Steve was used to over-obvious friendliness in European bars. Americans were welcome everywhere they went in places like England (or, more subtly, France), and Captain America was a lot of countries' favourite person. But most of the time when people insisted on buying drinks for his entire unit it was because they recognised him.
"It's Steve," he reminded the enormous Scandinavian stranger, accepting the third pint of dark Icelandic beer. It was easier not to explain the way his metabolism made it redundant. "Steve Rogers."
The man slapped him on the back hard enough to spill Steve's drink. "Indeed!" he boomed. "I am Thor, and this here is my younger brother, Loki!"
Loki twitched his fingers in a small 'hello'. Next to him, Bucky gave a friendly laugh. "Going with Norse gods today, huh fellas?"
Loki's smile was a little sharp, but he inclined his head. "We most certainly are. After all, such brave gentlemen as you deserve to be toasted by the gods, don't you think Sergeant?"
"Well said, Loki!" shouted Thor, whose default volume seemed to be 'loud'. He raised his glass. "To Steve Rogers and his band of warriors!"
The Howling Commandos along the bar, and then the entire barroom took up the hear, hears and then somehow there were glasses being smashed and fourth rounds being ordered and even Steve with his super soldier metabolism found himself losing track of the evening a little.
It was maybe one in the morning by the time Bucky suggested table tennis. Steve pointed out that they didn’t have a table. Or paddles, or a ball. But then Thor said something in what he obviously thought was a sly voice and Loki was producing a small ball he just happened to have in his pocket. And four table tennis paddles he'd forgotten he was carrying. Steve thought they were probably trying to be subtle, and were far too drink to notice that they weren't. But, hey, everyone else was just as drunk. And as far as Steve was concerned, if the worst thing that happened tonight was an encounter with a pair of table tennis sharps - sharps who were willing to buy all the drinks themselves - it was still a good night.
Even if the paddles looked like they'd been hastily thrown together by someone who'd only just had the concept of table tennis explained to him.
They set up a line of cardboard coasters across a table to use as a net and split into pairs - Thor and Steve on one side of the table and Loki and Bucky on the other. "So we are to use the paddles to hit the ball at each other? And the others may use their own paddles to defend themselves?" Thor said, and Steve would be completely suckered in by his confused face if his brother hadn't been mysteriously carrying table tennis paddles.
Loki looked pretty confused himself, though. Steve couldn't quite stop himself from explaining, again. "Not quite. You're not trying to hit the other team with the ball, just hit it so they can't hit it back."
"And what happens when the ball goes flying off the table, never to be seen again because we couldn't hit it back?" Loki asked. Bucky slung an arm around his neck, paddle in hand, and hung against him harder than he should.
"Then we go get it. We can look under... all the tables and chairs." He waved a hand at the tables and chairs in question.
Loki rolled his eyes and fell into whispers with Bucky, “You are drunk."
"I am drunker than you."
"We should all be more drunk!" Thor burst in joyfully, spreading his arms. "Especially Steve Rogers! Barkeep, see to it!"
Steve motioned to the bartender, do not bring more alcohol over here. No one noticed that their drinks failed to appear. "I still don't understand," said Loki. "When does the flyting happen?"
Steve frowned. "Uh, the objective is to hit the ball while it's still in flight, I guess. You have to hit it before it bounces twice, or it's out."
Loki's brow creased as he tried to figure out why he didn't understand what Steve was saying. "No, no-no, I meant..."
"No, brother, there is no flyting in this table tennis!" Thor interrupted him. "It is a game for warriors, not a game of words and rhyming!"
"But I like flyting,” muttered Loki, working to set Bucky back on his feet. Steve silently wished him luck with that. Bucky had a habit of turning into an octopus when drunk, all boneless arms and legs and dopey grin. Thor smacked the table with his paddle.
"Enough talk! Action!" He threw the little ball up in the air, and smashed down with the paddle. The ball flew at violent speed toward his brother and Loki gave an undignified yelp as he threw up his hands to shield his face. The ball hit him anyway.
Bucky glared on behalf of his team mate and dropped to the floor to search for the ball. "I don't think I like table tennis," said Loki.
Steve smacked his partner in the elbow as Bucky located the ball and came back to the table. He hooked an arm around Loki's neck again to mutter in his ear. It was too quiet and too slurred for Steve to hear, but he could make out something about follow my lead and smash these guys and Loki nodded. Bucky bounced the ball once on the table. "Our turn," he said. Loki's answering smile was slow, but unsettling.
It took them two or three games to get into the rhythm of it, but by the third game Loki and Bucky were a force to behold. A few commandos started taking bets, the Big Muscly Blonds versus the Less Muscly But More Dangerous Brunets. Less-muscly-but-dangerous ruled the odds after four games. Thor started to look troubled, then frantic, but no matter how Steve tried, the Bucky-Loki combo was unbeatable. Anywhere Loki's paddle fell short, Bucky was just there to cover him. They must have been communicating telepathically, because they moved perfectly in each other's personal space. The ball whipped past Steve's ear close enough to ruffle his hair more times than he could count.
An hour, maybe an hour and a half into the slaughter that they were pretending was still table tennis, Thor and Steve managed to make a brief comeback - Thor sent the ball high, bouncing off the table and over Loki's off-hand shoulder, just too far for Bucky to reach. Steve clapped Thor's shoulder in congratulation, and Thor dragged him into a celebratory hug. Steve almost missed Loki's glare. Then, though absolutely nothing changed in the LMBD-brunets' playing style, the next six games ended with the ball pegging Thor right between the eyes. Loki and Bucky high-fived with their paddles.
In the early hours of the morning, when the players were starting to sober up, and the first inklings of hangover were creping in, Steve announced the Big Muscly Blonds' unconditional surrender. Thor grumbled, but agreed, and Bucky and Loki cheered. Bucky, still embarrassingly drunk, started composing poems about how they were champions of their age, and recited them as Loki hopped up to sit on the table. "I've changed my mind," he said, knocking over the 'net'. "I love table tennis." Thor ignored him.
"You hear that, Thor?" Bucky grinned, grabbing Loki's wrist and holding it up in triumph. "He's changed his mind!"
Thor grinned back, despite himself. "Yes, yes, brother," he said fondly, "You are as changeable as the sea."
"Oh, Thor," beamed Loki, "I am much more changeable than that." He let Bucky drag him off to be congratulated by the other commandos, and Thor shook his head ruefully.
Steve handed him back his paddle, and Thor took it absently. "He changes his mind a lot, huh?”
Thor shot Steve a look. "Steve Rogers, you have no idea."
It's been seventy years, and Bucky is long dead and Loki is standing over him, his front stained with Thor's blood. Steve struggles to balance himself on a shattered knee. There are fires and sirens in the distance, and somewhere nearby a child is sobbing.
"Loki," he grinds out, jaw tight with pain. "Loki what is this? Why are you doing this?"
Loki kneels, reaches out a gentle hand to brush the remains of Steve’s hood back from his face. He smiles, and it's such a bitter thing that Steve can't breathe. "I changed my mind," he says, and then he's gone.