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building your wings (on the way down)

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He’s a blur much of the time -- red cape and sun-caught armor and a swinging hammer, but on days like this, Thor is just another fella, planted next to Steve in a dark blue sweatshirt eating cereal and reading about Nixon’s 1972 trip to China and that whole mess that makes up Latveria.

With Thor next to him as he pages through history on the big screen -- Tony had been appalled to find the two of them hunched over one laptop, especially “one of those piece-o’s from SHIELD, what the fuck? You’re heroes” -- Steve doesn’t feel like the only one out of the loop. The messy skein of 20th century history is even more foreign to Thor.

Today, Steve spots a face behind a rifle in an article about a political assassination in the 1970s, and the man looks so much like Bucky that Steve’s hand shakes as he blows up the projection.

“Steven?” Thor’s voice is very far away and beside his ear at the same time, and it’s reassuring, too, because nobody calls him Steven anymore except Thor, and Thor is here sitting with him at a breakfast bar in the 21st century and Bucky’s gone and even if he wasn’t he wouldn’t be there, doing that awful thing, and he’s just imagining... “Are you all right?”

“No. Yes. Just...” Steve swallows around the painful lump in his throat and turns to Thor. “He just looks like someone I grew up with.”

“Perhaps it could be?”

“No,” Steve says, his voice edging high and loud, cutting the still of the room. “The time. The- the dates are all wrong.” He feels his eyes burn and he blinks hard, focusing on the crisp, sharp edge of the table in front of them. Granite or marble or some kind of polished stone. When he looks up again, he finds that Thor has refilled his coffee, and is nudging the mug closer.

Steve accepts it, gratefully.

*

“Just...keep still,” Steve urges. Thor has donned Asgardian battle gear and is seated leaning forward, a hand resting lightly on Mjolnir’s handle.

“I am trying,” Thor mutters out of the side of his mouth.

“You can talk,” Steve says, picking up his charcoal again and turning back to the easel. A few moments later he glances over again and Thor grins at him. “But try to look serious. Solemn.”

“How is this?” Thor scowls at him, dipping his brows.

“Perfect. Very intimidating!” Steve says brightly, swiping at the paper. When he looks up again, he can see Thor is battling the urge to grin. “Hey, stop that. Look...look off into the distance.” He turns and points to a clock on the wall. “Focus on that.”

He’s working on shading Thor’s hair when he hears a sputter, and can’t help cracking up at Thor’s expression, caught somewhere between a dramatic, thoughtful pose and “something itches.” Thor glances at him, throws his head back and laughs.

Steve gives up. He draws Thor smiling after all, eyes shining bright blue, the corners crinkling with humor.

*

So maybe, Steve’s best pal is an alien god.

It could have been stranger to contemplate, but for some reason, it just isn’t.

Thor is Steve’s favorite sparring partner, too. They swap around, of course, but everyone knows Clint and Natasha prefer to tangle with each other or to pierce targets, and Tony mostly enjoys exploding things. Bruce is completely uninterested in anything combat-related unless his temper flares. He enjoys Sudoku and breathing exercises.

But Thor? When he circles the ring with Thor, Steve smiles inside. He doesn’t have to pull his punches. Thor is preternaturally strong, but he can be surprised by a well-timed leg sweep or a flying clothesline, bouncing back with a head-shake and a laugh.

When they spar, Steve leaves the training room properly sore and completely exhausted. He hasn’t mauled a punching bag for weeks and weeks.

It’s great.

Steve prefers to think that Thor isn’t humoring him. At any rate, he keeps inviting Steve to “battle with me,” so he probably isn’t.

Probably.

*

It’s Sunday night again, and Thor settles next to Steve on the sofa after returning the popcorn bowl to his kitchen, then slings an arm over his shoulder as usual.

“This film is even better than they say, Steven,” he says, and Steve can’t help but grin. People were always recommending various movies from the seventy years of cinema he’d missed to him, so it’s nice and novel to introduce something new to someone who hadn’t “seen it a hundred times growing up, Steve, for gods sake.”

“Well, I thought you’d like it. It’s one of those things that people reference a lot.” In fact, Thor had asked him what the flying monkeys thing was about after the battle in New York, and Steve had figured it’d be easier to watch the movie than to explain. Which it had been.

Thor leans in and launches into a description of Asgard that makes it sound like the Emerald City, a jewel surrounded by danger, and Steve listens with unflagging interest. He loves these stories. He thinks Thor should write a book that students of mythology will lap up like a cat does cream, but Thor isn’t too keen on disabusing Midgard of its quaint notions, apparently.

And that’s pretty funny, being that the Chitauri now have one of those things with the facts -- a wiki. People have mentally adjusted to the existence of extraplanetary beings and superheroes just fine. Possibly due to a steady cultural diet of sci-fi pictures and comic books. If Steve didn’t know better, he’d think it had been somehow planned. According to some contributors on the wiki, it was planned.

Talk turns to the latest mission and then winds down, Thor concealing a yawn, and Steve decides to hit his own quarters.

“Thanks for hosting tonight, Thor,” he says. “Next time you should pick the film.” Thor adores large-scale disaster movies and musicals with equal intensity. Last month, they’d watched Mamma Mia and Thor had appalled Clint by blaring the soundtrack in the gym and humming along with the numbers for a week afterward.

Thor nods and comes to his feet, offering a hug as usual. Steve isn’t used to folks who hug as much as Thor does, but he can’t say it isn’t nice to get them; he can’t remember the last time he’d been in anybody’s embrace, but it had been...it had been...before. Thor’s grip tightens and then eases back before Steve feels the soft press of lips to the bared side of Steve’s neck, just over his collar. And that’s something he’s never...well. No one’s ever done that before.

He might have jumped from the surprise contact, but it happens so quickly that he just...stands there.

A kiss. That’s...odd, Steve thinks to himself, but Thor’s from another culture, after all. He has different customs, and Thor’s been great about acquainting himself with theirs, so Steve won’t quibble; fair’s fair. So Steve smiles, chucks Thor lightly on the shoulder and heads back to his own space.

*

They have another movie night the next week, this time in the cinema, to see a new blockbuster movie about an ice age caused by volcanic ash. Steve shushes Thor once early on, because the director had gotten weather wrong and he had been offended: ”Do they not study science?!” but at Steve’s urging, Thor modulates his exclamations down to a whisper.

Steve loves the pictures, but seeing them in the cinema beats the DVR hands down, even when he drinks two giant sodas and has to miss a scene because there are no intermissions anymore (he misses those as well.)

He returns, sticks his refill drink into the cup holder and sits, and Thor captures his nearest hand in his own. Steve leans in, expecting Thor to whisper some other complaint about the unrealistic special effects, but Steve only sees his teeth flash briefly in the near dark.

So. Thor...simply...wants to hold his hand, then.

Art by LePeru!

Steve thinks of pulling away, but doesn’t; he’ll explain the etiquette of holding hands with someone you aren't romantically attached to after the movie ends and they can talk. In the meantime, he doesn’t see the harm in going along with Thor’s....Thor-custom or whatever this is. Thor’s hand is warm and dry and not entirely unpleasant to clasp, and he slides his thumb over Steve’s occasionally. It's well, it's nice. It is. Friendly. But Steve gently disengages a bit later to pick up his third drink.

After the movie, Thor picks up his hand again in the street, and Steve gently pulls away as heat rushes to his face.

“Uh,” he says, and he realizes he really does not want to have to have this conversation. Maybe he can ask Coulson to give Thor some kind of social etiquette handbook or special handler talk, though even as he considers this, Steve thinks it’s cowardly; it’s not really any different than setting Thor straight on other Midgardian niceties, really. But for some reason, this time it is.

“Sorry, I um...” he manages, his throat drying as he stands before Thor on the street corner. Thor regards him with questioning eyes, so Steve bites the bullet. “I’m sorry, we...I can’t.”

Thor’s brow wrinkles at that, and Steve nudges him towards the restaurant near Stark Tower. He doesn’t feel comfortable talking about this standing in front of the theatre, at any rate.

“I have offended you, Steven?” Thor asks as they walk up 8th Avenue under blinking lights.

“No, not exac...no. Not at all,” Steve says, watching his breath and words unfurl in the cool air. “It’s just that friends -- friends who are...men -- don’t hold hands in public. I mean, not usually.” Steve’s pretty sure that hasn’t changed.

“But you did not mind in the theatre.”

Steve hesitates. He’d been too polite to say anything, and it hadn’t been as public, and it was dark, so...he hadn’t seen the harm in something so innocently sweet. It was tough to explain this. He thought Thor’s customs, most of them, anyway, were pretty great, usually. But when in Rome...

“Thor, it’s just that people on uh, earth. Well, in New York, anyway, don’t do that when they’re not together, you know, as a...couple. Dating, not just pals, like us.”

Thor strides along with him silently for the remainder of the block. “I see,” he says, finally.

Steve guesses he hadn’t done too badly, like the time he’d relayed patiently that people do not stand in the middle of the street and hold out both hands to catch taxicabs, even if they’re strong enough to make them stop.