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Interdimensional Incidents

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"Thor," the good Captain said, after the battle. He was looking at Thor urgently, and...blushing. "Thor, who is...who is that?"

Thor turned in the direction he looked and saw the lady Sif, dusting plaster off her shoulders.

"Why, that is my shield-sister of Asgard," he said, beaming. "Lady Sif, leader of the Warriors Three."

"She's...great," the Captain breathed.

"Oh aye?" Thor's grin widened. "Quite a warrior. Comely, too."

"Well -- I -- I guess," the Captain stammered.

"Shall I make you acquainted? Milady Sif surely would appreciate the attention of a fine warrior such as yourse -- "

"No!" Steve said, jerking away as Thor began to drag him forward. "No, I just...think she's a swell fighter, that's all."

Thor frowned. "Well, it is your choice, Captain. They are bound for Asgard -- they cannot linger."

"And we have a debrief," the Captain said, drawing himself up into his finest warrior's posture. Thor loved all his warrior friends here on Midgard, but when the Captain was in his best bearing there were few who could compare.

"As you like," Thor said, and waved goodbye to Sif and the Warriors Three as he followed the Captain back to their transport.

***

Steve was in a pickle.

It was a pretty good fight, they'd done well and the help from Asgard in bringing down a sleeper cell of frost giants intent on conquering Earth sure hadn't hurt.

But he knew he'd been distracted. It was hard to lead the debrief when he knew, he knew Tony was going to be on him for letting that one frost giant get so close, and Hawkeye was going to ask what he'd been doing, and Widow would just smile knowingly because women always saw through him.

He fumbled his way through it somehow, grateful for Coulson's interruptions that kept them on track and kept the "What the fuck, Steve?" to a minimum.

"What is up with Capsicle?" he heard Tony ask, as he hurried towards the locker room.

"Ah, he was admiring the skill and prowess of my Asgardian comrades," Thor said.

Steve silently made a note to thank Thor for his tact, sometime after he'd finally stopped blushing.

Two days later, he was not quite so happy with his teammate.

***

The Avengers had two full floors of Stark Tower to themselves, but it was understood that the east terrace was Natasha and Clint's territory. Tony had his own terrace, Thor preferred the west one, and Bruce and Steve didn't like heights, so Natasha and Clint had decorated theirs with deck chairs, heat lamps, lots of potted plants, and weapons hidden in the plants. And the chairs. And the lamps.

So it was fortunate they were sunbathing on the terrace when there was a loud clap of thunder, and four Asgardians appeared in front of them.

Natasha grabbed Clint's wrist before he could dive for his bow.

"Get Cap," she hissed. "Get Cap now!"

Clint looked at her, looked at them, and ran off, grinning gleefully.

Natasha rose, coming forward with outstretched hands to greet the wall of frankly enjoyable man-and-womanflesh standing in front of her. "Warriors," she said with a smile. "Welcome back to Midgard."

"My lady Spider!" the one with the goatee said, bowing low. "It is a pleasure to be greeted by such a smile."

He elbowed the other two, who bowed belatedly. The woman, Sif, just rolled her eyes and smiled knowingly at Natasha.

"I hope there's no more trouble on Asgard?" Natasha said, when they'd straightened up. "What brings you back so soon?"

"We wish to train with the warriors of Midgard, the great Avengers!" the dark-haired one said. Hogun? "Particularly the one you call Hulk. Truly one of Asgardian stock."

"And to sample your foodstuffs!" the really big one boomed.

"Sister," Sif added, and hugged Natasha. Which was unexpected, but pleasant. "I would know you better. And some of your comrades," she added in Natasha's ear. "Thor has invited us in the hopes of such a thing."

"I know exactly what you mean," Natasha whispered back, letting her go.

"Hey, look who's here!" Clint called, re-emerging onto the terrace, Steve trailing behind him. "Cap, the Warriors Three are back! And Sif!"

Steve shot Clint a look that could have frozen vodka, and then put on a smile and joined Natasha. "Welcome back."

"They've come to train with us," Natasha said brightly. "Isn't that nice, Steve?"

"Oh -- well yeah, of course, you're welcome anytime," Steve stammered. He was studiously not looking at Sif. "We've got plenty of space. Uh, but we're done sparring for today, it's, um, it's movie night."

"BROTHERS," Thor boomed, stepping out onto the terrace. "MY SHIELD SISTER SIF! HOW UNEXPECTED! I HAD NO IDEA YOU WOULD COME!"

"Subtle, Thor," Clint murmured.

"You must come inside! We are to watch moving pictures tonight and eat popcorn and drink weak Midgardian beer!"

All three of the warriors held up flasks. Large flasks.

"Ah," Clint said. "This is gonna be awesome."

***

"So, um," Steve said, as the Asgardians settled themselves at the table in the communal Avengers kitchen. "Is there any particular training you'd like to study with us? I mean, I'm sure you could...teach us some things too..."

Not looking at Sif. Not looking at Sif. Sif, who had a really big sword and had ripped through two frost giants with such grace it took Steve's breath away.

"We wish to study bare fisticuffs and staff fighting, and swords if you have them, and also your shield," the one with the goatee said. Fandral was the one with the goatee, Steve was nearly sure.

"It is a mystical weapon, is it not?" Hogun asked. "The shield of the Avatar?"

"Ava...?" Steve managed.

"Indeed, are you not the legendary avatar of the nation of America?" Sif asked. "The one who rises when his country is in need of his services?"

"Well, that's, that's one way to put it," Steve said. "I can uh. Show you how it works, but it's...one of a kind."

"A valued relic," Volstagg nodded. "Understood. We will content ourselves to a demonstration, if that is your wish."

"No, it's just -- Tony!" Steve said desperately, as Tony walked into the kitchen. He could safely say he had never been so glad to see Tony Stark in his entire life. Tony knew how to talk to people. "Tony, look! Asgardians!"

Tony peered at them. "Hey, welcome back. What's the haps? More ice giants? Or those fanged things Thor keeps referencing?"

"The crimson iron knight!" Hogun said, rising and clasping Tony on his shoulders. Tony winced. "In battle you saved my life! You must teach me about your lances of light. In return I will show you how not to fall on your face when you are thrown from a high vantage!"

"Oh, uh, sure, I'll get on that," Tony said. "Steve, help?"

"They've come to train with us," Steve said. "That's great, isn't it? It's great. Uh, Tony will take it from here," he added, and ruthlessly abandoned Tony to the Asgardians.

In the hallway, he leaned against the wall and thudded his head back against it gently. "Ninety years old and six feet of muscle and you're still so smooth," he muttered.

"MOVIE NIGHT!" Bruce called from the living room. "PICK YOUR SEATS OR LOSE YOUR CHANCE!"

"Aw hell," Steve sighed. He couldn't very well avoid Movie Night. Movie Night had been his idea, and was mostly about showing him and Thor what they'd been missing by being frozen in ice or raised in another dimension.

He was going for one of the two wing-chairs in the living room, nice safe wing chairs, but Clint bolted into one of them like his ass was on fire and Bruce was already firmly ensconced in the other one. Tony's ridiculous popcorn machine was going in the corner.

His next choice was a seat between Natasha and the arm of the couch, because Natasha was scary but at least she was pretty nice to him, but just as he was making for it, Fandral took one side and Hogun took the other and Volstagg sat at Natasha's feet.

Natasha smirked at him.

Tony glared at him defensively from the other couch. "This is Pepper's spot," he said.

"My friend, come and sit here," Thor said, patting a space next to him. "I have mead that will make even you want to start a fight," he added, placing a flask in Steve's hands.

Steve was opening his mouth to thank him when Sif dropped down on his other side. He choked on his own spit.

"Thor has told us much of these movies," Sif said to him. "Where is the popped corn?"

Thor looked at Steve. So did Natasha. Tony was busy ogling Sif. Clint suppressed a laugh, badly.

"I'll...get you some," Steve said, and got up to scoop some out of the popcorn machine. He returned with two bags, offering her one and then trying to figure out what to do with the popcorn in one hand and the flask in the other.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Tony said, throwing an arm around Pepper as she arrived, dimming the lights with the remote in his other hand. "Tonight we are pleased to present, for our honored guests, the original Ray Harryhausen classic, Clash of the Titans."

Steve was hyper-aware both of Sif's presence at his elbow and that he was sweating nervously. He handed the popcorn to Thor, who took it happily, and opened the flask Thor had given him.

"Is this a story of warriors?" Sif asked, leaning into him. Steve wondered if he should have put more aftershave on.

"You got me, I never saw it," he answered.

"My shieldbrother Thor says you are fond of these moving pictures."

"Oh -- oh yeah, I guess. Did he say....anything else?"

Sif nudged him. "Only that you are a warrior, which I had seen for myself already. Has he not mentioned us to you?"

"Oh...yeah..." Steve said vaguely. "He, uh, he -- "

"Hey, peanut gallery, shut it!" Clint called.

"Aw, stow yourself, you can hear just fine," Steve retorted automatically, and then wanted to hide his face.

"Children," Tony warned. Clint threw a piece of popcorn that landed lightly and perfectly and apparently without notice in Tony's hair. Steve sighed, sipped from the flask, and tried to pay attention to the movie.

About halfway through, he thought he probably should have paid more attention to how quickly he was drinking. He was used to alcohol not affecting him, but Asgardian mead was...strong stuff, apparently. By the time he realized how strong he was slouched back in the couch, warm and comfortable and totally incapable of moving. Clash of the Titans was turning out to be the best movie he'd ever, ever seen.

"Would you like some popped corn?" Sif whispered in his ear, her eyes still trained on the screen. The Asgardians, like Thor, treated the film as an interactive experience, cheering and shouting advice, but Sif had mostly been pretty quiet. Steve dug his hand in the bag when she offered it.

"Thanks," he said, as she settled back, shoulder to shoulder with him. He definitely did not think about the flex of her biceps as she'd beheaded a frost giant with a single sweep of her sword. Or about the sheer amount of really pretty hair she had. Or her accent. Or her legs.

A man could really get in trouble not thinking about Asgardian warrior princesses, he decided, about five minutes before he fell asleep.

***

"I am truly sorry, Captain," Thor said the next morning, as Steve sat at the table with an extra-strong cup of coffee in front of him and an ice pack on his head. "I had no idea Asgardian liquor would have such an effect. I warned the others to be sparing, but you have always held your drink so admirably."

"My own fault," Steve groaned, leaning forward to rest his forehead on the table. "But it's kinda nice."

"Is it?" Thor asked.

"Well, when you spend a couple of years at war sober, you even relish the hangover," Steve replied, shifting the ice pack to the back of his neck. "I mean, I'm awfully embarrassed, but it was pleasant while it lasted."

"You will know more caution in the future, no doubt," Thor said. "The lady Sif did not seem upset, at any rate."

"I have had a lotta first dates," Steve said. "Most of 'em ended in disaster. I'm used to that. But honestly this is the first time I had a first date chaperoned by nine other people."

"Ah, then you do look fair on my shield-sister?" Thor asked.

"Thor, in the immortal words of my ma, you ain't foolin' nobody with that face," Steve said. "If you didn't bring those folks here with the intent of settin' me up, I'll eat my shield."

"You are a warrior, she is a warrior, and she finds Asgardian men difficult," Thor said. "We are not easily accepting of warrior women."

"Maybe she's not that interested, you ever think of that?"

Thor laughed. Steve covered his ears.

"My friend Captain, I think you are unaware of your charms. Woo her. Or allow her to woo you. Charm her with feats of strength and gifts of value. Women of Asgard do not respect fast talk like Stark's. They respect action."

"I'm pretty sure there's something very offensive about all this but I can't quite think of what it is right now," Steve sighed, sitting up just in time for the Asgardians to enter. The men were wearing Stark Industries t-shirts and track pants; Sif was wearing yoga pants and a shirt Natasha had obviously loaned her. It rode pretty high, and the yoga pants rode pretty low.

"I like these clothes," she announced. "Captain, I am ready to spar in single combat with you. I wrestled Fandral for the honor," she added proudly.

"I will find a way to make you suffer for this," Steve whispered to Thor, as he followed her out.

***

"I must make one request of you," Sif said, stepping onto the practice mats and stretching.

"Okay," Steve answered, not quite meeting her eyes but very carefully not looking anywhere below her neck.

"Thor tells me you are a courtly warrior, and have a great respect for women," she said. Steve blinked, staring fixedly at her chin. "In this battle, you must treat me no differently than a man. You must put your full force behind each blow, and not yield to anything prematurely."

"Ah. Sure," Steve mumbled. He glanced to one side, where Natasha was preparing, it looked like, to take on both Fandral and Volstagg at once.

Hogun already had Tony suspended upside down, one hand gripping each thigh firmly. Tony was protesting, and pretty much everyone was ignoring him.

"You must not hesitate," Sif said, and Steve turned back to find her gesturing at her breasts. His mouth went dry. "Nor will I. Agreed?"

"Ag -- agreed," Steve stammered. "Do you really think -- "

He never got to finish his question; she lunged at him, smacking him hard in the side of the head, and instinct, thankfully, took over. It was rare Steve really got to let loose on someone -- the bad guys, sure, but bad guys didn't show up that often, and when he sparred with anyone other than Thor he did have to pull his punches just a little. Sif went all out and after a few minutes Steve forgot anything but strategy and leverage, grappling and circling and punching, really starting to enjoy himself. He couldn't seem to pin her and she didn't quite manage to pin him, and he only realized how long they'd been fighting when he stepped back to call a break and noticed everyone else was watching them.

"Okay. Well. That was...invigorating," he said, as Sif shook herself out, retying her ponytail. "But I think that's enough for one morning."

"Sif, did you see?" Fandral asked eagerly, as they left the mats. "Did you see the Lady Spider? She defeated me with her thighs!"

"Yes, I did," Natasha added smugly, studying her nails.

"A death fit for a warrior," Sif drawled.

"Such a death!" Fandral sighed. Hogun looked envious.

"Tony?" Steve called. Tony was lying on the mat, looking pained. "Did you break anything?"

"Only my will to live. I have fallen down eighty-five times while you were making out with Xena," Tony called.

"Making out?" Sif asked Steve.

"Don't listen to Tony. Ever," Steve said.

"Now we feast!" Volstagg declared. "I wish to try pizza today."

"You got it, buddy," Tony said, not getting up. "JARVIS, like, a million pizzas. Pizzas to the Asgardian power."

"Of course, sir," JARVIS replied. Steve started for the door, then flinched and looked down at his hand, which Sif had grasped firmly in hers.

"And while we eat, I wish to know where you learned such fighting," Sif said.

"Brooklyn," Steve blurted.

"A battlefield, no doubt," she said. "Famed among Midgardians?"

"Sort of," Steve replied.

***

Lunch took a long time. Asgardians were leisurely eaters, and they liked to tell involved, epic stories about battles they'd fought and foes they'd vanquished. Steve sat next to Sif and picked at his pizza, trying to come up with something intelligent to say and mostly failing. Tony told them about the time he and Thor went head to head when they first met, and he was really funny about it, making the whole thing into a big brotherly joke when at the time it had seemed deadly serious. But then of course at the end he had to bring up how Thor had tried to pound Steve into the ground and got thrown thirty feet for his pains, and that meant everyone was looking at Steve, sitting like a lump next to Sif.

"I think that means it's your turn," Natasha said to Steve. "You got war stories, Cap, I know you do."

"Capsicle here," Tony said, "Once convinced my dad to fly him thirty miles behind enemy lines to go single-handed against an entire base of Nazis and rescue half the US Army."

"Not half," Steve said, protesting.

"Shut up, it's a better story that way," Tony said.

"Come, Captain, you must share this tale," Thor urged.

"It wasn't anything," Steve said. "I just punched a few guys. The men did the rest."

"A poor telling. A poor telling. Come, give us a proper tale," Volstagg ordered. "How many of these Nazis were there? Did they have horns or forked tongues?"

"No, they were -- Midgardians," Steve said. "But, you know. Bad guys. Greedy. Evil. And they had about four hundred fellas captive in their weapons factory. So I thought, well, I can't just leave 'em there, especially since one of them was my best pal. So Stark -- Tony's dad, he and -- and a friend of mine, Lieutenant Carter, they flew me over enemy lines and dropped me near the base."

It was easier to tell once he got started, and he didn't think he did too badly; gave the men credit for taking the soldiers outside, gave Bucky credit for helping him get out. By the end he was actually pretty pleased with himself, and when he looked over, Sif was listening with alert attention.

The meal broke up after his story, mostly. Clint and Natasha had offered to show the Warriors Three around New York, and Thor was going with them, probably to inaccurately extol its virtues. Fandral had begged to go shopping. Tony had offered to show Sif his armory, which made her really, really excited.

"Will you come with us, Captain?" Sif asked.

"Oh, no, I'd better shower, and I got some work to do," Steve replied hesitantly. Sif looked disappointed.

"If you say so," she replied.

"But, uh!" he stopped her on her way out -- Tony was already down the hallway, talking to himself, mostly, about his armory. "Would you, um. Would you like to see another movie? Maybe? At a real movie house, I mean, outside. In New York. With me. To -- tomorrow night."

"I don't understand what some of that means," Sif said.

"Oh. Well, okay, it was just a -- "

"But I would like to see a movie," she offered. "With you. Wherever you see fit."

"You would?"

"Of course. We are here to learn all there is to know about Midgard," she replied.

"Oh uh. Great. Okay. I'll find a movie. That we can see," Steve said.

"Very good. And now I must go see the Crimson Iron Knight's arms," she replied, and left Steve standing in the kitchen, wondering what the hell he'd just done.

***

Thor was well-used to Sif's tirades. He'd undergone many of them in the years they'd known each other, some of them well-justified; she had raged about Asgard's backwards warriors, about an armorer who wouldn't make her proper armor, about battles they'd lost and sometimes battles they'd won. It was her way; Volstagg ate, Fandral muttered, Hogun snapped, Sif tiraded.

He'd never seen her do it about a man, though. At least, not in this fashion.

"He is so courtly!" she said, pacing back and forth in his room. She didn't sound pleased about it. "Three days together now we have sparred, we have seen a movie, we have eaten dinner, drunk coffee. I have shown him how to wield a sword and allowed him to study my battle tactics and still he makes no gesture. Not even a kiss! Is he sworn to celibacy? If so you have played a cruel trick, Thor."

"Not to my knowledge," Thor said. "He did not seem to be considering celibacy when he yearned for you in the heat of battle."

"Do you suppose it is only in battle that he..." Sif gestured vaguely.

"No. Certainly not." Thor frowned. "That cannot be, can it?"

"You may have to take action yourself," Hogun suggested.

"Frankly I don't see why you don't," Fandral added. "One good grab in the jewels and he'd take your meaning."

"Midgardians are so breakable! I worry I would damage him," Sif said.

"But you have sparred with him for days," Volstagg pointed out. "They are not nearly as fragile as Thor informed us. The lady Natasha has taken both Fandral and Hogun together -- "

"And not on the mats," Hogun added.

"In bed," Fandral clarified.

"Yes, thank you," Sif sighed.

"-- and she seems entirely confident yet," Volstagg finished.

"Wait. Both of you together?" Sif asked, eyeing them.

"She was persuasive," Hogun said.

"I was taken by surprise," Fandral admitted. "I thought I would have to satisfy myself with the archer, but Midgardians are oddly picky. I do not know if he would accept a man."

"Pity," Volstagg agreed. "He's lithe."

Thor cleared his throat. "Be that as it may, we are discussing the Lady Sif's problems, not your daydreams, Volstagg."

"Why does he wait?" Sif asked. "If he is not celibate and not a eunuch -- have you seen his balls?" she asked Thor.

"I haven't gone looking," Thor said. "But no, he is not a eunuch."

"Then why?"

"I hear tell Heimdall once courted," Fandral said thoughtfully. "But he was not sure of himself. He could not speak in the lady's presence. Perhaps your Midgardian is simply shy."

"True, he was not always such a man, so I'm told," Thor said. "Once he was small, and overlooked. Not a feeling easily shaken."

"Clearly you must act," Hogun said. "Tell him of your regard and ask him why he hesitates. Do it while you're fighting, that's always easiest."

"What, with everyone there? In the face of the Crimson Iron Knight and the Keeper of the Hulk and Lady Spider and all?" Sif asked.

"Ah," Fandral said. "Well, we can do something about that."

***

Steve had taken to avoiding breakfast.

It was just so awkward, with everyone half-awake and not talking and Sif looking at him like she was deeply anticipating their sparring matches. Lunch was awful enough, because he kept blurting out invitations like an idiot, to coffee and dinner and things.

So he just showed up to sparring now, because sparring was safe, you didn't talk during sparring. You just...sparred. And admired. Silently.

But when he got to the gym that morning, Sif was the only one there.

"The Warriors Three have gone to a battlefield called Iowa," she said, when she saw him looking around. "Apparently there is space there to do glorious battle with the Hulk, and Lord Doctor Bruce Banner has agreed. Sir Tony Stark took them this morning."

"And nobody else wanted to spar?"

Sif shrugged. "They all claimed other business."

"Oh," Steve said. "Well. Let's go, I guess. I thought maybe today if you wanted to go sword-against-shield?"

She nodded, picking up her sword and swinging it around. Steve unstrapped the shield from his shoulder and fell into a fighting stance.

And then she started talking.

"I understand you were pleased with our aid in the battle of the frost giants," she said, as he ducked and dodged, getting little jabs in with the edge of the shield.

"Sure, we appreciated the help," he answered.

"Our shieldbrother Thor seemed under the impression that you held me in high regard as a warrior."

Steve grunted with the force of a blocked blow. "I think you're all fine warriors."

"And you seem pleased with my company?"

"Well, you're an interesting da -- an interesting lady," he corrected. "I mean, who wouldn't be. I like hearing about Asgard."

"I like to hear your stories of Midgard," she agreed, nearly taking his arm off with the sword. Steve backed out of her way and regrouped, but she had lowered the sword. He stayed behind the shield warily.

"I've seen you looking," she said. Steve swallowed. "You are not unfit to be a consort of an Asgardian warrior."

"I -- what?"

"You need not hide your regard behind dinner and coffee and films," she continued. He had lost the thread of this conversation and it was very, very worrying. "Have I hidden my regard for you? I've tried to show you..."

"Your, uh, your regard," Steve repeated.

Sif tossed the sword down, coming forward. Steve hovered behind the shield.

"Thor believes you fail to understand your worth," she said. "Is this so?"

"I, I don't know what he means by that," Steve said. "I'm Captain America, I lead the Avengers, I know I'm pretty good at what I do. I don't boast or anything."

"Your worth beyond your rank," Sif replied. She was close now, almost touching the shield.

"Oh. That," Steve said, voice cracking. "I just...I think you're awfully swell and I've never seen anyone fight like you, not even Thor, and I guess I just don't see why you'd go for a guy like me. Midgardian. And stuff. And I'm not nearly as good at...feasting, or storytelling, or anything really as the others are. I figured better not risk offending anyone, could cause an interdimensional incident -- "

Then, like an idiot, he leaned over the shield and kissed her.

She kissed back.

Steve wasn't an expert or anything but he was pretty sure that was her tongue pressing against his lips, then his teeth, then lapping against his tongue. He tilted his head with an interested noise and slid his free hand up into her hair, stroking back the wisps that had come free during the fight, feeling her catch his lower lip in her teeth.

The shield clanked to the ground.

"You are the avatar of a nation," she said, between kisses. "I am the warrior maid of the court of Asgard. I think, Captain -- Steve -- Steve of America," she broke off to lean in further, nipping at his earlobe, and he huffed in surprise, "an interdimensional incident was fated to be."

He nodded, pulling back to catch her mouth again, kissing the corner of it and then just below it and under the edge of her chin when she tilted her head back, body pressing up against his. He staggered into a bench and sat down hard, clumsily tugging her along, and she settled across his thighs and they kissed and kissed, which was much better than sparring.

***

Thor stopped Clint outside the gym, a large hand on his chest.

"Do not enter now," he said firmly.

"Why?" Clint asked.

"Reasons," Thor said, and crossed his arms. Clint looked up at him, eyes narrowed, and then backtracked down the hallway.

"I did not think that would work," Thor said to himself, cheerfully, and continued to stand guard. Sif would give him a sign when it was time for him to vacate the hallway.

***

The Warriors Three were back in time for a late lunch. They were all sporting bruises and scrapes, and Hogun was nursing his left arm, and they had smiles a mile wide. Bruce, sitting in their midst, had a smaller but no less brilliant smile, and was cheerfully eating a salad while they feasted on fried chicken and more french fries than Steve had ever seen in one place at one time.

He felt happily at peace with the world. They had all given him knowing looks as he walked in, but since he knew the bruise Sif left on his neck was long since faded and they hadn't done anything more scandalous than kiss a lot, he took it in stride. Sif sat next to him, radiating smugness, and didn't even seem to expect he would say anything, while the Warriors Three competed with each other to tell the best, loudest, most boastful account of their epic battle with the Hulk. Volstagg regarded Bruce with awe, and Hogun kept ruffling his hair.

"How was sparring?" Fandral finally asked, when their storytelling was done.

"Very productive," Sif said. The Asgardians elbowed each other knowingly. Natasha looked like she was annoyed to be left out of the plot. Steve just blushed and ate a french fry.

"Have you become proficient with a sword, my lord Captain?" Volstagg asked. The others sniggered.

"Well, I'm definitely learning," Steve managed. Sif twined her ankle with his under the table.

"Lady Sif," Natasha said meaningfully, across the table. "After lunch, I thought we could talk."

"It would be my pleasure, Lady Spider," Sif replied, and Steve got the distinct impression he would be the topic of conversation, at least in part. "I should like very much to understand this decorative nail polish."

"Oh! Me too!" Volstagg cried. "Colorful nails! Do they signify meaning? I would like the color that expresses my fierce defiance of my enemies."

Natasha looked at him blankly for a second, then nodded. "Okay, you can come too."

"My lady, were I not married I would shower you in praise," Volstagg said.

"I accept cash," Natasha said, and Volstagg laughed.

"Come. Nail polish!" he urged, standing up. Sif's hand fell on Steve's thigh briefly and squeezed, but before he could react she stood too.

"Captain," Fandral said. "Sir Tony Stark has mentioned a wonder of this world to me. Will you not show me the internet?"

***

Natasha, the wise and brutal Lady Black Widow Spider, had an entire shelf of nail polish. Sif examined it delightedly, entranced by the idea of lacquering decorative colors onto her fingers.

"Do the colors have meaning?" Volstagg asked, leaning over Sif's shoulder.

"Not as such," Natasha said from behind them. "Colors have meaning on Midgard, but not nail polish in particular. Red for passion but also danger. Blues and greens are calm colors. Purple is for nobility. That kind of thing. It's different in different cultures."

"I shall have purple," Sif decided.

"It suits you," Natasha agreed. "My lord Volstagg?"

"I am torn." Volstagg looked at the rack solemnly. "I wish for a color fit for a warrior."

"You shall have black," Sif decided, taking it down and handing it to him. He fiddled the cap off, studying the little brush. "Lady Natasha? I wish to discuss Captain Rogers with you."

"I thought you might," Natasha said, grinning. "Sit down, I'll do yours first, then you can do mine."

"Volstagg, entertain yourself," Sif said, pulling her away. She sat down and offered her hand to Natasha, who flattened it out on the table and set to work.

"So," Natasha said. "Steve? By the way, we're indulging in what's called girl talk. Don't tell the boys."

Sif gave her a nod. "Ah, the secrets of the chamber? Understood. He is delightful," she continued. "I had not understood he was shy. Why does that appeal?"

"Well, on Midgard, people have a natural urge to corrupt the innocent," Natasha answered.

"Do they? How terrible."

"Don't look at me, I just live here. I don't know, people like teasing secrets out of others," she continued. "Does it matter why it appeals?"

"I suppose not, but I had not considered it before now. On Asgard, a warrior who does not brag is considered..." Sif searched for a word. "Snobbish. Aloof."

"Here it's humility. If you don't brag, you're virtuous. Sometimes. Sometimes not."

"Confusing."

"You're telling me."

"Does he place great value on this virtue?"

"I suppose so. But honestly I think he's just not very good with women."

"But surely, we are women of the world, we know we are no different from men. Not in the essentials," Sif added, when Natasha smiled knowingly.

"Supposedly, but...Steve has some baggage."

"Ah. Yes, he was tiny once, I hear."

"There is that."

"He kissed me, though," Sif said thoughtfully.

"Did he?" Natasha asked.

"Repeatedly. We did not spar so much."

"Well, then you've gotten further than any other woman who made a play for him."

"Aha! So there have been many!"

"A few. I don't think Steve even noticed most of them."

Sif considered this. "Is he a virgin, then?"

Natasha made a soft choking noise. "We don't, ah, we're not the kinds of friends who talk about that sort of thing."

"I have heard Sir Tony Stark teasing him."

"Well, that's Tony for you. I...honestly? I think he might be."

"Hm. A chaste, courtly warrior."

"Are you, um, considering relieving him of his chastity?" Natasha asked.

"He would not be the first," Sif replied with a grin.

Natasha finished with Sif's left hand. "blow on your fingertips, wave your hand around a little. Right hand, please." Sif laid her other hand flat on the table. "Well, I suppose he knows what he's doing, and you obviously do. Just don't hurt him. Guy's got enough to deal with."

"He heals very quickly."

"Not that kind of hurt."

"Oh! I understand your meaning. I do not intend it, and I shall make careful in other ways."

Natasha nodded. "Good."

"So how should I...?"

"Well," Natasha said. "I've found it pretty effective to ask the guy in to my place for a drink. Then...put the moves on."

"The moves."

"You know." Natasha gave her a feral grin. "Seduction."

"I see."

"Usually then I tie the guy up and steal whatever I went there to steal, but I think you can skip that part."

Sif laughed. "The tying-up, anyway."

"At least until you've gotten to know each other better."

"Excellent. Thank you, Natasha," Sif said. "Now I wish to speak to you about battle armo -- Volstagg!" she said suddenly, glancing over at him. He was waving his hand in the air to dry the polish, which he had painted not just on the nails but over the entire tips of his fingers.

"MARVELOUS STUFF," Volstagg bellowed. "How fierce my hands look!"

***

Steve was feeling pretty good about life in general by evening. He'd managed to show Fandral the internet without any unfortunate pornography (apparently Fandral had found that after he left, according to a text from Clint) and Sif had agreed to go to Central Park Zoo with him. It sure had improved since his time, though he'd had to explain the whole concept of zoos to her. But she'd let him buy her a hot dog from a food stand, and after the Zoo they'd walked around Central Park until it was dark.

"You think the Warriors Three have burned anything down yet?" he asked, as they passed through the Stark Tower lobby and headed for the express elevator. One of the security guards waved; the other winked.

"Nothing irreplaceable," she replied. "Besides, Thor hovers like a broody mare."

"Well, he had a few mishaps when he got here, I guess. Stands to reason he'd want to help the four of you out."

"Perhaps. Would you like to come to my quarters for a drink?" she asked, turning to him.

"Sure," he said. "I haven't seen the floor Tony gave you, but he uh. Seems to enjoy decoratin', so I'd like to see."

"We have done most of that ourselves. The swords he hung over the fireplace wouldn't kill a mouse."

"Swords, huh?" he asked, and she laughed. "You're pulling my leg, aren't you."

"A little," she said. The doors opened on the floor Tony had offered to the Asgardians, and it turned out to be a perfectly normal modern apartment, though there were a couple of suspiciously decorative flagons sitting on the coffee table. "Drink?"

"Sure."

She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Ready to try the mead again?"

Steve grinned. "A small glass."

"Well, I suppose you're not used to it," she said, taking a flask from the kitchen bar. He settled on the other side of it and accepted the drink she handed him. "A toast to the Central Park Zoo, great repository of the wilderness of Midgard."

He tipped his glass against hers and drank; she downed hers in one. He let her lead him, second drink in her hand, to the couch, and sat down, a little startled when she settled next to him, very close.

"Now," she said, while he was taking a second sip, "I am told I should seduce you."

Steve choked and coughed, sputtering. "Uh."

"So Lady Natasha said."

"Well, I suppose...that's one way to go about it," he said, fumbling for a place to put his glass. "Directly."

"Are there others?" she asked, taking it out of his hand and throwing it behind her. There was the light tinkle of shattering glass.

"I honestly wouldn't know," Steve answered, wincing. She leaned in. "How about we um. We...you know, like we did in the gym and...without the fighting first obviously, but...the kissing and. And see where it goes?"

"There is really only one likely place," Sif said gravely, straddling his lap. He looked up at her, a little awestruck. "Is this not what you wish?"

"No, it is, I mean, definitely, it is, I just..." he sighed. "I don't know a lot about...these things."

"Sir Tony Stark implied this."

"Tony," Steve muttered, annoyed. "Well, so long as you don't mind."

She bent and kissed him. She sure could kiss. "I don't mind, Steve."

He leaned up into the kiss, nerves making him lightheaded, and felt her fumble for his hand. He gripped it tightly for a moment, then realized she was trying to disentangle their fingers. She slid her palm down around his wrist and brought his hand up to the breastplate of her armor, and he laughed into her mouth.

"Can't feel much that way," he murmured, and she bit the edge of his jaw. She tugged his wrist again and his fingers found the leather strap on the armor, up near her shoulder blade. He caught on and worked at the buckle one-handed, eagerly.

The armor tumbled away and he tossed the plate aside, still kissing her, but when he rested his hands on her hips -- safer, really, than anywhere else -- he felt metal creaking underneath the leather tunic she wore.

He pulled back, brows creasing, and tucked his fingers under the short tunic sleeve. "Are you...wearing chain mail under here?"

"Of course," she said.

"How...many layers..." he craned his neck, only then realizing he was basically attempting to look down her shirt, and she laughed. Steve blushed, but she ignored it and kissed him again, wriggling on his lap in a way that was...well, he didn't want to seem forward, but...

Then her hand gripped him through his trousers, and he gasped against her mouth.

"Definitely not a eunuch," she said.

"I'm not going to ask," he replied firmly, even if his hips were pushing up into her touch without any conscious thought on his part. It was new and a little terrifying, letting someone else so close, but Sif was Thor's shield-sister and she'd been nothing but swell to him, and he liked her, and --

She leaned back, sweeping her hair away from her face and pulling the hem of her tunic up. Chain mail clanked and leather creaked and Steve watched in awe as she unloaded what had to be twenty pounds of under-armor like it was nothing, letting it fall heavily behind her. Under the mail she wore a soft cotton shift, bound under her breasts with a thin leather strap, and by her reaction she could definitely feel his palm through that when he hesitantly cupped her breast.

"In days past, we were worshiped as gods on Midgard," she said, covering his hand with hers and leaning in so that her hair fell around them like a screen.

"I can see why," he said, as her fingers worked his shirt out of its neat tucks and pulled it over his head.

"I would have a different kind of communion with you," she continued, unbuckling the strap and pulling her own shirt off as well. Steve's fingers explored cautiously, uncertain what was allowed, mapping the shape of her. Everything seemed heightened, somehow, like there was a glow just beneath her skin, a current just below his. When she kissed him, it tasted like the air after battle, sharp and metallic.

He felt her thighs tighten around his hips and anticipated the throw, laughing as she put all her weight to one side and brought him down on top of her on the couch, stretched out, his face pressed to her clavicle. She hooked her hands in her trousers and he scrambled backwards, helping her tug them off, then caught her left knee in one hand and kissed the side of it, looking down at her. It wasn't the first time he'd seen a woman naked, but it was the first time -- the first time it had been like this, where he was permitted to look and touch if he wanted, where she wanted the way he did. She smiled at him and waited, patiently, while he looked.

"You're so beautiful," he said, cheek pressed to the inside of her thigh. The fact that she could probably kill him from this position sort of added to the pleasure of it, something he didn't want to study too closely right now.

She pushed up on one elbow, gently freeing her leg from his hand, and caught her fingers in his short hair. He thought she was tugging him forward for a kiss but instead she pushed down until he bent and pressed his forehead to her navel, felt her leg hook over his shoulder.

"I don't know how," he said, because a lot of time spent listening to the Commandos around the campfire meant he was pretty clear on what she wanted but very hazy on how to provide it. "This is, uh, unmapped territory."

He heard her laugh and felt her tug on his hair again; for a second he fought it, on instinct, but her grip was firm and he let her guide his head further down, between her thighs. Her other hand slipped forward and opened herself for him. One of her fingers slid along the slick flesh, and her breath caught.

Steve was nothing if not a determined student. He bent, nosing at her finger, tongue flicking where she'd touched, and she sighed. The taste was -- different to anything else, sweet and bitter at the same time, and he darted his tongue out to taste again, laughing when he realized what that did to her. Her fingers tightened in her hair as he worked out what she liked, sucking gently on the hard ridge inside her, feeling more than a little self-satisfied at the noises she made.

Her hips began to roll and he rested a hand on her thigh to steady her, braced against the sudden bucks of her body. His cock was aching in his pants, but it was an unimportant, distant sensation next to the immediacy of this, the way he could make her respond to him. It was like watching her fight, hearing her cry out.

All at once her body arched, went still and tense, and she said "Steven!"

She convulsed under his tongue, muscles twitching, and he had a moment of panic that he'd hurt her before she yelled out again in what didn't sound like pain, and let go of his head. He leaned back to look, to make sure she was okay, and watched as she sank back into the cushions, a blissful smile on her face.

He wiped his mouth without really thinking about it, staring. Her nipples were hard, head tipped back, hands folded on her stomach. After a moment she opened her eyes and smiled up at him.

"Are you all right?" he asked, still vaguely worried. She reached out and grasped his belt, tugging him forward, down on top of her with her thighs around his hips again. She kissed him, licked her lips -- licked his lip -- and smiled. He felt himself grind down against her without meaning to, but she just laughed and undid his belt, shoving his pants down his thighs.

"Off," she commanded, and he wriggled out of them, kicking them to the floor. He pressed his face to the side of her neck, a little embarrassed at -- oh everything, where his mouth had just been, what he looked like without pants on, how evident his want was.

"You may take your pleasure," she said gently, and he realized he hadn't moved.

"We should, um," he said. "We need a, a skin."

"A what?" she asked, easing back to look up at him.

"Um," Steve said, feeling like a fumbling adolescent. "To, you know. So you don't get pregnant."

"It is not my catching time," she said, brow wrinkling.

"You're sure?"

"I count quite carefully."

He knew, of course, about VD. He'd done a PSA for the Army about it. And he couldn't give her anything and couldn't get anything anyway. But after all he had done a PSA about it and --

"Besides," she continued, mistaking his hesitation for skepticism, "you are a warrior lord of Midgard. It would be no great hardship to carry a child of such get. I know women at court who would compete to foster our child."

"Oh, well, that's good, but -- "

"Are you afraid?" she asked, but it wasn't mean, wasn't taunting; she looked honestly concerned. "We need not."

"No, just," he said, and gave in to the real worry he was feeling, "I don't want to be bad at it."

She smiled and leaned up to kiss him. "You did not learn to wield your shield in an hour. You will never improve without practice."

He stared at her, startled, and then started to laugh, and in the middle of his laughter she flipped them, dropping him down onto the cushions, and leaned back to settle herself on his thighs. In a swift move she brought her body in line with his and tipped forward, down, and Steve felt like the breath had been punched out of him.

Her body held him tightly, slick and warm. She moved her hips, a short little swivel, and Steve heard his voice in a drawn-out groan that was more obscene than he'd thought he was capable of.

"Slowly," she said, when his hips bucked up. "Slowly, Captain."

He added being called Captain while doing this to the list of things he would examine at a later date and try not to feel guilty about. He tried to spool it out, to pace himself as if he were running, but she felt so good and her skin was smooth under his hands, and the slow clench and glide of her body around his was better than anything, fitted to him like the shield on his arm. It had been a long time since he'd felt even the warmth of a body next to his like this, and he'd never felt -- he'd never been permitted, let alone been wanted --

Sif lowered her head, hips snapping against his, and kissed his shoulder, his chest, and he caught her hair in his hand, smooth strands wrapped around his fingers. He was close enough not to care that he was crying her name out, close enough he forgot to be embarrassed when her hands seemed to skate everywhere, thighs and stomach and chest. He felt her muscles tighten again, like they had before with his mouth, and there was a sharp little blossom of pain as she bit down on his nipple. It pushed him over, thrumming through his body like a taut wire as he came, breath pushed out through clenched teeth.

He felt her ease off him, managed to lift a clumsy arm to wrap around her as she curled up against his side.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" she asked, and he laughed like a loon.

"No," he said, burying his face in her hair. "That was...thank you, Sif."

"It is not your gratitude I want," she pointed out with a sly grin, turning her face up to kiss him. He felt lazy, not tired but warm, unwilling to move. Warmest he'd felt since the ice, maybe. He brushed her hair back behind her ears and settled her against him, wondering idly but without his usual oh-god-it's-the-future-I-am-not-prepared anxiety what happened now.

There was the sound of a door slamming. Sif bolted upright, and Steve turned towards the noise.

"My lady Sif!" Volstagg called. "We are sent to summon you to attend!"

Steve made a split-second decision and dove for his pants, bending on his way to throw Sif's complicated leather-chain-mail-tunic contraption to her.

"Sir Tony Stark has invited us to attend his court at the 'night club'," Volstagg continued, and Steve, pulling his pants on hastily, could hear the airquotes he was using. "We must put on our best -- "

His voice trailed off, and Steve looked up. Volstagg, Thor, and Hogun were standing just inside the doorway. Steve had his pants halfway up his thighs.

"Ah," Volstagg said. "I see you are otherwise entertained."

Steve wasn't sure what one did in this situation. Though there had been one time when he was rooming with Bucky, but Bucky had just said "Hey, Steve" and introduced him to the girl like nothin' doin'. In times like this, much as he grieved Bucky, he also had an excellent example to follow.

"Fellas," he said, tugging his pants up and buttoning the fly. "It'll be a minute."

"I shall inform Sir Tony," Volstagg said, backing through the doorway. Steve glanced over his shoulder and saw Sif glaring like an angry valkyrie. Hogun coughed.

"I'll go tell Fandral you'll be delayed," he said, following Volstagg.

Thor crossed his arms over his chest. Sif, modesty now mostly preserved by her tunic, pulled her hair back and crossed her arms as well.

"I told you he was not a eunuch," Thor said.

"Yes, thank you," Steve said. "Thor, can you..." he made a gentle shooing motion.

Thor turned and marched out. Steve exhaled.

"I am afraid if you wished to be discreet, we should not have blessed the couch with our union," Sif said.

"I'm sure Tony's got somethin' that'll get the stain out," Steve replied. He heard a laugh and glanced at her; she had her hand over her mouth, and he realized she'd meant blessed a little more metaphorically. "I mean, uh. I don't regret it. I don't mind who knows. Do you?"

"Not in the least," she said, handing him his shirt. "Now we must prepare for this night-club. I assume it is some trial of arms?"

"No...t exactly," Steve said. "We should probably wash and put on some nicer clothes."

"As you like. Come," she said, and Steve was about to ask what she meant, but she dragged him towards the shower before he could get the words out.

Oh.

Well. That was awful nice.

***

Steve walked on air for days after he and Sif, as Tony put it, "Finally got their shit together."

Everyone noticed, but Steve ignored their sly looks. He had a beautiful dame who could knock his block off if she wanted, and for all he cared the whole world ought to know. (The whole world pretty much did know; there were photos on the internet of them smooching in public, but Steve just beamed and made Clint show him how to make one the background picture on his phone.)

He wouldn't admit to sulking, but he had to say his smiles were probably a little dimmer when Baldur arrived, two weeks later, with a summons from Odin for the Warriors Three and Sif to come home. Still, he bucked up and made the most of it, like you did, and hoped maybe they could visit a lot.

"May I ask you something?" Sif said, the night before she had to leave, curled up in bed with him.

"Course," Steve replied, trying to memorize everything about her.

"Do you enjoy writing letters?"

"I like it a lot. Hardly anybody does it anymore," Steve answered. "It's all email and text messages and things now. Why do you ask?"

She kissed him and rolled out of the bed. "I have a present for you!"

"A present?" he asked, sitting up. He'd bought her something too, a necklace he thought she might like, on a nice durable chain so that it wouldn't easily snag if she wore it into a fight. He'd been planning on giving it to her tomorrow, though. He watched as she dug through the leather bag she normally carried until she came up with something flat and wrapped in fabric. She held it out to him and he took it with a smile, picking the knots out of the silky material.

It was a round disc, made of what felt like metal, with knotwork etched in the top. He tilted his head, curious.

"Is it a trivet?" he asked, puzzled.

"Call it that if it pleases you," she replied, settling on the bed again, chin resting on his shoulder. "It's a portal device. Odin sent it for Thor, but I took it from him and told him he could talk to you if he wanted to use it to write his father and mother. You put a message here," she said, pointing to the knotwork, "and the message will be carried to the palace of Asgard."

"Oh, that's neat!" he answered, beaming. "So I can write to you!"

"Indeed, I hope you shall. And I can send letters back. I hope to petition Odin to be allowed visits to Midgard -- and you must come to Asgard -- but the rest of the time, we are needed in separate realms. This will keep us close," she said, as Steve placed it reverently on the bedside table. "You will write?"

"Every day," he replied.

"Well, I won't be able to reply every day," she teased, kissing his cheek. "I have many responsibilities, and sometimes battle campaigns. But as often as I can, I will."

"Oh!" Steve said. "I have -- " He rolled across the bed to the table, taking a little box out of the drawer. "This is...for you. It's nothing so fancy or anything..."

She opened the box and took out the necklace, studying the pendant intently. A woman was engraved on it, kneeling in front of a sword.

"It's Saint Joan of Arc," he said. "She was a, well, a soldier, kinda like you. I mean. She's a saint, so...patron saint of soldiers."

"I love it," Sif breathed. "Was she fierce?"

"Extremely," Steve said, grinning. "She'll watch over you."

"A Midgardian lucky amulet! The others will be so jealous. Put it on me," she commanded, turning her back to him and lifting her silky black hair off her shoulders. Steve took the necklace back and clasped it around her throat, kissing the nape of her neck.

"I'll miss you," he said.

"I see it as...we will not have time to grow tired of each other," she said, casting him a grin over her shoulder. Sif's smiles, like her fighting style, could be infectious. "And meetings after partings are sweeter."

Steve leaned his head on her shoulder. "The last time I kissed a woman goodbye...incidentally the only time I kissed a woman goodbye...it didn't end well."

"I know."

"You -- " he looked up at her.

"I do read, you know," she said, turning her head to smile. "I know you slept, like the kings of Asgard. But that's not...ordinary for Midgardians, is it? You will not sleep the Rogersleep again anytime soon?"

"Never again, I dearly hope."

"Then we have no reason to worry."

"I'm kinda worrying anyway."

She kissed his ear. "And in some time, if Odin agrees, you will come to Asgard and make all other warriors jealous of me for having such a man."

"Flatterer."

"You hold yourself too low, I sometimes think." She leaned back against him. "All will be well."

"I'll hold you to that," he said.

She elbowed him gently, and he let go of her enough for them to settle back in the bed, Sif toying with the St. Joan medal idly. Steve watched the flash of it in the dark until he fell asleep.

***

Avengers
c/o Tony Stark
Stark Tower, USA
Midgard

Dear Everyone,

Here I am in Asgard, writing like I said I would. I haven't had time until this evening to sit down and write, since Sif's been showing me around the place. I guess there's a feast soon so it'll be a short letter anyhow but everything went fine and folks are generally pretty polite here. The weather's nice. I guess that's to be expected.

There's a bigness about Asgard that Thor kept trying to explain to everyone but it doesn't really hit you until you're here. It's not that folks are any larger exactly, though the armor does add some size -- there's a lot of looming going on, I'll tell you that for free -- but all the buildings, phew. Tony, you should not probably come here if you want to brag on Stark Tower ever again.

I haven't met Odin yet as he and Thor had urgent State Business to discuss, but he and Queen Frigga will be at the feast. I'm supposed to be presented as an ambassador from Midgard but it's mostly guff, as Sif said, just so that people have something to call me. I said if that was the case maybe I should wear my Army uniform to dinner but it turns out Sif and Fandral got me up a suit of Asgardian formal-wear. There's a lot of fur and fiddly parts. Yes, I took a picture, you can see it when I get home.

Anyway, it's almost time for the feast so I'll send this quick. Write me back and tell me what's going on down there on Midgard and you know all you have to do is yell for Heimdall if I'm needed for Avengers business. Sif says hello and so do the Warriors Three, and Volstagg says thank you Natasha for the nail polish, he loves it.

Sincerely,

Cpt. S. Rogers
Royal Palace, Asgard