach me."

Sif smiled, all at once satisfied and proud, and loving and sweet. "I will. I will teach you a thousand things about pleasure, but you have taught me everything I know about love. This is already the best of all the nights I have lived. I am not at all eager for this moment to come to an end. For now, all I want is this contentment, this closeness. For now," she said, "just kiss me."

Kissing was different, in this state, still as placid as the cloudless blue sky. He felt that every motion of their lips could take an aeon, and he would not mind; in fact, he would welcome it. She was his, he was hers, and this light contentment on which they floated stretched out to the horizons.

But within the hour, he felt desire rise up in him again, and his lessons truly began.

Sif lay below him, and she guided his hands, up her muscular belly and up to the soft skin of her breasts, in small circles so that his fingertips brushed her nipples over and over again, and then she pulled his hands down to press into the soft flesh, and as she did this, she closed her eyes to savor the sensation. He watched her, and leaned down to kiss her at the same time, which made her moan and shift under him, and Steve smiled at the evidence that she was beginning to enjoy herself in the same way.

Then she repositioned him, his lower half off to one side and his chest pressed down against hers, pulled close by one of her arms as they continued to kiss.

Her other hand guided his down, past the very slight outward curve of her belly. She taught him which places were good to touch, how fast, and how hard, and his fingers, so clever with a pencil, did not fail him here. Soon he found himself with two damp fingers deep inside her and a thumb working against her clit, and he was very glad of his superhuman endurance, as she was only beginning to make little uncontrollable noises along with his movements.

"Kiss me again," she breathed, eyes shining, and as he looked at her, he wondered how she could have gotten even more beautiful without his noticing.

He kissed her deeply, drawing more sounds from her throat, and she clutched at his shoulders, and then her lips ceased to move against his as she breathed harshly and her eyes went wide and wild, and he felt the muscles inside her ripple as his fingers continued to press into her. It made him dizzy to think of how it would feel on other, more sensitive parts of his skin.

A wail broke from her and she held him tighter, all the muscles in her body seeming to awake at once, as if she was coming alive against him. It was beautiful, and profound, and he didn't know what was going to happen next but he needed her more than ever.

At last she went limp, and he removed his hand, stroking her face and looking into her eyes. She met them, desire still alight in her face. "Now," she said firmly, though her voice was breathy. "I would have you inside me now."

He barely hesitated, but kissed her once more first, and then, shaking with the intensity of his desire, he opened her with his fingers and slid home.

He gasped, shaking still, falling onto his elbows on either side of her, his hair bushing her breasts as his head drooped. He couldn't form syllables, he could barely breathe - though the sound of his breaths was loud - there was so much to feel.

He had to - he had to move.

He jerked hard into her, surprising himself, but it was - beyond anything he'd ever felt.

"You will not hurt me," she reassured him. "Do what you will. Do that again. Please." The earnestness of that request banished the last of his reservations, and he slammed into her, layer after layer of pleasure washing over him, constantly surprised that he could feel any more than he already did.

She cried out again, hands wrapped tight around his upper arms and nails digging into his skin, the sounds yearning, then overwhelmed, then, as her grip softened, trailing off into pleased sighs that were almost coos.

Everything was perfect, so perfect, pouring into him like molten metal, glowing-hot and heavy and shedding sparks, and then he was full with it, and a roar escaped him, starting low and growing with the force of his climax until he was screaming, hips twitching, because he could not stand to move but nor could he stand to stop. Her hands tightened again on his arms and her legs wrapped around his waist, making him still in the most wonderful way. The exquisite tension drew out like a wire, stretching impossibly, and he poured out all he was into it, breaking it at last, and, with a whine full of incredulity and satisfaction, he collapsed on top of Sif.

It was all he could do to breathe as the incredible contentment spread before him again, and Sif's hands were moving across him now, lazy arcs across his shoulders and soft clawlike incursions into his hair.

He was home.

Home on Asgard, home with Sif, on this bed, all cream linen and timber, in this house, which felt like theirs.

His fingers slid across the soft skin by his face, and he was perfectly, simply content.

The next day, back in New York, they went to the courthouse again, with Bruce and Natasha as witnesses, because they shared the qualities of being unobtrusive and not completely hung over. Sif wore street clothes she'd obtained at some point during her weeks on Earth, a blouse with some drape to it in a deep red color, black jeans and boots. The elegant utility of it suited her very well, and he followed her example, dressing in something he liked very much but that wasn't too formal - a blue sweater and grey pants.

The officiant read a short ceremony for them, congratulated them, and then there was just a bit more paperwork to do.

Steve signed the register, bouncing just a little with joy as he handed his spouse the pen. She took it, grinning back at him, and she wrote, strong and sure, 'Sif Rogers.'

He blinked. "You sure?" he asked.

"Yes," said Sif. "If anyone asks me, I will tell them that my beloved has kindly given me his name, and I bear it with pride, because it is a symbol of standing against unjust things, and a token of our partnership. It is a warrior's name, after Hrodgar, a great and trustworthy warleader who lived long ago on your world and fought beside Odin Allfather, who speaks highly of him. All will know that I am a warrior of Asgard, and that taking the name of Rogers only adds your strength to my own. I will make them know."

He smiled. "We will."

They had to sign a lot of papers before they even stepped into the hotel proper - warnings and waivers, evacuation procedures, agreements of various kinds - but finally they had their passes. As they stood in the Earth-based outer lobby of the hotel, Tony explained to them that their booking was for ten days and lunar sunrise would be on the fifth day.

He introduced them to Jasper, the AI who ran the hotel and who sounded suspiciously similar to Loki. Steve smiled as the voice greeted them warmly. They approached the doorway to the inner lobby, which was semicircular and windowless, but large and full of plants, so that it didn't bring to mind the claustrophobia of a pressurized cockpit or bring one face to face with the fact that this wasn't a normal place on Earth - except, of course, for the very reduced force of gravity.

Sif laughed in delighted surprise as her first step through the hotel doorway caused her to bound into the air, and Steve just looked on for a moment, transfixed at the sight of her joy, and the way, as she drifted back down to the floor, her black hair floated up around her like fronds of seaweed.

"All right, lover boy, don't hold up the line," Tony said finally, clapping him on the shoulder. "This facility has a single umbilical to Earth, not counting my lab door, that's private. So don't stand there to gawk when you've literally already gotten a room."

Steve finally turned his head to look at Tony. "Oh, right, sorry," he said, face red and flustered. He promptly tripped over his own feet, fell through the door, and began a slow eerie descent, like the ones that herald waking up from a dream.

Tony laughed, and grabbed him, pulling him upright with one hand while the other was braced on the grab bar at the side of the doorway. Tony then began to bound efficiently across the room as if he did this every day, which he probably did. He headed towards the wall opposite, the straight one, where the reception desk stretched out.

Steve and Sif followed more clumsily, laughing at each other and themselves, attempting to catch each other's hands on the way past, and first failing, and then succeeding, which spun them both into an odd and unexpected trajectory that had them spiralling towards the floor once more. But like balloons, they barely impacted the floor before bouncing and beginning to float upwards again. They had lost themselves in laughter when they heard Tony above them.

"Seriously. Room. Keys. Take them. Not that you'd actually need 'em, Jasper can open doors for you, but focus groups said not everyone likes to be reminded that a smart-mouthed AI is watching their every move. So, key cards."

He held out the plastic slips in their direction. Grinning like fools, they each took one, and then scrambled to their feet, bouncing with every motion. Tony began leading them away, still chattering, his pride in his creation clear. "There are two restaurants on the garden level, six on the main levels, and of course room service, and most of the food is cooked on good ol' Midgard and brought through, but the garden level places and the sushi place all prepare in front of you, performance art kind of thing, you'll want to try out one of those at least once. Gym is always open, Cirque du Soleil just started up their show here of course, locally mined glassblowing demonstrations are fun, it's amazing what they can do with just the chemical variation present in the rock here in terms of colors. Outdoor suit walks open up at lunar sunrise on Tuesday. Be careful with the bathrooms until you get used to them, water behaves differently at point one six gee, and remember, ask Jasper if you need anything at all, or if you just want to bug 'im, that's what he's there for. I'll get back to you about team dinner next Sunday, still trying to convince Bruce that he's not going to kill everyone just by setting foot on this awesome rock, I know he's been dying to come up. All right, here we are, this one's yours, enjoy."

A door stood before them, and Steve slid his key card into the slot at its side, pushing down the handle when the indicator went green (he had stayed in a hotel during the two years and change he'd lived on modern Earth).

"All right, that's my cue," Tony said, turning away. "Congrats, kids, have fun." And he left, and they went into the room, in which only a small lamp was lit, while the space was dominated by the window, all blackness and stars. They each put down their small bags and stared out at it.

"The stars look different from up here," Steve said. "They don't twinkle so much. They look more... permanent."

Sif smiled, pulling him close, and they drifted towards the window. "The stars look different from every world," she said, "though most of them are the same stars. The flavor of the world changes them. And yes, here, they do seem... harder, more unchanging. But still beautiful."

Steve wrapped his arms tighter around her, sighing contentedly. "I've stood on three worlds in two days, all with things I never dreamed of seeing when I was a kid. And still, all I've wanted to look at the whole time is you. You're incredible, Sif. Strong and beautiful, and everything you do is like a dance. I can't believe how lucky I've gotten."

Sif smiled back at him. "You know I think the same of you," she said.

They fell into a kiss, and this felt fresh and strong to Sif, the way everything narrowed to the touch between them, hands and arms enfolding, mouths joined. The way the ground here refused to pull at them here was more potent than any magic to take away the weight of life, the discomfort of their trials, and leave them free, leave them only for each other.

Sif held him close with one arm and began unbuttoning his shirt with the other hand, eager but lazy, just glad to be here with him and to have her knuckles brushing against his chest, lower with every button. Steve's fingers dug into her soft flesh through her shirt, and that strong but gentle grip reminded her of the previous night, and she moaned, anticipating what was to come. Steve pulled away from her mouth for a moment to whisper in her ear.

"This time," he said, "you're going to come first."

Everything was new again, after hundreds of years and dozens of partners. The wonder in Steven's voice, the caring and respect that it was founded on, these she was not used to, and the lightness of their bodies in this played havoc with any expectation she might have had of how any of this would feel, how they should go about giving each other pleasure. She found that she was enraptured by the moment, the simple touches they were exchanging, and she was very content to stay in this state of simple, strange, joyous suspension, and let Steven lead the dance this time.

They kissed and clung to each other, their bodies more solid and real than anything else around them. He was becoming accustomed more quickly to the strangeness of moving on this world, and he held her easily up against his own body, and she wrapped her legs tight around his waist because she could, and as he pulled her shirt from her shoulders, he began to suck and bite at the skin there, first her neck and then down the curve of her shoulder, and the sensation in such isolation had an intensity she would not have believed.

For him, standing there holding Sif in his arms as if she were light as a feather and feeling all her limbs wrapped around him, she was a treasure, an armful of everything good and precious and beautiful, and he sighed into her hair, wanting this moment to go on forever. If he had her in his arms like this, he would never want for anything else. Her hair smelled of rich wine and chocolate, and he buried his face in it, brushing at her neck with his lips, then kissing in earnest, and at the sound she made then, he tightened his arms around her, loving that she had taught him this treasure trove of knowledge about her body, every inch of it, as if she were a musical instrument, and if he touched the right parts in sequence, he could make her sing.

He moved one hand to her breast, brushing his fingers across the nipple lightly at first, and then, as it rose, nearly pinching, then he put his whole hand over the flesh of her breast and pressed steadily, feeling the elastic give of it and not being able to hold back a whimper of his own. Her legs tightened around him, pressing their still-clothed hips together, and she brought their mouths together as well in a moment of sweet connection, everything brightening briefly as their bodies aligned with each other.

They were both panting by the time they separated long enough to remove the rest of their clothing, tearing some of it in their haste and uncoordination in this gravity, and they both laughed breathlessly against each other, not caring at all.

Steve drew her back into his arms and kissed her tenderly again, then, to her surprise, he loosened his arms to turn her around, pulling her back flush to his chest. He lay back on the bed this way, bouncing lightly, and returned one hand to her breast, continuing to tease the nipple. The other hand worked its way down to her pelvis, fingers mapping the territory before finding and pressing on her clit, making her gasp.

His lips pressed against her neck, and his fingers continued to move, and she floated with nothing to apply herself to, not even Steven's pleasure or his instruction in sensual things. There was nothing to give her focus to but the work of his hands and mouth, the shivers of pleasure they gave her.

His fingers continued to circle her clit until she was squirming in his arms, making little moans of pleasure and asking for more. Only then did he slide his fingers lower, opening her, and then tilted her hips back so that he could slide into her from the back.

Oh, and what a good idea that was! He held one hip in a solid grip as he thrust, less uncontrolled this time, every push pressing on the best possible places, and his other hand was still on her clit, helping to pull her close, so that the force of every thrust was felt there, as well. She gasped and sobbed with the beauty of it, the pure pleasure, and against all odds, on this world, it was unlike anything she had ever felt.

She did come first, though Steve followed her closely, taking great gulping breaths at her neck and holding her so tight, so close, and there was nothing else in all the worlds but each other, their breath, and their love.

They lay tangled for a long time, wrapped tightly around each other, the low gravity meaning their was no danger of their limbs falling asleep.

"I can't even explain how happy I am right now," Steve murmured into her ear.

She smiled lazily back, kissing him lightly. "I believe I know how you feel," she replied.

"Good," he said. "You're all I care about right now. My family. My partner, my spouse... as strange as it is to say it, my husband."

Sif frowned a little. "You don't have to say it when we are alone. We are equals."

He shook his head. "There shouldn't be anything lesser about being a wife. Every couple are equals, even if they haven't realized." He laughed a little. "If there is any difference in the meaning of the words 'husband' and 'wife' besides who can bear children, I guess it's sort of a role description. Well, that's an old-fashioned way of looking at it on Earth, I guess. But on Asgard that's still how it is. And I'm going to cook for you, and keep your house clean and pretty, and I'll care for our kids if we have any. Because I want to, and that's how it should be. But also because I agreed to be your wife, and there shouldn't be anything wrong with that on any world."

She smiled softly. "Then I encourage you," she said. "Any battle you wish to fight, I will stand by your side."

They stayed in their room for the first two days, just them and the stars, until on the third day even their very athletic version of laying about was making Sif restless, and Steven agreed.

"We've barely seen this place," he said. "Tony said something about a garden level, and a gym? But the part we walked through looked like a shopping mall. And I don't even know what a Cirque du Soleil is, but Tony seemed to think it was worth seeing. Let's go find something we haven't seen before."

First they made a circuit of the main levels, the huge ring of shops and attractions that surrounded the lobby in the center of the compound. The rooms with their windows on the moon surface lined the outside, as the map kiosks told them, and the public areas with good views were on the garden level, above them. Steve had seen enough malls to be comfortable with the concept, but everything here was unique and surprising, the way things and people moved, and there were many people.

Steve got out his small travel sketchpad of course, putting down on paper impressions of what he found interesting, how people moved, their expressions when unexpected things happened, and of course Sif's magnificent face and the movements of her hair as she drifted back towards the floor after each step. After a while they retreated from the more crowded areas up into the garden level, where a series of smaller rooms full of the soft shapes of plants meant that even if there were many people here as well, the sight and sound of them was not nearly so overwhelming.

Many of the plants were food crops, some merely ornamental, and quite a few were both, like the Japanese apricot that on Earth would be a weeping tree, but here had an oddly tentacular shape, and the gigantic melons, which took advantage of the precisely controlled conditions to grow steadily bigger and the low gravity to keep their shapes and not collapse or develop flat patches. Grapes here grew in oddly round bunches, and all the plants seemed slightly askew in their growth patterns, but they'd been arranged with an expert artistic eye, so it all looked strange but very appealing.

Some plants were impossibly tall, spindly and delicate looking, and one room took advantage of this to create the illusion of a fairyland, in which all the guests were the size of insects with grasses and wildflowers towering above them. Steve spent a long time drawing in there, while Sif simply watched, looking up through the arched skylight at the stars, though they were not so visible from this brightly lit room.

After a time she became bored and lifted Steve bodily from his spot on the ground, which he didn't actually notice until he looked up from his page and the perspective had changed completely, at which he laughed. "Sorry, I got caught up. The images here are just so... different. Time to move on to something else?"

"If you don't mind," she said. So they went in search of something more to her taste.

On their way back through the mall area, they saw a woman streaking across the gallery and into the hotel lobby, yelling, "Look! I'm a B-52's album!" This made Steve blush, but considerably less than it would have previously. Sif merely laughed, which made Steve laugh, alhough neither of them got the reference.

After asking around a little bit, they decided to see the Cirque show, which started in half an hour. So they got tickets and then got lost in a toy store which was full of things like yo-yos and gliders and hula hoops and lots of other toys that were simple, but that changed radically with gravity, and that Steve recognized the use of.

The show was incredible, because although there was some clowning and distraction of the type Steve recognized from his trained monkey days, the centerpiece of the experience was a group of highly skilled acrobats stretching what could be done with simple equipment and creative choreography. There were bands of fabric that flowed through the space, and metal hoops, and a surprising amount of creativity with what looked like simple chairs, but what struck Steve the most was when some of them strapped large weights to their feet and walked around just as if they were back on Earth. The contrast was something to behold. Steve guessed that if one of those weights were back on Earth, not even he could lift it.

Later there was a bizarre segment with dancers with carefully done up hair who grabbed each other and threw each other about in impossible spirals, sometimes by the hair.

Too soon, everyone was filing out of the theater again, and they had to find something else to occupy themselves with.

Inspired by the show, they went in search of the gym, to try a little bit of just moving around at first. Then they sparred, which went hilariously badly at first, and they were collapsing in gales of laughter soon after they began. But they kept at it, and after a while, they began to develop a feel for what was practical to attempt at 0.16 g. There was a lot of jumping and wide-swinging kicks, and anything more close range devolved very quickly into grappling. Then grappling devolved into kissing, and soon they were well and truly over their restlessness and ready to go back to their room.

They spent the fourth day in their room again, alternating between genuine wrestling bouts and grappling with an entirely different aim in mind. After breakfast on the fifth day, Jasper interrupted a contented silence to tell them, "You may be interested to know that lunar sunrise will be beginning in around twenty minutes."

They settled in at the window to watch. It was slow to begin, only darkness and stars, as far as they could tell, for several minutes after Jasper's second notification. Then Steve saw the first hints of light hitting the tips of the lunar highlands outside the window to their right. Just jagged shapes of light against the darkness.

Then the first sliver of the sun appeared, quite suddenly, on the horizon to their left. It was bright, filtered only by dust and the reflective layer embedded in the windows, and the sky around it remained black, the stars dimming in contrast. They continued to watch the landscape as it changed shape, the pale jagged patches of light on the highlands continuing to grow, and a haze of grey creeping ever so slowly across the regolith spread out before them.

It was a slow process, the sun taking thirty times longer to escape the moon's horizon than the Earth's, but Steve couldn't tear his eyes away, and Sif just watched him, watched his face in the changing light. Blue eyes, huge and full of wonder, drinking in the sight of sunrise on a new world.

"I want to watch you see new things," Sif said. "I want to take you to Alfheim and see your face as you watch the elven cloud dancers. I want to show you Hel's library, a million pictures from a hundred worlds. I want to see your face when -" Her voice caught here. "- when you meet our children."

And then he turned those wondering eyes on her, every bit as fascinated and in awe as he had been about seeing his sun hit the dirt of a new world for the first time.

"I love you," he said, expression not changing. "I can't imagine anything more amazing than that."

Sif's heart cried out that, yes, this was what she wanted, he was what she wanted. She launched herself in his direction, a motion which sent them both tumbling onto the bed, and they wrapped their arms around each other and kissed as if they wanted to seal themselves together and never separate.

"Come on, Brucey, it's the deep lab. It's under half a football field's worth of moon rock. Nothing's going to happen. You know you want to come."

Bruce sighed. "It's, uh... it's not just the danger factor, which you can't play down, by the way. Hulk really doesn't like enclosed spaces, and he can usually find his way out of them. In this case, that means smashing his way through a resort hotel full of thousands of people and surrounded by nothing but silica dust and vacuum. That's not exactly low risk. And don't you dare even mention the waivers, this isn't about legal risk. But no, there's another factor. I'd really rather not have an incident there, even if it is sturdy enough, and there's a certain... level of excitement involved in this, that I'm not sanguine about keeping myself in control through."

Tony's smile slowly widened. "Oh, you totally have a science boner for my moon base."

Bruce chuckled helplessly. "That's one way of putting it, I suppose."

Tony shook his head. "Enough with the 'I can't have it, I want it too much' bull crap. Not good for the soul. Come on, live a little."

Bruce sighed. "Tony, I only live here because I trust you to keep me from doing anything really cataclysmic. You and the others. I can't exactly go anywhere that there's no one to hurt. I've tried. Being alone is bad for my control, I've accepted that. But I can at least keep away from places where one wrong blow can kill thousands of people. And don't tell me I'm overestmating the Other Guy's strength, because I'm not."

"Maybe not, but you're severely underestimating the safety measures I built into the base. Say you breach pressure containment. Pressure doors can seal off any area, even the rooms on the garden level. Evacuation procedures are triple redundant. Say you manage to take out all the active radiation shielding generators. The window plastic is rated for the radiation for short periods, and there's mass shielding between the garden level and the rest of the compound. Short version, you're not gonna take out the place with one blow, no matter how big. But you know all that, so that's not the point. The point is, you don't know how to handle something this good happening to you. And that? I can't just let that go."

Tony looked Bruce in the eye as he continued. "Don't promise to stay for dinner. Just say you'll step through the door. And if you have to leave again right away? The door's gonna stay open, Bruce." Tony put his hand on the doctor's shoulder. "It's not a cage, Big Guy. It's not a trap. Okay? I just want you there."

Bruce sighed. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"

Tony smirked. "Doesn't seem likely."

Bruce thought about what he'd told Steve, what he promised Captain America he'd think about.

"Fine. I'll step through the door."

Tony clapped him on the back. "Excellent! I'll save a place for you at the table."

Bruce made a face that was half cringe, half smile, and watched Tony leave the room before getting back to his work.

On the last day, Steve and Sif went poking around the gallery again, finding everything they hadn't yet seen and filling up every last corner of their minds - as well as Steve's sketchbook and a second one he had had to buy - with new and interesting things, half-familiar things, things just slightly but distinctly different than they usually were. Steve began to wonder just how many times he was going to feel that he'd somehow jumped forward in time.

But at least they found one thing that, to both of them, seemed simple and commonsense and reminiscent of the past.

Glassblowing worked similarly here to the way it did on Asgard - Sif had seen the artisans at work - and presumably on Earth, but the spinning to compensate for gravity was slower, and more glass stayed on the tube without problems. So the objects that took form were huge, delicate-looking bubble-like constructions or flowing forms full of motion, but judging by their thickness, they would actually prove quite solid. And heavy, once they were returned to Earth.

In the attached shop, they sold many things, like a chair made out of half of a huge glass bubble and fitted with padding. Here, it was pretty easy to lift, for a chair, but its marked shipping weight was enormous.

There was also a life-size sculpture of an elephant which would under no circumstances fit through the door back to Earth. It was a pale, translucent cream color decorated with gemlike spots in every color of the rainbow. When Steve saw it, he burst out laughing, and then had to wait several minutes to calm down enough to explain the joke. He went from the kings of Siam to the white elephant sales he'd seen in his childhood, and then somehow got onto the subject of economics, which was interesting because of their vastly different perspectives more than any real knowledge either of them had on the subject.

Sif had never paid all that much attention to any of the artisans on Asgard; as she said, she didn't need to know how a sword was made in order to swing it. But it occurred to her now that craftsmen were important to many aspects of life, and that decoration was merely a side embellishment, and after all, a pleasant one, as flyting was an embellishment to feasting.

So Sif saw the glassblowers working with new eyes, and watched it for hours. It was something that Sif would not have had patience for before, seeing decoration as frivolous. And although she still preferred the more obviously communicative arts, like portraiture, she was beginning to have her mind opened to the possibilities of things that were merely beautiful colors and shapes communicating important things like passions, anger, ambition, joy, love.

As a warrior showed off their skill, not just on the battlefield, but in flyting, storytelling and boasting, so a craftsman showed their heart not just by the fact that the glass held water, but also by the shape, color and texture.

Steve watched her, this time. "Not bored yet?" he asked, at the beginning of the third hour.

"No," she said. "You have changed the way I see. I see skill, where once I would have seen merely labor. I see art, where before I only saw trappings."

He smiled with wonder at this speech, drawing her close and kissing her, soft and sweet, keeping aware of the crowd around them.

"I'd love to stay longer," he said, "but we're going to be late for dinner if we don't hurry."

She sighed into his neck, realizing that he was right. Then she smiled at him. "A few more wonders before we return to our lives," she said. "This place is full of wonders."

They went through to the lobby, and through a door marked "Employees Only" that Jasper assured them was the correct one. They went down the lab elevator all the way to the bottom, until they came out into Tony's private workshop. He was there, grinning, arms wide.

"Ah, the guests of honor are here! Getting good use out of my hotel? How'd you like it?"

Steve smiled back. "It's pretty amazing," he said. "Maybe even better than flying cars."

"Thank you, Tony," Sif said, beaming at him. "It has been a long time since I have experienced anything quite so novel and freeing as this place."

"What can I say, I know my resort hotels. Changed a few variables, doesn't change the structure of the whole equation."

Darcy laughed. "You really don't hesitate to take credit for things, do you?"

Tony rolled his eyes at her. "Picking a location is always going to be the most important variable. I just took the opportunity to build on the most unique location humans have ever seen."

Darcy shook her head at him, but she was having too much fun to be seriously annoyed.

Thor and Natasha were sparring nearby, Clint and Loki looking on in fascination. Peter, Bruce, Jane and Gwen were, of course playing with the equipment; specifically, at the moment, they were using pressurized air jets to affect their own motions.

"All right, dinner time," Tony called, clapping his hands. "Promise you can play with Daddy's toys again after."

Clint rolled his eyes at that, but everyone else was genuinely excited enough about being here not to take offense.

They sat down at a huge table that probably hadn't been there yesterday and probably wouldn't be there again tomorrow. All twelve of them fit along one side and the two ends, and there was a team of servers waiting along the other edge.

"Thanks for doing this, guys," Tony said to them. "I had to show everybody this, but not everyone is really comfortable being upstairs."

One of them nodded. "Of course, Mr. Stark."

What followed was, in essence, a slapstick routine, in which the servers washed vegetables (an interesting show in itself at 0.16 g) and cut them and arranged them, all the while pretending to be clumsy and absent-minded, with constant near misses that would have been disastrous on Earth, but here simply meant gentle bumps where there would have been splats, catches at the ends of slow falls, and several sprigs of parsley suspended in the air at any given moment, completely ignored, as if the servers had lost track of them.

Their plates slowly gained vegetables in a seemingly haphazard fashion, but actually they ended up with delicate constructions reminiscent of houses of cards. At the end, the parsley drifted gently down to settle on the peak of each tower.

The Avengers watched, entranced. At the end they applauded, and the vibrations caused their salads to slowly collapse into neat piles. Then the concoctions were dressed, and the servers took orders for the main course, out of a handful of choices they were prepared to make.

As they ate their salad, they watched the cooking, which involved considerably more open flame and less show of incompetence than the first course. It was all delicious, of course, and then the preparation of dessert was a graceful dance of fruit sculptures, whipped cream and chocolate.

The servers left, then, back up the elevator to the resort proper.

"See, Brucey, aren't you glad you decided to show up?"

"That was remarkable," Bruce replied, "but I really could have just set up a video conference for this."

"Not for the toys," Gwen said, looking at him with knowing, slightly mocking glee. "I was there. You were having a blast working out the physics of the air jets hands on. And, as the only person here who's a civilian and not somehow answerable to SHIELD, I can tell you officially that you are worth the risk. Wouldn't have been the same without you."

Bruce spluttered a little.

"Hey, you're gonna make me jealous," Peter whined jokingly. "I thought I was your favorite science geek."

Gwen shook her head and then pressed her lips together as if steeling herself to deliver bad news. "Sorry to tell you, but I'm my favorite science geek," she said.

Tony laughed. "Now that is a position I can relate to. Got a favorite sorcerer too, though," he said, before Josh could make up his mind to deck him.

"Ooh, ooh, it's me, isn't it?" joked Darcy. Loki decided to deck her instead, and she flew out of her seat, laughing.

Natasha rolled her eyes, most of them laughed, and the whole room was full of a comfortable festivity, a feeling of family and love.

Sif decided that she liked this planet best of all.

Then Tony made an idea noise. Everyone looked at him warily. "Oh! Steve! Almost forgot. I brought you a little something, courtesy of the vultures known as the American press."

Steve warily took the newspaper Tony was holding out in his direction. It was a copy of the National Register, and across it was a picture of Steve and Sif walking out of the courthouse, hand in hand with goofy smiles on their faces. An inset from a different photo showed the detail of their wedding rings.

"Not a bad picture," he said, making Tony pout with his lack of reaction. But he was very used to publicity. Then he caught sight of the headline, and it made him laugh.

"Captain America marries alien, honeymoons on the moon!"

A/N: Open gates to Earth mean a full-pressure enclosure, and a nitrogen-heavy air mix. So open flame is feasible.