In the middle of an otherwise empty room, Steve threw punches into a punching bag suspended from the ceiling. The repetitious thud of fist meeting bag echoed in his ears, though the sound barely traveled, deadened by the soundproofing in all four walls, ceiling and floor. The gym was frighteningly well-designed -- Steve had learned quickly that anything with Tony Stark's name attached to it was going to be frighteningly well-designed.
Sometimes more "frighteningly" than "designed." But Steve wasn't thinking much about the missing noise, or the missing smell of sweat and dust and wood. His old sweat pants and the even older boxing wraps carefully fastened around his hands stood in such contrast to the shiny, gleaming walls of the room and the thick fabric of the punching bag.
Tony had designed it as well, after he'd seen the line of bags Steve had always worked out with. He'd made a single scoffing noise and the very next day Tony had shown Steve into the gym and introduced him to a punching bag that even Captain America couldn't destroy. Steve still didn't know if that was true or not, but so far he hadn't managed to break it free from the cable it was hanging from, so he figured that maybe Tony knew what he was doing.
He wasn't about to tell the other man anything of the sort, however. Steve let himself grin, just a little, as he landed a hard blow in the center of the bag and it swung, cable and pulley adjusting to keep the bag upright. Though for all Steve knew there might have been a tiny hovercraft somewhere keeping the thing upright.
It would be kind of cool if there was, really. He thought about asking Tony, see if he could make a punching bag that could dodge and move around the room and give Steve something interesting to hit. He threw another left, followed it with a series of lefts before switching to a flurry of rights, feeling the slight burn in his shoulders as he finally got his body up to speed and could finally feel his heart beginning to pound just a little bit faster.
He could remember the burn and ache of his muscles clearly: the way his arms would collapse every time he tried to haul himself up on the fire escape's railing outside his building or the way his legs would shake when he'd tried to make himself run just one more block before he collapsed in a heap, trying for the privacy of an alleyway, at least, but sometimes he'd be on his hands and knees on the sidewalk, head pounding and lungs aching and knowing that he would never pass the physical, not if he couldn't make himself go just a little bit farther.
As he worked out, Steve remembered the way it felt to push his body farther than it could go and feeling his body fail despite his every effort. He slammed his fist into the bag, feeling his hips twist and his thighs clench as he held his stance, feeling the shockwaves travel up his arm from the bag without the slightest twinge of pain.
Finally he began to breathe hard, though his lungs weren't anywhere near to burning. Steve knew that if he wanted to he could stay in the gym throwing punches for the rest of the night and not feel the slightest ache the next day. He'd done it before, on nights when there was no point in trying to sleep. Living in Avengers Tower, he was too self-conscious of his position and role to set the example of bad habits.
Steve didn't fool himself that the other Avengers were following his example. It wasn't like he tracked their every moment, but he'd have to be blind not to notice how often Stark or Banner spent days in their labs, or Romanova and Barton came back from jobs for S.H.I.E.L.D looking like they'd gone two entire weeks without a shower, a decent meal, or a full night's sleep. He'd thought about addressing it, but didn't know where to begin and he still wasn't entirely sure about his place as team leader. No one had explained if that meant off the field as well as during battle, and Steve didn't want to overstep his bounds. Fury seemed to think it was accomplishment enough to get them all under one roof and willing to fight side by side; it was possible that in-between times no one cared if they kept themselves in top fighting-form as long as they didn't actually fail to save the world when necessary.
Steve did what he felt was right, regardless, hoping they might get the idea. That's what Captain America was supposed to be, after all: a good example, even to unruly Avengers who would probably laugh themselves sick at the idea of curfews and healthy diets. He paused, catching his hands on the bag and stopping its sway. In just a handful of moments his breathing evened out and after a few minutes more that the soreness in his biceps faded completely away. If he stood still for ten minutes, it would no longer feel like he'd worked out at all.
Steve sniffed, then grinned. He might not feel it, but he could certainly smell it. He gave the bag a light push, making a note to ask Tony for a bag that would move on its own. As he began throwing punches again, Steve tried to stop thinking about the way his muscles feel like he hadn't been down here for an hour already. Over and over he threw punches, hard as he could, hearing a cadence in his head, counting off each hit.
Shifting his stance, he moved around the bag and slowly he stopped noticing the absence of sound surrounding him until he could almost forget that he wasn't in a dusty warehouse or empty boxing club after hours, with a fan creaking loudly overhead and the heavy sound of traffic outside echoed by the thud of his fists on the bag.
Nearly an hour later, someone knocked on the door. Steve paused and turned to see Thor open the door and take a step inside. He grinned widely as soon as he saw Steve. "I was hoping I would find you here!" Thor held out one arm in greeting, with the other he set his hammer down just inside the doorway. He was dressed much as Steve was, in sweats and t-shirt.
"Looking for someone to spar with?" Steve asked, hopefully. They'd done so a few times before and Steve always found it an excellent workout. He suddenly wondered why he hadn't thought to seek Thor out earlier.
"I am, indeed," Thor said, nodding seriously despite the cheerful and relaxed expression on his face. "I believe you may be the best opponent with whom to spar."
The praise was unexpected; Steve had sparred with the other Avengers himself and would not have put himself as Thor's best option. Steve frowned. "What about--"
Thor clapped him on the shoulder as he stepped up beside him. Steve didn't know if people on Asgard had completely different views of personal space, but he found it mildly disconcerting how Thor always stood so close. He didn't think it was polite to step back, so he made himself relax and not flinch as Thor still spoke loudly as though Steve were half a room away.
"The good Dr. Banner will not allow himself to change forms to spar, and as willing as Iron Man is to arrange matches with me in the gym, he rarely attends. The peerless Miss Potts assures me this is not personal, that Iron Man forgets most of his appointments. Nevertheless, it makes him an unsuitable sparring partner."
Steve laughed. "Sure, it's hard to fight someone who doesn't show up."
"Indeed it is!" Thor laughed with him, standing nearly toe-to-toe. Steve could feel the heat radiating from him, and he found himself wondering, idly, if Thor had already been working out before he came down to Steve's gym.
"I suppose the others--" Steve cut off his words, realising even as he'd thought them that they were uncharitable.
But Thor shook his head. "I have sparred with the valiant Hawkeye and Black Widow, and I find them most formidable opponents. However, their style of combat is quite different from my own. It can be quite challenging to fight either of them, or indeed, both of them at once. But sometimes--" Thor stopped and gave Steve was almost looked like a sheepish smile. "I simply wish to hit something."
"I can understand that." Steve glanced at the bag, then reached down for the control which would raise the bag on its cable up towards the ceiling and out of the way. The room was not otherwise equipped -- Tony had offered to fill it with whatever Steve had wanted, but so far Steve simply hadn't needed anything other than a punching bag, and occasionally someone like Thor to spar with. A large empty room worked best for that; Steve had a feeling any equipment in the room would just end up broken.
Once the bag was out of the way, Steve backed away slowly, turning to face Thor. Both of them were empty-handed, shield and hammer set aside. Steve had found he preferred it this way. Neither of them pulled punches and neither of them tended to resort to underhanded or dirty tricks. A good old-fashioned brawl, Steve thought wryly, then he ducked as Thor swung his fist and the game was on.
It wasn't long before Steve was circling the room, dodging fists and feet and throwing as many kicks and punches as he could. Enough landed that Thor was noticeably winded -- but he was grinning wide and laughed as Steve's fist connected with his cheek. Steve found himself grinning back, then he leapt, knocking Thor to the ground only to find himself being flung across the room.
As he stood up, he realised he was breathing hard. The skin across his knuckles was scraped and red, and as he lifted his fists in front of him he could feel a slight burn across his shoulder blades. Steve smiled and he knew that his expression matched the one on Thor's own face. He wondered for a moment what they might look like to anyone who might have been watching -- like lunatics, perhaps. He launched himself into the air, intending to grab onto Thor and shove them both back and down. Thor grabbed onto his wrist and flung him, and Steve barely controlled his landing, rolling to his feet in time to catch Thor trying to pull the exact same trick.
Fists struck his midsection and Steve punched back, aiming for arms, chin, chest; whatever he could reach. Soon enough they were settled in, toe to toe, boxing free-handed with neither of them giving an inch as the blows fell.
Neither of them had stopped grinning, and Thor laughed in Steve's face as his fist caught Thor in the side. A flicker of awareness caught him, and Steve realised that the whirl of thoughts which had driven him down here in the first place had vanished. Then he had to duck another punch and he grabbed Thor's arm, pulling it past him and even that moment of awareness faded away as he focused on the battle at hand.
The next morning his bruises had faded and his muscles were no longer sore, but there was a faint red mark across his knuckles where he'd torn the skin. As Steve headed down to find breakfast, he considered asking Thor how often he might like to spar.
A few nights later Steve was just sitting down on the couch in the common room when Thor walked in. The other man grinned when he saw Steve, again looking triumphant at having found him. Steve returned the smile easily, pausing his finger over the buttons on the remote in case this turned out to be the prelude to a mission. Tony swore that super villains had never attacked so often before the advent of the Avengers, and judging by the way Fury complained, Steve had a feeling Tony was correct.
It had been quiet for a couple of days, however, and seeing Thor relaxed and happy was no guarantee that nobody was attacking anything. Steve ran through the whereabouts of each of the team -- they could be assembled within ten minutes if something was happening.
But all that happened was Thor nodding towards the couch beside Steve. "May I join you?" he asked.
"Uh, sure. I was just about to watch a movie." Steve didn't know if that sounded completely lame. He was holding the television remote, which Clint had spent half an hour teaching him to use, and sitting in front of a gigantic television screen, so it was probably completely obvious what he was doing.
Thor just nodded. "I greatly enjoy the cinema of this world," he said, then paused, scowling slightly. "With the exception of spaghetti westerns. Those I do not enjoy." He gave a sideways glance at Steve, looking suddenly hesitant. "Were you about to view such a movie?"
Steve laughed. "No, you're okay. I'm working my way through the Oscar winners," he explained. "The others have been really...persistent about getting me familiar with current culture, but there's still so much I missed. And since I don't sleep much," he said, shrugging, "I figured I could get myself caught up. It's less of a shock to take it slow; things seem to make more sense going year by year after I-- you know, died, sort of. It's easier than Tony's method of throwing me in the deep end and making me watch The Matrix and Pulp Fiction right off the bat." Granted, once he'd had every last piece of The Matrix explained to him, Steve had watched it again and enjoyed it.
"This sounds like an excellent plan!" Thor clapped Steve on the shoulder. "What movie are we watching, then?"
"I'm up to 1961; I was about to watch West Side Story" He paused, then said, "It's a musical, in case you don't like those?"
"On the contrary, I am quite fond of song. I know many ballads myself and have often been told my voice is quite stunning." Thor gave him a proud grin, then seemed to catch himself and his amusement dimmed, a dark look showing briefly in his eyes. "My brother--" he began, then stopped.
"It's all right," Steve said quietly, pressing his arm against Thor's. "I know you still care about him. What he did wasn't your fault." As Thor still looked at him, dubious but hopeful, Steve added, "You can talk about him to me."
Thor nodded gratefully, and he exhaled, leaning back against the couch. Softly, he said, "My brother always said that only those who had over-imbibed in mead enjoyed my singing. But when we were very young, he would accompany me, if no others were around to overhear us. His voice was better than mine, but he would never join us at the feasting tables when the ballads were sung."
He fell silent for a long moment, and finally Steve just said, "I'm sorry." He wasn't sure what else to say. It was hard to reconcile the Loki who had attacked Earth so ruthlessly with the brother Thor remembered with such affection, but Steve tried to chalk it up to, simply, people change.
"I do not deny the terrible things he has done," Thor continued, not looking over at Steve, but staring ahead into the shadows. "But he is my brother, and when we were children, I loved him best of all my companions."
Steve fumbled with what to say. He'd never felt particularly eloquent, relying on the lines given to him by the speech writers when Captain America had traveled the country with the USO. Now, flung into the future, he especially felt tongue-tied and backwards, unsure of what others were even saying half the time and stumbling over slang words that he barely understood. It was easier in battle, when all he really had to do was issue commands and ignore the chatter between his teammates.
But he had to say something, and finally he just said, "You should have. He's your brother. You...should love him."
Thor looked over at him, then. "Thank you. I am aware that I should not say his name to the others, especially to those whom he hurt so greatly. I do not wish to add to their suffering, but--" He fell silent, and Steve realised he knew what he meant.
"But you shouldn't have to suffer, either. You've lost your brother, even if it was...to himself."
Thor nodded. He sat quietly for a moment, then he sat up, visibly shaking off his mood, and indicated the television. "We are going to watch a musical, are we not?"
"We are," Steve agreed, and he pressed the button to switch on the television, navigating the menu that JARVIS had set up for him. West Side Story was at the top of the list, so Steve highlighted it and pressed 'play.'
When the movie was over, they moved on to the next, making popcorn and taking JARVIS' advice to skip Judgement at Nuremburg and watched Breakfast at Tiffany's instead. By morning they'd made their way up to 1962 and as they headed to the kitchen for breakfast, Thor was still humming 'I Feel Pretty.'
"Avengers, don't let any of them escape!" Captain America ran down the street, shouting into the radio they'd built into his headpiece as he followed the trailing green smoke of the last four motorcycles. He put on another burst of speed, leaping over the wreckage of what he hoped was an empty overturned vehicle.
There was no time to stop and check; demons on motorcycles had appeared at the edge of the town, shouting and firing handheld rockets into the buildings. The Avengers had been called in right away and they'd flown in quickly as they could, landing the QuinJet barely a half hour after the demons had first appeared. Iron Man and Thor had by-passed the jet's landing, aiming directly for the pillars of smoke they'd all seen as they'd arrived. There were no exact numbers of the attacking demons, nor did anyone have any idea where they'd come from or why. All the local authorities could tell them was they'd appeared in a blast of green smoke, engines roaring and shouting in a language no one had understood.
The demons had stayed at the edge of town for some time, shouting and gesturing as they'd tried to make themselves understood. Finally -- the police chief said it had seemed like they'd simply lost patience -- they'd driven their bikes up the main thoroughfare and begun firing small rockets into the air. When the local cops had begun firing back, rifles and shotguns and at least one hand grenade, the demons had taken it as their cue to rain down chaos and destruction. They'd begun firing rockets into buildings and vehicles, driving into and through city buses and even a tractor, leaving burning cement and metal behind them as they rode on. The Avengers had arrived before more than a few city blocks were attacked. Luckily the town's evacuation system was in good working order; the alarms still sounded, a long wailing siren that made Steve's skin prickle, reminding him of London blackouts and he caught himself listening for the sound of airplanes overhead.
He gritted his teeth and ran after the motorcycles, coming around a corner and spotting them halfway down the street. He braced himself and flung his shield; he watched with satisfaction as the red, white, and blue colors spun in a dizzying circle and struck the lead demon in the back of its head. The demon went sailing sideways, its bike careening out of control and crashing into the side of a bank. Glass shattered and Steve winced as he caught a glimpse of civilians ducking safely out of the way.
He had to hope they were safe; he couldn't spare time to check. The other three demons were circling around, now, revving their engines as they began accelerating towards him. Then one demon went flying off its bike as a large hammer slammed into his chest. A second was pulled straight up into the air by a grip on its head; Iron Man flew upwards for several seconds before letting go. The demon plummeted down and Steve wondered if he should be doing the right thing and try to catch it.
A large green blur put paid to the question as the Hulk slammed his way through both the remaining demon and its bike, then leaping into the air to grab the one Iron Man had dropped. As Steve watched, he was aware that Black Widow and Hawkeye had come up beside him. He glanced over and saw Hawkeye holding the broken handlebar of a motorcycle in his hand. Hawkeye gave him a smile, then winked, twirling the handlebar in the air.
"It was a gift," Hawkeye said, as though that explained anything.
Black Widow rolled her eyes. "He tried to impale Clint with his bike," she said to Steve, but neither of them looked particularly concerned.
"Is this the last of them?" Steve asked, scanning the area. He was pretty sure these had been the last four, based on Iron Man's headcount when the fight began. He didn't hear any sound of motorcycle engines, nor of the rockets they'd fired. The siren was still blaring, but the noise was easy enough to ignore now.
"No sign of any more demon bikers," Iron Man said as he landed beside them, flipping up his visor. Thor walked over and retrieved his hammer, giving the motionless demon a solid kick. It rolled, but didn't otherwise move. Thor picked up Steve's shield and brought it over to him. Steve gave him a nod as he took it, flexing his fingers as he gripped the handle. His hands were aching, faintly, and he kept his grip tight on his shield as he surveyed the wreckage around them.
Here and there he could see movement, people starting to creep out from where they'd been hiding. After a moment Steve could hear quiet voices drifting in, but -- so far -- there were none of the sharp, loud wails of shocked grieving.
"Does anyone know what happened?" Black Widow asked in a casual tone.
"Did we capture any of them alive?" Steve asked, looking from each of the Avengers and getting shrugs and head shakes from all of them. He sighed. "I guess we'll let S.H.I.E.L.D. figure it out during clean-up."
"Maybe someone knew I was bored and summoned--" Iron Man began, and a large, green hand slammed -- gently -- over his face. Hulk glared at Iron Man and Iron Man started to glare back, before just shrugging.
"You're never going to learn," Black Widow said, shaking her head. "We've explained the concept of a jinx to you how many times, now? And you still persist in making sure that every time we have an afternoon off, something weird happens."
"I think he was ducking a meeting," Hawkeye said. "I heard Pepper yelling at him as he made for the jet."
"Stockholders," Iron Man said, without a trace of guilt. "Less fun than you might think."
Hulk made an inquisitive noise, and when Iron Man looked over, Hulk slowly thumped one giant, green fist into his palm. There was a pause, then Iron Man guffawed. "No, thank you, Big Guy. We don't need to smash the stockholders' meeting." He stopped, then looked thoughtful.
Steve caught Thor's confused expression and mouthed to him 'later.' Thor nodded and the confused look vanished, replaced by the familiar one of satisfaction as Thor surveyed the battlefield around them. "I'll tell Pepper if you plan anything," Steve said to Tony, mildly. He was fairly certain Tony wouldn't actually let Hulk interrupt a stockholders' meeting, but that didn't mean the other man wouldn't try something.
"You are no fun," Iron Man was telling Steve, shaking his head. "You are seriously the epitome of anti-fun."
"So I'm told," Steve just said, dryly.
Iron Man turned around, taking in crowd that was slowly gathering their courage to press closer. Farther down the street, Steve could see the S.H.I.E.L.D. vans just pulling up. These were the vehicles clearly marked with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on all sides in vivid white-on-black and contained as many PR experts within as they did field agents. Possibly more. Iron Man gestured towards them. "The black suits are here, so unless we want to get billed right away for saving their town, I think it's our cue to take off."
Steve glanced over at Coulson, who'd made his way through the crowd relatively unnoticed. "Anything urgent to report?" the agent asked, though from his tone Steve knew he'd already assessed the way the Avengers were just standing there talking, that no one was in any immediate danger.
"No injuries, and we really don't know anything about what they were or why they came here," Steve said.
"Right." Coulson nodded. "Then report to debriefing and we'll get started here."
"Oh," Iron Man said. "Yeah, I'd love to attend debriefing, but I've got this thing, this meeting I told Pepper I wouldn't miss."
Steve watched as Coulson just raised an eyebrow. "Miss Potts informed me that she took your place at the meeting, and that if you show up in your Iron Man armor she's going to have you sell her all your stock."
Iron Man just blinked at him. "I'm pretty sure she can't do that without--" He stopped, thought it over. "No, actually, she probably has more control over what I do with my stocks than I do. Wait, does this mean she doesn't already own all the stock? I thought I gave it to her for Christmas one year because I'd forgot to buy her a present again. I wonder what I gave her, instead?"
"Debriefing, one hour," Coulson said, and he turned away from the Avengers to address one of the other agents who'd made her way through the crowd.
Iron Man smiled. "Well, hell, one hour; we have plenty of time for--" A giant green hand placed itself over Iron Man's entire face again, obscuring most of his head from view.
Steve nodded. "Good work, Hulk." In a more serious tone, he added, "Good work, everyone. Let's get back to headquarters and see if anyone knows what just happened here and if we can figure out if it's going to happen again."
He got a round of annoyed, unamused expressions at that observation, though Thor, at least, just clapped Steve on the shoulder. "We shall dispatch them as quickly as these, should they dare show their faces here again!"
"But maybe with less architectural damage next time," Steve said, trying not to stare at the building just down the block which looked like the entire second floor was missing, save for just enough supports to hold up the third and fourth floors above it.
"We'll send the bill to their home dimension, if we ever figure out where it is," Hawkeye said, and they all began making their way back towards the QuinJet. Tony only lasted about five steps before he snapped his visor back into place and called out that he'd see them back at the ranch. Thor walked back to the jet with them, before giving Steve a triumphant grin.
"I shall see you at debriefing," he said, pronouncing the word 'debriefing' as though it were the name of a post-battle celebration. Steve laughed and nodded, then stood and watched as Thor flung his hammer up and rose into the sky following Iron Man's trail. When Steve looked down he found Natasha watching him with a very slight smirk on her face.
Steve raised his eyebrow at her, but she just shook her head, then elbowed Clint in the side, moving him out of her way as she climbed into the jet. Clint followed and Steve boarded in time to see Clint disappearing into the cockpit on Natasha's heels.
Across the way, Hulk was squatting against the bulkhead. Steve blinked, looking closer at what Hulk had in his hands and realised it was a Iron Man action figure. Hulk was making it fly around, swooping down and rescuing the peanuts from an in-flight bag.
Steve sat carefully in a seat on the opposite side of the jet and tried once again to figure out how to take videos with his phone. "Relax," Natasha said in his earpiece, a few minutes later. "We have cameras all over this bird. We'll send Tony video of the whole thing."
Sparring with Thor became a semi-regular thing. Steve did finally mention his idea for a punching bag that would challenge him to Tony. Two days later, Tony showed up in Steve's workout room and installed the first prototype. It took Steve about four hours to damage it enough that it began smoking and emitting a faint whine. Tony gave him a glare, then dragged the bag away, returning the following day with a second punching bag.
Thor destroyed that one and JARVIS' video review supported their insistence that Thor had only been hitting it with his bare hands, despite the scorch marks across the front of the bag. Tony had glared at them both, but a few days later brought up a third bag which took Steve almost ten hours to destroy. The fourth one Thor broke three days after it was installed; they'd taken turns using it, morning and evening, until Thor had carried it, triumphant, into Tony's lab and laid it out across an empty table. Tony had stared at it for a long moment before dropping his head into his hands. But when he'd looked up, Steve had seen the determined gleam in his eye and Steve had felt only a bit of guilt at goading a workaholic into making something better.
He would have felt tremendously guilty, except that the first time he'd broken the punching bag he'd asked Pepper, first, if he should mention it to Tony. She'd grinned gleefully and had enthusiastically encouraged him. She'd explained there was an entire month's worth of meetings scheduled which she was trying to keep Tony from participating in. Steve was given to understand Tony was being particularly contrary, avoiding meetings she wanted him at and attending those she didn't. Pepper had promised that keeping Tony in his workroom for several days running was just exactly what she needed to avoid having to strangle him in his sleep.
Finally, though, nearly three weeks after the first bag had been installed, Tony came into Steve's workout room with a punching bag he claimed was one processing unit shy of escaping and destroying the planet.
"So don't piss it off," Tony said, tightening something with a wrench as he'd bolted something into place. Steve and Thor were both watching, eager to try their hand at Tony's latest attempt. Tony grumbled some more as he worked, muttering to himself about things that sounded suspiciously like they weren't even related to the punching bag. Steve felt reassured when Tony called out for JARVIS to write down some numbers and things that Steve didn't even pretend to understand. Then Tony stood up, patting the bag on the side. He pointed his wrench at the pair of them, scowling. "If you two destroy this one, I'm going to take Iron Man and become a villain and devote my life to taking you two down, so that neither of you will ever be able to hit a punching bag ever again."
Steve exchanged a look with Thor, who finally nodded. "It seems a fair wager," Thor said.
"Thanks, Tony, we really do appreciate your efforts," Steve said. "Pepper appreciates it, too."
Tony frowned. "Pepper? What does she have to-- Crap, what day is it?"
"Thursday," Steve said. Thor was circling the punching bag, eying it, clearly planning his initial attack.
"No, the day!" Tony snapped.
"The 18th," Steve said, wondering if he needed to add that it was June.
Tony stared at him with a surprised look on his face, then he shouted, "Goddammit! I was supposed to be in London. Pepper told me there were Stark Industries meetings in, well, no, really she didn't tell me, I hacked into her calendar and I was supposed to-- Wait, why did she--" Tony stopped and eyed Steve, glancing over to Thor who was paying them no attention.
Steve looked back, innocently.
Tony swore. "Okay, so I don't know how she arranged for you two to destroy all of these bags, but if you break this one I'm not making you any more and you'll have to find something else to play with." He gave them both one last scowl, then hurried out of the gym as though headed for London right then to catch the last of the meetings.
Steve let him go, and watched Thor eying the bag. After another few moments, Thor nodded and stepped back, indicating that Steve could go first.
"Let's see how this one does," Steve said, and he threw a punch.
Ten hours later the punching bag was hovering in the middle of the gym without a mark on it -- even the dents left by their fists filled back out mere seconds after they landed a blow. Thor was leaning back against one wall, hair matted with sweat and chest heaving. Steve was sitting on the floor, legs splayed out before him, hands propped up behind him. "He may have got it right this time," Steve admitted.
"We shall see," Thor said, the tone of his voice making it clear that he was not going to concede defeat yet, and possibly not for a very long time. He was looking at the punching bag warily; the bag was spinning slowly on its axis. If it had had arms, Steve would have expected it to be waving to Thor, come on. Thor's eyes narrowed as he stared at the bag as though thinking the same thing.
"Why don't we go get some lunch first?" Steve suggested. "Then we can come back and start round two."
"That sounds like an excellent idea! I know an establishment which serves the best pizza on Midgard."
"You know they just write that on their menus, don't you?" Steve asked, and he felt an odd sort of pleasure at being the one to explain something to someone else for a change. "Anyone can claim to make the world's best anything; it doesn't mean it's really true."
Thor gave him a grin that could only be described as cheeky. "I have faith in the claim of this particular establishment," he said. "I have eaten the pizza of five hundred and sixty such places and I have deemed this one to, in fact, be the best.'
Steve blinked. He wasn't sure if he was more surprised by the number of different pizza parlors Thor had tried, or the fact that he'd kept count. Or possibly by the fact Thor could differentiate between the pizzas of five hundred and sixty different places and decree one to be the actual best. Then he shook his head. "Well, then I guess I should get showered and we can go grab a pizza." He headed for the door, then paused and looked over his shoulder. "It is in New York, isn't it?"
"No," Thor shook his head, very seriously. "It is in Brooklyn."
With a cough, Steve held back his laugh. "That'll be fine. We'll still be in range if the team needs us."
"Or we can hope that our next attacker comes to us in Brooklyn!" Thor said, happily.
"Uh, yeah," Steve agreed, and then he didn't bother trying to hold back his laugh. "We could do that. I'm not sure Brooklyn would appreciate it, though."
This, Steve thought, was getting ridiculous. He struck at the robot's giant head and sent it sailing backwards; why evil masterminds didn't just make evil robots that looked like, well, evil robots was beyond him. Instead it seemed like every mad scientist was more mad than scientist and this time they were fighting giant robots that looked like a cross between a beetle, a rocket ship, and a clown.
The last was mostly due to the bright red circle in the middle of their faces and the white curve just below. He didn't really want to know why they were there, half-afraid they'd discover their creator had actually wanted mutant rocket-ship beetle clowns.
The robot hit the ground and Steve felt the bridge tremble at the impact. At either end of the bridge, cars and trucks were stopped, effectively blocking both ends. That had been the intention; Iron Man and Hulk had 'borrowed' nearby vehicles and piled them up to block the robots' escape once the rest of the team had corralled them onto the bridge. Steve hoped it would contain the damage and prevent any civilian casualties -- assuming the idiots creeping onto the bridge to get better photos didn't get too close.
"You've got to be kidding me," Steve muttered as the giant robot staggered upright once more. It found its balance quickly -- no doubt thanks to the six legs. Four arms were stuck on here and there, possibly completely at random.
"They're Weebles!" Hawkeye shouted into the comm and Steve frowned.
Just as he opened his mouth, he heard Iron Man say, "No, Cap, it's just a toy. They wobble but don't fall down, and someone remind me to-- Hey, JARVIS, track down a glow-in-the-dark ghost Weeble for me, wouldya? I had one of those when I was a kid, took it apart to steal the plutonium but it wasn't nearly enough. Anyone want a half-demolished beetle-clown robot? I think I might have destroyed one. Oops, okay, maybe not. Hey, Black Widow, can you get this thing in the eye for me?"
Steve heard the AI respond, sounding more long-suffering than a computer should probably need to be. Black Widow, on the other hand, sounded positively gleeful as she hummed something under her breath.
"Not funny, Tasha," Hawkeye said, and it sounded like he was gritting his teeth. "I'll have you know some clowns are perfectly nice people, and also if you get that song stuck in my head again I'm going to tell Thor you want to take him to--"
There was radio silence for a moment, and Steve glanced up to where Hawkeye was dangling from the bridge supports. He was shaking his head vigorously, as though trying to shake something loose. He didn't appear to be in any actual distress -- his bow was still up, arrows flying into robots even as Steve watched -- so Steve returned his attention to the beetle robot thing he was fighting.
He'd knocked it around, successfully landing his blows yet it regained its footing every time and came back for more. Well, then, Steve decided, and drew back his arm. Let's see how it does when it has no feet. He threw his shield at the front-most leg and was gratified to see it connect and snap the leg off. The robot didn't lose its balance, of course, but Steve threw his shield three more times, running back and forth across the bridge as the thing tried to get at him. He remained out of reach and continued to throw his shield and remove legs, until the fifth time the robot caught his shield -- or tired to, and now it was down three legs and one arm.
Steve smiled and took a step to run towards his shield. Then he stopped and looked down. Even as he saw the long, sharp point of a metallic stinger he felt the pain explode from his midsection, spiraling throughout his entire body. He gasped, realised he couldn't move; his arms and legs seemed disconnected and he wasn't sure if he was trying to get away or trying to push his hands towards the robot's arm that had speared him. Some part of his brain reasoned that one had come up behind him and it might mean they were communicating, despite appearing to fight individually for the entire first part of the fight.
He opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, Steve heard a yell.
It wasn't a normal-sounding yell. It sounded like thunder, pounding in his skull and shaking his bones even as it filled his ears and the very air around him. It was loud enough that Steve wondered, idly, if it could be heard across the globe. It felt that loud, that big, like it was reaching all the way up into the sky and down into the ground and water below them.
There was a flash and something sparked, bright and sudden, and the hissing and crashing of lightning blinded him. There was the brief sensation of fire in his torso, then another yell and a loud clang and Steve fell forward, catching himself with his hands on the asphalt. The stinger which had speared him had broken free of the robot wielding it; Steve glanced backwards and saw the beetle robot disappearing under the onslaught of lightning bolts that did not seem to be letting up.
A hammer smashed into the robot's head and the lightning coursed down again from the dark clouds that had appeared overhead. Bolts struck each robot, throwing sparks and fire out in bright cascades and slowly, as Steve watched and tried to breathe, the robots stopped moving. Then they began to fall, one by one, lifelessly onto the bridge, but still the lightning barrage didn't let up.
Steve thought about joining the robots. His body hurt and he still could barely move, but he began to lean sideways, just wanting to close his eyes. Hands caught him and he was rolled gently, onto his side. Steve looked up and found Thor holding him.
"Forgive me," Thor whispered. "I should have thought of such a tactic long before now. I--" He stopped and the expression on his face changed. Steve couldn't quite figure it out, but he was rather distracted by the piece of metal stuck through his body. He could hear shouting and sirens, then someone's voice in his ear was telling him an ambulance was on its way.
Steve opened his mouth again, not sure what he meant to say, but inhaling to talk proved impossible. He let his head drop, resting his face against Thor's arm.
"You will be well," Thor said, his voice close in Steve's ear. He sounded determined, almost angry, and Steve could feel the echo of thunder reverberating through his chest. He closed his eyes and let himself slip into darkness.
Two weeks later Steve walked into his gym to find Thor standing at the punching bag. He was throwing punches, one after the other, and it looked as though he'd been there for quite some time. Thor glanced up as Steve walked over. After a brief pause, his face unreadable, Thor gave him a grin. "It is good to see you back," he said. "You have been cleared by your medical doctors to resume workouts?"
"Yes," Steve said, nodding. "Technically, they said I should stick to light duty for a couple days." He shrugged. "I feel fine and I've been through worse." As far as he could tell, his body was fully healed; he privately suspected the S.H.I.E.l.D. doctors just didn't have a good baseline for his healing ability and were being cautious just in case.
"Then would you care to join me?" Thor asked, sweeping his arm back towards the punching bag.
Steve glanced at it, but shook his head. "I'd be up for some one-on-one, though. Maybe start off slowly and make sure I'm still in one piece." The pain had completely faded days ago, but Steve hadn't really done much, stuck in a hospital bed. He'd hate to end up proving the doctors right; Dr. Mabieré in particular had a particularly ugly smug grin.
Thor nodded, stepping back from the punching bag, already moving into position to await Steve's attack. "A wise decision." He raised his arms, and grinned, challengingly. "Give me your best shot."
With a laugh, Steve started forward, veering suddenly to the left before he drew within striking distance. Thor followed him easily and they moved in and out of position, neither of them throwing a punch or kick just yet as they jostled for an opening. Steve faked with a shoulder and Thor barely raised his hand to block; Thor shifted his weight backwards suddenly and Steve tensed, but didn't leap to take the bait.
It didn't take long for Thor to throw the first punch, however; Steve dodged it easily and threw one of his own. They were too used to one another's fighting styles to land either blow and for several moments they circled one another with fists and feet flying, missing, and both of them backing away and swooping in with very few blows ever landing.
Steve realised he was smiling when he saw the look on Thor's face: a grin that he realised mirrored his own. "It is good to have you back," Thor said seriously, and there was no sign of effort from the workout in his voice.
"I wasn't really gone long," Steve pointed out and he threw a rapid two-punch. Thor dodged them both and swept his leg past Steve's ankle; it caught him and Thor suddenly leapt. Steve pulled himself out of the way only to find himself spinning around; he dodged a arm and he lost his balance, landing on his back on the floor with Thor slamming down on top of him.
For a moment neither of them moved, then awareness hit Steve like a blow and he froze. Thor just grinned, and Steve felt himself blush, slightly. It wasn't that he was embarrassed -- he'd had similar reactions before, even in the exact same circumstance. But he'd always blushed so easily and it had been the one thing he'd cursed the super serum for not fixing.
Thor was still grinning at him, delighted and with just a bit of challenge. Steve managed a smile and a half-shrug, and was about to tell Thor it was not big deal -- when Thor braced his hands on the floor and rubbed his hips against Steve's, deliberately.
Steve's cock got even harder. He didn't bother trying to hold back his gasp or the way his own hips pressed a little closer, almost of their own accord. Thor leaned down and Steve realised he was about to kiss him and he got his hand on Thor's chest and held him back. "No, wait--"
Thor stilled immediately and the pressure on Steve's body vanished as Thor pushed his body away.
Steve got his hand around Thor's wrist and said, "Video surveillance."
Thor narrowed his eyes for a second, then laughed. "Indeed. We should...continue our workout in private." He blinked and his smile faded. "Unless this is one of those Midgardian codes and you are saying no?"
"No," Steve shook his head. "I mean, yes, I mean-- More privacy. That's what I'm saying." He wanted to bite his tongue, but Thor was looking at him like his unintentional babbling was only encouraging him. Thor shifted back onto his heels, and held out his hand to Steve. He took it and let Thor help him to his feet, and Steve had to remind himself that Tony would be watching the cameras the entire way so he would have to keep his hands to himself.
Thor seemed content to stand beside him in the elevator, hands at his sides and doing very little to make it appear as though he was trying hard to control himself. But as soon as they walked into Thor's rooms and the door shut behind them, Steve found Thor's hands on his waist, turning him around, then Thor was kissing him.
It was, Steve thought, the most amazing kiss he'd ever had. Admittedly he hadn't kissed many people, but Thor was kissing like his entire attention was devoted to Steve's mouth. Perhaps it was; Thor pressed his lips to Steve's, gently but insistently, and Steve let himself be drawn backwards, stumbling a bit on the rug until the bed hit him against the legs. Steve stopped, still with Thor's mouth on his and hands at his waist, fingers slipping inside the waistband of his pants.
Thor broke the kiss, then, and stepped back, dropping his clothes with the grace of one utterly comfortable in his naked skin. Steve swallowed, not sure he could completely replicate that air of confidence, but he pulled off his shirt and saw how Thor's eyes traveled down his chest, following Steve's hands as he hesitated briefly, then pushed the rest of his clothing down and kicked them off and out of the way. Thor moved forward again quickly, but without a sense of urgency. Steve put his hands on Thor's chest, touching skin that was always slightly warmer than he expected. He felt more than heard an answering rumble as Thor pressed close and kissed him again.
As they kissed, Thor eased him back to lie on the bed, then he broke the kiss, lying on top of him in the exact same position as before, hips pushing down, teasingly. Thor looked at him. "I would very much like to fuck you," he said.
"Oh, god," Steve said, and he grabbed Thor's arms, hips yanking up as his cock jerked at the words. Thor smiled at him with a hungry look, lascivious and dirty and it made Steve gasp a little. He found himself spreading his legs without thinking, and Thor leaned up, pressing against Steve's cock as he moved. "Yes, that's a yes," Steve babbled and he felt Thor laughing at him.
Thor leaned down and pressed his lips against Steve's throat, tonguing at his adam's apple. Then a hand slid underneath him, cupping his buttock and lifting him slightly. Steve whimpered and shoved his head back against the mattress.
"Are you going to tease me or can we skip the foreplay and get on with it?"
Thor barked out a laugh, and the sound pushed against Steve's chest for a moment like a soft boom of thunder. "We can, indeed, get on with it," Thor agreed, and it didn't take him long to lean across Steve to the nightstand beside his bed. He came back with a tube of lubricant, snapping it open with one hand even as he moved the other hand and pushed one fingertip inside.
Steve heard himself making noises -- exactly the sort of noise he hadn't wanted recorded by Tony's video cameras. Thor looked pleased with himself, and he quickly added the lubricant needed to get more than a single fingertip in.
Steve pulled his knees up, opening himself as much as he could as Thor worked his fingers, sliding them in and out of Steve's body. Steve moaned as he pushed in deeper, catching his breath only when Thor pulled his fingers free and shifted to kneel between Steve's legs. He raised up on his knees and Steve could feel the very tip of his cock, then Thor stopped.
"As you certain you do not wish to engage in teasing?" Thor asked, his tone deceptively casual.
"Oh my god, I'm going to kill you," Steve breathed out and Thor grinned. Before Steve could make a note to seriously carry out his threat, Thor eased the head of cock inside and Steve froze, panting hard and wanting to shove himself down onto him. If he'd had better position he would have, but luckily Thor seemed to read his intent and he pushed in further, slowly and gently, but not stopping until he was all the way inside.
Steve was making a high-pitched noise he couldn't ever remember making before and he tried to jerk his hips down, wanting desperately to fuck himself on Thor's cock; his own cock jumped at the image of kneeling above him and doing just that. Thor bent down, spreading one hand across Steve's stomach, fingers splayed across the unscarred spot where the robot's arm had skewered him.
Then Thor began fucking him and Steve forgot about the hand on his stomach and the battle with the robots and everything, possibly including his own name. Thor pushed one of Steve's knees further up, stretching him even more as he pounded Steve's ass. All Steve could do was let himself be curled up and shoved open, as Thor fucked him, hard and fast. He hung onto Thor's arms, hands tight around his biceps and let himself be filled, pushed down and covered by Thor's body. He pressed his face into Thor's arm, felt the slick wetness of sweat and the startling coolness of his skin; it felt good on his flushed cheeks and Steve pressed closer, panting and crying out with every thrust.
"I need, I need," he finally managed, not quite able to form the words. But Thor understood him because a hand closed around his cock and began jerking him off, even as Thor's rhythm never faltered. Steve closed his eyes and lost himself too it, feeling his orgasm building until he lost control of everything, coming hard in Thor's hand. Thor continued to jerk him off, thumb running across the head of his cock as though to make sure he'd wrung every last bit from him.
When Steve collapsed, limp, Thor put his hands under Steve's legs and draped them over Thor's shoulders. Steve nodded and shifted a little, letting Thor continue to pound into him. He concentrated for a moment on catching his breath, letting his legs stay loose and his body open for Thor.
Then Thor was slamming into him even harder, long thrusts with the slightest of pauses each time he'd buried his cock deep. His eyes were losing focus and Steve gripped his arms tighter, tugging at him and encouraging, whispering things he was sure no one ever dreamed would come out of Captain America's mouth.
"Come on, fuck me, like that, come on," he kept whispering, shoving his hips upward as much as he could for each thrust until finally Thor was shouting and shoving himself hard enough that Steve could only drop his hands and let him. His hips were aching and all he wanted was to lie there and take it, take more, and he realised he was saying that out loud, begging Thor to keep fucking him, spread him open and take him as hard as he could.
Thor came with a loud roar and Steve could have sworn he heard windows rattling. Frozen above him, Thor's head was thrown back, muscles taunt and all Steve wanted was to reach up and touch him. He reached up, pressed the palms of his hands to Thor's chest, and just watched, transfixed, as Thor seemed to completely stop moving for an instant.
Then he collapsed forward and Steve was reminded once again just how incredibly heavy he was. All he did, though, was scoot sideways, shoving Thor's lifeless body off enough that Steve could breathe, then he left Thor where he was, one arm across Steve's chest and legs tangled together.
Steve thought idly about a blanket, but didn't really want to move, and it didn't seem like Thor was going to even notice the chill in the air. His breathing was already evening out and when Steve nudged him gently, he opened one eye and looked at him, sleepily.
Steve nodded. "Never mind. Go to sleep," he said, and he closed his own eyes. Thor tugged him closer, wrapping his arm tightly around Steve's ribs, and soon enough they both drifted to sleep.
The next day at breakfast, both Tony and Clint were pouting at them. "I installed those cameras for a reason, Rogers," Tony said.
Steve just flipped him off and accepted a bowl of Captain Crunch from Thor. It wasn't the healthiest of breakfasts, but he'd make up for it with lunch. In the meantime, there were the 1962 Oscars to get through, and he and Thor had a punching bag to destroy.
Then the alarms went off as frogmen from an alternate reality Venus began to invade.