You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Cover art by: reena_jenkins
Dim shadows shift on the wall with the motions of the wind. Something heavy sits in Thor’s throat, the film between memory and empathy suspending him just above sleep. The feeling will not leave him, no matter how many times he swallows.
Jane, curled tightly around him, makes a soft sound. Her hand crawls up his side and traces tenderly over the bone of his jaw. “I know you’re not sleeping,” she whispers into his skin.
“Is that so,” he chides, pressing his thumb into the hollow line of her spine. She leans up on her elbow and smoothes her fingers over his brows, the ridge of his nose, the soft peak of his upper lip. He kisses her fingertips as they pass, and she folds down again, her nose in his ribs.
“What are you thinking?”
He blinks at the far-away ceiling with its shifting shadow patterns. “There is one,” he says, and then he stops, biting the inside of his cheek.
“Hmm?” Jane’s fingers run a delicate arc over his chest, swaying as easy as the tide. He counts her breaths, and she waits.
“I know,” he starts again, haltingly, “I know you would use the word ‘team’ but it pales… I would call him a brother for the blood spent in the fields.”
Jane’s hand presses flat and still in the hollow of his sternum. It rises and falls with his intervening breaths.
“His name is Steven,” Thor says, after a long moment of quiet.
Jane presses the top of her foot into the smooth, thick muscle of his calf, a most gentle encouragement.
“He came to this world in a state of such anger and confusion and hurt as I,” he confesses, “perhaps more profound, because he knew not the reason.” His throat works, but he finds no more words under his tongue. Jane links together the fingers of their free hands.
“You found me,” Thor tells her, something reverential in his tone. “You believed me when I said I fell.”
Jane smiles against his ribs. “In all fairness, I took some convincing.”
“And a truck.”
“And a truck,” Jane concedes, and Thor can feel the heat of her flush on his skin. “I’m sorry,” she teases.
Thor rubs the rasp of his stubbled cheek over her temple. “But you believed me. You believed in me.”
“Of course I did,” she says, “I had evidence.” Quiet stretches again, long and full. Eventually, Thor sighs.
“I do not think anyone believes him.”
The beat of his fists is heavy and measured; his panting breath in his ears a distraction from insidious thoughts. Distantly, a door slams-
-followed by the staccato of a dozen weary footfalls on stone steps, Steve blinks sweat and grit from his eyes as the clouds slide away. Moonlight shows the shape of the cottage they’re all bunking in, overrun by months of la Resistance trooping in and out in the dead of night. Their heels on the cobbled steps interrupted again by a reverberation, a shock up his arm in the crowd-
-Steve doesn’t notice the first crack, the long, quiet hsss of sand falling to the floor-
-the hiss of rain against the tarpaulin of the tent, the hiss of pain from red, red lips as he squeezes tighter around Peggy’s bleeding shoulder. The even thunder of shells is such a part of him that he can feel it in his bones, feel it echo every time in the cage of his ribs. Peggy, bleeding under his hands, her breath shallow and gulping-
-Steve gulps for air, his metric lost. Distantly, a door slams-
-giving way to winter, and there’s the whistle of cold air down his back, chilling the sweat on his neck to a shiver. The wind carries a shout, carries his name-
-Steve’s fists fly into the leather, his pacing shot to hell. Distantly, a door slams-
-his body thrown against the wall of the train car with the force of the blast, and then he’s crawling forward on his knees, screaming, his voice ripped away from him on the wind as the train roars down the tracks, the steel wheels making their terrible, cracking rhythm-
-the leather gives under his fists-
-the bar gives under the strain-
-Peggy slips out of his fingers. Bucky slips out of his fingers. Distantly, a door slams-
-and the ruined punching bag goes sailing across the room, the leather supports snapped clean-
Thor catches it. Sand runs from the split in the leather into a shifting puddle between his feet. He looks between it and Steve with a wry, tilted expression on his face. “Why not hit something that hits back?”
“I-” Steve says on a gasping inhale, and he stops to collect himself to a voice that sounds less like weeping. “I’m no good for a fair fight,” he pants. Thor grins with his teeth, and Steve blows a breath of conceding laughter. “Present company excepted.”
“Excellent,” says Thor, tossing the bag aside. “Then we spar.”
Steve looks at him a little incredulously, but Thor’s emotional momentum doesn’t waver, and Steve’s shoulders drop with a sigh.
Thor continues to grin, winsome.
Steve ducks his head, looking at his raw, wrapped hands. Thor’s gaze is a heavy mantle, and Steve feels his mouth twist into a smile that’s more cynical than sour. It’s been a long time since he’s met someone quite so dogged.
“All right,” he says, nodding mostly to himself as he looks up. “Just lemme…”
Thor is already holding up a replacement bag. He dangles it by its chain on two fingers.
Steve snuffs, and then wipes his sweaty arm on his sweaty forehead. “Now you’re just showin’ off,” he complains.
Jane is the one to teach him the error of his arrogance. Her justice is metered out in equal and opposite reactions, laws not of man but of the universe. Her sense and scale of what is fair, right, just - the enduring loyalty of her love - all better measured in the breadth of stars gone nova. Thor, son of Odin, Bringer of Storms, brings to her only himself dwarfed in her glory. In their early days Thor remembers kneeling, her hand a benediction. It was he who trembled and she who reached out. Jane, in those early days, was the only confirmation of his reality. In his chest his heart bayed like a dog, but from her lips fell his name.
Steve has no such salve for his hollowness. The absence inside him made Thor uncomfortable when they met. He saw the man, gifted with power by someone older, wiser, benevolent. He saw war in the lines of those shoulders; not courted, but a burden carried. Thor, recognising what it is to be someone else’s creation, was humbled to see one so young who had learned what he had resisted for so long. There lingered, however, something dark to Steve’s humour, his bitterness; an edge like panic that rolled up over him, a rushing tide stranding him from the rest of the world.
Thor fell from his sky and was blessedly borne into the embrace of a woman who listened, who assured him he was alive; it was she, he thinks privately, who brought him back to life. The boundary between living and non-living for him was only as thick as Jane’s voice in the night.
He sees Steven, a trembling man with his shoulder against a world that chokes itself with the delighted insistence that he is alive; obstinately refusing to hear the shadows in his eyes that convince him he was not.
“You remember,” Thor says, licking a drop of sweat from the corner of his mouth, “when we met, and I struck my hammer upon your shield? And it blew Stark in his contraption back a hundred paces?”
Steve sweeps his fingertips over his forehead, a holdover habit from when he still had a fringe that would fall in his face. “I also remember destroying a large part of a forest,” he says, tone dry, “and knocking you on your ass.”
“Yes,” says Thor, encouraging.
“Okay,” Steve says, waiting for the other shoe.
“What if we did it again? On purpose.”
“See,” says Steve, who doesn’t see at all, “what’s the point of sitting on your ass in the field?”
Thor laughs, fiddling with the band that ties back his hair. “No,” he says, swinging out his arms to loosen his muscles. “Our team is composed of fliers and non-fliers, yes?”
Steve nods, unsure of where he’s going.
“Heavy-hitters,” he mimes swinging the hammer, “and precision work.” He flicks two fingers near his eye, gesturing Hawkeye’s line-of-sight, and makes the small ftt-ta sound of an arrow loosed.
“Sure,” Steve nods again, rolling his water bottle between his palms.
“Our teammates complete superior manoeuvers in orchestrated tandems,” Thor explains. “You and I have yet to master that kind of cooperation.”
The corner of Steve’s mouth pulls down in a frown of consideration. “Well,” he says, “when you put it like that.”
Thor miscalculates both the strength of his swing and the angle of return, so he and Steve both end up hastily ducking down to their bellies when the shield sails madly back to them, level with their throats and spinning with the lethal speed. It crashes into the far wall and then to the floor, the concentric wrnnng wrnng wrng of rolling metal just loud enough to cover their muffled laughter.
“I meant to do that,” Thor says, full of bluster.
Steve flops over to his back and stares at the ceiling. “You know,” he says, “after I changed, it took me a week to learn how to walk.”
Thor looks at him with mild concern. “You were immobilised?”
“Nah,” Steve corrects, waving a dismissive hand that Thor has to jerk away from, “not like that. I mean, just all of sudden… I was big. My back was straight, and my feet weren’t flat.” He smacks a hand to his broad chest and rubs under his left pectoral, chasing the achy memory of palpitations. “I had a perfect body and not a clue how to use it.” Steve bites his lip before going any further – he’d almost said I felt like an alien, and the thought loiters on the floor of his mouth. “Then, as soon as I’d gotten myself figured, I had to learn how to use that thing, and not look like a dunce.”
Thor rolls over from his chest to his back. Their sneakered feet knock together, but neither move away.
“Are you trying to make me feel better?”
Steve cracks with laughter, just a little, because there’s something about his accent and his game believability.
“Nah,” Steve drawls, “but I never nearly killed a buddy with it when I was learning.” He laughs in delight as Thor rises to the bait.
Thor swats him with a bear-like paw and Steve ducks, rolls, and then leaps to vault over Thor’s head before he can move past a predatory crouch. There is a moment of stillness as they both come to their feet, eyes bright and shoulders down. The shield lies forgotten; they charge towards each other headfirst, both of them grinning wide and sharp with a joy as hard as sunlight.
Steve blinks his swollen eyes open expecting to see Sam where he can hear breathing. Thor, though seated and sleepy, still manages to loom at his bedside.
“Hey,” he croaks.
Thor smiles with only one corner of his mouth. Beneath the sick, sad tightness of his brow, his eyes are hard. “Rest,” he says. His voice is heavy with the authority afforded to him by the moment. “And do not hesitate to call for me.”
“Where are you now?” he manages to whisper, distracted and disgusted by the feeling of lake grit stuck to his teeth.
“Most frequently, London.” He glances at the closed door and the shadows that pass under the gap in the frame. “But that is not information to share.”
Steve nods and swallows painfully. Thor presses a cup into his unbandaged hand. Steve takes a sip of the water, and closes his eyes against the overhead light fixtures.
When he remembers the water in his hand, he opens his eyes and finds the room dim, the sun set. Thor’s fingers are steepled in his periphery, his chin balanced at the apex and his gaze downcast. His hand is empty; the cup rests on his bedside, closer to Thor’s reach than his own.
“You’ve got some experience with this, I guess.”
Thor doesn’t rise to a response, but the gaze he levels on Steve is apologetic and heavy.
“Sam told me he might not be the same,” Steve says, filling the quiet.
Thor folds his fingers together in the space between his spread knees.
“I just,” Steve’s voice cracks and he swallows, only to feel bile rise in response to the sludge he tastes in his throat. “God, I owe it to him to try.” His face heats and he feels his mouth twist, emotions rising here and now that could only be contained so long as he had some kind of plan. He levers his arm over his face to compose himself, but has to drop it when his shattered, healing cheek protests the pressure.
Thor reaches for his hand and holds it in a warm, steady grip, and he thinks for a short instant of the brother he aches to have again. “Yes,” he tells Steve, his voice a whisper. “We do.”
His phone buzzes in his pocket.
Passing through. Busy?
Thor steps into the underground, and smiles to himself. When he gets back to the street-level, he dashes out an address in response.
Steve shifts the bundle in his hands and pulls his courage up from where it’s fallen to his knees. A moment after knocking, the door swings open. The daisies flop against Thor’s chest and he stares down his nose at them.
Steve clears his throat, and Thor grins. “These are not, I think, for me.”
Steve pulls the flowers back belatedly. “Shut up and let me in,” he complains.
Thor laughs a deep, full and happy sound. He catches the back of Steve’s neck with a huge hand and reels him to a tight, backslapping embrace. As they part, Thor keeps his hand there – the heat of his palm against Steve’s nape, the moons of his fingernails softsharp sensation just under his ear.
“Jane!” Thor booms.
Steve glances down and, catching sight of Thor’s stocking feet, wonders passively if he’ll get the chance to take off his shoes. The hurried footfalls of socks on hardwood make him look up. A small woman slides around a corner. She’s holding one palm out for quiet as she speaks into her phone.
“Yes,” she answers, “pick-up, by credit card. He’s on his way.” She hangs up and smiles warmly.
“Ready for me?” Thor asks.
“Yeah,” she says, stepping closer, “that was them.” Still outside of arm’s reach, she waggles her fingers in greeting at Steve. “Hi,” she says. The rolled cuff of her enormous plaid shirt slides all the way down past her slender elbow.
By the hand on his neck, Thor propels Steve gently forward. He sticks the daisies out impulsively, but Jane’s shorter than he anticipated so they wind up immediately under her nose. She looks at them with mild concern. “Thanks,” she manages.
Feeling like a heel, Steve glances behind himself.
Thor’s already in his boots. To Jane, he asks, “Did you decide on Ethiopian or Greek?”
“The Ethiopian place,” she says, like it’s obvious, though she’s still looking at the bouquet. “Go left at the corner,” she reminds him.
Thor shrugs into his jacket and begins to absently pat himself down, a gentle frown slowly carving itself deeper into his cheeks.
“Are we going out again?” Steve asks.
“Oh, no, you stay,” says Thor, still frowning.
“Wallet?” Jane asks.
Thor makes a confirming gesture, slapping his thigh loudly. “My keys,” he wonders, looking at Jane with increasing intensity.
Jane absently pats herself down, and Steve wonders with amusement who inherited the gesture from whom. She shakes her shoulders a little, and there’s the clear tinkling sound of metal. She sheepishly pulls the keys from an interior pocket.
Steve smiles to himself. The smartest woman on Earth still steals her boyfriend’s shirts. It’s a relief of sorts.
Jane tosses them and Thor snatches them out of the air with a bright jangle of noise. He smiles at Steve, and before the door closes, he throws a kiss and wink to Jane.
In the quiet they blink at each other, and then Jane jumps like a runner off the blocks. “Lemme get your coat,” she says, moving things to spare a space for him. Beneath of heap of coats and sweaters, Mjolnir hangs patiently.
“Huh,” says Steve, laughing a little. “The hook is worthy?”
Jane rolls her eyes and shows him where to stash his boots. “She’s stubborn, not heavy. Weight is the result of gravity’s relationship with the density of an object,” she rambles. “That’s also why he can fly.” He follows her into the living room; she lingers at the kitchen archway.
“Can I get you a drink?” she asks, radiating nervousness. “I’ve got some French wine, but there’s also the Asgardian stuff; Thor said you can handle it?”
“Sure,” he agrees, his hands in his pockets. “Just a finger, though,” he says, gesturing.
Jane skids into the kitchen. “Ice?” she yells.
Steve wanders the room, approaching a bookcase fit to bursting. “Thanks,” he calls out. Great sacrifices have obviously been made to clear the middle shelf – only two picture frames, a small figurine, and a cracked, battered notebook are displayed there – the other shelves stuffed to comedic overflow, loose leaves escaping, book jackets pinched and crumpled. His curiosity piqued, he investigates.
In the photograph, Jane and Thor are dressed to the nines, though they only have eyes for each other. In the other frame –
– Jane appears at his elbow, gently pushing a tumbler into his hand. Her nervous energy seems to have evaporated somewhat.
“Thanks,” he says. “It that the-?” he points.
“Yeah,” Jane agrees mildly.
“I didn’t know they gave out little statues,” he says.
“Hmm,” Jane hums, distracted. He turns to look at her, and Jane puts a hand to her forehead before she faces him.
“I just,” she says, “Thor said his friend Steven was coming over for dinner, so to order extra. I… I don’t know what I expected.” She heaves a gusty sigh, like she can blow away her nerves and the confusion. “But it’s very nice to meet you,” she says, holding out a hand. Her voice is sincere and her gaze is a little embarrassed and a lot determined. Steve finds himself charmed.
“You too, Dr. Foster,” he says taking her hand.
“Jane, please,” she corrects. She waggles her fingers at her Nobel certificate. “They’re the only people I make call me that.”
He smiles. “Then I’m Steve.”
She nods, and he goes back to perusing the titles. “Will you tell me about your work?” he asks.
“About… space?” Jane asks, curling up with her wine on the nearby couch. It squashes deeply beneath her, and Steve joins her on the opposite end. “Or about Asgard?”
“Anything,” he says, trying to rail his enthusiasm. “I mean, I woke up in the future, but it’s still pretty boring. When I was a kid,” he tells her, “I used to read these pulps-” and he interrupts himself with an exasperated expression “-the art was awful, the writing was crap, but the stories were all these inventions and explorers and aliens.” He looks back at the sagging shelves. “But this,” he gestures, “this stuff is the real science fiction.”
“Precursor to science fact,” Jane supplies by rote.
“All right,” Steve concedes, “but you invented interdimensional travel and then you went there.”
Jane grins at him, showing a little manic at her edges. “I know.”
The three of them sprawl over the couch, too content and warm to move.
“How did you meet,” Steve asks the ceiling.
Jane is squished in between his body and Thor’s, so Steve is jostled as they poke each other.
“She ran over me with her truck,” Thor announces first.
“You fell out of the sky!” Jane protests, “And you were okay anyway!”
Thor leans up on his elbow and pours a little more Asgardian liquor into both his glass and Steve’s, making an exaggerated expression over Jane’s head.
“The bards will favour your version, I am certain,” Thor agrees.
Jane swats him, and Steve gives in to the warm laughter bubbling in his chest.
Thor is on his feet with his storytelling. He snags the battered notebook from the Nobel Shelf, a prop in his performance.
“This,” he says grandly, “the shorthand notes of her whole life’s work was all that the once-mighty Thor was able to retrieve.”
Jane and Steve lay spilled together on the couch, propped up against each other.
“Once-mighty,” Steve clarifies, tone dubious.
“And mighty again!” he boasts, throwing his arms wide.
“Summon the hammer again and you’re sleeping out here,” Jane threatens him, her blush-warm cheek on Steve’s chest.
Thor’s hands drop to his sides. “This was all she had when the Convergence befell us,” he says gravely.
Jane props herself up on her hands, interrupting for the sake of integrity. “SHIELD confiscated all my equipment and research. They had it until Malekith nearly destroyed the whole universe,” and Steve’s mind baffles for moment because she’s not exaggerating, “and then they tried to lock me up, too.”
He knocks his knee against hers. “But they couldn’t do it,” he says.
Jane bumps him back. “I don’t listen to bullies,” she tells him.
Steve cuts a discreet glance to Thor, who’s looking at Jane with something like worship naked on his face.
Steve gets to his feet, sways, and immediately sits back down. He buries his face in his hands. “Mother Mary,” he swears.
“Steve?” Jane asks, touching his shoulder.
He grins at her, a little dopey. “You know,” he asks rhetorically, “it’s been more than seventy years since I’ve had a buzz. I forgot what it felt like for a second.”
Thor, on the other side of the couch, hoots in delight. Jane and Steve turn bemused faces on him. “I have a wager with Stark,” he confesses, sheepish.
Jane hides her laughter against Steve’s arm. The detritus of the night litters the coffee table: dozens of waxy takeout containers, crystal tumblers, tiny espresso cups; the mess of happiness.
“If you’re a little drunk,” Jane tells his shoulder, “you shouldn’t drive. And you really shouldn’t drive in London.”
Steve smiles. “London especially?”
She hums, her head still resting against him with all the weight of a dove.
“You are more than welcome with us tonight,” says Thor. Too big for the easy chair he’s sprawled over, he gets to his feet and stands in front of the couch.
“What,” asks Steve, his head back against the couch and the line of his throat exposed. “You gettin’ sleepy?”
“Hardly.” A breath of laughter rumbles in Thor’s chest, and Steve tilts his head just enough to catch the heavy look he and Jane share. She reaches out, splaying her hand against his flank. He covers it with his own, and then reaches his free hand out to thread into Steve’s hair. He leans into the touch.
“Hmm,” Steve leans a little more insistently, his eyes closed.
“I would like to kiss you.”
Steve becomes immediately aware of his slack shoulders, his toes curled in the pile of the rug; Jane breathing beside him, her fingertips skidding over his skin. He thinks of the warmth of her flushed cheek, the diamond edge of her laughter, the hundred times he’s stumbled and Thor’s steady, solid grip was there, waiting for him. His muscles feel loose and warm from the liquor, but his thoughts are still clear and sharp. Thor’s palm on his cheek is a perfect continuation of the evening, asking for nothing more than a single step further into the most welcoming embrace this brave new world has offered him. He opens his eyes. Thor’s expression is patient, peaceful.
“Yeah,” Steve says. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
Jane watches the dim shadows that shift on the wall with the motions of the wind. Both Steve and Thor are curled around her, their cheeks pressed into her ribs. In sleep their hands reach for each other, and she thinks of small moons in orbit and the gravity that catches falling stars.