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Divine Yet Fallible

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Even now, after everything he has been through, Steve can still remember the prayers his mother taught him as a child. He can still recall kneeling before the small shrine in the corner of their home and placing the humblest of offerings upon it as his mother asked the gods for their blessings. He can still picture the drawings around the front door, many of them his own, of the gods and goddesses he believed would protect him and his family. Heimdall the gatekeeper, Tyr the warrior, Idun the healer, Odin the father, and Frigg the mother – these were the deities of his childhood. He believed in them with all his heart and mind, even after the passing of his mother.

 

When the war arrived and Steve witnessed via newsreels the death and suffering that was occurring in far away countries he did not lose his faith, instead he was inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps – to enlist and join his fellow warriors in battle. Although he was continuously turned away he was never once deterred; the tales that his mother would tell to send him to sleep had taught him that true warriors did not let such petty obstacles stand between them and a fight. Eventually, he found his way into the army and onto the battlefield. He saw many things there, things that were strange and cruel and heartbreaking, but his unwavering devotion to the gods allowed him to walk away from them unscathed.

 

Steve carried his gods with him through Europe and into the twenty-first century. In this time he found that belief in the old gods had dwindled and been replaced by the worship of new gods: money, power, technology and media. The revelation had saddened him but didn’t shake his faith. By that point he had been through too much to let a little thing like public opinion strip away his certainty that the old gods were real, were watching, were waiting for the right moment to return to the mortal world.

***

Thor’s banishment marked the beginning of the old gods’ return. Steve had not been present for the events that followed his crash-landing on Earth, nor was he made aware of them until much later. He understood why, of course. It wasn’t until Thor summoned his hammer and created a storm of divine proportions that anybody actually believed him to be a deity. The revelation that he was one of the old gods returned to Earth had sent SHIELD into a panic and a massive cover-up had occurred. They’d kept the events of New Mexico a secret to all non-essential personnel, waiting for the gods to make their next move before sharing their information.  

 

That was when Loki arrived on Earth and Fury approached Steve with a request that he join the team established to retrieve the stolen Tesseract. Steve had been torn. On the one hand he had seen what the Tesseract could do, had witnessed the death and destruction it could create in the hands of someone like the Red Skull. On the other hand, Loki was a god. He was crafty and dangerous and someone Steve really had no desire to face in battle. He remembered well his mother’s tales of mortals who challenged gods and paid the price for their irreverence.

 

Yet this was a fight that Steve didn’t think he could walk away from. According to Director Fury’s report Loki was deranged and had come to Earth to subjugate humanity. Steve couldn’t in good conscious turn his back on this when there was so much at stake. If Fury was to be believed then the free world Steve had fought for during the war, that his friends had died for, was in jeopardy. He couldn’t let other warriors give their lives when his participation in the fight might bring victory and allow them to return home to their families. Even though it went against the grain Steve knew this was a battle he couldn’t avoid. He had to decide whose side he was on, had to choose between his principles and his beliefs.

 

He’d chosen his principles and prayed that the gods would forgive him.

***

Not long after his talk with Fury Steve had found himself in Germany. He’d witnessed Loki commanding people to kneel, had found the god seconds away from killing an old man who refused to do so. Steve had reacted on instinct and moved to save the man from the blast of magical energy. He’d been slightly surprised when the blast had rebounded off his shield, but that was only because seeing Loki in all his paraphernalia had sent him reeling back to his childhood. For a second his conviction that he must stop the god had wavered... 

***

“The soldier,” Loki stated as he rose to his feet. “I am surprised that you of all people would dare to raise your hand against me. I was under the impression that you were one of the few mortals who was still a believer?”

 

“I am,” Steve replied, meeting the god’s eyes.

 

“Then kneel,” Loki ordered, a vicious grin stretching his lips as he raised himself to his full height. 

 

“Just because you’re a god doesn’t mean you have the right to demand worship.”

 

“Oh, I think it gives me every right.”

 

Steve forced steel into his voice and replied, “I’m not going to kneel before someone who hurts innocent people and attempts to rob them of their freedom.”

 

“You would defy your god?” Loki asked with a twisted grin. “I suppose you would. Unlike your friends James Barnes and Peggy Carter you never did pray to me did you?”

 

Hearing those names hurt more than Steve imagined it would. It conjured emotions he didn’t want to feel, especially here and now, and suddenly he felt nostalgic for the days when the old gods had brought him comfort instead of these ethical dilemmas. “Is what Fury said true? Do you really want to subjugate humanity?”

 

“You say that as if it is a bad thing. I am here to free you mortals from the misery that freedom brings. You are all so destructive, so petty, so easily led – you let fear control you and murder each other for the illusion of freedom and security. I am here to strip you of illusion. I am here to control you because it is obvious that you cannot control yourselves. I am here to be the strong hand that quashes all those willing to scramble over the corpses of their comrades for the prize of power. I am here to enforce peace.”

 

“And that’s not what you’re doing here? Scrambling for power?”

 

“I am a god; I do not scramble.”

 

“But you’re willing to kill for power.”

 

“If some of you must die in the establishment of my reign then so be it. It is for the greater good.”

 

That phrase erased all doubts in Steve’s mind. Nothing good ever seemed to come out of doing something ‘for the greater good’. Even if Loki was a god, even if Bucky and Peggy had prayed to him, he was still fallible. He was wrong to think conquest was the answer and he was wrong to think people wanted their freedom taken from them. He was wrong and he needed to be stopped before he caused any more damage. 

***

For the first time ever, Steve had pitted his strength against that of a god’s. The fight had been brief, ended by Iron Man’s arrival. Loki had surrendered easily in the face of Stark’s technology and allowed himself to be bundled onto SHIELD’s jet. He’d been quiet at first, but then Stark had asked Loki why he’d chosen to impersonate that god instead of another – surely people would be quicker to bow to Odin than to the tricky asshole who was supposed to bring about the end of the world? Loki had sneered and called Stark a fool for worshiping the new gods over the old. Stark had scoffed and informed Loki he was an atheist. The resulting debate had made Steve uncomfortable, especially when the two of them had descended into shamelessly insulting the other gods. Steve had told them to stop but they had both ignored him and continued their discussion. Only the sudden arrival of a thunderstorm had been able to silence them. 

***

Meeting Thor had been like a dream come true for Steve. He’d felt the same awe and thrill that Coulson must have felt when speaking with Steve for the first time. Once they had arrived at the Helicarrier he’d stumbled over his words as he’d once done around Peggy and made an utter fool of himself. Thor had laughed it off and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. He had told Steve not to become flustered, had said that although he was a god he was still fallible and all too human. Then his mood had turned dark and Steve imagined he had begun to think of Loki. Steve had attempted to distract the god with questions about Asgard and the truth of the myths surrounding the rest of the gods. Thor had indulged his curiosity and even asked his own questions about Earth. Agent Romanoff had been required to answer most of them seeing as Steve had yet to fully adjust to the new world.

 

The feelings of inadequacy that experience had prompted were nothing compared to how it had felt to be told to call the play in the battle of New York City. Stark had asked him to command a god, to order him about like a lowly private. For a second Steve had doubted himself, had doubted that Thor would follow the orders of a mere mortal. Then his training had kicked in and all there was was the war and the soldiers fighting in it. It didn’t matter that Thor was a god Steve had worshiped since childhood – he was a soldier and he went where his leader commanded. The full implications of that hadn’t sunk in until after the battle, until after Loki was captured and thrown into a cell. Only then did Steve collapse onto a bunk and marvel at all that he had done that day.  

***

Despite SHIELD’s best efforts they were unable to contain the footage of the invasion of New York. News that the old gods had returned spread like wildfire and almost eclipsed the story that aliens and superheroes were also real. Stark complained bitterly about this, but not even his hard-working PR department could shift the focus towards him. Everyone else on the team was relieved that they would not be thrust into the spotlight and were perfectly happy to sit back and watch the high priests fight amongst themselves for the pleasure of being able to tell all the non-believers that <i>they were wrong and should convert before the gods returned and reigned holy retribution upon them</i>. Steve always turned the TV off at that point – he had no desire to watch the atheists’ rebuttal that the footage was fake or (as Stark continued to claim) Loki was an alien preying upon gullible religious fanatics. Unlike the agents of SHIELD he gained no pleasure from watching the high priests of his religion ‘lose their shit’.

***

Roughly two years after Thor and Loki left for Asgard the two gods returned to Earth. They were told that Loki was on probation and that he had come to help them prepare for an invading force that was headed towards Earth. Nobody had been particularly happy with the arrangement, but when the situation had been fully explained they’d all grudgingly decided that Loki’s knowledge and skills would be valuable tools to use against Thanos. When the deity then appeared live on national television and instantly gained so much popularity that no government official wished to criticise the Avengers lest they be booed out of office, SHIELD felt obligated to invite him into the fold. Loki turned them down, wishing to be a consultant rather than an Avenger. Thor, on the other hand, was delighted to be offered a permanent place on the Avengers’ roster. Steve was quietly grateful that they’d got the sane brother. He was also grateful that he’d been gifted another chance to spend time with Thor. There were so many questions he wanted answering, so many tales he wanted to hear. Luckily for him Thor was more than happy to oblige.

***

“Here is your drink you insolent mortal!” Loki snarls as he throws the glass of scotch into Tony’s spluttering face.

 

Steve pretends to be invisible as he wishes Thor had never explained to Tony that the gods were actually able to hear your prayers. Ever since gaining that little titbit of information Tony has been shamelessly abusing it by praying to Loki for the most ridiculous of things. Steve has warned him countless times that if he isn’t careful Loki will throw him out of a window again, but Tony has yet to heed his advice. Sometimes, Steve wonders if Tony is attracted to danger. It would explain a lot about his antagonistic relationship with Loki and why he still gives Bruce small electrical shocks when the scientist is least expecting it.  

 

“I am not some servant at your beck and call – I am a god! You should treat me as such or I swear to Odin I will rip out the device around your heart and force it down your throat!”

 

“You know, Thor doesn’t throw a hissy fit whenever I pray for him to bring me coffee.”

 

Loki seethes silently and throws the empty glass tumbler to the ground, causing it to smash. He then disappears in a flash of golden light, leaving the two Avengers alone in the otherwise empty training room.

 

“Tony, you ever hear the tale of the boy who cried wolf?”

 

“Really Cap? You’re really going to give me another lecture on respecting the aliens posing as gods?”

 

Steve ignores the attempt to sidetrack him. “There was a boy who made a game of pretending a wolf was attacking his sheep and running into his village shouting for help. Eventually the villagers grew tired of rushing to his aid, and so when a wolf really did attack his sheep they did nothing to help and the boy lost all his sheep to the wolf. If you keep praying to the gods for such trivial things then when you really need their help they’ll refuse to answer your plea.”

 

Tony rolls his eyes. “Chill out Capsicle; I’m just having a bit of fun. It’s not my fault Loki’s so sensitive.”

 

Steve continues to frown disapprovingly but decides to let it go. If after three years Tony still refuses to properly respect Steve’s religion then one conversation is not going to do a thing to modify his behaviour.

***

When Steve wakes in the hospital his mind is fuzzy with morphine. He groans and groggily reaches for the glass of water he knows should be close by. He is surprised when a warm hand clasps his own and guides it towards his intended target. Steve blinks the sleep from his eyes and focuses on the figure sitting at his bedside. Thor smiles and says softly, “I am relieved to see you awake my friend.”

 

Steve stares blankly for a moment before returning the smile. He brings the water to his lips and drains the glass, not caring that he spills half of it. His thirst somewhat quenched, he returns his attention to Thor and asks, “What happened?”

 

“You were injured in battle. The enemy struck from behind, dealing a blow that would have been fatal to a regular mortal. As you lay dying you called out to me and I rushed to your aid. I was able to bring you to your healers before it was too late and you have been in ‘intensive care’ ever since. I am ashamed to admit that for a moment I feared I would lose you; I should have had more faith in you and your healers.”

 

Hearing a god talk about faith causes Steve to laugh. He regrets it a moment later as his injury makes its presence known even through the numbing haze of morphine. Steve winces and Thor frowns in concern. “I’m fine,” Steve reassures. “Just don’t make me laugh.”

 

Thor nods and sits back in the plastic hospital chair he is far too large for. “The others will also be glad to hear that you are awake. Of our close comrades you were the most gravely wounded. The machine that powers Stark’s heart was damaged during the battle, but Loki responded to his pleas and was able to bring him a replacement before it was too late. The rest of us received only minor injuries.”

 

“I thought Loki was ignoring Tony’s prayers after he compared praying to turning on the Bat Signal?”

 

“My brother is fickle,” Thor states matter-of-factly.

 

Steve grins as he remembers Natasha’s theory that the two of them have been pulling each other’s pigtails from the beginning. He suspects that the former Russian spy will soon be coming into a lot of money from the bet she made with Clint and a few other brave SHIELD agents.

 

A thought suddenly occurs to Steve. “You answered my prayer.”

 

Thor nods solemnly. “You called to me and I was compelled to answer.”

 

“Wow,” Steve whispers. “A god answered my prayer. That’s never happened before.”

 

Thor looks down, his mouth drawn with shame. “I am sorry for that my friend. Looking back I wish I had moved to aid you in your time of need, but I was not as I am now and I turned a deaf ear to the cries of many mortals.”

 

“What?” Steve asks, surprised. “Are you saying you heard my prayers when I was a kid?”

 

Thor graces him with a pained smile. “In my youth I was boastful and conceited and never gave heed to the consequences of my actions. Your realm was the youngest of the nine and unaccustomed to witnessing the power of an Asgardian. I allowed the worship of those early mortals to go to my head and I’m afraid my hubris caused many of you to suffer. In time my father forbade us all from overtly helping mortals. We could visit Midgard in disguise and quietly give aid, but unlike many of the other gods I had no interest in such subtlety. Idun would often take the appearance of a nurse and respond to prayers to heal the sick; Tyr would occasionally train those who gained his favour to be great warriors; Loki regularly visited Midgard to cause mischief or to court his favourite mortals. Knowing I would never receive praise or gratitude for my efforts I ignored the prayers of my worshipers. With hindsight I regret making such a selfish decision. If I concentrate I can still recall the exact words of all those who called to me. If I had been less vain back then...I would have come to your aid Steve. I would have responded to your pure warrior’s heart and made it so that you would not have received so many beatings from bullies and cowards. I hope you can forgive me.”

 

Steve is left speechless. A god asking him for forgiveness... It’s so bizarre that he would think he was dreaming if the effects of the morphine were not beginning to fade. There’s a pain in his chest he can’t quite locate but knows it will only be a matter of time until he can.

 

Forcing a smile, Steve says, “Knowing me, if you’d tried to intervene in one of my fights I’d probably have told you to go help somebody who actually needed you. I was quite stubborn back then. Besides, getting regularly beat up was a very good form of character building; it taught me some valuable lessons. In my eyes there’s nothing to forgive.”

 

Thor smiles fondly. “You are a good man Steve Rogers. That is why you have always held my favour.”

 

Steve feels his cheeks flush and averts his gaze. He doesn’t feel worthy to hold a god’s favour, especially not Thor’s, especially when he has been harbouring a crush on the god ever since the deity officially joined the Avengers. He knows it’s a ridiculous thing to do, knows that Thor will never return his affections, but that doesn’t mean his foolish heart has any intentions of giving itself to anyone who is actually attainable. For the last year he has been hopelessly smitten with the god of thunder and to Steve it is a miracle that he has yet to give this fact away to anyone. He has a terrible poker face and has yet to meet a worse liar – and now that he thinks about it he suspects that the others are fully aware of his feelings but are simply too polite to say anything. It would explain the sympathetic looks he occasionally receives from Bruce and the eye-rolling that occurs when the assassins think he isn’t looking. Due to Tony’s lack of unhelpful comments about his situation Steve suspects the engineer has been too busy baiting Loki to notice Steve’s crush. Loki doesn’t give a damn about Steve’s love life and actively avoids Thor’s after he inadvertently caused his relationship with Jane to implode.

 

Thor shifts uncomfortably and the plastic chair he is sitting on creaks ominously. The deity hastily settles himself and focuses his gaze on Steve. “Ever since Loki and I did battle in your city of New York the number of prayers sent up to the gods has increased. Our presence has unintentionally converted many who did not believe and renewed the hope of those who were straying from the old ways. Yet I have found that you, one of the most dedicated believers I have ever encountered, has ceased to pray. Why is that my friend?”

 

Steve gives Thor a lop-sided grin. “I thought it would be rather awkward sharing a Tower with a god who I’d just prayed to. I didn’t want to disturb you like Tony does with his irreverent mockery of prayer. I thought simply tending to my shrine would be more respectful and less intrusive than praying every day. Like you said, more people have been praying since you showed up on Earth – I didn’t want to add to what must already be a large crowd in your head.”

 

Thor smiles softly. “I thank you for your consideration my friend; but truth be told I miss receiving your prayers.”

 

“Really?” Steve asks, surprised.

 

Thor nods. “So many mortals seek my aid for selfish reasons. Yet you have always called to me with a pure heart and asked for help not for yourself but for others. You have completed the old rites of worship with unwavering diligence and love. You have always shown me great respect and trust, even when I have not deserved it.”

 

“That’s not-”

 

Before Steve can finish his sentence, Thor moves forward and kisses him. For a moment Steve is too shocked to react and simply sits there motionlessly. Then, slowly, he responds to the gentle press of Thor’s lips against his.

 

Thor pulls back with a quiet smile. “I was afraid I had lost you my friend. It pained me greatly when I thought that I was too late to save you. Yet here you are, alive and well, and I am filled with so much joy. Our brothers and sister at arms advised me to wait until you were fully healed before expressing the depth of my affection for you, but I am afraid I cannot stay myself. Our conversation has presented me with the perfect opportunity to make my confession and I would not risk letting this be the only ship to set sail.”

 

Steve blinks, trying to process what Thor is saying. “Is this a love confession?”

 

“That is what I had intended for it to be,” Thor replies with a wry smile. “Whether it is shall depend on whether or not I have once again misconstrued Midgardian courting rituals.”

 

Steve takes a deep breath and says, “If this is a drug-introduced hallucination I am going to be really cheesed off.” He then kisses Thor as he once kissed Peggy, and prays to all of his gods that this is real.

 

Thor chuckles and dislocates his mouth from Steve’s to say, “You will not endear yourself to my brother, or the rest of my family, if you continue to offer up such prayers.”

 

Steve’s face burns, and in that moment he wishes the ground would open up and swallow him. “I am so sorry about that; it won’t happen again.”

 

“Thank you. I know Loki will encourage Stark to retaliate in kind if it does.”

 

 Steve winces. “Again, sorry.”

 

Thor smiles – warm and friendly and perfect – and Steve has to make a conscious effort not to again pray for this to be real.

 

It is at that point that a doctor walks into the room and coughs loudly to gain their attention. She smiles as they turn towards her and politely informs Thor that she would like a moment alone with her patient. Thor nods before returning his attention to Steve. He kisses the soldier one last time before standing and carefully clasping the side of Steve’s neck. “If you wish I will return tomorrow with the appropriate gift for one recovering from a wound such as yours.”

 

“You don’t need to do that,” Steve says awkwardly, not at all comfortable with the public display of affection. In the time he was raised in men were not open about their love for each other. Steve knows things have changed since then but that doesn’t make the situation any less awkward for him.

 

Thor’s face immediately falls, causing Steve’s insides to twist in guilt.

 

Taking a deep breath, Steve says, “On second thoughts, some cards would really brighten this place up.”

 

Thor beams and Steve can’t help but return the smile. “I understand my friend. I promise I will return tomorrow.”

 

With that Thor exits the room and Steve turns his attention to his doctor. The woman smirks and asks, “Do I get the honour of being the first to explain safe gay sex to Captain America?”

 

Steve blushes and once again wishes the floor would swallow him whole.

***

The next day Thor floods Steve’s room with every variation of ‘Get Well Soon!’ card he could find. Steve thanks him for the cards and flowers whilst trying to ignore the rest of his smirking team. Clint’s nose has been broken and reset, Natasha’s arm is in a sling, and Tony has practically recovered from his near-death experience. They all give him knowing looks and Tony appears fit to burst with the desire to tease. Only Pepper’s constant pinching stops the engineer from opening his mouth and making the situation ten times more embarrassing for Steve than it already is.

***

Steve had missed praying. For the longest time his prayers were the one constant in his life. Throughout his childhood, throughout the war, throughout his arrival in the Twenty-first Century, he had sought solace in the familiar ritual of worship. He had rarely asked the gods for anything besides their blessings, for it was in the act of praying that he had found comfort. Prayer had made him feel like he wasn’t alone, that he was connected to a higher power. After he’d learnt that the connection was real he’d tried to stop all forms of worship so as not to distract and encumber the gods. He’d found that was too much to ask of him – he’d been unable to cope with the void in his life that going cold-turkey created. So he’d changed tactic: he stopped praying to the gods he encountered on a daily basis and regulated his prayers to those still in Asgard. He had still left offerings on the small shrine in his room (especially to Loki, as that had seemed to lessen the god’s general air of hostility) but had ceased all other forms of worship. Thor had never mentioned it and Steve had taken that as a signal to continue. Steve had never imagined that Thor would miss receiving his prayers just as much as Steve had missed sending them.

***

The soldier murmurs a prayer against Thor’s skin, causing the deity to groan. His lips move from the thunder god’s naval up his torso, still mouthing the old rites of worship he learnt long ago. Steve doubts his mother intended for him to use his lessons in such a manner, but at this present moment he cannot find it in himself to care. He is offering his god a very personal form of worship – worship he has dearly missed giving – and he is not about to let a little thing like the misuse of a few sacred words deter him from gaining Thor’s eternal favour.

 

Suddenly, Thor winces. Concerned, Steve ceases his ministrations and asks, “What’s wrong?”

 

“Loki is taking his revenge. I’m afraid Stark has just revealed far more of his and my brother’s private affairs than I ever wished to know.”

 

It gives Steve no satisfaction that he finally appreciates the term ‘cock-blocking’. He resists the urge to wish violence on Loki, because knowing the god of mischief he would find such an act amusing and incite Tony into continuing to traumatise Thor.

 

Sighing, Steve asks, “Does that mean we’re done for the night?”

 

Thor grins in a manner that is eerily similar to Loki when he is planning mischief. “No Captain, it means that we are at war.”

 

Slowly, Steve returns the grin. He moves in to kiss Thor and prays to Loki harder than he has done in his entire life. The inevitable retaliation that Loki will reign down upon them is well worth the part disgusted, part frustrated scream he receives from the floor above.