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The First Binding

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The First Binding

Steve held one of the rings up for a closer look. He noticed detailed etchings, delicate and faint around the inside of both bands. “Are these words? I don’t recognize the language. What does it say?” he asked, glancing at Thor.

They lay side-by-side on Steve’s bed. The window above their heads let in rain-moistened air, a pleasant counterpoint to the warmth in the room. Rain pattered on the windowsill.

Thor trailed a hand up Steve’s back, spooning comfortably. He kissed Steve’s shoulder and neck, his voice rumbling against his back. “It’s the ancient lettering of my people, mostly fallen out of fashion these days. It says, ‘And so the first binding is made.’”

Steve rolled onto his back, but kept Thor’s arm around his middle. “Binding, huh?”

“Is that—?” Thor kissed along Steve’s neck, humming with approval, before kissing down his throat and sliding between Steve’s widening legs. “Is that all right? It’s not meant to be restrictive.”

Steve wound his fingers through Thor’s hair. He still held both rings, so they were entangled with Thor’s hair and Steve’s fingers together. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be bound to than you,” he said. “It’s pretty much a done deal anyway. Should we put them on?”

Thor’s smile spread slowly, delighted. He quickly kissed Steve again, tasting his lips. “If you like. However, I think a ceremony might be required of me.”

“Hm. King of Asgard can’t elope, I guess.” He’d been through a few Asgardian weddings during his time there. He knew at least a week of celebratory feasting was usually involved. He imagined a royal wedding might render the entire settlement into a drunken stupor for weeks.

“Not if you don’t want all of Asgard mad at us,” said Thor, with a chuckle.

“Hm. I see your point. How soon can we do that? Get married, I mean.”

“How soon would you like?” asked Thor. A wicked gleam entered his eyes as he got comfortable between Steve’s legs, and took hold of Steve’s erection.

Steve grunted, then lay back with his eyes closed, concentrating on the sensation of Thor’s mouth along his length. He clutched the two rings in his hand, the metal warming against his skin.

And so the first binding is made. The words echoed in his mind.

How many had he been bound to in his life? Bound in different but in no less important ways. His first thoughts were of Bucky and Peggy and Sam, then to all of the Avengers. Then he thought of Brooklyn, and more generally of Wakanda. He was of Earth, he was bound to it as much as his heart belonged to Thor. He thought back to the first time he’d met Thor, in that dark wood somewhere in Europe. They had been brothers-in-arms before they were anything else. And so the first binding is made.

Sensing that Steve’s mind had gone elsewhere, Thor nuzzled Steve’s half-hard cock, then roamed up Steve’s body to cage him between his arms, kissing his neck until he won Steve’s attention again.

“I’m sorry,” said Steve.

Thor shook his head. “Will you share your thoughts with me?” he asked.

Steve took a deep breath, wiggling from underneath Thor. He placed the two rings in Thor’s hand. “Don’t move,” he said, sliding from the bed.

In the spare bedroom, Steve found what he was looking for: two near identical thin chain necklaces, made from vibranium. T’Challa had given them to him and Bucky an age ago, for some long forgotten reason. They hadn’t meant anything then, just a small token. He brought the chains with him back to bed.

Thor lay on his side, golden skin burnished by the light spilling in from the open doorway. It looked almost like a staged pose, like he wanted Steve to draw him that way, with his elbow bent, head on his hand, his long cock resting on his thigh. He brightened when Steve returned, following him with his eyes.

Steve took the rings back as he sat on the bed. They were also near identical, but Eitri had marked the one meant to be worn by Thor with a small bolt of lightning, and the one meant to be worn by Steve with a round shield symbol. He strung one necklace with the ring that was meant for him, then strung Thor’s ring on the other necklace. He held it out for Thor to take. “Will you put it on me?” he asked. “Until we can wear them properly.”

Thor studied him, then he sat up so they faced each other. He took the two ends of the chain from Steve, and held his gaze as he fastened it around Steve’s neck. Steve did the same with the other necklace, putting it on Thor. Their faces came close, and Steve shivered as the cold chain lay around his neck, the heavy ring against his chest. He leaned in for a kiss.

With another satisfied rumble, Thor didn’t let the kiss end, and Steve heard a distant clap of thunder as he lay back on the bed, Thor on top, their rings tangled together.

~~

In the morning, Steve made breakfast, and then enjoyed watching Thor—wearing only a pair of Steve’s pajama bottoms and the vibranium necklace—eat his way through a giant stack of pancakes. He asked, “Will you go to work with me? I have to say goodbye.”

Still chewing a large mouthful, Thor sat back and wiped his mouth with a napkin, eyes narrowed slightly. He got up from the table and went around to where Steve leaned against the kitchen counter. The chain around his neck shone dully, the ring nestled right at the center of his chest.

Thor took Steve’s coffee mug from his hand and set it on the counter, and Steve buried his hands in Thor’s hair as they kissed. He tasted like maple syrup, butter, and pancake batter.

“I would love to meet your friends,” said Thor, licking his lips as his fingers slipped into the waistband of Steve’s pants.

Steve stared at Thor’s mouth. “We can be late,” he said, and they kissed again.

An hour later, Steve managed to get them both dressed and out of the apartment. He and Thor could have flown to the compound using either Stormbreaker, or Starborn, or both, but instead, he opted to go the slow way. He wanted to show Thor a little of Brooklyn, and they took a meandering route as he pointed out the streets he grew up on. But as soon as they started walking down Congress Street, he began to think it might not have been a good idea.

Even dressed in Steve’s clothing – jeans, T-shirt, and a jacket – Thor walked like he wore shining armor, like there was a crown on his head and a cape flowing behind him, the air charged with electricity. He didn’t bother disguising Stormbreaker, and Steve carried Starborn, making it pretty obvious who they were. Pedestrians stopped to stare, pulling their phones out, recording both of them as they walked to the transport site, and then as they boarded the commuter train. Drones buzzed around their heads. Thor acted oblivious to the attention, but Steve knew better.

“You’re doing that on purpose,” said Steve, as the doors closed and everyone on the train stared at them.

Thor shook his head, frowning unconvincingly. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, but then grinned at the onlookers and posed for several pictures. The train sped quickly upstate, and Thor winked at Steve.

Steve laughed, sensing the immediate proliferation of social media updates spreading like wildfire across the globe. Swoosh, tweet, zoom.

“I can’t help it if I’m popular,” said Thor, innocently.

“This is a side of you I’d forgotten about,” said Steve, shaking his head but with a fond smile tugging at his lips.

It got worse when they arrived at their stop, with a crowd greeting them at the station. More drones flew around, busily recording. There was a line of press all shouting questions. An official Avengers car waited for them with a nervous driver hurriedly opening the doors for Thor and Steve to get in. Ten minutes later they arrived at the compound where Shane Barton waited by the steps. One look at Barton and Steve knew he was in for it.

Barton rushed forward as they got out of the car, looked Thor up and down, then made a face at Steve. Several news drones had followed and were hovering a few feet up in the air. “You couldn’t have warned me?” asked Barton to Steve. “I think Meg’s head has literally spun around in a full circle at least three times this morning.”

“Uh,” said Steve, a little sheepish. “Right. Shane, this is Thor. Thor, this is Shane Barton. Clint Barton’s great grandson.”

The current Captain America and the current King of Asgard sized each other up, then Barton grinned. “Huh,” he said. “I guess the stories are true.”

Thor tilted his head and took one step closer to Barton. Steve saw a flicker of concern in Barton’s eyes as he gazed at Thor, who was easily five inches taller. Thor clapped Barton on both shoulders, like he intended to dangle him in the air. Then, he cupped the back of Barton’s head, and squeezed. “Thank you for making sure Steve stayed safe. My apologies if I’ve caused more trouble than intended.”

Barton blushed, which was something Steve hadn’t witnessed before. “Oh. You’re welcome. It’s okay. What say we take this inside, huh?”

“Agreed,” said Thor.

Barton led the way, and held the door for them. As Thor stepped in first, and before Steve could follow, Barton put his hand on Steve’s arm. “You have no idea what you’re in for, pal,” he said, from the side of his mouth.

“What?” asked Steve, but then he saw what Barton meant. Inside, in the main foyer of the compound, a line of people stood, not unlike the staff of a manor house coming out to greet the lord and master returning home after a long absence. “Whoa.”

Meg Williams, the Director of SHIELD, stood at the head of the line. On either side of her fanned the other Avengers, the head of Public Relations and her assistants, a couple of press reporters, a handful of lawyers, then the techs, guards, and other support staff.

The Director came forward first to stand before Thor. It was comical, since she was about half his height. “Thor, is it?” she asked, looking up at him.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered, with a quirk of one eyebrow.

“You returning with trouble?”

He frowned, and glanced at Steve. “I hope not.”

She pursed her lips and squinted, but Steve knew her well enough now to see she was enjoying herself. “Well then, welcome back, I guess,” she said.

With a “well met” nod and relieved smile, Thor shook her hand. Then he turned to the remaining Avengers and greeted each of them like they were old friends, from Jack Murray, dressed in his Falcon best, to Jaina, who also wore her Black Widow uniform. He went down the line, shaking hands with everyone. Steve couldn’t help but beam from the side, muttering, “Hey, I didn’t get this kind of welcome back. You guys threatened to throw me in a dungeon.”

The buzz of conversation rose slightly, and then Meg spoke again. “To what do we owe the honor, not that any of us are complaining?” she asked.

Thor glanced around. “Oh. I’m here to thank the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. To meet and give honor to Steve’s friends, who are my friends, and friends of Asgard. And also—” he paused, turning to Steve, asking a silent question.

Oh hell, thought Steve, his heart pounding. Sure, why not. They might as well. He felt his ears burn hot, but he gave Thor a silent nod in answer.

“And also, to ask Steve to marry me.”

Silence. Dead silence. Even the drones flying overhead looked shocked and like they held their breath, pausing mid-flight. Countless pairs of eyes shifted from Thor to Steve and back again.

“I said yes, in case anyone’s wondering,” said Steve.

Immediate cries of surprise and joy erupted from all sides. Steve heard Meg say, “Oh, a wedding’s plenty of trouble.” Then Steve and Thor were surrounded as everyone tried to give their congratulations at once.

~~

Eventually the commotion died down enough and they relocated to the common area for an impromptu party. Steve let Thor take center attention, and hung back in the kitchen area where they’d set up a bar.

Jaina wandered over, sitting on a barstool. She waggled her eyebrows at him, and he took that as a command for him to mix her a drink. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, grabbing a clean glass.

She gave him a smile, and they both turned to watch Thor entertain the others. Secretly, he got a thrill anytime Jaina and he could have a moment alone. She differed from Natasha in big and small ways: more reserved but less wounded. “You might want to jump in there,” she said, with a nod to where Thor sat, holding court. “I think they’ve gotten your fiancé to agree to a big televised service.”

Thor was looking quizzically between two different Avengers public relations personnel that kept peppering him with questions. His expression clearly read: “Humans! So strange and ridiculous.”

“Oh, man,” said Steve. “You’d think they wouldn’t want that sort of attention.”

“Please,” said Jaina, with mild derision. “You have basically handed them a gift from the gods. Quite literally. After the drone attacks? Everyone afraid to even step outside? This is exactly what they want.” She turned to him. “Do you have any idea what a big deal this is? Steve Rogers, the First Avenger, the original Captain America, and Thor, God of Thunder, King of Asgard, are getting married.”

“Uhh,” said Steve, feeling a flutter in his chest. “When you put it that way.”

She leaned over the bar and took him squarely by the shoulders. Her eyes were the color of the vibranium rich soil in Wakanda, with the shadow of purple around the irises. “You are marrying a king,” she said.

Perhaps she was the only one in that room, besides Thor and himself, who could possibly understand what that meant. She was half Wakandan, and had been close with Milelhe, the Queen of Wakanda, before she was killed.

“I know that. You do realize, he and I have been together for almost sixty years, and we’ve known each other for longer.”

But, he thought, as she continued to study him, what was sixty years to an Asgardian? Or maybe, the more important question was, what was sixty years to him? He was human; Thor was not. His life was a question mark. How long would he live? As long as Thor? Would their marriage stretch into millennia? Or would Thor have to one day see the serum fail inside Steve, the way it had with Bucky?

Before either of them said anything else, Barton bounded over with Jack Murray trailing behind him. He knocked Steve out of his thought spiral by clapping him strongly on the back. “Hey, are you going to need a best man?”

Steve couldn’t help but laugh at Barton’s lack of subtlety. “Hm, I guess I will. Who do you think I should ask?”

Barton tried to elbow Steve hard in the ribs. Steve sidestepped away but Barton got him in a mock chokehold until Steve tweaked his ear.

“Ow, let go,” cried Barton.

Steve laughed, then looked at Barton and Jaina and Jack, all together. “Actually, I was hoping…” he started, making sure they were each paying attention. “As long as Thor says it’s okay, I was hoping the three of you would come to Asgard, for the ceremony.”

Barton’s jaw dropped and Jaina lifted both eyebrows. Jack huffed, but a smile tugged at his lips.

“I would like,” said Steve, feeling a tightening in his throat. “I’d like my family there, if possible. And I consider you three family.”

For once, Barton was at a loss for words. Jack made a face. “Does that mean I have to take a ride on that Bifrost thing?” asked Jack.

Steve grinned. “’Fraid so.”

Jack seemed to weigh his options, but then he stopped teasing. “Wouldn’t miss it,” he said, squeezing Steve’s hand.

Jaina took a deep breath in, then let it out. She spoke in Xhosa. “Brother, you have my blessing, and it would be my joy to witness yours.”

Steve ducked his head, and squeezed her hand before he turned to Barton. Barton still looked dumbstruck. “Come here,” he said, shaking Barton by the shoulders the same way Bucky used to do for him. “Of course you’ll be my best man.”

They grinned at each other, until Jack decided that was enough of feelings. “How about another round of drinks?” said Jack. “We have more than one thing to celebrate today.”

“You got it,” said Steve, letting Barton go. He popped the caps on four more beers. They clinked their bottles, then drank. Jack and Barton began discussing some of the events of the previous day, the coordinated arrests made around the world of those responsible for the drone attacks.

Steve listened with half an ear, but ended up staring at the beer bottle in his hand, thinking over his conversation with Jaina. It had left a bubble of uncertainty growing in his chest. Did he know what he was doing? Did he have any clue?

As if Thor read his mind, he called to Steve and waved him over to where he sat, still caught in a phalanx of Public Relations personnel and starting to look desperate. “Steve! These kind people have many questions.”

“Whoops,” he said to Barton and the others. “I better go rescue him.”

With an expression of relief, Thor rose from his seat and quickly went to stand behind him, like he needed protection, but as their eyes met Thor stopped, narrowing his gaze with concern. Steve smiled reassuringly.

“What’s going on?” asked Steve, looking from Thor to the assembled public relations staff.

Still studying Steve with a slight furrow between his brow, Thor turned to the crowd. “Oh,” he said. “We have been discussing likely venues and who we might invite – like the president! – and something called ‘Avengers Initiative?’ I’m not sure what that is.”

“It’s a musical group, Captain Rogers,” said the lead executive. When Steve turned his attention to her she visibly swallowed before mustering her professionalism and pitching her ideas for a very large, very public wedding ceremony. “I’m sure, given the circumstances, we could have the entire event at the White House. Right in the Rose Garden. There would have to be a number of politicians and foreign dignitaries invited, of course. Maybe a few celebrities. Only those you choose,” she added quickly, seeing she was losing him. “We can work on the guest list. I thought, a live band, but we could also—”

“No,” he said, interrupting her. He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

With her polished corporate-like demeanor and appearance, she reminded him a little of Pepper Potts, though Pepper had known him better. The PR exec took a moment, then asked, “No? To which part?”

“To all of it.” She and both her assistants protested, talking at once. He lifted his hand, and they immediately fell silent. “If Thor and I decide to have a second ceremony on Earth,” he said, and he glanced at Thor who continued watching him closely. “Which I’m not opposed to,” he said specifically to Thor before turning back to the executives. “But not right away. Perhaps in the fall. But if we do, then it’ll be in Brooklyn. At St. Paul’s. That was my mother’s church. And we’ll have the reception here, at the compound. No politicians, no celebrities. Small and intimate, friends and family only. You can have press there. Wouldn’t be able to keep them out anyway. That’s the deal.”

The executive looked like she wanted to say something, but changed her mind, smart enough to know she wouldn’t win this fight. Softening, she nodded, and dropped her gaze to her tablet. “Yes, sir. Understood.”

“All right,” he said, smiling as he took her hand, then shook the hands of her assistants, too. “Thank you.”

After that, the attention disbursed a bit, and Steve and Thor were left relatively alone. He sat on the back of the couch, and Thor sat with him.

“Is everything all right?” asked Thor.

“Yeah,” said Steve, although he could tell it didn’t alleviate Thor’s worry. He trailed a hand down Thor’s chest, and felt for the ring he knew was hidden underneath his T-shirt. Thor did the same, warm palm pressing the ring against Steve’s chest. He wanted to take Thor into his arms, to feel his familiar warmth, but he didn’t want to do that here, in front of everyone. “I’d like to go home now,” he said. “Home to Asgard.”

Thor’s smile came slowly. “All right. It’s time, isn’t it?” And he took Steve’s hand. “How soon can we leave?”

Steve took a deep breath, and got up to say his goodbyes. He couldn’t just vanish like he had before. He went first to Jaina and Jack, and then to Barton.

“I’m not sure exactly when,” said Steve to the three of them. “But it won’t be long. We’ll see each other again soon.”

“We better. Or I’m gonna figure out a way to get my butt to Asgard and surprise you,” said Barton, hugging Steve, and then he turned shyly to Thor.

“Look for my raven,” said Thor, to everyone’s complete bafflement. “They will tell you when it’s time.”

“Uh, raven?” asked Barton, turning with questioning eyebrows to Steve.

Steve shrugged, trying not to laugh. “Yeah, like he said. Look for his raven.”

Thor grinned at everyone, then clapped the men hard on their backs, but gave Jaina a wink and kissed her hand, which made her crack a smile.

When they returned to Brooklyn, Steve called Sharon’s great granddaughter, Amanda Carter Klein, and told her the news. “Come by for dinner,” he said, and they arranged a time so he could transfer the entrance codes to the apartment back to her. “I have a lot of favors to ask.”

“Do I get to meet Thor?” she teased. He had gotten to know her well, since his reappearance. She was young and bright, with a smile like her great grandmother’s, and she had the same musical quality to her voice. A recent law school graduate, she was executer of his estate.

“Well, he wants to meet you, so, yeah.”

They spent a quiet evening together, just him and Thor and Amanda. He gave her a list of what he wanted for the wedding, since it seemed there was no getting out of a second ceremony on Earth. “This is way outside my knowledge base—I don’t know the first thing about weddings, and I don’t trust the Avengers public relations people. They want to make it a circus. I’m giving you full authority. You make the decisions. Hire who ever you need, obviously.”

“Oh, yeah. I have to deal with those PR types at the Avengers all the time. I know what they’re like. Don’t worry, Uncle Steve. I got this,” said Amanda, smiling kindly.

“Are you sure?”

She leaned in to hug him. “That’s my job. And my pleasure.”

“Great. Thank you. And I have one more thing to ask.”

He asked her if she would come to Asgard, the same as Barton and the others. To his surprise, her eyes misted over and she had to pick up a napkin to dab at the corners. He remembered what Jaina had said, earlier. This was a big deal, he realized, this union between him and Thor, creating a bridge between their two worlds. Beside him, he sensed Thor watching him again, closely, and Steve felt exposed, stripped bare as their eyes met.

“I’d love to go,” said Amanda, still dabbing her eyes, but he wasn’t looking at her. “Thank you for asking.”

With effort, he turned away from Thor and back to her. They said their goodbyes, and he walked her to her transport, to make sure she got home safe. When he returned to the apartment, Thor was dressed in his armor, holding Stormbreaker.

Seeing Thor in his armor made Steve pause. All day he’d been amused at everyone else’s reaction to Thor, but here he was, reacting the same way. The difference of course was that Thor came to him, and kissed him, and made Steve go weak in the knees. When they broke apart, he took a deep breath. “Will you go up to the roof and wait for me? I have one more call I have to make.”

Thor hesitated, like he wanted to say many things, but then settled on nodding amicably, kissing Steve sweetly on the cheek. “All right. Don’t take long.”

Alone in his apartment, Steve let the silence settle. He tidied up a bit, so Amanda wouldn’t have to deal with his mess when she returned next to close up the apartment. Then, he took his kimoyo beads, pressed one, and only had to wait a few seconds before being connected to M’Belo, the current Black Panther. He had a not-so-simple request to make.

Ten minutes later, he changed into his Asgardian clothing, and with Starborn on his arm, went up onto the roof of his building. He found Thor stargazing, sitting on the low brick wall.

“Ready?” asked Thor.

“Yes,” said Steve, simply, and went into Thor’s arms.

As he had done many years ago, Thor place his hand on Steve’s chest, over his heart, and searched Steve’s face. The crease of worry was there, but Thor seemed satisfied, and brought Steve closer into his embrace as he lifted Stormbreaker, and the Bifrost took them home.

 

The Second Binding

It was the start of a new day when they landed. From dark evening on Earth to bright morning on Asgard, Steve blinked as the Bifrost left them on the cliffside. With relief, he turned to the stormy blue ocean, and inhaled the fresh clean air. Asgard 2.0 sparkled and shone, welcoming him home. “Did you miss it?” asked Thor, still holding his hand.

Steve breathed deeply. “More than I can say.”

Thor beamed. “It’s good to have you home.”

He didn’t let Steve go, and they flew up to the palace. However, if Thor thought he could take Steve back to their rooms without anyone knowing, he was very much mistaken. A crowd gathered in the courtyard, mostly comprised of the Valkyrie and Einherjar.

“Oi,” shouted Valkyrie, cupping her hands around her mouth. “Get down here.” Thor and Steve landed on the courtyard, facing the crowd. At first, they were greeted with silence, until Valkyrie spoke again. “Well?” she asked, gesturing at them to get on with it. “Don’t keep us waiting.”

Steve felt Thor’s amusement through their linked hand, purposely stretching the moment out. Jeez, thought Steve, what if he’d said no? But, what chance had there been of that happening?

After as long a pause as he dared, Thor raised Steve’s hand in triumph, and everyone broke out in cheers.

The news spread quickly, and before day’s end, preparations for the celebration began all over the settlement.

The next morning, Steve felt excitement pulse through the palace. Everyone buzzed about, very busy. Orders were shouted, and messengers were sent to the outreaches of Asgard, to those that lived in the truwood forests and on the southern continent.

“You’ve done it now, mate,” said Valkyrie, sauntering over to Steve where he stood in the courtyard watching everyone zig zag back and forth. “There’s no going back.”

Steve couldn’t tell if she were merely teasing, or if there was greater meaning behind her words. “Did Thor say something to you?”

She frowned, then folded her arms across her chest. “Do you know the breweries have been stockpiling honey mead for years, in anticipation of this.”

“Years? Honey mead?”

“Yeah. Years. Last I heard they were at just over 1000 barrels, and they’re not certain it’ll be enough. Tradition requires a marrying couple drink honey mead every day for a month following the ceremony, or the union isn’t binding.” At his questioning look, she shrugged. “When it’s someone from the royal family getting shackled, all of Asgard drinks the mead along with the couple. Do you think 1000 barrels will be enough?”

“Oh, God,” said Steve, feeling sick to his stomach.

Valkyrie snickered. “The entire planet will be drunk for a month.” At a glare from him, she rolled her eyes. “Don’t look at me. I don’t know what the fuss is about. He’s just a man, even if he is king.”

Steve sighed. “So people keep reminding me.”

“Better you than me,” she said unhelpfully, pinching his cheek before she left him there.

Thor was called away in the wee hours on king’s business up north, leaving Steve to fend for himself helping with preparations, but no one stopped to ask him anything. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, Steve had no idea.

He went to the stables. Feather seemed happy to see him, and kept trying to eat the treats from Steve’s pockets as he tacked up and they went for good hard gallop through the surrounding fields, then deep into the forests. The fresh air, the sun, his snorting, frisky horse, it all served to settle his mind and heart. He took a long meandering route back, through the Golden Apple groves, listening to the breeze whistling through the trees.

In the days that followed, Thor watched him closely. There was a changed energy between them, either caused by the six months Steve spent on Earth, or the pressure of the approaching nuptials, or both. Or something else. At night, he lay in the comfort of Thor’s arms, listening to the busy activity outside their windows.

“We will have to separate soon,” said Thor, one lazy hand caressing down Steve’s ticklish side.

“What?” Steve lifted up onto an elbow to look at Thor. “Why?”

“Typically, a couple isn’t allowed to see each other before they marry. It’s the time spent in preparation, as they cast off their old lives and prepare for the new one they will form together.”

Steve swallowed. Their eyes met briefly, but Thor’s skidded away as he raised Steve’s hand to his lips, rubbing his cheek across the back of Steve’s fingers.

“For how long? And when?” asked Steve.

“A week before the ceremony. Steve, is there something you would like to say?” asked Thor, still not meeting his eyes.

Instead of speaking, Steve kissed him, trying to feed Thor his reassurance. Nothing’s changed, he wanted to say, but that wasn’t true, so he didn’t say anything. He made love to Thor’s neck, to the hollow at his throat, while their cocks rocked against each other.

In the morning, Steve took Starborn and flew to the mountains in the north. It wasn’t exactly flying, not like it had been when he went flying with Sam, or how it felt to fly on the back of the winged horses with the Valkyrie. It was more that Starborn carried him through the air at great speed, to his destination.

He landed on a high mountain peak, where there was a break in the forest line, and he sat on a jagged edge of rock with a view of the magnificent valley where the wolves roamed. It took maybe thirty minutes, maybe closer to an hour, before the big white wolf appeared, creeping up behind Steve to sit beside him.

They sat in companionable silence, the wolf occasionally making a noise deep in his throat, a low whine or quiet rumble, his ears pricking this way and that as he listened. Although it was a warm day in Asgard, this far north the sunlight didn’t give any heat, but the wolf radiated warmth and kept the chill at bay. Steve gave him a good scratch along his ghost-like hide. The wolf rolled onto his back, all four giant legs in the air.

“That feel good, buddy?” he asked.

A fearsome looking creature, the wolf snuffled inelegantly, and whined the moment Steve pretended like he might stop scratching.

“Hey. I got some news for you. Thor and I are getting married,” he said to the wolf. The wolf didn’t acknowledge this admission, too content with Steve scratching his neck and back to care. “I was hoping you’d come down, and be there for me. If you can.”

The wolf’s eyes half-closed in sleep, rumbling his contented appreciation of Steve’s scratching abilities, but didn’t otherwise indicate one way or the other that he understood what Steve was asking. When Steve stopped scratching, and the wolf accepted that he wouldn’t continue, he lay his giant head down on Steve’s lap, and licked at Steve’s hand with his big, slobbery tongue.

“Ugh. That’s still gross,” said Steve, fondly.

He returned to Asgard just as the morning ripened into midday. He had a task to accomplish that he’d been putting off since his return to Asgard. The Healing Room doors opened silently, letting him into the darkened interior. An attendant appeared from the shadows, dressed in blue, with her dark hair coiffed and braided down the side.

“May I be of service, your highness?” she asked, curtseying.

“Oh. Um, yes,” he said, taken aback. This was something else he would have to get used to, being called “your highness” and “my lord,” plus everyone bowing to him all the time. Soon it would be “your majesty,” which he wasn’t sure he was ready for. Thor said it didn’t have to be that way—he could request to be addressed however he wanted—but it was second nature to most Asgardians. “Actually, I was hoping to speak with…” he realized he didn’t know the Healer’s name.

Fortunately, the attendant knew whom he was asking for. “The Lady Eir is busy at present, but I will let her know you wish to speak with her.” The attendant bowed again, and then slipped back into the shadows before Steve could stop her.

Five minutes passed, and Steve wondered if it was more polite to stay or to leave, when he heard soft slippered footsteps. Lady Eir was as tall and austere as he remembered from the time she healed his broken ribs, very pale with her strong cheekbones somehow more cutting than before.

“You asked to speak with me,” she said, with a bow of her head. “May I be of service, my lord?”

He looked down at his shoes, and suppressed the hysterical laughter that threatened to bubble up from his stomach. Starborn quivered on his arm. “Please, just call me Steve. Is there…Can we speak? In private?”

Her eyes glinted as she studied him, her face like a mask. She really didn’t give anything away at all, and he had no idea what she might be thinking. But she bowed her head, and led him down a few corridors into a warmly lit chamber. These were her private quarters, he realized, and he felt some shame for putting her out like this.

“Please sit,” she said, and busied herself making a pot of tea.

Steve sat on an armchair and tried not to be too nosy, looking around. She brought over a tea service, and set it down on the long low table between their chairs. A spicy warm scent wafted over him, relaxing in its rich undertones. She poured for both of them, and they spent a minute quietly sipping. Steve felt warmth spread from his belly all the way to the end of each of his extremities, tingling like pins and needles. She sat watching him expectantly, holding her cup.

“I’m sorry to bother you like this,” he said, speaking first to his hands but then lifting his gaze to seek hers. “I appreciate your time. Do you remember when I came to you after that battle on Vanaheim, several years ago? You mentioned my cells, and how they’re different than a regular human’s.”

“Yes,” she said, her porcelain skin creasing with a smile, her eyes catching the lamplight. “I believe the King said it was due to a magic elixir.”

Steve smiled, and felt his cheeks redden. Eir was difficult to read but if she felt comfortable teasing him, then he figured she must like him, at least a little. “Right. Well, magic elixir or experimental serum, it’s pretty much the same thing, I guess.” He took another hot swallow of tea. “There was someone else, like me, on Earth. A friend of mine, who was given a similar serum. But, our enemy captured him, during the war. Experimented on him against his will.... There’s a lot of history there you probably don’t need to know, just that, what they did to him, by all outward appearances, he and I were similarly enhanced: super strength and speed, we healed fast. And, we didn’t age like others, at least as far as I could tell. But then, after a number of years, the serum stopped working inside him. He stopped healing quickly, and started...fading, almost. Like the serum swung in the other direction. It was the indirect cause of his death, after he received a wound he couldn’t come back from—a wound that previously wouldn’t have been fatal for him.”

He paused. The cup of tea in his hand was starting to cool. Outside Eir’s window he heard the noise from a nearby tavern—drunken and boisterous yelling. Underneath that, he heard the collective fluttering of wings as the Valkyrie took their winged horses for an early evening ride.

“It never mattered before,” said Steve. “Finding out whether the same thing would happen to me or not. I figured, if it did, then it was my time, and I got no cause to complain. Would almost welcome it, in a way. To be honest, I’m not especially interested in living forever. But now…” he trailed off, lost in thought.

“But now?” she prompted.

“Now, it matters,” he said with a shrug, focusing on her again.

She gave nothing away when she spoke. “If I were to examine you and say the serum will only last five more years, what would you do?”

He smiled at her, broadly. In this, he was absolutely sure. “I wouldn’t leave him, if that’s what you’re asking.” She lifted one eyebrow. “If that’s the case, he should know. I guess I should know, too.” He reached into his pocket and took out the kimoyo bead he’d been carrying around since their return from Earth. “This is data storage. It holds everything – all medical records and history – on Bucky. On my friend.”

She didn’t take the bead at first, but continued her sphinx-like study of Steve. He began to think she would refuse when she took the bead between two fingers and held it up to the light. Before he could instruct her on how to access the information, she removed the tea things, then picked up a bowl from her mantle. She took a handful of reddish brown sand, and tossed it onto the surface of the table, adding a second handful, and then a third.

As soon as she laid the bead down in the middle of the sand, it lit up. Activated, the bead sprouted hologram after hologram of medical data on Bucky. Eir quickly paged through the information, moving it around as needed.

“Place your hand on the sand,” she ordered.

He hesitated only a second, placing his hand flat on the cool sand. Red and golden lights sprung into existence midair, dancing in roughly the shape of his fingers and palm. Eir manipulated the red and gold lights, adding the data from the bead, which converted into the same red and golden lights. It reminded him a little of Wanda, and also of the type of magic Doctor Strange practiced. She formed the energy into shapes, pushed it this way and that, transferring it from one place to another. Finally, she went perfectly still, her eyes reflecting the light, irises moving rapidly from side to side.

Minutes went by, and then, with a soft exhale of breath, she withdrew her hands and the lights vanished. Steve removed his hand from the sand. She shifted her eyes to his, holding his attention for several more seconds before speaking. “Would you like the magical answer, or the scientific one?”

“Uh,” he stammered, surprised by the question. It was difficult to find his voice.

She took pity on him. “How about a combination of both?”

“All right.”

Eir trailed her fingers across the sand, and two separate images shimmered into existence, rising into three-dimensional proportions.

“This is the serum,” she said. If he squinted, the floating lights looked like the diagram of a chemical compound. “The image on your right is the serum used on you, and the image on your left is the serum used on your friend. They are identical, except for one crucial difference. A difference that cannot be easily seen because it doesn’t exist in the serum itself.” Using her hands, she made the images rotate, first in one direction and then in another. “You’re an artist, aren’t you?” she asked.

Startled again, in danger of being hypnotized by the sparkling lights, he shifted in his seat. “Uh, yes. Well, I draw a little.”

“You understand the particular uniqueness that goes into an artist’s work. Brush or pencil stroke, the pigment used, the type of paint, or the origin of the marble or the clay. Those are known elements giving a piece its uniqueness, which makes forgery ultimately discoverable. Then there is the largely unknown: the time of day the artist chose to paint, what they had for breakfast that morning, what they were thinking and feeling when they created. Their motivation, their fears, their goals and dreams and desires. Those things leave as much a signature on the work as the materials and techniques used, but they cannot be seen or felt or analyzed. If I were to take a masterpiece and recreate it or duplicate it exactly, would it be the same as the original?”

“No,” he said, seeing where she was going with this.

“No,” she agreed. “And yet, a duplicate of a masterpiece can be viewed as beautiful, can still change a person for better or for worse. It can have worth and meaning. It carries its own signature, like the original did. But different.” She paused until she had his full attention. “I could go into the details of cell regeneration, mutation, enhancement, and natural and unnatural cellular senescence if you like. But, simply put, the reason why the serum failed with your friend goes deeper than science. It failed because those that used it on him did not care for him. Their purpose was to create a weapon. When your friend broke from his past, that weapon ceased to exist, and the serum’s reason to continue ended.”

Steve took a slow, jagged breath in, nodding that he understood. There was a lot to process there, but everything she said rang true. “And me?”

She dragged her fingers across the dancing lights so that only one diagram of the serum remained. “The artist that created this? He cared for you very much.”

He wiped at his eyes and his runny nose. Goddamn it, Erskine, he thought. It had been close to two hundred years, and the man was still changing his life. “Does that mean…?”

“Will you live forever? Unchanging?” she teased, but kindly. “No. Everything in this universe has a beginning, middle, and an end. Even the universe itself. You will live exactly as long as you should. But I can say this much: live without fear of the serum failing, Steven Grant Rogers.”

~~

He didn’t feel like returning to the palace. Instead, he hiked up to the hills behind Asgard. It was quiet there, away from the continual pulse of activity. Dusk dimmed the sky, changing the sea from its dark blue to an inky purple.

Asgard 2.0 had grown in the sixty years he’d been there, expanding down the coast. It would continue to grow, he knew. He had every faith that this rough and tumble Asgard would surpass the original. Thinking on Eir’s words, the settlement wasn’t a duplicate, but its own thing taking its own shape, and the people changing with it. Thor didn’t try to copy his father’s Asgard.

With his thoughts touching on Thor, Steve missed him like a physical blow. He closed his eyes and called to Thor in his mind. It took only a minute, maybe only thirty seconds, before lightning crackled and Thor landed a few feet away, Stormbreaker bright and blue in his hand.

“You came?” said Steve, delighted that calling him like that worked. He should be used to the sight of Thor by now, the splendor of him, but it hit him squarely in the chest, like a cannonball.

“I…yes,” said Thor, and his uncertainty made Steve’s heart ache. “I felt your thoughts. Is everything—?”

Thor grunted from a sudden armful of Steve. He dropped Stormbreaker, and Steve took him in a hard kiss. “I’m sorry,” said Steve, in between kisses. “I’m sorry I’ve been so weird.”

“It’s all right,” said Thor, his eyes shining. “You can be as weird as you like, especially if this is the result.”

Steve’s laugh was lost in their swallowing kisses. “More,” he said, his hands buried in Thor’s hair. He tugged Thor down to the ground, rolling on top. The grass was dry and springy.

They could fly to their rooms, but Steve still didn’t want to return to the palace yet. Even if they weren’t interrupted, there was no escaping the constant activity of the place. In the palace, they couldn’t escape from being the King and his consort. But, here, under the open sky, above the shining walls of the city, they were simply Thor and Steve.

“Do that thing,” said Steve, struggling to remove Thor’s armor. “Where you make us naked.”

Thor pushed Steve away to cup his face before bringing him in for another kiss. The tingle of electricity and magic swept over them, and Steve shuddered in appreciation of bare skin, having all of Thor under his hands, naked with only the chain necklaces and rings tangled together. Thor kept his cape, so they had something to lie on.

Thunder cracked above their heads. He kissed his way up Thor’s stomach and chest, settling into the valley of his legs, enjoying the noises that Thor made. Steve hummed with desire.

“Are you going to make it rain?” he asked, sliding against Thor, leaking in his eagerness. Thor watched him hungrily, and Steve knew he wouldn’t last long, thrusting into the space between Thor’s legs. Forehead to forehead, breathing together, he shuddered his release. Thor kissed him through it.

Collapsing, Steve took a deep breath as Thor caressed him, his hard cock pressing insistently against Steve’s hip. He took Thor’s erection in his hand as they kissed sweetly, licking and tasting. A light rain began to fall. “I love you,” said Thor, with raindrops down his face.

Steve pressed his lips over Thor’s eyes, one brown, one blue. Thor came, clutching Steve tight.

They grinned at each other, both shaking in the afterglow. They discovered that Thor’s cape wasn’t quite big enough for both ground cover and a blanket, but they mostly laughed about it, snuggling close. The rain stopped, but it was full dark now, the stars springing into existence one by one.

“When do we have to separate?” asked Steve, a little melancholy.

Thor turned to him. “You know, we don’t have to do any of it, if we don’t want to. It’s entirely up to us, up to you.”

“I thought it was required. Kings can’t elope, remember.”

Thor shook his head. “Steve, forget what I said. We don’t even have to get married, if that isn’t what you want. The ring exchange is enough.”

Steve gently placed his fingers over Thor’s mouth to stop him, sliding a thumb across his lips. “Do you want to get married?” he asked. “Truthfully.”

Thor took a long time answering, staring into the distance before focusing on Steve. “Yes,” he said. Steve could see it took some courage for him to say it.

He smiled, tapping his thumb on Thor’s bottom lip. A wave of arousal washed over him when Thor licked at it. But he controlled himself, trailing his finger across Thor’s cheekbones. “So do I.”

Thor relaxed, the tension Steve hadn’t even noticed Thor carrying vanished in one gusty exhale. He hugged Steve tightly to him.

“I’m not upset about the wedding,” continued Steve. They needed to talk about this. “It’s a lot, of course. I never envisioned anything like this for me. But then I never thought I would marry a king either. I’m not used to this.” He took Thor’s head between his hands. “But I want to do it. All of it. Because it’s important to you, which makes it important to me. It’s important to Asgard. And you’re their king. You’re their, hero, Thor. I don’t know if you fully grasp how much they love you.” He paused, then added with a smile. “I’m just impatient.”

Thor looked at him with wonder. “I’m very fortunate,” said Thor.

Steve blushed. They wrapped their arms around each other and tried to get comfortable on the damp grass, leaning against hard stone with only Thor’s cape to keep them warm. Steve still wasn’t quite ready to return, and Thor seemed to sense that.

They fell silent again, until Steve spoke. “I went to see Eir.”

That got Thor’s attention. He passed his hands over Steve’s body, checking for injuries. “What? Are you ill? Are you hurt?”

“No,” said Steve, trying not to laugh because Thor accidently tickled him. “I’m fine! Really, I’m… more than okay. All healthy. But…” and he waited until Thor stopped exploring him for injuries and sat up to look at him. “I needed to know. It’s been over two hundred years, Thor. Humans do not live this long. Not even enhanced humans. I needed to know, for your sake as well as mine, what’s in store. I didn’t want you…. Losing Bucky like that, it wasn’t easy. I’d rather you know, if it were going to happen.”

Thor was looking at him especially hard. He put his hand against Steve’s chest, right over the ring dangling on its chain. “What did she say?”

Steve wrinkled his nose, scratched his brow. “I’m still figuring that out. She’s not an easy person to understand.”

“Yes, I know,” said Thor, keeping his hand on Steve’s chest. “As a child I asked her why Sleipnir, my father’s horse, had eight legs while all other horses had only four. I demanded she give me two more legs. Seemed only fair. She answered I had just the correct number of limbs but if I wanted two more I could swallow a seed of Yggdrasil and sprout them.”

Steve laughed. “Precocious child.”

“Hm, I think obnoxious is the more apt word. What did she say? Please tell me.”

Steve played with the chain around Thor’s neck, fiddling with the ring. “That I’ll live as long as I live, which isn’t any kind of answer at all. But the serum won’t fail inside me, at least not any time soon. What do you sense, when you put your hand here?” He pressed his hand over Thor’s against this chest. “I can feel your energy when you do it.”

Thor leaned in to nuzzle Steve’s neck, shifting his hand to cup Steve’s breast, nipple between two fingers. “Your life force, beating strong.” He began trailing his fingers down Steve’s inner arm, making him shiver. “Perhaps you will outlive me.”

“God, please don’t say that.”

Thor smiled, kissed him, then turned serious. “You will just have to live with the uncertainty of how long your life will be.”

Steve sighed, straddling Thor and sitting on his lap while struggling to pull the cape over their heads. In their little cocoon, he draped his arms loosely over Thor’s neck. Thor ducked his head to capture one of Steve’s nipples with his lips, sucking gently. Steve gasped, instantly hard. He was starting to want the warmth and comfort of their bed, all their blankets and pillows, as well as wanting a generous supply of lube.

“Hey, Thor,” he said.

“Yes?” Thor mumbled hungrily.

Steve pulled away so they could look at each other. “Take me to bed.”

Thor grinned. “If you insist.”

He took secure hold of Steve, and they both called to their respective weapons to fly them the short distance home. If any Asgardians looked up at the right moment, they might have seen a pair of naked backsides, but it wouldn’t have been the first time.

~~

As promised, Thor sent ravens to Earth with messages for the Avengers and Amanda Carter, and for M’Belo in Wakanda, to allow their guests plenty of time to prepare. When the time came, he personally went to Earth to collect them, bringing with him a squadron of Einherjar as well as three of the Valkyrie who volunteered to miss the ceremony on Asgard to ensure Earth would not go unprotected while all the Avengers were off world. They brought one hundred barrels of honey mead to celebrate with the Midgardians.

It was a relief to Steve when Barton and the others arrived. “Well, we’re here,” said Barton, looking a little woozy from the Bifrost ride. “Where’s the party?”

Steve smiled, hugging each of them and shaking everyone’s hand. “It’s good to see you guys,” he said.

Although they lost Jaina almost immediately to the Valkyrie, who claimed her as their own (and Barton was not entirely sure they were going to get her back) Steve spent his week apart from Thor with his Earth friends, and had a lot more fun than he thought he would. They teased him endlessly, which he suffered good-naturedly, blushing the entire time.

He enjoyed showing off Asgard, watching their reactions to the seemingly archaic way of living that masked advanced technology. As predicted, M’Belo was the most comfortable. He was Jabari, and tradition was a way of life for him.

Steve only missed one thing, and every day leading up to the ceremony, he tried not to look toward the northern mountains, and told himself not to get his hopes up. The white wolf had never gone as far south as the settlement before, and he was unlikely to do so now.

On Frigga’s birthday, Steve struggled to put on his ceremonial armor. Barton and Jack tried helping, then got out of the way as Amanda called an Asgardian attendant who actually knew what they were doing. The armor – dark navy blue with silver accents, and a hint of red at his waist and cuffs – fit like a glove. The cape took a little getting used to.

“I know this is more of an Earth tradition,” said Amanda. She hesitated, holding a pale blue ribbon-like piece of fabric. “And you’re not exactly a blushing bride.” Steve felt his cheeks flush. “All right, not exactly a bride,” she amended. Barton and Jack snickered, and Steve glared at them. “It’s taken from an old scarf owned by Aunt Peggy.” She wound the blue fabric around Starborn’s handle, tying it in a knot.

“Wow, thank you,” he said, awed. He touched the fabric, felt its softness between his fingers, and fancied that it smelled a little like Peggy’s perfume.

Amanda kissed Steve on the cheek. When he was fully ready, armor buffed and shining, a circlet placed on his head, and Starborn on his back, he strode through the palace with Shane and Jack on one side, and Amanda and M’Belo on the other. They were to meet Thor’s party in the courtyard, and together, he and Thor would lead the procession down to the Bifrost site, to the Watcher’s Post. If Heimdall had been alive, he would have performed the ceremony. It was their way of honoring him.

Outside, he squinted at the bright sun. The Einherjar were already standing in ordered squadrons. Further, he saw the people of Asgard lined up along the procession, waiting.

A hush rippled along the crowd, and Steve’s heart began to pound as he searched for Thor. But then, he heard cries of alarm, and one or two shouts.

“What the hell is that?” asked Shane, pointing. Steve, who had been looking in the other direction for Thor, turned to see what Shane was talking about. Striding majestically up through the crowd came the white wolf, stopping occasionally to give the Asgardians a fright by coming close enough to smell them.

“Good God,” said Jack. M’Belo went into a fighting pose.

“Whoa,” cried Steve, holding his hands out. He tended to forget how intimidating the Asgardian wolves were to others, with their scales and sharp teeth. “Calm down. He’s a friend. He’s friendly. He won’t hurt anyone.”

Without waiting to see what the others did, Steve met the wolf at the entrance to the courtyard. The wolf sat down on his haunches, tilting his head to one side as he peered closely at Steve, as if he didn’t recognize him in his finery.

“You came,” said Steve, holding out his hand. The wolf smelled him, then thumped his tail. Steve came close and the wolf patiently let him wrap his arms around his neck, unaware of the commotion his actions caused among the Asgardians, the noise from the crowd rising.

He and the wolf walked side-by-side back to the others to take their place. Barton whistled, and Jack looked a bit green. Amanda was the brave one, holding out her hand for the wolf to smell. The wolf panted a little, and stepped one inch closer to Amanda, making her smile. Always the ladies man, thought Steve.

Another ripple of excitement passed through the crowd, and then outright cheering as Thor emerged from the left wing of the palace, Valkyrie at his side, and the other Valkyrie behind her with Jaina among them. His gold and red armor was blinding, cape billowing, electricity zapping every which way with Stormbreaker strapped to his back. Steve took a deep breath in, then walked to greet his soon-to-be husband.

Kingly and magnificent, shining more than his armor, Thor took Steve’s breath away. When they were finally close enough, he said, “Wow, look at you,” like a total idiot.

Thor grinned. “And you as well. That color suits you.”

“Thanks.”

There was another collective intake of breath from everyone as the wolf ambled over, circling around Thor. Thor raised his eyebrows, watching the wolf but he held out a hand. The wolf licked him.

“Oh, look. He likes me,” said Thor, a bit smug and proud but obviously pleased. The wolf snuffled wetly at Thor’s boots and then at Steve’s boots, before he ambled back to his place beside Amanda.

“Well. He has good taste,” said Steve. He held out his two hands, and Thor immediately took them in his. “What say we get hitched already?”

“A fine plan. Lead the way,” answered Thor.

They led the procession of Avengers, Einherjar, Valkyrie, and the wolf, all together down through the streets, with Asgard cheering on both sides.

Eir stood in the center of the Bifrost ring, waiting for them. Beside her were six of her attendants, each holding a different animal: a calf, a horse, a goat, a raven, a boar, and finally, a snake.

The others filtered around the site, taking position. The Avengers stood behind Steve, and Valkyrie, Jaina, and the red-headed sisters, Gunnvor and Freya, stood behind Thor.

“Welcome,” she said, as they knelt at her feet. She touched both Steve and Thor, lightly. “Please rise.”

An attendant held out a simple-looking wooden bowl filled with golden liquid. Eir dipped her hands in the honey mead, then passed her hands over Steve’s hair. He looked into her eyes and thought he saw a hint of a smile. She turned to Thor, and did the same thing, anointing him with the mead.

Then, she raised the bowl for Steve to drink, and then for Thor to drink, before taking a sprig of apple tree branches bound together, dipping it in the bowl. She sprinkled the Avengers and the Valkyrie with honey mead, then as much of the crowd as she could reach.

“As you form this new union,” she said, returning to stand in front of Steve and Thor. “You must honor the gods and your ancestors that came before.”

She took what was left of the honey mead and poured it evenly into six more bowls, mixing it with feed made of Golden Apples. Steve and Thor took each of the bowls and fed the animals one by one. The horse was a little skittish, so close to the wolf, but he calmed down when the bowl was placed in front of him. Thor caressed the snake, letting its fluttering tongue taste the mead on his fingers.

The wolf whined. With a quick look at Eir, who nodded, Steve also fed the wolf, who then joined the pantheon along with the other animals, bringing a further binding between the old Asgardian gods, and the new gods of their current home.

As the animals finished eating, all except the wolf were led or carried away from the circle, and a fresh bowl of clean water was placed in front of Steve and Thor. They washed each other’s hands, then turned again to face Eir.

She turned first to Thor. “Your majesty, present your gift, and say your words.”

There was a long beat of silence, as everyone watched and waited, before Thor took Stormbreaker, holding it with one hand on both ends.

“Steven Grant Rogers,” he said, his voice rough, eyes shining. “I offer you this axe, as a symbol of my honor and my love. Everything I have is yours. Will you take it?”

Steve blinked away tears. He knew to expect this, but it still hit him hard, standing before Thor, in front of all those he loved and cared for. “Yes,” he said, though his throat hurt.

Eir turned to him next. “Please, my lord,” she said to Steve. “Present your gift, and say your words.”

He took a shaky breath in, then grabbed Starborn, spinning it around to show the convex side. “Thor, son of Odin, I offer you my shield.” He paused, a tear tickled down his nose, but he couldn’t wipe it away. “As a symbol of my strength and my love. Everything I have is yours. Will you take it?”

“Yes,” answered Thor.

Thor took Starborn. It started to glow, bright with electricity. Steve took a deep breath, and placed his hands on Stormbreaker’s wooden handle. Everyone watched, the tension in the crowd rising. He lifted the axe up, and felt its power anchoring him to the planet. It made him ten feet tall and as powerful as a mountain. This, he thought, this was what Thor felt like all the time. He turned to his new husband, and smiled, and the crowd erupted into cheers.

It would be too dangerous for everyone to display Starborn and Stormbreaker’s true power. But Thor held out Starborn and Steve laid Stormbreaker down upon it, and the small shock wave ruffled everyone’s hair and clothing.

Steve placed Stormbreaker on his back, and Thor did the same with Starborn, and they turned once again to face Eir.

“As a symbol of your union, and of the binding nature of the oath which you take together, a ring is given to your partner.”

It seemed that Steve had been waiting for this moment forever. Since before that night Thor proposed in Steve’s apartment in Brooklyn. Since he first came to Asgard. Since even before that, maybe as far back as the day Thanos fell, and he’d turned to look at Thor wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, and was the only one not afraid.

Thor went first, pulling the ring free from under his armor, and removing it from the chain. He slipped the ring onto Steve’s right hand. It tingled, changing shape until it fit perfectly. Steve did the same thing, pulling the chain from under his armor and removing the ring. He took Thor’s warm hand in his, and slipped the ring onto his fourth finger. They looked at each other, and smiled wide. There was a reason they chose their right hands. As a private message to each other, Steve took Thor’s left hand, the one that flashed of gold and rainbow stones, and pressed a kiss to his palm.

Dimly, Steve heard the crowd go wild, but he was too preoccupied with the soft look in Thor’s eyes.

Eir took both their right hands together, cupped in hers, then looked from one to the other. “And so,” she said. “The first binding is made. Your journey together starts anew. May this day live long in our hearts and memories. May your union be fruitful. May you always know peace, even in times of war. May your love guide each other through hardships, in sickness and in health. May the Norns sing of the love that grows between you, woven into tapestry. Now, your majesties, you may kiss.”

Thor wasted no time. The crowd erupted in riotous cheers, throwing everything they could into the air. A cannon boomed. The horse bolted with a head toss and a whinny. The boar charged into the crowd and was lost, the raven flew away while the wolf sat on his haunches and howled, loudly. All the while, the crowd jumped up and down and cheered.

With a startlingly commanding voice that cut through the noise, Eir raised her arms and demanded silence. It took only a few moments until all were quiet. Steve and Thor stopped kissing, pulling apart.

“To our newcomers and honored guests,” said Eir, her voice ringing, echoing across the buildings. “It is tradition on Asgard that the two parties, the groom’s party and,” she paused, with a smile, “the groom’s party, must race each other to the ceremonial feasting hall. Whichever side loses the race must serve the other party throughout the night until dawn. Prepare yourselves. On your mark,” she said.

Steve heard Barton say, “Wait. What’s happening now?” and then beside him, Jack said, “She’s not serious, is she?”

“Get set,” said Eir. The crowd, which had all come as close as they could, now parted to make way. The Valkyrie moved out of the Bifrost ring and went into a crouching position. The Einherjar did the same.

Thor, holding Steve’s hand, muttered from the side of his mouth. “You know,” he said, “the Valkyrie have beaten the Einherjar every time.”

“Dream on,” said Steve, with a smile. “The Valkyrie are gonna eat dust.”

Eir dropped her arms. “Go.”

The cheering erupted again as the Valkyrie and the Einherjar raced all the way back to the palace, the Avengers running along bewildered. Everyone followed, even Eir and her attendants (at a more sedate pace), leaving Thor and Steve alone with only the wolf for company.

They listened, until they heard another eruption of cheers. Thor shaded his eyes. “Hah,” he said, beaming smugly. “The Valkyrie won.”

“Oh, well,” said Steve, laughing. “I bet you the Einherjar lost on purpose. I mean, come on. Wouldn’t you?”

Chuckling, Thor pulled Steve closer, keeping their hands linked. “You make a strong point. Husband,” he said, and grinned.

A thrill ran up Steve’s body. “Say that again,” he said.

Thor kissed both of Steve’s cheeks, nibbling at his neck. “My husband,” said Thor, as a clap of distant thunder echoed.

“Yeah,” said Steve, kissing Thor in return. “Yours.”

They forgot themselves, Steve trying to discover how kissing Thor now seemed so wondrous and new, exciting and different than it had mere days before. They continued holding hands, and he felt the ring on Thor’s finger, playing with it. Beside them, the wolf whined again, not wanting to leave Steve’s side, but wanting to go to the feast.

They broke apart and laughed. “Shall we celebrate?” asked Thor. “Husband?”

Steve grinned from ear to ear. “You can keep saying that. Yeah, let’s go.”

They walked together back up to the palace, the wolf at their side.

 

The Third Binding

To Steve, the feast was rather torturous. He wanted to celebrate, but he also wanted to retreat with Thor to their bedchamber. He hadn’t seen Thor in a week, and had already spent six months apart from him. But he did enjoy seeing his friends having a good time. The Einherjar and Valkyrie were welcoming, and there was much laughing and drinking and eating.

Provisions were made for the wolf. They brought out a low trough full of apple mash and animal bones that looked disgusting to Steve but the wolf seemed to enjoy it, happily gnawing away in a corner near the king’s table.

Children crept as close as they dared to the wolf. He paid them no mind, except to occasionally lift his head from his food, blinking lazily at them as he open his impressive mouth and licked his sharp teeth. They were brave children though. Step by step they got closer. As he finished his meal, the wolf made himself as small as he could, which wasn’t very small at all, before he eventually rolled onto his back, legs in the air, his scales flattened.

All at once the children rushed at him, jumping on top and clinging to his hide, chattering in excited voices to each other. For the rest of the night, the wolf had children dangling from all parts of his body as he gave them rides on his back, much to the dismay of their parents.

Thor laughed watching the wolf give Barton, Amanda, and six other kids a romping ride around the hall, the wolf’s paws slipping occasionally on the stone floor. “Woooaaah,” cried Barton, taking a tumbling fall to the floor. Everyone laughed.

“Your friend is good with children,” said Thor, leaning into Steve. They sat at the center of a long table, with three other long tables forming a giant square in the throne room.

At first Steve thought Thor meant Barton, but then he realized he meant the wolf. “Yeah,” he said, smiling. “He is.”

“That bodes well for us,” said Thor, kissing Steve’s brow.

“What?” said Steve, some of the fog of alcohol and food clearing quickly, wondering if he’d misheard or misunderstood Thor’s meaning. Thor did not acknowledge Steve’s confusion, but kept kissing him. It was very distracting. Steve sighed, as Thor nibbled on his ear. “Do you think anyone would miss us if we slipped away?”

Thor broke off his amorous pursuit of Steve’s earlobe, glancing around. Right then, no one was paying them any attention, thanks to the wolf. “Probably,” he said, taking Steve’s hand in his, and they both got up from the table, walking quickly away before anyone could notice, racing up to their rooms.

They struggled to remove their fancy armor. These couldn’t be removed by magic, and Steve laughed as he unbuckled and unstrapped Thor, Thor doing the same for him. Boots were kicked off, armor set aside. They fell onto the bed, and Steve pulled Thor on top of him, rising up for a kiss.

Thor tore himself free, taking hold of Steve’s pants and yanking them off, then shimmying quickly out of his own. Steve twisted around to find the jar of lube kept near the bed, palming it over to Thor, who grinned, outlined in starlight. They hadn’t lit any lamps, and so the room was cast in moonshadows.

His legs parted. Thor crawled up to kiss him, hungry and strong and gorgeous.

“God yes,” he said, when Thor pushed in at the right angle, making Steve arch his back helplessly. Thor did it again, slowly at first, then faster. Electricity zipped and zapped along their skin, tingling down to Steve’s toes. He arched again, bearing down, wanting more and harder. Thor pounded the air out of him, bending closer so he could kiss Steve, and whisper in his ear. “My husband.”

Steve whined, breathing wetly, coming between their bodies.

Thor stopped as Steve caught his breath. He was rock hard inside of Steve, shifting slightly to send sparks up Steve’s spine.

“Another?” asked Thor, eyes bright as he peered down at Steve, poised and ready.

Steve licked his lips and swallowed, catching his breath, lying flat on his back, one leg up over Thor’s shoulder. He raised a hand to Thor’s cheek.

“Definitely,” he said, then rolled them over so he was on top.

Thor made an, “Oof” sound, taken by surprise. Steve reseated himself, flexing around Thor. It sent sparks up his body. He shuddered with pleasure, rolled his hips faster. Thor gripped Steve around his waist, urging him on.

“Come with me,” gasped Steve, staring into Thor’s eyes, working himself into another orgasm.

“Yes,” said Thor.

Every thrust was like molten electricity sending jolt after jolt. Steve felt it in his spine, in his neck. Thor slid a hand up from Steve’s waist to cup his chest, taking Steve in a swallowing kiss, grunting as he came. Steve erupted, hanging on through each wave, incoherent as he yelled.

Out of breath again, he lay where he’d fallen, half asleep on top of Thor. They mumbled nonsense to each other as Thor took a cloth and wiped them clean, then gathered Steve into his arms. It was fresh and cool in the room, thanks to their open windows.

They could hear the noise coming from the feast. Singing. More singing. Call and response. The pounding of many feet to keep the beat. A clash of broken glass, and an immediate out cry of approval as another glass was shattered and met the same fate. The wolf howled.

Thor held Steve’s hand in his, examining his fingers, turning the ring around and around. He brought a finger his mouth to suck on it. He kissed the palm, kissed along the ring finger.

“Maybe we should get back soon,” said Steve, but he did nothing to support this suggestion, snuggling closer and using Thor like a pillow, his cock still half hard and pushing against Thor’s thigh.

“Sounds like they’re doing fine without us,” said Thor, turning his attention to Steve’s wrist and forearm.

Steve shivered. Thor’s touch tickled along the sensitive skin of his inner arm. “What’s it feel like to be married?”

“Hm, so far?”

“Yeah,” said Steve, dreamily. He was trying to pinpoint the sensation in his chest.

When Thor didn’t answer, Steve looked at him, and saw that his eyes were wet. Steve leaned in to taste his tears. He reached for Thor’s cock, shifting to take it back into his body. This time it was less urgent, but needier, as they rocked together lying on their side. “I don’t have the words,” said Thor. “For what I feel.”

“Then feel this,” said Steve, taking Thor’s hand and placing it over his heart.

~~

Almost dawn; the first night of feasting was nearly over.

Steve and Thor did return to the hall, but in the wee hours of the morning. Valkyrie was still going strong, with a few of her crew and a handful of Einherjar rallying on with her. But most others were passed out, or close to it, draped over the tables in uncomfortable positions, snoring loudly. Steve found Barton and Jack glassy-eyed, trying to go drink for drink with the Asgardians.

“Hm, I think you guys have had enough,” said Steve, rushing to catch Jack before he fell. They were, to use a human expression, completely shit-faced. “You know, you could have gone easy on them,” Steve said to Valkyrie, trying to get Barton to sit upright. Barton managed to focus his eyes, smiling when he recognized Steve, mumbling incoherently.

“And where’s the fun in that?” asked Valkyrie, but she was pretty gone herself, slurring her words, tripping over her feet.

Steve couldn’t find M’Belo or Amanda, or Jaina, and assumed they had all sensibly gone to bed hours ago. He didn’t see the wolf anywhere.

“I’ll see to the Valkyrie, if you can managed those two,” said Thor.

With Barton on one arm, and Jack on the other, Steve helped them stumble their way back to their respective rooms. “I hope you both had fun,” said Steve.

“Isss th’bst,” said Barton. Jack responded only in mumbles and grunts, burping.

He got them into their beds, and made them both drink at least a half a glass of watered down apple juice. “You’ll thank me in the morning.”

Jack was unconscious even as he drank his juice, but Barton needed to ramble on a little more. “Sooo hap,” hiccup, “for you. Much good. Thor’s big, huh! Thank,” hiccup, “Thank me here.” He sighed, closing his eyes as Steve took off his shoes and pulled the covers half way up. “Think love ‘mnda,” he said, then he snored, fast asleep.

“Well,” said Steve, patting Barton on his shoulder. “Good for you.”

Reasonably sure they’d survive the night, Steve closed both their doors and went back to the hall, then out into the courtyard. He spotted the wolf first thing, sitting on his haunches where the courtyard ended and opened up to the main thoroughfare of the growing city.

He approached slowly. The wolf twitched his ear in Steve’s direction, then cocked them forward again. “Hey, buddy,” said Steve, softly. “Missing your home?”

The wolf rumbled and ducked his head to sniff Steve all over from head to toe, then back up again to lick his neck.

“Ugh. Thanks,” said Steve, wiping his ear on his shoulder. “Thanks for coming.” He scratched the wolf’s neck. “Go on. Go home.”

After one last snuffle at Steve, the wolf loped off, his ghostly grey hide visible as he ran through the city, disappearing into the night. Steve watched him go, but turned when he sensed Thor by his side. They put their arms around each other and returned to the palace.

The next day, the Einherjar that had passed out at the table shook themselves awake and picked up right where they left off. Others filtered in from various parts of the palace as they became conscious, wandering into the hall. Steve played host, serving coffee to their guests. M’Belo looked none the worse for wear, and, being the ruler of the Jabari in his own right, took command of the ambulatory Einherjar and asked for fighting demonstrations out in the courtyard.

Jaina and Amanda also made an appearance – Jaina in full Valkyrie garb and Amanda dressed like an Asgardian lady. Steve served them coffee and breakfast, but they seemed locked in a private conversation. Remembering Barton’s drunken confession, he let them keep their confidences to themselves.

Valkyrie stormed in looking steely-eyed. She snapped at her crew, rallying them awake. “It may be a holiday for everyone else,” she said. The redheaded sisters, Gunnvor and Freya, moaned, sleeping in a corner of the throne room with an Einherjar sandwiched between them. Valkyrie dumped cold water on their heads. They shrieked and sat up. “But not for you girls. Up and at ‘em. Flying drills in the courtyard in twenty. Get your ponies ready.” When they just stared at her, wet and bleary-eyed, she pointed her finger at the door. “Now.”

They scrambled to their feet, wobbling as they followed her outside.

Steve, meeting Thor by the unused throne, whistled. “I forgot what she’s like when she’s hungover.”

Thor chuckled. “They can handle it.”

Everyone else also followed into the courtyard. Whether drunk or sober, the Valkyrie always put on a good show. Steve didn’t think he would be seeing hide nor hair of Barton or Jack, but they both appeared, unshaven and very pale. Jack was blood-shot, and Barton still had creases on his face from sleeping. Steve was surprised they weren’t still drunk.

“Good to see you both alive,” said Steve. Barton winced. Jack grunted, still non-verbal. But he was staring at the winged horses flying in formation around the courtyard with the first true look of wonder Steve had seen from him during the entire trip. On Earth, Jack was the Falcon; flying was in his blood. As soon as the Valkyrie landed, hooves clattering on the stone, Jack gravitated to Bird, Valkyrie’s horse, and trailed a hand down her mane.

“Oi,” said Valkyrie, preparing to yell at him, swinging off Bird’s back. Touching a winged horse without the rider’s permission just wasn’t done. Steve prepared to jump in, to shield Jack from her wrath, but Thor called to her first, whispering in her ear. Whatever Thor told her, she huffed, then rolled her eyes at him. Still, she looked much calmer, and turned to speak with Jack. “His majesty here tells me you fly.”

Jack, realizing he shouldn’t have gone up to Bird without asking first, stepped away from the horse. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t think. Yes, I fly.”

She looked him up and down, screwing her mouth as she came to her decision. “All right. Hop on. Have a go. If Bird doesn’t dump you, then I guess you’re all right.”

It took a moment for Jack to register what she offered, but once he did his entire demeanor changed. As the leader of the Avengers, and one of the older members, he tended to be silent and taciturn in contrast to Barton’s constantly sunny, almost goofy cheerfulness. The recent losses they’d sustained from the drone attacks hadn’t helped. But now, a true smile broke across his face, and he dropped ten years of worry at least.

Thor stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Understand what a rare honor this is,” he said, with the tone of a ruler.

Jack took a breath, then nodded at Thor before he spoke to Valkyrie. “Thank you,” he said.

“I’ll help you up,” answered Valkyrie.

He crooned softly to Bird, who wouldn’t stand still with all the attention and noise around her. She was one of the more high-spirited of the winged horses. Jack calmly took hold of her mane. Valkyrie gave him a leg up, and he carefully sat down on her back, speaking to her the entire time. Bird shook her wings out, prancing and hopping, but Jack stayed on, stroking her mane again. Then, he trotted forward a few steps before cantering into the air, her great big wings flapping.

“Waahooooo,” he cried, as he and the winged horse flew in a circle.

Valkyrie then called to Barton. “You too, shield boy,” she said, patting Gunnvor’s horse, Dis. “Can’t be left behind. Get up there.”

Barton looked comically surprised, his dark hair standing up every which way adding to the effect. Even so, Barton was a handsome guy, with his Asian features and his perpetual tan. He shook his surprise off and swaggered over. More athletic than Jack, and also less careful, after a bow to Gunnvor for the honor, he grabbed a handful of mane and swung onto Dis’s back. Dis reared with a whinny, but Barton didn’t slide off. He was a natural horseman, calming Dis with just a pat and a quiet word.

“Come on, Amanda,” he said, reaching out for her.

“Oh, no,” she cried, shaking her head and trying to back away, but two of the Valkyrie grabbed her and all but tossed her into Barton’s arms as she shrieked. He held her in front of him and they took off into the air, Amanda’s shrieks turned into laughter.

The other Valkyrie took their horses one by one into the air. Jaina hopped up behind Nan on her horse, Moon, and Valkyrie dragged M’Belo over and got him up behind Freya. Soon everyone was mounted, many doubling up, flying in a loose formation over the mountains of Asgard.

Steve and Thor remained on the ground, amused at the turn of events. “I hope they don’t get any of our guests killed. That would be a lot of explaining back on Earth,” said Steve, mostly joking as he shaded his eyes, trying to get a good look at the motley mix of wings.

“Nah,” said Thor. “Valkyrie won’t let anyone fall.” Then, they heard another shriek, of either fear or excitement, Steve couldn’t tell. They looked at each other. “But perhaps caution is advised.”

They called Stormbreaker and Starborn to them, and then together flew to their wandering herd of winged horses, joining their friends and guests.

~~

That night, they held the second day of feasting. Steve and Thor served each other the honey mead, drinking together, witnessed by all. The same thing repeated the next day, and the next, until the week ended. As the days passed, the feasting didn’t quite rise to the same level of drunken debauchery of the first night, but became a time when new friendships were forged, romances blossomed, and several new misadventures were told in ever more exaggerated storytelling detail.

Eventually it was time for their guests to return to Earth. It was a quiet and reserved party that gathered at the Bifrost site to say goodbye, the day turning blustery with the season heading into winter. An Asgardian skiff bobbed up and down in the water, docked in the nearby pier, ready to take Steve and Thor to their honeymoon on the southern continent.

The men – Jack, Barton, and M’Belo – had each been gifted their own Asgardian armor, as well as a sword made from Asgardian steel. They looked splendid, the three grouped together. Steve almost wished he would be there on Earth to see what kind of stir their homecoming would cause.

“Well, I can’t say it hasn’t been a blast. Something to tell my grandkids,” said Jack, holding out his hand for Steve to shake. “Thanks for having me.”

“Thanks for coming,” answered Steve. Jack went to stand at the center of the Bifrost ring.

Steve held his hand out for Barton as well, but Barton took him in for an abrupt hug. “We’ll see each other soon,” said Steve, bringing his arms around him.

Barton was still rather shy with Thor, stammering a goodbye. Thor chuckled. “It’s not time yet for you and I to say goodbye, my friend. I go with you to Earth. I have to collect my wayward kinsmen from your planet.”

“Oh, right,” said Barton. Thor clapped Barton strongly on the back, giving his shoulder a good squeeze. Barton grinned, a little dazed, joining Jack on the ring.

M’Belo presented Thor with a staff made of Jabari wood. “As a token of my respect,” he said. “It reminds me of your truwood.”

Thor took the staff, admiring the work and craftmanship. “It is I who should be giving the gifts,” said Thor. Steve was trying to figure how M’Belo had kept the staff hidden, when he saw how it vanished when slung over Thor’s back, a trick of the vibranium infused wood. Thor and M’Belo had gotten close over the week, the two rulers finding they had much in common. “Thank you, my friend.”

M’Belo nodded. “You are both welcome in Jabari.” He gave them a stern look. “I expect a lengthy visit.” Then, he went to join Barton and Jack.

Not to be outdone, the Valkyrie gifted Jaina with her own set of armor and sword as well, and they had tattooed their symbol onto her forearm. Steve saluted to her in the Wakandan way. “Take care of Shane for me,” said Steve. “Don’t let him get in too much trouble.”

“I heard that,” said Barton.

“Hah,” she answered, with a grin at Barton. Her hair had been braided in the Valkyrie fashion, giving her a fierce warrior look, but it was somewhat spoiled by the impish humor in her purplish-black eyes. “Maybe.”

He kissed her cheek, and then let her go so she could stand beside Barton on the ring.

Lastly, Steve turned to say goodbye to Amanda. She, like the others, had gone full native. Dressed in a long Asgardian gown, wearing a thick, richly lined woolen cloak over it, the outfit suited her, giving her height and adding a regal quality to her manner. Out of all his guests, he would miss her the most. They had already been close friends, but over the week he had come to truly admire her quiet humor and steady nature. Despite not being an Avenger, she held her own with the others. She especially had Barton wrapped around her finger.

“Now you have to do it all over again, and get married a second time on Earth,” she teased.

“Don’t remind me,” said Steve, groaning. He really couldn’t believe he’d agreed to have a second wedding. At least it was a couple months away and he would have time to recover from this one.

She laughed. “I’ll make it as painless as possible, I promise.”

They hugged warmly, and he held her hand as he led her to her place among the Avengers.

“I shall return within the hour,” said Thor, giving Steve a private look, raising Stormbreaker into the air. “And then you and I will set sail.”

“Don’t be late,” said Steve. He laughed at both Barton and Jack who shut their eyes and grimaced in anticipation of the Bifrost. In another second, the white rainbow light took them all away.

Steve could have gone with them. He’d decided not to – not for any one reason, except perhaps a lingering need to avoid unpleasant reminders – but then regretted that decision. It was too short a time to occupy himself with a task and just long enough for him to miss Thor. Valkyrie waited with him. As brusque and grumpy as she often was, her loyalty never faltered. He appreciated her ability to distract him.

True to his word, Thor returned almost fifty minutes later, appearing on the Bifrost site with the squadron of Einherjar and the three Valkyrie that remained on Earth. At first, Steve thought Thor had collected the wrong people. The returning Einherjar and the Valkyrie all wore jeans and T-shirts, hoodies and jackets, baseball caps and sunglasses. They had gone as native as Barton and the others had. But, they appeared pleased to be home, and reported all was peaceful on Earth.

Amused, Thor stepped off the Bifrost site, and straight into Steve’s arms. “I think this exchange program was a great success. We should do it again in the future!”

~~

The trip to the southern continent took a couple of hours by skiff. They flew by air then landed the skiff in the water, sailing into harbor.

That first night, they met with the local merchants and tradespeople of the main town. They were a merry bunch, less refined than those on the northern continent, and they reminded Steve of pirates, of what he’d thought Vikings were actually like, with scars and tattoos and that windblown, sunblistered fisherman aesthetic. But they were good-natured people, if a little rough around the edges, and eager to celebrate their king’s nuptials and give honor to Steve. Much honey mead was drunk that night.

After their visit ended, they got back into their skiff and sailed down the coast. Steve hung over the side of the boat, trailing a hand through the water until he saw a giant glimmering coiled snake-like creature breach the surface, scales rippling iridescently in the sunlight. With a gasp, he jumped back. “What was that?”

Thor steadied the rudder, eagerly looking overboard. “I’ve heard tales of this, but have not yet had the pleasure of seeing one with my own eyes. The fishermen tell of the native sea serpents of this planet. The serpents follow the fishing boats and wreak havoc with their nets. They cause many problems!” he said with admiration. “Do you see it? Is it still there?”

The serpent’s long body rolled up through the waves, threatening to capsize the skiff. Thor guided the skiff into the air, then flew around to get a better look.

“Yeah I see it. And I can see why a giant serpent could cause one or two problems,” said Steve, dryly, peering over the edge for another glimpse of the monster. The serpent looked to be about the length of a football field. It whipped its tail, causing a big wave that splashed over them, even while in the air.

Fairy tales, Steve thought. He was living in a world of fairy tales, with magic princes and sea monsters and giant wolves and flying horses.

“Isn’t it magnificent?” asked Thor, hanging over the edge, starry-eyed.

“If it’s causing problems, don’t you think we better do something about it?”

Thor sighed, returning to the rudder. He pulled Steve toward him, pointing the skiff back in the correct direction. “Yes, probably. You’re right of course. After our honeymoon, I’ll speak with the captain of the fisherman’s guild.”

Steve knew Thor didn’t like interfering with the native creatures of the planet, preferring to live in harmony with them. But it wasn’t always possible. He would find a way, Steve had no doubt.

Besides the serpent, they also saw pods of dolphin-like creatures and many schools of fish. It seemed the ocean was bursting with life.

A bay on one of the beaches along the coast had been selected for them. It offered total seclusion, with white sandy beaches, an open air cabana-like bungalow, facilities to do their own cooking, twisty fern-like trees for shade, and enough honey mead to last the remaining three weeks of their honeymoon and then some. It was a stunning place. Rough choppy waves came in from the ocean, enough to make swimming in the bay interesting, the sound of the waves instantly calming. Steve felt the tension of the last few weeks melt away.

They spent most of the first couple of days horizontal, whether in their bungalow, on the sand, or in the surf. It took no time at all for Thor to strip naked, and Steve soon followed. Clothing felt restrictive and unnecessary, and they didn’t bother to wear any. If they were not completely alone, the locals that came to replenish their fresh food and take their dirty linens did so unseen. The weather reminded Steve of Africa. Of the Seychelles, neither too wet nor too dry, with rain in the early mornings, hot sunshine in the afternoons, and sultry salty evenings.

The Magic Asgardian Lube allowed for frictionless coupling in water. They spent hours in the ocean, not only having sex but also swimming and playing, sometimes wrestling, sometimes even taking the skiff out further to catch another glimpse of the magnificent sea serpent. Instead, they caught the attention of the dolphin-like creatures, curious enough to follow them into the bay. Much like the Asgardian wolves, they didn’t much resemble their Earth counterparts and were about three times the size, but they appeared mammalian and friendly.

Steve lounged under an awning on one of the large chaise-like chairs on the beach, lazily watching Thor frolic with their dolphin visitors. Thor kept trying to mount one like he would a horse, but the dolphin tossed him into the waves. After several tries, he managed a flapping haphazard ride around the bay lasting three minutes before he was thrown in the air, cannonballing into the water with a big splash and a hearty yell. Both Steve and the dolphins laughed at him.

Having enough sport for the time being, Thor strode out of the water and onto the beach, highly pleased with himself. The sight of him, gloriously naked except for the chain necklace, with water dripping from his hair, glistening on his sun-darkened skin, took Steve’s breath away. They had both turned a peanut-like color under so much sun.

“Success,” crowed Thor, out of breath and grinning down at Steve with his hands on his hips, which only brought Steve’s attention to Thor’s long, wet, cock, sea water dripping from the tip.

“Made friends yet?” asked Steve, his arousal sudden and sharp. With no way to hide it, Steve widened his legs. Thor’s eyes dropped.

“I believe so,” said Thor, stepping closer. “My thinking is, that perhaps with help from our dolphin friends, we may find a more peaceful resolution with the sea serpents. It’s worth a try anyway.”

“Hm,” said Steve, sitting up. Thor had come close enough that Steve could position him between his legs. “Always the king, huh. Working on solutions.”

“I’m sorry,” said Thor, squeezing Steve’s shoulder. “I know I said I’d wait till after the honeymoon.”

“No, no,” said Steve, sliding his hands up Thor’s firm wet thighs. He took a good look at Thor’s cock hanging directly in front of him. It made his mouth water. “Are you kidding? I find it… stimulating. Watching you in action, doing king things,” He looked up, asking permission with his eyes. “Totally gets my motor running.”

“Oh,” said Thor, his eyes darkening. “It does, does it?”

Steve nodded, holding Thor’s gaze as he licked, tasting salty seawater. Thor hardened in his mouth, and Steve made a humming noise of appreciation deep in his throat, searching for every trace of salt, worshiping the shaft, catching each drop.

Breathing hard but steadily, Thor took hold of Steve’s head, thrusting gently. Steve looked up again, wanting to witness the moment Thor came. He gripped Thor’s hips, relaxed his throat, urging him on. He begged for it with his eyes, with his moans, until Thor curled in around him, knees buckling, losing his balance as he came. Thor’s moans buzzed down Steve’s spine. He swallowed everything and Thor collapsed onto the chaise.

His blood up, Steve pushed a drowsy Thor onto his back and spread his legs. “Want more,” he said, as he feasted, tasting the salt off Thor’s skin. A strong wind blew above their heads, causing leaves to fall as a light rain started.

Grabbing the lube, Steve lined up behind Thor, on their sides. He knew what Thor wanted from this position: the direct pressure, the constant stimulation. Steve pushed in until he could go no further, wrapping both arms around Thor. He whispered how much he loved him.

Thor turned his head so Steve could kiss his cheek. Gasping with relief, Thor thrust into Steve’s hand. They lost the rhythm. Steve went faster but keeping the angle, pressing his face into the back of Thor’s neck, inhaling his smell. He stroked Thor until they both came, shuddering. Electricity burst free. Steve’s muscles twitched with it. Pleasure contracted around his spine, honey-rich and tingling. The last few spasms trailed off until they lay still. His cock was still hard, but they were both sleepy now, and they could go again in a few minutes if they wanted to.

“My king and husband,” said Steve, rolling closer so he could bury his nose in Thor’s sea damp hair again, licking the taste of salt from his neck.

They shared lazy kisses until they fell asleep. In a little while they might have sex again, then maybe they would eat, making sure to drink the honey mead as tradition demanded. Then a bath – either in the ocean or more properly in the large tub that came with the bungalow. Then at night, Steve would lie in Thor’s arms, his head on his chest, and they would talk and laugh and maybe sleep in-between lovemaking.

He had thought the honey mead a quaint tradition, but he wasn’t so certain now. Every day that they drank it together, he felt their marriage bond renew again, strengthening as it deepened.

Returning to polite society was going to be a rough transition. They had both gotten used to the liberty of their little paradise, the freedom to do as they pleased, go about naked, having sex whenever they wanted. Which was frequent and often. To the point where Steve wondered how they would manage when they couldn’t drop everything to have sex whenever the mood struck. Thor’s answer to that was, “I am king. I can do what I want.” Which just made Steve laugh at him.

In the last few days of their honeymoon, Steve joined Thor in his quest to befriend the dolphins. He got tossed and thrown and dunked, spending time in the ocean with Thor. It made his heart glad. They never did tame the dolphins but they did form a bond with them, and, as a last wedding gift, they rode dolphin-back at top speed through the undulating waves, whooping with delight.

 

The Fourth Binding

It rained for the three days before the wedding, and forecasts predicted rain for the week after, but marrying a weather god had its perks, and one of them was that on the Friday Captain Steven Grant Rogers married King Thor, God of Thunder, Son of Odin, the skies above Brooklyn were the prettiest bluebell color, decorated with a fluffy cloud or two, and the temperature was a perfect 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Steve couldn’t understand why he was so nervous. They were married already! And had been for a few months now. This should be a walk in the park. But, as he waited in the church lobby, his hands began to get clammy with sweat, and he felt constriction in his chest.

He paced. The official Avengers’ photographer attempted to discreetly take photographs, but only managed to be more underfoot, and he paled when it looked like Steve was going to smash his camera drones. “I’ll go take photos of the other groom,” he said hastily, he and his drones vanishing into the church.

“Steve,” said Amanda, calmly.

“Sorry,” he muttered. He fiddled with his tie for the hundredth time. His dress uniform had never been so uncomfortable before. It was weird being back in the lobby of his mother’s church. It looked quite different from what it had been like when he was a kid, but some things were the same, and the memories were attacking him left, right and center.

“You look handsome,” said Amanda, taking hold of his hand and bringing it back down to his side so he would stop messing up his uniform. She smiled, passing a hand over his medals, centering his tie again.

King Anathi, their ring bearer, tugged on Steve’s suit jacket. “We can always tell everyone to go home,” he said with a serious frown, but then couldn’t hold back his teasing laughter, pleased with himself. His younger sister, and their flower girl, Princess Ahkona, tried kicking Anathi. “Aiii,” said the boy, lunging for her.

“Oh, no, you two,” said Steve, catching the boy as Amanda held back Ahkona from kicking her brother a second time.

The rehearsal the day before had gone smoothly, but the rehearsal dinner had descended into chaos. They had bought out a restaurant for the night, thinking that would ensure some privacy at least. But an intrepid paparazzo had crashed through a ceiling vent right in the middle of the toasts. The Dora Milaje, there to protect their young king, had almost stabbed the unfortunate fellow repeatedly, but M’Belo stopped them just in time. This, after Anathi had begged and begged – he was only ten years old – to attend, despite the security measures placed around him in the wake of his mother’s death. In addition, Barton and Amanda were not speaking to each other, making it personally very awkward for Steve.

Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, just as they resumed the toasts and everyone started eating again, two of the wait staff rushed in to say there was an attack in downtown New York – something about a faction of the Hand and a lot of run-amok zombies threatening Wall Street. SHIELD put the call out for the Avengers. Steve and Thor had looked at each other, shrugged, and joined them.

“Is Earth always like this?” asked Valkyrie, fighting three zombies at the same time. The redheaded sisters, Gunnvor and Freya, were right beside her. Thankfully, the rain had stopped in time for the fighting.

“Pretty much,” said Thor, before he rose into the air with Stormbreaker, coming down in a shower of lightning, knocking over the next wave of zombies.

“Oh, now wait a minute. That’s not true. It’s usually robots,” said Steve. “Hordes of undead are a new thing.” He sent Starborn out to mow down what zombie stragglers Thor had missed.

“Once you’ve seen one undead army, you’ve seen them all,” said Valkyrie, bemused, slicing through a zombie with her dragonfang sword.

They’d stopped the attack before the night got too old, but there was no chance for the rehearsal dinner to resume. Amanda had borne the disruption of her carefully laid plans with only minor annoyance, pale with worry over everyone’s safety. When they’d reconvened at headquarters, Steve had hoped the attack would help patch things up between her and Barton, but they’d both only stared at each other, neither making the first move, before Barton’s face darkened and he went to his quarters.

Watching Amanda now with Akhona, Steve saw the strain she carried in her shoulders, and the exhaustion in her face. Organizing this wedding couldn’t have been easy, especially with him absent for most of it, on top of whatever was going on with her and Barton.

“Amanda,” he said. He glanced at his watch and saw they still had an entire ten minutes before it was time for him to walk down the aisle. She looked up from fixing Akhona’s dress -- a traditional Wakandan ceremonial outfit the girl kept tugging off. “Do you want to talk about it?”

For a second Amanda had the exact same expression Peggy Carter had when she’d shot at Steve. He almost called Starborn so he could duck behind it. Then, she rolled her eyes, her hand on her hip. “It’s your wedding day, Uncle Steve. We can discuss my personal problems another day.”

“I know, I just…want to make sure you’re okay.” He frowned at her. “Do I need to beat up Shane? ‘Cause I will.”

She laughed, her brown eyes merry. Her laugh was Sharon’s laugh all over again. “Don’t tempt me. No. Just… You should have warned me about dating superheroes.”

He made a face, wrinkled his nose. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Well. Jaina did warn me. So, I have no one to blame but myself,” she sighed.

Whether to excuse himself from her company, or because there was a real need, Barton, Jack, and M’Belo were outside managing the press. They didn’t want a repeat of the rehearsal dinner.

The young king and princess, bored with the adults talking, went back to squabbling with each other. The Dora in charge of their safety, dressed in a sleek black dress with customary neck rings, scolded the siblings in Xhosa. The king looked chastened but mutinous. The princess stuck her tongue out at him. The adults all grinned at each other.

Then, without warning – Steve had thought there would be a warning – the music changed, signaling it was time for the ceremony to begin.

“Oh, damn,” said Steve, the ends of his fingers going numb. “This is it.”

He, Thor, and Amanda had debated how to do this. Should Thor and Steve walk each other down the aisle? Should it just be Steve? Or Thor by himself? Should they come in from opposite ends, meeting at the center? Should they both enter from side doors instead? Did they want someone to give them away?

Thor had pursed his lips, and narrowed his eyes. “I quite like the idea of you walking down the aisle,” he said.

“You do?” asked Steve, surprised. Since they’d walked the processional together on Asgard, he assumed they’d do the same on Earth as well.

“Yes,” said Thor. “I like the look of you. I like to watch you walking toward me.”

Steve’s face flushed hot and he stared at Thor opened mouth until he remembered that Amanda was with them. She snickered. “Shall I write that down? ‘Steve walks down the aisle.’”

“Uhhh,” swallowed Steve, remembering how to speak. “That’s a yes. But not to ‘Here Comes the Bride’ please.”

“Okay, sure. What would you like instead?”

He thought for a moment, but it wasn’t a struggle. The perfect song popped right into his mind, as if Bucky was sitting beside him and had suggested it. “‘Stardust.’ It was Bucky’s favorite song when we were younger, because he was a big sap,” he said, with a smile.

It hit Steve then, what it meant to have this wedding in Brooklyn. It washed over him, the years that had passed, leading him to this moment. Suddenly, he was a skinny little kid again, trying to catch up to Bucky on the playground. He looked up and saw Thor watching him. He hadn’t stopped watching Steve the entire time while Amanda busied herself typing notes into her tablet. When Steve finally took notice, Thor smiled very gently, and took Steve’s hand, raising it to his lips.

With the music change, Steve panicked, looking for Barton or Jack or M’Belo. Were they ready? Shouldn’t someone have checked with them before the music change? Akhona would be the first in the processional, but the others needed to be there or things would start to fall apart and everything would be out of order. Amanda rested her hand on Steve’s arm and squeezed, before raising her wristwatch so she could speak into it. “Show time, boys. Get in here.”

Two seconds later, Barton entered, followed by Jack Murray and M’Belo. Steve let go the pent up breath he’d been holding, so very glad to see them.

“Hey, if it isn’t the original shield boy himself,” said Barton, cracking a grin. “Miss me? You shitting bricks yet?”

Steve laughed, slightly hysterical. “Why’d I ask you to be my best man again?” But he gratefully accepted the good-natured ribbing, the slaps on his back and overly-strong handshakes.

Amanda gently but firmly guided Akhona to the doors leading to the church, handing her the basket of flowers. “My turn?” asked Akhona, brightly.

“Yes, finally. Your turn,” said Amanda. “You know what to do.”

Very self-possessed for only six years old, Akhona nodded firmly, then proceeded to walk down the aisle, throwing flower petals and waving at everyone.

“All right, you two. You’re up next.” Amanda positioned Jack and M’Belo together, pushing them to the threshold, but they kept stepping away, searching for a shiny surface in which they could check their appearance. “You’re both very dashing in your twin suits. Now stop that.”

Barton laughed, but when Amanda looked at him he dropped his eyes, and the lobby was filled with another strained silence.

Because they couldn’t see down to the end of their aisle, Amanda’s wristwatch chirped to warn them it was time for Jack and M’Belo to start. She pushed them forward.

When she turned to Anathi, the young king held up his hand, very dignified, and moved into position himself, carefully holding the Jabari wood box that contained the two rings. “I know what I am supposed to do,” said the king.

“Very well, your highness,” answered Amanda, trying to hide her smile.

Rather then taking their rings off only to put them back on again – and Steve suspected the uru rings wouldn’t be coming off easily anyway – and not wanting to skip that part of the ceremony, they had opted for two new additional rings, made of vibranium, and designed with a braided pattern: one thread represented Steve, one thread for Thor, and one thread for their union together.

Anathi listened very attentively for his cue. When Amanda’s wristwatch chirped again, he stood straight and took one big step down the aisle, then another, then another. Underneath the organ music, Steve could hear the crowd murmuring to each other, standing up so they could get a good look at the king. The wedding was Anathi’s world debut, his first public appearance as King of Wakanda. The Dora stepped out as well, but remained on the outside aisle, never taking her eyes off her young charge.

Finally, it was time. Steve stood in the center between Amanda on his right and Barton on his left, taking both of their hands in his. They stood back from the threshold.

“I just want to say,” started Steve, looking first at Amanda, and then at Barton. “Returning to Earth after so many years, leaving it the way I did. I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t you two, any of you. You’ve both given me back something I thought I’d lost completely. Thank you. You mean the world to me.”

Amanda’s eyes watered, and she turned her head away from him. He squeezed her hand. Barton frowned, his eyes overly bright.

“It may seem like I don’t have the right to say this, but life is short. Take it from me. We have what we have when we have it. Don’t forget that.”

Neither of them would look at him. Steve wondered if he’d overstepped. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said anything.

The wristwatch chirped. Taking a deep breath, Amanda whispered into her watch, and the music stopped. There was a brief moment before the church pianist received her cue, and the first few chords of “Stardust” started.

Steve squeezed their hands one more time, then walked forward. The church wasn’t that long, and as soon as he entered it properly, his eyes landed on Thor standing at the other end, waiting for him. He felt the spark when their eyes met. But no one prepared him for the sight of Thor in a dark, charcoal suit, accented with a red wine tie. He had assumed Thor would be in his armor. Instead, he wore a three-piece suit. Steve’s vision narrowed down to Thor on one end and him on the other.

Later, he wouldn’t be able to recall any part of that walk, not a single moment of it. All he could remember was the way Thor looked, and how long it took to reach him.

“Hi,” he said when he finally arrived at the alter, happy once he was holding Thor’s hands in his, sliding his fingers to his wrists.

“Hello,” answered Thor. “Good call, on you walking down the aisle.”

“Yeah?” said Steve. He swallowed. “I missed you.”

Thor broke out in the widest, most beautiful smile. They took a step closer, Steve tilting his head for a kiss. But a hand stopped them.

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” said the priest, smiling with a pair of twinkling eyes.

Steve blinked, and he came back to his senses, remembering where they were, and what they were doing. Their guests burst into laughter. Valkyrie, standing behind Thor with Jaina, Freya, and Gunnvor beside her, rolled her eyes and turned to Jaina. “Honestly. This is what I have to put up with. All the time.”

He glanced behind him, and saw Amanda laugh-crying, trying to save her mascara. Barton also had tears in his eyes, while M’Belo and Jack nodded in approval.

“Sorry,” he said to the priest, then waved at his guests, mouthing the word, “whoops,” causing more laughter.

“Perfectly understandable,” said the priest. “But perhaps we should begin.”

“By all means,” said Thor, in that kingly magnanimous way of his, like he was doing the priest a favor by agreeing. He winked at the wedding guests before he locked eyes with Steve, raising his hand to his lips for a kiss. Steve flushed. His skin tingled all the way down to his knees. Their audience audibly sighed. “Let’s get married. Again.”

~~

The reception started to wind down by ten in the evening. They had taken over the entire first floor of the Avengers’ main building in the compound. Decorations transformed the place. He’d specifically asked for no Captain America paraphernalia anywhere, and instead there were tasteful flower arrangements, keeping to the colors of navy blue and red. The theme was very understated, just as he desired.

Steve headed for the bar and asked for a beer, then couldn’t help but look down at his right hand to see the two rings nestled together on his ring finger. He had a rare moment alone, with no one wanting to speak with him, and the bartender left him in peace. He leaned against the bar, and surveyed the room.

Barton and Amanda sat at a far table, by themselves. She was wearing Barton’s suit jacket, to ward off the chill. Steve couldn’t determine how things were going between them, but the fact that they were actually speaking seemed hopeful. He knew it would be tough, whether they stuck it out together or not, but there seemed something of destiny to the pairing. Amanda had Captain America woven in and around her family tree three times over, four if you count Steve twice, and there was a kind of kismet to it: Captain America finally gets his girl.

Amanda rose from their table, heading for the restrooms. Spotting Steve watching him, Barton came over. He ordered his own beer, and they clinked bottles. “How’s it going?” asked Steve.

Barton shrugged, but smiled. “Hey, I wanted to thank you,” he said, making that face he did when he wanted to talk about something serious. “I know I could have been a better best man.”

“What are you talking about?” said Steve, frowning.

“Yeah, you know. I’m supposed to be the one supporting you, not the other way around.”

Steve shook his head. “You did. You absolutely did. You were the best best man,” he grinned. “Wouldn’t want anyone else for the job. Besides,” he gripped Barton’s shoulder. “Look, you should know, I owe your great grandfather a lot. More than I can ever say. He’d be pretty damned proud of you right now. And so am I. But you, you’re my friend. All right?”

“Aw come on, do you gotta keep making me cry?” said Barton, shaking his head. “You’re ruining my macho image. Would you quit doing that?”

“Sorry,” said Steve, but he wasn’t very sorry. He pulled Barton in for a hug, holding on for a beat longer. We have what we have when we have it, he thought.

“Is this goodbye?” asked Barton, as they parted.

“Oh. For right now, it will be. Don’t worry. You haven’t seen the last of me.” Steve had long since realized he could never part ways from Earth permanently, no matter the personal heartbreak it would always cause him. Earth was like that barely tamed land on Asgard 2.0, constantly threatening to revert back to its wild natural state if someone wasn’t there to prune it and pull out the weeds. For better or worse, he was Earth’s custodian, for as long as he lived. But he shared that burden with Thor now. And he didn’t belong entirely to Earth anymore. “I couldn’t quit this place if I tried.”

Barton snorted. Amanda returned from the restrooms, searching for Barton. Steve pointed her out to him.

“Go,” he said. “Better not keep her waiting.”

Wiping his eyes, he nodded, and then joined Amanda. Amanda looked at Steve a little worried, but Steve shook his head, making an, “All good,” expression. He saw them walk off together, probably heading outside to get some air.

His eyes next fell on the riotous group from Asgard – Valkyrie and her crew plus Jaina – entertaining the Dora Milaje. Now that’s a sight to behold, he thought. Little Akhona was fast asleep in Jaina’s arms. He kept forgetting how close Jaina had been to their mother, the Queen, and to their other parent, Buhle, who had died not long after Akhona was born. The two royal siblings were orphans now, but they had their entire country raising them. Steve sincerely hoped Valkyrie wasn’t going to try to out drink the Dora Milaje, or try to outfight them. But, the longer he watched, the more he saw two different groups of women coming together, sharing stories. They had so much in common: they both served their kingdoms.

Thoughts of kings made him seek out Thor, and he found him deep in conversation with Anathi – the two kings together, perhaps advising each other. Thor had taken off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. Steve could see how his vest strained across his chest, and the way the suit pants fit over Thor’s powerful thighs and legs. It did things to Steve, observing his husband.

Eventually, one of the Dora Milajie called out to Anathi in Xhosa, and though he protested, he did not fight too hard when it was time to go to bed. The Wakandans were guests of the Avengers for the night.

“Say goodbye, little brother,” said Thor. “I won’t be seeing you in the morning.”

Anathi sighed, flapping his arms to his side in protest. “You will visit me, won’t you?”

Thor smiled, touching the boy’s cheek. “Absolutely. I shall be in need of your sage council. Off with you now. Time for bed.”

They hugged, then Anathi waved to everyone else before he took the Dora’s hand, and willingly heading for their rooms.

Thor sat pensively watching the boy’s receding back. He seemed lost in thought, and Steve was almost sad to disturb him. Almost. Thor, he thought, calling to him with his mind.

Shifting in his seat, Thor straightened, then turned to search for him, smiling when their eyes met. He stood with languid strength, looking sinful in that suit, and walked toward him with a slow commanding attention. They kissed, then kissed again, Steve’s fingers slipping underneath Thor’s vest.

“Hm,” said Thor as they parted. “What do humans say? My place or yours?”

Steve laughed, grabbing a handful of shirt. “Definitely yours. Would you start on the goodbyes? And gather up our Valkyrie? By the way, we might have adopted Jaina. I’m not sure. I have to get a few things from my rooms.”

“All right. Hurry back,” said Thor, kissing Steve one last time. Steve watched as Thor and Valkyrie spoke quietly before they began saying their goodbyes. He slipped away before anyone could stop him.

When he left Earth the last time, he had left with little more than the clothes on his back. He hadn’t taken any mementos, no photographs, nothing. This time however, he wanted to do things differently. He still felt that his possessions – everything he had owned as Captain America and as Steve Rogers – should remain on Earth. They belonged to that part of his life, they were part of that story, and it was a human story. But, and he spared a thought for Lady Eir, sitting in her cozy rooms far away on Asgard, he didn’t mind taking duplicates.

In his room he found the flat box waiting for him. It held various reproductions of different photographs: his parent’s wedding picture, a picture of him and Bucky aged twelve, a picture of Peggy Carter and him during the war, another of just Peggy, and another of him and Bucky and the Howling Commandos, one of him and Natasha together during their SHIELD days, one of Natasha and Clint taken during their ill-fated undercover mission in Mexico, a lovely photo of Wanda with Vision sitting near her, looking at her with rapt attention, a picture of Sharon with her children, one of a grown up Margaret Carter Klein in her Captain America uniform, a solo picture of Bruce, T’Challa and Shuri and M’Baku, another of the three Captains America standing together in their uniform, two of Sam and him – one taken shortly after they met, and the other taken during their final summer together, a group shot of all six original Avengers and Rhodey in Avengers Tower, one of him and Tony – Tony was mock strangling him but they were both laughing – and finally, one of him and Bucky taken in their apartment. To this, he added photos of him with Jaina and Barton and Jack, one of M’Belo with little Anathi and Akhona, and finally, a picture of Amanda.

He put Starborn on his arm, and carried the box out to the atrium, joining Thor in saying their final goodbyes. Eventually, they made it outside.

“Wait,” called Amanda hurrying toward them from the building with Barton not far behind. “I have a gift for you,” she said, running with a flat package.

“What?” said Steve. “I said no gifts.”

“I know, I know.” She waved her hand in dismissal. “Too bad. Open it, before you go.”

He looked at Thor, who shrugged, and together they tore the packaging paper. It was a framed photograph. He got a closer look and realized, no, actually, it was two photographs, framed together, side-by-side. The photograph on the left was taken on Asgard. It was a picture of him and Thor as they stood before Eir, right after they had exchanged rings. The photographer, whoever it was, had managed to get everyone in the shot, even the wolf. The other photograph was taken just that morning. It was a shot of Steve and Thor holding hands as they ran under the archway created by the Valkyrie holding their swords aloft, while everyone threw rice at them.

“Wow, thank you,” said Steve. Of course Amanda knew exactly what gift to give. “This is perfect.”

“There are a ton more pictures, you know. I’ll put an album together for you, for when you come next,” she added, holding back tears.

“I look forward to it,” he said. He pulled her in for one last hug.

Thor kissed her cheek, then shook Barton’s hand. Finally, he and Thor and the other Valkyrie, stood apart from everyone else. It seemed Jaina would not be going with them after all, as she remained by Barton’s other side.

Steve looked at all the familiar faces. He would miss them, but he was eager to go home.

Thor raised Stormbreaker into the air. “Till next time,” he said, and then the Bifrost lit up the night sky, and hurled them across time and space to safely land back on Asgard.

 

The Fifth Binding

Quiet, hushed tones ruled the Healing Room, causing every small sound to amplify tenfold. They waited in a smaller room provided for their comfort. Steve sat on a cushioned chair while Thor paced back and forth. Sometimes they traded places – Thor sat for a while, a leg jiggling impatiently, while Steve wandered around. There wasn’t much in the room to distract him, and its bare walls only served to bring focus on his unsettled energy: pinpricks of anxiety, a pressure in his chest ready to explode.

When they’d received word that morning as they were eating that Gunnvor had entered confinement, Thor had jumped up with a burst of electricity and lightning, breaking all glassware and tumbling the furniture. After, Thor seemed a little embarrassed.

“Well. It’s not every day you’re about to become a father,” said Steve, glad he could focus on Thor and not himself. After he said the words though, he felt their truth hit him. Color drained from Thor’s face, and they both stared at each other before laughing, hurrying to the Healing Room.

As they waited, Steve wandered back over to sit beside Thor, taking his right hand in his, playing with the rings on his finger. Over the years, their wedding rings had interacted with each other, the two different types of metals reacting in unpredictable ways. The result was a single fused ring. What had been two was now one, though Steve could still see the seam between the vibranium ring and the uru ring.

They had waited a long time before going to see Lady Eir. On Earth, close to twenty years had passed. He’d returned several times, as promised, though each time grew more bittersweet than the last. He had been unable to prevent Jack Murray’s death, and that pained him, but there had been joyous events, too. Jaina, now know as the Valkyrie, remained an Avenger, the only one of the four who’d come to Asgard to last in service that long. Steve had been Shane Barton’s best man when he married Amanda. After a couple of close calls, Barton retired. He and Amanda now had two kids, already past teenhood. M’Belo also retired after handing the mantle of the Black Panther to King Anathi. M’Belo married a Jabari warrior, and they had a large brood of children that liked to sit at his feet and make him laugh.

Both Thor and Steve returned for the wedding of King Anathi to a daughter of the Border Tribe. They had spent a month in Wakanda, leaving the management of Asgard to Valkyrie. It was there, as they traveled the rivers and the waterways with King Anathi’s entourage in celebration of his marriage, that Thor had asked him.

“How would it be done?” asked Steve, both surprised and excited and… he couldn’t name the emotion he felt. It was like a pulse of energy inside him that had possibly been there all along but he was just now noticing it.

“We would first see the Lady Eir. I believe the process is not difficult. There should be no problem as we are compatible. But—” Thor paused, frowning. He took Steve by the waist and brought him closer. “But we should only do this if it is something you want as well.”

“I…” Steve struggled to put order to his jumbled, unformed thoughts. They were like the churning currents of the river they traveled on – never still, always moving, difficult to catch. Their barge gently collided with the back of King Anathi’s barge. All around them, festivities continued in honor of his marriage. Steve felt disconnected to the noise and chaos.

Obviously, the question of who would succeed Thor to the throne of Asgard was an important one, though he and Thor had never seriously discussed it. But, Thor wasn’t asking him as a monarch. He was asking as a husband. As partners. Did they want kids? There was so much to consider. So much to take into account.

As a young man, prior to the serum, Steve had little hope he would ever find a partner, let alone one that would want to settle down with him and have kids. It was a quiet pain, thinking it would likely never happen for him. But he was inclined not to dwell on what may or may not be. Then, there was Erskine, and the war, and everything changed. He and Peggy had such a short time together, barely enough time to dream of such things. When he woke in 2012, the world topsy turvy, aliens invading New York, SHIELD masking Hydra, time was against him then too, and there were so many more important things. Or so he thought. He traded in marriage and family for the shield. It seemed fighting was what he was best suited for. And then, during the difficult years following the Snap, he was in no frame of mind to even consider it. As he had done when he was younger, he quietly laid aside such dreams.

He hadn’t realized how deeply buried that dream was until now. His vision blurred, his throat hurt. Thor murmured to him softly with a worried frown. “Why do you cry?”

Steve shook his head, sniffling, annoyed at his tears. He found his voice. “Yeah,” he said, kissing Thor, kissing him where that crease grew between his eyebrows. Thor kept looking confused. “Yes. I want to have kids. With you.”

It took a moment for it to sink in. Thor’s smile spread until he lifted Steve up in his arms and swung him around with a thunderous whoop of delight, rocking their barge dangerously. The Wakandans, even the king and his new bride, all turned to look at them, and there was a long awkward moment with only the sound of the noisy river, until everyone cheered again and the celebrations continued.

They returned to Asgard at once, and wasted no time seeking Lady Eir. Over tea in her chambers, she sat in her chair and studied them for so long Steve started to squirm. Thor struggled with his tea, which he didn’t like much but was too polite with Eir to refuse. Steve tried not to laugh at him while Eir kept her inscrutable attention on them both.

“I see,” she said, setting her teacup down. She took Thor’s teacup from him as well, then softened ever so slightly, placing her hand over his. “Finally. We were all wondering what was taking you so long.”

To Steve’s complete surprise, Gunnvor volunteered to be their surrogate. She was the quiet sister, compared to Freya who was as loud and as brash as Valkyrie. Gunnvor had a knack with all animals, big and small. She tamed her winged horse first, out of all the Valkyrie. If one spent any time with Gunnvor in the forest, inevitably she would find little creatures and tuck them away in her pockets only to bring them out in the middle of dinner to try and feed them a piece of bread. But, in contrast to this, she could be vicious in battle.

“Really, you would do that for us?” asked Steve. As soon as Thor confided their plans to Valkyrie, not a day later all of them had come barging into the palace and into Steve and Thor’s rooms. Luckily, Steve and Thor were dressed at the time.

“Yes,” said Gunnvor, like it was no big thing, with her dark bright eyes reminding Steve of a clever bird. “I like babies.”

Valkyrie rolled her eyes. “Look, don’t make it a bigger deal than it is, all right. This is something all Valkyries do for one another. On occasion, when one can’t bear a child for whatever reason, a sister will do it for her. And since your majesty is an honorary Valkyrie…” she added the last almost under her breath, a bit squirrely, not looking at either of them.

Thor sat straight up. “Wait. What? Did you say? Did I hear you correctly?” he demanded.

“Oh what?” asked Valkyrie, trying for an offhand tone. “Did I forget to mention that to you? Whoops.” Thor swelled like a bellow. “Yes, all right, wanker,” she said quickly, before he blew his top. “You’re one of us. Just accept it already.”

Completely speechless, Thor turned purple trying to contain his excitement. Steve thought he seemed more excited about being an honorary Valkyrie than of the prospect of becoming a father. He teased him about it later when they got into bed.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Thor, still struggling with his words. “The Valkyrie have never… It’s unheard of.”

Steve smiled. It was endearing seeing Thor so stunned. “I suspect it’s as rare as the person they bestowed the honor on,” he said, passing his hand over Thor’s face and hair. Thor turned purple again, pulling Steve in for one of his bone crushing hugs.

“Our child will be fortunate, I think,” said Thor.

“Yeah,” said Steve.

The light tread of shoes on the stone pavement of the Healing Room signaled someone approaching. Both Steve and Thor turned toward the door. Lady Eir entered, took one look at their faces, and raised a hand before either could speak. “All is well,” she said, and Steve felt faint with relief. “Please breathe, your majesties.”

“How is she?” asked Thor, who didn’t look like he’d obeyed her.

“More than ready,” said Eir, with a hint of a smirk. “She has said you both may enter the birthing room, if you like. If you would like to witness the birth of your firstborn.”

Steve and Thor looked at Eir, then looked at each other, then at Eir again. Steve had heard her words, but was having trouble processing them.

“Am I to assume that’s a yes?” she teased. “Come with me, please.”

She didn’t wait to see if they followed.

Because she knew Steve would want to know, when they had first come to her, Eir had explained some of what the process would entail. “We take genetic samples from both parents, and, depending on what is needed, either create an ovum, or seminal fluid, or both, as the case may be. We do this with the Soul Forge, which can transfer and manipulate molecular energy.”

She’d gone on to explain that the best way would be for Thor and Steve to lie on the Forge itself – and Steve gathered, blushing furiously, that she meant “lie” in the biblical sense. “That way, the bond between you and his majesty, the blessing of your union, will also be harnessed.”

“You mean the, um, Soul Forge can add our feelings for each other into the baby? It takes everything?”

Her eyes glittered, and she looked surprised for a moment. “Yes. The Soul Forge takes everything.”

Steve had been very self-conscious lying on the hard surface of the Soul Forge with Thor. Eir had assured him it was perfectly normal, and that no one was watching. It was entirely private. The process didn’t require monitoring because the Forge did all the work.

Even so, it was not exactly a situation he found arousing at all.

“It’s fine, just like this,” said Thor. They were both naked except for their vibranium chain necklaces. Thor was on his side, elbow bent, resting his head on his hand and making the best of an awkward situation. The red and gold lights danced around them. “The Forge is working even if this is all we do.”

“I thought we had to, you know,” said Steve, knowing he was blushing all the way down to his knees.

Thor, his face lit up from the light of the Forge, grinned but then shook his head. “It’s not required. Any sort of intimacy will do. Such as this,” and he took Steve’s hand in his, threading their fingers together, kissing each finger and then his wrist, then up his arm, giving Steve goosebumps. The twinkling lights floated around them. “And this.” He leaned in to kiss Steve, their lips touching gently.

“Hm,” said Steve. “How about this?” He kissed Thor’s neck. Thor rumbled approvingly.

He could do this, thought Steve, proceeding to kiss along Thor’s collarbone.

Though the Forge wasn’t the most comfortable of beds, they shifted so Steve could lie with his head resting on Thor’s shoulder, their legs entwined, holding hands and playing with their wedding rings. “Did I ever tell you the story of the time I sneaked into the Healing Room to see what went on in here?”

Steve laughed. “Let me guess. Loki put you up to it. More and more I wonder who the true mischief maker was between you.”

Thor pulled away to look at him. “Clearly, it was him!” But there was no heat to his words. Instead, his eyes shone with humor. “He did indeed trick me. He had been speaking of it for days, dropping hints, driving me mad with curiosity. He tricked me into doing it.”

“That’s a convenient excuse,” said Steve, moving to lie more fully on top of Thor. “I’m sure you knew better.”

Thor chuckled. Laughing while Steve was draped over him meant they both shook with humor, causing more laughter. “Yes. My mother didn’t believe it either. See, you’re going to make a great parent,” said Thor, wrapping his arms around Steve, bringing him in for another kiss.

The kiss grew as Steve felt himself harden, thrusting into the warmth and heat they created between them. “Is this all right?” he asked. The lights of the Forge shifted and sparkled and danced. “More?”

“Anything,” answered Thor, grunting as he pressed his cock against Steve’s hipbone. “Anything at all.”

Steve could go either way with this. He both loved taking Thor into his body as much as he loved watching Thor come apart in his hands, loved the lightning blast that inevitably followed. Although maybe that wasn’t appropriate for right now.

He straddled Thor’s hips, looking down at him, too overwhelmed to say the words in his heart, so instead he pressed Thor’s hand against his chest. “Feel me.”

They rocked together, the lights weaving in and out and around. He reached behind to guide Thor into his body, already slick and ready for him. Although arousal had seemed elusive at first, now they were each hungry for it, driven by love and desire. Steve came first, suddenly and without warning, as Thor kissed him, gripping Steve around his waist, holding him tight.

Before they could enter the birthing room, they changed their clothes and walked through a sterilizing force field. Inside, Gunnvor was the center of attention. Freya sat behind her, providing support, while Valkyrie was busy braiding Gunnvor’s red hair.

Gunnvor smiled when she saw them. “Hello, boys,” she said. Valkyrie snorted, barely acknowledging their presence. “This little one is quite ready to join the world, I think.”

They went to her, Thor on one side and Steve on the other. He could see she lay on a modified Soul Forge. There was a fast thrumming noise echoing throughout the chamber, and it took Steve a moment to realize it was the baby’s heartbeat, amplified for all to hear.

Thor was struck dumb, so Steve unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth and managed to speak to Gunnvor. “How are you?” he asked.

She tried to answer, but right then a contraction started. At once, the shimmering red and gold lights lifted up from her body into the space above her belly. Steve could clearly see the womb and the baby snugly tucked inside. Across the lights, he caught sight of Thor, and they looked at each other through the lights of their child. Thor’s face glowed with wonder.

Throughout the pregnancy, they had seen their child grow from a tiny speck of light, getting bigger and bigger every month. They heard her first heartbeats, little more than a flutter of sound. Now that same heartbeat sang clearly, echoing across the chamber.

When the contraction ended, the lights faded. Eir stepped in to examine Gunnvor with her hands, her expression growing distant as she used more traditional means to feel the readiness of both child and birth mother.

“It won’t be long now.” Eir placed one hand on the Gunnvor’s round belly as another contraction started and the lights rose up again. “Ready?” she asked. Whether she was asking Gunnvor, or Steve, or Thor, it wasn’t quite clear.

It took another ten minutes of hard labor. Those ten minutes both stretched on for ages and vanished in a heartbeat. With a final yell, the baby slipped free of Gunnvor. Steve couldn’t see through his tears. Thor kept saying, “She’s here. She’s here,” as he held his slippery, wet, red-faced squalling daughter while Eir guided Steve’s hands to severe the cord.

Barely conscious of the world around them, all their attention on their daughter, another healer gently led both Steve and Thor to an adjacent alcove, while Eir busied herself with Gunnvor and the afterbirth.

The healer laid the baby down on a small Forge, the lights blinking into existence.

“There you go,” crooned the healer. She brought Steve and Thor over, and together with the healer’s guidance, they cleaned their daughter of the birth fluids. The baby yelled her little lungs out as the lights twinkled above her. “Have you a name yet, your majesties?” asked the healer.

“Um,” said Steve, tears continually leaking down his face. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. “Sarah, after my mother.”

Thor also wiped at his eyes. “And Trude, after her fathers.”

They had discussed how to name her. Thor suggested Sarah as a way of honoring both their mothers, since Asgardians tended not to reuse names. Steve thought she should have a name from both cultures. Gunnvor suggested Trude, which meant Strength, in the ancient tongue of Asgard.

“Well then,” said the Healer. She wrapped their daughter loosely in a fresh clean white blanket. With a look at both of them, she indicated they should take a seat on a nearby settee, before carrying the baby over to them. “May I introduce your daughter, Sarah Trude Rogers, Daughter of Thor and Princess of Asgard.”

She placed their daughter into Steve’s arms. Sarah was a tiny weight, still angry about the sudden abruptness of birth, and letting everyone know about it. Thor had his arm around Steve, and they both stared down at their daughter. The tears hadn’t stopped.

Steve let the blanket fall open, so he could see her small arms and legs, and wonder at each tiny perfect fingernail. Thor softly caressed her skin. She began to grow calmer, wanting to nurse. Already strong, she gripped at Steve’s pinky and brought it to her mouth. They would have to give her back to Gunnvor soon, for nursing.

Sarah had silky golden red hair. When she opened her eyes and looked up at her fathers, Steve could see one blue eye, and one brown eye. He felt this new thread wrap around both him and Thor, binding them together more firmly than anything else.

“She’s perfect,” said Steve, marveling at the miracle of her.

Thor kissed Steve’s cheek, then bent to kiss his daughter. “She’s ours.”