July 4, 1928
Before Steve really knew anything, he knew that his father was different. For one thing, his father was alone and had always been alone. He told Steve that his mother died, that she vanished, that she ran away. The story was never quite the same. Whenever he asked, his father looked pained and told him one of the variations on the story until Steve learned not to ask anymore.
And really, he didn’t need a mother. His father was a good father, even if he was different. Even if he didn’t go to work exactly, but stayed at home and wrote long odd stories that magazines like ‘Amazing Tales’ paid for in cash; even if he made elaborate meals out of nearly no food at all, but was baffled by cars and even if, his father sewed neatly and better than most mothers, yet didn’t know the first thing about baseball. No, his father, no matter how strange, was the best father he could have.
“Up, up!” His father calls through the door on Steve’s eleventh birthday. “You have a half hour to be out the door for school.”
He stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom to wash his face. The boy in the warped mirror was frail, but he had a nice smile and bright blue eyes. His father always looked deeply into his eyes like he could see something that most people couldn’t and said that they were good eyes. He rinsed out his mouth and then went back to the bedroom, pulling on the trousers and a shirt. The fabric was tired and worn, but every one of his father’s neat stitches held.
Breakfast was already on the table. His father was siting, a folded newspaper at his elbow. He wouldn’t open it until Steve left for the day. Next to Steve’s plate of scrambled eggs and bacon, was a neatly wrapped box.
“Don’t stand there staring, it makes you look like an idiot.” His father chided, cutting the first piece of egg from his plate. “Go on, open it.”
Carefully peeling away the paper, Steve tried to imagine what his father could possibly have gotten for him. He hadn’t thought of anything he really wanted this year that they could afford. Last year, there had been a stack of comics and he’d read them until they were almost too smudged to make out. Since then, he’d picked up odd jobs and bought comics for himself, feeding a tireless obsession.
A thick pad of paper met his fingers under the wrapping. Each page untouched and creamy when he started to flip through it. Tucked neatly inside was a flat box of colored pencils in twenty-four shades and one of the professional looking erasers he’d only seen when peering over a street artist’s shoulder.
“Dad, where did you get these?” He touched the pencils reverently, already imagining grinding down the tips to sharp points and putting the images in his mind to paper.
“Art supply shop.” His father replied dryly.
“But they must have cost a fortune!”
“Steve, really.” His father laughed. “We’re not as poor as all that. You worry too much.”
“I-” He put down the precious pad and pencils to throw his arms around his father. As he had since Steve was old enough to remember, his father looked surprised by the hug, but returned it hard and dropped a kiss into Steve’s hair. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sunshine.”
“Daaaad, I’m too old for that nickname.” He complained through a mouthful of eggs.
“You’ll always be my sunshine, even when you’re taller than me.”
Steve’s father was easily six feet tall, he doubted he’d ever be taller than him. Then again his dad was skinny like he was, so maybe he’d get lucky and have a growth spurt soon. Of course, his father also had mercurial eyes that shifted from green to blue and a thick mane of jet black hair, so maybe not. When Steve imagined his mother, he gave her blond hair, a nice smile and laughing blue eyes. Someone that he could resemble. Maybe he’d draw her tonight.
“I’ll make dinner.” His father was saying and Steve looked up with a smile.
“That’d be great, Dad. Thanks. Can we have lasagna?”
“I wouldn’t make anything else for your birthday.”
Steve hugged him again before grabbing his books and starting the dangerous walk to school. The first time he’d come home with a black eye and a stubborn expression, his father had held him for a long time. When he pulled back it was with a look of grim determination. There were long lessons in evasion, ducking impromptu weapons, and effective squirming. The beatings never quite stopped, but he’d gotten a lot better at coming out of them unscathed. Every time he came home with a bruise, they talked through how he’d gotten it and how to do better next time. Steve could admit that it was an unconventional approach to bullying, but it worked for him. He got to stand up for himself and others without adult intervention and come away in much better shape.
As if the world knew it was his birthday, he didn’t encounter a single problem on the way to school. He even found a nickel in the gutter and was busy making plans on how to spend it when he heard the school bell and had to run not to be late.
The school day dragged on as he doodled in his notebook. The work wasn’t hard and he’d already done most of it. Idly, he wondered if he should ask his father about skipping a grade, but then he’d be even smaller than his classmates. By the time school let out, he had a list of pros and cons two pages long. He lingered by his locker until some of the worst bullies had gone on their way. When he got outside, he found Bucky waiting and smoking an illicit cigarette. He put it out as soon as he saw Steve, flushing guiltily.
“You shouldn’t steal from your sister.” Steve sighed, resisting clucking his tongue like an old maid.
“She gave it to me.” Bucky grinned. “I earned it not snitching on her. She snuck out with her boyfriend last night.”
“So you coming home with me?” He changed the subject, uneasy as always about the Barnes family comings and goings.
“Yeah, of course. I even got you something!” One hand disappeared into Bucky’s endless pockets and emerged with a crumpled piece of paper. “I didn’t have a way to wrap it.”
The paper fell away in Steve’s hand. The metal had been poorly cast and whoever painted it had clearly never really looked at the comic, but it was still recognizably a metal figure of The Shadow, his long coat flaring out behind him.
“Oh wow, Bucky. Thanks!” He beamed, rolling the figure between his fingers.
“Yeah, well, it was nothing.” Bucky elbowed him gently.
“No, it’s something.” He laughed as Bucky blushed and kicked at a loose cobblestone. “Come on, let’s go home.”
They walked in companionable silence. Bucky was a large boy, and he exuded a casual toughness that kept would be harassers at bay. Other people said that Bucky was no good because he wore spats like a grown man, smoked, swore and came from a bad part of town. Steve’s Dad had taken one look at the first friend Steve had ever brought home and started calling him ‘Buckster’ and stretching the meal to accommodate him. A lot of nights, Bucky ate dinner with them then slept on their couch and the nights he didn’t, Steve’s father always asked after him with a worried set to his mouth.
“Hey, the door’s open.” Bucky frowned which made Steve frown. His father never left the apartment door open, even in the dead heat of summer.
“The lock is broken!” Before he could think, Steve was running into the house. “Dad! Dad! Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, Steve. Hello, Bucky.” His father was standing in their tiny living room, right up against the couch. His arms were crossed and his whole body tense. Just a few feet away from him was a mountain of a man. It was the first time Steve could remember someone else besides him, his father and Bucky being in the apartment.
The man was about the same height as his father, but very broad across the shoulders and dressed like something out of a comic book. He wore a shiny metal breastplate and a long red cape. In one hand, a tremendous hammer hung low and threatening For a brief insane moment, Steve was sure that he must have stepped right out of one of his father’s stories.
“Who are you?” He demanded, unconsciously stepping in front of his father. Bucky was quickly at his side both of them staring down the intruder.
“Steven.” The other man said gravely, his hammer drooping a little. “I’m your father.”
“No.” Steve reached out and grabbed his father’s hand. “This is my father.”
“He’s telling the truth.” His father sighed, and squeezed Steve’s hand. “I’ll explain over dinner. Bucky, please close the door.”
Stunned, Bucky closed the door and Steve gaped at his father.
“You are my son.” His father said firmly. “But the story is a complicated one. This is Thor. “
“Thor.” Steve repeated. “I guess your parents really did have a Scandinavian theme going, huh Dad?”
“You never told him?” Thor’s voice was a rumble, but it carried sadness clearly. “How could you?”
“How couldn’t I?” His father snapped. “I knew he was mortal from the beginning. Should I have raised him where he could never fit in? Exposed him to all the hate and questions that would have come with his first breath without our gifts to protect him?”
“I could have-”
“No.” His father turned his back on Thor, opening the stove to check on the lasagna. “You couldn’t have. You would have told me that I couldn’t have him and I wouldn’t accept that. I wanted him and I kept him and you’re not responsible.”
“Loki, please.” Steve almost felt a little bad for this Thor person. But only a little. He cast a glance at Bucky who looked thoroughly lost. Good, at least he wasn’t the only one.
“Steve, set the table please. Bucky, can you get the chair from my desk? Thor will be joining us for dinner.”
For the first time, his father’s lasagna went untasted. Oh, Steve ate it, but he was too busy worrying over the increasing silent tension and trying to figure everything out by talking to Bucky solely with his eyes to actually pay attention to what he was putting in his mouth. At least Thor seemed to like it, decimating what usually would have been leftovers for tomorrow.
When the table was cleared, his father folded his hands tightly in front of him and took in a long deep breath.
“Steve, I’m going to explain this to you, but I want you to know first why I haven’t before.” His father glared at Thor. “And you will be silent.”
“Uh, do you want me to go, sir?” Bucky asked.
“Steve will only tell you tomorrow anyway, you might as well hear it directly, but what you hear has to stay in this room, do you understand? It’s for Steve’s safety.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” Bucky glanced back at Steve, who could only shrug. “I promise.”
“Good.” His father sighed and leaned back in his chair. “The first thing you have to know is that Thor and I come from very far away and that we were once brothers. I was adopted which is why we don’t look much alike.”
What followed was a story that left Steve in open mouthed shock. His father, his unassuming scholarly father, was a god from legend. A shape changing god which he proved by taking on a very disconcerting feminine shape (many years later he would privately admit that his father made a beautiful woman then locked that thought in a box lest it drive him mad). The shape he had apparently used when he had learned that he wasn’t really an Asgardian god, but one of the Jotun, frost giants with a bent for magic. The shape he had used to seduce his brother and conceive a child.
“You’re my mother?” Steve stumbled over the question, hardly able to form it.
“As soon as I realized what had happened and what you were, I left.” His father...his mother? was as serene as if this were one of his bedtime stories. “The offspring of a Juton and an Aesir was an ill-advised breeding, you were weak and clearly mortal even in my womb.”
“Guess you were disappointed.”
“Never.” His father said firmly. “I may not have intended you, sunshine, but you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I loved you the moment you kindled inside of me. I spent nine months living as a mortal woman in Norway, but I read about America and decided to raise you here instead. You were born here to a nameless woman, who apparently couldn’t speak English. I reverted back to my male form afterwards, claimed to be her husband and took you home. I chose the last name Rogers out of a phone book.”
“Oh.” Steve said faintly, then finally looked back to Thor. He did have long blond hair and bright blue eyes. “So you really are my father?”
“Yes, little one.” Thor’s smile was broad and white, just like Steve’s. “I’m sorry that I did not know you.”
“I...yeah.” He looked desperately to his father.
“Clearly there needs to be some renegotiation.”
“Uh, sir?” Bucky, who still looked shell shocked, cleared his throat. “Can we go back to the part where you’re a dame?”
Outside the fireworks began, cutting off whatever reply his father might have made.
July 4, 1937
The apartment building might have been falling apart, but the rooftop was one of the best places to watch fireworks. Two rickety kitchen chairs and beers of questionable origin topped off the night.
“Here’s to you’re twentieth!” Bucky tapped his bottle to Steve’s and they both took a swig. “You’re turning into an old man.”
“Shut up.” Steve laughed and tipped his head up to the sky. “Or I’ll hit you with my cane.
One moment they were alone on the rough and the next, his father and Thor stood in front of them. Steve nearly fell out of his chair.
“Happy Birthday, son.” His father smiled at him. “I hope we’re not interrupting.”
“No, sir. We were just having a toast.” Bucky picked up another beer, offering it up “Want one?”
“No thank you, Bucky.” His father absently patted Bucky on the head as if they were still children.
“We come with bad tidings. I am sorry, my son.” Thor boomed. “Asgard requires both of us on this day. We must leave you.”
“We were going to break the news gently.” His father elbowed Thor hard. Thor seemed not to notice.
“You’re going back?” Steve glanced between the two of them.
A year after Thor appeared in his life, his father had apparently caved and the God of Thunder had started living with them full time. He shared his father’s bedroom though they were otherwise very discreet. His father had seemed happier, so Steve tried to accept it. Thor was even fun to have around though he sometimes missed the quiet of before. Thor just had a tendency to fill empty space with his large voice and grand gestures while Steve and his father could sit quite happily in silence all day. Still, it had been Thor who took up Steve’s training where his father’s had left off and Thor, who taught him bawdy jokes and how to talk to women. By the time he’d moved out with Bucky, Steve had taken to calling Thor ‘Pop’ which after some explanation from his father had made Thor hug him so hard he’d actually stopped breathing.
And now they were both leaving.
“Not forever.” His father grimaced. “But for at least a year or two. There’s been an invasion and Odin has fallen into a deep sleep. Really, Thor could handle it on his own...”
“We have need of your skills.” Thor interrupted, flashing Steve’s father an adoring look. “No one else has your way with strategy.
“If you were still a child, I would have refused.” His father continued on as if Thor hadn’t said a thing though his usually pale cheeks flushed a delicate pink. “But you’re grown now and I... well there’s nothing much left for me to do, is there?”
“Dad.” Steve started then stopped and cleared his throat. He was a man, he wasn’t going to bawl like a baby. “I’ll miss you guys.”
“As we will miss you!” Thor grabbed him into one of his bear hugs.
Thor passed him apologetically to his father, who embraced him in his own serpentine fashion. When he pulled away a little, he saw tears in his father’s eyes and swallowed hard. His father never cried.
“I love you, sunshine.” The tears didn’t fall, didn’t seem to dare. “More than anything else in this rotten galaxy. You take care of yourself, you understand me?”
“I love you too, Dad.”
“You do whatever it is your heart tells you to do. You’ve got a good one, you can trust it.” He kissed Steve on the forehead in a routine benediction that had stopped years ago. Steve was surprised to find he’d missed it. “Thank you.”
“For saving my life.” His father looked over his shoulder at Thor. “All right, I’m ready.”
Mjolnir rose up against the sky and the flash of lightening put all the fireworks to shame. When the last flare died away, Steve and Bucky were alone again on the roof.
“Your family is so damn weird.” Bucky finished off his beer. “You all right?”
“Yeah, yeah I guess so. I’m going back inside.”
“Sure thing, it’s gone dark anyway.”
The door to their apartment was firmly locked, yet it was clear as soon as they opened it that someone had been inside. On top of their tiny stove, someone had set a pan of lasagna and on their kitchen table was a wrapped box.
“Oh, Dad.” Steve picked up the box and unwrapped it slowly while Bucky cut into the lasagna.
“What’d he get you?”
“It’s...an acceptance to the School of Visual Arts with a full scholarship.” He read the papers over slowly, hardly believing it. “There’s even a stipend for on campus lunches.”
“I didn’t know you applied!”
Steve laughed until he was fighting back tears.
It wasn’t until the next day when he was sorting through the papers properly that he found the short note in Thor’s blockey handwriting:
Many happy birthdays to you. We hope this present will cover all the felicitous returns that we may miss.
With Love and Pride,
July 4th, 2012
“-in light of the recent incursions on the borders of several U.S. owned territories it has been determined-” A voice droned through the wall.
Steve tried to pay attention. The information was supposed to be a critical update for him, bringing him up to speed before he was safe to leave the SHIELD building. He was just so tired. Not bodily tired, the serum that finally unlocked all his divine genetics ensured that it was unlikely he would ever feel that kind of fatigue again. This was a bone deep kind of weariness from constantly trying to reconcile his past with this future.
They’d laid it on him slowly as if he might shatter, but as the list of his former friends, lovers and acquaintances who had long ago passed on grew it only felt like they were stacking bricks on his broad shoulders. He’d experienced the losses of an entire lifetime over night. Even once he was let out of the building, he would find no one. Would never again experience the tiny thrill of seeing a familiar face in the crowd or walking into a favorite restaurant and seeing the familiar face of the proprietor. Bucky, Peggy, every single one of the Howling Commandos had died, chipping away at his sense of self. He was a man out of his time, without a lover, a friend or even a passing acquaintanceship.
“Captain?” The voice on the speaker stopped.
“I’m listening.” He replied hastily.
“General Fury requests your presence in Conference Room B.”
“Uh, right, ok. I’ll be there in a minute.” He ran a comb through his hair and found his shoes.
Conference Room B was not a small room with a long table and too many chairs clustered around it like most of the places he’d been since waking up. The room was circular for one and there were large glass cases, each containing a colorful suit. The uniform Howard had designed for him was the first on the left and he stood in front of it for a long minute. Howard was gone too. Lost to the ash.
“Nice suit.” Howard said behind him and Steve jumped, turning to embrace his old friend then stopped short. He sounded like Howard and even looked a little bit like him, but he was too broad at the shoulder and his chin was too square. “I’m Tony Stark.”
“Iron Man.” Steve repeated automatically, remembering one of the many briefings. “Thanks, your father designed it.”
“Did he?” Tony flickered a glance over his shoulder at the suit then back to the Steve’s face. “I bet I can improve it.”
“So glad you could both make it.” Fury stepped into the room, giving Stark a sardonic eyebrow. “Remind me to upgrade the security system.”
“I have an invitation.” Tony winked at Steve who managed a weak smile back. “So now that we’re all gathered-”
“You aren’t. I’ve just heard back from some contacts and our team is nearly complete. They’re speaking the last of the potential members right now.”
As if on cue, the door slammed off his hinges, a flare of red and gold stormed into the room.
“Where is my son?” A familiar voice boomed and Steve’s heart twisted. He hadn’t let himself think about his parents. Intellectually, he’d always known they were immortal, but everyone else was gone, why not them?
“Pop!” He grinned from ear to ear, ignoring the look of shock on Tony’s face.
“Steven!” Thor set down his hammer to pull Steve into a hug. For the first time, Steve was able to hug back with nearly equal strength. “We were told that you died. We mourned you all these many years.”
“I though I was a goner too.” He pulled back, though he was still gripping Thor’s arms. “Where’s Dad?”
“He did not take the news of thy death well.” Thor sighed, “We fought for many years against the invaders. When the news of your death reached us, he went mad with grief. I have not seen him in many years, but I will attempt to contact him about your return.”
“Wait, wait, Thor is your father?” Tony cut in. “Why wasn’t that in the briefing?”
“It’s news to me.” For once Fury looked at a loss. “According to your records, your mother and father died when you were a kid, soldier.”
“I couldn’t tell them that they were Norse gods, sir. It was a legitimate cover story. “ Steve finally dropped his hold on Thor’s arms, but couldn’t convince himself to move away. It was like finding an harbor in the middle of a terrible storm. “I’m sorry if its an inconvenience.”
“Wait, can we go back to the part where Captain America was by a gay couple?” Tony was grinning and Steve was reminded painfully of Bucky. “Did they even allow that back then?”
“We were very discreet.” Thor wrinkled his brow. “I did not see why it mattered, but humans have strange morals.”
“If it helps, we’ve gotten better.” Tony offered. “It’s even legal to get hitched now.”
Despite the arrival of Black Widow, Hawkeye and Dr. Banner, the meeting never really got off the ground after that. Thor and Steve were talking a mile a minute, catching each other up and Tony kept peppering them both with questions until Fury finally gave up and let them at it.
It wasn’t for another month that the Avengers were ready to take on the world. They ran a few small scale missions and overall, Steve was happy with the group of people he’d been given to lad. It was a little weird telling Thor what to do and Tony had a habit of undermining his authority, but otherwise it was fine.
July 4th was nearly over and Steve’s birthday mercifully uncelebrated when a call came over the radios.
“There’s been an explosion in Time Square. All operatives report in.”
The Avengers beat the SWAT team in by five minutes. Time Square was nearly empty, the bomb hadn’t injured many people, but statue of George M. Cohen would never be the same again. A group of black clad soldiers were fighting off the police with ease. Laughing manically in the center of the rubble was a familiar face.
“Dad!” Steve called out, ignoring voices of protest as he charged into the fray of the fighting. “Dad, what are you doing?”
“Who dares?” His father whipped around, eyes flickering manically around. “Who on this day of all days, would dare?”
“Dad, calm down, it’s me!” He held out his hand, “Man, when Pop said you’d gone mad with grief, I thought he was using an cliche, not being literal.”
“Steve?” His father finally asked hesitantly. “Steve, don’t..you’re dead does that mean...am I dead? I’ve been ready for so long...”
“No.” He swallowed hard. “I’m alive, Dad. I was frozen for a long time, but I’m alive. They thawed me out. Pop has been trying to find you tell you.”
“You were dead.” His father stared at him. “And I came home to bury you, but they told me there was no body. They kept telling me you were a hero. That you saved the world, but they couldn’t even find you. I should have stayed with you, kept you from being foolish. Why couldn’t you just stay at home and be an artist?”
“You told me to follow my heart, Dad. Call off this fight and you can lecture me all you want about it.” Another solider came at him and Steve paused to knock him unconscious. “Please.”
“The fight?” His father looked over the chaos and the incoming SWAT team. “There was a plan, this isn’t as chaotic as it looks.”
With a short wave of his hands, the soldiers ceased to exist. The rubble reformed itself and it was if nothing had ever happened.
“Dad.” Steve reached out again, “I missed you.”
And then his arms were full of a sobbing god and Steve could admit that he might have let a few tears trickle free himself. Disconcertingly, he found he really was finally taller than his father.
“Don’t ever do that to me again, sunshine.” His father scolded. “I was worried sick.”
“It is a good day for a reunion!” Thor boomed and wrapped his large arms around them both leaning down to kiss Loki’s cheek. “You will come home with me this time and not fight me.”
“No, Thor.” His father hiccuped. “Not back to Asgard, I can’t...”
“The Avengers mansion.” Steve cut in. “It’s got a ton of extra bedrooms, you’ll like it.”
“Does someone want to explain what the hell is going on?” Black Widow’s voice cracked over the radio. “Why the hell is Steve cuddling Loki?”
“Steve has two daddies.” Tony informed her solemnly over a very public band. “And we should be sensitive about that. Didn’t you go the mandatory diversity training?”
“How does that even happen?” Hawkeye demanded.
“Well, when a Loki loves a Thor very much-”
“Shut up, Tony.” Steve said sternly over the radio, suppressing a laugh.
Somewhere over the Hudson, the first firework of the night exploded in red, white and blue.