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Hidden Talents

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“Captain, are you alright?” Thor’s voice, asking him that question a second time. Because Steve hadn’t answered the first time.

The battle wasn’t going badly per-say, but it certainly wasn’t going as well as it could. Steve knew that soon, if they didn’t find a new angle, they would certainly lose. It didn’t matter how strong their newly-formed team was, how suddenly and unilaterally driven toward a common goal. Coulson’s death would mean nothing if they didn’t find a better method of fighting back these Chitauri.

Steve had never seen anything like it, these swarms of alien creatures filling New York’s skies. Perhaps it was easier to process given that it was just as absurd as the rest of his world. It hadn’t been long at all since waking up surrounded by new technology. Surrounded by a dream. What more was it to this overwhelming tidal-wave of new, to throw fucking aliens into it as well? This was a battlefield anyway. There was no time to get overwhelmed. Steve knew that. The soldier knew that. Knew he had to just fight, protect his new team, the vulnerable citizens teetering on a ledge between lucky survivor and collateral damage. So he fought, slotted everyone into simple categories and didn’t bother too much with the details.

There were those that needed saving and protecting: civilians.

There were those that needed destroying: the Chitauri. Just another army of bad guys. And when Steve imagined them as Hydra goons (albeit wearing strange outfits), this whole thing felt familiar and his calm confidence was easier to keep in place. He was their leader, their Captain. They needed his guidance, and it was his duty to provide it. His absolute privilege.

Which was where the third category arose: those who fought alongside him. People Steve severely hoped he got the chance to get to know better.

Who ever thought I’d be looking forward to making friends with the God of Thunder? Definitely not me. Steve was glad he hadn’t made any more bets with Fury. He could have lost a lot of money.

Thor was at his side now, worry in his eyes despite having just met Steve a day or two ago. It was endearing, how quickly the demi-god had fallen in-step with these lesser humans. To his surprise, it didn’t feel condescending or pitying when Thor regarded him with concern. Steve was used to being the strongest person in the room, the one most able to take hits and keep going. Being next to someone just so... big made him wonder if this was how other people – normal people – sometimes felt around him.

“Captain, are you well?” Thor asked a third time, pausing the fight to close the gap between them and clasp Steve’s arm in one large hand. He was surprisingly gentle, admirably so. That hand had just hurled Mjolnir into an approaching cluster of aliens, giving both men a moment to breathe, and Thor to check up on his injured human team-mate.

Steve jolted himself from his thoughts, realizing he actually had to take a second to decide if he truly was well or not, and so rose the need to pause. It was hard to tell sometimes if he was alright or not, and though his usual response of ‘I’m fine’ was sometimes said as a brave front, often enough he actually had no idea. The serum was incredible, and he never stopped to think too much about how it would handle the injury at hand. That was why he had it, right? So he could take hits for ordinary humans, being more likely to survive oncoming attacks?

Then again, these weren’t ordinary humans fighting at his side.

A pang in his side reminded him to answer Thor’s question, and helped provide an answer. Steve felt compelled to be honest, unsure suddenly if he could hide any suffering worth worrying about from the demi-god. Steve was a terrible liar anyway, and Thor was demonstrating a new level of perceptiveness previous unconsidered.

“I’m...” Steve glanced at his blasted side. The strange alien weapon had torn into his uniform. Battle had quickly faded the bright colors of his new suit. That was fine by him; the whole thing was, as Tony had put it not too long ago, ‘spangly’. It was Kevlar-reinforced, but hadn’t done much to protect him from a blast of energy from alien technology. And it hurt, now that Thor had opened up the chance to contemplate that. “I’ll be alright. It’s not bleeding.” It was more of a burn than a cut.

“Are you certain?” Thor asked, and his persistence was within reason. It had taken three proddings to get anything out of Steve in the first place. Perhaps the demi-god was aware of Steve’s predicament to some degree, being that the soldier was still adjusting to modern life and all. Or maybe Thor was just generally concerned for all these humans facing new threats. Aliens were, well, alien to everyone else on the team too. Steve wasn’t special in that regard.

“We should get back out there,” Steve tightened his grip on his shield, peeling his eyes away from Thor’s captivating stare. Okay, maybe it was still difficult to be honest. He’d never been terribly sensible when it came to owning up to his hurts. Now’s not the time. I can still fight. This is nothing. The same excuses as usual, anything to push his pain away and focus on the task at hand. Anything to convince himself whatever wound troubling him wasn’t any trouble at all. And if he could convince himself, he could convince whoever was worried. If Thor was worried about Steve, he wouldn’t be entirely focused on the fight.

Steve was a strategist. And a bloody good one. He knew it wasn’t good for their team rhythm if Thor had to worry about Steve. Yes, yes, this was for the team. It was just part of his strategy.

Thor didn’t seem convinced, though he nodded once and turned back round to meet Mjolnir with his hand. Not before shooting another glance at Steve’s burned side however.

Steve stole a glance too. It certainly looked nasty, all ragged and seared. He didn’t stop too long to pick out which parts were uniform, and which were flesh. Luckily for him, he didn’t get the chance; another wave attacked with full force. He and Thor lunged right back into battle, where their entire focus had to remain if they were to be victorious.

--

Simply put, Loki was the clever and cunning brother, while Thor was the muscle. Sometimes it was hard to remember that he was observant himself. Perhaps that was why Loki was always several steps ahead, always tricking him, making a fool of him.

Loki was up in the skies somewhere, commanding his new army, likely with glee. Certainly with satisfaction as he destroyed what his brother loved so much. These last few days had been a whirlwind for Thor, god or no. Loki was his brother, and though devious and vengeful, a beloved one. Thor had felt immeasurable pain at the surmised death of Loki. Now, his dear brother was back, alive and well, causing havoc as usual. It hurt Thor to fight his brother like this, especially for something he loved: Earth, and its people.

Was it purely out of resentment for Thor that Loki had attacked Earth? To get to the one who had made him feel inferior and unworthy all his life? Guilt weighed Thor heavily, doubt coursing up from the hand that gripped Mjolnir tightly. Every time he threw the hammer, he wondered for just a moment if it would return to his grip when he called it.

Seeing these humans rally with him had given him new hope, however. Joy. Where once he’d seen them as needing his protection, allowing them to fight his battle simply to grant them autonomy and the right to defend their own world, he now saw unbelievable strength.

Part of him – most of him, actually – had expected them to be barely above a hindrance in this battle, but they were proving themselves mighty. Invaluable. Thor gave himself mere moments to appreciate how wrong he’d been, then shoved it aside in favor of excitement as he joined these warriors in battle. If he dwelled too much on his mistakes, he would be the liability. That just wouldn’t do.

Iron Man sailed over-head, leading a flock of Chitauri around tight bends while the archer fired precise shots into the chaos. Thor had already been impressed by the ingenuity of the billionaire, and his tenacity, during their impromptu brawl not too long ago. The archer he’d never have guessed to be so capable of destruction. Though armed with just a bow and arrows, one of the most primitive of weapons, and hardly armored, the human was causing an immense amount of carefully-planned destruction. He indeed had a hawk’s eye.

The Black Widow was truly terrifying, the way she moved all her limbs at all times to bring down as many adversaries at a time as possible. No movement was wasted. She was a versatile warrior as well, quickly learning how to wield Chitauri weapons and doing so with unfaltering efficiency.

Hulk, of course, was as impressive as they came. Thor was certain he would always marvel at how such a small and mindful human could become that endlessly-powerful monster. A worthy adversary, Thor often thought. Someday he would have his chance to spar playfully with the creature, where he could test his strength again a beast able to withstand the heaviest of blows.

And finally, Steve. A man who was obvious yet mysterious all at once. Steve’s morals were quickly made clear, giving Thor a picture of the man in broad brush strokes. Almost immediately after, though, Thor noted those brush strokes were made up of many colors and patterns and details. Steve was predictable yet surprising. And Thor had only known him for a couple of days.

Well, ‘known’ was a strong word. He barely knew the man’s name. But he trusted him.

Steve’s strength was beyond the others’, too. His endurance was boundless, his attention to detail marvelously useful. The title of Captain was no decoration. Thor did not know, nor understand, all the details by which Steve had become what he was, but he knew that though Captain America had been named somewhat theatrically during trying times, Steve had proven himself deserving of the title. He wasn’t all muscle either. The scepter had gotten to all of them, made them all act unlike themselves. Yet Steve had quickly shown himself to be sharp and capable despite that hindrance, and Thor had forgotten the arguing from the lab in an instant.

Steve was at his side now, fighting without showing signs of slowing, despite the filth of his uniform and the obvious evidence that he’d been tossed around mercilessly. The human had suffered a glancing, yet still agonizing blow from a Chitauri weapon only moments ago, and Thor could see that tough as the human was, the wound hurt. He’d heard pain in the yelp that had alerted him to Steve’s injury in the first place.

They were all waning, fighting with everything they had but threatening to falter as the alien army just kept coming, and coming. Thor wasn’t tiring, but he wasn’t enough on his own to destroy an entire army while also making sure no civilians were injured. He needed this team. Strangely, that felt good. It helped that they needed him too.

Steve needed him right now. Magic enhancements aside, he was only human, and that wound looked nasty. “I’ll be alright.” Either those words were unconvincing, or he simply didn’t know his companion that well. Thor decided to go with his head this time: his brain process the visual information available and offered up that Steve was putting on a brave face. Thor decided to keep an eye on his new friend, just in case. Stay close. They were working well as a team anyway. He could always pass his lingering nearness off as just that.

Thor began to doubt his thoughtful deductions the instant Steve jumped back into battle though, noting the human was just as spry and powerful as before. Actually, the enhanced human had slowed a fraction, but only due to the lengthiness of their battle. Wound or not, there was no preventing that. Still, admirable. Steve was a force to be reckoned with, even with just a round metal shield at his disposal.

No, he has more than that. He has his body, his mind. Steve could easily be brushed off as simply muscle, but that head was just as strong. Every move was calculated at a speed impossible for a normal human. Probably impossible for Thor, too. Perhaps I have found one that can outwit you, Loki.

Just as soon as he and Steve had launched into the next bought, he heard a familiar crackle and a spark of blue. Then, just like that, he was tumbling backward into an abyss of near-black, New York’s lights engulfed in stars. Everything was oddly serene for a moment, as he fell backward, the chaos of battle giving way to the consuming peace of space.

The instant he saw another shape falling through the bright gap above him, Thor remembered. He reached out for Mjolnir.

Only, it wasn’t Mjolnir. It was Steve hurtling toward him, Steve who tumbled into his chest as the portal closed and they both smashed into the open hangar of a ship. Steve who lay dazed across him as the air-lock closed and alien faces loomed over them.

New York and its Chitauri were gone, the expansive volume of battle replaced with echoing ringing as aliens swarmed wordlessly and hauled them away.

Chapter Text

Falling through space was not pleasant, to say the least. Steve had never imagined that’s what he’d be doing today. Frankly, he didn’t right away register what had happened. 

Not until Thor was nudging him with a hefty shoulder, calling his name with wary urgency. Right, Thor. God of Thunder. Bye-bye Brooklyn, bye-bye 1940s.  

The world was a little whirly at the moment. Perhaps he should be dead. Another human would have been, surely, despite how little time he’d actually spent exposed to space before ending up right in the belly of a ship. Thor nudged him again, harder this time, and received a strong cuff over the head for it. Poor Thor, repeating himself all the time. Steve opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. The world came back to him, then, in an instant.

They were sitting cross-legged on the cold metal floor of the ship’s hangar, side-by-side, wrists secured behind their backs with strong cuffs. Maybe ‘strong’ was an understatement, given they were effortlessly containing a super-soldier and a demi-god.  He was still in his suit, Thor still in his battle armor and thick red cape. The ship was descending over a city, and Steve peered through vast windows all around the hangar. He could see bright colors and lights, busy streets, and tall buildings. Just like any Earth city. But... not. Alien. 

The hangar was filled with small one-man fighter ships, sleek in design and heavily armed. Humanoid aliens with off-white skin and dark red markings surrounded them, dressed in snug armored body suits that resembled military uniforms.  

Wherever they were, it was far from home. Nothing new there. Home was already far away when I woke up 70 years in the future. Steve blinked slowly, blearily around him as that revelation sunk in like a rock in thick mud.

“’m okay,” Steve heard himself reply to Thor’s lingering concern, his voice sounding more-or-less normal. Tired and pained, yes, but still calm and sure. It was enough to satisfy Thor for now at least. One of their captors cuffed him roughly for speaking, as he had Thor, and as he tensed his body in response, a gasp shot out of his mouth. That gave his pain away to both himself and his fellow Avenger. 

Shit. Pain cut across his chest. Deep, sizzling pain that overran all his senses for a few moments. Steve glanced down and caught sight of his dusty, bloody uniform. Almost forgot. He’d been shot. Grazed, really, by that blast of energy from the Chitauri weapon. Handy. 

“Captain,” Thor urged, giving no care to the harsh blow that followed. The god didn’t seem to know what to say, but wanted to say something all the same. Steve was grateful for the grounding presence, glad that the demi-god didn’t try to placate him with meaningless promises or ask if he was alright again. Steve raised his head a little and offered Thor a grateful nod, pushing his pain aside in favor of calm resolve. There was nothing he could do about his wound, so why think about it? It would heal in a matter of days anyway. I hope. Who knew how complicated the damage was. It’ll heal. It will. 

The ship landed, jolting the prisoners and sending new pain coursing through Steve once more. By now, though, the super-soldier had settled into a determined state of defiance. No sound left his lips. Nothing showed on his face, or in his eyes. 

“Unhand me!” Thor cursed as he was roughly tugged to his feet, Steve soon to follow. “You will let us go, or by Odin’s beard face wrath unlike any other!” He was struggling with a strength that was beyond what mortal men could possess. And though enhanced, Steve still fell under the category of ‘mortal’. Thor wasn’t getting anywhere, so Steve didn’t try. He wouldn’t have had the chance anyway, because one of the guards slapped a small disk against his neck and pressed what looked like a remote control. Steve felt small pins pierce his skin as the disk sealed itself in place, his whole body seizing immediately. Thor’s shout of concern was cut off as the demi-god received similar treatment. 

-- 

Steve didn’t know how long he was unconscious for, but it was too long. Someone was sitting beside him, and he was on his back, nothing but hard floor against his lax body. 

“Peg...?” 

“No,” a voice too deep to be a woman’s replied gently, with a sympathetic chuckle of amusement. The blurry shape above him revealed itself to indeed be a man. Long blonde hair faded into view. Bright blue eyes pierced through the haze and tugged him back to reality. 

Steve must have hit his head really, really, hard to have mistaken Thor for Peggy. And though it was a little disappointing to arrive back in a world without her, he was relieved to see Thor there. Whatever came their way, having a demi-god at his side could be nothing but advantageous. 

The Captain groaned, rubbing his face and starting to sit. Thor gently clasped his wrists and pushed his arms to his sides. Steve obeyed the silent command and relaxed, shifting on the floor uncomfortably and gathering details. First, Thor. It didn’t take a moment to note that the Asgardian was alright. A little weary given his similar treatment to Steve’s, but unharmed. The Captain could see that small metal disk attached to his team-mate's neck just peeking through tousled blonde locks. 

Steve shifted his gaze around the room, quickly discerning that it was a cell of some kind. Neither occupant was restrained, to his surprise, but then again these disks on their necks appeared to be more than sufficient. Steve lifted his hand to scratch at his, but again Thor effortlessly guided it back to his side. 

“Be still, Captain. Just for a moment. The dose of electricity downed you for several minutes. I worry your wound weakened you, though I admit I am not familiar with your limits.” Thor sat cross-legged, his cape pooling round his hips. Steve peered down at his body, noting his uniform was still snugly in place. That horrific-looking burn was still there too. Just as painful as ever. Steve grimaced, though the pain helped snap him into complete awareness. 

“Where are we?” Steve asked hesitantly, locking eyes again with the demi-god. I’m their leader. I can’t be sprawled on the ground like this. I need to get up, figure out where we are and how to get back to the others. They can’t win this without Thor, unless they close the portal right away. Even then... “We have to get back.” Steve started to sit up anew. Loki's still there. Thor is the only one who really stood a chance against him. The rest of us are just human.  

“Not so fast, Captain. Give yourself a moment,” Thor repeated, his calmness unwavering, but a stern layer bleeding into place as Steve continued to resist. He pushed harder, effectively slamming the human into the floor. Steve winced, but Thor held his grip. They remained there for a few silent moments before a deep sting scrunched up Steve’s face. Thor placed his other hand worriedly on the human’s shoulder. "I do not know where we are, but I have no doubt we will be made aware shortly."

There was a long pause between them as Steve contemplated that, and Thor regarded him with apology. The Captain squeezed his eyes shut when a wave of pain gripped him. A large hand found its way somewhat hesitantly to his shoulder, offering comfort. When Steve made no move to rebuff the touch, it firmed and held.

“Can... can you get this off me?” Steve opened one eye and pointed to his chest. His uniform was starting to feel tight and uncomfortable. 

Thor nodded and offered his hands, pulling Steve sitting. The demi-god didn’t hesitate, finding buckles and fasteners with sure fingers. In no time he had the uniform top hanging open, and began to slide it off. The fabric tugged on Steve’s wound, and he let out a low gasp of surprise. Something tore, and the sensation of warm blood blossomed on his flank. Thor immediately stopped his efforts, looking to his companion for guidance or explanation. 

“It’s stuck,” Steve offered uselessly, his voice quiet now. A little strained as he fought to exude his usual calm confidence. Thor didn’t need to see his weakness. 

But Thor didn’t seem to care, carefully folding back Steve’s uniform to inspect the burned section. Steve looked down, but quickly turned his gaze away. Yup, stuck.  

“The material is burned into you,” Thor noted quietly, and for a man who wielded a massive hammer and had enjoyed going toe-to-toe with the Hulk, he was sure good at delicacy. The demi-god padded around the site with his fingers, lifting Steve’s under-shirt to inspect the wound better. 

“Just rip it off,” Steve breathed. 

“Are you certain?” Thor looked up with furrowed eyebrows, and they stared at each other as Steve nodded slowly, doubting himself as he did so. 

“Yeah. The serum – that's what makes me strong – it'll heal around my uniform. Probably already started. Sooner we get it off the better.” Steve continued to nod, though more for himself than Thor. The demi-god took another good look at the wound, placing a firm hand on Steve’s shoulder. For a moment, the Captain thought Thor was about to rip that uniform right off him now. But he didn’t. No less gentle than he had been since they’d arrived here, the God of Thunder pushed Steve lying down once more. Then he stood up. 

“Thor...” Steve started, lifting his hand in a meager attempt to dissuade his companion’s actions, but Thor was already ripping off his cloak at the shoulders and bundling up the thick material. Steve found the red fabric pushed under his head, Thor’s hands lifting him high enough to slide the make-shift pillow under him, then returning to the uniform. I can’t believe this...  

“I can get another,” Thor smiled brightly, optimism in his eyes that others might have labeled foolish. Steve blinked, unable to put to words what was going through his head. “Are you ready?” The demi-god asked with such assurance it made Steve nod without a second thought. 

Without further ado, Thor ripped the uniform away from the burn, tearing melted fabric and flesh apart with one brisk movement. Steve cried out, lurching upward. Thor ripped off his ruined undershirt and pushed against the bleeding wound, forcing the human flat without effort. It was odd to be so easily beaten physically, but not unpleasant. Actually, it was new an warm, reminding him of a time when he felt like the weakest person in the world, but safe and protected in Bucky's embrace. Neither of them spoke as Thor focused on stopping the brief bleeding, and Steve focused on breathing evenly. Shit, that hurt.  

“Captain, perhaps you should look,” Thor suggested with quiet urgency, his bloody hands pulled back. Steve pushed shaking arms under him and swallowed, gathering himself. Ah... That doesn’t look too good. He could see pieces of red, white, and blue embedded in the long, searing gash. The Captain pressed his teeth together. 

“How steady are your hands?” Steve asked quietly, shooting a glance to the hands in question. 

“Very,” Thor replied, still just as unwavering. Steve lowered himself slowly back down against the demi-god's cloak, heaving a low sigh. 

“Might as well get this over with,” Steve breathed. 

Thor nodded, wasting no time. 

-- 

The human was made of stronger stuff than anyone Thor had ever met. He would put Asgardian warriors to shame. 

Thor was no surgeon. His fingers were made for handling heavy weapons, not reaching into sensitive openings to pull out bloody pieces of fabric. There was no asking Steve to do this, and no-one else around to ask, so regardless of how unqualified he was the demi-god took up the intimate task. Steve bore the pain bravely. 

We must find a way to escape. Wherever we are, it is not friendly, and we’re expected to endure a lengthy stay. Thor had forgotten about the small disks on his and Steve’s necks the moment his team-mate had awoken. Let us hope these enhancements of yours are enough to protect you here. Let us hope they don't have to. I should be sufficient to keep you out of harm's way, and I will in whatever way I can. Bad enough that you must endure captivity here at all.

Steve tightened his fists and breathed short, raspy gasps through clenched teeth as Thor dragged out a particularly long piece of uniform. One end was practically glued in melted skin and fluid. Thor yanked it free, tearing red and swollen flesh. Steve yelped, and Thor offered an apologetic glance, pausing. 

“No, keep going,” Steve urged gratingly. “Don’t stop.” 

Thor obeyed in an instant dropping the removed piece of uniform and prying free the last few fragments. He prodded the edges reluctantly, searching for anything he could have missed, but finding nothing. Steve breathed out a low sigh as Thor finished, going lax. Thor shuffled around and sat closer to the human’s head, regarding the man with sympathy. 

“I am sorry,” Thor offered lamely, but he meant it, no matter how useless those words were trapped in a cell. The damage was already done. 

To his surprise, Steve looked up at him, sweaty face merging from strained suffering to confusion. “Why?” 

“It is my fault you are here.” 

Realization found its way onto Steve’s honest face. “Last I checked it was Loki attacking us, not you.” 

It wasn’t even a front. There was no blame in Steve’s eyes. Thor shook his head all the same. “My feud with him drew your people into danger.” 

Steve sighed, reaching for his torn undershirt as he shoved himself sitting on a shaky arm. Thor offered a supportive hand behind the Captain’s closest shoulder, easing the strain on his injured companion’s efforts. Still, Steve was doing pretty well on his own for a man who had just been shot by an alien laser beam, fallen through a space portal, electrocuted and dragged into this small cell, then been ripped open by his own team-mate. He was already regaining any color he’d lost, a rough pant fading back into deep, steady breaths. Steve used his shirt to wipe the sweat from his face before pushing the cloth again his wound and wrapping an arm around it. 

When he spoke, Thor was given more evidence that Steve was not like any man he’d ever met. Mortal or otherwise. “You don’t make people become evil. Yeah, you can push them one way or another, but you’re not responsible for other people’s choices. Loki made his choice. Maybe he would have always gone down this road no matter what you did.” 

They sat in silence as Thor thought about his cell-mate's logical words. He still felt responsible, no matter what Steve said, or with how much conviction he said it. To make matters worse, Thor was here on a far-away planet instead of helping fend off his wayward brother. There didn’t seem to be any way to escape immediately either. Have faith. We have only been in this cell for just short of an hour. There may yet be a way to get out of this.  

It would be easier with Mjolnir. Just as Thor started to look for his precious weapon, Steve brought it up. 

“Where’s your hammer?” the human turned to scan the room, clasping his injured side tightly as he did so and poorly containing a wince. Thor took hold of the Captain’s shoulders and straightened him. 

“Not here,” the demi-god replied. “Neither is your shield. It fell from your hand when we landed, and those creatures took it away. I failed to stop them. I am sorry.” 

“Nothin’ to be sorry about,” Steve replied, offering Thor a small smile. Thor was compelled to agree, unable to resist the Captain’s steady reassurance. He had no desire to argue with a wounded man anyhow. Certainly not one so far from his depth. Earth is a long way behind you, mortal. I pray that you can keep that cool head about you as we face whatever is headed our way.  

“What... what exactly happened?” Steve spoke again, asking hesitantly as if with embarrassment. That was understandable. Though Thor had been wrapped up in his emotions these past couple of days, not to mention a little riled by Stark’s brash attitude, he hadn’t missed Steve’s baseline level of confusion consistently underlying the Captain’s demeanor. The tesseract which he had apparently encountered in his past life had resurfaced, he was surrounded by new tech while two of the smartest men in the world threw big words at each other with glee, and a magic-staff-wielding demi-god had welcomed an alien army through a space portal into this new world he was expected to call home.

All-in-all, Steve was taking it like a champ. Even Thor, who was hundreds of thousands of years old, had already spent time learning human technology from Jane, and had had time to experience some of his beloved Midgard, the god still had trouble following everything that went on around him. 

“A portal was opened, presumably with the tesseract,” Thor replied slowly. Steve nodded, rubbing his face and processing the information with a no-doubt spinning head. Physical suffering never helped anyone think straight. “I am not sure how it was opened, nor by whom. I presume Loki somehow managed to open another portal, though I do not know how given the trouble had to go through to open the first. This is beyond my understanding.” 

Thor didn’t mind admitting that directly, even to this man he barely knew. Steve nodded again, graciously accepting the meager explanation and demanding nothing else. Thor felt guilt chew at his heart again. This was his fault they were here. 

“The hammer will come back to you, right?” Steve asked with a touch of hopefulness in his bright blue stare. 

Thor hesitated. He hadn’t thought too much about calling his hammer to him, nor why it hadn’t arrived when he’d tried. Steve had been his priority, sucking up all his attention. “The portal closed before it could reach my hand. I fear perhaps it is too far away to meet me soon enough. I will continue to try.” Or perhaps my mistakes were too much. I have caused this planet too much harm, and now this person I was meant to call my team-mate is trapped in this place, his safety gravely at risk. Perhaps this is my punishment. If I am no longer worthy, so be it. So long as I am strong enough without it to protect this man. He does not deserve to be thrown into my quarrels. No-one does.

Chapter Text

The cell turned out to be temporary. Steve wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but there wasn’t much time to contemplate it. Thor was in the middle of trying to coax him into taking a nap, when both their disks activated almost simultaneously. Steve blacked out and awoke strapped to a chair with thick metal bands around his wrists and ankles. 

Steve gave them a tug, straining his muscles with everything he had. It was worth nothing, serving only to tug on his wound and aggravate a deep headache. 

The chair started to move forward, bright lights zooming past him. Steve stared wide-eyed at the blinding spectacle as a vaguely-uninterested female voice spoke from every direction. Steve squirmed, tugging some more and ignoring the futility. It would be nice to at least have a shirt... he’d feel a lot safer with something covering his wound, hiding its presence from eyes that might seek to take advantage of it. 

Apparently, this place was called Sakaar. This meant nothing to Steve, but it felt good to know no matter how useless the information. As the woman’s voice (which reminded him of JARVIS, who seemed to be everywhere) explained, Steve listened, gathering whatever details were offered. There were precious few of use, but Steve stored them away for later all the same. 

The image of the plastic island Tony had told him about popped into his head; apparently, all the junk in the ocean accumulated in one spot due to currents and patterns. Maybe Sakaar was a little like that, but instead of the ocean, they were in space. Great. Dr. Banner was scanning for the Tesseract. Maybe he could scan for us, too. Unfortunately Steve didn’t understand enough about space portals, nor space itself, to know if the scientist would be able to accomplish such a thing. 

“You will meet the Grand Master in five, four, three...” the voice explained, and Steve sat bolt upright, started from his thoughts and preparing himself for whatever thug might leap across his path. 

“Prepare yourself.” Oh, Steve was preparing. 

“Prepare yourself.” Yup, still preparing, though that was hard given he had no idea what to expect. 

“You are now meeting the Grand Master.” And the lights were gone, replaced instead with a stationary room. The chair wasn’t going anywhere. He was surrounded by monochrome-colored guards dressed in garb that would seem comical had Steve been watching this on a television. The Captain searched the room, ignoring the view out the window of the city below, ignoring the room itself and its shiny hallways. He ignored even the Grand Master as he scanned for Thor. 

The demi-god was nowhere to be seen. 

“Ah, there he is!” Steve whipped his head around and latched his steely gaze onto the man before him. This was no thug. No, just a man, from what Steve could tell, clad in a long coat of golds and blues, sporting wild white hair and eccentric, intelligent eyes. “Welcome!” 

Steve didn’t enjoy the nonchalant mannerisms of this man. It sent a chill through his spine at the blasé attitude the Grand Master was washing the situation with. And it was a rather dire situation, at least for Steve. Electrifying disks practically implanted in their skin? Restraints that could hold a demi-god? Whatever scheme was underway, Steve wasn’t excited to be involved. He said nothing as the Grand Master walked closer and examined him like an ornament. Inquisitive eyes glanced at the swollen injury on his ribs, but was not mentioned. 

“Not very talkative, are you? Well, that’s alright. So long as you make for a good show, eh?” the Grand Master glanced at the stern woman just behind him and wiggled his eyebrows at her expectantly. 

The woman stared at Steve with something between sarcasm and demonic intent. “A good show indeed.” And she adjusted her grip on the strange staff-like object with the large orange ball on top. Steve wasn’t sure what to make of the spectacle, but he had a feeling he knew what was coming. Or at least, he had a vague idea that it would exploitive. 

The Grand Master turned back to face the Captain, waving his hands vaguely. “Come on, let’s show you around. I want to see what you can do.” And he smacked Steve’s bare and bulging tricep with a delicate hand, eyebrows lifting with impressed arousal. “Ooh my, you’re firm.” 

Steve curled his lip and sat very still. There's plenty more of that. Let me go and I’ll show you. “Where’s Thor?” 

“He speaks!” The Grand Master clapped twice, shuffling over to the woman at his side with elated steps. “And your friend? Is that who Thor is? I assume so. He’s fine, promise.” 

Steve wasn’t convinced, but he kept his cool. His jaw was conveying his contained anger for him. “Where is he.” 

“Getting ready,” the Grand Master held out blue-glowing stick and waved it, guiding Steve’s chair down the hallway with the device. “Come on, hurry now, you might catch him in time!” 

Steve had a feeling he wasn’t going to get too many answers, so he remained silent and instead focused on gathering information. There was no breaking free of his chair with brute force, but perhaps there were locks he could pick or wires he could pull. Steve was no tech wizard, but he was a fast learner. If I can find a power source, maybe I can disconnect it. A quick glance at what he could see of the chair made it clear that nothing within reach – basically whatever was directly under his fingers – was useful. Steve decided he was better off studying the hallways and mapping them out while he had the chance. 

The Grand Master took him deep into the building, whatever type of facility it was. Steve thought it looked like a tower of sorts, not unlike Tony’s, but more colorful. Everything was shiny and unblemished, a wild variety of humanoids in exotic outfits roaming the hallways. Obviously this was where the rich and privileged entertained themselves, those who had favor with the Grand Master. So when Steve found himself descending below the light and merriment, he was not the least bit surprised. He was surprised to find the cuffs holding him to the chair separating from it, like a powerful magnet had been holding them in place. Steve immediately leapt to his feet, planting his boots on the floor. 

The Grand Master lifted the small remote and pushed it, jolting Steve enough to hurt, but not enough to topple him. The soldier clenched his teeth and clasped his throat while a guard approached on either side and dragged him into a small room by his elbows. He was once against fastened into a chair, the cuffs snapping into place and restraining him flawlessly. 

No more bright lights, or bright colors. This section of the building was much darker, bearing marks of wear and neglect. Steve spotted numerous scuffs, scorch marks, and gashes on every surface as he was brought into what appeared to be some kind of prep room. Double doors slid shut and the Grand Master wiggled his fingers as he was slowly blocked from view. 

“Catch you later!” those strangely-calm words somehow still held excitement and anticipation. Steve sat completely still in his restraints, still reeling from recent events. Thor had better be around here somewhere. I hope he’s okay. I don’t think I can do this alone.  

I will if I have to, but it’d be great to have a demi-god on my six .  

“Okay blondie, hold still.” 

Steve turned his head, and his eyes immediately widened when they beheld an old man wearing some kind of contraption with spinning blades – a torture device, surely. The soldier set his jaw and focused his stare straight ahead. This would not break him. 

-- 

The Captain was nowhere to be seen, and though Thor did not want to doubt his new team-mate, he feared that perhaps the weaker mortal had been killed. Perhaps they did not think him fit for whatever plan these people have for us. Maybe Thor should have felt relief at the idea of Steve being killed now, to save the mortal any more suffering. But the Asgardian was a warrior, as was the Captain – Steve would not want to take the easy way out. Thor would never wish for the man’s death either. He is alive. And I will see him when this is over.  

‘This’ was a gladiatorial show. Strange as it was, Thor was relieved. He’d expected torture or similar, but this was actually alright. Whatever beasts the Grand Master has here, I am certain they cannot be stronger than what I have faced in the past.  

But then, he’d had his hammer for those times. Now, all he had was his fists, his godly strength, and a couple of swords he’d chosen from the armory. There had been no hammers, and definitely not his. 

Thor hated to forget Steve, but he had to focus if he wanted to win. Allowing distraction to dull his senses would only worsen his chances of getting through this without injury. The demi-god eased Steve onto the backburner for now as he walked purposefully through the open gate, before any guards could push him. This was his fight, and he would think of it as no different from any past battle. 

Crowds of people cheered from the stands, hundreds of thousands of them, cheering for a show that Thor would no-doubt give them. They weren’t cheering for him, though, they were cheering for what was to come. To them, this ‘Thor’ was just another contender, no different from anyone else who had stepped through those gates. 

A hologram filled the stadium, the Grand Master’s shimmery form rising above the crowds like a god. He spread his hands and they went wild. “Are you excited for the show?” The people screamed. " Well have I got a treat for you, ladies, gentleman, other... With a few tricks up his sleeves, I give you... Llllord. Of. Thunderrr ! ” 

God. Thor silently corrected, irked. God of Thunder. They’d be calling him a god when he was done here. I’ll make sure of that.  

Oh, they were excited. Thor pushed his feet apart and lifted the shield on his left arm, knowing he’d probably be ditching it no matter what came through the gate opposite him. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little bit excited himself. 

“Now, let’s see what this Lord of Thunder can do!” the Grand Master was a master of crowd work, if nothing else. He knew what they wanted, and would deliver. 

Those huge gates were sliding open, revealing a muscular green bipedal creature with thick green scales, a large forehead, serrated horns, and huge tusks decorated with what appeared to be teeth. Canines, by the looks of it, no doubt from fallen adversaries. Thor drew one of his swords and rolled the handle in his grip, smiling to himself. What an ugly beast, and it appeared stupid enough, with those beady lizard eyes far apart on its war-painted face. 

Show-time. Thor held out his shield arm for a moment or two, silently begging for Mjolnir to burst through the walls containing him in a shower of rubble and a grumble of thunder. But it didn’t, and the lizard creature was pounding on giant clawed feet toward him. If I am to defeat you with these weak and flimsy weapons, so be it. My fists will be sufficient.  

The beast attacked first, bearing no weapons that Thor could see and instead wildly swinging its head. Those tusks were likely sufficient. It was fast for something so large and heavy, huge flat feet lifting up clouds of dust with each step, but its body rippling with subtle grace. Thor drew his arm across his body in preparation, holding the diamond-shaped shield before him. The beast roared and swung its tusks from side-to-side as it charged. Thor stepped back to avoid the first swing, then drew forward and bashed the lizard-man in the side of the head. His shield struck an ear, and the beast roared and staggered sideways, disoriented. The demi-god attacked mercilessly in his opening. 

Unfortunately, whatever this thing was, it was tough enough to withstand Thor’s attacks for a little while. The crowd was elated, screaming for more as Thor wrapped his hands around the lizard-man's tusks and swung it in a circle. Those sharp teeth secured to the tusks cut into his hands, but Thor didn’t particularly care, nor barely noticed. With a bellowing yell, he hurled the lizard across the stadium, where it landed with a satisfying crash in the metal barrier. Thor stalked over, drawing one of his swords and dropping the shield in his hand. These people wanted a show? I will show you who exactly I am, and that you have no business holding me here as a pet for your amusement.  

With great pride, Thor swung his sword. And with great surprise, he stared at the scaly hand holding the blade, the skin unblemished by the metal pressing tightly against it. Thor tugged back, and the beast twisting, snapping the sword and tossing the fragments aside as the demi-god dropped the useless hilt. 

Abandoning his second blade as well, Thor opted for good-old punching, offering the ugly lizard beast a ready smile. A wrestling match against something that paled in comparison to the Hulk? It was a sure victory. Sparks danced in his eyes, his fingertips crackled, someone yelled his name, and his body seized. 

This was starting to become familiar.

Chapter Text

Sakaar Steve Sakaar opponents

His hair was shorter now, the floppy forelock reduced to a few golden tufts. At least the whole thing was even. Steve ran his hand along the back of his head as he stood to watch whatever spectacle was about to go down in the arena. 

They’d given him new clothes, too, stealing from the design he’d arrived in. Someone had engraved a star onto the leather chest-plate he’d been fitted with, to which was attached a flimsy blue cape that brushed the backs of his knees. 

Leather stuck to his skin, tugging and pressing on his wound with every breath or movement. How long had he been here, on Sakaar? It must have been long enough for his wound to at least show signs of healing. So far, it looked and felt about the same. Damned alien weapons...  

Cheering drew his attention. Steve pushed through the group of rag-tag gladiators all gathered to watch too, gripping the bars to prevent anyone from stealing his viewing spot, and to keep himself steady. It was hot in here, and he was sweating to a worrying degree. 

The Grand Master said something about not wanting me to miss the show... I guess Thor’s first up to bat, Steve moved his blue gaze around the arena, knowing he’d be out there eventually too, and figuring he’d take this time to gather more information. High barriers, dust floor, probably metal or stone underneath. I might be able to jump above the wall if I get a running start. Then he’d be in the crowd, and Steve doubted they’d just move aside and let him escape, not when this appeared to be their main source of entertainment. 

At least he was right about one thing: Thor was emerging from a dark hallway, heavy gates closing behind him. The demi-god's long blonde locks had been chopped off, leaving the man with a short cut that suited him immensely. It made him look... sharper, drew out the squareness of his handsome face and the strength of his jaw. Steve watch raptly as his team-mate prepared to face his foe. He wasn’t left waiting long. 

Thor was a sight to behold, his strength and skill in battle beyond impressive. Steve had never had the chance to simply sit back and watch, but he took that chance now. There were few mortal men who could keep up with Captain America, and though Steve enjoyed knowing he would more often than not be enough to protect the people he cared about, it was humbling to watch someone even stronger than himself fight with thousands of years of experience. Reassuring, too. It could be alienating being so unnaturally strong. 

Hands that had only hours ago so gently tended his wound were now gripped into tight fists, swinging left and right. To an ordinary on-looker, it would be impossible to see the battle well from this far away. Steve thanked Dr. Erskine for giving him the vision to essentially enjoy a front-row seat. Better, even. The super-soldier followed Thor’s movements with admiration, making notes in his mind as to how the demi-god fought. An ordinary on-looker, if able to enjoy this view, might not have been able to see past Thor’s seemingly-wild tactics and into the careful way he picked each attack. 

Thor was finding weak spots while defending himself from blows that each had the capacity to crush a mortal being. Steve had no doubt that one blast of lightning or one hammer-strike could have felled this creature. A hammer suited Thor, but it didn’t do his other abilities justice. Steve hadn’t known Thor for very long, a couple of days really, so he hadn’t had a chance to enjoy the god’s fighting style. He had a feeling, though, that it mostly relied on bashing things with that hammer. 

Efficient, I guess. He was tearing through those Chitauri with that thing, Steve thought. Still, Thor clearly had a few hidden talents. And Steve didn’t miss those sparks of lightning dancing between his team-mate's fingers. He wasn’t the only one to spot that either. 

It seemed for a moment that Thor was about to take home the trophy, but those hopes were dashed by unseen intervention. Steve’s face fell as the Asgardian seized mid-punch, muscles jolting uncontrollably, leaving him wide open. 

It was useless, but Steve didn’t care. He opened his mouth and shouted, hoping the sound might ground Thor and allow him to defend himself a second longer. “ THOR!”  

No use. The horrific lizard-man swung its head and hooked its tusks under Thor’s chest, tossing the demi-god into the air and hurling him all the way across the stadium. The crowd goaded, chanting for blood and death as the lizard stalked its inert prey. Come on, get up. Get up, Thor. He’ll kill you. Steve didn’t even notice he was straining against the bars, his body moving without conscious thought. The metal was bending a little, though not nearly enough to form a gap wide enough for Steve’s large body to squeeze through. And he tried, managing to force his shoulder between the bars. Nobody bothered to stop him, and that alone was testament to the futility of his efforts. Futility had never served as much of a deterrent for Steve though, and he kept fighting against the thick bars keeping him from helping someone he was supposed to lead – a leader was supposed to protect his team, right? 

As it happened, there was no need for his intervention. Just as he thought his heart would beat itself to a pulp inside his ribs, both gates on either side of the stadium opened and a swarm of guards rushed out. The lizard-man seized up too as his own disk was activated, warbling a high-pitched hissing sound before collapsing. It and Thor were both dragged from the stadium while the crowd continued to demand death. The small amount of blood that lizard had managed to draw from Thor’s softer skin wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy them. From where he stood, Steve couldn’t find any open wounds on the lizard. Thor hadn’t managed to break the beast’s scaly hide with his weapons, let alone his fists. 

As soon as the gates closed, Steve heaved a sigh and freed his shoulder from the bars. For all he knew, Thor was being taken out back and court-martialed, but at least he hadn’t been gutted by those serrated tusks. If they wanted him dead, they’d have let that monster kill him for the crowd to enjoy. It was a sickening thought, but comforting as anything could be in the present situation. It wouldn’t make sense to drag him out now and kill him in private. Logical as that was, it was barely enough to bring Steve’s heart rate below tachycardic. 

A pair of hands each grabbed an arm, ripping him round. Steve growled and struggled, but he had no power to stop the guards from dragging him all the way down the hall to the gate where Thor had presumably just been taken through. The demi-god was nowhere to be seen. 

“Your turn,” someone grumbled roughly in his ear, but before Steve could turn and find the speaker, someone else was thrusting an object into his hand. He recognized it before he saw it. 

Thank the heavens. In his hand, was his shield. Defiled by a new paint job, yes, but still the same vibranium disk he was used to. Steve smiled a little, sliding his arm through the straps and running his fingers along the smooth edge. The red, white, and blue had been stripped away, leaving plain silver in its place and an ugly red streak across the engraved star, to match the paint on his face. Seeing it stripped of its familiar colors hurt a little. This shield was the only thing that tied him to his past, the only thing that had remained unchanged since going in the ice. Almost like a friend... I wonder if that’s how Thor feels about his hammer. It was unfair that Steve got his own weapon and Thor didn’t. Not that mine is worth much here... I’m sure they’ll take it from me as soon as this is over. Clearly they don’t think my shield alone would get me out of here. But at least it’s here and not floating somewhere in space, or being melted for parts, or whatever people do with stuff like this in space. Just because vibranium was valuable on Earth didn’t mean it was in space too. Space... huh, never thought I’d prefer the idea of visiting Stark Tower to being wherever I am.  

If Thor had his hammer, they’d already be out of here. That's not his fault. It’ll come back to him. I don’t think it can teleport, so it might take a while. Not that he knew much about magical hammers, or had any concept of how far they were from their solar system. 

Guards pushed Steve out into the stadium, shaking him from his thoughts. Focus, I have to focus. And think of a plan. If I can get out of here, maybe I can find Thor and escape. We could steal a ship. I’m sure we could fly one between the two of us.  

Steve knew he’d have to get rid of that disk sealed to his skin, though. Until then, there was no chance of escape. This fight would probably end in another electrocution anyway. Seems they just want to see what their new toys can do. Steve would show them. 

When the opposite gates opened to reveal his opponent, Steve lowered his hips and set his jaw. The guards had given him holsters strapped to his legs, for knives. The serum helped him learn new fight styles in no time at all, but he still preferred his shield. 

His designated sparring partner was at least ten feet tall, covered in luscious snowy fur. Its underbite allowed huge pointed teeth to protrude upward, and its muscled arms reached mid-calf. A thick prehensile tail swept just above the dust. Had Steve not had to size this monster up for weaknesses, he’d be marveling at its beauty. Perhaps he’d be a bit overwhelmed, too, by all these new creatures. There are loads of weird animals on Earth I’d never even heard of before the ice, Steve told himself to keep calm. He could be overwhelmed later, when nobody’s safety was at risk. 

The Grand Master’s holographic form loomed overhead once more, announcing the new battle about to begin. “Let’s get a taste of what our new guest can offer! He’s from Earth, but don’t let that fool you! Barely human, I give you... the Celestial Knight!” 

Steve blinked, glancing down at his shield. Oh, the star. And I did arrive by space portal. With a shield, no doubt, something vaguely medieval in terms of gear. I suppose I don’t hate it... Not like the Grand Master had had much to work with. Steve hadn’t given his name or title. ‘Captain America’ wouldn’t have any meaning out here anyway. If they didn’t know who Thor, prince of Asgard, God of Thunder was, they wouldn’t know about Earth countries. 

“You will die.” 

Steve looked up to the bear’s eyes, saw its mouth move to form English words. They were rough and memorized, clearly an effort to produce. It was likely a phrase the creature had purposely sought to learn, or had perhaps picked up during its time here. Like learning how to ask for food in another language when you’re traveling. Steve thought back to the war and to the smattering of French he’d effortlessly learned. Having a perfect memory lended itself to language-learning, but his time in the country hadn’t been for vacation. Aiming a gun at someone wasn’t an intent that needed translating. 

It was likely this beast wouldn’t understand anything Steve offered in reply, so he didn’t bother. The fight was starting anyway. Steve would give his reply with the universal language of battle, as much as he hated to be used for the purposes of others. It’s hardly any different from the war, or what I was doing literally hours ago in New York.  

At least then he’d had some choice in the matter. He could have turned Fury down, even if his conscience wouldn’t have allowed it. He’d been made to fight. Fight to protect people, not... not for this. Not for fun.  

The bear attacked, and Steve hurled his shield with pristine calculation. It missed the bipedal creature by a long shot, bouncing off the circular walls twice and heading back to the exact spot Steve wanted it. He met his opponent halfway, swinging a punch to distract the creature, then ducking as his shield made its return. Smash , the object struck the bear in the back of the skull. Roaring with pain and dizziness, the beast stumbled and swiped wildly for Steve, long arms and tail thrashing. 

Steve darted around and dove into a neat roll, that heavy tail swiping over him with a gush of air. The Captain leapt up and caught his shield on its rebound journey, holding it in front of him as the bear swiveled and dragged its long blunt claws across his vibranium barrier. 

The Chitauri had served as a great warm-up. Steve hadn’t fought anyone since waking up, and a real fight was nothing like his regular work-out, no matter how hard he pushed himself. The Captain had made use of his free time well, learning whatever fight styles he came across. It hadn’t mattered that the war was over; Steve couldn’t get it out of his mind that he was made to fight, even if he didn’t always have someone in front of him to bash. 

Enhanced muscles easily worked a rhythm, recalling movements he’d only used against a punching bag or an instructor. Steve thrust his shield downward, bouncing the disk off the ground and up into the bear-man's chin. He jumped and slid his arm through the straps as he smashed his booted heel into the soft belly of his enemy. 

If humans had fought in this stadium before, they hadn’t fought this well. Not if the crowd’s reaction was anything to go by. His audience had fallen silent for a couple of moments, rising back to giddy excitement as Steve blocked more and more swipes, repaying them with his own. This was so much better than a punching bag. It felt too good to smash his fist, his shield, his boot into this beast, over and over again. Pent-up grief bled into his blows. It’s not fair. Everyone I ever cared about got to live full lives. And what about me? What did I get for my troubles? I got dumped here, to keep fighting new wars for new people, without anyone I know to talk to. They’re all gone. They left me behind.  

The beast roared, and Steve yelled back, whipping his shield around in the circle and jamming the edge into its rib cage. Bones broke beneath the strike, and Steve’s leather chest plate clung to the bare skin underneath, sticking and ripping at the edges of his wound. Sweat dribbled inside and stung like hell. 

He’d fought harder battles with worse wounds. That’s what the serum’s for. To keep me on my feet for longer. The pain only served his rage, added power to his attacks. 

They’d only been fighting for a couple of minutes, but it felt like days for Steve as he lived through his present fight and a thousand others like it. Me versus bad guy. New day, new enemy, same routine. The beast, though, got lucky. Its tail swept around and knocked Steve’s flying shield back into its owner’s chest. The Captain slid backward on the balls of his feet with a gasp as all the air left him. Suddenly, he was very heavy, and very unstable. Too hot, dripping with sweat he hadn’t noticed. 

His heart was beating much faster than it should be, and not because of any worry for a friend. No, something was physically wrong. 

Crack. The bear-man lashed out with a paw and pushed Steve’s shield even harder into his own ribs. Armored as they were, it hurt, dizzyingly so. Black dots swarmed his vision as he toppled sideways and dropped his only valuable possession. Bear-man wrapped a claw around Steve’s ankle and yanked him upward, spinning a circle to gain momentum before whipping him into the ground. Steve’s head wrenched at the sudden change of direction, and all breath vanished as his shoulders stuck the ground hard enough to leave an indent. 

The crowd was fixated, unsure of how the fight would turn out with this new turn of events. 

Gotta focus. Steve grit his teeth and forcibly regained control of his impact-stricken body, rolling in time to avoid the bear’s lashing tail. He less-than-sprang to his feet and searched for his shield. There it was, the path blocked by Sasquatch himself. Probably something Tony would say. Great. Known the guy two days and he’s already rubbing off on me.  

Bear-man lowered its head and jumped, reaching out with long arms and opening its mouth. Steve used all the strength he had to duck, sliding between his opponent’s legs and going for his shield. He scooped it up as he slid by, rolling to his feet and running a couple more steps before turning and lifting his shield by instinct. The serum served him well. A battering ram of a punch struck the vibranium disk. Steve cleared his vision with a couple of blinks and dropped, hooking his foot around the bear-man's ankle. He tugged, and down the massive beast went. 

There was a pause as Steve rose to his feet and lunged forward for another attack. Right on time, the predicted surge of electricity blossomed in his neck and wrested control from him. 

Chapter Text

Their featureless cell was behind them, it would seem. Thor woke up in the middle of a slightly larger room, dumped unceremoniously on the floor. The demi-god groaned and shifted, lifting his face off the cold floor. The whole room spun before he made it any further, forcing him to pause a moment. Finally, he rose the rest of the way and arched his back.  

A quick check proved his obedience disk was still in place. He was certain he’d heard the Grand Master refer to it like that. That would make sense , Thor thought grimly. So far, it had lived up to its name.  

Thor rolled his shoulders and turned a slow circle in his new room. A small table sat in the corner, low enough to use the provided cushions as chairs. There was an alcove in the other corner that appeared to be a bathroom of sorts. Thor strode over to investigate, yanking open drawers and cabinets. He found a razor blade and some rough towels, as well as a couple of cups. There was a mirror on the wall above the steel sink, too. Immediately, Thor growled at the cropped, painted face staring out at him. He reached for a towel, made aware of the cuts on his arm the moment he lifted it up.  

Upon inspection, he noted they were not too deep, but painful all the same. They were ragged and torn, no-doubt caused by the blunt teeth that had been dragged along it, instead of neat slices. Thor winced and loosened his leather chest plate, lifting it off and dumping it on the floor outside the alcove. Bruises glowed in the mirror. God or no, he’d endured a beating. Thor ran the water and set about cleaning himself up. The paint took more scrubbing than the blood and dirt and sweat, but the work was worth it. Thor took a drink from the sink and walked back out into the main room.  

Two beds, he noted suddenly, considering what that meant. It would appear I am to share this room with someone...  

The Captain.  

Thor hurried over, as if Steve might be hidden under the smooth covers somehow. Those stiff mattresses were resting directly on the floor, so his team-mate couldn’t possibly be underneath. Thor did spot a pile of folded linens at the foot of both beds, however. The demi-god rifled through the nearest one – a couple more blankets, some clean clothes. Upon a moment’s thought, he decided to get changed. His fight was, regrettably, over, so there was no need to keep his armor on. Scowling, the demi-god returned to the alcove and got changed into snug grey cut-offs and a loose navy shirt. It was comfortable enough, and clean.  

He hadn’t noticed the door until now, which was surprising: there was no door, just a bare opening. Thor paced warily over, peering down the short stretch of corridor that connected perpendicularly to the main passageway. He stretched out his hand, glancing down at a thick red line on the floor. The instant his fingers cross that line, the disk on his neck jolted a warning. Thor slid backward and clenched his fists. The God of Thunder, restrained by such devices.  

--  

It felt like he’d spent an age here alone, pleading uselessly for Heimdall to hear him, pacing tight circles, sitting on the bed prying at his obedience disk, or waiting by the door for someone to walk by. There was no-one.  

A slot in the wall by the table did slide open, suddenly, and two plates of food sat in the opening, fresh and appetizing, as well as two large cups of cold purple juice. Thor hurried over and retrieved the food, setting it down on the table. The slot shut as soon as the items cleared it. Famished, the demi-god sat down on one cushion, drawing a plate and cup near to him.  

I wonder where the Captain is. I presume facing a similar trial as I did. He is already injured. Perhaps, if these people are willing to provide us with tools for shaving and ample food, they might give us something to treat him. Thor wasn’t a doctor, and definitely not a human one, so he wouldn’t know what to ask for beyond something to cover the wound with, but he was a warrior, and as such had needed plenty of his own wounds treated. Steve had already trusted him enough to pull all those pieces of uniform from him. Perhaps his companion would allow him to be of further assistance. Unless he has no need. That would indeed be favorable, if this serum he mentioned has taken care of his injury by now.  

Thor looked back to his food. He was terribly hungry, but couldn’t find himself to take a bite until the Captain had returned. I may be jumping to conclusions. The second bed may not be for him. Perhaps I am to stay with someone else. The demi-god prayed to Odin that were not the case. He’d gotten Steve here, and it would be much easier to get him out of it if they were together as much as possible. He does not deserve this. By Odin’s beard, let me at least keep him company if I cannot deliver him to safety immediately.  

He wasn’t waiting long. The sound of something dragging across metal lifted his head, and Thor leapt to his feet, striding to the door. First came the shadows, moving down the hallway from the left. Three forms followed, two guards dragging a third between them: Steve, his hair shaven even shorter and his face splattered with what took Thor a few heart-wrenching seconds to confirm was paint and not blood. The guards turned toward the room, one pressing a button somewhere on his belt that deactivated the barrier long enough to toss Steve through.  

“Be careful-!” Thor growled, grunting as he caught Steve’s limp body and stumbled back a step or two to steady himself. The guards ignored him and marched away, turning back the way they came and vanishing around the corner. The demi-god didn't watch them go, his anger washed away by guilt and worry at the state of his team-mate and the guards forgotten. Steve was horrendously pale, slick with sweat and drawing short, labored breaths. Thor paused a moment, but came to the conclusion that no-one was there to witness the potential embarrassment, so he murmured an apology and hefted the Captain in his arms. It was only a short distance to the nearest bed, and Steve wasn’t heavy for a demi-god. Still, Thor was glad to set him down. I am sure he would protest being carried that way. I would. No-one will know, I promise. I have already forgotten.  

Steve was pale to begin with, his natural skin angelic and smooth, but this was beyond that. This was not healthy. Thor robbed the pillows from the other bed and slipped them under Steve’s shoulders. There, he contemplated his next move. It would be difficult to get that armor off by himself, so perhaps it was better to wait for his roommate to awaken. What he could do, though, was clean him up a little.  

Thor hurried to the alcove for a couple of towels, grabbing the cups in the cabinet and filling them with cold tap water. Not that Steve didn’t look good with red paint streaked across his face, his sandy blonde hair cropped shorter, and his colorful uniform exchanged for something darker. Thor could guess this was probably the first time Steve had ever worn a cape, and frankly it was fitting. We learn new things every day. I wonder what you think of it, Thor mused as he sat on the edge of the bed and wondered if this was over-stepping his boundaries. Would Steve mind? Perhaps he would rather be left alone, untouched... Thor didn’t know him well enough to make an educated guess, so he decided to do what he felt was right instead.  

That meant sitting here, tipping some water from the first cup into a folded towel and scrubbing away the red paint adorning his companion. The abrasive movement reddened Steve’s cheeks, making him look livelier, if not a little fevered and swollen. The mortal’s skin was worryingly warm under Thor’s touch, come to think of it... The demi-god furrowed his eyebrows, his lips a thin line of concern and trepidation. This was not his area of expertise, nor his area of confidence.  

What if he did more damage by trying to help? What if Steve was angry when he awoke at his state, let alone what Thor had done without his consent? Maybe Steve wouldn’t appreciate being touched like this while unconscious, by someone he hardly knew. I would understand if he felt as such. But I would not be able to rest if I left him on the floor, or made no attempt to help. He is ill, that is plain to see. Fighting did his condition no good. The alien blast is surely to blame. Thor set the other cup on the floor and stood up, hands hanging awkwardly by his sides as he ran options through his mind. If Steve didn’t wake up soon, Thor would get that armor off him regardless. It was decided.  

Nervously, Thor brought a fresh towel to the alcove and soaked it through with cold water. He wrung it out and padded quietly back to the bed, as if any noise would startle its occupant. Thor wanted the Captain to wake, yet at the same time willed him not to until the demi-god had completed this last effort to help. How foolish. He will know it was me when he wakes. There is no-one else here. Still, Thor prayed Steve didn’t wake to catch him folding the cold, damp cloth and pressing it into forehead.  

The longer Steve slept, the longer Thor could go without having to face the rush of guilt certain to follow looking into his companion’s honest blue gaze. It didn’t matter what Steve had said before they’d been separated, that all this was Loki’s doing: Thor still felt that somehow, there was something better he could have done, something that would have stopped his brother from attacking Midgard. I did you wrong brother, and knowing you hurt badly enough to attack an entire world pains me in return. When this mortal is safe, I promise to make right what I’ve done to you.  

--  

Steve did wake up, but he took his sweet time. Thor was sitting at the table, sipping at his purple juice and trying to decide what it was when a cough alerted him. He set the juice down, bolting to his feet and striding over. The demi-god stopped himself short of grabbing the mortal sprawled on the bed, hovering his hands over him instead. He couldn’t stop himself when Steve started to sit up, though, and promptly pushed him down by his shoulders. You are stubborn, and strong. I have no doubt you would get up and continue to fight if it were asked of you.  

Steve blinked up at him through heavy eyelids and thick, dark eyelashes. He opened his mouth, but closed it a moment or two before speaking. “Thor.” His name was spoken with weariness, and a zest of relief. There was pain in there, too. Perhaps embarrassment? If Steve’s newly-reddened cheeks were anything to go by...  

But no anger, or resentment. And Thor searched. The harder he looked, the more Steve appeared to actually be glad to see him. That encouraged him to deepen his touch.  

“You look horrendous,” Thor offered apologetically.  

Steve lifted an eyebrow, amusement lighting up his glazed stare. He smiled a little, with equal apology in it, which confused Thor. “I feel horrendous.” The honesty behind that statement was worrying. Steve didn’t seem like the type to easily admit ailment.  

“There is food,” Thor explained. “But you should first change. There are fresh clothes here. If you’ll allow me...” the demi-god removed his hands from Steve’s shoulders and reached for the fasteners on either side of his companion’s armor.  

Steve glanced at Thor’s change of clothes, then moved his eyes down to his own battle gear. Finally, his ocean-blue stare drifted from Thor’s waiting hands and ended all the way in the demi-god's soft, tentative gaze. “Yeah... um, yeah, that’d be good. Thanks.”  

The Captain allowed Thor to loosen his armor and accepted the helping hand to sit up, lifting his arms obediently. Thor numbly bundled the cape out of the way and lifted the breastplate off, trying to ignore the poorly-suppressed hitches of pain in Steve’s breaths. The demi-god caught a glance of the Chitauri blast, and quickly averted his gaze before it became a stare. ‘Horrendous’ wasn’t strong enough to describe what it looked like. Thor swallowed and set Steve’s armor in the corner while his companion wiped sweat from his body with the now-warm cloth previously residing on his forehead. The Asgardian caught his companion looking at it with some confusion, but to his relief Steve did not mention it.  

Thor picked the spare cup of water off the floor and handed it over, watching Steve drain it in one swig. Wordlessly, he handed his companion the other folded pile of clothes. The Captain draped the fabric over his shoulder and accepted Thor’s hand up. He was unsteady, but his jaw was set with determination. Thor watched the man carefully and gestured to the alcove. Steve nodded his gratitude and walked cautiously in its direction. Respectfully but with some reservation, Thor turned his back and gave the other man some privacy.  

It was hard not to fret, and Thor stood stock still in his worry, listening intently to every sound coming from the bathroom. He could hear Steve’s sharp breaths and heavy footsteps, could hear him bumping into things and turning on the tap. Each new sound jolted Thor, and he contemplated spinning around and dashing in to help. But there was no crash, nothing that called for his intervention.  

When Steve emerged, he’d draped his shirt over his shoulder and was setting his boots on the floor by his bed. Thor stood awkwardly, unsure of what he should do until Steve more collapsed than sat on the edge of the mattress, drained of any color he’d regained.  

“You clean me up?” Steve gripped his knees and looked up. Thor met his gaze and managed a nod.  

“Yes, Captain, I apologize, I hope you don’t mind--”  

Steve batted a hand, his lips twitching in an actual smile. “ S’fine . Glad to have that paint off my face. Thanks. Didn’t mean to sleep so long, or worry you... kinda worn out I guess.”  

“Of course,” Thor replied, surprised though he knew he shouldn’t be. Steve had already assured him that he didn’t fault the god for his current predicament. “And it’s no trouble.”  

There was silence for a moment before they both realized they’d been staring at Steve’s bare chest. Most of the mortal’s impressive torso was splattered with bruising, and his wound was smeared with blood and fluid, ragged edges further torn from its abuse within the unforgiving leather armor. The whole long length of the burn was swollen a vibrant red.  

“Your... serum,” Thor started. “It is not healing you as you had predicted.”  

“No...” Steve breathed, padding his rib cage with both hands. “Nothin’ broken, that’s a plus... that was some fight.”  

“I’m sorry to have missed it,” Thor replied, and he was. He’d seen only a little of the Captain’s abilities for the length of time they’d spent side-by-side fighting the Chitauri, and he’d been left wanting more. Steve had a lot to give, and fighting a faceless army of lackies would do his great skill no justice. “You should lie down, Captain. Here...” Thor tentatively offered his hands to help.  

Steve nodded immediately, batting aside Thor’s apprehension with his lack of it and grabbing onto his companion’s offered help. The god slid closer and eased Steve back against the pillows. Thor left him for a moment to fetch more water and clean towels, about to ask permission before scolding himself for doubting Steve’s trust. He sat on the edge of the bed and dabbed gently at the wound. Steve turned a little onto his side so he could reach better, biting his lower lip to contain any sounds of pain. A few still escaped, but Thor did his best not to react, no matter how much they yanked on his heart.  

Finally, Steve spoke in a quiet, shaky voice, but he was admirably calm given the circumstances. “I saw your fight. Too bad they didn’t let you finish.”  

“It would seem they didn’t allow your victory either,” Thor smiled.  

“I might not have won,” Steve replied humbly.  

“I doubt that very much,” Thor contested gently.  

Steve snorted. “I’m hardly a god. I might be the weakest person in this whole place.”  

“Even if that were the case, you have a mighty spirit,” Thor assured. “Mightier than any other creature we will face here.”  

Steve smiled at that, pleased and a little pink. Maybe he was too tired to protest, but either way, he said nothing as Thor continued. The Captain’s panting filled the silence once more, and neither man spoke for a few more minutes.  

“We should try to think of a way out of here,” Steve piped up, grimacing but obviously trying to distract himself with conversation.  

Rest. We can discuss our escape when you’ve slept, Thor thought, but made better of it. Steve needed the distraction. “I have seen nothing so far that we can use to our advantage,” he offered, wishing he had better news.  

Steve seemed to have some, though, lighting up as he remembered a detail. “My shield. They have it here. Let me use it in my fight.”  

Thor brightened too. “I’m glad.” He dabbed up the last of the blood, watching more blossom from deeper, more aggravated areas. Delicately, the Asgardian unfolded the towel and pressed it along the length of the impressive gash. Steve shuddered, sinking into a deep sigh. Cool water against seared skin was probably an immense relief.  

Steve closed his eyes for a second or two, and Thor wondered if his companion had fallen asleep. He contemplated waking him, when the Captain blinked open his eyes with great effort and spoke again. “Shouldn’t be sick,” he murmured. “Serum’s supposed to take care of that.”  

Thor thought about those implications, and though he hadn’t previously known that detail of Steve’s mysterious serum, the information only gave urgency to his need to acquire medicine. There was no telling how the illness would progress without treatment, let alone the suffering Steve would have to endure if made to fight with an open wound the length of his forearm.  

“Then you should eat, and sleep,” Thor urged, offering his hands and a reassuring smile. For a moment it seemed he might have to fight Steve on that, but the Captain agreed with a nod and accepted his companion’s aid to stand. The cloth started to peel away, so Steve plucked it reluctantly from his side and left it on the bed. Thor easily draped an arm across his shoulders, and Steve didn’t resist. Together, they walked slowly to the table and sat down to eat.  

The food was surprisingly good, given they were essentially in a prison. Strong, well-fed fighters make for a better show, Thor reasoned grimly. There is no need to keep us weak when these disks are effective deterrents of misbehavior. And they provided us with a razor blade, too. Clearly, there is no fear of successful revolt.  

Thor watched Steve eat, trying to focus on his own food but finding it impossible. His companion looked half asleep. A good meal seemed to have perked him up a little, at least, but he was still shimmering in the warm glow of light radiating from the ceiling. Not to mention ghostly white and panting roughly. The demi-god pushed his empty plate away and looked around the room while Steve finished, certain they were being watched. He couldn’t spot any cameras, but if humans were able to make cameras too small to see, then certainly that technology could exist elsewhere.  

“If anyone is listening,” Thor spoke up, and Steve glanced up at him curiously, pausing his meal. “If you are watching us, my friend is sick. He cannot fight for your entertainment like this. He needs medicine.”  

“Thor... it’s fine,” Steve started, lifting his hand.  

“Captain,” Thor silenced sternly. “Cold water is no cure for an alien infection, especially not one you claim should not be affecting you in the first place.”  

Steve fell silent, retracting his hand and finally, painfully, nodding. As if acknowledging the problem made it so. Thor let his sternness fade away and continued, searching the room for any sign of a camera or communication device. Just some sign that someone was watching or listening. “Please. If you value him enough to feed him, bring something to heal him.”  

Steve sipped his purple juice grimly, staring at the wall with a blank look in his eyes. Thor stood in silence a moment more before sighing and sitting back down. The Captain focused intently on his drink, deep in thought. It was not hard to guess what was bothering him, and Thor immediately regretted making such a show when he could have waited for his companion to fall asleep.  

“You are not a burden, Captain” Thor spoke with all the conviction he possessed, and that seemed to strike a chord. Steve flinched and set down his cup with a shaking hand. “I promise.”  

Steve swallowed and stared into his cup, fingers padding the soft, irritated edge of the wound holding him back. He didn’t say anything for a long time, and Thor afforded him the opportunity to think. Finally, the Captain opened his mouth.  

“I’m not your captain here,” Steve started quietly. “So you don’t have to call me that. I was barely anyone’s captain out there, so I’m definitely not in here. Definitely not to you.”  

Thor tipped his head a little, confused. “We all regard you as our leader, no matter how young our team.”  

“Not here,” Steve grit his teeth and smacked his fist into the table. “Not here,” he whispered. “Just... you can call me Steve.”  

“Your weaknesses do not make you any less capable to lead,” Thor replied, churning his companion’s responses desperately inside his head as he tried to comprehend what irked the man.  

Steve growled, frustrated and losing his calm demeanor rapidly. Still, Thor couldn’t leave this. He had to set it right. “You’re a prince. I’m pretty sure prince out-weighs captain no matter what planet you’re on.”  

Thor regarded Steve with an easy stare, separating the man from his anger and searching beneath. “That is true,” he admitted, “but your experience is still valuable no matter my titles.”  

Steve huffed, realizing his outburst and regaining control of himself. He loosened his fist and drew his cup back to him, taking a quiet sip. “Just... I don’t want to be a captain. Not here...” There was sadness and longing in his voice. Thor nodded understandingly.  

“If that is what you wish, then I will not argue.”  

Steve sagged with relief and sipped his juice once more, emptying the cup and setting it down. He offered Thor a grateful, apologetic gaze. “Thanks,” he offered quietly. “For everything... I’m glad you’re here. Sorry, I didn’t mean to... get angry.”  

“It is understandable,” Thor smiled. “No hard feelings. And you're welcome. I will find some way to acquire medicine, Steven. Until then, you should get some more rest. I will keep watch.”  

Steve glanced at the opening that passed for a door, probably mourning their lack of privacy as Thor was. But he at least seemed pleased when Thor used his given name, smiling a little. Finally, he nodded and accepted his companion’s assistance to stand and walk to his bed. Thor folded back the blankets for him and rested them around his hips, knowing the fabric would no doubt aggravate Steve’s glistening wound. The Captain heaved a reluctant sigh, but ultimately settled and closed his eyes. Thor was about to turn away when they opened again and held him in place with their sincerity.  

“Thor?” Steve started. “Thank you... really.”  

Thor smiled. “Of course. I am sorry there’s not more I can do.”  

Steve smiled. “Done lots. Been a long time since anybody looked after me. S’nice.”  

“In that case,” Thor replied softly, pausing to collect the towels from the floor and bringing them to the bathroom. Steve watched him cross the short distance and slip into the alcove, wetting two towels and returning. Thor pressed one against the length of his companion’s wound, and folded the other to lay across his warm forehead. It is not enough, but I will do all you require of me. Forgive my lack of resources. For all that I am a god, and a prince, I still can’t give you what you need.  

But Steve didn’t care, or at least didn’t seem to. He was smiling a little, drifting away into much-needed slumber. Thor left his side clear their empty plates and cups from the table. He carried it over and slide it between both beds. It fit perfectly, and was just the right height to make a good bed-side table. Thor filled up a cup with cold water and left it within reach of Steve.  

“Sleep well, Steven,” the Asgardian quietly willed. He took his place on his own bed, crossing his legs and preparing to keep vigil as long as was needed.

Chapter Text

The lights dimmed, fading from warm orange to a cool blue – probably signifying night. There were no windows in their small room. Thor shifted and glanced over at Steve. The Captain was still asleep, his lips parted and his breathing raspier than before.

Thor sighed deeply, heavy with regret and helplessness. There was nothing he could do but get up and wet the towels again. And by Odin’s beard he would wet them as many times as needed.

“Please, if you’re listening...” Thor spoke quietly to the walls, knowing a normal volume likely wouldn’t be enough to wake Steve, but not taking the risk. “Please, someone.” It was unlikely they weren’t being monitored. Thor squeezed the towels in his hands so tightly his knuckles turned white, murmuring the same pleas over and over again as he knelt noiselessly at Steve’s bedside and pressed the first towel across his slick forehead. The mortal’s skin was tinged with grey and faint green, fevered pink high in his cheeks. Thor had no clue what else he could do but get down on his knees and beg. Earth’s suffering is my fault, not his.

Perhaps he was being unreasonable. Humans caught illnesses all the time, most of which would run their course. But Steven isn’t supposed to get sick, Thor justified his urgency. And this is no Earth sickness.

Thor crossed his legs and sank into the floor, staring at the hem of his shirt. He knew he should sleep at least a little, but the effort would be futile. There was no chance of catching even a few minutes with the uncertain fate of his companion clinging to his heart. The Asgardian could go for longer without sleep anyway, and though the last couple of days had been trying, Thor would not suffer if he missed his sleep tonight. Steve was more important than himself.

A few minutes later, Steve shifted and rolled onto his injured side, clutching the sheets and murmuring under his breath, broad shoulders tense and his back muscles leaping at brief intervals.

“Steven,” Thor rose up and leaned over, hands hovering as his uncertainty battled his need to help. Not everyone liked touch, Thor knew that. He’d seen the way Steve had batted Stark’s hand away just the other day when they’d all been arguing in the lab...

That felt like months ago. Thor swallowed, watching Steve’s face crease in discomfort, incoherent mumbled tumbling from parted lips. A dream, he realized. No, a nightmare.

Assured Steve was asleep, Thor’s compassion over-turned his wariness to make contact. He clasped a strong hand around the Captain’s shoulder and tried to pull him onto his back once more. Steve turned further away, shaking his head and murmuring more frantically, loud enough that words were actually distinguishable.

“C-cold...” Steve shivered, despite the warmth radiating from his body. “Peg... wait for me. I’ll b-be there...”

The woman again, Thor thought. An old flame. Probably dead, then. His heart ached. She would have lived a life without him even if she is still alive. Steve needed the sleep, but was letting him suffer through painful memories restful? Thor paused long enough in his own confusion to allow Steve time to sink deeper into the nightmare.

His companion was grasping for anything he could get his hands on, finding the blankets and tugging them up with tight fists. He shook deeper, his whole body quaking as if someone had dropped him in the Arctic. Thor blinked with realization, recalling what little he knew of his roommate – the ice, right. Steve had cryogenically frozen himself, essentially.

The Asgardian himself froze solid, contemplating the immensely vulnerable and intimate thing he was witnessing. Surely he would not wish anyone to see him this low so early in a relationship. We are barely teammates. I have no right to be here, and no right to think I can help.

But he was obligated to try. Thor firmed his jaw and moved closer, working with what little information he had of Steve Rogers. You hide your struggles well, Captain. I wish we could have known each other longer before now, that you could have allowed me to see this by choice.

Choice was long gone. He was here now, with nothing to do about it other than try to help. Maybe Steve was too sick to be aware, and would have no memory of this when he recovered. Thor would never wish his ally to suffer that way, but part of him wanted Steve to have the chance to offer this vulnerability willingly. The Asgardian moved in closer still, tugging the covers from Steve’s desperate grip. He pushed them out of the way altogether and eased both damp towels free as well, setting them on the table.

Steve’s eyes were open, staring at something only he could see and blind to the real world. His lower lip was trembling with not just perceived cold, but with fear as well. Thor could see terror in his companion’s blue eyes, terror no-doubt enhanced by fever. It would seem the Captain had been aware as his body slowly drowned and froze. What a terrible thing to experience, Thor thought helplessly, unable to think of any experience of his own that might be even slightly similar, so he could draw from it and help better.

Shivering violently, Steve searched for the blankets, clawing more desperately with each second that did not provide what he wanted. Before he knew it, one of those hands found its way around Thor’s wrist, and went still. The Captain crushed it in his grip, pulling his prize toward his chest, his shaking eased somewhat. It was enough to convince an ever-hesitant Thor to allow the captivity of his arm. Steve pulled him closer, grabbing the arm with his other hand and wrapping his body around it. The Asgardian leaned awkwardly over the Captain’s shoulder to allow his companion custody of his limb. I should wake him... Thor thought, about to wiggle his arm free until he realized his chest was pressing into Steve’s back, and his companion was relaxing even further under the warm pressure. Perhaps I could stay a little longer.

“S’warm...” Steve murmured. “Don’t go, Buck...”

“I will not,” Thor murmured in reply before he even realized, easing his body down on the mattress but leaving Steve to keep hold of his arm. He was relaxed now, at least, breathing more deeply. His back pressed into the Asgardian’s chest with each labored suck of air.

Now he really couldn’t fall asleep; Thor vowed to extricate himself before Steve could wake up and discover them tangled up.

--

Steve managed to sleep for a few hours, still tightly grasping Thor’s forearm like his life depending on it. His fever hadn’t let up, and his breathing was still strained and shallow. It had evened out at least, which meant that when it started to falter once more, the Asgardian noticed immediately from his place pressed tightly against the Captain’s sweat-soaked back; he hadn’t dared move yet, for fear of tipping this delicate peace out of balance.

In the end, it didn’t make a different. Steve careened rapidly into a new dream, letting go of Thor’s arm so he could wrap his arms around his head. This time, the shaking didn’t appear to be cold-related. This time, Steve’s murmuring were familiar. Though less common among Asgardian warriors, many still carried with them the traumas of battle.

Thank the All-father I can understand this, at least a little, Thor knew he would never truly understand anything Steve had gone through, even if they got out of this place and the Captain trusted him enough to share a friendship.

Steve was mumbling incoherently again, squirming uselessly in sheets damp with sweat. Thor heard a sob penetrate the arms Steve had shielded his head with and was once again overwhelmed by internal dichotomy – breach the boundaries of personal space and offer his proximity, or do nothing and let guilt eat him from the inside out for not doing anything?

One way or another, blood was staining the sheets, and he had to get Steve on his back. Or at least stop him from twisting and moving.

“Steven,” Thor tried, clasping the Captain’s shoulder and giving it a small shake. “Wake up, the battle is over. You are safe.”

It was one thing to hear, and another to feel. Thor wondered how he could possibly make Steve feel safe, let alone when in this fevered state. The pause of movement while he was speaking at least provided some hope that he could reach the man. It was short-lived: Steve curled up tighter and gasped out another sob of terror, choking on words that were indecipherable, but sounded pleading.

Urgency clawed at the Asgardian’s throat, and hesitance be damned, he gripped Steve’s shoulder and rolled him onto his back. The Captain was strong, fever or no, but he was no match for the God of Thunder, though he struggled fruitlessly all the same.

“Captain,” Thor tried, even though Steve had explicitly asked him not to address him that way. It garnered no response anyway. “Steven, wake up. It is just a dream. You’re here, with me, on another planet, far from Earth and anything that happened there.”

Steve struggled, clawing at the hands holding his back to the pillows and trying to push backward with his heels. His pulse was through the roof, which Thor could plainly feel from the hands on the Captain’s vibrating chest.

“Stop, you will hurt yourself,” Thor ordered sternly. There had to be some way to rouse the Captain from his nightmare, or lull him back to sleep. He was grasping at straws, making wild guesses. Something had to work eventually. “Soldier. I command you to be still.”

Strangely, it worked. Steve slowed his resistance, his eyes staring right through Thor as he froze rigid... then some semblance of awareness seeped into his expression, and his arms collapsed at his sides. The Asgardian didn’t let go, but eased his grip, clasping more gently as he watched the Captain fade awake. Steve’s expression lost all of its terror-induced vibrance, and his eyelids closed heavily to their usual half-way position. Thor heaved a relieved sigh and let his head hang forward a moment before making eye contact.

“I will get you some water.”

--

Luckily, Steve was too tired to be embarrassed. If he didn’t feel so awful, he’d be mortified. Instead, all he could feel was heaviness in his head, a weight on his lungs, a burning sensation in his face and chest and veins, and a chill everywhere else. It took him long seconds to remember the person helping him sit up was Thor. The demi-god easily got Steve off the sweat-drenched bed and over to the other, wrapping one solid arm around his back and keeping the other firmly pressed to Steve’s bare chest. Pillows were moved over, pushed under his shoulders, and cool cloths pressed into his forehead and alien wound.

Thor left his side and returned moments later with a cup of cold water, silent. Steve glanced up at the demi-god and opening his mouth to give thanks, but halting when he saw the conflict in his companion’s eyes.

“S’wrong?” Steve asked around the rim of the cup, cradling the object carefully in his hands and guiding it to his mouth. His vision was too blurry to see beyond the object in his hands resting against his chin, so he couldn’t make out details of the demi-god's expression too well.

Thor sat down on the bed beside him and peeled back the towel on his chest, wiping away blood Steve hadn’t previously noticed was smeared anew all over his ribs. “I apologize,” the Asgardian offered quietly. “For invading your privacy. We can speak more of this when you feel better. If you want, of course. Consider everything forgotten.”

Steve shook his head, inhibitions weakened. “No, no, Thor... I’m just s-sorry you had to see that.”

Thor’s face curved into a smile as he finished wiping up the last of the blood. Steve wasn’t even flinching toward the end of the process, his body too heavy and exhausted to respond to the pain. “I am sorry you have to suffer like that.”

It had been a long time since anyone had acknowledged his suffering. Steve felt warm to his core, and not in a sick, fevered sort of way. “Not your fault,” he whispered.

“As you keep reminding me,” Thor replied with what Steve thought was amusement. He didn’t sound annoyed, at least. “Go to sleep, Steven. I will leave you be.”

The word ‘leave’ sounded warning bells, and Steve’s eyes widened with panic. But Thor was inching closer the moment he noticed his companion’s distress.

“Or I can stay, if you prefer.”

Steve felt his hands go lax on the cup, his eyelids drifting closed as relief took hold of his body and let him start to fall back asleep. Thor’s weight on the edge of the bed remained, and the dreams left him alone.

He could apologize for asking so much of his companion in the morning, when he felt better... Yeah, he’s right... we can talk later. The last few hours were too much to process, so Steve didn’t bother trying. Whatever he’d said, which he remembered snippets of, he knew he’d have some explaining to do. I don’t think this is how you’re supposed to make close friends, by surprising them with your deepest, darkest demons. It’s one Hell of an ice-breaker at least. Hey, maybe Thor’s one of those people who hates small-talk. Nothin’ small ‘bout this.

It was a silly thought, one that drifted away along with his consciousness.

Chapter Text

Steve was still asleep by morning. Thor roused himself from his light slumber and sat on the edge of the bed, just in time to watch the lights fade from nighttime blue back to warm orange.  

He turned, unfolding his arms and watching Steve for a moment or two, observing his still face and shallow breathing. To his dismay, there was no improvement. In fact, the mortal was worse.  

“I wish you were here, Mother,” Thor murmured, padding closer. Steve hadn’t shied away from touch so far, but that didn’t make it any easier for the Asgardian to reach over, brush the cloth aside, and wrap his palm across his companion’s forehead. Somehow, he didn’t think Steve would be waking up again unless he managed to find some medicine. Unless this is just the worst part, and he will recover on his own with a little more time.  

Thor doubted that very much, and refused to allow optimism to slow him down. Urgency pushed his brain to work faster, moved his body quickly across the room to gather the breakfast that arrived from the wall. Immediately he noted soft fruits and some kind of strange-looking bread – nothing an unconscious person could eat. Thor quickly forgot the food and fetched some water instead.  

There was probably very little time between morning and when he’d be called to fight. Thor used that knowledge to spur his actions, sliding a hand under Steve’s head and tipping some water between his parted lips.  

“The Grand Master has summoned you.”  

Thor whipped his head round to see three guards standing just outside the red line on the floor. Darkness settled over the god’s expression, and it might have been an illusion that the room darkened a little too. The god set aside the empty cup and stood up, impressive and towering even in these simple clothes. “You cannot take me away from him. If you leave him untended he will die.”  

“Get dressed,” the middle guard ignored his demands, face hidden beneath a large helmet. “Five minutes.”  

Thor stalked over, a growl vibrating his throat. He stopped short of the invisible barrier keeping him from closing that six -inch gap between himself and the guards, staring promises of suffering. One guard lifted his hand and produced a familiar remote-control.  

Thor smiled. “Zap me, I dare you.”  

When the guard held up a second remote, Thor’s face twisted into horrific realization, and he was unable to keep from glancing at Steve’s helpless form.  

“Five minutes,” Thor growled, and turned away.  

The guards stood in their place as the demi-god took his armor into the alcove and changed into it. He tugged the straps with vengeful frustration, murmuring options through his head over and over again. There was no stopping this, no staying behind in his room to keep watch. And what if Steve died while he was out fighting monsters? How would he face the rest of his team, new as it was, if he returned and their leader did not?  

Nothing could be done, not that he could see. Thor grit his teeth and shook his head as he moved from the bathroom and over to Steve’s bedside. The Captain hadn’t stirred, oblivious.  

“I will find a way to return quickly,” Thor promised , hoping it he wasn’t making any he couldn’t keep . “I won’t leave you here alone. Please, just hold on for a little longer, and I will find a way to help you.”  

One more minute. Thor didn’t waste it. Steve’s wound hadn’t stopped bleeding since it had been viciously torn open last night, so he dampened a fresh towel and pushed it over the opening. With gentle hands shaking a little as frustration, fear, and trepidation all battled for supremacy, Thor wet the cloth on Steve’s forehead one last time.  

“Time’s up,” the guard emotionlessly declared, and Thor rose, backing reluctantly for the door. All this power, and he was useless to save one man.  

“Please...” he murmured, to no-one in particular. And there was no-one to listen.  

--  

Back to battle, which meant more paint smeared across his face. Thor hardly cared, squaring his jaw as he swiped up a weapon from the armory and strode toward the gate . The other contenders gathered in the area under the stadium could feel tension and rage pulsing from the god as he walked purposefully through their ranks and made his way to the gate.  

The sooner he won this, the sooner he could go back his room, and back to Steve.  

Steve, all alone. He could be dead by now, or taken. I am not certain which would be worse, finding his body or not finding anything.  

Maybe it wouldn’t matter how fast he ended the fight; what if they just threw him straight into another, or made him sit around and watch the rest? Thor tried not to think about that as he toyed anxiously with the blade in his hand. It would feel good to fight someone and forget his inadequacies while he bashed in their faces with his fist. Out of habit, Thor reached out his hand, watching the opposite gate reveal his new opponent while the crowd surged. Mjolnir failed to make an appearance. Now would be ideal. He could break free, retrieve Steve, and find a ship. Maybe Heimdall would hear him and whisk them both to Asgard where the mortal could receive treatment for his injury. I will show you Asgard someday. You fought my battle. It seems only fair you should drink in my halls. Surely Odin would allow that, after the damage Loki had done to Earth already.  

Earth... his other team-mates might still be battling the God of Mischief. Perhaps when the pair returned, Loki would have been victorious.  

No use thinking about it. Nothing can be done. Steve is the only one I have the chance to help. Thor squared off against his new foe, rage fueling his body and granting him an easy win against the large but very slow alien creature forced to fight him. The sword was quickly abandoned .  

It was satisfying to drive punch after punch into the beast’s thick leathery hide, breaking bones and wrenching limbs with his bare hands. As he stood over the creature, Thor noted he’d been allowed to see his fight through to the end this time. They’d given him something stronger to fight, too, a bigger monster with thicker skin and stronger bones. Still no match for an enraged god, though.  

Strange how fast anger could be beaten by all-consuming worry; Thor enjoyed elated cheers of the crowd for only a moment before finding himself back in the gathering area with the other gladiators. Then, a hand was wrapping around his arm and leading him from the crowd, back to his room. Thor’s heart pounded with the realization that this might be it, that Steve might already be dead when he returned.  

A pair of guards took him back, and Thor didn’t waste a moment hurrying over to see if Steve was even alive... he was. There was a pulse, uneven and weak but present. “Thank the All-father,” Thor breathed, gathering warmed cloths and turning toward the alcove to wet them.  

He spotted it, then, in the slot where food arrived something that was definitely not food. Thor’s heart soared as he approached and saw what it was: a wooden bowl filled with some kind of pale greenish goo, a pot of what smelled a bit like tea, and a generous pile of clean folded bandages, all organized neatly on a tray.  

Y our battle must have impressed them,” Thor smiled, draping the towels over his shoulder so he could carry the tray to the table and set it down between the beds. “It would seem they want you alive, Steven.”  

Alive, of course, if Thor could apply the medicines well enough. The warrior frowned at the bowl and tentatively dipped his fingers into the substance. His expression twisted – Disgusting. Strangely though, it smelled of pine.   

Thor cleaned away fresh blood and smeared the cold cream in a thick layer across the inflamed tear in Steve’s side. H e wiped his fingers clean and peered down at the mysterious cream tinted pink with blood, contemplating the next step: covering that hideous thing.  

“If you could wake and assist me, now would be ideal,” Thor murmured softly, pulling Steve toward him and draping an arm over his shoulder. Weight was no issue, regardless of how large and packed with muscle the Captain was. The challenge was awkwardness , trying to hold Steve upright so he could wrap a bandage around the tenaciously-bleeding wound, stopping further infections from trying to crawl their way in and give the serum more to battle. The Asgardian grunted, shifting a little so he could better hold his companion. When he was certain his damp and clammy cargo wouldn’t slip, Thor let go and fumbled for a bandage.  

Their ears were squished together, Steve’s fingers curled up on the blankets by Thor’s hips as the demi-god carefully wrapped thin white cloth round and round his ribs, until all the slimy, bloody mess of angry, open flesh was covered. The bandage clung to itself, and Thor was grateful he wouldn’t have to try and tie it in place. He reached for another and added a second layer, just to be safe. Of all the battles I’ve returned from, and all the cuts and gashes I’ve had tended to, I still can’t remember what to do, he mourned, wishing he’d paid better attention. Or maybe it wasn’t his memory that was the trouble, but the apprehension fighting with the calm he was trying to maintain. He and Steve were practically hugging.  

It was over, the wound tended to. Thor breathed a sigh of relief and untangled himself from Steve, lowering the sweaty human back against his pillows and sitting back. His gaze drifted to the teapot, curiosity taking hold of him for a moment. Tentatively, he lifted off the lid and smelled the contents. The Asgardian smiled and poured some dark, steaming liquid into a cup. Medicine, of some variety, he deduced, recognizing a few smells within the mixture. Thor stood up and added a little cold water before returning to Steve’s side.  

Again, the forced intimacy irked him, made his skin crawl at how close he had to get to this practical stranger. Nothing could be done. At least Steve had been receptive of help so far, and hadn’t been displeased with their proximity. He was barely conscious then. He may feel differently when his head clears and he can think straight. Thor scolded himself for hesitating when his actions were only meant to help, and the longer he stalled the longer Steve lay there in sweaty misery. He pushed his hand under the other man’s head, tipping it forward and resting the cup against parted lips.  

Steve didn’t swallow when the tea was tipped into his mouth, but it didn’t dribble back out either so Thor surmised that the liquid had trickled down his throat. One sip’s worth at a time, Thor got the tea into his unconscious companion and finally set aside the empty cup. Then he leaned back and sat on the floor cross-legged to observe his patient. It was probably an illusion, but Steve already looked a little better. Maybe that was just down to the fact that his gruesome wound and all the blood and redness was covered in clean and reassuring white. A few bruises peeked out, but those were of no concern.  

He was so relieved, so focused on this vital task that he hadn’t noticed the bloody sheets were gone. Thor rose to fetch another cold towel, and saw them as he turned.  

The bed Thor had moved Steve from was clean; sweaty, bloody sheets had been exchanged for new ones and a fresh pile of linens folded up at the foot. The Asgardian walked over and found fresh pillows too, immediately stealing them and adding them to Steve’s growing pile without a second’s thought. Thor turned on his heel and ducked into the alcove to continue his task. He was glad to have a clean bed for himself , though slightly perturbed knowing someone had been in the room while Steve was unconscious and alone.  

Lunch arrive d through the slot as Thor was returning to Steve and folding up his cold towel so it could be applied to the Captain’s warm forehead. Nothing more could be done but wait, so he might as well distract himself and eat.  

I was never much good at waiting, Thor thought as he reluctantly left Steve’s side and collected the foo d . He didn’t pay much attention to what he was eating, clearing off both plates with the knowledge that Steve wouldn’t wake in time to eat it hot. The Asgardian did put aside a couple of small items that would still be good in a few hours or whenever Steve recovered enough to eat something; a roll of more odd bread, a fruit that resembled an orange in every way apart from its rich blue color, one from each plate. Thor sat on the other bed and set aside the selected food before finishing up the rest himself. It would be impossible to properly take care of Steve if he wasn’t well-fed himself.  

Eventually, Thor decided he’d be better off napping while he had the chance instead of sitting in silence or pacing the room anxiously. It was unlikely the Captain would fall into a nightmare again, and probably wouldn’t need any more monitoring at this point. Better to rest than to worry, Thor reasoned, wetting the towel one last time before getting settled on his own bed, using his arm as a pillow and facing his resting companion. He closed his eyes, falling into a light sleep.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in the back of his mind was a vague memory of falling through space while looking up at New York’s sky. But that was a dream, of course. 

More real than anything else at the moment was a dull ache in his chest. As Steve dragged himself awake, the ache grew into a steady throb. 

He felt too warm. Steve kicked his leg none-too gracefully, but there were no blankets on him to move. The Captain pulled his head up with more effort than he knew it should take, but he could already see his body from his almost-sitting position. In the dim blue light, he could just make out a pair of dull grey cut-offs clinging to his legs and a snug bandage wrapped neatly around a good many ribs. 

Sharp pain galloped across his flank, reminding him of exactly where that wound was. Steve hissed and wrapped his arms around his body, letting his head fall back against the pillows. He felt weak and sluggish, like his body was made of lead. Something slipped and fell over his eyes during the movement, and Steve reached up with a shaky arm to drag it off. It was a damp towel, warm no-doubt from its time spent on his sweltering forehead. 

How long was that...? 

Alarms bounced around inside his head and Steve wrenched it up again to have a look round the room, commanding his arms to obey and push him higher. They did so reluctantly, pushing his throbbing torso up and off the low mattress. That small movement sucked all the energy out of him, robbing the air from his lungs – so much so that when Steve turned his head he saw Bucky in the other bed. Bucky, always there to take care of him when he was ill, to look after his weak body and keep his faulty heart beating another day... 

I need some water, Steve thought one coherent idea within the swirling mess inside his head. He shuffled closer to the edge of the mattress, shoving uncooperative legs underneath him and standing up. The floor was suddenly very far away. Steve only managed a couple of steps before it was suddenly very close again. The room went black for a moment or two. 

“...ven. Steven, wake up,” a deep voice coaxed with poorly-masked urgency near his ear, a hand enveloping his shoulder. “Steven, you should not be up.” 

Well, that’s obvious, the part of him that had any sense mentioned. “S’kay Buck, got up too fast s’all. M’alright.” Familiar phrases tumbled out his lips. 

“You are not ‘alright’, Steven. Some may think me a fool, but I am not blind.” The voice wasn’t annoyed at all. Gently scolding, maybe, but with an easy-going tone and warm sentiment. A strong arm looped under his and pulled him slowly to his feet, practically carrying him the few short feet to his bed and lower him sitting on the edge, but not letting go. “Though I am glad to see you awake and recovering, I think you should rest a little longer.” 

Steve’s heavy eyelids opened all the way, and he turned his head to see not Bucky, but Thor at his side, clasping his arm with equal parts worry and relief. 

“Sorry,” Steve breathed. 

“Not at all,” Thor smiled easily. “Your confusion is understandable. Here, lie down. I will get you something to drink.” 

Steve obeyed, though he didn’t have to do much work. Thor practically picked him up and turned him round, setting him gently down on his pillows and giving his shoulder a friendly, comforting pat. The Captain watched the Asgardian gather his discarded towel and take it to the alcove, returning and pressing it into his companion’s forehead. The cool water immediately eased the heat in his face and helped him settle into reality. By the time Thor had finished pouring some strange tea from a pot into a cup, he felt fully awake. 

“Here,” Thor offered. “It is medicine.” 

Steve didn’t think too much about what it was, only that it smelled good. He clasped the cup in both hands and took slow sips. “Where’d you get it?” 

“It was here when I returned from the arena,” Thor explained, settling on the floor and folding his legs. He reached across the table and produced a blue fruit, peeling it. 

“How long...?” Steve started. 

“You have been asleep all day. The lights just dimmed, so it is only late evening.” Thor handed Steve a segment of fruit, which he ate without hesitation. It was good, fresh and sweet. Thor offered him another piece. 

“I... sorry,” Steve replied uselessly, not entirely sure what to say, nor what to make of the situation. 

Thor gave him one of those easy, cheerful smiles and ate a segment of fruit himself before handing over another. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Steven.” 

“Thanks, then,” Steve replied with a warm smile of his own, knowing Thor was right; this had been out of his control. 

“You are welcome,” Thor beamed, lighting up the dim room. His bright smile settled into concern. “How is it?” 

“Sore,” Steve admitted weakly. “But a little better. Doesn’t burn so bad. What’d you put on it?” 

Thor proudly pointed at a wooden bowl sat on the table. “This. It is revolting.” 

“Looks like body wash,” Steve mused. “Kinda smells like it. Worked, whatever it is.” 

Is working,” Thor gently corrected, handing over the rest of the fruit and reaching for the other. “You are far from healed. Rest. I will stay right here.” 

Steve emptied the last sip from his cup and Thor plucked it from his hand before he could move toward setting it down. “You don’t have to wait up.” 

“No, but I will,” Thor replied cheerfully, as if leaving had never been an option. Not that he really could leave in this small room they were trapped in, but he could have gone back to bed, gone to sleep. 

Steve smiled, endlessly glad for the company. He still felt sick and too-warm, but it was a familiar feeling. Uncomfortable, yes, but a reminder that he was still human, and not this indestructible thing, this machine made for fighting, and fighting only. He felt more at home here in this stiff bed, head full of haze and his chest heavy with pain and sickness, and Thor at his side than he ever had back in the apartment SHIELD had provided. Before the ice, before Captain America, and before anything that had made his life complicated, he’d spent many nights as he was now; sick, in some way or another. But he hadn’t ever been worried, because he’d had a friend looking out for his every need, unbothered by any efforts needed to make sure he had everything that could be given. 

Steve smiled. “Haven’t been this sick in a long time.” 

“You seem pleased,” Thor smiled back and chuckled from deep in his chest, amused and confused. 

“I am, a little,” Steve replied. “Didn’t think anybody cared enough to take care of me. Maybe never would.” 

“Why do you say that?” Thor asked softly. 

Steve paused, contemplating that admission and what he’d just let Thor in on. “I... everyone I know is dead. Everything that made me feel at home is gone, and I can’t get it back. When Fury set me up with that apartment, it felt empty. I knew he would want me back out there at some point. I never know if people want me, or Captain America.” 

It was liberating to admit that to someone. Steve couldn’t remember sharing that with anyone else. Thor offered him the second fruit, recognition in the god’s eyes. “Titles can sometimes drag us down,” he agreed. 

Of course, Thor was a prince. There were probably all sorts of responsibilities piled on his shoulders, things people expected him to be. Steve held the demi-god's calm gaze for a moment before looking at the mis-colored orange in his fingers. 

Steve turned the fruit in his hand slowly and swallowed roughly. “I can’t be who I was before the ice. Agent Coulson wanted me to be that man, and maybe the others do too.” 

“Perhaps they will,” Thor agreed easily. “But they may want more. Would you let them know Steve Rogers if they wanted to?” 

Steve blinked, swallowing the fruit so he could buy himself time to think. In the end, he wasn’t sure. “I-it’s not that I don’t want them to... I just... everyone who cared about me before I was worth anything is... dead. I always knew Bucky cared about me because I had nothing else to give. Even if the team stuck together, and I managed to make friends with all of them... I’d still... wonder.” 

Thor nodded. There was no judgement in his eyes. He didn’t seem to mind this impromptu discussion, his impressive shoulders relaxed. There were no expectations here. Thor wasn’t looking for favors, or to win the super-soldier's loyalty so he could use him later. He didn’t expect Captain America to leap to his feet immediately, and didn’t think less of him for not doing so. His questions were posed with genuine curiosity, undemanding and easy-going, inviting Steve to be open in a way he never had been before. 

“Do you wonder with me?” Thor asked, and still it was merely a question of curiosity. 

Steve paused, wondering how he could possibly answer that. He’d spent so long feeling alone and detached, hesitant to start friendships for fear that in the end, Steve Rogers wouldn’t matter, and he’d lose a part of himself. Bit by bit, Captain America would be all that was left. And here came Thor, the literal God of Thunder, staring right through him with thousand-year-old eyes, offering comfort and asking nothing in return. 

How could Steve possibly admit the truth, that he was still scared Thor would turn out to prefer the Captain over Steve? 

“What could the God of Thunder want from a kid from Brooklyn,” Steve chuckled humorlessly to himself, mocking his own answer given in silence. 

“Perhaps you are correct, that a god has no need of Captain America,” Thor replied. “But I could use a friend.” And he placed one large hand on Steve’s shoulder, offering a confident smile. “And if you give me time to prove to you that I would like to know Steve Rogers, then I would be proud to be your friend as well.” 

How could he take all of what Thor had given him and not offer anything in return, least of all friendship? Steve had already told the god more than he’d ever planned to, more than he’d told anyone other than Bucky. Even then, his old friend had had one hell of a time trying to get anything out of him. Steve smiled, staring at his empty hands. Thor had gotten him through a bad bought of nightmares, for heaven’s sake, had brought him back from the brink of death. 

“You saved my life,” Steve breathed, making eye contact. Thor’s gaze was grounding. “And I could use a friend too. I... don’t have any.” 

“Then it is settled,” Thor grinned, passing over a bread roll. That smile was contagious, dragging a little more happiness into Steve’s face. 

That was incredibly easy, Steve thought, amazed at how effortlessly Thor blasted through years of barriers with that grin alone, ploughing his way into the Captain’s heart. The Asgardian appeared oblivious, possibly naïve. Steve wondered if it was all an act, pretending to be so blunt. He had a feeling Thor knew exactly what he was doing though, and what looked like broad bashes with a hammer were actually precise strikes with a chisel.  

He had a friend, just as quickly as falling through a portal. 

-- 

Thor sat up a little longer with Steve, coaxing some lighter conversation out of him until he could tell the mortal was no longer able to stay awake. The Captain sank heavily into the pillows and was asleep in moments. Thor sighed with relief and happiness. Steve was getting better, and had accepted his friendship a lot easier than he’d anticipated. The man was in need of some friendly company. In truth, the demi-god didn’t have too many friends either. It seemed Steve felt the way he did, alienated from the world by a title, never knowing who would truly stick by his side no matter where duty called. 

And Steve had already lost his close friends. It would be difficult to make more, surely. Thor knew himself how hard it sometimes was to get close to anyone fighting at his side. In battle, there was always the chance someone would die, as many had. It was easier not to get attached to anyone, to refrain from intimate discussions and keep all relationships on the surface level. It could be lonely, but much easier to cope when someone was killed. 

Thor had seen part of himself in Steve’s sad eyes. 

Confident Steve was deeply asleep, Thor got up and crawled into his own bed. He faded into a light sleep, ready at a moment’s notice to get up if anything went amiss. His new friend was too tired to dream that night, and was still asleep in the exact same position when Thor rose early in the morning. 

The Captain was considerably less pale. Thor collected breakfast from the slot as usual and set it on the table. He was in the bathroom getting ready for today’s battle when Steve awoke. Hearing the deep sigh as it faded into a groan, Thor abandoned his dressing and hurried out topless. 

Steve was already sitting, wiping sweat from his body with the towel, his breathing much deeper than when he’d fallen asleep that evening. His skin wasn’t so warm, either, when Thor reached out to clasp his shoulder and stop him from trying to rise. 

“Perhaps another day of rest,” Thor suggested. 

Steve glanced at Thor’s heavy boots, up to his bare chest, then to his eyes. Praise the All-father, he looked so much more awake, the haze faded back to almost nothing. The Captain looked disappointed, but didn’t push back against Thor’s grip. “I should get ready. They might not afford me that rest. If I can hold a weapon, they might not care.” 

Steve was probably right, and though medicine had been provided, the Grand Master might not care about all his gladiators being at one-hundred-percent health. Maybe he only cared that they could walk and hold a weapon, as Steve said. Still, Thor wouldn’t let him out of this room today, if he could help it. 

“They will certainly send you into battle if you appear in the doorway dressed and ready,” Thor reasoned. “But they might let you rest a little longer if you lie down. Pretend you are unable to fight, if you have to.” 

“Thor, I can fight if I have to,” Steve replied, reaching up to grab the demi-god's wrist reassuringly. He started to pushed against the hand holding him in place. 

“I have no doubt,” Thor replied, calmly pushing harder and easily beating Steve at their wrestling match. “But at what cost? You could return with worse injuries and be forced to rest even longer.” 

That seemed to get through. Steve eased up and lay back with sigh of defeat. “You’re right. Wouldn’t be fair to repay you by going and getting cut up again. You’ve taken really good care of me, Thor... I hope I don’t sound ungrateful.” 

“Not in the slightest,” Thor replied with a bright smile. “I am glad you’re feeling better, at least. You had me worried. I thought you might die just the other day.” 

“Seventy years frozen solid didn’t kill me,” Steve offered, trying to ease Thor’s worry with a smile of his own. “I’m a hard man to kill, especially when the God of Thunder wants me alive.” 

Those words made Thor very pleased indeed. He grinned wider, handing over a plate of breakfast. “And I am very glad to have been able to help.”  

Steve accepted the food and started to eat, oblivious to Thor’s movements as the demi-god sat down and pulled the tray of medicines close. A cup of still-warm tea was pressed into Steve's hand and the empty plate removed as soon as he was finished his meal. 

“Drink it,” Thor said, pointing at the bowl of cream beside him. “Then more of this.” 

Steve didn’t argue, drinking his medicine and sitting up so Thor could unwrap his bandages. The demi-god could see his friend’s hands twitching with the desire to reach up and help. They both stared at the wound the moment the last loop of bandage fell away. It looked exponentially better, the skin having absorbed all the cream Thor had applied yesterday afternoon. The edges were still a little inflamed, but much less so, and the bleeding had stopped. Taking up a towel, Thor dabbed away a little pale fluid still leaking out of the worst sections. Steve hitched a breath, but remained still. His stomach pushed against the demi-god's steadying hand with every short breath. 

It wasn’t healed, and Steve wasn’t totally well, but everything was much improved. Thor smiled, pleased with the progress. He wasn’t sure if the serum had merely been given the chance to work like it should, or if this was all the work of these medicines, but the details didn’t matter. He pushed Steve back against the pillows and dipped his fingers into the repulsive cream, smearing another generous dollop onto the Captain’s skin. 

Steve hissed as cold cream met warm skin, soaking into his open wound and no-doubt stinging like all hell. Thor murmured an apology, being as gentle as possible when spreading the medicine across the whole length of the wound. Steve didn’t try to do it himself or stop him, watching with mild curiosity as his friend tended him. When a thick layer of cream covered the wound evenly, the room smelling of fresh pine, Thor put a hand behind Steve’s shoulder and pushed him sitting. 

“You’re really good at this,” Steve murmured, awe seeping into his tone. 

Thor smiled with pride as he pressed a length of bandage into his friend’s stomach, wrapping it round once before removing his hand. “It is much easier now that you are awake,” he chuckled honestly, humbly accepting the praise. Easier in many ways; easier to actually wrap the bandage, and easier to offer his touch now that Steve could explicitly express that he was okay with it. 

Steve seemed more than okay with their proximity, totally at ease with Thor’s hands on him. “I’m pretty heavy...” he admitted bashfully, chuckling his own reply. 

“And large,” Thor added, smoothing out the bandage as he applied it. He pressed in the edge and sat back, beaming proudly. “How does it feel?” 

“Itchy,” Steve admitted, grimacing and pressing a hand over the demi-god's snug dressing instead of scratching at it. “Not so bad with that cream on it though. Hurts a little, but not so much if I just sit still.” 

Thor searched his face for lies or fronts, but it appeared Steve was being totally honest about his state. “Then stay put while I’m gone,” the Asgardian ordered, using some sternness and hoping it would be enough to dissuade his friend from moving unless he had to. “I do not wish to find you sprawled on the floor again.” 

Steve looked guilty. “Sorry.” 

“You will be up and healthy in no time,” Thor patted the Captain’s shoulder encouragingly. “I only wish I could stay here and keep you company. Are you comfortable?” 

Steve rubbed his shoulders. “I’m a little cold, actually...” Thor handed over the second shirt he’d set aside, and his friend smiled, starting to put it on but struggling as his sore, stiff body resisted. The Captain gasped halfway through and Thor reached over, pulling the shirt down by the hem. Steve cast him a grateful glance, pink with bashfulness. 

The sound of footsteps sobered both their expressions. Steve lay down, letting his eyelids fall heavy with what Thor hoped was the act he had suggested. The demi-god unfolded a couple of spare blankets and tucked them around Steve’s shoulders, replacing the damp towel. “Sleep,” he urged. “Please.” 

Steve nodded once. “Thanks,” he murmured. “Good luck.” 

“Knowing you are recovering will be enough,” Thor smiled back. It was still difficult to leave Steve injured and alone, but he had no choice. At least the guard didn’t try to take the Captain along too. They just led Thor away and left his friend to rest. 

He will be alright alone for a few hours. At least he is healing instead of dying. Thor thought about that morning vividly as he was sent into battle for the amusement of others. Steve and his sad eyes, grateful for the touch Thor had fearfully applied when those eyelids had been closed. Steve and his admissions of loneliness. Thor wondered if he should have asked so many questions, but the way his friend had lost some of the tension in his shoulders upon replying, he knew he had done the right thing. He’d helped, at least a little. Maybe he should have asked more. At least if they were to stay here there would be plenty of time and opportunity. 

Thor had gained a friend, and intended to keep him. 

Chapter Text

Steve spent the day half asleep. When the sound of the food slot sliding open dragged him awake, he realized he’d been curled on his side. He straightened out with a wince and contemplated whether or not he should get up.  

In the end, hunger won over. It was a sign the serum was working, chewing through whatever resources were available in order to heal the damage and work the infection from his body. The medicine helped. Steve looked over at the teapot beside the bed. Thor wouldn’t mind if he got up for food and had some medicine along the way. The Captain swung his legs around, feeling much more stable than yesterday evening.  

Steve poured himself some tea, sipping it slowly to keep busy and staring at Thor’s neat work wrapped around his chest. If we’d been on Earth, I might be dead, the thought occurred to him. What if Earth medicine wasn’t enough, or they couldn’t figure out a way to fight the infection fast enough? Perhaps Banner and Stark would have helped, compiling their genius to find a remedy... Steve shivered at the thought of spending the couple days in the tower or the hospital, the whole world watching him expectantly. There, he’d have been Captain America, responsibility demanding that he stand back up, brush himself off, and continue as if nothing had hurt him because it wasn’t supposed to.  

No, better that he was here, with only Thor to see him weak and hurting .  

Ironically, this cell felt safer and more like home than his apartment. He knew he’d still prefer recovering here than in a hospital or Stark’s lab, wherever he’d have ended up. This cell was quiet and private, and his only company cared more about Steve Rogers than Captain America.  

Steve felt small again under Thor’s touch, and that was comforting. The Captain smiled and finished his tea, getting up cautiously and walking to the slot to grab food. I should start thinking of a plan while I’m here. If I can’t use my body, I can at least use my head. Steve pulled the table forward so he could sit at it with his back to the wall.  

There was nothing to make a plan with, no information other than a few hallways he had memorized and that these disks stuck to them were impossible to remove by force. Steve ran his fingers over his thoughtfully. Before they could go anywhere, they had to come off. Uselessly, he finished his lunch and reluctantly crawled back into bed, wishing there were something else he could do. Cook, maybe. Have something ready for Thor when he came back.  

There was nothing to be done. Steve sighed and lay down, pulling the blankets up to his chest and resting his arms across his stomach. All he could do for Thor was get some sleep and recover.  

Sleep he did. The serum had to be working, because he passed right out, all energy going toward healing the blast on his chest and the fever still clinging tenaciously. He dozed for a few more hours, shifting as fragments of a dream disturbed him. B y the time Thor returned, he was mostly awake.  

Steve rubbed his eyes and sat up so he could make sure Thor wasn’t injured. The demi-god pranced to the alcove to get changed and scrub paint off his face, apparently fine and offering a cheerful greeting as he walked by.  

“Steven! How marvelous, you look worlds better ! ” Thor cast him a bright-eyed grin before dipping into the bathroom and turning on the tap.  

It was impossible not to smile at how pleased Thor was toward his recovery. “Thanks. Feel worlds better too,” Steve reassured. “How was it?”  

“It was a challenge for certain,” Thor replied, pausing to dig a towel into his cheek. Steve could just see the curve of the other man’s armored back and red cape as he leaned over to get clean. “But a welcome one. The beast fell with one well-placed strike.”  

They hung in silence for a few moments, Steve fiddling with the blanket and Thor continuing to fight with his war paint. T here was still some in his eyebrow when he emerged. The demi-god put his armor on the floor and nudged it aside with his foot, picking his shirt off his bed and pulling it on. Steve watched carefully, worried that perhaps Thor had battle wounds hidden under that armor, but his torso was clean and smooth.  

The Asgardian cheerfully sat on the floor beside him, reaching for the bowl of cream. Steve obediently started take off his shirt, reminded of how much healing was left as the skin on either side of his wound tugged painfully. Thor’s hand grabbed the hem from behind and drew the shirt over his head wordlessly. They sat in silence, the demi-god's brow creasing with concentration as he settled into his routine. Steve watched him work, holding his arms out of the way so his friend could unwrap him, then lying down for the cream. 

He peered at the wound, clearly able to see where the skin was damaged now that all the inflammation and fluid was gone. Steve was still taken aback by how big the gash was. And extremely itchy. That means it’s healing, he reminded himself. Ever since the serum, and his wounds healed at an accelerated rate, the itching was always the worst. 

Steve sat up again so Thor could wrap his chest, accepting help with his shirt once more.  

“Thanks,” he smiled gratefully, to which Thor replied with his usual cheerful grin.  

“You are welcome,” the god stood up, going to fill both cups with water and returning to sit in his spot. “How was your day?”  

“Boring,” Steve admitted. “Wouldn’t have minded a book or some music or something.”  

Thor nodded in agreement. They sat in a few more moments of silence, until their cups were empty. Thor spoke, significantly more serious. “They will expect you to fight tomorrow.”  

Steve agreed with a firm nod, his jaw solid. He could feel energy swirling up through his feet, which would no doubt fill his entire body by morning. He knew he’d be able to fight by then, but would he be able to maintain his normal standard? What if he slipped up, and brought back more wounds to worry over? “I’ll be okay.”  

Thor nodded. “You and I have quickly become a favorite. We may be able to avoid the death matches for a while.”  

Steve stared at the wall. “Death matches?”  

“Yes. So far we have been warm-up for the crowds. Your first fight was a test, to see what you were capable of. If you are good enough, they will pair you against someone of similar skill and strength. If you are too good, they send you to fight the C hampion,” Thor recounted everything he knew.  

“Champion?” Steve asked as Thor got up to collect dinner from the slot.  

“Yes. The Grand Master has a prized warrior who has won every match and slain all who have fought him,” Thor replied grimly, passing Steve his plate. “I have no t seen him, so I do not know how strong he is. But he must be formidable. They offer freedom to anyone who can kill him.”  

Steve paled. The Grand Master wouldn’t tease that chance randomly. This champion would have to be formidable indeed. And with no information, there was no way of knowing if Thor or Steve had any chance of beating him.  

“If you are to fight tomorrow, perhaps you should practice,” Thor changed the topic, his smile right back in place. The god rose and reached down for Steve. “Would you like to spar with me?”  

“I... yeah,” Steve grinned back, grabbing Thor’s hands and letting the god pull him standing. He didn’t need the steadying grip on his shoulders, but he appreciated it all the same. It would be wise to practice after having spent two days straight in bed. “Don’t go easy on me.”  

“One day we can fight each other when you can hope to best me,” Thor grinned back.  

“I s that a challenge?” Steve replied, lifting an eyebrow.  

“Yes, Steven,” Thor replied easily. “Victory against an injured man would be too easy.”  

“I won’t make it easy for you,” Steve grinned back, following Thor to the middle of the room. It was large enough that they could spar without any worry of hitting the walls, ceiling, or any furniture as they moved.  

“Do not expect an easy win,” Thor settled into a basic boxing stance. “I will take no pity on you.”  

Steve replied with his own stance, sizing up Thor with a swift sweep of his gaze. They were similar in height and build, and though he was a lot stronger than a normal person, he knew Thor was stronger still. The Asgardian struck out first, offering a slow punch and following up with a faster one. Steve wove around both, nimble on his feet.  

Fighting Thor was a lot different from fighting a trainer at the gym. No matter how tough and jacked the trainer, Steve had always been stronger. One wrong move was enough to cause serious damage . Fortunately, Thor was not man. He was a god, so Steve really didn’t have to hold back. He could tap into all his strength without worry that he’d hurt his friend. It was liberating, and a lot more fun than pounding a punching bag to death.  

They quickly fell into a rhythm, Thor balancing his strength to avoid crushing his injured, mortal companion, and Steve getting used to the ache in his side. It was easy to forget once he was fully involved in the duel, all attention going to seeking out Thor’s weaknesses and predicting his strikes. The god sank into deeper stances, taking wider strikes. Steve fought higher in his stances, lighter and faster to move, and his attacks more precise. They were a good match for each other, Steve forcing Thor to move around more, and Thor too strong to give Steve any hope of overpowering him like he could anyone else.  

Before they knew it, they were deeply entranced in the fight, eyes focused and all banter forgotten. Steve couldn’t tell if the god was going easy on him, or if he actually had the Asgardian on his toes, but Thor hadn’t landed any blows. He was moving a lot faster than when he’d started , too, darting out of Steve’s reach.  

It was no surprise the god fought with no recognizable style, nothing from Earth at least, though he’d had extensive training. That Steve could tell, and it made sense. Thor was a prince, and a warrior. He would have been trained heavily from a young age, undoubtedly. Steve himself was picking from everything he’d learned since defrosting. Though slightly hindered, his body wasn’t letting him down. It remembered all his training just as perfectly as ever. 

Thor struck out from one side, then the other, then back again, fast enough that Steve nearly didn’t block him. Their forearms bounced off each other, Thor pushing Steve backward a couple of steps with the impact. The Captain turned on his heel and attacked suddenly. He hadn’t made any attempts at striking so overtly, and the kick he launched took Thor by surprise. His heel smashed into the god’s chest and off-balanced him for a second or two. Long enough that Steve could set down his foot and drop low to the ground, swiping out and hooking Thor’s leg from under him.  

All of the Asgardian’s bulk came crashing down, shaking the floor. Steve started to rise, but Thor kicked out and caught him in the back of the knee. The Captain fell backward on top of his friend, shoulders landing in Thor’s firm stomach. It knocked the breath out of both of them, more-so Steve, giving Thor the chance to roll them both over and grab his friend by the wrist, pressing his chest into the floor and holding him in an arm-bar.  

They both lay there panting, exhilarated and sweating. Thor let go only to wrap a hand round Steve’s bicep and haul him standing. They made brief eye contact before the demi-god guided him to the bed and went to get some water for both of them.  

“That was great,” Steve breathed, feeling alive for the first time since waking up. His heart was climbing back down from a race-horse pace. This past year had been a blur.  

“I agree,” Thor nodded, a pleased smile on his face and in his eyes. “You are a force to be reckoned with.”  

“You should see me on a good day,” Steve grinned, draining his water. Thor took both cups to the bathroom and refilled them. They both drank thirstily, happy. Steve couldn’t remember being this happy, yet here he was, locked in a cell with an electrocuting disk pinned to his neck, grinning uncontrollably.  

--  

Steve was up before Thor that morning. When the demi-god awoke, his friend was on the floor doing push-ups, firm muscles writhing under smooth skin as he pushed all the way up, then lowered his chest to the floor in one smooth stroke.  

He’d already taken off his bandage. Thor could see the thin red line in his friend’s skin, but the wound looked nothing like it had three days ago when he’d been pulling bloody bits of uniform out of it. It didn’t even look like it had last night when they’d changed the bandage and plastered on another dose of cream. The serum had been sucking up that cream, using it like an added boost and accelerating the healing.  

It was impressive.  

“Good morning,” Thor finally spoke, unable to take his eyes away from the wound no matter how healed it looked. “How do you feel?”  

Steve got up and smiled at him, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder as he walked by. “Really good,” he replied, heading for the bathroom to get clean.  

“There is a razor in the top drawer,” Thor explained, smiling brightly. He couldn’t see any stiffness in Steve’s movements, and he searched .  

“Thanks,” Steve found it and carefully grazed off his stubble. Thor set about changing while the mortal was occupied, getting into his battle gear and carrying the table back to its original place near the food slot. Breakfast was along shortly, and Thor sat down on a cushion to wait for Steve to join him.  

When Steve emerged, he was clean-shaven, eyes bright with life. He’d exchanged his casual cut-offs for the tougher pants and heavy boots, but had left his leather breast plate where Thor had first put it. The Captain sat down to eat, and Thor glanced at the skin and muscle moving across ribs. The pair fell into thoughtful silence, contemplating what t o day held. His joy at seeing his friend recovered was replaced with the solemn realization that Steve would be thrown right back into battle, and his fate was uncertain. It didn’t matter how skilled the Captain was, and Thor hated to think that way, but he knew it was not impossible for his friend to b e injured again .  

He is strong and resilient, that is obvious. Someone values him enough to give him medicine, at least. I hope they continue to see value in him. Thor knew that if Steve didn’t provide the entertainment the Grand Master and his crowds demanded, the Captain could very well be abandoned if he was hurt again, or sent to provide an easy victory for the Champion.  

We will deal with all unforeseeable events when they come, Thor nodded resolutely, and Steve saw the gesture, offering a nod in return.  

“We should collect as much information as we can,” Steve explained calmly as he sipped his purple juice. Thor was glad to have the Captain on his side; apparently, he was quite the tactician. “Try to find out more about the Champion, or how to get these disks off us.” 

Thor nodded in agreement, swirling his own purple juice around his cup and leaning back on an arm, frowning. “I doubt if anyone defeated this Champion the Grand Master would allow them freedom.”  

Steve met his gaze with his own sober stare. “You’re probably right.” He stood up, walking over to his armor and lifting it off the floor, sliding it over his head and tightening the straps. “But we should learn whatever we can in case we find ourselves fighting him.”  

Thor got up as well, and they stood face-to-face in their capes and armor, wordless. Steve tightened the straps holding empty knife holsters to his legs, then offered his hand, jaw pushed forward firmly.  

“See you at dinner,” he promised. “Be careful out there.”   

Thor took the hand and firmly squeezed it. “Likewise.”  

They held there for far too long before Steve pulled him into a hug and wrapped a strong arm around his back, squeezing firmly. “Thanks, Thor. Really”  

Thor hugged back. “You are welcome, Steven.”  

When the guards came for them, they were both standing ready by the door.  

Chapter Text

Steve moved like a well-oiled machine. He was too fast for his opponent to keep up with, darting around sluggish attempts to knock him down and reaching in with his own powerful punches. His shield bounced around the circular ring, the arena providing the perfect space for the ricocheting object to be fully utilized. Thor watched from his place with the other contenders, fascinated. 

Their spar alone had been something else. Thor had expected to have to hold back a lot more, but Steve had quickly forced him to move faster, and think harder. I am grateful to have him on my side. He would make a dangerous enemy.  

Steve won, his shield striking his foe from behind, followed by a brutal punch to the face. The alien fell in a cloud of dust and the Captain kicked his shield into his hand as the crowd roared with pleasure. The pair fought all day, tossed from battle to battle, managing to speak only briefly when their breaks for food and water overlapped. Steve’s break happened first, and Thor met him on the tail end of it. 

“Well done,” Thor smiled and patted Steve on the shoulder heartily. “You are truly a force to be reckoned with.” 

Steve smiled proudly. “Thanks. It’d be easier without this cape though... I keep worrying I’ll get tangled up in it.” 

“It looks marvelous,” Thor gave him another pat. 

That was all the time they were afforded before Steve was leaving for another fight, and Thor was forced to remain and finish his food. He spent a few moments in silence before bristling hairs on the back of his neck disturbed his peace. 

“Haven’t seen your pretty friend around for a couple of days,” a raspy, threatening voice hissed in his ear. 

Thor turned his head and glared daggers at the person who had spoken, coming face to face with a gladiator he had seen around before. He was one of the stronger fighters, a humanoid creature with smooth, almost shiny blue skin and rows of sharp pointed teeth. His long tongue tasted the air around Thor’s face, small black eyes staring unblinking into his blue ones. 

The Asgardian did not respond, standing up to face this potential threat. The beast was a foot taller, but Thor expanded his chest and spread his shoulders, exuding all the godly presence he possessed. The beast appeared unperturbed, amused if anything, but it was hard to tell with that permanent toothy grin and soulless eyes. 

“Your human companion,” the beast reiterated, as if Thor didn’t know who he was talking about. “He may fight well, for a Terran, but he will not last. The Grand Master is already impressed. He will soon be moved to the death matches.” And he gestured across the room. 

Thor glared icy promises of suffering, wrenching his eyes away and staring at what was being pointed out to him. He saw it, on the other side of the gathering area, what looked like a holographic billboard. A few gladiators were gathered around it, pointing and talking in menacing tones. What looked like wanted posters were floating in mid-air. Thor could make out pictures with lists underneath, but he couldn’t read the words. 

The beast placed his hands on the Asgardian’s shoulders, breathing in his ear. “Look closer,” he breathed, and Thor scanned the board, his eyes widening when he saw it. “Tomorrow, your friend will perish, Lord of Thunder. In the death matches, the victorious earns the property of his slain opponent as reward.” 

“He will not perish,” Thor growled in reply, though he knew there was no way to foresee that. As he watched Steve’s poster join the board, he noticed another drawing itself in blue light among the others – the creature standing right behind him, still squeezing his shoulder intimately. Thor whipped around, eyes alight with alarm, realization, and threat. “You will not touch him, or I swear I will reign wrath down upon you like none other.” 

The blue beast leaned forward, its long tongue rippling as if buffeted by a light breeze. “You have no power here, Asgardian. You cannot protect him. You cannot save him. Wherever he was these past two days, you should have left him there. He will face a far worse fate now, and you will be responsible for his suffering.” 

Thor growled, curling his hand into a fist and lifting it. He opened his fingers, stretching out his hand in expectation, but as usual nothing happened. Mjolnir failed to appear, and as the beast laughed and walked away with mocking strides, Thor’s heart lurched in his chest. He turned slowly to face the bars leading to the arena where Steve was flinging his shield and leaping circles around his new opponent. Tomorrow, his friend would be forced to fight to the death, and it would be against stronger opponents with more to gain. Thor swiveled and stormed to the billboard, pushing other contenders out of his way. 

There, Steve’s face outlined in blue, staring sternly forward. Thor read what turned out to be a checklist of items Steve owned; what someone would take for their own if they were victorious against the super-soldier. 

On that list was one item: vibranium shield. Thor looked back to Steve, watching his friend hurl that shield with amazing accuracy and forethought, admiring the destructive power arising from monumental calculations and instinctive responses. Most of the other gladiators were watching with fascination, hunger, and lust. It might not be of much value here in space, but the way Steve wielded his shield made it out to be some mysterious, possibly magical artifact. Something worth acquiring. It was not the shield that was powerful, but the person wielding it. Thor knew that, but the other gladiators didn’t. 

Thor gripped the bars desperately, feeling as though he’d come so far for nothing. After all Steve had been through, after all his suffering and healing, he would die all the same. Maybe he’d have died peacefully in his sleep that day Thor had left him. And now, there was a chance he would die being torn apart by some gruesome creature with gruesome intentions, all for the gruesome pleasure of an audience. 

Maybe Thor wasn’t worthy after all. Maybe Mjolnir wasn’t coming. 

-- 

Steve got back first, so he hopped in the shower to get clean while he had the chance. It was sad to see his shield go, taken from him the instant the fight was over, but reassuring to know it was there, and still technically his. They hadn’t let anyone else use it, as far as he knew, and it was polished. That was something. 

I should find out where they’re keeping it. It’s not with the other weapons, Steve thought grimly. That shield was unbelievably handy. 

Thor still wasn’t back by the time he got clean, so Steve sat down on the edge of his bed and smeared another dose of cream across his chest. The wound was closed now, and fading every hour, but the sooner he healed the sooner he would no longer be a burden. Thor had done enough for him already. I won’t make him worry like that again, Steve thought firmly. No more nightmares, no more devastating injuries. They should be focusing on escaping, not on Steve’s nightmares (silly, really, he could keep them hidden), or on Steve’s injuries (there wouldn’t be any more that serious, and he could conceal anything small he might acquire). 

He wouldn’t cause Thor any more trouble, and that was final. With that, Steve pulled his shirt over his wound and sat at the table to work on his plan. 

-- 

“Steven, look what I found!” 

Steve looked up as Thor marched through the door, proudly brandishing a curved cylindrical object with buttons and antennae on it. 

“Thor,” Steve stood up, smiling at his friend’s safe return. “What is it?” 

“A radio,” Thor beamed. “You said you wanted some music.” 

“Where did you get it?” Steve asked, taking the object from the Asgardian and turning it over in his hands.  

“I stole it,” Thor proudly declared, hands on his hips. “Some guards were listening to it.” The Asgardian rubbed a bloodied fist on his hip. 

Steve regarded him with a lifted eyebrow, but he couldn’t keep his happiness from his face. His personal promise was forgotten as he took the device to the table and set it down. “Know how it works?” he asked, fiddling with the dials and adjusting the antennae. Thor shrugged and went to the bathroom to get clean and changed, joining Steve to wait for dinner and to figure out how this radio worked. The Captain pressed a button and blue light flooded the grooves in the device, shining a holographic display into thin air. Steve smiled and turned the dials until sound came through. 

Just in time for dinner. The slot slid open and they set about eating, browsing through radio channels with interest. Most of it was in some alien tongue. Thor understood some of the languages, but explained there was nothing useful being said. They kept browsing until Steve heard a familiar sound: Earth music, and a song he knew. 

“Singing in the rain,” Steve smiled softly. They sat in silence, listening to the rest of the song. An advertisement followed, crackly and lower quality than Steve knew modern radio should sound. Realization dawned on him. “This is an old broadcast.” 

“We are listening to the past,” Thor mused. “Your Earth music is pleasing.” 

“What is music like on Asgard?” Steve asked. 

“It is very beautiful,” Thor smiled cheerfully. “We have skilled musicians who play for banquets and parties. We have many epic ballads as well.” 

“Sounds like fun,” Steve replied, staring longingly at the radio. When this broadcast had gone out on Earth, he’d have probably been out in the field fighting with the Howling Commandos, Bucky at his side watching his six as always. And Peggy... she’d have been there too, doing her work back at base camp. He could see her cherry red lips and fair skin, her voice begging him not to fly the plane into the ocean... 

“I will take you to Asgard when this is over,” Thor snapped him out of his trance, and Steve saw a flash of worry in the god’s face. The Captain quickly shoved all memories of the past aside, remembering his promise not to cause his friend any more concern. “When we escape, we will celebrate with a banquet unlike any you have ever experienced. There will be music, and dancing, and lots to drink.” 

Steve smiled at that, imagining what Asgard might look like. He was certain his imagination wouldn’t compare to the real thing. “I can’t get drunk, Thor,” he offered casually. “Serum burns through it too fast.” 

“Asgardian drink is far stronger than Earth’s, my friend,” Thor assured, a gleam of mischief in his eyes. 

Steve grinned, interested to know how strong Asgardian alcohol actually was, and if it was any match for the serum. His face fell with another realization though, embarrassment creeping into his cheeks. “I... I don’t know how to dance.” Peggy was supposed to teach me.  

Thor’s face lit up, the Asgardian lifting to his feet and reaching down to haul Steve after him. “Then I will teach you!” 

Steve stumbled after the excited demi-god, who was thoughtlessly reaching for the Captain’s hands and placing them on his waist like it was nothing. “Y-you can dance?” Steve stammered uselessly, completely thrown off and mindlessly allowing Thor to place his hands where they belonged; one on his hip, the other clasped in the Asgardian’s firmly-guiding grip. Thor place his other hand on Steve’s shoulder. 

“Of course,” Thor scoffed. “I know many dances. Darcy taught me a few Earth dances as well. I could try to remember them for you, though they are strange and I do not have much practice.” 

Steve didn’t know who Darcy was, but he didn’t have much time to ask, or imagine what sorts of Earth dances Thor had learned. He didn’t know any himself, so it likely wouldn’t matter. Thor was planting his feet, leading Steve forward. Music flooded the room from their little radio, reminding Steve of a simpler time, when life had been full of friends and purpose. When he’d had Bucky and Peggy, and the rest of the Commandos. 

It was impossible to let those memories drag him into a dark place, not with Thor guiding him in slow circles around the room, one step at a time to the beat of the song. Steve did his best to follow along, his serum-enhanced mind quickly memorizing the steps, but his body struggling to settle into a rhythm. 

“Relax,” Thor commanded, clearly unaware to how bizarre this was, two large men dancing together in an empty room. Or maybe the demi-god just didn’t care. Steve didn’t know how to feel, struggling to emulate his friend’s easy-going composure. 

“This is hard,” Steve muttered, confused at why fighting was so much easier. Fighting was just destructive dancing, after all. 

“That is because you are not at ease,” Thor replied as if it were obvious. It probably was. “Do not think so much, Steven.” 

Steve couldn’t help it. He wondered if Thor had taught many people to dance, other soldiers maybe. Did Thor have an army back on Asgard? It seemed like he had done this before. Swallowing and shaking without explanation, Steve did his best to relax and not feel so self-conscious. They were just two friend killing time, trying to make the best of a situation. Thor was trying to help, for god’s sake.  

It’s not like this is some weakness, it’s just dancing. I can let him help, Steve reasoned as he thought about his promise. Thor looked like he was enjoying himself, so how could he take that away? They’d both had a hard day of fighting, threats constantly looming as well as the knowledge that someone was watching and owned them. 

“That’s it, Steven, you’re a natural,” Thor mentioned, drawing Steve from his thoughts. Steve slipped into his thoughts a lot. 

One step, two steps, turn. Thor had taken the woman’s position but was still in control, guiding Steve’s steps. He was easing back now, letting Steve lead more and more heavily as the super-soldier learned the dance and gained the confidence to ease into its patterns. Just like fighting. But... not. The Captain glanced from his feet to Thor’s face, and their eyes met briefly. Thor was beaming at him warmly, relinquishing all control so Steve could guide them round the room. 

They danced until the song was over, slowing to a stop and releasing each other. Steve’s hand felt empty all of a sudden, a chill seeping back into his chest. Thor look disappointed, but still very happy, and proud. “By the time we escape, you will be able to put the best Asgardian dancers to shame,” he promised. 

Steve smiled back, yearning to be close to somebody again. Surely this wouldn’t be troubling Thor, to want that? Thor had been having so much fun, after all... Yes, this was for Thor. This was something he could do for his friend. Another song was starting. 

“Could you teach me another?” Steve asked quietly, and Thor’s face lit up as the Asgardian immediately reached out. 

“Of course!” 

-- 

They danced around the room all evening, until the lights dimmed and Thor insisted he get some rest. Steve obeyed and pulled reluctantly away from his friend, who went and turned down the volume on the radio but left it on. The Captain settled into bed and wrapped himself in blankets, turning to face Thor. The Asgardian got comfortable too, and they stared at each other across the small gap. 

There was something in Thor’s eyes that Steve couldn’t quite pinpoint. Maybe it was just the dark... he was probably mistaken. The Asgardian opened his mouth to say something, distant fear swirling in his eyes. Steve could see as well as a cat in the darkness, so his friend’s face was fairly clear. Still, he doubted his own eyes. It couldn’t be. 

Thor appeared to second-guess himself, closing his mouth and breaking eye contact for a moment. Steve was about to ask what was wrong, but he didn’t get the chance. Thor continued, making eye-contact again and giving his companion a reassuring smile. “Sleep well Steven.” 

“You too,” Steve replied softly, and he did sleep well, because today had been truly amazing. He slept better than he had in over seventy years. Without being asked, without even knowing it, Thor was holding back the nightmares. Steve slept much longer than his usual hour or two. 

When they both awoke in the morning, changing and sitting down for breakfast, Thor’s fear was undeniable in his posture. Steve couldn’t ignore it any longer. 

“Thor,” he spoke firmly, his own worry bleeding into his voice. They looked at each other over breakfast. “What’s wrong?” 

Thor looked a shade paler than usual. “I apologize, Steven, I was going to tell you... but I wanted you to sleep. You are to be sent into the death matches today. I saw your name added to the board.” 

Steve sat in silence, processing the information and contemplating what that meant as Thor explained all the details he knew. Today, he would fight to the death. He would be forced to kill, or be killed. 

“The other gladiators are interested in your shield. They appear to think it holds some form of magic,” Thor explained grimly. “The Grand Master also allows you to request an opponent, and he may grant that wish depending on your performance compared to anyone who may make the same claim. I have heard many fights discussing their interest in fighting you.” 

Steve pushed back his empty plate calmly. “Doesn’t change anything,” he replied grimly. “I won’t lose, so don’t worry. Nobody is killing me in this place.” 

Thor regarded him with a sad smile; they both knew there was no way to guarantee that. 

“We’ll just have to get the Grand Master to like us,” Steve quirked a confident smile. “Impress him, work our way up.” Maybe that was all they could do. 

“Tonight,” Thor spoke firmly. “I will teach you another dance.” 

“Deal,” Steve nodded, knowing it was a promise made to ease the underlying possibility that the Captain could die. There weren’t any guarantees, only that he would fight with everything he had to survive. At least this fight was tangible. It wasn’t an idea, it would be a real person, and that was the type of fighting Steve preferred. “I’ll be there.” 

Stork club, eight pm, and don’t be late.  

Chapter Text

Weeks rolled by, Steve settling into a rhythm. Fighting was what he was made for, after all. Thor watched as many matches as he could, as much as it frustrated him not to be able to help whenever his friend took a hit. Thor made his way onto the death match billboard mere days after Steve, but he had no possessions to his name. At least not in the beginning. He and Steve found new items deposited in their room when they returned, transferred from whomever they had killed that day.  

Most of these prisoners were criminals. That’s what Thor told Steve when he could sense his friend weighed down by guilt. It was eating the noble Captain, what they were doing.  

“It’s no different than what I was doing before,” Steve told him grimly one evening when the Asgardian had gathered the courage to confront his spiraling friend. The Captain tried to hide it, but he was a poor liar, and drew into himself when he was unhappy, pushing Thor away. Thor finally had to push back, and so they were sitting on Steve’s bed, side-by-side, staring across the room. “In the war, I followed my orders. I killed who they told me to. I’ve killed a lot of people, Thor... Not all the soldiers in Nazi Germany were bad people. Some of them were misguided, or had no choice.”  

“You were protecting what you believed in,” Thor reasoned calmly.  

“So were they,” Steve rebuffed, his voice cracking ever so slightly and his shoulders sagging. Then, just like that, the Captain tensed and got up, marching to the bathroom and turning on the water. Thor turned away so Steve could shower in privacy, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on clasped hands, wishing he knew what to say. When Steve returned, he crawled right into bed and closed his eyes, his back to Thor.  

The Asgardian got up reluctantly and padded to his own bed, lying down to watch the Captain for a moment or two. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came. Maybe, after all this time, Steve was deciding he didn’t want Thor’s touch, or his comfort. They’d barely known each other when they’d spent those couple of days so close. Steve had been pressed up against him in numerous occasions, weak and vulnerable in numerous ways. He’d been sick, weak, injured, and seemingly comfortable with Thor’s touch and assistance.  

He’d been open, at least a little, sharing some of his demons with his new friend and clearly benefitting from it. Thor had immediately noticed some tension receding with each admission. Steve needed to talk to someone, but over these past weeks it seemed that someone wasn’t Thor.   

Steve slept a lot less now, only a couple of hours max at a time. Maybe he thought he could fool the demi-god by lying very still and closing his eyes, but Thor knew when he was truly asleep and when he was pretending. For one, Steve was a restless sleeper. The minute the Captain lost consciousness was the minute he started to shift and mumble under his breath. Sometimes he cried out, but would wake himself from his nightmare and lie very still again. Thor couldn’t bring himself to get up and help, offer his closeness, some water, or words of comfort. If Steve wanted his space, Thor would try to give it to him. He had no idea what the soldier’s normal was, if this was how he had always been.  

They were right back to square one, Thor wrestling with his need to help, but hesitant to approach. His new friend was closing in on himself, and even if that was normal for him, it wasn’t healthy. Not for gods, not for super-soldiers, not for anyone. He hadn’t been enough for Loki. Thor wouldn’t, couldn’t let Steve down too.  

He just wasn’t sure how to go about this. In the end, he fell asleep to the sound of Steve shifting under the covers restlessly, a guilty heart throbbing in his chest. Mjolnir could see his flaws, knew he wasn’t good enough to help. He wasn’t worthy of being Steve’s friend, or Loki’s brother. He’d failed them, let them suffer. Loki, for decades, and now Steve for just a few weeks. Those weeks felt like centuries.  

I must help him. Please, let me be worthy for just as long as it takes to get both of us out of here. Do not allow my downfalls to drag him down too. Leave me here even. If he can go free, then I would happily stay. Perhaps that would please Loki and he would cease his rampage seeing that a fitting fate befell me.  

Would that be enough?  

--  

They’d both been hiding wounds from each other. Minor things, small bruises and cuts. Thor could tell Steve had hurt his ribs by the guarded, tipped way his friend walked. But he let his friend walk into the bathroom to get cleaned undisturbed. Nothing could be done, and he remembered Steve’s admission of not wanting to be a burden.  

Thor couldn’t say anything anyway, because he’d kept a few lacerations to himself. He’d only taken off his armor when Steve was occupied and facing the other way, hurrying into the alcove to clean up swiftly and change into his shirt. Nothing could be done for his injuries either. They would heal quickly, and even when he noticed that they weren’t healing as fast as they should, he said nothing. Steve was grappling with enough as it was.  

Their room was a lot better furnished now. One gladiator Steve had killed had owned a small wooden bookshelf made of carved, weathered wood. The Captain had immediately taken a liking to it, placing their radio on top.  

They fought in the morning to warm up before breakfast, and danced in the evening to wind down. More and more though, Steve abandoned their dancing and went right to bed the minute dinner was over. He wouldn’t say a word, curling up on his side and locking himself away, leaving Thor to wander the room in silence and confusion.  

Something had to be done, and Thor realized his mistake the very second he actually sat down to think about it. Steve needed to feel important, as much as he needed to feel human. He needed to be needed. Thor resolved the next morning to show Steve his cracked rib and explain his concern that his body wasn’t healing like it should. He felt weaker, too. It took more and more work to take down his opponents, and when he and Steve sparred, the large gap between their strengths was clearly lessened.  

As they sat at the table drinking their usual purple juice, Thor contemplated how to bring it up. He was about to undo his armor and show Steve his badly bruised rib, but his hesitation allowed the guards to arrive and drag them off to their next fight. The chance was lost. Thor steeled himself, preparing for another day of hard battles.  

While Steve fought, he tore his eyes away for once and went to sit and collect his thoughts. This had gone too far. Friends are meant to look out for one another. I have let him push me away for too long. He clearly benefitted from speaking out about his hurts when we spoke, and he slept for longer. Maybe that was just lingering illness tiring the super-soldier enough to knock him out a few hours extra, but Steve had definitely slept better when they’d been more open. He was keeping himself awake, too, no doubt to prevent his mind from slipping away into a violent nightmare like he had that first night.  

Steve didn’t want to be a burden. He didn’t want to burden Thor, specifically. It is no bother, Steven, I promise. The soldier was probably unused to being open though. He had been expected to be strong and perfect. A leader, an example.  

Thor’s worry was too much to put aside for this fight, so when he was brought out to the arena, it did him no good. Sometimes, he could twist concern into rage and utilize it to bash the next enemy in line into the ground. But not today. Today, his body felt weaker, and he had less control over his mind. Hundreds of years of experience deserted him in an instant.  

--  

Steve could tell Thor knew something was up, but he wouldn’t relent. I’ll figure it out. They were both fighting for their lives every day. No need to add reoccurring nightmares to the list of obstacles.  

The more he thought about how weak his dreams made him feel, the more he closed up. The more he closed up, the more he could feel Thor’s concerned gaze on his shoulders, and the more layers he wrapped himself in. He felt bad, really, because Thor had already promised he’d help, had already assured it was no trouble.  

That had been in the beginning, though. How long would it be before Thor got tired of being a shoulder to cry on?  

They spoke very little, and when they did it was about trivial things. Their morning spars helped Steve feel focused and alive, forgetting his most recent nightmare for a few minutes. Thor always looked so happy at the offer to dance, so Steve granted the demi-god that chance as much as possible, learning new moves and practicing old ones. But it was all from memory, his feet sifting through a checklist of movements instead of his body sinking into a rhythm and using that list as a guide. There was no fluidity, and no excitement like the first time. It felt... empty.  

But Thor was still his friend, still sat with him at every meal and regarded him with nothing hostile. Never. Steve wondered how long it would last.  

That day, the Captain returned to their room first. He showered, got changed, scrubbed paint off his face as usual. Thor cleaned it off the first day. Must have carried me to bed, too, because I don’t remember walking. One minute I was in the arena, the next I was waking up with blankets under me. Steve tried not to feel warmed by that. Because if he relented to these feelings inside of him, if he yearned to feel warm and safe from deep inside his core, then he would be tempted to spill everything that was bothering him. Thor would regard him with that easy smile and reassure him calmly and free of judgement. And Steve would feel guilty, because Thor was too good. Steve wanted to feel warm again, warm like he hadn’t since waking up from the ice, and probably long before that too.  

Steve emerged from the bathroom, walking heavily to the table and dropping on his cushion, legs crossed. He saw it, then, the tray in the open food slot. Only, it wasn’t food. Steve lurched forward and pulled out the tray, setting it on the table and pushing up on his knees to sift through the items there.  

A pot of boiled water, the contents bubbling and steaming when he took off the lid of the vase-shaped container. It looked a little like a decanter crossed with a tea-pot. More cloth bandages, he noticed, folded neatly in a pile just like they had been on the tray Thor had been taking from when he’d been tending diligently to Steve. A thin hooked needle and coils of black thread. A very small knife resembling a surgical scalpel. Steve stared at the equipment, confused and churning through thoughts like a wildfire churning through a dry forest. When he’d been sick, injured, dying... Thor had asked the walls for help, had begged that whoever was listening would provide medicine for an injury too serious for cold water or the serum to fight alone.  

Steve hadn’t asked for anything. Any cuts he’d received the past few days were already sealed or vanished entirely, the serum erasing them as easily as a papercut. Maybe there was some mistake. Maybe some other gladiator had been injured, and whoever was sending these supplies had sent it to the wrong room. That was unlikely too, Steve thought, remembering that when he’d been alone recovering only one meal had appeared in the slot for lunch, but two had arrived for supper when Thor was back. Steve paled, praying he was wrong, unsure what bothered him more: the fact that someone was watching them to this degree, or the very real chance that Thor was going to walk through that door in need of stitches? His demi-god companion who had matched the Hulk in battle?  

Steve stood up, remaining very still with his fists clenched at his sides, unsure of what to do. Thor would be back soon. His heart raced with anticipation and worry, a small voice in his head asking if this was how Thor felt when Steve came back later than he did.   

Thor did walk through that door a moment later, pushing away from the guards and stumbling into the room as the barrier was deactivated for a brief moment. Steve stammered, his legs disobeying his orders to approach and his mouth struggling to form words.  

“Uh, Thor...” he started, body jerking in the direction of the bathroom with the intention of following his friend. The Asgardian looked... uncomfortable. His cape had already been ripped in prior battles, but it had a few more holes over his shoulders, the red pigment darkened around them. His pants were torn at the hip, too, the leather armor grazed. He was limping, just a little, and trying to hide it.  

“Steven,” Thor greeted breathlessly, his voice quiet and regretful. Steve blocked him into the alcove with his broad shoulders, staring down the Asgardian. They looked at each other long and hard, both of them wrestling with options of what to do or say.  

Steve broke the silence. “Package for you,” he said softly. What’s wrong? Something’s wrong. Whatever it is, it needs stitches. He wanted to order Thor to tell him, or just point, but that would be hopelessly hypocritical, the way Steve had been acting in recent weeks.  

Thor didn’t say anything, gripping the sink tightly until his knuckles turned white.  

“What’s wrong?” Steve asked, stepping into the small space.  

“The fight did not go smoothly as I had hoped,” Thor replied. Then, he turned hesitantly and reached up with a wince, dragging his cape aside. Steve reached out fervently and clasped Thor by the biceps, drawing him slowly out of the alcove and into the light so he could see better.  

“Oh my god,” Steve breathed, his exclamation unintentional. Thor flinched.  

“I did not wish to concern you with it,” Thor admitted.  

“There’s no way you can get those out on your own,” Steve replied, ghosting his hands over the Asgardian’s shoulders and hip. Long, thick, hollow black-and-white-striped spines protruded from his armor, blood dripping out of them like straws. There were about thirty high across his back, and another fifteen in his lower back and hip, sticking out a couple of inches, and a few millimeters in diameter. Steve was sure he’d caught glimpses of a spiny animal with a barbed tail swinging hard, fast strikes right before his own last fight of the day. That meant Thor had fought another battle with these things inside of him. The bloody mess of his hip suggested the Asgardian had tried to rip those barbs out himself, but hadn’t had much success.  

They were stuck, then, probably barbed.  

“Okay,” Steve lifted his hands and Thor turned to face him, bashful and weary. More tired than Steve had ever seen him, and lacking his usual confidence. “Go sit down. We’ll have to cut them out.” Thor obeyed wordlessly, drawing his cape forward over his shoulder and sitting on the edge of his bed with a wince.  

Steve picked up the table and moved it back between the bed, the tray on top. Thor stared at it, surprise in his features.  

“How did you know what to ask for before I had returned?” Thor asked, staring up at Steve in confusion.  

“I didn’t,” the Captain replied, getting down on one knee and holding up the scalpel. “It was here before you got back. Hold still.”  

Thor obeyed, staring into nothing as Steve carefully shuffled behind him and settled on the bed. The Captain grabbed the Asgardian’s shoulder, avoiding the spines. He approached with the other hand, resting it on the undamaged armor below the cluster of spines to steady himself. Then he went in, cutting into the spines with the small blade. It cut through them with minimal pressure, sharp enough to smoothly trim off the protrusions without too much wrestling.  

Thor still tensed, muscles jumping in his arms with each cut, the spines moving inside his flesh and probably hurting like a real son-of-a-bitch. The Asgardian grunted, but was stoic throughout as Steve worked his way up and across his back.  

“Okay, let’s get this off,” Steve murmured, more to himself. He reached down to the buckles and undid them, pulling the armor back as far as he could to separate warm leather from the clammy, bloody skin of Thor’s pierced back. Thor pushed from the front, hooking his thumbs under the bottom edge and helping Steve slowly lift the armor off himself. Steve nudged the armor onto the floor and tried not to get angry in light of what was before him.  

“It will heal,” Thor assured quietly, giving the same assurances Steve had given at the beginning of this whole ordeal.  

“Yeah, it will,” Steve agreed. “But not before all these come out. You want me to knock you out or something? If you run into the barrier, it might zap you unconscious.”  

Thor chuckled, and Steve smiled. All of a sudden, the atmosphere relaxed and Steve realized how close they were, how firmly he was clasping Thor’s muscular arms. He shifted, turning and pushing Thor to lay on his side. The Asgardian made no indication of wanting release, so Steve didn’t push. He just picked up his scalpel and cut off the ends of the spines in Thor’s hip.  

“You want some water?” Steve asked.  

Thor shook his head, grabbing a handful of blankets and steeling his expression. He fell very still, breathing mediated shakily.  

“I’ll be gentle,” Steve promised. Not wanting to leave any foreign objects in his friend’s skin longer than necessary, he went to work. Hip first. The Captain slid his fingers under the hem of Thor’s pants, straining the waistband and pulling it down and over the spines. Those pants weren’t too stretchy, and the movement wrested a soft grunt out of Thor. Steve cast him a sympathetic glance, just able to see one blue eye over deathly immobile shoulders.  

First, water. Hot water would soften the skin, and ease the pain. He could hope. Steve reached for the jug and pulled off the top, pouring some onto a towel and pressing it over all the bloody openings. When the warmth had seeped into vulnerable flesh, Steve put the towel aside and gathered his next tool.  

The Captain didn’t want to do what he was about to do, but he had to. His stomach did a jig as he pressed the sharp scalpel blade against Thor’s lightly tanned skin, dragging it along the length of the sliver. He kept one hand on Thor’s pants, keeping them out of the way as he reached over for a pair of tweezers off the tray. Steve clutched his friend’s thigh and reached into the bloody cut to lift out a viciously-barbed spine. This would be delicate and time-consuming. Steve wished there was a way to do it faster or easier, to ease Thor’s suffering. God or not, he was toughing through it as expected from the hardy demi-god, but still with impressive resolve.  

That’s just one spine. There’s just shy of fifty of those things in him. Steve set his jaw and dabbed swells of blood away with his hand.  

Thor had been so gentle with him, so caring and soft right off the bat, no matter how short a time they had known each other.   

“Thank you,” Thor murmured, and Steve looked up, shocked at the surprise in the Asgardian’s voice.  

“Uh, Thor, I’m pretty sure I owe you,” Steve quirked a half-smile.  

“You owe me nothing,” Thor replied in all seriousness. “The wound that ailed you was my responsibility. Loki is my brother, adopted or not, and so his actions are also my responsibility, no matter how you insist his choices are his own. My choices were my own too. Had I not been so blind and self-absorbed, I may have noticed his growing resentment and changed my ways before it was too late.”  

Steve softened, clutching Thor’s upper thigh where he had the waistband in his captivity. “You still didn’t have to rip off your cape and make me a pillow.”  

“I did say I could get another,” Thor smiled, his paint-streaked face pressed into the blankets.  

“Your old one was nicer than what they gave you,” Steve smiled back, easing into a rhythm. He cut out another spine and put it aside, exchanging his tweezers for the scalpel again. “And... we should talk.”  

The admission surprised even himself. It was selfish to ask that Thor listen when the demi-god was the one under the knife, but it had to be done. Thor looked like he had a few things on his chest too, beyond just Loki causing the event that had landed them here.  

“Indeed,” Thor murmured quietly. If his expression said anything, there was something on the demi-god's mind.  

“You go first,” Steve insisted, dabbing away more blood and wishing he had another set of hands, but he couldn’t hold Thor’s pants out of the way, a scalpel, and a towel all at once. By the time he could exchange a towel for his scalpel, the blood would have blossomed up again. There was a lot of blood, dribbling into the dip of Thor’s waist and down either side of his tense torso.  

“I meant to tell you this morning,” Thor began quietly. “I apologize, Steven... I wanted you to be honest with me, but I have hidden this from you. I am... weakening.”  

Steve wasn’t sure what to say. He swallowed, realizing that Thor had been slower with each spar, and more tired each day he returned to their room. The Captain had been so wrapped up with concealing his own demons that he’d missed Thor’s own deteriorating strength.  

“Why?” Steve asked, pausing his work. Thor strained his neck to look over his shoulder at Steve with sorrowful eyes.  

“I do not know,” the honesty was crushing. “Perhaps it is the obedience disk.”  

It wasn’t the fighting, Steve knew that. He was doing just fine, and Thor was stronger than him. “What about someone you fought earlier? Did you get poisoned?”  

“No, not that I recall,” Thor set his head down.  

“When did it start?” Steve asked, urgency kick-starting his work back into motion.  

“I noticed roughly one week ago,” Thor began.  

“I’m sorry you didn’t feel you could tell me,” Steve whispered, knowing it was his own fault. He hadn’t exactly been open or friendly recently.  

“We apologize a lot,” Thor mused, sinking heavily into the bed. He definitely didn’t look... right. A little dopey, almost. It was very strange, out of place, and so jarring that Steve had to tear his eyes away from Thor’s heavy eyelids to stop his hands from shaking.  

“Yeah, we do,” Steve replied bashfully, cutting the last spine out of Thor’s hip and adding it to the neat pile beside him. He put down the scalpel and grabbed the warm towel, pushing it over the bloody wound. He let go for a moment leaning over Thor to grab the needle and some thread. Those cuts were deep, and if Thor wasn’t healing they’d need stitching. “Someone still values you enough to try and keep you on your feet though. Maybe if we figure out what the poison is, we’ll find some antidote in that slot.” Steve offered Thor a reassuring smile.  

Silence filled the room again as Steve held Thor’s waistband down with his elbow so he could thread the needle. He rested his arm against his friend’s leg, pushing edges of skin together and hooking the needle through.  

“You are very good at this,” Thor murmured gratefully.  

“Says you,” Steve smiled. "My mom was a nurse, and I was a sick kid. I got into a lot of fights, too. I’ve had my share of stitches.”  

“I have no trouble believing that, my friend,” Thor chuckled with his chest, keeping his arms still so he didn’t tug on the spines still deep in his back.  

Steve chuckled back. “Yeah, what changed...” Another stitch. “Thor... would you have told me about this if I hadn’t noticed?”  

Thor paused, formulating an answer. “Yes,” he replied finally. “But I would have done so reluctantly. You are clearly troubled. I did not wish to cause you further concern.”  

“That’s my mistake,” Steve smiled sadly.  

“No, it is mine for allowing you to distance yourself and not trying to help,” Thor rebutted.   

Steve decided not to argue, finishing the last stich and wiping away the blood with his warm towel. “I can’t promise I can tell you everything right away... but I’ll try to be honest. You deserve that much.”  

“I have no entitlement to know anything about you,” Thor replied quickly, firmly.  

“That’s garbage,” Steve replied, smiling brightly. “You were willing to give me everything from day one. You worried for me, and took care of me, and listened to me even though you barely know me. I hadn’t done anything for you. You deserve for me to trust you.”  

“And you deserve someone to listen,” Thor replied, brightening himself when he saw Steve’s smile. He accepted the help sitting.  

Steve wiped blood from his hands and handed over Thor’s casual pants. “If you’re sure it’s no trouble... I’d really like to... to be honest with you.”  

And Thor glowed, his smile wide and alive and excited. Steve was dazed by it.  

“It would be my honor. I will try to do the same, if you will allow me,” Thor replied.  

“Yeah,” Steve grinned back. “Yeah, of course. Here, change your pants. I’ll wrap you up and do your back.”  

“Perhaps you can tell me about your mother,” Thor implored, genuine curiosity in his eyes. “I believe the other team members were given reports on each other.”  

It made sense Thor didn’t know the basics about everyone. Steve wondered what he’d heard about the super-soldier. Did he know much about Captain America?  

“Okay,” Steve agreed softly, rising with Thor as the demi-god slipped out of his fighting pants and into his more forgiving cut-offs. He rolled down the waistband and turned to invite Steve’s help. The Captain wrapped a layer of bandage around Thor’s hips, covering the mess of cuts held together with neat black stitches. “Alright, lie down,” he ordered, grabbing a couple of pillows and moving them down so Thor could lay his stomach over them and avoid straining his back.  

The Asgardian turned his head and Steve knelt beside the bed, reaching over with his tools to begin the process all over again. Thor kept the skin across his back taught, resilient as Steve pressed the hot towel into all the spines.   

“Mom was the gentlest person I knew,” Steve started, finding his voice and swallowing down a tight throat. “I was sick a lot, constantly using up what little money we had for medicine, and too sick to work enough to make it all back. She should have probably gotten rid of me, let me die, something... but she didn’t. She was always annoyed at me for bringing back cuts and bruises from my latest fight, but she’d patch me up all the same and tell me, ‘Steven, don’t ever change’.”  

He sniffed, chest tight. He missed her. He remembered her gentle hands cleaning blood from his face, chastising him for being so stubborn, asking him what whoever had beaten him up had done to invoke her son’s intervention.  

“She was the only person who cared about me, until Bucky came along,” Steve continued, cutting Thor’s skin apart and pulling out a long spine. “Buck was my friend from the beginning. He gave me everything, asking nothing in return. I didn’t have anything to give him anyway. He took care of me when mom died, before that actually. He’d come over and look after me so mom could go to work and put food on the table. He helped us out a lot.”  

The tightness was clutching his chest, now, but Thor couldn’t see the tears gathering in his eyes as he cut out spines one after another. The demi-god could hear the strain in the Captain’s voice though, because he was shifting to try to look up. Steve settled him with a brief touch on the back of his neck.  

“Buck and I lived together until he went to war,” Steve sighed quietly, wiping his eyes with his hand before continuing his work. “He worked three jobs to make ends meet, when I could barely hold one.  

“Did you love him?” Thor asked so quietly, Steve thought he’d misheard. He flushed.  

“N-no. I mean, yeah, I did, as a brother. He was family long after I left Brooklyn. He was still there to take care of me even after becoming Captain America,” Steve reached for his needle and thread. He choked on a sob as he swallowed it. “After all he did for me, after becoming this invincible hero, I still wasn’t enough to save him. I was ready to die, Thor... when I crashed the Valkyrie I knew it was over, and that was okay. That’s what I was meant for, to fight and fight and save lives until there was no more fight left in me. Then I wake up here, and Bucky is still dead. My friends are still dead. Peggy is... dying, wasting away in a nursing home. They all got lives, and I didn’t.”  

His tears were dripping onto Thor’s shoulders, and he quickly leaned back so the salt wouldn’t sting his friend’s open flesh. Thor pushed up with a grunt, ignoring his back and wrapping strong arms around Steve with no hesitation. He squeezed, gathering the Captain’s head into his shoulder and pressing it there with a sturdy hand. It didn’t matter that Thor was weakened, he was still hella strong, and big enough to wrap himself around Steve.  

He didn’t say anything, didn’t apologize or try to satiate the rough tears with useless words of sentiment. The demi-god just held, and they sat there together on the bed in warm comfort. Steve wrapped his shaking arms around Thor’s waist, hesitant to ask for the comfort but needing it all the same. Thor was hurt, wrestling with his own troubles, but right now he was offering his touch and Steve couldn’t deny that he wanted it. Thor seemed happy, anyway, gladly sharing his warmth and support regardless of anything else.  

When they pulled away, Steve felt worlds better, wiping his eyes on his shirt. “I’d have outlived them anyway,” he breathed quietly, the shaking fading. Thor placed his hands on his shoulders.  

“You may have been gifted many human lifetimes to live,” Thor soothed, “but you have paid for them with just as many lifetimes’ worth of suffering. And there is more to come. But you will not be alone. I cannot replace your old friends, nor can Stark, or Banner, or Widow, or the Hawk. But if you’ll allow them, I think they would be happy to be your friends. Do not force yourself to live in solitude, Steven. If you distance yourself for fear of losing more, then know that a lonely life with nothing to lose is empty. With friendship comes risk, but it also brings great joy and fulfillment. You and I will not die here, Steven, and I will not abandon you.”  

Steve leaned forward, weak with relief and crying again. Thor patted his back warmly. “There there,” he murmured, and it was humorous enough to earn a smile from Steve. They sat there for a while, pressed up together in a new yet familiar way. Steve wanted to apologize, but thought better of it, deciding that granting Thor access to his vulnerabilities was repentance enough.   

Thor twitched, breaking them free of their moment of silence. “Steve.” his voice was low and pained.  

Steve pulled away, sobering and wiping his face dry again. “Your back,” he breathed. “Here, come on, I’ll finish up.”  

Thor sagged gratefully, easing down onto his stomach again and wincing as he adjusted. Steve got back to work, tying up the last handful of stitches and wiping away the blood. He pulled the demi-god sitting again and pressed bandages over the cuts. Thor sat still obediently, letting Steve wrap him up without complaint. In fact, he appeared content despite the urgency of their situation. Thor shouldn’t need stitches for this.  

“Someone either doesn’t know you shouldn’t need stitches in the first place, or knows you’re poisoned,” Steve whispered, pressing down the last loop of bandage and picking up Thor’s shirt. He shuffled round, kneeling in front of his friend and holding up the garment where Thor could easily slide his arms through the holes without lifting them too high. Then he grabbed the hem and drew it over Thor’s head, drawing it down. They made eye contact for a brief moment, and Steve offered his friend a warm smile, placing a hand on his shoulder. His eyes were still red and swollen, but he felt lighter.  

Thor nodded, realization settling into his features as he contemplated what that statement suggested. He glanced over Steve’s shoulder at the wall; the slot was open, food sitting in wait. The demi-god looked back. “Thank you, Steven.”  

“You did the same for me,” Steve gave Thor a pat and brought over their food. They sat on the edge of their beds, eating in silent contentment and drinking their usual purple juice.  

A few minutes later and they were laying down for bed, empty plates back in the slot and all the left-over supplies put away in the bathroom. Steve faced Thor this time, drawing the blankets up over his shoulders. “’night,” he offered with a smile. Thor smiled back and closed his eyes wearily. The god was asleep in seconds, and Steve watched him, his happiness fading into deep concern.  

The night crept forward, and Steve lay awake for a few hours, going back over his conversation with Thor. He’d been a fool, trying to think he could lie and stuff everything away, that Thor wouldn’t notice something was wrong. Thor was observant, and Steve was a terrible liar. The serum had only made him worse, unless that was just his imagination. As he started to drift off, he recalled the start of their conversation, that simple question Thor had asked about his mother. Things had really spiraled.  

Steve smiled to himself as he fell asleep. Sly bastard.  

Chapter Text

Thor stopped weakening, eventually, but whatever was affecting him wasn’t going away. He and Steve tested his strength every evening, locking grips and arm-wrestling for long minutes while they fought each other with the hope that Thor would easily smash Steve’s hand into the table like he should be able to. Steve had been winning, looking up at his friend with upturned eyebrows and apology in his soft stare each time he overpowered the demi-god.

“We’ll figure it out,” Steve promised. “Maybe whatever happened to you will resolve itself. It just might take time.” He didn’t like the idea of constantly beating out Thor physically, like he was rubbing it in his friend’s face, but they had to keep tabs on the Asgardian’s strength. The best way to do that was to directly compare it to Steve’s. When Thor started to recover again, they’d know right away.

But he wasn’t. Another couple of days, and his strength was still leveled out at just below Steve’s, and they were no closer to figuring out the issue.

“Too bad nobody has a Tony Stark or a Bruce Banner to fight for,” Steve huffed humorlessly that evening, brushing dust off his wooden stand with a sweep of his hand. He lifted up the radio to clean under it, setting it gently back down and turning on the music to the usual channel. Thor actually enjoyed the old-timey Earth music, more than whatever was on the other channels. “We could really use a genius or a scientist right about now. Someone with a biology degree.”

Thor stood up and offered Steve his hands. The Captain turned, and Thor slid himself into the following role, inviting Steve to lead their dance around the room. The first song was on the slow side, so they leisurely moved around the room, Steve sinking into a rhythm as he remembered one of the more formal dances Thor had been teaching him.

The demi-god watched Steve watching his feet in concentration for a few moments. The Captain was still hesitant, despite his tight grasp on the movements and his natural skill. Thor wasn’t sure what Steve was worried about. Was he embarrassed? The way his ears glowed raspberry certainly suggested it. But embarrassed for what? That he hadn’t known how to dance? That Thor was teaching him?

The Asgardian would have preferred to let Steve lead him round the room in silent enjoyment of the music, but he knew they had pressing matters to discuss. “We will find an answer, Steven. And if not, then Stark and Banner will when we return.”

“Yeah, you’re still stronger than a normal person,” Steve smirked, pulling away as the song ended and shuffling over to the radio to turn it off. “Go sit down. I’ll cut your stitches out.”

Thor obeyed, taking off his shirt while Steve went to run hot water over a clean towel. The Captain had extraordinarily steady hands and a confident grip, slicing through black thread with the scalpel and dragging each stitch out of soft skin.

“You’re definitely healing faster than a normal person,” Steve explained, running his hand over sealed cuts. “Doesn’t look like you’ll scar either. Roll over.”

Thor turned onto his side and held down the waistband of his cut-off to allow Steve easy access to his hip. His last few fights had luckily only resulted in a few bruises. He’d ripped a couple of stitches the other day, but nothing could have been done to prevent that. Steve had calmly fixed it, tying a few new ones in place.

Steve had been gathering a lot of attention since day one, his skill in battle infatuating. Word was, everyone in the death matches was eager to try their hand against him. Thor himself was still a skillful warrior, but he had never had to face a hurdle like this, losing the vast majority of his godly strength. He was tired, too.

“Wanna spar tonight?” Steve asked, going to wash his hands and get some water.

Thor nodded, putting his shirt back on and going to stand in the middle of the room. Steve was often victorious these days, overpowering him physically and too fast to follow. Thor knew he wasn’t as skilled in combat in many ways, compared to the super-soldier who could use his environment and adapt. Thor had mostly used his hammer. His repertoire of other moves was limited or forgotten.

Steve had him in a headlock in moments, both of them on their backs, Thor crushed against Steve’s hard chest. The demi-god wrenched his hips upward, and the Captain wrapped his legs around it, pulling him back down. Finally, Thor tapped Steve’s forearm and his friend released his hold. They both rolled to their feet, both panting. Even lacking in strength, Thor was still stronger than any human.

“You must teach me that,” Thor breathed.

“Really?” Steve's eyes lit up like the morning sky.

“If I cannot rely on my strength, I must adapt and learn,” Thor smiled.

“Uh, yeah, okay,” Steve scratched his head, very pleased. “You uh, you’re pretty good anyway. I mean, you’d still probably kick anybody’s ass on Earth.”

“This is not Earth,” Thor wisely replied. “Besides, I could still learn a thing or two from you.”

When strength alone was not enough, skill had to be. Thor knew he would only be lucky for so long. If they couldn’t figure out how to return him to his original power, they would have to find another way of powering him up. A lot of the aliens were physically stronger than Steve, but the soldier took them down with his extensive skill. Thor needed to step up his game.

Steve was a good teacher. He was patient and knowledgeable, walking Thor through a couple of easier take-downs, then letting the demi-god try. To his credit, Thor was a fast-learner too. He’d always had an affinity for battle, and weakened or not, he was still a god. It was humbling, though, the ease with which Steve moved through techniques with perfect execution.

The super-soldier showed him how to break free of stronger grips easily, showed him weaknesses in joints to exploit. Steve knew a lot of little details, teaching Thor a few things to look for so the god could pick the moves needed to take down a wide variety of opponents. They worked through a few patterns, then they sparred again. Steve still had the advantage, being the stronger of the two for now, but Thor still had his instincts and centuries of experience. Steve didn’t win as quickly this time, the god drawing upon the new moves he’d learned and applying them with near-perfection.

Exhilarated and content, the pair collapsed into bed on their backs and stared at the ceiling, panting. Despite being beaten twice by a mortal, Thor couldn’t help but feel proud. A few years ago, he might have been angry and defensive, but Steve was so encouraging and constructive, and Thor didn’t mind being the student this time.

“You’re a fast learner,” Steve breathed, awe in his voice. That made Thor feel warm, despite being a god, that the super-soldier was impressed by his fighting skill. It wasn’t something he’d ever thought of wanting.

“You are a good teacher,” Thor replied. “I’m excited to learn more.”

“Tomorrow,” Steve promised brightly.

Thor’s face fell in the dim light, and he laced his fingers over his chest. Tomorrow... more fighting. Each day he dreaded not being strong enough, of being injured or killed all because he wasn’t as strong as he should be. A warrior was more than his strength. He shouldn’t rely on it.

Steve was shifting beside him, and when Thor turned his head he saw the Captain on his side, looking at him with confidence. “You’re a lot more skilled than you let yourself be,” Steve said. “You don’t need your hammer or your strength to kick the ass of anyone in that ring. I might have a super memory, but you’re still a faster learner than me. Whatever’s happening to you, it can only take away your power. It can’t take away you."

Steve was right. Thor still had all his facilities. He still had his courage, his focus, and his mind. Just like under all that muscle and costume and legends, Captain America was nothing without Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers had come first, had been a good person before being given the strength to match his spirit. Thor was still Thor without his godly power.

The demi-god smiled and looked back up at the ceiling. “My father taught me a similar lesson not too long ago,” he mused, and Steve fell silent to listen. “This feels very similar. He stripped me of my power and sent me to Earth to learn the virtues of being king. I was lost for a long time, blinded by the lie that without my power, I was nothing. It would seem that lesson has faded. Thank you for reminding me.”

“You’re still worthy,” Steve said quietly, taking Thor by surprise.

Thor stammered, feeling jarringly unstable. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so Steve continued.

“You have to be. You’ve been nothing but selfless. And Thor, you’re a good friend.”

“I hope you are right, for both our sakes,” Thor murmured.

“Get some sleep,” Steve smiled at him through the darkness. “And I am right, just trust me. I don’t know much about magic, but I know a good man when I see one.”

--

The God of Thunder had deferred to his judgment. That was no small thing, and Steve knew it wasn’t because of his title. Thor genuinely respected his expertise. That’s why Steve vowed to find out what was wrong with the god, and fix it, pronto. They were friends now, and they had to look after each other.

Steve was smart, but he was no Stark. It was infuriating, pacing the dimly-lit gathering area and sifting through any possible explanation for Thor’s predicament. He couldn’t think of a single thing. Surely if the obedience disk was affecting Thor to that degree, it would affect Steve as well. Or maybe it was made specially for the Asgardian.

Maybe ‘why’ was a better question to be asking than ‘how’. Steve hovered by the holographic death-match board, arms folded over his chest and staring sternly through it into nothing. Thor was more entertaining at full power, surely. Wouldn’t it be to the Grand Master’s benefit that Thor retain all his godly strength? Resources were being provided to heal the demi-god, too. Why weaken him, then, and waste resources fixing what shouldn’t need to be fixed?

The portal opened right under us. That was no mistake. It took Loki a lot of effort to open the first one. So we’re probably here for a reason. Maybe that reason is as simple as keeping us off the battlefield. Steve couldn’t help grimace every time he thought about the other Avengers left behind to battle Loki and the Chitauri, but every time he forced himself to forget about it. Nothing could be done. First, escape with Thor, then find a way to get back. They could deal with any battle aftermath when they got there.

Steve paced to a wall where he could scan the whole room, searching around for anyone he could confront. A guard, maybe. Someone who looked important. There wasn’t anyone inside this enclosed area apart from gladiators, guards watching from the other side of a sizzling barrier of red lasers. If he were Tony, he might look for items to build a communication device, or a disruptor for the barriers and the disks. But he wasn’t Tony, he was Steve, and Steve knew just enough about comms to fix the most common issues in a pinch.

A blue glow in his peripheral vision suddenly caught his attention, and he looked back up at the billboard. He had an inventory right here. Steve smiled with determination and strode back over, flicking his eyes from one name to another. There were lots of useless items, but two things caught Steve’s eye: one, a huge battle axe. He’d definitely seen the face of the owner around before. It was some huge (as most of the gladiators here were) bug-like creature with six muscular arms and a crown of impressive horns. Not to mention pincers.

The second item was an Asgardian mythology book, a real lucky find. This time, the owner appeared more... human. Strangely human, in a place like this. Human shape, human proportions. The supposed-man wore a dark hood in his picture, though, which covered all of his face. Perhaps there was something alien under there after all. No matter, Steve would win, as he had been doing for the past week he’d spent in the death matches. Actually, he hadn’t lost a fight since getting here, if being electrocuted before the end of his first competition didn’t count.

Now he had a plan. Steve walked to the screen on the far wall and waited for the aliens gathered round it to finish. He watched them scroll through the touch screen for the competitor they were interested in fighting, selecting the name and letting the screen scan them to identity who was requesting the pairing. All three fighters picked Steve, chortling among themselves in some strange clicking language as they turned, chuckling through grotesque smiles as they licked their lips and walked past him. Steve tried not to feel sick. He was fresh meat here, a prize to be won, a specimen, an interest. Not a person. The Captain shook himself free of those thoughts and stepped up to the screen, copying the others and flicking through until he found the names he wanted. The screen scanned his face at his confirmation, and the request was sent through. Soon, he hoped, he would be fighting those two.

Before he could turn away, someone grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him round, dragging him aside and slamming him into a wall.

Steve stared into yellow snake eyes as the humanoid pinned him in place with superior strength. His assailant had shiny, scaly skin marked with browns, yellows and whites. His green and blue robes suggested one of privilege, a spectator. He was certainly not a gladiator, not with that distinct lack of obedience disk on his slender neck.

Snake-man hissed, black tongue sliding between creamy teeth and hovering in front of Steve’s nose threateningly. “Fight too well, and they will pit you against the Champion.”

Steve couldn’t tell if it was a warning or a threat, glaring into those slitted eyes. “What do you want?”

“Do not fight the Grey Ghost,” the snake growled low.

The man who looked like he could be human, the one with the Asgardian book, Steve thought. “Why not?” he growled back.

“He’ll kill you,” Snake-man snapped back, as if it were obvious, and Steve was a fool not for seeing it. “And if you win, you will surely be sent to fight the Champion. Then you will definitely perish.”

Steve reached up and grabbed a handful of Snake-man's lush coat, yanking him forward. “You don’t know me too well. I don’t take orders from you, and I won’t lose to whatever the Grey Ghost is.”

“You are an idiot," Snake-man hissed again, tongue flicking out in annoyance.

“You telling me not to kinda makes me want to do it more,” Steve replied firmly. “Makes me wonder if you have something to gain if I don’t fight him. You make a bet with your rich friends? Well I’m not your dancin’ monkey.”

“No, Captain,” the snake replied sarcastically, pulling away. “Revoke your request.”

“I can’t do that,” Steve stood firm, glancing around at the other gladiators. Nobody seemed to see what was happening, that a spectator had entered their ranks and was exchanging harsh words with another fighter.

“So be it,” the snake snorted mockingly, turning and sweeping from the room and materializing into the crowd.

Steve stood and watched him go in confusion, fists tight at his sides.

--

“What troubles you?” 

Steve looked up at Thor on the adjacent side of the table. “Oh... sorry, just got lost in thought,” he shook his head to satiate the worried demi-god. “Someone... approached me today. Asked me not to fight this guy called the Grey Ghost tomorrow. I put in a request.” 

Thor tipped his head, frowning deeply. “I have heard the name before. I hear he is... formidable. He has fought enough battles to be fearsome, but not enough to be sent against the Champion. You must be cautious.” 

Steve pressed his lips together and looked down at his food. “I’ll be fine.” 

“Why did you request this?” Thor asked curiously. 

“He has something that might be useful,” Steve looked back up. “And I’m going to get it. I won’t lose, Thor. We promised we’d both get out of this together.” Fight too well, and they will pit you against the Champion.  

Thor nodded resolutely. “I have no doubt of your strength and skill, Steven, but please do not be reckless.” 

“I won’t,” Steve softened. “Thor, I won’t. I wouldn’t seek anybody out specifically if I didn’t have to.” 

Thor softened too, relenting. “Very well. I trust you have a plan of some sort.” 

“Yeah,” Steve grinned back. “Yeah, I do. Not much of one, but it’s a start.” 

“They let you keep your weapons today,” Thor pointed to the knives still holstered to Steve’s thighs. 

“Oh, yeah,” Steve shrugged. “Guess I’ve been here long enough that they’re mine now. Maybe it’s a reward for good behavior, or they just don’t care.” 

“Indeed, there are many warriors who walk around with weapons on their person, even outside of the arena or the gathering area,” Thor agreed solemnly. He rubbed his obedience disk. 

“How do you feel?” Steve asked, holding out his hand across the table. Thor wrapped his palm around the Captain’s and clutched tightly. They wrestled, testing Thor’s strength with the hope that one of these days it would show signs of climbing back up. Steve pushed Thor’s knuckles into the table just as easily as recently. They let go and sat back, Thor with an accepting sigh and Steve with regret. 

“About the same,” Thor replied quietly. 

“Dance with me?” Steve asked, holding out his hands. Thor smiled and agreed. “Will you teach me something new today?” 

“With pleasure,” Thor smiled. 

-- 

Steve fell asleep later than usual, and his restlessness was worse when he finally did. Thor blinked himself awake, peering across the darkness to see what had awoken him. 

The Captain was tangled up in his blanket, struggling against them while simultaneously trying to wrap them tighter around himself. He was trapped, yet shivering and seeking warmth, moaning and pleading under his breath. Thor rolled out of bed and closed the gap between them with one short stride, kneeling beside Steve and placing a hand on his companion’s shoulder. The Captain was turned away from him, back tense and straining against his shirt. Muscles seized and trembled under the Asgardian’s hand, and he squeezed gently. 

“Steven,” he murmured. “Steve. Wake up.” 

Steve hitched a sob, kicking his legs awkwardly and gripping fistfuls of sheets, trying to curl into the tightest ball possible. “C-cold,” he murmured, finally coherent. “S’cold, Peg, don’t leave me here... C-can't breathe...” another sob, a cough, a sob again. 

Thor clasped Steve’s knee with the other hand and tried to turn him onto his back and unfold him at the same time. It would have been a lot easier at his usual strength, but he was still strong. Not as strong as a panicking super-soldier, though. The Asgardian leaned closer, trying to think of how to get Steve’s attention. Words might not get through. 

He tried anyway though, leaving Steve’s shoulder to place a hand on his forehead instead. No fever, which was unlikely, but still a relief. “Steven, you are here with me.” 

Steve was choking like he couldn’t breathe, his whole body lurching like a striking cobra. Thor leaned backward for his own blanket and drew it over Steve, rubbing a hand across the mortal’s arm, up and down, up and down. Steve grabbed hold of the extra blanket like it was an oasis in the desert. 

“S’cold,” Steve shook violently, barely breathing around those short and violent hitches in his chest. 

Thor got up reluctantly, hurrying across the small room for the extra blankets he’d folded and tucked away in a bathroom cupboard. He brought them over and drew them around Steve’s shivering form. It helped, even if it was just a little. “Shh,” Thor murmured useless. “Captain, wake up. That’s an order.” 

It didn’t work like it had last time. Thor wasn’t sure he could force himself to bark it out, so out went that idea. Steve was still shivering, a little less but still violently. Thor didn’t have anything else to drape over him. All he could do was set his jaw, pry the blankets out of Steve’s hand, and slide himself underneath. Steve moaned and cried out, reaching desperately for the blankets back and Thor hurried to get himself under and let his friend grasp them again. Steve stilled before then, as the Asgardian’s weight pressed into his back some heat started to transfer over. Thor wrapped his whole body around Steve, tucking the human’s head under his chin. Steve trembled weakly, letting go of the blankets and crossing his arms over his chest protectively. Thor found a leg wrapping around his, trapping him in place. 

And Steve settled, finally warm enough for his tastes, warm enough to ease away the worst of the nightmare, or the memory. Thor slid an arm under Steve’s and wrapped it around the Captain’s chest, pulling his friend’s shoulders into his own chest. They lay there twisted up together for one painful minute, Thor feeling every faltering heart beat slamming into his body, every tremor that passed through his friend. Finally, Steve settled, his heart rate almost steady, his breathing still hitched but better, and his weak trembling only periodically disturbed by a rougher jolt. 

Thor reached his hand onto Steve’s forehead, pushing back short blonde forelock with gentle strokes. He drew his hand up Steve’s damp cheeks, across his eyebrows, and all the way to the top of his head, the soothing motion easing his bundle’s quaking even further. Another minute. 

“Thor...?” Steve murmured into the pillows, fear and weakness clinging to his timid question. 

“Yes,” Thor replied quietly. “Sleep, Steven.” 

Steve shifted, as if to get away. “S-sorry, y’were sleepin’-” 

“And I will be once more if you be quiet,” Thor tightened his grip. Steve went still. “You are no burden. Friends take care of each other. So be silent and go to sleep. I will be here.” 

Steve relented, sagging bonelessly into the mattress and into Thor, sighing with relief. His whole body went lax, and the Asgardian placed a hand on his friend’s forehead, holding him in place against him. He refused to fall asleep until he heard Steve’s deep breathing and soft snore, fending off his own weariness for as long as it took. Luckily, Steve was tired too, so it didn’t take long. Finally, Thor relented too, sinking into a pleasant sleep of his own, comfortable and exactly where he wanted to be in this very moment. 

 

Chapter Text

Steve woke up warm and well-rested. He blinked sleep from his eyes, shifting a little but quickly finding he couldn’t move much more than that. Thor’s arms and legs were wrapped around him, the demi-god's face buried into his back.  

Thor snorted and squeezed Steve tightly, then settled. He was forced to lie still in his friend’s grip, going limp and replaying what he remembered of the night. He’d been drowning, frigid water filling up the Valkyrie’s cockpit and rendering even his enhanced body useless. First, the burning and panic as cold took control of every muscle, then the shivering. Finally, he’d gone still, too cold to move or feel.  

But he could think, and he knew he was dying, his lungs full of water and his brain oxygen-starved. Initially, he’d been scared, panicking in the darkness. His last few moments were peaceful, though, and he’d let go, knowing soon he’d be dead and he’d have given his life for his country, and all the lives that would have been lost had he not made this choice.  

Thor’s proximity was invaluable, and as much as he was embarrassed to be so tightly crushed against the demi-god, he was grateful and happy all the same. He was safe here.  

The Asgardian finally yawned against his shoulders, shifting and extracting himself from his place tangled up with Steve. Steve followed suit, wordlessly making the bed and folding up the extra blankets while Thor went to get clean. They sat at the table in silence, eating breakfast with sleepy contentment. Steve feared he’d kept the Thor away from sleep he now needed, but the demi-god looked very well rested, chewing on his food cheerfully.  

They both got into their armor, Steve tightening the buckles on his annoyingly-rigid chest plate and offering Thor a solid nod. He grabbed the demi-god by the shoulder. “I’ll see you tonight,” he promised. “Be careful.”  

“I will,” Thor smiled. “You as well, Steven.”  

--  

The first contender was no more a challenge than anyone else Steve had fought. The insectoid was very well plated, but Steve quickly found its weak spots. It swung its axe over the Captain’s head, and Steve popped up the instant it passed. He jumped, turning in the air and smashing the edge of his shield into the ground with as much force as he could produce. The shield bounced upward and smashed the creature under its snapping pincers, in the throat.  

Snapping wildly, the insectoid flailed its arms in a choking rage. The axe wove random patterns in the air as the bug-man attacked with vengeance. Steve gave himself a running start and jumped through a gap between the chaos. He led with his shield, holding the edge and tucking neatly between the two upper arms as they swiped horizontally. Before he hit, Steve slid his arm through the straps of his shield, rolled, and got to his feet. He flung the disk at the back of the bug’s head and broke its neck. As the bug went down, Steve caught his shield on the rebound and jumped, helping it fall with an unforgiving kick. More armored plating cracked under his perfect attacks. The Captain split the bug open by jamming his shield into a small gap in the carapace, and the bug went limp, twitching lifelessly.  

The body was dragged away, and Steve got up, letting the guards take his shield and lead him off.  

Thor was up next , so Steve didn’t get a chance to see him on his break. He sat alone in the rest area and ate a little something, watching the other fighters mingle. He caught sight of the Grey Ghost lingering alone, shadows under his hood where the face should be aimed right n Steve’s direction. He could feel eyes boring into him.  

Someone grabbed him by the collar of his armor, lifting him off his bench and throwing him to the ground. Steve didn’t let the impact of his shoulders hitting the cold floor faze him. He rolled backward and got to his feet, crossing his arms in front of his face to block the first punch. The second jammed him in the stomach, and despite his thick leather armor in place, it still hurt and winded him. A hand grabbed a wrist each and pried his arms apart, then a heel struck his unprotected face. Falling onto his back, Steve pulled his arms free and looked up at his attacker.  

It was just some other gladiator, who was now smirking down at the Captain as he took the rest of his food and ate it smugly. Steve pushed his jaw forward, rising to his feet swiftly and tensing his fist s in preparation to retaliate. He’d never dealt well with being bullied, and Captain American wasn’t about to get laid out by some random alien.  

Another gladiator grabbed his arms from behind, yanking them harshly behind him and twisting. The first approached, licking each claw delicately. He drew his face right up to Steve – his arena title was Dreiya the Commander, if Steve remembered his face from the billboard correctly, which of course he did. The Commander was one h ell of a sight, with his eight-foot-tall height and body-builder width. All of his pale red skin was tattooed with dark ink depicting symbols in an alien language. Steve did see a few haunting creatures with gaunt features, curled horns, and serrated talons curving between the symbols, though. Whatever that language was saying, it was unlikely anything encouraging.  

Dreiya ran his clawed forefinger along Steve’s cheek, barely holding back from cutting the skin. “I’ve never seen a Terran before,” he mused. “So soft... how do your kind survive with skin this soft? Your Earth must be forgiving. You must be lucky, Knight, to have come so far and lived.”  

Steve showed his gritted teeth, but said nothing, struggling against the stronger alien restraining his arms from behind while the Commander continued to trace his face with lustful fascination.  

“I hear humans are particularly warm when they bleed,” Dreiya leaned in closer still, pushing his thumb into Steve’s cheek and threatening to puncture it. “But I’ll restrain my fascination if you give me the disk.”  

Steve tightened his jaw, flexing muscle pushing against the claw. “If you want to fight me, put in a request. We can sort this out in the arena.”  

“Very well,” Dreiya hissed, grinning and rolling his thumb in a circle, watching Steve’s soft cheek tug along with the motion. “Or I can fight you right here, and take what you own as mine without the hassle of requests.” He grabbed the human by the throat, claws digging in, and shoved him back into his companion restraining him . The Commander punched Steve in the chest, the stomach, and the throat. They were strong punches, strong enough to wind the super-soldier.  

But not enough to disable him. Steve choked, lifting his hips and wrapp ing his legs around the Commander’s throat , twisting. The Commander, his companion, and Steve all went down in a heap. Steve wrestled his captive arms free and rolled off the pile. Dreiya grabbed his ankle and yanked him to the floor. Steve let himself be dragged back into the pile, catching Dreiya in the chin with his free leg and pulling the other free. Dreiya reached out with longer arms and grabbed a handful of cape , spinning a circle and smashing Steve into the ground. Steve bounced off his shoulder, but used the momentum to spring back up. The Commander didn’t give him the chance, slamming him in the face a second time with a solid punch. They both went down, Dreiya punching over and over again, grinning with anticipation. Steve kicked out, blocking what strikes he could and fighting to knock his assailant off him.  

He was unsuccessful, until intervention rescued him.  

Dreiya was lifted casually off him by the collar like a naughty kitten, and deposited roughly to the ground. A pair of solid hands – and he did mean solid – hooked under his armor and pulled him standing by the shou lders.  

Steve blinked up dazedly at the figure looming over him, wiping blood from his nose.  

“Hey man, that guy took your spot. You wanna come sit with me instead?”  

Sure, Buck. Not Bucky, but a tall creature that was shaped like a man, but made of rocks. Steve spat out a mouthful of blood, coughing up a little more and spitting that out too. “Uh, sure... thanks.”  

The rock-man led Steve to another bench and sat down, leaving space for the human to sink down next to him. He offered his rocky hand, a p ebb le coming loose and dropping to the floor. “My name is Korg , I’m made of rocks, as you can see,” he smiled. “But don’t let that scare you.”  

Steve wiped his mouth with one hand and accepted the shake with the other. “Steve. Thanks.” He let go of the shake, wondering how bruised his face would be when he got back tonight. The serum would take care of most of it by then, he hoped. He’d taken some hard hits.  

“We haven’t had any humans here in a while,” Korg said with the sort of cheerful disregard usually only found in pubs. His voice was strikingly high- pitched for someone of his... stature. “You must be a long way from home.”  

“Yeah,” Steve breathed.  

“And your Thunder friend?”  

“No, he’s from Asgard ,” Steve replied.  

“That shield of yours is very useful!” Korg noted. “You could use it like a really big soup bowl, or a wok. You could make a big stir-fry with it. No wonder all the others want to fight you.”  

Steve quirked a smile. Yeah, he supposed he could use it as a wok. That’s that big wide frying-pan thing, right? Must be. “Seems like everybody wants to kill everybody round here.” He glanced back at Dreiya, who was rising to his feet and stalking off. “Why’d you stop him?”  

“I used to sit there,” Korg replied, “and the guards don’t like it when we fight. Unless we’re in the arena.”  

“Thanks again,” Steve repeated, dabbing his cheek bone with tentative fingers. The image of Thor gently brushing his face with a concerned hand flashed across his mind, but he shook it off and stood up. He could see a pair of guards walking over to fetch him for his next match. “See you later.”  

“Good luck,” Korg gave him a friendly nod.  

--  

Thor finished his fight and hurried off to quench his thirst. This body was needy, and he was grateful for the chance to rest. I hope Steve is well-rested.  

Steve was up again, and Thor moved to the bars to watch. His eyes darkened when he saw the Grey Ghost walk up to the starting position. Be careful, Steven. The Ghost wasn’t carrying a weapon that he could see, which did not bode well. He was a haunting figure, roughly six feet in height and slender in build, dressed in long white robes with black accents, and a heavy hood pulled over his face. He walked with slow intention, suggesting the capability for speed in subtle movements that portrayed intention.  

The Grand Master announced them both, and the crowd shouted more vigorously than usual. This was a long-anticipated match between the two most promising new-comers to the death matches.  

Things began very well, Steve twisting, jumping, and landing devastatingly powerful attacks. He flung his shield around the arena, bouncing it off the walls or the ground to get it where it needed to be. The Ghost was holding his own though, ducking and blocking the Captain’s attacks with just as much speed as his opponent. The fight was escalating, condensing into one small spot just off-center of the circle as the combatants threw machine-gun-quick kicks and punches. Steve’s shield lay near the wall, knocked out of his hand moments ago.  

Thor gripped the bars tightly, gritting his teeth with desperation. He had to trust Steve’s skill, there was no other choice. He was helpless.  

Up down, up down, Steve ducked a punch and came back up to strike his own, ducked a kick and straightened with one of his own to return with. Neither was gaining any ground, evenly matched.  

No, Steve was gaining just a little, forcing the Ghost back one inch. Thor grinned. Yes, Steven! The Captain found a brief opening, striking through it with a hand and jamming his fingers under the Ghost’s ribs. Another falter, another opening for Steve to use. The soldier vaulted over the Ghost’s head, grabbing him by the sholders and bringing him down as he completed the flip. The hood came lose.  

Why did you want to fight him? Thor wondered distantly as he peered through the bars in the silence that blanketed the whole arena. Steve stared down at the exposed face below, which Thor could just make out to be... human. And very young. Early twenties, maybe? His skin was soft, his eyes big. His lips moved and Steve froze for a moment, stopped mid attack with his fist at the ready.  

STEVE!” Thor shouted, breaking the silence, but it was too late. That young face twisted innocence into malice, a foot striking upward and catching Steve in the stomach. The Ghost threw Steve over his head with his leg, rolled to his feet, and pulled up his hood once more. Steve hit the ground and the Ghost pounced, striking hard into the Captain’s throat.  

Thor tensed, growling with primal intentions and uncontained rage. Nothing could be done. Steve was being lifted off the ground by the collar of his breast plate, then released and punched into the ground with a swift strike to his face. As expected, Steve got back up, even without Thor yelling that he do so.  

The Ghost struck again, and again, kicking Steve back a few more paces. Steve managed to block a handful more before one made it through his shaken defenses and struck his leg. He went down with a cry , the limb collapsing. The Ghost reached into his sleeve and pulled out a long, thin sword that couldn’t possibly have fit inside the garment. But out it came, slashing a neat cut into Steve’s chin as he just barely rolled away from a fatal stabbing.  

Thor showed teeth, straining against the bars for all it was worth, able only to watch as the Ghost started to plunge his sword down once more. He wouldn’t miss this time. That sword would pierce Steve’s heart, and the super-soldier would die.  

Thunder cracked above, distant but powerful. The arena shook, and the crowd trembled. It was enough to pause the Ghost, and enough to save Steve’s life. That very second was all that was needed, for out of the sky arched a bolt of brilliant, crackling blue. It struck the Grey Ghost through the chest, spearing him with pure energy. The whole stadium was blinded with cerulean light, and the Grey Ghost fell, dead and smoking.  

--  

Thor pushed the guards aside, ignoring the warning jolt he got for it from his obedience disk. He had only one care, and that was to get Steve away from their s hoving and back to their room . The Asgardian dragged an arm across his shoulders and nudged by the guards, starting to lead the way back and ignoring all the other competitors they stormed past. Steve looked shaken, limping along beside Thor and staring into nothing.  

The guards let up, keeping back with weapons raised just in case Thor had plans of escaping. The instant both men were through the barrier, the guards left and Thor pressed Steve against the nearest wall while he ripped lose the buckles on his armor.  

“What the hell was that?” Steve breathed. He was limping, badly, keeping the weight off his leg as much as possible and bracing himself against the wall while Thor got his armor off.  

“Your face,” Thor ignored the question, too bewildered to answer, and too relieved his friend was alive to care much about what had happened or how. The demi-god clasped Steve’s chin around the cut and turned his head to inspect the bruising.  

“It’ll fade,” Steve batted a hand. “Thor, it’s fine.”  

“That man almost killed you,” Thor growled, but he wasn’t angry at Steve. “Come on, your leg...”  

“Broken,” Steve breathed through a wince. “I think. Didn’t stop to check. I feel... grinding.”  

Thor nodded, getting himself back under the Captain and guiding him to his bed. They didn’t speak as the Asgardian loosened Steve’s boots as much as he could and carefully slid them off. Those thick combat pants were too tight to roll up, so they’d have to come off. Steve was already wrestling with the buckles and zips, gasping in pain as he tried and failed to slide them off himself. Thor grabbed the ankles and pulled them off in one smooth swoop . Steve wrapped his blanket around his waist.  

The Captain was bruised all over, but his leg was definitely the worst, yellow and swollen around the knee and just below. Thor could just make out the heel of a boot.  

“It’ll heal,” Steve sighed, reaching for his shirt and pulling it on.  

Yes, Steven it will. But how long will it take, and how much suffering will you have to endure while it does? Thor set his jaw and reached for a pillow from his own bed, tucking it under Steve’s knee. “It appears to be in one piece,” he reasoned somberly, but grateful.  

“Y-yeah,” Steve murmured. “Might be fragments, or something. Serum’ll fix it.”  

Thor opened his mouth to reply but was distracted by the sound of the slot opening. He crossed the room with long paces and reached for the tray awaiting them. There was nothing but a steel bowl of ice cubes , and if past experiences were anything to go by, that meant icing the wound was likely all they could do . Thor brought it to the table and gathered some towels from the alcove on his way, kneeling beside Steve with a little regained composure.  

“I’m sorry,” Steve started, watching Thor scoop ice i nto a towel with his hand . “I wasn’t trying to be reckless. I probably would have had to fight that guy at some point anyway.”  

He sounded genuinely worried and guilty. Thor cast him a soft smile , letting layers of fear crumble away and take his aggression with them. “I know. I am glad you’re alright. That is all that matters.”  

Steve smiled, then winced, the cuts on his face tugging.  

“What happened?” Thor asked, keeping newly-rising aggression from swelling up.  

“Someone picked a fight, that’s all. What you’d expect from a bunch of gladiators trying to fight each other to death and steal their stuff. Wanted the shield,” Steve explained, rubbing his purple cheek. “It’ll be gone by morning.”  

“I meant in the arena,” Thor replied quietly.  

Steve swallowed. “His face... it was so young. Too young, Thor, and he looked at me and begged for his life. I... I hesitated.”  

Thor heard repressed grief in Steve’s halting words. He could see tears welling up in the Captain’s eyes. The Asgardian reached out and clasped his friend’s uninjured knee with a large hand. “It was a trick,” he assured. “He took advantage of your kind-heartedness.”  

“And you saved me,” Steve swallowed.  

Thor didn’t know what to say. He squeezed Steve’s leg as much for his own comfort as for his friend’s, voice quiet. “I do not know what happened,” he replied truthfully.  

“But I know it was you,” Steve interjected. “I saw it, in your first fight. Your fingers sort of... crackled. It was you, I know it was.”  

Thor sighed and did not reply. You’re alright. That’s all that matters. Steve didn’t push, and they both sat in their own thoughts for a minute or two.  

Finally, Thor picked up an ice cube from the bowl and pressed it into Steve’s cheek. “They took it from you again today,” the Asgardian mused, rubbing the ice around his friend’s eye socket. Steve shivered. Thor clasped the other side of his face to hold him still and rubbed some blood and paint away with his thumb. When he’d finished, he let go of the Captain and pointed by the door where newly-acquired items were always left. “But they let you take back that.”  

A huge double-sided axe leaned against the wall, along with some other random objects, a couple more weapons, and a book.  

“Oh yeah,” Steve smiled, starting to get up. Thor heard him and pushed him back without even looking, walking over to inspect today’s additions to their collection. The Asgardian wrapped his hand around the axe’s hilt, hefting the impressive weapon off the floor. He smiled and admired its weight, then moved to set it back down.  

“You can have that,” Steve said from the bed.  

Thor turned. “Are you certain?” This was not what you risked your life for, surely?  

“Yeah, suits you,” Steve smiled. “Not my style anyway. Do me a favor and pass me that book would you?”  

Thor set the axe back against the wall with a joyful grin and reached for the book. He frowned and straightened, wandering back to Steve’s side and sitting on the bed by his hips. “Asgardian mythology,” he snorted lightly, interested. He flick ed through the pages for a moment before handing it over.  

“Thought we might find some ideas,” Steve replied, starting at the beginning. It was only the size of a large novel, with a hardy leather cover and strong paper pages. It had to be hundreds of years old with how worn it looked. Steve delicately flipped from page to page, brows furrowed.  

Dinner arrived in the slot, and Thor brought it over while Steve read. They sat in silence, neither of them breaching the topic of what had happened in the arena less than an hour ago. Steve finally folded down a corner of the book and set it aside, finishing his dinner. He adjusted his position and winced.  

“They let us have the axe and my knives but not my shield,” Steve started. “It’s listed as my property, but I’m not allowed to keep it here.”  

“Perhaps they think it too powerful,” Thor replied.  

“I bet it’s got something to do with the vibranium ,” Steve pointed at Thor, eyes sharp and voice alive. “Must be. Maybe it could disrupt the barriers, or the obedience disks somehow. Maybe that’s why some of the gladiators want it, because they could use it to escape.”  

Thor brightened. “You may be correct.”  

Steve smiled. “I hope so.  

That was all well and good, but how did they go about getting the shield back to this room? Thor decided not to mention it, letting Steve return to his reading while the Asgardian returned to his thoughts. How do you intend to fight tomorrow if your leg is broken? How much will it heal in one night? Steve couldn’t afford a weakness like that. Thor scooped another handful of ice into the towel, replacing what had melted and glancing at the limb. The swelling was gone, and the bruising faded into deep and healing yellows. Lesser purples were fading away altogether.  

“Here, here,” Steve announced, turning the book around and pointing to the page. “What about this?”  

Thor snapped up his head and took the book from Steve, reading the designated paragraph in his head, lips moved around silent words. He paled. The Witch’s Cure, a flower produced by a bush. The flowers are such a beautiful and pure white, that many were harvested before they could fully develop. The flower wilts and dies over the course of a month, leaving in its place a dark berry. If eaten, the fruit can render even the Gods powerless.  

“My father destroyed the last of them centuries ago,” Thor spoke quietly. “This book must have been written before then. What were you thinking?”  

“The juice.” Steve replied. “Just... don’t drink it when it comes. It won’t hurt to try.”  

Thor closed the book with a shaking hand, setting it aside. Then he leaned forward and squeezed his arms around the Captain. Steve paused, then returned the hug, patting the Asgardian on the back before tapping him urgently. “Thor... Thor, ribs,” he wheezed.  

Thor immediately released his grip, sitting back and grasping Steve’s shoulders. “Yes, yes. My apologies.”  

“Told you I’d think of something,” Steve smiled, rubbing his side with one hand. The slot opened across the room, presenting dinner.  

Thor stood up, beaming. “And I wish only that you had not needed to risk your life for it.”  

“We’re risking our lives every day just to see another,” Steve replied easily as the Asgardian brought over dinner and drink. Once again, the purple juice accompanied their meal. They made eye contact, and Thor picked up both cups, tipping the contents down the shower drain and replacing them empty on the tray.  

“I hope you are correct,” Thor stated. “Thank you, Steven.”  

“Let’s find out,” Steve smiled back, and they ate dinner with renewed hope. “And you’re welcome. I’m not leaving you behind either.”  

Chapter Text

It would heal, as always. Steve had broken plenty of bones, many worse than this. This was a fracture, nothing out of place. It would take a few days max. He insisted this to Thor repeatedly, but the demi-god would not be dissuaded from keeping it iced and digging some bandages out of the cupboard to provide a little pressure.  

Steve watched him wrap it, and had to admit the tension felt better. He adjusted positions and took Thor’s hand. It was too early to tell if the demi-god was recovering at all, but they arm-wrestled anyway. Steve won, and Thor pulled away.  

No dancing tonight. Steve assured he was alright to walk around, but Thor reasonably replied that he should stay off his feet and heal as much possible for tomorrow. When the lights dimmed, the Asgardian crawled into bed beside Steve without a second’s thought, pulling the blankets over both of them. Unable to protest given how happy Thor looked, he settled against the warm bulk of the god and allowed himself to enjoy this.  

Thor just wanted to take care of him, just like Bucky. Only now Steve was twice the size he used to be, and his only friend was a thousand-year-old god.  

He still felt small though, tucked up against Thor’s chest. Small like that kid... And he’d dead. He was just a kid !  

Thor groaned and shifted , wrapping his arms around his friend’s body as if he were a Steve-sized pillow. Then, he snored, face half buried and his mouth hanging open. Cute. Even asleep, the God of Thunder was still comforting him. Steve smiled and closed his eyes, dreaming of bright blue flashes and cracks of lightning. He knew Thor had somehow summoned his power and intervened, whether Thor wanted to talk about it or not. Steve knew what he’d seen.  

He’d been about to die, when the sky had lit up. Down judgement had come, killing his assailant with furious power. Sure, maybe someone else in the stadium could use lightning somehow, but Steve had caught a glimpse of Thor on the other side of the arena, clutching the bars and shouting at him, his eyes glowing blue and sparks jumping between his fingers.  

--  

Thor was up earlier than he had been recently, already pacing the room when Steve opened his eyes. The Captain shot sitting. “Thor.”  

“Steven,” Thor turned and smiled. “How do you feel?”  

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Steve replied, searching for any cues that would indicate if Thor was regaining his power or not.  

“I feel lighter,” Thor admitted, holding out his hand for Steve to take and tugging the human to his feet.  

“Good, that’s good,” Steve clasped Thor’s shoulders. It started a gesture of comradery, but ended up being for support as he tested his broken leg. The Captain looked down at the limb while Thor looked at his face.  

They made eye contact, and Thor peered at him curiously. “Odin’s beard, it looks better. The bruise is gone.” The god clasped Steve’s face with one hand and turned his head to catch a better light.  

“Bruises are nothing for the serum,” Steve casually let Thor inspect his face. The Captain’s pleased expression twisted into a deep wince as he walked past his friend to the breakfast table.  

“But broken bones take a little longer,” Thor nodded understandingly, following slowly to match Steve’s cautious limp. “It is much improved all the same. Will you be able to fight?”  

“Fought with worse,” Steve nodded. He would keep going, force all pain from his mind to get through. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than being dead. Maybe his leg would take a bit longer than normal, but his normal was many times faster than it was for every other human on Earth. Five days instead of three was still nothing compared to the weeks it could have taken before the serum. Then again, without the serum I wouldn’t be here at all. I’d be dead, he reminded himself. He’d likely have died while Buck was out at war. Bucky wouldn’t have been coming home either , he knew that much. Hydra would have experimented on him more, killed him. There would have been no rescue.  

He died anyway, what does it matter? Steve thought bitterly, sliding the plate Thor offered him closer.  

“I wish I could give you the time to heal completely,” Thor offered, pushing his cup of purple juice – the suspected Witch’s Cure – away from himself. “If the bi-frost weren’t destroyed we would be free from here already.”  

“Bi-frost?” Steve asked, wondering if this was something he was supposed to know about. He hated not knowing. Retaining information was one thing, and an effortless thing thanks to the serum. But truly understanding a large chunk of what went on around him was another. What was gradual for the world, had been instant for him. He’d woken up in a totally new culture.   

Thor was smiling with sad recollection. “It was a transportation device of sorts,” he replied. “It stood at the end of the rainbow bridge, staring over all of space just as Heimdall did. He can see all things. We must be hidden from him, or he would have heard me and sought other means of transporting us home.”  

“Like how you got to Earth?” Steve asked, leaning back. It wouldn’t be much more to learn about portals as well as everything else he had to catch up on. He was actually very interested to learn about Thor’s home world.  

“Yes,” Thor nodded. “There are many ways of traveling through the galaxies. The bi-frost is one, and the tesseract another.”  

“How did the bi-frost get destroyed?” Steve asked quietly.  

“I broke it,” Thor admitted , pain seeping into his expression . “Loki tried to destroy Yotenheim with it. He thought Father would love him if he rid the world of his sworn enemies.” There were tears in his eyes. Steve shifted a little closer. “I thought him dead, Steven. I thought I had missed my chance to right whatever wrongs I had done to him.”  

“It’s not your fault,” Steve offered, believing it whole-heartedly but knowing it might not help much.  

“But it is my responsibility,” Thor replied sincerely, meeting Steve’s eyes. “If he has sent me here as punishment for my mistakes, then so be it. But you need not suffer for those mistakes-”  

“Thor, we’re both getting out of here,” Steve interjected firmly, using his Captain’s voice on the god. “And that’s that. The team needs you.” I need you. You’re the only person who’s made me feel human since I woke up. You’re my only friend. It was selfish, Steve knew that, but he wanted Thor to live for more than selfish purposes. He wanted Thor to live so he could find closure. The demi-god deserved the chance to mend things with his brother.  

“Then I suppose it would be futile to argue with you,” Thor offered a weak but grateful smile, his eyes damp with desperation. He looked close to giving up in that moment, and painfully human. Vulnerable.  

“Yeah, it would,” Steve replied sternly, shifting closer still. His leg ached, but he didn’t care. The first tear escaped Thor’s eye and persevered down his cheek. Steve closed the gap between them and they sat with their shoulders pressed together, staring at the wall. “T hat battle was about more than saving the world,” Steve murmured, meaning for it to be a question, but already knowing the answer. Thor answered in his silence, and Steve draped an arm across his friend’s shoulders.  

Thor didn’t spend much time in tears, but Steve gave him whatever he needed, letting the Asgardian choose when to stand up. Thor wiped his face dry and offered Steve a hand up. “Thank you, my friend. I will try to believe your words with even half your conviction.”  

“You’re a good man,” Steve smiled, gripping Thor’s shoulder before the Asgardian could move away. “I’m alive because of you, a couple times over. Don’t forget it. I won’t leave you behind, either. I’m the Captain, remember? And leaders aren’t supposed to leave their team-mates behind. Or their friends. You have my word.”  

“And you have mine,” Thor replied. “Come. We should get ready.”  

Steve got clean, glad but not surprised to find that apart from his leg, most of the evidence from yesterday’s events was gone. His face looked normal, and there were a few faint blotches on his chest and stomach, but everything was in its place. The serum is perfect for this. Perfect for repetitive and constant battle.  

Right on time, the guards arrived to deliver them to the arena.  

--  

They were not taken to the arena.  

Steve followed along quietly beside the demi-god, limping painfully but trying to mask it. On top of not wanting Thor to worry, he didn’t want it to be an exploitable weakness either. Wherever they were going it was not the arena, or the gathering area. Tension clung to the small party, even the guards, as they made their way up and up and up the building and into a familiar room.  

The Grand Master sat waiting for them, his menacing attendant at his side holding that same ridiculous staff with the orange sphere on the end. The guards pushed them down to their knees before the Grand Master, and Steve couldn’t help but suck in a shaky gasp as his broken leg pressed into the hard floor.  

“I knew the two of you had some tricks up your sleeves, but I had no idea it was anything that extraordinary!” the Grand Master stood up and walked over, his hands spread in delight. He clapped twice. “What a show! My most promising warriors are doing better than I expected! But I do have some concerns,” he held up a finger and left a pause as he paced a circle around the pair. He stopped back in front of them and leaned over, voice quiet. “Who is the Lord of Thunder?”  

Steve opened his mouth to answer, even though he wasn’t sure what he’d say. Thor was faster. "God of Thunder,” he growled.  

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” the Grand master waved a hand, turning his attention to the Asgardian. “So that was you, then? In that case you’ll have the honor of fighting the Champion-”  

“It was me,” Steve interjected firmly, heart leaping at the mention of this mysterious ‘Champion’. “It was me. That was my power.”  

The Grand Master’s eyebrows lifted, and he turned his head, intrigued and smiling with sick enjoyment. “It was? Interesting. I’d like to see some proof, then, because your friend here is sparkling.”  

Steve turned with wide eyes to stare at Thor. Blue sparks were jumping between his fingers and the demi-god was glaring back with cold rage, slowly shaking his head. Steve returned the glare and looked back at the Grand Master. He wasn’t a liar, but right now he would have to be. I can’t get out of this without you, Thor. I need you. Whoever this Champion is, he won’t kill me. And if he does, the world will miss me far less than they’d miss you. You belong to two worlds anyhow. Earth could do with the God of Thunder far more than it could with Captain America. My time was World War two. And I got to spend some of the best days this year with you, maybe some of the best times of my life.  

“Those are just sparks, sir,” Steve quirked an eyebrow. “It’s impressive, but it’s not anything like what I created in the arena. His power is nothing compared to mine.”  

Steven, " Thor growled, but the Grand Master raised a hand and cut him off.  

“That’s a fair point,” he wagged a finger at Steve. “He’s got a point, God of Thunder. You both fooled me good.” And he chuckled, genuinely enjoying himself. “Tell you what. I like this. Let’s find out who’s more powerful and settle this little rivalry you two have going on.”  

“I don’t need to fight him to know I’m stronger,” Steve snorted, surprised at how cocky he was managing to sound.  

Bup-bup ,” the Grand Master made a shut-up gesture with his hand. “It’s settled. You can work this out like men. Go on, take them away.” He shooed the guards.  

Thor stood up, punching the nearest guard in the face and shattering his helmet. Three more surged to subdue him, but the god’s strength had started to return since he’d stopped drinking the Asgardian poison and two more had to grab him while the Grand Master found his remote.  

The jolt went to Steve, however. It had been a long time since either of them had been subdued this way, and it was just as unpleasant as he remembered. The Grand Master was ruthless, grinning as he left Steve to writhe on the floor. Thor went very still, his chest heaving and his eyes desperate. Steve could just see him out of the corner of his eye as he twitched on the hard floor.  

“If either of you refuse, the other will die,” the Grand Master held up the remote tauntingly. “And it won’t be quick and painless.”  

Just as he thought he might pass out, the shocks stopped coming, and Steve lay still, gasping for breath and in pain. He couldn’t stop the sounds from coming out as he was hauled to his feet by two guards and practically dragged away.  

They were taken back to the gathering area, tossed through the barrier unceremoniously while other gladiators glanced up curiously. Thor grabbed Steve by the arm before he could fall and took him to the nearest bench, pushing him into his seat by the shoulders and hovering over him.  

“That was stupid! " Thor growled under his breath, and Steve shrank back a little. “How dare you, Steven! You promised not to do anything reckless.”  

“I couldn’t just let him send you off to fight the Champion!” Steve retorted. “You said it yourself! We don’t know anything about him, and he’s dangerous!”  

“And you think you stand a better chance than me?” Thor tightened his grip, searching Steve’s eyes. “You are a mortal man, Steve, and I am a god. Regardless of your skill, and your serum, I am still stronger. I have a better chance of surviving against this Champion.”  

It hurt, even though Steve knew Thor wasn’t trying to brag or make him feel weak. “ I’m the Captain,” he growled back. “Which means looking out for my team-”  

There is no team here! " Thor cut in, pulling their faces so close their noses were brushing. “You asked me not to call you Captain, because here it’s just you and me. If you wish to be Captain, then I will be the Prince. I order you to step aside, Steven.”  

Steve gripped a handful of Thor’s cape , yanking on it with frustration as he struggled to find a rebuttal. His anger faded into desperation like sugar in hot tea. “You’re my friend , Thor... how could I stand by and do nothing?” His voice cracked. “I lost my best friend because I was too slow. I won’t lose another friend because I didn’t try hard enough to look out for him. I don’t care if you’re a god, or a prince, or ten times stronger than me. If I didn’t try with everything I had to keep you safe, I wouldn’t sleep for the rest of my life.”  

Thor blinked, frozen in place for a moment or two before his aggression melted away too. He sighed and pulled Steve into a hug, lowering himself onto the bench beside him and squeezing. “I understand,” he murmured. “But you must let me win. Steven, if you fought the Champion and died, I would never be able to forgive myself. This mess is my responsibility. I swore to protect Earth, but failed to protect it from my brother’s wrath borne out of hatred for me. Please, Steven let me do this. I must.”  

Steve didn’t know what to say, wrapped up in Thor’s pleading grasp. He knew he couldn’t just relent and agree. It wasn’t that easy. He had just as much duty to himself to fulfill as the god did... But he’s right. I’m still just a man. Thor has a much better chance of taking down this Champion. His strength might be back by the time they fight. He won’t die. Maybe it was time to step aside.  

“We’re both going home,” Steve murmured into Thor’s shoulder. “I’ll let you win. But you have to promise me you’ll fight with everything you have. Hammer or not, you’re still the strongest person I’ve ever met. Whatever the champion is, you can take him.”  

Thor’s weight settled onto Steve with relief. “Thank you, Steven. I promised you a party, didn’t I?”  

“Yeah, you did,” Steve chuckled. “You promised me I could get drunk, too. After this, I think I might look forward to that.”  

“I will show you a good time,” Thor promised, pulling back and gripping Steve’s shoulders once more. “It will put all Earth parties to shame.”  

“It’s a date,” Steve smiled, and they both paused. Red seeped up into Steve’s honest face and lit his ears on fire. “I-I didn’t mean it like that, like... like as a, a.... a promise.” Oh god.  

Thor settled beside him, amused but a little pink himself, waving a hand. They sat in silence, Steve trying to think of anything that would reduce the heat in his face, and Thor staring at his feet.  

“I won’t go too hard on you,” Thor looked over suddenly.  

Right. That. Remembering the severity of their situation sobered Steve right up. “But we should at least give them a show,” the Captain smiled.  

“How is your leg?”  

“Hurts,” Steve admitted. “But it won’t be a hindrance. Just... try not to hit it.”  

“I will not,” Thor promised with a smile and a nod.  

“How do you feel?” Steve replied, scanning Thor up and down. He certainly appeared more like his tireless self, that human weariness removed from his face.  

“Stronger,” Thor agreed. “That was very wise to acquire the book.”  

“Thanks,” Steve beamed. “Glad it worked.”  

“As am I,” Thor patted Steve’s back heartily.  

“Time to go.” Both men looked up and saw a handful of guards waiting for them near the exit, ready to equip them for battle. The leader gestured to them, and Thor stood up, pacing proudly over. Steve followed, hoping for the best.  

--  

Steve had been prepared to die for him. Thor tightened his grip on the sword they’d given him as he walked into the arena, planning on ditching it quickly. I will not allow my friend to suffer for my mistakes, he reiterated the vow and set his jaw, walking with purpose toward the center of the ring. There was Steve, blue cape fluttering behind him and his shield in hand. Still limping, Thor mourned. Someone had broken him, taken advantage of Steve’s kind heart and used it to hurt him. Still, Steve was a majestic sight, bright lights in his golden hair and angelic skin.  

The bastard who’d hurt him was dead. Thor still didn’t entirely believe that lightning had come from him. It had all happened to fast, Steve gaining the upper hand, then suddenly about to die as a sword plunged toward him. Thor had known nothing but rage, and familiar power had surged through him. For a moment he thought he was back, that Mjolnir finally arrive...  

Steve was alive, and by whatever circumstance, that was enough for him. Thor hoped to keep it that way.  

“Let’s see who the real Lord of Thunder is!” the Grand Master finished his announcement, his holographic form riling up the crowds with raised arms and promises of excitement and blood. “To the death!”  

To the death? Thor’s heart stopped in his chest, and he saw Steve hesitate as well. I will not kill him.  

“FIGHT!”  

Thor lurched forward, remembering the vivid promise that the other would die if one resisted. He never wanted to see Steve seizing on the floor uncontrollably every again. He never wanted to see him suffer at all, but he knew with sinking realization that he may not be able to protect Steve from every misfortune pelting down on them.  

Steve rushed him, shield lifted. Thor’s sword bounced off the edge and Steve knocked it away. They locked arms, and the Captain came in close.  

“Plan,” he breathed, wrestling against Thor’s strength and keeping his words to a minimum, masking them behind panting. “You have to lay me out.”  

“I can miss,” Thor retorted. “You play dead.”  

Steve nodded and turned, kicking out with his broken leg and striking Thor in the stomach. They let go of each other and staggered apart, Steve’s leg shaking under the strain. He could have done with another day off his feet, but there was nothing to be done.  

“What if they notice?” Steve asked, swinging a punch, which Thor caught. He kept his grip light and twisted Steve’s arm away from his body, leaving his chest exposed.  

“Then we will adapt,” Thor punched Steve in the chest with as little strength as needed to make it look real. Steve stumbled back one step and held up his shield to protect from Thor’s kick at his head.  

It was just like dancing, their moves weaving together into a delicate pattern, each blow not quite landing, but the receiver moving as if it had. The crowd was loving it. Thor pushed Steve back, and the Captain shot a glance at his friend’s left shoulder a split second before hurling his shield at the wall. It bounced off, and Thor duck away, blocking Steve’s kick and avoiding the rebounding disk. The shield hit Steve in the chest, and the Captain feigned surprise and breathlessness. Thor stomped down and knocked the shield to the ground.  

It was time. Thor glanced at Steve’s broken leg, then back up at his friend. Steve gave him a small nod. The Asgardian flashed out his foot, hooking it behind the Captain’s ankle and ripping his leg from under him. Steve yelped obediently and let his body crash to the dirt. Thor pounced on him, remembering their training sessions and the moves Steve had taught him. He grabbed the Captain’s arm as they rolled, Steve wrestling against him with weak struggles. Thor got one arm around Steve’s throat and applied enough pressure to restrict air flow.  

Steve bucked his hips in an attempt to escape, but Thor held them down with one leg and wrapped the other around his friend’s prying arm. They struggled in the dirt, Steve putting up a convincing fight against Thor’s once-again-superior strength. The crowd watched in silence as the Captain’s face flushed with lack of oxygen, his struggling growing weaker and weaker.  

Thor held on, his heart breaking in his chest at the very idea of Steve dying, especially by his hand. But he had to keep up the act, gritting his teeth and tightening his grip with one sudden jolt. Steve went still, eyes closed and body lax. The crowd bought it, and Thor pushed Steve’s limp body off himself, feeling sick at having just pretended to snap his companion’s neck.  

At least Steve had let him win, as promised.  

The crowd cheered and Thor stood up, staring down at his deathly-still friend who was face-down in the dirt. Steve was only holding his breath, but seeing his motionless back was terrifying all the same.  

The Asgardian clenched his fists, refusing to let Steve out of his sight as his friend was dragged away, ignoring the cheers of the crowds. They hadn’t planning this far ahead! What if Steve was put somewhere he couldn’t escape from? What if he was buried, or worse? Thor struggled against the crowd of guards that came to lead him away. They couldn’t threaten Steve’s life anymore, so he fought without restraint. The guards surged on him, grabbing flailing limbs as tightly as possible.  

One press of a button was all it took to activate his obedience disk at full power, knocking him right out.  

--  

When he woke up, he wasn’t in his room. This place was much darker, the surface underneath him hard and cold – metal. He strained his head to look for Steve, but his body wouldn’t move. He was trapped, restrained with those same metal cuffs from day one. They held his body to the table, dim white light caressing his naked chest and glinting off the restraints holding down his wrists, ankles, hips, and neck.  

There was no Steve, there was no victory. Thor’s stomach twisted, and all he could think of was Steve, Steve being dragged out of the arena and his body cremated before the Captain could escape. He didn’t care about getting his bearings, or surveying this new room. All he could see was Steve’s pale, dead face and lifeless eyes. He strained with every muscle in his body, but it was futile.  

“Please just be alive, Steven...” Thor murmured. That was all he wanted. He opened his hand, stretching his fingers as far as they would go, listening for the sound of crashing that would alert him to Mjolnir’s approach. Tears streaked down his face, and his chest heaved with desperate sobs. I failed. It’s over. I was no longer worthy the minute Steve fell through that portal. I hope you’re happy, Loki. I hope this is enough for you.  

He tried once more, just in case... but there was nothing.  

Just silence.  

Chapter Text

Steve didn’t like this at all. It wasn’t that he hated to lose, exactly, though that was also true... He just didn’t want to lose here, where it mattered. It wasn’t just his pride at stake, it was Thor’s life. Maybe the Asgardian would be fine. He’d fight the Champion and win easily, and Steve would feel shame for doubting his friend. That was better than having blind faith, only to watch Thor die.  

He needed a plan. Steve thought about it as he was carried through the building, his boots dragging on the smooth floor. It was nice to be off his feet, even though it was uncomfortable to be trailed along like this. Steve listened to the guards talking, kept track of how many turns they made so he could find his way if he had the chance to escape. He could take down these men, even with a broken leg... Captain America was more than capable of incapacitating many more men healthy. Plus, he still had his knives strapped to his legs.  

They were slowing, and Steve prepared his mind while keeping his body totally still. He’d been holding his breath for ten minutes now. It reminded him of the ice, but he forced himself to think of something else.  

One, two, three... and he would attack. It was quiet, and he counted only f ive heartbeats nearby. They’d stopped. One...  

Steve’s eyes flew open with a cough as someone yanked him to his feet, and another kicked him in the stomach. A third guard kicked at his broken leg, collapsing it. Steve groaned and fell on his side, his lungs suddenly drawing in as much air as they could.  

“That was a good show,” one guard faced Steve while another two hauled him standing by the shoulders. “You almost had us fooled.”  

“But not quite.” The Grand Master stood before him in the doorway .  

Steve looked up. They’d taken him to new quarters. The room was larger than the last, a huge bed with thick covers and big pillows against the middle of the back wall. There was a large bathroom tucked into a spacious alcove, and a big bathtub sunken into the floor, bubbling with hot water. Steve saw a window, too, large and overlooking the colorful city below. There was drink, and food, a fresh pile of clothes on the bed, a table in one corner...  

But no Thor. There was only one bed, too, and somehow Steve didn’t think the Grand Master intended for them to share it.  

“Where is he . ” Steve tucked his legs under himself and stood tall, glaring across at the Grand Master.  

“That was some show,” the Master walked lazily over. “I never would have pinned you as an actor. Shame though, I was hoping for a light show.”  

“This isn’t a carnival,” Steve replied calmly, but it took effort. “We don’t play our party tricks for fun, and certainly not on command. Where’s Thor?”  

“I’m impressed, but let’s not lie to ourselves,” the Master continued, ignoring Steve’s question again. “That lightning wasn’t yours, and it never was.”  

“Then why make us fight?” Steve asked, knowing the answer already. This is one sick bastard.  

“For fun!” the Master spread his hands. “And you and I are going to have so much more fun together. You have my Champion to fight after all.”  

Steve tensed his shoulders and curled his fists, and the guards holding him tightened their grips in return. There was nothing to say.  

“Now if you’ll excuse me, the Lord of Thunder and I have a dinner date.” In a swoosh of gold, the Grand Master swiveled and walked out of the room.  

Steve ripped his arms free in a burst of strength, turning and punching the first guard that tried to restrain him. He kicked down the second, and head-butted the third, but by then the fourth was outside the barrier and holding the remote. His companions got up while Steve seized on the floor, nevertheless fighting to get up and make the door. When the buzzing stopped, he lay on the cold floor panting for breath.  

The guards left him, the boots vibrating the floor until there was nothing. Just the sound of water bubbling nearby, and his own heartbeat struggling in his chest. Steve groaned and got up, limping to the bed and pulling off his armor. He cast it on the floor, stumbling naked to the bath and collapsing at the edge before carefully lowering himself into the hot water.  

That felt good, but only for his body. It did nothing for his reeling mind and aching heart as jets blasted knots out of his muscles and the heat swept away the pain in his leg.  

Thor was here somewhere, alive. Would he be when the Grand Master was done with him? Steve dunked his head under the water and scrubbed paint off his face, watching the water swirl with red for a few moments before it completely dissolved. He stayed in the bath for a long time, until his fingers were soft and wrinkly, and his entire body pink .  

For the first time since before arriving here, he felt truly alone. It was familiar and frightening all at once. Steve didn’t bother to dry off as he limped to bed and flopped on top of the covers. One taste of something more, and now he was reeling without it. How did I get by for so long like this? He had to find Thor, before it was too late. Maybe it already was.  

The Captain sat up and looked around the room. There wasn’t much that looked useful. He spotted a handful of familiar items from the previous room, things he’d collected over the past few weeks. The axe he’d managed to get for Thor, which the demi-god hadn’t had a chance to use yet. The wooden shelf he’d taken a fancy to. 

The radio, sitting on top. Steve sniffed and wiped his eyes dry with a hand, limping shakily over and picking it up. It took him a few tries to turn it on, with the debilitating trembling in his fingers. The music came on and he sat heavily on the floor, naked and dripping wet, tears running down his face as he covered it with his hands. The ice had taken everything from him... and yet there was still more to lose. Maybe if he’d kept his distance from Thor, he wouldn’t feel like this. Maybe this whole situation wouldn’t have happened in the first place. They’d ended up like this because Thor had cared too much about him to risk him dying.  

“I shouldn’t have let you care,” Steve murmured , dropping his hands.  

Something brushed his hand that wasn’t skin. He looked down and noticed the bandage Thor had wrapped around his leg, soaked through and clinging to him. It was a little displaced. Steve peeled it off and ran a hand along his tibia. It was terribly bruised, the muscles stiff despite his time in the hot bath. Thor probably wouldn’t want him to sit on the floor like this. Steve shivered and got up, leaving the radio on. His body was leaden, worsening his limp. There was no-one to hide it from, so he sank into it and aimed for his bed.  

Thor took good care of me. He didn’t have to. He could have left me to my own devices, but he didn’t. I owe him that much to take care of myself. Steve went to the table this time and sat down in a real cushioned chair, picking through the unfamiliar food laid out for him. He found a blue orange in the fruit bowl and peeled it, staring blankly at nothing as he slowly worked through it. The flavor was bliss, but the experience bittersweet. W hen he was finished, he realized how hungry he was and couldn’t stop himself from eating until he was full.  

It felt wrong, but Steve knew that Thor would be disappointed if he didn’t try to take care of himself. The soldier got up and dried himself, pulling on the clothes folded up for him. They were comfy, he had to admit, but he didn’t pay any attention to the design, only that the pant legs rolled up easily. The slot opened again, and he found a tray of bandages inside. Sullenly, he sat on the bed and pulled up a chair, setting his ankle on it.  

He wrapped a snug layer of bandage around the bruised part of his leg, bending it experimentally at the knee. Yes, that would do. It felt better with some pressure on it. Steve crawl ed under the heavy blankets and clutch ed a pillow against his body. Maybe if he tricked himself, he could believe he wasn’t alone for long enough to get some rest.  

Sleep came on and off. Overall, Steve guessed he’d only slept for an hour or two total . His usual. Usual before arriving on Sakaar , at least. He snorted to himself as he got up, remembering how strange it was that his best nights this year had been spent in a glorified prison cell.  

For a moment, he expected to see Thor sitting at the table when he rolled out of bed, but he was alone. Thor wasn’t at the table, nor was he in the bath. He wasn’t in the bathroom, either. Steve sighed and sat down to eat a little before showering and gearing up for battle. It felt like a consolation prize, getting to spend the night in this comfortable room with lots of food and a luxurious bath. He would be fighting the Champion soon, after all, and that could mean his death.  

Steve sheathed his knives, realizing he hadn’t ever used them. Maybe they would come in handy for his final battle. I can’t think like that. The second I accept the defeat is the second I give up any chance of winning. Come on, Soldier, the battle isn’t over yet. Steve clenched his fists and set his jaw, dropping forward into push-ups. Thor might not be dead, so Steve had to keep going, think of a plan, and find his friend. If Thor was alive, and he just gave up now, he’d be throwing away everything Thor had given him, and every promise the Captain had made.  

He wasn’t going to leave Thor behind. Not in this place, and not in the land of the living.  

Steve did push-ups until the guards came for him, leading him off to the arena for what could be the last thing he ever did.  

--  

The Champion was very busy, and had lots of gladiators already lined up to fight him. So Steve would have to spend the next few days to a week on his usual schedule, fighting regular death matches. I have a chance, he thought, sitting down off to one side to think of a plan while he waited for his next fight.  

The smell of blood raised his head. Steve searched the room for the source and found it: a gladiator from a couple of days ago, one who had won his fight, but come away with some nasty claw marks. One of those gashes cut across the alien’s face, leaving a raw, red opening. It was deep enough to need stitches, but Steve didn’t see any. No w that he looked around, he saw lots of other fighters walking around with injuries, some visible, other s only hinted at by a limp or aa stiff movement . He didn’t see a single one that looked treated, though. No stitches, no dressings, and even a few that looked infected.  

His eyes drifted into Dreiya’s from across the room as he contemplated his discovery. The red-skinned humanoid showed his teeth and glared at him, but didn’t make any moves to come over. Steve really wasn’t in the mood to deal with bullies. He glared back, but minded his own business and leaned against the wall, returning to his plan.  

It wasn’t anything that could be called a plan at this stage, more of a jumbled collection of theories. First, he needed his shield, which he wasn’t sure would be able to block the barriers or not. Maybe the vibranium interfered with something else, or was being kept from him for an entirely different reason. Still, it was a start. If he couldn’t put enough pieces firmly together in time, he’d just have to cross his fingers and make it up as he went along. Steve was good at improvising.  

Next, he had to disable the obedience disks somehow. Maybe the shield would help with that, or he could cut it out. The pins weren’t that deep so if he could cut under them, he could probably get the disk off without bleeding to death.   

They would need a ship, too, and Steve needed Thor to be functioning enough to help fly it, or tell him how. Steve knew how to fly a plane, but an alien spaceship would be different enough to pose a challenge. Maybe he could find a manual somewhere and read up, which would at least give him a head start.  

He had to find Thor before that, though. Somehow. Right now, getting a location looked like interrogating someone, and Steve didn’t like interrogating people. It wasn’t his style.  

Someone was staring. Steve looked up with the expectation of seeing Dreiya staring him down again, but instead found the snake-man in front of him, peering down on him with condescending eyes. Steve glanced around, but just like last time, none of the other gladiators seemed to notice that one of the privileged was in their ranks.  

“Lord of Thunder is not here,” Snake-man got real close, grabbing Steve by the shoulders of his armor and yanking him off his bench. Was it a question, a demand, a statement...? Steve couldn’t tell, but the alien sounded mad.  

“No, he’s not,” Steve pulled scaly four-fingered hands off him and fell back in his seat. “But if you know where he is, we can do this two ways-”  

“Save it,” Snake-man snapped back, grabbing Steve again and hoisting him up effortlessly. Steve grappled for freedom, but was unsuccessful this time . The snake hissed venomously. “If you do not know where he is, then we are done.”  

“Don’t you hurt him,” Steve growled, struggling harder. Snake-man dropped him, stepping back with a snort and turning away, slipping into the crowd and disappearing just like last time.  

Nothing made sense anymore.  

--  

Steve fought his first for the morning, then came back to sit down, nursing a bruised hand and favoring his injured leg. He found some food and water, deciding that if he had the chance, he needed to get some gloves. Super-soldier or not, it still hurt to punch bone hard enough to break it. Steve didn’t need to break his own hand in the process. The knuckles were torn, but that was the worst of it, luckily. It stung, but not quite as badly as the knowledge that Thor was somewhere in this facility, probably not enjoying himself. Maybe he was waiting for help. Steve was the only one here who would give that.  

Dreiya was behind him, he realized , talking with his small group of followers. Steve scowled into his water and listened, glad the aliens were speaking English, even if it was heavily accented and punctuated with unfamiliar warbles here and there.  

“There’s a ship that will get us through the big red space hole,” Dreiya was explaining.  

Thank goodness they’re not scientists , Steve thought. Space hole. Language I understand.  

“Anything else won’t survive the trip,” another agreed. “There are a few that are strong enough, but they’re protected heavily in the hangar. We need a way to get in there.”  

“Leave it to me,” Dreiya explained. “I know just the ship. It’s made for smuggling goods, so it’s fast and heavily armored. Heavy guns, too.”   

“Perfect,” another added. “You know where the vibranium is, Kadren?”  

“Yes,” Kadren clacked, and Steve tensed. “In the vault. We just have to kill the human, and it is ours. If we can beat him--”  

“And if we can’t,” Dreiya growled low, probably too quiet for a normal human to hear, but Steve’s enhanced hearing picked it up clearly, “we need another plan. We should take it from the vault right away. We can’t get out of here without it.”  

“They know vibranium disrupts the barriers,” Kadren warbled. “It will be heavily guarded.”  

“I know,” Dreiya snapped. “The guards are weak. Weaker than the human.”  

Steve couldn’t help but smirk at that. Yeah, he was stronger than the guards. And Dreiya’s little crew was smart enough to recognize that. If he had to fight one of them between here and his fight with the Champion, or his escape, they would not underestimate him. Pity. Steve relished being underestimated. It was one of his most powerful weapons, though it could be hard to achieve with his large size. Here among aliens though, it was no t rare to be the smaller contestant, and plenty of gladiators had underestimated him up until now. Fewer and fewer as more saw him fight, but still some. Steve was running out of surprises.  

Some of them thought he’d been the one to call down the lighting, though. He heard murmurs, caught glances of respect cast his way as he passed. Not to mention a few of surprise; Thor had killed him the other day.  

The bench he was sitting on bowed and creaked. Steve turned to see Korg taking a spot beside him, smiling cheerfully at him with rocky features. A couple of pebbles came loose again, bouncing on the table. Korg brushed them onto the floor. “Hey man, you’re still alive.” He sounded rather neutral about it. Not surprised, relieved, or displeased, just observational.  

“Yeah, I am,” Steve smiled sadly. “Uh... so are you.”  

“Oh, I don’t fight to the death,” Korg explained. “I just warm up the crowds. I’m made of rocks.”  

It was supposed to be an explanation, Steve deduced, and he wondered if it would be impossible to kill someone literally made of rocks. There had to be some organs in there somewhere... or maybe it was magic. He wouldn’t be surprised. And to think a month ago I gave Fury money over the helicarrier.  

“I... see.” Steve nodded.  

“Where’s your friend?” Korg asked. “Is he dead? I thought he killed you... oh, did they send him to fight the Champion? He is quite impressive.”  

“He... I don’t know where he is,” Steve sighed. “I need to find him. He might be dead, but he might be alive too, and I can’t stop looking.”  

“Sounds like you need an escape plan,” Korg helpfully produced.  

Steve nodded. “Yeah...”  

He’d thought Korg might offer up something, but the rocky creature just nodded in agreement and said nothing. Soon, Steve was sent back to battle, then to his new room. Thor wasn’t there, as Steve had foolishly hoped. His leg throbbed relentlessly, but he felt too empty to care. He got clean and changed, sitting down to eat until he was full. Then he crawled into bed and slept just as well as he had the previous night. 

--  

Thor lay awake for a long time, wondering if Steve was still alive. Had he been discovered? And if he had, what had become of him? Maybe he’d escaped... Good. Go, get out of here if you have, Thor thought. Steve’s promise rose up in his mind, on cue, and as much as the Asgardian wished for his friend to flee and forget about him, he wouldn’t be unhappy if Steve came through that door.  

He would only wish for it more as time plodded on.  

The Grand Master walked in, the dim light bouncing off his golden robes, making small glittery pin-points flicker across the walls and ceiling like stars. Another man followed, with leathery grey skin and dark robes, striding with menace in his steps, in his eyes, in the very way he stood at Thor’s feet with the faintest smile ghosting his thin black lips.  

“Lord of Thunder, what a pleasure,” the Grand Master approached with his usual carefree flamboyance.  

“Where is this?” Thor growled. “I won. Are you afraid I’ll defeat your champion?”  

“No no , not ‘afraid’,” the Grand Master shook a corrective finger, “just cautious. I see you discovered our little trick.”  

“What trick?” Thor snapped back. The juice. They know we know. I’m already getting stronger. “What tricks have you been playing? Release me, or I’ll have a trick or two for you...” he could see his fingers crackling in the darkness, but it wasn’t enough.  

It wasn’t even worth enough to be a threat. The Grand Master just glanced down and raised an eyebrow at the sparking blue jumping weakly between Thor’s straining fingers.  

“Your party trick is very cute,” he waved a hand. “And sometimes it works. If it always did, you’d ha ve already zapped yourself free, or whatever it is the Lord of Thunder is supposed to do. Anyway, we had every intention of sending you to fight Champion eventually. My friend here tells me people from Assberg or whatever are very strong, so we couldn’t take our chances. This is... what’s your name again?” the Grand Master snapped his fingers, trying to remember.  

“I am an emissary of the Chitauri forces,” the grey alien clasped his hands behind his back and gave a small bow. “I admit bringing your friend along was an accident, and his survival was surprising, but he will not be a hindrance to the plan.”  

“Shame, you’ll miss his big fight,” the Grand Master added.  

They know he’s alive. They’ll send him to his death. Thor paled. Steve was set to fight the Champion, then. “And you need me for what? I must admit your party tricks are formidable,” Thor tried to be nonchalant, to own the situation. Loki would have pulled it off effortlessly, giving nothing away while gathering all the information to escape. He might have managed to escape already.  

Speaking of Loki... “It is your brother we want,” the emissary explained calmly, reaching into the shadows and holding a small vial of purple liquid into the light – Witch’s Cure. “We had every intention of removing you from Earth to ensure the defeat of your little team, but your brother closed the portal and vanished with the Tesseract mere minutes after we removed you . We have decided to turn to you in the hopes that we can find him.”  

Thor couldn’t hide his relief. Maybe it was a lie, but it was something to hold on to. The portal was closed. Earth was safe, for now. A laugh escaped him, filling his chest. His captors stared at him with various degrees of confusion. “You have nothing to hold against me now,” Thor chuckled against his restraints. “You cannot threaten the life of my friend, and you have nothing of value to me. You are already sending Steven to his death, and I doubt you would kill him privately when the crowd is no doubt excited to watch their new Lord of Thunder face your infamous Champion.” He flashed the Grand Master a charming smile.  

“I can cause pain like you have never known,” the emissary paced soundlessly around the table Thor was strapped to, pushing his head in front of the light and throwing his face into shadow. He walked his fingers up Thor’s bare torso, all the way to the dip in his collar bone, where he applied threatening pressure. “I have studied your kind, Asgardian. Your All-father has given many planets and species reason to hate you. He was not always benevolent and docile. I will take great pleasure in harming you, whether you tell me anything or not.”  

“I am a thousand years old,” Thor breathed back, voice rumbling from deep in his chest. “Do your worst, and pray that no-one finds me here or learns of this .”  

The emissary grinned. “You are naïve.”  

He was probably right. Was it naïve not to be scared? He wasn’t. The only thing that scared him was no t knowing where Steve was, or if he was alright. At least there w ere some certainties regarding his own fate.  

There would be pain, which Thor was no stranger to, but it didn’t mean he was enjoying himself. At least he still had Steve’s promise to cling to. The Captain wouldn’t abandon him, no matter what had befallen him. Thor knew Steve would drag himself beaten and bloody through the hallways to come get him, if he had to. That was more frightening than anything the emissary could threaten him with, but also a comfort. Steve, the most noble man he had ever met, not to mention one of the strongest, would come for him.

Chapter Text

Steve rose and slipped into yesterday’s routine. He cleaned, he ate, he got dressed for battle. His leg ached, slow to heal with all the strain he was putting on it, plus stress hindering the serum.  

It was well-known these days that a person’s mental state was directly tied to their physical state. It worked the same for the serum, and if scientists could do tests on that, they’d probably find it was a lot more apparent in the super-soldier.  

He was worried for Thor, and he couldn’t help it. Steve tightened his boots and went to wait by the window, watching the world below. It was so similar to Earth, the way people moved through crowded streets among bright lights and raging colors. It was a nice day; clear skies, a handful of fluffy clouds. Steve could make out piles of trash in the distance, steady streams tumbling out of big holes in the sky; portals of some sort? He spotted the red one, the one Dreiya must have been referring to yesterday.  

So many things had to happen before he could even contemplate flying through there. First, he had to get Thor, then his shield, then get these disks off. Then finally, a ship. Those were just check-points. A ll the journeys between weren’t accounted for . What about guards? Locked doors? The possibility of t r ackers, and cameras? Thor had presumed they were being watched, his suspicions appearing correct when medicine had arrived in their slot as asked for.  

So, either no other gladiator had thought to ask for any medicine for their injuries, or they had and none had been given. Neither made sense, not when supplies had arrived for Thor when neither of them had requested it. They were clearly just as dispensable as any other gladiator too, milked for all the entertainment possible. It seemed gladiators peaked in ability, and were sent to fight the Champion for one last battle, dying and leaving room for new blood to rise up. There had to be a constant cycle of gladiators, to keep the crowds enticed. Let them enjoy all a fighter had to offer, then remove them for something newer.  

They were missing a piece. Steve leaned on the windowsill, tapping his finger restlessly on the edge. When the guards came for him, he followed obediently.  

Dreiya and his followers cast more menacing glares at him. Korg sat with him between battles and they chatted about meaningless things. Steve fought, fought again, and finally limped wearily back to his room. The fights weren’t particularly hard, but his spirit was drained, and his leg hurt. Another hot bath helped ease the pain in the broken limb, as well as the rest of his aching body.  

He got out of the water, dried off, dressed, and sat down at the table to focus on his plan so he could eat and not think about how unfair this was. Thor had given him everything, and now Steve got to lounge around in this big, luxurious room and eat until he was stuffed? But he had to eat, had to keep the serum satisfied and take care of his body. The healthier he was, the better chance he’d have.  

It was frustrating, though, not having enough information to cobble together even a trace of a plan. Steve slammed his fist on the table and pushed at his hair.  

Buzzzzz . Steve’s head shot up and he looked in the direction of the whirring sound, in time to see red lines rippled across the doorway, flicker ing and disappear ing . The Captain stood up slowly and limped over, swallowing. Cautiously, he reached out his hand and led his fingers over the red line.  

For a moment, his heart squeezed in preparation for a warning jolt, but nothing happened. His hand went through, then his arm, then his head. Steve stepped all the way through where the barrier was supposed to be and stood in the corridor, staring dumbly at the passageway where a guard could round the corner any second  

Another sound drew his attention. Steve turned and saw the open food slot. He hurried over, limp forgotten, and pulled a tray onto the dinner table. Now, his heart was thumping rapidly in his chest. Steve set his jaw and moved with sudden focus and energy, sifting through the items on the tray. There was a clay pot of tea, and an IV bag of clear fluid, but no IVs or tubing. Steve’s frown deepened, confused and worried all at once.  

It wasn’t for him. Steve straightened, paling. He strode to where he kept his armor and strapped a knife to his leg. Then he turned on his heel and jogged for the door, passing the barrier without a second’s thought. He slowed as he reached the corner, peering around it and checking left and right. The coast was clear, so he stepped out. The left direction was blocked a few yards down by a steel door, so he went right, managing to remember to be stealthy as he hurried along. He spotted a turn-off to what he presumed was another gladiator’s room. Pausing, Steve gathered himself. Then he jumped, executing a perfect and absolutely noiseless roll across the gap.  

No-one called out, no alarms went off. Steve picked up the pace , running down and down the corridor, clinically white lights shining on perfectly polished floors. He reached a cross-roads and paused. The left path was blocked again, so he pivoted and tore off right. More turn-offs to other quarters, each which Steve rolled past. No-one intercepted him, and no alarms went off. Steve didn’t stop to think about implications, he just ran. One thing and one thing only mattered. If it was a trap, fine.  

The path ahead was blocked by a metal barrier. Steve walked right up to it, turned, spotted a door farther back sliding open. He jogged over and darted through, finding himself in an elevator. The doors slid shut, and he started to descend. Bing, bing, bing... lights blinked overhead, showing his floor number. They were already below-ground, by the looks of it, but there was farther down still to go. Steve tucked himself near the buttons and placed his hand on his knife hilt, listening as the doors slid open.  

He stayed in place for a handful of breathless moments, but heard nothing. Steve drew his knife all the same and turned, adrenaline racing, but left and right there was still no-one in the corridor. Right was blocked this time, so he ran left, knife still in hand.  

It was darker down here, the floors still clean but not as shiny. He passed by a few doors, testing each one but finding them locked. Steve only took a moment to glance through the window of each door before running on. Turn after turn, he found one direction blocked and the other open. He didn’t bother memorizing the patterns, turning corners and not stopping to wonder why he hadn’t seen a single person at all.  

Finally, after twenty minutes of following this pre-laden path, Steve found an unlocked door. He nudged it open with his foot, knife gripped tightly and raised at the ready. The door swung open, and dim white light glowed into the hallway. Steve didn’t need to go much further.  

The room was empty, save for the table in the middle with Thor held tightly against it with familiar metal restraints. Steve just about dropped his knife, sheathing it before his grip betrayed him. He shut the door quietly and walked around the table, reaching out with shaking hands.  

“Thor,” he murmured, clasping the demi-god's shoulder and giving it a shake. His friend’s eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling, but shallow and rapid. “Good god...”  

This was too familiar. Steve had to blink away the image of Bucky washed in green light, bleary with drugs and strapped to a table. He’d been able to rip the straps right off, then. Steve grabbed the nearest cuff and tried to pull it off Thor’s wrist. He put his back into it, and the metal groaned but held. His eyes drifted up; there was an IV in Thor’s arm, the line leading up to a bag of purple fluid.  

“No, no no no,” Steve breathed, fumbling for clamps. He’d done enough field first aid to know what to do. His memory helpfully supplied that he had another bag back in his room, so he kept the IV in after he’d clamped and disconnected the line from the bag. “How much of this stuff is in you...” 

“Steven.”  

Steve jumped and snapped his head down to meet Thor’s bleary stare. The demi-god was having trouble focusing, blinking sluggishly and his foggy blue eyes constantly drifting apart.  

He’s awake, he’s alive... Steve shuddered a relieved breath, choking on his own words. The demi-god looked like the text-book definition of terrible, and the Captain couldn’t think of anything to say, forgetting even that he should at least say something . He pulled himself together, finally.  

“Yeah, it’s me,” Steve coiled up the IV line and tucked it on the table by Thor’s tricep. He couldn’t help himself, reaching forward and clasping his friend’s pale cheeks. “I thought you were dead.”  

“As did I,” Thor smiled weakly. “Knew you’d come...”  

“Yeah, well, I promised,” Steve smiled. “I’m gonna get you out of here, okay?”  

“Plan?” Thor asked, saving his words.  

“Uh, not really,” Steve admitted. “I’m making this up as I go along.” He kept a hand on Thor’s arm as he looked around the room for anything useful. There, on a tray of tools that looked vaguely for torture, he found a hammer. Perfect.  

“They told me you were fighting the champion,” worry bled into Thor’s breathless words.  

“Grand Master set me up,” Steve nodded. “We have time though, Thor. I’ve got some information. We’ll get out of here before that happens. Together.” He picked up the hammer and glanced at his friend.  

Thor was staring half-lidded at nothing. He looked half asleep, but oddly content. “You are alive...”  

Steve couldn’t help but smile softly, lowering the hammer and squeezing Thor’s arm. “So are you.”  

Their worst fears had been put off for another day. They were both alive, though Thor appeared to have fallen asleep, or at least run out of strength to give any more replies for a little while. Steve set his jaw and glanced at the door, then back to the metal cuff. With all his strength, he jammed the hammer against the seal. Thor grunted and flexed his fist, and Steve muttered an apology, putting the hammer down and ripp ing o pen the busted cuff. It came apart with surprising ease, but the magnet kept the remains sealed to the table. Steve didn’t hesitate, hurrying to the other wrist.  

He did both ankles next, then the restraint holding Thor’s hips. Thor stayed still the entire time, opening his eyes now and then to peer down at Steve’s work, mumbling in surprise each time. “Steven... you’re alive...”  

“Uh huh,” Steve replied dutifully to each , giving Thor a little pat before continuing. He only slowed when he came to the restraint holding the demi-god's neck tightly to the table. Wrists and ankles were one thing. Thor would probably carry some hefty bruises for a few days from having those restraints bashed against him with super-soldier strength. The neck was another issue altogether. Steve changed angles.  

“You’re alive...” Thor murmured, turning his head to smile at Steve.  

“Yup,” Steve smiled back, putting his hand on his friend’s forehead and tipping it to face the other way. “Look over there for a second.”  

Thor obeyed, and Steve lined up the hammer with the seal. The thin line was very close to the table, which made things a little easier. Now if he could just crack the restraint a little... he could rip it off without risking crushing Thor’s throat. The demi-god wouldn’t do so well with a hindrance that serious, not with the Witch’s Cure in his veins. Steve lined up and drew back, then he jammed the top of the hammer against the seal with restrained power. The metal groaned in time with Thor.  

“Easy, almost there,” Steve mumbled, drawing back and hitting the metal a little harder. Something sparked, and he reached in with his hands. All the muscles across his shoulders flexed as he tugged at the restraint. The super-soldier gritted his teeth and placed his foot up on the table, pushing b ack with his leg and pulling up on the band. Finally, it snapped under his strength, and he fell to the floor with a thud.  

Thor gasped, reaching up to cradle his bruised throat. Steve leapt up and pushed his arm flat. “Hey, keep that arm straight, okay? You’ve got an IV there, and I’ve got something for you back in my room to go in there so I can’t take it out .”  

Thor seemed more dopey than anything else, sliding off the table and flopping against Steve without complaint. He let his friend shove himself under one arm and tug him along without complaint. The Asgardian perked up a bit when they stepped into brighter light, blinking and squinting. It was slow going, and his adrenaline was just as high as ever, but Steve got them back along his laid-out route and into the elevator. He tensed around every corner, dragging Thor beside him and holding the coiled lengths of IV line, but ready to drop his friend to the floor if he had to draw his knife and fight off a guard. 

By the time they stepped out of the elevator, Thor seemed a bit more aware, rubbing his face and wincing, probably nursing one hell of a headache by his expression. At least he didn’t seem injured. Just... tired, and weak. Steve was carrying him, for all intents and purposes.  

There was no way to employ stealth like he had before, so Steve had to lead Thor as quietly and quickly as possible past the turn-offs to other rooms and hope for the best. No-one saw them, but Steve didn’t breathe until they were back in his room.  

It had probably taken Thor everything he had left to get all the way up here, because he started to go down, dragging Steve with him.  

“Oh no you don’t,” Steve groaned, pushing himself farther against Thor’s side and hurrying to the bed. He had to almost entirely lift the demi-god right up onto it, and Thor wasn’t really helping. Being limp was better that struggling, he supposed... “Hey, look at me.” Steve commanded, and Thor miraculously obeyed, blinking hazily up at the Captain. “Good, okay. I have some tea for you, then you can sleep.”  

They could think of a plan later. Someone would discover that room empty, and Steve would be a suspect. Even if not, the guards would come for him in the morning, so he’d have to hide Thor somewhere. The bathroom might work... there was a shower in there was a curtain. Th e Asgardian would fit under the bed, too, and the blankets were long enough to touch the floor. Steve ran through options as he slid off Thor’s boots, poured some tea into a cup, and pulled his friend sitting.  

“Smells good...” Thor murmured, taking the cup in his hand. Steve couldn’t stop glancing at the door, as if an army would rush in at any moment and pry them apart. No-one had ever passed by their room once depositing them, and no-one did this evening either. They might actually be safe, at least for a little while.  

“Smells like home,” Thor smiled softly, his eyelids drooping shut. Steve caught the cup before it fell.  

He opened his mouth to ask that his friend at least finish his cup, but Thor was asleep. A soft snore rattled his chest, and Steve had to smile. “Yeah, okay, you get some sleep...” He looked over at the bag of clear fluid on the tray and walked slowly over to it.  

The bag was unmarked. Steve walked back and picked up the line still leading into Thor’s arm, clamping it again as close to the port as possible. He hadn’t even known aliens had this type of technology... though this looked vaguely like something from Earth. Same clamps, same strange texture of plastic. Unsettled, Steve unscrewed the length of line and attached it to the bag, letting all the purple fluid flush out until nothing but clear drops came out the end. Then he twisted the line back in place and hung the bag on the bed post.  

Someone intervened, Steve thought, sitting on the edge of the bed and watching Thor’s loose expression and parted lips with mild amusement. Someone has been intervening. Looks like we’ve been the only ones getting treatment. Whoever sent us this stuff probably le d me to you, too.  

There had to be a catch here. The soldier racked his brain, trying to think of an edge to this, but try as he might, he couldn’t think of a solid reason. There was nothing that could have stopped him from running off to find Thor anyway. It didn’t matter if it was a trap. At least now there was some chance the Asgardian would escape alive, whereas down there he’d have certainly died.  

Whatever was in that bag, it was working. Thor was already a more normal color, his breathing deepening with each exhale. Steve hoped the poison wore off, and fast. They’d been making good progress before now.  

The Captain stayed awake until the bag was empty, past the dimming of the lights and into the evening. Finally, the last drop squeezed into the drip chamber, and Steve clamped the line. He pulled the IV out of Thor arm, wondering if the demi-god had ever had an IV before... probably not. It was an Earth treatment, and usually dealt with things Asgardians probably didn’t suffer from. They had their own medicines, surely. Steve pushed the bag and line under the bed and went to get himself some water. Relief settled into his bones, dragging his eyelids shut. Steve relented, limping to bed. He pulled the covers from underneath Thor, climbing into bed without a second’s thought and wrapping the blanket around both of them. He was just about to turn over when Thor beat him to it, murmuring and rolling onto his side so he could wrap his limbs tightly around Steve.  

O-okay... Steve swallowed, getting settled. The bed felt a lot warmer, with the two of them pressed together. It was more than that. It felt safe. The Captain reached up and clasped Thor’s wrist, knowing it was unwise to let relief get the better of him when danger was still lurking around every sunrise, but he couldn’t help the feeling of safety calling him into a deep and dreamless sleep.  

I got him back. He’s here with me. We’ll find a way out, together.  

--  

Thor shot awake, and came face-to-face with Steve’s shoulder. He knew it was Steve the moment he woke. Steve’s smooth skin was pressed against his, smelling of dew on fresh grass early in the morning.  

His head felt a lot lighter than it had when he’d last been conscious, though he still felt sluggish and a headache was chewing up the back of his neck and across his forehead. Thor groaned and squeezed Steve tightly, patting his side just to make sure the man in his grip was real.  

Steve groaned back, shifting in Thor’s arms and yawning. The soldier rolled over to face him, sleepiness washing away the moment he saw Thor looking at him. “Hey, you’re awake. I thought you’d sleep for a lot longer.” The Captain rolled out of bed and walked round.  

Thor sat up and rubbed his head with both hands. He vaguely remembered a dark room, Steve finding him and freeing him. The bruises on his wrists confirmed that hadn’t been a dream. “How did you find me?” The question was posed with worry and curiosity both, the worry undampened despite the fact that Steve looked uninjured. You did not take unnecessary risks to accomplish this, I hope.  

Steve’s shoulders tensed where he stood by the table , pouring tea into a cup. The Captain turned and handed it over. “I... I don’t know. I found this tray in the slot, and the barrier was disengaged. I went the direct ion that wasn’t blocked, and tried every door until one opened. There you were.” Steve shrugged apologetically. “I wish I could say I busted out and found you on my own, but-”  

“I knew you would come,” Thor smiled, sipping his tea quietly. It was different than the kind he’d given Steve for his alien infection. The smell was still familiar, clearing his head and sinuses. “It matters not how.”  

“It kinda does,” Steve folded his arms, reluctance in his square features. He sighed. “Somebody led me to you, and sent me medicine for you. And not like last time, when we were sharing a room. They wanted me to find you, and bring you back here. I’m not even sure if it’s a trap , and it’s damn fortunate, but it’s still concerning .”  

Thor’s face fell serious. He finished his tea and let Steve refill the cup. “The Grand Master told me he was sending you to fight the Champion.” He scanned his friend from head to toe again , but again Steve looked fine. Still limping painfully, but otherwise unharmed.  

“He is,” Steve confirmed. “ Champion’s schedule is full though, so I have a bit of tim e .”  

Thor sighed, unsure if that was good or bad. Actually, I fought the Champion and won, easily, he’d hoped to hear. “I am glad you are well,” he said, fear seeping into his voice no matter how he tried to keep it steady  

“Me too,” Steve replied quietly, sounding just as frightened. The mortal held up a blue orange in each hand and sat down on the edge of the bed. It was a big bed. Thor peered around the room. It was larger, nicer than the first. He eyed the steaming bath in the corner. Steve caught his stare and chuckled, peeling the first orange. “After breakfast. You’re probably starving. It’s been two days since the fight.”  

Thor nodded in somber agreement, taking any food Steve handed him and eating it as slowly as he could force himself.  

“Did they... do anything to you...?” Steve asked, glancing down at Thor’s bare chest.  

The Asgardian rubbed the inside of his arm. “Nothing other than drug me out of my rational mind. But that was enough. The first dose was the worst. It was much less so after that. They had their fun and left shortly after the third.” It burned through my veins like hellfire. I may have screamed, or it may have been a cruel dream. But you need not know the details. It did not break me. 

“They put three bags of that stuff in you?” Steve exclaimed, nearly crushing the fruit in his hand, rage flashing across his deep blue stare.  

“I lost count at three,” Thor corrected.  

“Then I’m even more surprised you’re awake now, let alone when I found you,” Steve sighed, incredulous, and Thor grinned with pride, as foolish a thing it was to be proud of.  

The Asgardian smiled brighter as he remembered his expositional welcome to the dark room. He reached out and clasped Steve’s arm. “Our friends are alright,” he explained. “A man who called himself an emissary to the Chitauri forces told me that Loki shut the portal shortly after we were taken. Earth is safe.”  

Steve breathed a deep sigh of relief, pushing at his hair. “That’s... really good.”  

“Yes,” Thor agreed. “Yes indeed. But they will look for me. Loki too k t he Tesseract and they want it back. They think I know where he is, or how to find him.”  

So they tortured you to find out? I don’t think you’d have been giving anybody any information in that state,” Steve quirked an eyebrow. “You were surprised to see me every ten seconds.”  

Thor flushed. He wasn’t used to feeling embarrassed, but imagining himself being that dazed pushed red into his cheeks. “I did not mean to frighten you.”  

“I know,” Steve smiled with good grace and understanding. “I know, Thor. Not like you could do anything about it. Come on, you should have a bath and then we’ll hide you under the bed.”  

“I would very much like a bath,” Thor agreed in earnest, yearning to wash two days’ worth of sweat off his body.  

“How do you feel?” Steve asked, offering his support. Thor took it, reluctant at first as he glanced at his friend’s favored leg, but easing into it as the world swayed around him the moment he tried to straighten.  

“Dizzy,” Thor admitted. “But the medicine you gave me is working. The tea has cleared my head.”  

“Good,” Steve patted the Asgardian between the shoulders and led him to the bath, sitting him by the edge and helping him get his thick battle pants off. Thor slipped out of his underwear and lowered himself into the steaming water, glancing up at the Captain. Steve hesitated a moment before getting undressed and sliding into the water beside him.  

“My mother makes a tea like that,” Thor mused. “She can ease a great many ailments with a pot of hot tea.”  

“I never pinned you as a tea kind of guy,” Steve stuck out his injured leg so the jets could pelt it.  

“I am not,” Thor chuckled . “I prefer a strong drink to treat a sickness, but I cannot deny that Mother’s tea is far more effective.” He could really use a drink of something right about now. Then again, it might just make his headache worse.  

They spent as long as they could in the bath before Steve suggested they should get out to avoid being caught when the guards came for him. Thor dried off and Steve found a spare set of clothes for him to wear. The Captain got into his armor and pushed a few pillows under the bed, making a separate bed on the floor.  

“Just stay here, and don’t leave, okay?” Steve pleaded, clasping Thor’s shoulders firmly. “Get some sleep. I’ll be back.”  

Thor nodded, and though he wanted very much to move around, he couldn’t oppose the Captain’s sincere requests. He lay down on the floor and rolled under the bed, Steve pushing the tea pot and cup underneath, as well as a glass of water and some food. There was enough space to roll onto his side without grazing his shoulder on the base of the bed, and it was comfortable enough. Steve handed him one of his knives.  

“Keep quiet,” the Captain instructed. “Rest up. We can work on our plan when I get back.”  

Thor clasped Steve’s wrist, staring up out of the shadows at his friend crouched down at his side. Light from the window lit up Steve’s broad shoulders and brilliant blue cape. “Be careful, Steven.”  

“I will,” Steve smiled.  

--  

Another day of fighting, another day of glares from Dreiya , and meaningless banter with Korg . Steve gained no new information, though he kept his ears open. It was considerably easier to focus now that he knew Thor was alive, yet still nerve-wracking not knowing if someone had discovered his friend hiding under his bed.  

He fought to act normal the entire way back, but couldn’t help himself when the guards’ footsteps faded away.  

“Hey, I’m back,” Steve breathed, walking over to the bed and lifting up the covers. Thor rolled out from underneath and Steve hooked an arm under his, pulling him standing. The demi-god was much more stable, and didn’t end up needing the help. He brushed himself off and scanned Steve for injuries.  

“Steven, how was it?” he offered a smile the minute his scan was over.  

“Same as usual,” Steve shrugged, unbuckling his chest plate and setting aside. “How you feeling?”  

“Much better,” Thor replied cheerfully, sitting at the table. He frowned. “Your limp is persistent, Steven... has it not healed?”  

“It’s actually a lot better than yesterday,” Steve replied quickly , getting into casual shirt and working his way to the table. “I promise. Stress really slows the serum down.”  

Thor seemed to put the pieces together, realization drifting over his eyes. He nodded sympathetically, and they ate in silence with a sense of domestic normality. They discussed what they knew, laying out every detail they’d managed to acquire since arriving. Regardless, it made it no easier to start on a plan.  

“The barrier came back on the minute I got you back in here,” Steve explained. “And whoever turned it off for us might not do it again. Even if they were to agree to help, we don’t know who they are anyway. We have to assume we’re on our own.”  

“My power is returning,” Thor nodded. “I may be able to produce enough lightning to disable the disks. That would work just fine for me, but with you... I could easily kill you.”  

Steve stared at the table, nodding seriously. Thor clearly had little to no control over those bursts of lightning that danced between his fingers, and zapping the Grey Ghost had been accidental. If Thor tried to fry Steve’s obedience disk, he could easily go too far and electrocute him to death. Thor stuck out his open hand, looking out the window with a furrowed brow and dark eyes, calling Mjolnir to him as Steve had seen him do many times. Once more, nothing came.  

Neither of them felt much like dancing. Thor carried a cup of tea in his hand and went to inspect the walls near the door for some kind of paneling, while Steve ran his fingers along the edge of the window. It was too strong to break, and sealed too tightly in the wall to be pushed out. Steve jammed his shoulder into the glass, but it didn’t so much as groan. They kept searching the room for any signs of weakness, but found nothing.  

Thor insisted Steve take another hot bath, for his leg, and asked to see it. Steve reluctantly showed him the fading bruises. The lights dimmed, and they both wordlessly crawled into bed together, Thor wrapping himself around Steve and holding onto him protectively. It felt routine, and safe. Steve let himself be vulnerable, settling into the embrace. Thor was keeping the cold at bay better than any blanket or furnace. Away with the cold, away with the nightmares. Steve drift ed off to Thor’s hand in his hair. He wasn’t sure if the god was awake, or stroking his forelock unconsciously, but it felt good.  

No-one burst into their room looking for Thor, which was surprising. Steve did wake up in the middle of the night to sounds of heavy footsteps, however. He shook Thor awake and rolled out of bed, dropping silently to the floor and pointing hurriedly under the bed. The Asgardian obeyed and moved with surprising stealth, slipping into his hiding place while Steve crept up to the door and pressed himself to the wall.  

Voices echoed through the hallways, growing closer and closer. Steve reached down for his second knife and pulled it out of its straps, unsheathing it. He could hear the Grand Master’s voice among the chatter.  

“He escaped, somehow,” the man was saying in an annoyed tone. “He can’t have gotten out by himself. Someone helped him, and there’s only one person who w ould have done that.”  

“The Celestial Knight couldn’t have left his room,” a guard explained. “He’s been there every morning when we come to fetch him. If he managed to disable the barriers and find the Lord of Thunder, then surely he would have escaped. He can’t have disabled the barriers anyway. W e keep his vibranium shield in the vault.”  

“Well someone helped him escape! Someone with access codes to the security doors,” the Grand Master continued. “What about all those corridors that were blocked? Right when Thunder B oy went missing? He had to have had help!”  

“Well-” the guard started, but was cut off as another yelled over top of him.  

“There he is!”  

Steve jumped, tightening his grip on the knife and whipping his gaze to the bed. Thor was still hidden underneath, no part of him visible through the heavy blankets concealing him. The voices were right by the turn-off for their room, shouting . Walking steps started to run.  

They were running away, though, calling out for someone to stop. Steve wasn’t breathing, clutching the knife and watching in wait for someone to enter the room and demand to know where he was hiding the escaped prisoner. No-one came, the footsteps and shouting receded, and they were alone again.  

Steve sheathed his knife and left it with his armor, hurrying to the bed and peering underneath. Thor was still there, lying stock still and breathing in shallow puffs. Neither of them said a word as they crawled back into bed as quietly as possible, entangling themselves in each other again and lying awake in wait for another disturbance. There w ere none, their ragged breathing the only thing to fill the silence. It took a long time to fall asleep again.  

--  

Neither of them had any explanation for last night’s events. Steve knew that whatever had taken place in the corridor had probably saved their lives. The Grand Master had been on his way to t his room, would have searched for and found Thor. They’d both have been taken, probably, and locked away. Steve knew he might later still be interrogated on the location of his friend, but that had been delayed given that apparently, someone who looked a bit like Thor had led the guards away.  

On purpose, Steve wondered? It was a damn lucky coincidence otherwise. And if it was just plain old luck that a man resembling Thor had appeared in the hallway seconds before disaster, then the Grand Master would probably catch that man, notice it wasn’t really Thor, and storm back to Steve’s room looking for answers.  

Steve got suited up for battle in silence, plotting out as many outcomes as he could think of while Thor watched him from the bed.  

But they were undisturbed for three more days. Steve went to battle, kept his ears peeled for information. His leg finally healed, and Thor recovered rapidly, a piece of his godly stamina and strength returning with each sip of tea, until the pot was gone. They sparred that evening, and when Thor overpowered Steve and won, the Captain grinned widely.  

It was tough to sleep soundly knowing the Grand Master could come storming in at any moment, but neither of them needed that much rest anyway. Both of them managed about three hours a night, the rest of the time spent curled closely together in silence.   

Steve’s fight with the Champion had to be close, they both knew that. Thor embraced him tightly each afternoon when he returned safely to their room .  

On the fourth day, as soon as the guards left, Steve turned and bumped right into Korg . The rock creature smiled down at him and handed over a folded piece of paper.  

“Hey man, we’re gonna get out of here. Wanna come?”  

Chapter Text

Midday – gladiator rotation. Rendezvous +10 mins in vault. And below, a full schematic of their floor, with a red arrow labelled ‘you are here’ marked at the edge of the arena, and a dotted line showing how to get to the vault.  

Steve looked up, completely lost for words. He folded up the pamphlet and tucked it into his pants. There was only one way through the barrier keeping all the gladiators in this room, and that was when it was disengaged to let guards inside or out. Steve could break out then, when they came for their next fighter. Run to the vault, get my shield, follow Korg . I have a feeling he might let me fetch Thor. Oh well, if I’m on my own after the vault, that’s fine. Once he had his shield, escape would be a lot easier.  

The Captain touched the knife on his thigh, wishing he had the other one. It would be nice to have it when he escaped from here, but he felt safer knowing it was with Thor. Steve set his jaw. Almost there. We’re so close.  

There were a few more fights on the schedule before lunch. Steve didn’t watch them, keeping his senses focused on the gathering area and those in it. Korg was casually bantering with another alien, Dreiya was glaring at him from the far wall as usual, and everyone else was going about their business. Everything felt normal.  

The guards came for him, taking him to his first battle of the day.  

Steve stood firmly, lifting up on the balls of his feet as usual and holding his shield at the ready. Its weight was reassuring, helping Steve Rogers slide under Captain America. The crowds were cheering for the Celestial Knight as his new opponent stomped through the gates.  

It was one of Dreiya’s thugs, the smallest and fastest of the bunch. The one who had held Steve’s arms while it s leader attacked, which meant it was strong too. It was eager, grinning widely and throwing out some sort of threat in a throaty alien language, attacking first.  

Steve kept his weight in his hip s as he moved, light on his feet. He ducked and turned, keeping out of the way of the alien’s long, serrated sword. The creature looked a bit like an enlarged dragon-fly, with large domed eyes and wings too small to be of use. It had two sets of arms, which were thick with muscle. It attacked greedily, sword clanging off Steve’s shield relentlessly. The Captain didn’t get a chance to launch his own attack.  

Not at first, anyway. He found his opening, swinging wide and catching the alien’s wrist with the edge of his shield. The sword fell from its broken grip, but its second left hand caught it almost immediately, and Steve’s torso was wide open. The Captain swiveled his hips and safely kicked away the swinging blade, buying the time to bring his shield back in front of him. 

They were a good match, and the crowds were torn. Steve dropped low as the sword swung over his head, jumping up and bashing aside the arm holding it with his shield. He spun a powerful kick into the alien’s chest that launched it across the arena to the sound of elated howling. There was no time to hesitate; Steve hurled his shield, bouncing it off the arena walls and rebounding it toward the alien’s back. 

The alien recovered from the kick in time to spot the approaching object, ducking and throwing his sword like a javelin in line with the path of the shield. Steve couldn’t catch the disk without getting impaled first, forcing him to jump to the side. The alien anticipated his direction and raced to meet him. They met, grappling each other to the ground, Steve finding himself on the bottom. The Captain seized a pair of groping hands in his, but a second pair snaked by and clutched him by the throat. Steve let go of the wrists in his grasp, driving a solid punch into the alien’s gut. It did nothing, so he clocked it in the eye instead. The alien screamed a guttural cry, letting go of Steve’s throat to clutch its dented eye. The Captain made his escape, scrambling for his shield. He didn’t make it far before a hand was wrapping round his ankle and dragging him back. 

Steve kicked, jamming his heel into the hand imprisoning his leg, beating it until it broke and came lose. As fast as he could, he staggered upright and started forward. Something hard connected with his healing leg, buckling it under sheer force with a familiar crack. Steve cried out and fell forward, turning on his back and sliding backward with his other three limbs. The alien loped toward him, flexing the fists Steve hadn’t broken and shaking the armored leg it had just used to break Steve’s. Again. When this is over I’m going to stay in bed for a week and watch all the classic movies I missed. Maybe Thor will watch them with me. I’m sure Tony would let me borrow a TV.  

His shield was within reach. In a flash, he picked it up and flung his arm outward, just in time to block a hard punch. Steve dragged himself to his feet, punching the bug in return and smashing it in the face, cracking its other eye. Blind ed , the alien squealed and flailed . Steve broke a third arm with one neat twist, parrying punches from the fourth with his leg. Crack, he broke the fourth with a final sharp kick into the alien’s palm. Ignoring his newly-broken leg, Steve jumped turned, wrapping his knee around the alien’s neck and bringing it crashing to the ground, snapping it with a lethal combination of impact and torque.  

The creature lay still in the dust, and Steve unwrapped his leg from around its throat, rolling free and standing. The guards came as usual, taking his shield from him and leading him back to the gathering area, where he immediately sat down to catch his breath.  

For a moment, he’d been too close to losing. The alien had nearly overpowered him. Steve clutched his leg , acutely aware of the new pain burning in the same spot as before; the blow must have deepened the healing fractures. Shit. I hope I can run fast enough.  

He could, and he would. Steve set his jaw and glared with determination into his glass of water. Instinct ordered him to flick his eyes up; Dreiya was stomping over, shoving other contestants out of his way.  

Just in time. It was roughly midday, and Steve didn’t see Korg when he flashed his eyes around the room. He stood up, settled into his special place where no pain could touch him, and walked toward the barrier. The next contestant was being led out, so Steve lunged, slipping through the gap before anyone could stop him and breaking into a flat-out run.  

This was it. If he got caught, he was dead, that was a possibility looming high enough to be considered a definite. He was out of sight before anyone could search for a remote and activate his obedience disk. Steve shoved nobles out of his way, following the map he’d already memorized. At full speed, the guards were no match for him, and Steve wouldn’t risk going any slower than that. He tore through the hallways, glad for the good grip his boots had on the polished floor as he took corners without slowing.  

It was all so sudden. A group of guards were following, but they were lagging behind. Steve saw another group gathered in the corridor before him, lingering in the direction he had to turn. The Captain drew the knife from his thigh and was upon them before they had a chance to raise their weapons. Their armor had obvious weak spots, and Steve disabled all five of them without breaking a sweat, easily picking up his running pace once more.  

A pair of metal panels were sliding shut in front of him, blocking his exit, the same blockades that had led him to Thor’s cell. They were closing too fast. Steve summoned as much strength as he had and pushed himself faster still, jumping several feet before he made the barrier and diving horizontally between the narrowing gap. The panels connected and locked together, but Steve was already on his feet and running again, pulling off his armor as he did so and tossing it to the side. There, that was better. Maybe a cape suited him, but it was providing drag, and the armor itself was too stiff to move properly in.  

He was almost at the vault . Steve rounded another corner and passed a storage closet that caught his interest. The Captain ducked inside and backed into the small room. Inside were racks of clean uniforms, for janitors; he seemed to recall seeing someone wearing one while handling a mop. Steve pulled off his boots and pants while he searched for one his size. The material was surprisingly sturdy for a janitorial uniform. And forgiving, as Steve found when he pulled on one that looked to be a good fit . He twisted, bent over, stretched out his arms and tested the snug jumpsuit for anything that might hinder him. There w as nothing . The fabric had a bit of give, but was also reinforced with something not unlike the suit Fury had given him. It was also a pleasing blue – his favorite color.  

It was perfect. Steve zipped up the front and found a new pair of boots. These were higher, and had thicker soles. The straps held his leg tightly, providing a little support. If he’d allowed himself to feel the pain, it would have helped. Instead, he focused on gathering anything else he might need. There wasn’t much else of use in here, but he did find some reinforced gloves that fit and a janitor’s hat. Finally, he strapped his knife back to his thigh and stepped out into the corridor.  

Korg was waiting for him in the vault, the door wide open and a small pile of guards lumped beside it. The rock creature waved cheerfully as if they were meeting for coffee. Steve stepped inside the room, expecting to find a group of gladiators gathered there, but it was just himself and Korg.  

“Are we early?” Steve breathed, searching the room. Large steel cabinets and racks of weapons lined the walls. He spotted his shield on the wall immediately, hurrying over and carefully lifting it off.  

“I am,” Korg replied casually. “You’re just on time. Shall we go?”  

Steve furrowed his brow and glanced over his shoulder as he searched the racks for anything else of use. “What about everyone else?”  

“Oh, it’s just you and me,” Korg cheerfully explained. “I only printed one pamphlet. I meant to make a hundred, but I guess I didn’t hit the zeroes. Wouldn’t be the first time.”  

Steve couldn’t think of anything to say to that as he turned his attention back to the racks and lifted a huge alien blaster off its hook. He slung the strap over his shoulder and reached for another strange weapon. It looked like a gun of some sort, but it was too huge to hold with just two hands and needed a heavy harness. Steve unhooked the weapon and eased it to the floor, inspecting the straps. He ripped off a couple of buckles and reduced the harness to just one pair of straps that wrapped around his shoulders and held a magnet against his back. Perfect. Steve adjusted the buckles to fit and snapped his shield onto the magnet. It fit perfectly, sealed to his back firmly, but easy to reach and retrieve when he needed it. With the gun in hand, Steve turned to face Korg.  

“Let’s go,” he nodded. “But first I need to get my friend.”  

“The revolution has begun!” Korg announced, lifting the pair of guns he’d already robbed from the vault and charging into the hallway. Steve followed and overtook him, racing back the way they had come. More panels had sealed shut in an attempt to corner them, but Korg just gestured to another corridor and led him down that way. When they ran out of detours and came face-to-face with another barrier, Steve lifted his gun and fired a blast into the seal. A huge bolt of red energy launched out the muzzle and blasted a gaping, dripping hole in the metal. Steve jumped through and rolled to his feet, continuing on with Korg on his heels. 

They were making great progress, just the two of them, until a group of guards emerged through a door in front of them and blocked their path, swords and guns raised. They charged, and Steve reached for his shield. He found a hand wrapping around the collar of his uniform and hurling him sideways into another corridor.  

“Go,” Korg urged in that same vaguely indifferent but somehow still optimistic voice. “Go get your friend.”  

“What about you?” Steve stumbled backward into the hallway.  

“I’m made of rocks,” Korg shrugged.  

Steve’s legs were very fine with that plan, but Steve’s arms responded first, tossing his gun into the rock-man's hands. Korg dropped his own weapons in favor of the more powerful one, and gave Steve a nod that was both encouraging and thankful. The Captain responded with a firm salute.  

Then he turned around and ran as fast as the serum enabled .  

That perfect memory was coming in handy. He knew exactly where he was, navigating his mental map better than a GPS ever could. His room wasn’t far now. Steve nearly smashed into the wall as he turned the corner, skidding to a halt in front of the barrier. This was it.  

“Thor!” Steve shouted, pulling his shield from his back and pushing it across the line. Lines of red flickered and sparked, disrupted by the vibranium . Steve adjusted the angle, watching red beams bounce off the surface and return to the wall. Everything sparked, and with a whirr and a puff of white smoke, the barrier sizzled out of existence, its source fried from having the power redirected into itself.  

Steve raced inside and Thor was already up. “Steven,” he paced over, taking in the visual information present.  

“We’re going,” Steve explained, glancing over his shoulder. “Like, now. Come on, we have to find a ship.”  

If Thor noticed his worsened limp, he didn’t mention it. The demi-god just nodded firmly and handed over the knife he’d been loaned, exchanging it for the axe leaning against the nearby wall. Steve strapped the knife to his other thigh and snapped his shield to his back, glancing around the room to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything useful.  

Approaching footfalls sparked both men into action, Thor taking the lead and Steve falling behind so his shield could protect their backs. He drew a knife and followed, keeping pace with the demi-god as they ran away from the footsteps and toward freedom.   

There they are! " Someone shouted in the distance. Steve scowled, pushing more power into his legs.  

Thor was extending his arm. “Steven, I can carry you,” he offered. “I can run just as fast with you over my shoulder.”  

Steve shook his head. “But you can’t defend yourself if we’re cornered. Just run. I can keep up.”  

Thor didn’t argue, to his relief, but he didn’t speed up as Steve knew he could. He was about to overtake the demi-god and show him that he was able to faster than this, but something bounced off the wall and slid on the floor by his ankles, narrowly missing tripping him – a spear.  

The near-miss of the projectile weapon spurred Thor to run a little faster, and Steve kept in line with the demi-god, making his sure his shield was between both of them and any weapons that might make it far enough.  

“Which way?” Thor demanded, pointing up ahead.  

“Right!” Steve recalled the location of the elevator. They steered round the corner, and came face-to-face with another closing barrier. This time, they were too far away to dive through . Steve ripped his shield off his back and whipped it into the gap, wedging it open and giving Thor enough time to make it over. The demi-god gripped the straining edges with his bare hands and grit his teeth, muscles flexing all across his thinly-clothed torso as he bent the metal and forced it open. Mechanical components whined and fought him, sparks of metal grinding on metal and electricity bounced harmlessly off the floor and Thor’s bulging shoulders.  

Damn, was about all Steve could process. He could marvel over what he’d just witnessed later. His shield dropped out of the opening as Thor broke the barrier altogether and forced the panels far enough apart to fit through. Steve was about to lunge forward and scoop up his shield, but their efforts had slowed them enough that the guards were catching up.  

They were in range, now, and before his fingers could brush the edge of his shield his legs were giving out and his convulsing body striking the ground with a thud. Thor’s jolt came a few seconds later, but not before he could drop his axe and hurry back to Steve’s side.  

So close... This was probably where they died. The world was refreshingly simple when his body was trembling beyond control, and his senses were dominated by a searing pain all through his body and a ringing in his ears.  

--  

They came to knelt before the Grand Master, his golden-robed highness staring down at them lazily. Thor thought he might feel better about this if the man were at least a little mad, but he seemed as infuriatingly amused as ever. The demi-god glanced at Steve beside him. His friend was panting heavily, a tremor passing through him at random intervals. How many times had he been electrocuted unconscious since arriving here?  

H is leg had clearly been damaged when he’d first burst into the room. Thor had noticed, but had chosen not to mention it. Maybe he should have. With his strength completely returned, he could have easily slung the Captain over his shoulder and run at his top speed. Thor didn’t run very often, given that it was faster to spin his hammer and fly anywhere he needed to go, but he could easily outrun the super-soldier.  

But he hadn’t, and they were here, Thor’s axe on the floor before them and the Grand Master holding Steve’s shield in his lap, stroking the edge lovingly. “What are we going to do with the two of you...” he sighed. “You’re tenacious, for a human. And you’re about what I expected, Asgardian.”  

Thor growled. “Take care how you proceed, mortal. I am tired of your games.” He stared daggers of promise up at the man taunting them. Frankly, it was a miracle he hadn’t just killed either of them.  

The Grand Master shrugged. “Huh, too bad. This is the most fun I’ve had in years. You’re a tricky bastard, Lord of Thunder. I thought for sure that ugly grey alien would have killed you, but clearly he was having too much fun and took his time. Too much of a good thing, I guess.” The gold-robed man shook his head and wagged a finger, his smile lighting a flame in Thor’s chest. “I don’t know how you escaped, but I’m pretty damn impressed. Heard you were bunking with your pretty blonde friend. Just couldn’t stand to be apart, could you... T here something going there?” He waggled his eyebrows.  

Thor might have blushed under other circumstances, and didn’t check to see if Steve did. There were very few threats he could make , but he sifted through his options all the same . The Grand Master appeared completely unconcerned, sprawled in his chair while the stern woman hung over his shoulder and tapped h er finger with anticipation on her orange-topped staff. She looked like she didn’t get to use whatever it was nearly as often as she’d like.  

When his taunts received no retorts, the Grand Master held out his hand. The woman placed a shiny black item in it, a smile twitching her lips. Some of that carefree enjoyment melted away to leave room for eerie menace. “You know, I was going to send your friend, or whatever he is, to fight my Champion while I left you to die,” the Grand Master spoke quietly, toying with what Thor realized was a gun. Beside him, Steve tensed, and he wasn’t sure if had more to do with the words or the way that gun was being handled. “I’ve just had a much better idea.”  

If not for Steve at his side, Thor would have brushed aside those threats, invited the Master to take a shot. A gun wasn’t enough to kill a demi-god. But it was enough to kill a super-soldier. If he paid close enough attention, he might be able to move fast enough and block any shots with his own body. Just as he thought that, the Master stopped spinning his gun and held it firmly by the handle. The cold, pointed end of a spear landed at the base of Thor’s neck.  

“I haven’t seen one of these in a long time,” the Master mused. “Earth weapons can be very primitive, but these do a surprising amount of damage for something so innocuous. I think my Champion has learned enough by now. I’ve changed my mind, Lord of Thunder, you can fight him-”  

Thor’s heart leapt with relief at that admission. Steve wouldn’t have to fight it! That had been his intention to begin with.  

“No-!” Steve started, about to argue, and Thor about to turn and yell at the Captain for that, but the Grand Master shot him. He just leaned back in his chair, aimed the barrel, and nonchalantly fired a bullet into Steve’s chest, cutting the Captain off. The sound ran g through the room and Thor’s skull.  

“And you can watch him die. I’ll deal with you when that’s over,” the Grand Master stood up, handing the gun back to his attendant and addressing Steve. Then he walked off, and the guards hauled both men to their feet, leading them back to the arena.  

Whatever resolve Steve had found to mask his pain was gone. He was limping deeply, gasping and shaking as blood soaking into uniform and stained it dark purple. Thor wrestled to be free, throwing a guard to the floor and pulling another off Steve’s arm. He pushed himself under the struggling Captain, clamping a hand over the bleeding hole situated over his lower ribs. There was no exit wound, and his friend was breathing in short, rattling gasps. 

“Breathe, Steven,” Thor murmured, ready to fight off the guards as they flanked the pair once more, but he was left alone for the time being. It would be useless to chastise Steve for trying to protect Thor from fighting the Champion. The Grand Master would probably have shot him anyway, if not to keep the soldier from fighting back, then for fun.  

Steve didn’t say anything, his blood soaking through Thor’s fingers . The super-soldier was recovering, though, trying to push his legs under himself and walk with a little more grace. This was not the first time he’d been shot, Thor both deduced from the Captain’s reaction and reasoned from remembering his past.  

“It’s not fatal,” Steve whispered hoarsely.  

“Not yet,” Thor clutched Steve close as they approached the gathering area. “I will return, Steven, I promised.”  

“The Champion-” Steve choked.  

“Will not be my end,” Thor reassured softly. “They will force you to watch my victory. They will not kill you, either.”  

“Won’t be able to keep up,” Steve shook his head. “Leave me.”  

“As brave and noble as you are, Captain, you are a fool,” Thor replied, smiling gently. “And you had me believe your memory was flawless. I promised.” You will not die here, Steven. Nor will I. We both vowed to escape, together. This is merely another small hurdle in our impromptu plan. Wait for me just a little longer, and we’ll be dancing in Asgard’s golden halls and drinking until the sun comes up.  

Steve didn’t get a chance to reply. He was being torn away and brought into the gathering area. A guard held up a remote threateningly while more guards dragged Thor off to get ready. He could see Steve slumping in the grip of the men restraining him, losing strength with each splutter of blood stemming from his ribs, but starting to gather his composure. He would hold together, Thor knew it.  

Till Thor won, or met his end, Steve would hold on for him. If the Grand Master had truly wanted to kill him, he’d have aimed for the heart, or the head, and though Steve might die if left to bleed like that, it wouldn’t be for a while yet. Thor had a little time. As the guards outfitted him with his same armor and cape, pressing the axe Steve had given him into his hand, he vowed to make this fight a short one.  

Let them remember the day the God of Thunder defeated their Champion, he thought. One last time, he opened his hand for Mjolnir. It didn’t come, and he was shoved out the gate and into the arena.  

Chapter Text

There was a hand on each arm, holding him up and forcing him to face the bars. Steve had no choice but to watch as Thor emerged into the ring, geared up for battle once more and holding his axe in a tight grip. This was it. Steve couldn’t have looked away if he’d tried. 

Anticipation for what was to come wrested his attention from his wounds. They hurt, but they wouldn’t kill him immediately. He could feel the bullet in his chest, rubbing against the wall of his lung every time he drew breath. With each minute, he could feel it losing pressure as air seeped out of the hole and collapsed it slowly. The serum accelerated the rate at which he made blood, but he wasn’t making it faster than it was pumping out of him. Eventually though, he would die. 

At least shock wasn’t too much of a problem. Steve had been shot plenty of times in his line of work, and though it was never pleasant or easy, it at least removed the novelty factor. He was too preoccupied with Thor’s predicament to be worried about himself anyway. We were so close... I was too slow. I should have cut out my obedience disk before leaving the vault. Then this wouldn’t have happened.  

It was too late now. Steve winced and managed to get one arm free of the guard’s hold, wrapping it around his side and pressing into the wound before it could be ripped away. More than anything, he didn’t want to be a hindrance. He knew Thor was so much stronger than he was, but with injuries like these he was just going to cause hassle. He won’t leave me behind. I can’t expect him to either.  

It provided some comfort through the hot blood soaking into the sleeve of his stolen uniform and the lack of weight on his back, that Thor wouldn’t leave him here. One of the guards nearby had his shield in custody, the other gladiators eyeing it and Steve up. A handful more guards filtered into the section and formed a barricade, remotes at the ready. Nobody dared approach, but Steve saw the distinct lack of Dreiya when he managed a glance at the group. 

All of a sudden, the floor vibrated with weighty footsteps. Steve stared through the bars at Thor, then to the shadow gliding out of the opposite gate, followed by an eerily human shape. 

Whatever that thing was, it wasn’t a person, maybe not even an organism. It was too smooth, the shape of muscle defining its metallic body, but too symmetric and perfect. It wasn’t a person in a suit, either, like Iron Man. No suit could hug a person’s body that closely. Steve watched it walk, unsettled by how the motion came across as memorized instead of natural. A program that was running instead of an instinct. 

Thor tightened his grip on his axe, glancing at the bars and making eye contact with Steve across the vast distance separating them. The demi-god's eyes crackled with cerulean energy, and his fingers sparked. He gave Steve one firm nod, before returning all his attention to his adversary. As much as Steve wished this didn’t have to happen, he was excited to watch the demi-god fight at full power. 

It was an android, announced to its exuberant fans as the ‘Adaptoid’. Steve swallowed, watching the android’s smooth black screen for a face stare emptily in Thor’s direction. Soft blue-ish-green light filtered through any gaps in its polished form. The Grand Master’s holographic body started the fight, and the android launched the second the last word was spoken. Thor barely had time to lift his weapon in defense. 

A robot couldn’t be any match for the God of Thunder. Thor swung his axe over his head and smashed it into his opponent’s body. Its shiny form flew across the stadium, and the demi-god raced to close the distance and attack again. He pounded the downed creature once, twice before an unblemished hand reached out of the dust and caught the blade. The ground beneath cracked under the strain. 

The android pushed standing, dust tumbling off its shoulders as it turned too fast to follow with the eye and launched forward. Thor swung the axe again, and Steve was proud of him for not faltering no matter how ridiculous and impossible this seemed. The android’s arm lifted to intercept the blade, the metal rippling like water and molding into a different shape. 

One silvery axe met Thor’s, blocking the blow and bouncing back, becoming an arm shape once more. Thor’s blade cracked, not designed to sustain blows against material as strong as what the Adaptoid was made of. 

Tony would love to get his hands on that, Steve thought through his own panic. It was a lot harder to hold his calm focus when he had to watch someone fight, instead of being the one fighting. No, pay attention. He could still see, still try and find a weakness that might help Thor. His friend would hear him if he shouted. He’d be able to get a few words out before the guards stopped him. 

Thor got one last hit out of the axe, throwing it like it weighed no more than a paperback. The blade sailed past the android’s smooth head and buried itself in the far wall, leaving Thor no choice but to attack with his bare hands. 

He’ll beat his hands bloody before he lands a mark on that thing, Steve thought, heart racing with worry and accelerating his bleeding. There was no helping that, and it was hardly a major issue at this point. Come on Thor. You can do it. Take the bastard down. There’s got to be a way.  

A crack and a rumble reminded him of Mjolnir, and he wished for Thor’s sake that his hammer would explode through the walls and the stadium would see that they had wrongly placed their bets. 

You’re more than your hammer. You’re a good fighter, Thor. Come on, you can beat it, Steve wanted the satisfaction of seeing the arena light up with the god’s recognizable power, but he knew his friend was capable of so much even without his trademark weapon. Maybe capable of more. 

One, two, three; Thor met the adaptoid head-on and threw inhumanly fast punches at it. The first two hit, striking the face. The third, the android blocked with a forearm, and returned with a replica punch of its own. Thor managed to block it with his other arm, turning his hips and kicking the android in its generically-defined stomach. The thing barely moved, but Steve could see the fine crack Thor had left in its face moments earlier. He smiled. There was hope. 

A solid metal toeless foot returned the blow, blasting through the demi-god's defenses and throwing him backward. Thor slid on the balls of his feet and jumped back in, grabbing the android by the wrists and wrestling its arms apart with sheer power, crackling with hints of energy Steve knew was in there somewhere. The way the crowd roared was some indication into the strength of the adaptoid, and how surprising it was that Thor was matching it, overpowering it. When the android finally delivered a retaliatory blow, kicking Thor in the stomach with the same moved used on it earlier, Steve saw small dents in its arms. 

Pride surged in his chest and gave him new energy when he saw Thor launching tirelessly back into battle with some of the moves he’d taught him. Steve had used many of these kicks on Thor during their spars, and had taught some of the harder ones to copy just by watching to his eager friend. Thor had barely practiced many of them, but he was using them with near perfection here. The adaptoid was taking blow after blow, feet sliding back a couple of inches before it finally struck out. 

Steve’s grin faded into dread as he realized what was happening. Adaptoid . Adapt. It can do more than just change its shape. It’s learning his moves.  

The adaptoid had found an opening, reaching into it and grabbing Thor by his billowing cape, throwing the demi-god across the arena. Thor hit the wall in a smash of metal, dropping to the dust in a crouch and standing up. Steve squared his jaw and gripped the bar with his other arm.  

Thor grabbed the adaptoid by the arm, twisting and throwing it to the ground on its back with a yell. On anyone else, the move would have ripped the arm out of its socket, but on the android, it seemed to do nothing. Undeterred, it shifted its arm into an axe once more and smashed the blade into the Asgardian’s face. Steve nearly screamed, but Thor was rolling to his feet, wiping blood from his nose, and dashing back in for more. Any cuts he’d received were already healed. 

The adaptoid was matching the demi-god now, blocking him blow for blow and jabbing into an opening now and then. Thor was relentless, hammering down attacks that would have crippled anyone else. His opponent effortlessly deflected punches and kicks, darting in with a punch of its own and striking the Asgardian under the ribs. Suddenly, it was in very close, its arm changing into a sword and thrusting forward. 

Steve shouted, unable to help himself this time. It turned into a cough, and he let go of the bar in his hand so he could press it over his mouth. Through teary eyes he saw Thor duck to the side, the sword tearing a huge gash in his armor but missing skin. The adaptoid changed its arm to the axe again and smacked the flat side into Thor, throwing him across the arena with the force. Steve gasped for breath, staring at the fleck of blood in the palm of his hand. A couple of drops dribbled between his lips and splattered on his fingers. 

Nothing could be done. Steve clutched his side tighter and gripped the bar again, partly for stability. Thor was getting up, lightning crackling between his fingers, but it was still weak and useless. He needed more, and now . The sparks went out as the adaptoid descended upon him, flying through the air and driving him into the dust with a brutal kick. The impact shuddered and cracked the ground, the adaptoid lifting Thor off the ground by his cape before the dust settled, flying up into the air. It flew up and up, higher than the stadium, too high for Steve to pick out the details. But he could tell when they stopped flying higher and started to blast back down to the ground. The android had its shiny fingers gripping Thor’s chest plate, pushing him shoulders-first toward the dust. 

They landed with a blast of rock and dust as the ground beneath gave way, and Steve peered through desperately for any sign of his friend. “ THOR!

There was silence, even from the crowd, as the adaptoid lifted out of the cloud and settled back on the ground a few feet away. The haze cleared, and Thor’s red cape came into view. The demi-god was laid out in the dust, sunken into the ground from impact, and still. The android paced back over, appearing to decide on its weapon as it hovered over its next victim with a rippling arm. 

Steve wondered if this was how Thor had felt watching his fight, watching death loom over his friend, completely helpless to intervene. The Captain let go of his side and grabbed the bars with both hands, straining against them just like he had on day one. It hurt, agony spearing through his side and driving coughs up his throat, but he fought the metal separating him from helping his friend. 

A crack of lightning lit up the arena, thunder shaking everything immediately after. Steve saw Thor stir, saw another bolt of lightning and an object whizzing across his field of vision. But Thor wasn’t getting up, and the object was flying toward Steve instead. Strength like none he’d ever felt spread from his heart and melted into every part of him, loosening tight muscles and easing pains. His hand was reaching through the bars before he noticed.  

Yearning, waiting, and finally accepting. It wasn’t over yet. 

-- 

Perhaps he’d blacked out, or at least closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was running across the arena, shield in one hand, Mjolnir in the other, with no recollection of how or when he’d picked up the two items. 

There was nothing but energy coursing through his body. No pain, no fatigue, no weight of a collapsing lung pushing into his chest. Just a sense of duty, and the strength to fulfill it. 

Steve ran. He was too far away, but that didn’t matter. The Captain drew back his arm and hurled Mjolnir with all his strength, as he’d seen Thor do many times during their battle with the Chitauri. That was weeks ago. The hammer flew and struck the adaptoid in the elbow, halting its attack and drawing the attention to the newcomer. 

The crowds erupted, confusion destroyed by exploding elation. They were about to get the show of a lifetime. Steve pushed his jaw forward and slipped his arm out of the straps so he could whip his shield at the android. The disk bounced off its shoulder and back into his hand as he kept running closer. This was what he’d wanted all along, to fight this Champion so Thor could go free. It looked as if he might get that wish. 

Mjolnir turned in the air and sailed back into his hand, the handle settling into his grip and speaking with bursts of inviting power that traveled up his arm and urged his heart to keep fighting. Steve would, until it was over. He was a soldier, and a captain, and most of all, a friend. Thor wouldn’t fight this alone, and neither would Steve. They would have to take this thing down together. 

Nobody stopped him, though Steve felt a warning jolt of electricity start to squeeze his neck. Mjolnir responded for him, pulling his arm into the air and calling upon the heavens for all of other Nature’s raw power. Lightning cut down from the sky and coursed through Steve’s body, quickly frying the disk to a smoking, useless mess. The pins came loose, and the disk dropped into the dust. The adaptoid lunged for him, both arms rippling like water in a bathtub as it chose its weapons. The first arm changed into Thor’s axe, and the other into what looked an awful lot like Mjolnir. 

Steve didn’t know what he was doing, but Mjolnir did, guiding his arm into motion. The ancient Asgardian weapon bashed aside the axe and clashed with the replica, leaving Steve to lift his shield and drive the edge into the Champion’s plated stomach. 

The sudden barrage of new attacks was taking the adaptoid a few moments to analyze, and when it did, it retaliated. Steve ducked behind his shield as the android’s knock-off Mjolnir bashed into the disk, the impact pushing him backward a few steps. It wasn’t the real thing, but it was still powerful. Steve felt Mjolnir shiver in his grip and looked down. The hammer wobbled, and Steve glanced behind him to see Thor rising from the dust. Steve backed up and stood in front of him, shield lifted to protect him as the demi-god found his footing. Thor looked dazed, cuts marking his face, but otherwise functional. A little surprised, too. 

Surprised but joyful. Pleased, proud. He was smiling, stepping up beside Steve with lightning in his eyes and determination in his strong jaw. There was nothing to say, and no time to say it. Steve just handed over the hammer. Thor lifted his hand to take it gratefully, but hesitated, his palm breathing on the handle and his fingers twitching with the desire to just grab it... 

Steve thrust Mjolnir into Thor’s hand and let go, forcing the demi-god to catch it. Catch it he did, and the hammer allowed him to do so. The Captain offered his friend a knowing nod. 

“What’s the plan, Captain?” Thor asked as they stood side-by-side and watched the adaptoid approach. 

“It’s learning,” Steve said. “It calculates our moves and throws them back. It can mimic our weapons too, by the looks of it.” 

Thor tossed his hammer in his hand, raw power crackling around his body. He started to spin the weapon, faster and faster until it was a blur. “Whatever its abilities, there is no copying the power of Mjolnir.” 

“Its face is a weak spot,” Steve nodded. “It likes to learn? Let’s teach it a lesson.” 

Thor grinned, itching for battle. The adaptoid drew closer, sizing them up. Steve suddenly felt very heavy, Mjolnir’s strength still feeding through him from a distance, reminding him that it would answer to him, but not nearly as powerful as when he’d held it. His wound ached. If they kept at this for too long, he wouldn’t be able to watch his own back. Thor needed the backup, and couldn’t afford a burden like an injured companion to guard. 

The Captain steeled himself. That was what the serum was for, to enable him to take hits that would down a normal man and just keep going. 

Thor’s lightning lit up the arena, coiling around the demi-god like a jagged snake. His obedience disk exploded in a pathetic burst of sparks and fell to the dust just as Steve’s had, useless. A second bolt of energy stopped the adaptoid in its tracks, jolting its body as all the power of the God of Thunder surged through its components. Thor yelled, and didn’t stop. 

The adaptoid sizzled, lifting its arm and transforming it into the shape of Mjolnir, its movements shaky but still fast. A second bolt of lightning struck down and aimed right for Thor. Steve jumped, wrapping his arms around the demi-god and throwing him to the ground before the bolt could hit. 

“Looks like it can copy more than just the weapon,” Steve breathed, rolling free and adjusting his grip on his shield. “You have to hit it again. I’ll keep it occupied.” 

“Steven,” Thor grabbed his wrist, glancing at his companion’s bloody flank. “Be careful.” 

“Always,” Steve saluted, and stood up. Okay, ‘ adaptoid ’, let’s see what you can do. He turned and faced the creature as it walked toward them. If it was learning, Steve would just have to keep changing patterns before the android could retaliate. It seemed to take a few blows first before striking back. Steve would have to make those first couple count. 

He threw his shield and lifted his arms, blocking a couple of punches. The shield bounced back, but the android slid to the side in a blur without even looking, and the disk smashed Steve in the chest instead. He tumbled backward, coughing violently. Thor had been trying to sneak around from behind while Steve kept it occupied, but he dashed back in when he realized it might take a lot more for Steve to distract it. He came between the android and his friend while Steve caught his breath, the Captain spitting blood into the dust in sheer disgust with himself.  

A silver disk flew through the air and struck his shoulder from behind, knocking him forward. He went down with a gasp, hard. It took a moment to realize that the adaptoid had formed its arm into Steve’s shield and thrown the object with the exact precision and power that the Captain himself could produce. Bone strained under the blow, and he felt the metal liquify and start to wrap around his arm instead of rebound off him. 

Thor glanced over his shoulder and saw the adaptoid’s detached arm wrapping around Steve’s, the metal coiling around the Captain’s limb and straightening it up and behind, Steve laid out face down in the dust and unable to get up with the position his arm was in. Threatening tension spread its way up his shoulder all the way to his wrist, tugging on bone and grinding joints. Steve turned and jammed his shield into the metal holding his arm prisoner, but the tension only increased, and he felt something break. Thor was turning to rush over, but Steve batted him away, shaking his head. 

“Go! Fight it!” he yelled. The android was an arm down. This was the perfect time. Thor didn’t look pleased about it, and Steve tried to keep pain out of his face as the metal continued to squeeze like a cobra and bend his elbow backward. A thruster of some kind was propelling the distorted metal arm upward, tugging Steve’s shoulder against the socket. It would give way, soon. His bones were already cracking under the constant twisting pressure, and he was unable to get up, stuck on his chest while his arm was wrenched behind him. 

Thor turned back, calling upon the lightning once more. The blast struck the adaptoid, and the adaptoid blasted back. 

Steve couldn’t watch, turning away and squeezing his fist tightly, redirecting his strength to keeping all sounds in his mouth. It wasn’t enough. The metal prison jerked suddenly, pulling upward and twisting violently. The super-soldier wasn’t ready for it, yelling over the cracking, popping symphony of his arm breaking and the joints coming apart. The adaptoid’s detached arm held him there, still applying relentless pressure as Steve squirmed in the dust. He couldn’t get free, and another crack split his ears. 

Steven! " Thor yelled, turning away from the adaptoid and drawing back his arm. 

No, don’t do it. Just focus on fighting it. You can beat it. Don’t worry about me. I’ll heal. I’m real good at that. Just kill it, so it can’t give either of us anything else that needs healing from. Steve opened his mouth to protest, but Mjolnir was seeking him out, willed into his raised hand. The handle connected with his gloved palm, the weight settling through his broken arm and its power flushing through his body just like it had the first time. 

This time, he heard a voice, and it was familiar. 

not die. Steven, I will not allow you to suffer. I have caused you enough suffering. I will end this. I will not let you die –  

I’m not going to die, Thor.  

For a moment, there was silence, just their thoughts traveling through empty space. 

Please do not get up, Steven.  

I have to.  

You do not.  

I do.  

Thor didn’t answer in words. A wave of warm feeling surged through Mjolnir’s handle and soaked into Steve’s heart. There were no words in English to describe it, perhaps not in any language. He knew it was by Thor’s will that lightning drew toward Mjolnir and wrapped around his trapped arm. The adaptoid’s metal fragment seized up and strained against Steve’s broken arm, but then it was loosening, falling away, shaping back into a normal arm and flying over to its owner. The shoulder liquefied and merged with the body, whole once more without any mark to show otherwise. 

Other than a few dark scorches wrapping around the robotic limb. Thor’s lightning was harming it, and though it was slow, it was working. 

Their connection was broken. Steve couldn’t hold the hammer, so he dropped it and let his arm fall down too. Thor was at his side, rolling him onto his back and getting him standing. The demi-god looked him over with all kinds of worry, regret, and rage, yet his hands were nothing but gentle as they held him up. 

“I can... I can do this all day,” Steve breathed, gathering the strength to stomp down his foot on the edge of his shield and into his hand. 

“Indeed, but the day may be very short if you continue,” Thor calmly replied, opening his hand and calling Mjolnir into his palm. 

“We have a better chance together,” Steve reasoned, pulling away from Thor and sinking his weight into his hips. He slid his broken arm through his shield straps, knowing the vibranium would absorb the worst of any impact it received and protect his bruising limb. “We hit, and we hit it fast. Whatever you know, forget it. No patterns, no moves. Just instinct. It’s a computer. All it knows is formulas. It doesn’t know human intuition, and it sure as hell can’t replicate it.” 

Thor rolled Mjolnir in his hand and copied Steve’s stance, albeit reluctantly. Steve couldn’t hide the fact that he was wearing down. His arm was out of place and probably beaten to shit under the long sleeves of his stolen uniform. His flank was soaked through with blood, and his breathing was raspier than before. But he wouldn’t stop. Captain America didn’t stop for anything short of death, and Steve Rogers was too stubborn to run from a fight, even if he would most definitely lose. 

“Then let’s kill this bastard,” Thor’s expression darkened. 

Chapter Text

Steve was in no shape to fight. He hadn’t been before charging out to help, Mjolnir in his hand, and he certainly wasn’t now. But Thor couldn’t stop him. Angry as he was at no-one in particular that Steve wasn’t safe behind those bars instead of being literally ripped apart by this unholy metal monster, Thor was still immeasurable proud.  

He should have known. He should have seen it. The noblest person he’d ever met had suddenly arrived between his dazed form and the approaching android, Mjolnir in his hand and lightning tearing up the sky. The crowds didn’t understand the implications, but if Thor were able he’d have cheered louder than this whole stadium. His soul was cheering just as loudly inside him.  

Worthy alone wouldn’t be enough, though. The adaptoid still ha d thousands of battles in its memory logs, and was made of material strong enough to take any hits it didn’t managed to avoid. Steve’s efforts, though valiant, were near futile. They did stir Thor’s spirit, though, and filled him with renewed strength . Still, he’d hesitated to take the hammer from Steve when it was handed to him, partly because it just belonged in the Captain’s hand, but also because after all that had happened, he couldn’t possibly be worthy.  

But he was, and Steve’s unwavering faith in him had smacked him in the face. Mjolnir had answered his call, and he’d destroyed his self-doubt with the faith Steve had put in him.  

When it came to choosing between throwing everything he had into defeating the adaptoid while one of its arms was currently occupied, or freeing his friend from its crushing grip, Steve’s choking yelp made up his mind for him. He’d ordered Mjolnir into Steve’s hand, willing it to fly into the Captain’s shaking palm and call down lightning that would weaken the metal.  

In that moment, while the hammer was obeying Thor’s will to aid and the power transferred to Steve, they’d connected. He’d heard Steve’s pure will to get up and keep fighting, to help Thor until he dropped dead, because that was just his nature. Captain America was built on the shoulders of Steve Rogers, and Steve Rogers was too stubborn to quit. Captain America had the stamina to make sure he kept going, and going, and going, no matter what befell his body. So when Steve stood beside him on his own two feet and slid his broken arm into the straps of his shield, Thor wondered just how many times the Captain had shrugged off devasting injuries and pushed on.  

Had his previous friends had to watch him do this? Had this ‘Bucky’ stood dumbfounded and impressed all at once as his friend brushed off all the dust that wasn’t glued into fresh blood, compelled to stand beside this man with just as much resolve?  

Even stripped of his colors, of his stars-and-stripes motif, removed from his country, and his planet, Steve Rogers was one hell of a symbol. Thor, the God of Thunder, Prince of Asgard , wanted nothing more than to fight at this man’s side.  

So he did.  

They were falling into an un-rhythm, now , abandoning any formations they knew but still somehow falling in with each other . Steve swung wildly, leaving aside his training in favor of plain instinct, throwing his shield without thinking, and just acting. It was still one of the most beautiful things Thor had ever seen.  

The god himself followed suit, letting lose his own primal rage. The adaptoid could mimic his hammer, its shape and weight and the very lightning it commanded, but it couldn’t replicate the character of the object. Mjolnir’s voice spoke through Thor’s arm, guiding his blows. Sometimes its path was intercepted by Steve, who reached up and grabbed the handle without thinking and swung it at a punching fist or a blast of copy-cat lightning. Sometimes Thor found Steve’s shield sailing by within reach too, so he grabbed the weapon and used it to his own end before chucking it back to its owner.  

They were a good team. They had been when they’d first fought together against the Chitauri , and when they’d sparred in their room for the first time. Both of them were made to fight, and so much more.  

They were beating the Champion, together, and there was nothing the Grand Master could do about it. Steve bashed the top face of Mjo l nir into the Adaptoid’s face, cracking the black featureless screen and tossing the hammer to Thor. Thor caught it and struck the android in the back of the knee, felling it for a moment. Steve punched his bare fist into the screen again and again, deepening the crack until he was forced to stop and block a snaking arm trying to wrap back around his broken wrist and imprison him.  

The android attacked again, blasting Steve in the chest with a beam of green light from its own chest. The Captain had slowed too much to block it, unable to draw his shield across himself to take the impact. He flew across the arena and smashed into the wall, dropping in a heap in the dust as bits of stone and metal fell around his body. Before Thor could do anything, could even shout, the adaptoid blasted a second beam at the spot on the wall Steve had hit, sending debris crumbling down and burying the Captain completely.  

Mjolnir sang for Steve, mimicking Thor’s own shouts. He yelled in time with the thunder that shook the arena stronger than before. The adaptoid turned toward the heap of rubble and started to move, but Thor’s hand snapped out and gripped its wrist, denting the metal and scorching it with a bolt of lightning. The God of Thunder screamed from deep in his chest and brought Mjolnir down, splitting the arm from the body. S ilvery, metalloid substance dripped around the sparking edge of the arm Thor had ripped off, the fingers twitching uselessly. The android started to draw the arm back to itself, but the lightning gave him no chance, frying the internal components and burning the opening into a sizzling mess.  

The arm went completely still, and Thor dropped it in the dust. Then he left the android where it stood, sparking and recovering, and rushed to the rubble pile.  

“Steve!” Thor called, hoping for an answer, that his friend would push himself out from under the debris and brush himself off. Or at least reach out, push his hand up for Thor to grab. There was nothing.   

None of the fragments of wall weighed a thing for the demi-god. He lifted even the largest pieces like they were no more than pebbles and hurled them to the side, digging with urgency but trying to be careful all the same. He found the edge of Steve’s shield, glinting in the bright arena lights. Steve’s hand was just one more rock below, fingers lightly curled. Thor dug around, glancing over his shoulder. The adaptoid was approaching, its body not functioning as smoothly as before, but its remaining arm managing to melt into the shape of Mjolnir.  

Thor dug faster, carefully sliding the shield off Steve’s broken arm and setting it aside, pushing a slab of metal sheeting off his friend’s back. “Steven, answer me,” Thor begged, resting Mjolnir on the ground beside the shield and wrapping a hand around the magnet strapped to the Captain’s back. He pulled Steve upward and out of the rubble, dragging his body backward and setting him on his back. The adaptoid was close, its rip-off Mjolnir lifted in preparation to strike lightning down on the two of them. Thor didn’t think, he just acted, snapping out his palm. A bolt of brilliant blue arched out of his hand and struck the android dead center in its face, knocking it back once more and buying a little more time.  

Thor knelt at Steve’s head, clasping his dust-smeared face. Blood trickled over his thumb, and the demi-god shifted his hands up in an attempt to hold it back from spilling out the impact-caused split across the Captain’s forehead. But he was alive, coughing wetly under Thor’s hands. More blood splattered his lips and dribbled out his nose, but he was opening his eyes and blinking wearily up at his friend. Thor could have cried, tears welling in his eyes as he laughed, rubbing Steve’s cheeks with his thumbs.  

“The battle is nearly over,” he whispered. “Stay here, Steven. I will return momentarily.”  

Steve grabbed Thor’s wrist in a shaking hand, opening his mouth to say something, looking like he was about to try and pull himself sitting, but Thor quickly pushed him down and pressed a finger over his bloody lips. And adaptoid was upon them.  

Thor stood up, his gentleness consumed by sheer urgency to get Steve to safety, and rage at what this place had done to him. He called Mjolnir to his hand and kicked the Captain’s shield into his other. He wasn’t sure what it was, and it didn’t bear thinking about, but there was something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something making him feel... powerful. More than usual.  

“It was always going to be this way,” Thor breathed to himself. Let Steve rest. He’d already done more than enough. If only the rest of the team could have seen their Captain, majestic in his blue janitor uniform that fit him so well, wielding Mjolnir as if he always had. I am privileged to have witnessed it.  

He’d get another chance. Thor would make sure of it. He’d beat this android’s shapeless ass into the dirt, never to rise again.   

A robot doesn’t stand a chance against the God of Thunder.  

Someone’s voice, not his. Not even Mjolnir’s sway.  

You were strong without your hammer. Stronger than anyone I’ve ever met. You don’t need it. But you have it now, and nothing can stop you. That thing can copy your power on the surface, but it can’t copy who you are as a person.  

Unwavering resolve, bolstering him, speaking with clarity and conviction. When the android formed its own pathetic rendition of Mjolnir and with it ordered the lightning to strik e , Thor threw the real thing into its stomach . He ran and slid, grabbing hold of the copy with both hands as he did so, dragging the android forward and down by its arm. Thor flipped the adaptoid onto its back, digging his fingers into the smooth, silvery metal, and crushed fake Mjolnir with his bare hands. Then he jammed Steve’s shield into its wrist and broke the crushed hammer-shaped arm right off. The android moved, starting to pull its destroyed arm back, but Thor grabbed the stump and called Mjolnir back to his hand. Lightning flowed in torrents out of his hand and into the exposed opening, flooding through the robot’s body and frying its complex circuits. Thor opened his mouth and yelled, curling the fingers of his free hand around Mjolnir’s familiar leather handle and bashing it down into the android’s cracked face.  

He hit it again, jamming Steve’s shield into its neck and beating the disk all the way through with his hammer. The smashed head rolled away, and the dull glow faded from its body.  

Thor stood up, ripp ing the shield out of the ground and sliding his arm through the straps. The crowds were cheering, confused but enjoying themselves. Thor looked up and saw the Grand Master standing in his special booth, surrounded by warm lights and comfortable furniture, a grape falling out of his open mouth. Thor took the time to employ another move Darcy had taught him, and showed him his middle finger. Then he picked up Mjolnir and walked with his head held high back to Steve.  

The guards were coming. The fight wasn’t over.   

Steve was awake, but it was taking effort to stay that way. Thor knelt down beside him and took the Captain’s broken arm, pressing it over his bleeding side. “Can you stand up?” he asked, wishing he didn’t have to.  

Steve nodded, but Thor had a feeling he would have even if his legs had been blown off. The Captain spit out a mouthful of blood and started to sit, letting Thor drag his uninjured arm across his shoulders and pull him slowly to his feet. The shield went on Steve’s back, and Thor held his hammer in his free hand. He could feel Steve heaving beside him, fighting for every breath and every second of consciousness. He was pale and obviously in debilitating pain, but somehow still on his feet. When the guards started to race toward them through the gates, and Thor realized he’d have a hell of a time fighting them off and holding onto Steve at the same time, the Captain started to pull away.  

Steve was standing on his own two feet, swaying and blinking, but vertical. He was reaching for his shield with his good arm, pushing his jaw firmly forward. Thor kept close, turning Mjolnir in his hand. The sky crackled, bringing bolts of lightning down from the sky and frying the nearest handful of guards. The others hesitated, and before they could resume their approach, someone shouted for them from the opposite gate. Thor turned and saw one man standing there beckoning for them.  

He was certain he’d seen the privileged alien around before, watching for a distance. The snake-like man in his blue-green robes called to them, and suddenly the herds of guards filling the arena weren’t aiming for them. They were aiming at the far wall, and when Thor turned he saw two other people.  

Himself, and Steve, racing for the wall. Thor blinked and looked around at the chaos suddenly rushing right past instead of toward them . A guard ran right by , as if he couldn’t see them at all.  

Steve slumped against him, breaking him from his reverie. Thor wrapped his friend’s arm back across his shoulders and broke into a run toward the figure beckoning for them. The arena started to explode behind them, armed pods descending from above and firing on the spot where their doubles were cowered. Gusts of wind and hot debris battered their backs, until they were through the gate, and the snake-man was closing it behind them.  

“This way,” he hissed, leading the way through crowds of guards that didn’t seem to notice them either.  

Thor followed, clasping Steve tightly against his body, silently amazed that his friend was actually stumbling along at a good pace, suffering for it but refusing to succumb to his beaten body. He was bloody and miserable, but his eyes were clear and focused directly ahead. The snake-man led them up through the building, past small groups of nobles, or more guards, none of which saw them. They stumbled right past, Thor’s boots heavy on the floor, and Steve’s breathing short and agonizing.  

They stopped in a hangar, the snake-man pausing to scan the array of ships.  

Steve pulled his broken arm off his ribs and pointed. Thor and the snake-man both waited in silence, patiently giving him the chance to find his words. “That one,” he panted quietly. “Smuggling ship. Fast.”  

Thor remembered Steve telling him about some info he’d heard, something about the best ship to get them through the big red space hole. He nodded, glancing at the snake-man before leading Steve toward the ship in question. It was small and unassuming, with simple grey paneling and small windows. It would fit three people just fine. Thor guided Steve to the loading ramp and observed the panel, frowning at the buttons. This really wasn’t his strong suit...  

Snake-man glided past and reached over his shoulder to pres s a button, striding up the ramp as it opened and wordlessly slipping inside. Thor blinked and followed. Steve wasn’t managing to hold his own weight at all anymore, shoulders dipping forward . Thor dropped Mjolnir in the loading bay the second the ramp shut, scanning the ship as the snake-man fired it up. Blue lights filled the bay. There was a little storage room off to one side, probably more space under these floor panels. Straight ahead and up a small ramp was the cockpit. He could see S nake-man sitting in the pilot’s chair, flicking switches and firing up the thrusters.  

“S’over?” Steve mumbled, shivering. A piece of stone fell out of his hair and bounced on the floor. Thor pulled the shield off his friend’s back, setting it on the floor.  

“Yes,” Thor breathed. “The battle is over.” He was more carrying Steve now, taking his friend into the cockpit and setting him in a spare seat behind the pilot’s, reaching for the straps. “It’s going to be alright, Steven. Look at me. I promised you I would take you to Asgard.”  

The ship was lifting off, Steve wincing as the whole thing rattled and shook his broken body. Thor took his face in his hands and met his eyes. “Look at me. We promised.”  

Steve nodded, his head falling forward. He was barely breathing, his arms resting limp in his lap. Thor picked up the Captain’s hands and pushed them over the bleeding hole in his ribs . Some of them were broken, by the feel of it. He tried to be gentle.  

“Behind you. To the right. There are emergency supplies and sleeping quarters . Put him there, then return and assist me to fly this,” the snake-man turned his head and fixed Thor with knowing eyes.  

The demi-god nodded gratefully, lifting Steve off the chair and leading him staggering back through the ship. To the right, there was indeed a small room with two low cots and a few cabinets. It would do. Thor lowered Steve onto the first bed, the Captain’s bulk barely fitting. Steve looked much relieved to be lying down, all his focus draining away, shivering on the white sheets immediately stained with blood and dirt. Thor found a bundle of spare blankets and used them to push Steve sitting as high as he could, easing the pressure on his suffering chest. He unzipped the jumpsuit , pulling it off Steve’s uninjured arm and easing it more carefully off the other. Steve’s breath hitched, and Thor murmured an apology, rising to find those supplies. The ship rattled as gunfire struck it, and Thor stumbled against the cabinet, knocking the door open and scattering items all over the floor. He gathered what he needed and kicked the rest into a corner.  

All he could do was stop the bleeding. The rest of you will have to wait, Thor apologized silently. That was, of course, if the super-soldier made it that long. Doubt crawled up his throat as he fumbled with the supplies he’d found, remembering those first few days trapped in a cell, how easily Steve had trusted him to touch him...  

Thor set his jaw. It was on him, now. He’d been enough once; he could be enough again. It was by no means ideal, but it would get Steve from here to Asgard . The Captain was motionless under his touch, murmuring things to himself, and coughing up drops of blood every few minutes. His eyes were open a fraction, dark eyelashes heavy with blood and glu ing to his cheeks. Thor pushed wads of cloth into the bleeding wound in his side, feeling ribs buckle under his hands.  

Seventy years frozen solid didn’t kill me. I’m a hard man to kill, especially when the God of Thunder wants me alive.  

That was a long time ago. But Thor definitely still wanted Steve alive, and he’d fight for that. He tied the sleeves of Steve’s uniform tightly over the bullet wound, draping a blanket over him and fumbling with the straps under the bed.  

“For once in your life, stay down,” Thor murmured, tightening the straps as much as he dared before rising and starting for the exit.  

Steve looked so vulnerable, blood already smeared over just about everything within reach of him, white sheets gruesomely stained. Thor wished he could stay. What if he left to help fly the ship, and came back to find his friend was dead? There had to be more he could do...   

You deserve better than this. Thor halted his exit and rushed back into the room , unable to help himself. He wrapped Steve's head in a desperate hug, and the Captain stopped shivering for just a momen t . Heavens above. You and I will have to have a conversation about capes when this is through, Thor thought, reaching up to his shoulders. Steve had been right, this cape they’d given him wasn’t nearly as nice as his other one. He tore it off without hesitation and pulled it across Steve’s trembling body.  

We’ll be home soon. Thor left his friend alone and hurried up toward the cockpit. They were rising toward the red space hole, the ship tipping back. He needed to sit down quickly, and get buckled in.  

The sound of latches clicking open stole his attention. Thor turned on his heel and saw a hideous alien with small black eyes kicking a smuggling compartment shut and slamming his fist into a nearby control panel. The loading ramp started to lower, wind rushing into the bay and ripping at the pair of them. The alien tackled him, and in an instant, shoved him out the opening.  

Chapter Text

Thor gripped the lip of the ship, his boots slipping on the open loading ramp. He was losing his grip, and the alien was looming over him, knife in-hand.  

“You’re stealing my ride,” he hissed, dark eyes peering hungrily down at the god.  

Thor growled, struggling for grip as wind whipped at his body and threatened to rip him away at any second. Random objects and junk flew around him, and the sky was red. They were entering the hole. If he fell, he would be swept away, and that would be the end. The alien lifted his boot – Dreiya , Thor thought he remembered Steve talking about some alien who’d bothered him – and stamped down. Thor shifted his fingers out of the way. Dreiya stamped again, and was about to attempt a third time when he froze i ns tead , and a gargled cry burst out his throat. His eyes went wide and glassy, mouth locked open.  

The alien fell forward, two knife handles sticking out his back. The red clouds sucked him up, and he was gone, Steve standing in his place. Thor was agape, certain this was a dream. The Captain was standing straight, more blood and bruises visible than clear skin , breathing as deeply as he was able and glaring after Dreiya . On the list of most majestic things he’d ever seen, this was very near the top.  

Thor lost his grip with a shout, and Steve dropped, reaching out and wrapping his hand around the Asgardian’s wrist with lightning speed. He shouldn’t have been able to move that fast, let alone get out of bed at all, but he was here, probably in agony, holding on with just as much strength as Thor was used to.  

They were sliding out of the ship. Steve showed gritted teeth, his whole body straining as he fought to hold onto his friend and fight the winds battering the ship . The Captain reached out with his broken arm and wrapped it around the railing, bracing his foot against the wall.  

“Steven,” Thor breathed , still in shock . He recovered, shouting over the wind. “Steven you’ll be pulled out! Let go!”  

“I’m not letting anyone else fall,” Steve growled, pushing his jaw forward like he did when he was determined and flexing all the impressive muscles across his shoulders, his stomach contracting. Thor saw something in Steve’s eyes, heard the pain in his voice that went beyond the suffering of his body. There was no point in trying to convince his friend to let him go. So the god clasped Steve’s wrist and searched for purchase on the landing ramp. Steve cried out, reaching up with his broken arm and smashing the control panel with his fist. The wind was dragging them both out... until it wasn’t.  

The landing ramp closed, and Thor rolled inside, still tightly clasping Steve’s arm. They both collapsed on the floor, panting and holding onto each other tightly .  

“You are the most ridiculous person I have ever met...” Thor breathed quietly, leaning over Steve and clasping his bare shoulders. “You put all my father’s armies to shame.” The sudden burst of energy was evaporating from his friend, his eyes glazing over.  

Steve chuckled, his eyes sliding shut.  

“Steven.” Thor grasped Steve’s face, lifting him off the floor and into his arms. “Steven!”  

Steve didn’t answer. Thor felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one.  

“What on Earth is going on back there?” the snake-man shouted, sounding worried and angry at once, in a way that was oddly familiar.  

“Just fly!” Thor yelled, wiping tears out of his eyes. “Fast as you can!” He didn’t stop to explain, but the snake-man didn’t appear to need any more instruction, maneuvering the ship deeper into the space hole. Debris pelted them, rocking the whole ship.   

Steve wasn’t breathing, and it was a miracle he hadn’t dropped dead before now. There had to be a way, something he could do to push a little life into his friend, enough to get him to Asgard . Mjolnir glinted in his peripheral vision, still resting where he’d left it. He reached for it, cradling Steve against his chest. The hammer flew into his hand, and he pushed it into the Captain’s collapsing chest with gritted teeth.  

The ship groaned, thunder cracked, and a bolt of lightning fed down Thor’s arm and into Steve’s lifeless body.  

“You promised me,” Thor murmured, trying again, pushing more power through Steve’s heart. “You promised me!”  

The God of Thunder wants you alive, Steven Rogers. Thor tried again, and Steve’s body jolted in his grip. “You promised...” I promised.  

“I did...” Blue eyes, the body in his arms shivering with cold and shock and pain. Steve heaved a sigh, trembling in Thor’s grip. “ Lookin ’ forward... to that... party.”  

Blood splattered his ear as he squeezed Steve against him and his friend coughed onto it. They sat there on the loading bay floor, Thor holding his friend very close and crying into his shoulder, rocking back and forth. Nothing else mattered.  

“You are impossible,” Thor murmured. The God of Thunder wants you alive.  

Steve’s didn’t answer, but Thor could feel hitched breaths against his back. The Captain was unconscious, too weak to force himself to stay awake any longer. Thor left Mjolnir in the loading bay and scooped his friend off the floor, carrying him back to the sad excuse for a bed. The straps were on the floor, ripped completely off the steel frame and tossed aside. Thor shook his head and bundled Steve back into bed. He picked his cloak off the floor and wrapped it around the Captain’s middle, stroking his matted forelock with a gentle hand until the ship settled, and everything was still.  

Nothing could have convinced him to leave this room, so it was a good thing the snake-man put the ship in auto-pilot and came to meet them. He stood in the doorway, hands clasped behind his back while slitted eyes stared at Steve’s unconscious form. He must have decided he didn’t need Thor’s help as much as Steve did.  

“Will he live?” he asked quietly.  

“If we return to Asgard with haste,” Thor nodded, looking down at Steve’s peaceful face. He’d have preferred that Steve were awake, even twisting in pain, because at least he’d be lucid, but this way his friend didn’t have to suffer. He’d fought nonstop since initiating their escape attempt , and deserved the rest .  

“He will survive.” The snake-man spoke with that same calmness as always, but some of the sternness had been traded for... a softer edge . “His spirit has kept him alive for this long, as have your hands. If he still has both, he has no choice but to pull through.”  

Thor smiled a little, rubbing his thumb along Steve’s eyebrow. He knew that voice, even distorted by magic. He knew that posture, and that calculating stare. “Thank you, brother.”  

The snake-man just turned on his heel and returned to the cockpit, leaving Thor alone with his fading friend.  

--  

The ship touched down on the rainbow bridge, and when the landing door slid open, they were right in front of the city. Thor wrapped Steve in a blanket and picked him up, carrying him out of the ship. Curious citizens gathered near the bridge to watch as Thor rushed into the sunlight, propping Steve in the crook of his arm and spinning his hammer, flying off into the sky toward the palace. 

Nobody stopped to explain. Thor had places to be, clutching his bundle protectively against his chest and landing on the palace balcony. 

Guards! " he shouted , ignoring the few people gathered in the hall he’d just entered. “Guards please, fetch my mother !  

It the prince’s urgency was anything to go by, then haste would be wise. The guards ran off with as much of it as they had. Someone offered to take Steve from Thor, but he refused, leaving his hammer on the floor and carrying hi s friend deep into the castle. Frigga met him in the golden corridors, falling into step alongside him. She took one look at the mortal in his arms and took the lead, calling out orders of her own to a handful of guards. Her confidence and calm handle on the situation were welcome. Thor wanted to collapse into his mother’s embrace, but he couldn’t. Not yet.  

He opened his mouth, but Frigga held up a finger. “You can explain when he is tended to,” she said softly. “I’m glad you’re home.”  

Thor nodded, blinking away tears and following his mother into a room usually reserved for the most distinguished guests. He set Steve delicately on the bed and unwrapped the blankets. His mother approached and hovered her hands over the mortal’s painted torso.  

“It is a miracle he is still alive,” she breathed. “Your father may not approve of your bringing him here. Go, keep him occupied. If we leave this mortal much longer he will die.”  

Thor nodded, reluctantly turning around but stopping when he saw Loki standing in the doorway, Steve’s shield in his hand, expression unreadable. He strode in and offered Frigga a small nod, shoving the shield into Thor’s hands and turning back. “Leave it to me,” he said, and was gone.  

They hung in silence for a few moments, Thor catching his breath as he set the shield against the wall and came to hover over his dying friend.  

“Whatever happened, it must be a tale,” Frigga smiled softly across the bed at her son. “Though I’m not sure how I feel about your hair...”  

Thor wiped his eyes with his hand, smiling tearfully and wrapping his hands around Steve’s cold one. “It is a tale indeed,” he agreed quietly.  

The healers arrived shortly, and Frigga insisted Thor leave to get clean and changed. He refused, determined to stay until he was certain Steve w ould be alright.  

The extensive damage done to the human was immediately made obvious, and Thor felt sick to his stomach as he watched his friend stripped naked and the healers talking among themselves about his injuries. He watched them project outlines of a cracked and fragmented skeleton above the bruised body it belonged to. It was a mild comfort that he could already see small orange lines sealing along smaller cracks – the serum, he guessed, already trying to put its host back together.  

Frigga walked around to stand beside her son, lacing her delicate fingers with his dirty ones. “Are you certain you want to stay?” she asked quietly, as if she could sense the fear deep in his bones.  

“He did not leave me even when he was on death’s door,” Thor whispered. “I owe him my life. If I cannot tend to him myself, or ease his suffering, then at least I can stand watch.”  

Frigga smiled proudly, patting his arm with her other hand. “I am glad you’re home safe. You were gone for two days.”  

Thor blinked, drawing his attention from the floating image of Steve’s beaten skeleton so he could peer at his mother in confusion. “Only two? We were gone a month at least.”  

“Time doesn’t flow at the same speed everywhere in the universe,” Frigga replied knowingly, rubbing his arm with her thumb. They hung in silence, watching the proceedings in front of them before his mother continued. “Heimdall searched for you, but you were hidden from him.”  

A woman straightened from where she’d been bent over Steve’s stomach, holding up a bullet with something like curiosity shining through the indifference. Thor heard the bang of the gun the second he saw the tiny object in her hand. Human weapons were strange, and deceptively destructive. His eyes were drawn to Steve’s leg and the healer inspecting it.  

“He ran on that...” Thor murmured.  

“And there I was, wondering if your new friend might be able to temper your recklessness,” Frigga chuckled, and Thor couldn’t hold back a smile.  

“He is far worse,” he replied.  

“I can’t wait to meet him,” she beamed. “You’ll be wanting to celebrate, I’m sure.”  

Thor met her raised eyebrows with a teary grin and an enthusiastic nod.  

“Leave it to me,” his mother replied knowingly.  

They stood together for a few more minutes, watching as Steve struggled to breathe and the healers did their best with his human physiology. Their technology wasn’t made for mortal men, but it would be enough. It was saving Steve’s life, slotting fragments of bone into place and sealing them enough to keep them in the right place. His lung re-inflated, and the bleeding slowed to a stop. Slowly, slowly, Thor watched Steve’s breaths ease into a deeper, healthier rhythm. He smiled, and his mother squeezed his hand.  

“Go get clean,” she urged again. “Please, Thor. He’ll be alright. We’ll be done with him when you get back.”  

Thor agreed, pulling away and walking to the door. He paused and glanced over his shoulder. Odin’s beard, Steve was filthy... he’d probably want a bath when he woke up, no matter how well his mother cleaned him up. You’ll be looking for a sparring partner in no time, Thor thought, wondering how long it would be before he had to fight to keep Steve in bed. It had only been roughly a month, but he felt like he’d known Steve for centuries.  

It was good to be home. Thor stripped and bathed, forcing himself to take his time. When he emerged, he felt more awake and optimistic, striding to his wardrobe to find some clothes. Steve would need something to wear... The Captain was a little more triangular-shaped than himself, but his clothes should fit well enough. Thor found some blues and set them aside. Steve would probably want to layer up, especially with the severity of his injuries. He found one of his less- worn robes, and smiled at it. Perfect color.  

For now, a big, loose shirt. Thor found his biggest, loosest shirt. It was a smooth beige, but would probably be most comfortable. He picked out some casual pants to go along with it, and folded everything into a neat pile. Folding wasn’t really up his alley, but he was nervous, and it kept his hands occupied.  

He was so frazzled he almost forgot to put on his own clothes. Thor threw on the first thing he touched, grabbing his big tan cloak where he’d tossed it on his bed before leaving a month ago – two days, really, he supposed.  

When he returned to the room, the healers were just finishing. Thor put the clothes on the table beside the bed and Frigga glided over to dress his friend. The prince was unable to keep his eyes off Steve’s calm expression and the way his hair glowed golden in sun light from the big window on his right . His transformation was incredible. He was still bruised to all hell, but the lack of battle-borne grime made him look alive and human again. Frigga looked h er son over, pleased at his improved appearance.  

“He looks better,” Thor whispered as he approached, ignoring the warning “Careful,” one healer muttered. He took Steve’s face in his hands and brushed his thumb over the closed wound over his eyebrow. Frigga draped the blankets across the bed and pulled them up to Steve’s broad chest, nodding in agreement.  

“He is weak,” one healer regarded him with sternness and caution in her eyes. Thor was too relieved to be annoyed , nodding obediently as she continued with her explanations. “His body was not able to endure a complete procedure. We have healed him as well as we could. Now, he needs rest. I do not know how much.”  

“Thank you,” Thor didn’t care much about the details beyond the fact that Steve would be alright. H is  chest was rising and falling in even swoops, and though it wasn’t nearly as deep nor as smooth as it should be, it was predictable and strong. Dark rings of exhaustion under his eyes were worrying, but much better than the ghostly grey previously clinging to his features. He was pale, pink with a fever bred of exertion. The procedure would have taxed him considerably. His arm looked the worst, tucked up against his chest in a tight sling. It had probably been broken in at least six places, if Thor recalled the projection , not to mention the unholy sound of it being crushed echoing all around the arena .  

Frigga clasped his shoulders as she came to his side, drawing up a chair for him. “I’ll make sure the pair of you get what you need,” she promised. “Eat, and sleep.”  

Thor nodded obediently. Then, they were alone. Just him and Steve. Steve, who was very far from home yet fit in so well here. He looked good in the clothes Thor had brought for him.  

“Of all the ridiculous predicaments you’ve gotten yourself into, this must hold the current top spot.”  

Thor looked up to see Loki standing on the other side of the bed, hands clasped calmly behind his back, dressed in his usual greens and golds. His expression was just as difficult to read as always. Thor wasn’t sure what to say, or even how to feel. Too much had happened all at once. Finally, he decided just to address the most recent events, and deal with New York later. He stared across Steve at his brother, fighting to keep his tone neutral as hues of joy and gratefulness and anger tried to color it.  

“You were the one who helped us. You sent us the medicine.” It was partly a question, one which Loki didn’t answer. He remained unchanged, unmoved. “Did you help Steven find me, too? You must have sent the antidote to the Witch’s Cure... you must have been listening to us, then.”  

One eyebrow twitched upward. “I did look for the cause of your ailment, and for a remedy,” Loki explained. “Though I admit your friend solved the mystery before I did. He is much smarter than he appears.”  

“That indeed,” Thor agreed earnestly. “And he would likely be dead without your help.” Loki opened his mouth, but Thor cut him off, feeling an odd sense of pride for being in control for once. “What you did in New York is not something I can easily forget, brother, but regardless of those mistakes, you came to help us. I do not care why, only that you did. So thank you.”  

Loki’s expression faltered, and he hesitated. It looked like he was struggling with the thank-you, or maybe didn’t quite know why he’d helped either . In the end, he changed the subject. “I spoke with Father. He will not disturb you.” It was spoken with a touch of bitterness, and he wondered what had happened between them.  

Thor sighed with relief, slumping backward in his chair. He was exhausted, all of a sudden. The peacefulness of the room, warm sunlight on his back, and Steve’s constant heartbeat were lulling him to sleep. He hadn’t stopped either since their attempted escape. More than his body, his spirit was worn out.   

Loki had nothing more to say, vanishing in the awkward silence that spanned between them, leaving many words unspoken. His form shimmered and faded, as Thor had seen him do many times.  

Steve snored beside him, deeply asleep. Thor couldn’t help but touch him, reaching over and brushing the mortal’s forehead with the back of his hand. He couldn’t deny the warmth in his chest and the need to be close to this man. “Whatever makes you strong, it does not come from a bottle,” he murmured, leaning forward. He settled his arms on the bed beside Steve’s hand and rested his head forward, closing his eyes. The fight was finally over.  

--  

Steve slept for two days, unmoving, undreaming. Thor only left the room to bathe or find a change of clothes, leaving Frigga in his place. She came to help him tend his friend’s injuries and bring tea, filling long hours with light conversation. Loki did not stop by again, and Odin did not show his face.  

Frigga assured that Steve had been allowed to stay here until he was healed, and that a party would be thrown when he was well enough to enjoy himself. Thor told his mother about their time spent on that strange planet, about the mysterious illness that had started to sap at his strength, and then Steve’s efforts to cure it. He told her about how Steve had come to rescue him in that small, dark room, then of their attempted escape.  

Finally, he told her about their final battle, about how Steve had rushed to his rescue with Mjolnir in his hand. Frigga listened quietly, her expression waning between various emotions, but always calm.  

“You have taken good care of him,” she got up when he was finished, walking around to his side of the bed and kissing the top of his head. “And he has taken good care of you. I’ll be back with some dinner.”  

Thor nodded in earnest agreement, sliding one hand under Steve’s and squeezing it, and resting the other across his forehead. It was hard to keep his hands to himself. After the time they’d spent together, getting to know each other, being in close proximity, all he wanted was to crawl into bed beside Steve and wrap his arms around him. That probably wouldn’t be too comfortable given the circumstances, so Thor settled for a firm grasp instead.  

Under that grasp, Steve squeezed back.  

Chapter Text

Everything felt about the way he’d expect. He’d pushed himself too hard, and this was the price to pay. For a moment, fear crawled up his throat and threatened to strangle him as he felt that familiar weightiness of a body that hadn’t moved in a long time. Steve struggled, shifting his limbs on a mattress that was swallowing him whole. Only one arm answered the call to action, and immediately he felt skin rubbing against his palm. 

A hand. Steve squeezed, tugging to get the attention of whoever happened to be holding on, but he couldn’t quite make out a shape in the darkness. 

Oh. He hadn’t opened his eyes. That would be a good start. It didn’t provide much information, only that wherever they were was warmly lit. A blurry shape moved closer, and Steve immediately recognized Thor’s broad shoulders and thick beard. 

“Be still,” Thor’s deep voice commanded, and Steve obeyed, settling. Two warm hands clasped his cheeks, thumbs rubbing soothingly. It felt good. Steve let his eyes fall shut halfway, staring into Thor’s blue ones. He could just make out a concerned expression and a soft smile. 

“Nice cloak,” Steve managed, his vision starting to clear up. 

“You are not to get blood on this one,” Thor chuckled. He reached back for a mug and pressed the rim to Steve’s lips. “Mother’s tea. It will clear your head.” 

“Thanks,” the Captain took a sip, swallowing the warm liquid. Thor was right; fruity smells filled his sinuses and coaxed him out of his sleepy haze. He blinked his eyes clear and inspected the room with curiosity. This was definitely not Sakaar. 

Thor was dressed in casual wear, but still somehow looked like he could be on his way to some royal gathering. Deep reds and shiny silvers reminded Steve of the armor his friend had arrived to Earth wearing. 

With awareness came pain, and it soaked through his body all the way up to his left shoulder, where everything just... stopped. Steve fought away a wild panic that threatened to destroy this peaceful setting, and Thor gripped his hand tightly. 

“Steven? Does it hurt?” 

“Where’s my arm?” Steve murmured. “I can’t feel it.” One of the parts of him he knew should hurt most was distinctly senseless. 

“It’s here, it’s here,” Thor quelled his worry, leaning forward. He pulled down the blankets and took the collar of Steve’s loose shirt, moving it to the side so his friend could see his shoulder. The attached arm was right where it should be, wrapped up in bandages and tucked in a sling against his chest. A small blue circle glowed under his skin over the shoulder joint. Steve let out a sigh and caught his breath. 

“How long was I asleep?” he asked, new worry eating at him despite the fresh pain proving that he couldn’t have been out for that long. 

“Two days,” Thor pulled the blankets back up. 

“Were you here this whole time?” Steve asked, starting to sit so he could get a better look at his friend. He should have known better. All of him protested at once, and he hardly needed the gentle pressure of Thor’s hands on his shoulders to get him lying back. 

“I was,” the demi-god nodded cheerfully. “But I got my rest, I promise. As did you. You needed it. All is well, Steven, I promise.” 

“I’ll take your word for it,” Steve breathed, eying up the God of Thunder for any signs that was a lie. It wasn’t. Thor looked healthy and happy, not to mention clean. 

“You must be hungry,” Thor deduced wisely, and the Captain was nodding before he could finish. “My mother is on her way with dinner. How do you feel?” 

“Can I not answer that?” Steve asked bashfully. Thor patted his hand sympathetically. 

“I wanted nothing more than to have you healed, but our medicine could only do so much. It was too taxing on your body to do any more for it. You will have to rest the remainder of the process.” He looked genuinely guilty. 

Steve shook his head. “I’m in one piece. Hell, I’m alive. That’s good enough for me. I take it you’re going to keep me here for a while though...” he didn’t much like the idea of being trapped here, but it would be futile to fight the god physically, and terribly rude to fight him verbally. After all the stress he’d put the prince through, it was only fair he gave himself the time he needed. 

“I will keep you company,” Thor promised with a big smile. “It would be unfair to ask that you wait here alone without entertainment.” 

“Entertainment? Are you offering me dinner and a show?” Steve murmured. He felt tired just from being awake this long. 

Thor chuckled dismissively, but there was pink in his cheeks. “I meant perhaps a game, though if you wish me to show you some of Darcy’s dances I would not be opposed to performing a brief ‘show’.” 

“I-I’ll pass,” Steve lifted his hand. “What games do you have?” 

“Card games,” Thor proudly announced, reaching into the folds of his cloak and producing a shiny box of cards. “Darcy taught me poker. I am not certain I can remember it, but perhaps you can teach me some other games.” 

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve lifted his eyebrows, pleasantly surprised. “You’ll have to shuffle them though.”  

“Indeed,” Thor smiled, opening the box and dumping the deck into his hand. He split it in half and shuffled them on the bed with surprising skill. 

They played poker, which Steve was terrible at on account of his honest face. He wouldn’t have pinned Thor to be much good at it either, but he was proven wrong immediately. Exhausted as he was actually helped Steve’s case, since he was too tired to give anything away with much vigor. Thor still won, and the pleasure on his face was worth it. 

He wanted to learn another game, so Steve showed him a couple more. It reminded him of his days with the Commandos, camped out in some hell-hole but making the best of it. They’d laughed and made fun of Steve for his horrible poker face, beating him time and time again until he begged that they play something else. Thor was a good sport, encouraging when he lost, and elated when he won.  

When his mother entered, she brought them more tea, and a tray of plentiful, delicious foods. Steve set his cards in his lap, offering the woman a respectful nod. “Ma’am.” 

She was beautiful. Steve could see where Thor got his good looks and gentle touch from. She reached over and pressed the back of her hand against his forehead as if he were her own child. “The fever is almost gone,” she smiled, and it was just as warm as her son’s proud grin. “You’ll be on your feet in no time at all.” 

“Thank you,” Steve breathed. He wasn’t sure what exactly there was to thank for, but the woman had obviously played a part. He would have to make sure to give her a proper thank-you when he knew what she’d done for him. 

“You are most welcome,” she replied. “You look much better.” 

Steve nodded gratefully, completely aware of how absolutely terrible he’d probably looked two days ago. Thor helped him sit up a little higher, pushing himself under his unhurt arm and lifting him with ease. For a demi-god, Steve weighed nothing at all. The movement was jarring no matter how slow and thoughtful, reminding him of every event that preceded his arrival in his beautiful kingdom. He winced, and Thor grounded him with a strong hand on the back of his neck. 

“It’ll heal,” Steve assured, that phrase falling out his mouth once again without putting much thought into it. 

“Yes, it will,” Thor agreed. “And it will heal much faster if you get the rest you need. There is nothing to draw either of us from this room until you’re better. The more you sleep, the faster you will heal, and the sooner you can enjoy the party.” 

“Party?” Steve lifted his eyebrows, opening his hand for the piece of warm bread handed to him. 

“I did promise,” Thor affirmed. “Mother made sure that arrangements were made. Everything is in order for when you are recovered.” 

“Sounds like fun,” Steve smiled, and it genuinely did. He wasn’t much for parties, but a banquet in the halls of Asgard with Thor at his side? It wasn’t something he’d ever pictured wanting, nor something he’d ever known would become a possibility, but he wanted it. 

“It will be the most fun you’ve ever had,” Thor promised, replacing the bread with a spoonful of what looked an awful lot like beef stew, but tasted like the best thing he’d ever eaten. 

They ate until they were full, Thor passing off smaller fruits in between every few mouthfuls of this truly godly stew. It was thick and rich, and eased the empty pain in his stomach. The serum was absolutely loving this. A good meal and some Asgardian magic would have it chugging along at full capacity. Not to mention the extra garnish of Thor’s TLC. Honestly, he would have settled for that by itself. 

The demi-god caught his drooping eyelids and slurring words, quietly putting the cards away and giving his shoulder a soft squeeze. “Go to sleep,” he murmured, and Steve obeyed like he’d been hypnotized. His body melted into the bed, his eyes closed, and he was pretty sure he felt something smooth touch his forehead... it felt an awful lot like a kiss, hesitant and brief, but heartfelt. 

A familiar weight settled beside him, the blankets lifting for a moment before falling back into place. A strong arm wrapped around his hips, probably the only safe place to grab onto, and held him close. Thor’s face buried into the crook of his neck, and Steve smiled. This was a pretty good way to fall asleep. 

-- 

Now that Steve was on the mend, it appeared his sleep patterns were going back to normal too. Thor had been hesitant to crawl into bed with his friend as they had many times in the past, but he was glad that he had when Steve started to shift under his arm. 

The Captain was murmuring in his sleep, clutching the blankets. Thor lifted his head off the pillows and leaned over, watching his friend’s lips form ghosts of words, his forehead glistening in the starlight. Pain probably didn’t help the nightmares. By this point, Thor was confident to reach out. He gave Steve’s shoulder a little shake. 

“Steven,” he hummed, glancing out the window. They must have only slept for a few hours. He stared back down at Steve’s twisted expression. “Steven.” 

Steve whipped his head to the side, rolling away from Thor. The demi-god grabbed his friend’s shirt before he could roll right off the bed, throwing off the blankets as he did so. Steve resisted, fighting him and murmuring with more urgency as the dreams lied. Thor sat up all the way and fed his arms under the Captain’s as carefully as he could. With no effort, but as much caution as was present in the whole universe, Thor lifted Steve into his lap, and pressed his head against his shoulder. He didn’t feel good about moving Steve too much, but if he left the Captain to shift around wildly, it would certainly cause damage. 

He pressed his hand over Steve’s forehead and wrapped the other arm around his stomach, holding him in place with as much force as was safe. He didn’t let go until indecipherable mumbles became pained whimpers, and Steve slumped bonelessly against him. Thor rocked a little, grateful that he hadn’t had to fight much more for his friend’s awareness. 

“You’re never gonna get any sleep with me around,” Steve whispered, embarrassment and pain most prominent in his voice. He was shaking, struggling to get his breathing back under control. 

Thor slid Steve off of him and draped his good arm across his shoulders. “Do you think you can stand up?” 

“If you stay right there,” Steve nodded, and Thor fluidly pulled them both off the bed and to their feet. Steve hung off him, taking a long moment to command his legs to obey. The prince reached behind him and grabbed the top blanket, draping it over his friend’s shoulders and leading them both toward the door. 

Steve was limping and silent apart from his raspy breaths and the occasional whine of agony that escaped a tight throat. Thor wasn’t sure if this was such a good idea, but by the time they reached the steps his friend was carrying himself along at an even pace, still needing Thor to actually stay vertical and take the weight off his healing body, but doing remarkably well. The stairs were a bit slower though, and after the first few Thor decided this was too much to ask and lifted Steve right off his feet. There was next to no protest, which was a sign all on its own. He carried his friend through the empty corridors, bare feet soundless on clean floors. Steve’s head gently bounced off his shoulder as they went down another flight of steps, ending outside in the courtyard. 

Thor padded across lush grass to big, spiraling willow, settling under its cover and easing Steve into his lap. Steve was a big man, but he fit perfectly where he was, catching his breath and shivering a little less. The prince wrapped the blanket around them both and rested his shoulder against the tree trunk. It was a peaceful night, galaxies twinkling all around them, distant colors splashing together like a watercolor painting. Thor encased Steve’s shoulder with his hand, rubbing it with a soothing thumb. 

“I like it better out here anyway,” he smiled, and Steve relaxed a little in his grip. “You have no need to feel guilty, Steve.” 

“Been nothin’ but trouble,” Steve tried. It was a weak argument, in a weak voice. 

“That’s what friends are for,” Thor easily batted it aside. “It is not your fault. Had you not made the choices you did, I would be dead. That is definite. No-one can blame you for your actions, and I am not certain they can even be described as reckless.” 

“Not sure I believe you...” 

“If this is what you need, then it is what you shall receive,” Thor replied easily. “Not everything will be in perfect balance. You may feel you owe more, but you have given plenty to others who I am sure have given you little in return.” 

“They needed me,” Steve whispered, and Thor wondered if he was talking about the war, about all the soldiers he’d probably saved. Had he taken hits like this for them? Had anyone been there for him all the times he needed it? 

“Just as you need someone now,” Thor replied, and it was the winning blow. Steve submitted with a sigh of acceptance, but he was smiling when the Asgardian looked down. 

“Dreamin’ bout the ice,” Steve admitted after a few moments of silence, weary pleasure replaced with a deep frown. Thor held him a little closer. 

“Did it hurt?” he asked quietly, wondering how many people knew. 

“Yeah...” Steve admitted. “A lot. More than I thought it would. Then it was over. I couldn’t feel anything, but I wasn’t scared. I just... accepted it.” Thor squeezed his friend tightly. He had no words that could wash away the pain, but he would give his friend all that he could. 

“Are you warm enough?” Thor asked, and Steve nodded against his chest. “Comfortable?” Steve nodded again, eyes drooping shut and his body relaxing completely. He stopped shaking, and Thor listened to his breathing drop away into a deep rhythm that indicated sleep. When he looked down, he saw a soft smile on the Captain’s lips. 

-- 

They slept outside in the fresh air all night, rousing when the sun came up. Steve still looked tired, but considerably better as he rubbed his eyes one at a time. Thor got him standing, and they limped all the way back to his room before Frigga arrived with breakfast. 

She entered just as Thor was tucking the blankets back up around Steve’s chest. The Captain gave her a respectful nod and a quiet “Ma’am,” taking a mug of tea from her and sipping it.  

Frigga handed over a mug for Thor as well, and he couldn’t decline. She smiled at the pair of them. “The healers will come and check you over in a few minutes,” she explained. “They want to make sure you’re healing properly.” 

Steve nodded obediently, rubbing his numb fingers as if they were just asleep instead of purposely paralyzed.  

“We are going to contact your friends on Earth,” she continued. “Loki was going to send a projection but thought it best if you talk to them instead, Thor.” 

“Yes, that would be wise,” Thor agreed in time with Steve’s snort. He glanced his friend. 

Steve nodded. “I’ll be okay. They should know we’re alright.” Thor agreed, and left the room reluctantly. 

Loki was being kept in the cells, so Thor trotted down the steps to find him. Odin had sent him there immediately after their discussion, to await his trial. New York had still happened, no matter what Loki’s actions proceeding. Thor could deal with that emotionally when everything had been tended to. First, he had to think about what to say to his new friends. They didn’t need to know all the details, only that Steve was well and would be returning home soon. 

After the party.  

-- 

“Four days, and nothing,” Tony threw up his hands. “We found Loki in like a minute.” 

“He was in Germany,” Bruce calmly replied, tapping a few keys on their makeshift scanner. “They might not even be on Earth.” 

“Why do you care?” Clint addressed Tony as he ripped open a package of dried blueberries, perched on the edge of a counter. “You don’t like either of them.” 

“I don’t not like them,” Tony prowled over and snatched the package from the archer’s hand. “And besides, I still need to go a few rounds with Spangles.” Clint grabbed back, and when he missed the package, smacked Tony’s arm instead, flinging the blueberry out of his hand and into the air. The archer caught it and ate it with a smug grin. 

The lab had been used to build all sorts of scanners the second the main portal on top of Stark Tower had shut down. Their blonde duo had disappeared without a trace, and Loki shortly after. 

“Boys,” Natasha piped up, thumbing over her shoulder. “We have a visitor.” 

They all turned to see Thor standing at her side, dressed in what looked like casual Asgardian garb, giving them all a wide grin and a cheerful wave. 

“Where you been?” Tony stomped over. “Where’s Spangles?” 

“Here with me, on Asgard,” Thor explained calmly. His long golden locks were gone. 

“Needed a haircut that badly, huh? Spangles couldn’t get his face mask off in time?” Tony accused. “Well, while you were off getting a wardrobe change, the rest of us were fighting for our lives-” 

“I know, and I apologize,” Thor lifted his hands to placate the rambling genius. The others hung close by, listening. Clint reached out a hand, brushing it through Thor’s projection. “I must remain here with Steven for a few days. For you, it was two days. For us, a month. We have been back for another two, but we will need a handful more.” 

“Loki with you?” Clint asked, narrowing his eyes. The whole room was tense. Thor paused. 

“He is. His power allowed me to speak with you. He will be facing trial here on Asgard, but you must know that without him, the Captain and I would likely be dead,” Thor looked to Tony. They all looked to Tony, because he’d sort of become the unofficial leader of their team’s remains, and everyone had wanted to help find the other two. 

“Spangles okay?” Tony asked, calming a little. 

“He is well,” Thor nodded. “He requires some time to rest, but I will return with him when he is better. He will be pleased to know that all of you are well.” 

And just like that, the god was giving each of them a nod and dematerializing in a flash of golden light. Bruce tapped on his keyboard to break the silence, ending the search protocols. 

“So Cap gets to hang around Asgard,” Tony abandoned his blueberries. “No fair. Thor has to take the rest of us next time to make up for leaving us like that.” 

“Maybe if you ask nicely he’ll agree to tell us what happened,” Bruce interjected, unplugging his toaster. 

“A month,” Tony breathed. “A month on another planet. God, I can’t imagine being stuck somewhere with Captain Righteous for that long...” 

Chapter Text

It had been the best month of Steve’s year. Maybe even of his life... That seemed dramatic, but it was at least top three. He hadn’t felt so alive in far too long. Spending time with Thor had reminded him of how lonely he was, and how isolated. 

He still felt out of place here on Asgard, but it was better than on Earth. If Thor had brought anyone else into his place, they’d stick out just as much. 

Thor insisted he actually fit in quite well here. Steve had to agree that Asgardian clothing was very comfortable, and he could get used to dressing like this all the time. He was sore, and every movement irritated some part of him, but he was healing. Thor returned from delivering his message to find him sitting on the edge of the bed, flexing his left hand as the feeling ebbed back through his broken arm. He hadn’t dared ask the healers for details, letting them work in polite silence to do whatever it was they were doing. 

One woman was starting to wrap his arm back up, but Thor stopped her, insisting that he could do it. She left, expressionless, and Thor offered his hands to his friend. 

“I have a hot bath ready, if you would like,” he suggested, draping some loose robes across Steve’s naked shoulders, unable to hide the way his eyes darted from bruise to bruise. The bullet wound was a small red mark on his flank, ringed with purple. There were more marks on his back, and on his leg. They were fading, but still a cruel reminder of the trauma the arena had dealt. 

Steve nodded, holding his broken arm close to his body and letting Thor wrap the other across his shoulders. The serum was doing its job too, and it was much easier to limp alongside his friend than it had been last night. 

They ended up in what Steve presumed was Thor’s room. It was grand and just what he’d expect a space-prince to live in. Even the fanciest hotels would look like second-rate motels compared to the splendor of the Asgardian’s quarters. Tony probably didn’t own anything nearly as nice either. 

They’d bathed naked together before, but Steve couldn’t help hesitate and flush a deep scarlet as he was led to the bath. Thor was a warrior. He’d probably seen his share of naked men throughout his life. Steve had too, in the army. This was different though... 

Thor was unbothered, crouching down and dipping his fingers in the water, totally oblivious as Steve pulled off his pants and underwear and slid into the bath. His trepidation washed away with the sweat still sticking to him from last night’s nightmare. It felt too good, right down in his healing bones. His body felt light. A pair of hands suddenly clamped around his shoulders, strong thumbs digging into neck and back, working with the hot water to melt his muscles into submission. 

Steve hummed, unable to stop himself. Thor pushed him forward, working farther down his back with smooth strokes like this was natural. It probably was for him, to just lean in and help without worrying about what anyone else would think. There was no-one else to see them anyway. They were safe here, and it was hard to be self-conscious with Thor. Even if he was, it was usually washed away with a grin or a kind word. The prince tirelessly rubbed his back for as long as Steve remained in the bath, maneuvering around the worst of the bruising. Finally, the Captain decided he should dry off and started to move. Thor helped him get out, taking his hand and pulling him out of the water, draping a towel around his shoulders. His friend left him to dry off, returning with his clothes and leading him to the bed. Steve sat down on Thor’s unbelievably massive bed, getting dressed while his friend gave him some space and went to get them a drink. 

Steve ran his hand along his broken arm. It was shaky and weak, but the skin was smooth, though horribly discolored. Between Asgardian medicine and his serum, it would heal perfectly. Though he’d have liked to have maintained the use of his arm, it had been a welcome blessing not to have to deal with the worst of the pain for once. Had he been on Earth, there would have been no relief. 

Thor returned and offered him some cold water, sitting next to him on the bed and taking his injured arm in his hands with the utmost care. “Does it hurt?” the god asked, reaching for the bandages he’d taken with them. 

“Yeah,” Steve admitted. 

“I will be careful,” Thor promised, flashing Steve an earnest glance. 

“I know,” he replied softly. There had never been a doubt in his mind. “You weren’t ever anything else.” 

Thor smiled at that, wrapping the bandage in snug loops. The pressure definitely felt better, and more stable. “I let our friend know that we are alright,” the prince explained. “Stark was annoyed. I did not give them too many details.” 

“Thanks,” Steve smiled. He wasn’t sure he’d be comfortable with his new teammates knowing what had happened. Not all the details, anyway. Stark didn’t need to know that Spangles had nearly been killed by a robot. That reminded him... “You can’t tell them about... Mjolnir.” 

Thor peered up at him with a mixture of confusion and disappointment. 

“It’s... not the right time,” Steve tried. “They don’t really know me, and I think it’d be best. I’m still not really used to being their captain yet.” I’m not sure I’m ready to be their leader at all. 

Thor settled with understanding, nodding. He didn’t protest or argue, he just accepted Steve’s wishes, finishing his work and handing over a clean shirt. “That may be wise,” he agreed, “though I would have loved to tell them about your majestic entrance.” 

“Majestic?” Steve quirked an eyebrow. “In that outfit?” he pulled the shirt over his head. 

“Indeed,” Thor chuckled. “You were the most majestic in all the nine realms and beyond. Blue is very much your color.” 

Steve laughed, the tips of his ears pink. 

Thor grinned at him and stood up. “You are much improved, Steven. Would you like to see some more of Asgard? I am certain you will want to return to Earth, and my father may not be keen on keeping a mortal here much longer. Let us take advantage of this time.” 

“Sure,” Steve grinned back, and Thor gave him a chance to walk on his own and test out his balance. His limp was painful, but bearable. Thor looped an arm through his and took him out to the balcony, ignoring anyone else who was out and about in the castle. He held out his hand and they stood there for a moment, waiting. 

Then, Thor hugged Steve closer, wrapping an arm around his waist. A whistling signified the approach of Mjolnir. “Are you ready?” Thor looked over. Steve wasn’t sure if he was, but he nodded anyway. “Then hold on tight,” the prince suggested, and Steve wrapped his arms around Thor’s neck just in time. The prince smiled at him, and it made the Captain’s heart jump inside his chest in an odd but not unpleasant way. The moment only lasted a split second before Thor was catching Mjolnir and jumping off the balcony. Steve yelped, definitely not ready at all.  

When the surprise wore off, he looked down and saw the floating kingdom below and space all around them. Mjolnir led the way through a cloudless sky, and Thor hung on effortlessly. 

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Steve smiled as the wind whipped at his cropped hair and his eyes watered. He wasn’t scared. He’d jumped out of planes without a parachute plenty of times. Free-fall didn’t frighten him, and flying along in the grip of a demi-god certainly wouldn’t. Thor landed them on top of a building so he could change trajectory, spinning Mjolnir and flinging them both back into the sky. 

“Are you alright, Captain!” Thor called, glancing over to make sure his friend was coping. 

More than coping. Steve nodded. “Now put on a janitor’s uniform and you’ll maybe be as majestic as me!” 

Thor smirked and feigned dropping him, laughing at the surprise on Steve’s face as he tightened his grip and flew them up to the very top of Asgard’s golden spires. He touched down on the highest balcony, setting Mjolnir at his feet and leaning over the railing. Steve staggered against it, finding his footing. At his best, he might not have felt so unsteady, but with his sore limbs and bed-weary joints, it took a few moments to gather himself. 

Thor patted him heartily on the shoulder. “Are you unwell, my friend?” 

“No, no,” Steve shook his head, grinning widely. “Just took me by surprise that’s all.” 

Thor looked extremely pleased with himself, puffing out his chest. “It is indeed an experience.” 

“You ever get bored?” Steve asked, glancing at the hammer and wondering if someday he’d get to use it like that, fly himself up into the sky. Would Thor let him, if he asked? I don’t think it’d be right to fly over his kingdom with his hammer. Someone would definitely see, and I’d have to fly pretty high to make sure nobody noticed I wasn’t their prince. It was still hard to believe he’d lifted the thing at all. 

“Never,” Thor looked out at his kingdom. 

It was darker up here, closer to space. Below, Asgard’s people went about their day, too far down to make out any details. Steve leaned against the railing and looked over at Thor, catching the prince glancing his way already. They stared back out at the purples and blues blending together straight ahead. 

“So...” Steve licked his lips. “You gonna grow your hair back out?” 

“Perhaps,” Thor replied, running his fingers through the cropped locks which had already grown out by a visible amount. “I do miss it.” 

“It’s a good look, either way” Steve nodded slowly. 

“What about you?” Thor asked, turning to face his friend, leaning one elbow against the railing. 

Steve shrugged. “I kinda like it.” His hair hadn’t been that long to begin with, but he actually liked the shorter bangs. 

“The party will be tonight,” Thor announced. “You feel well?” 

“I feel great,” Steve replied with a reassuring smile. “Little stiff, so I might not make the best dancing partner... “ 

“No matter,” Thor's confidence was unwavering. “We can go slowly.” 

“Are you... sure?” Steve felt hesitant as he realized this would be very different from their casual dances in a room alone. 

“Of course,” Thor grinned. “You are a better dancer than a good many Asgardians.” 

“I had a good teacher,” Steve smiled back. Though that’s not really my main concern... Asgard was different from Earth, and had different customs... Never mind that he was a mortal, but another man? Thor didn’t seem to be contemplating that, hadn’t been the slightest been apprehensive toward their previous dances. It just seemed natural to the god, and Steve wasn’t sure if that was because Thor was just like that, or because it was part of his culture. He would find out tonight, he supposed. 

-- 

They descended from the balcony, Steve latching onto Thor for one final pass over the city before landing on the floor his room was on. Mjolnir went in the corner beside his shield, and the two men sat on the bed to play a game of cards. 

Around midday, a quartet of warriors appeared in the doorway, nudging the door open and peering inside. The largest of the four waved enthusiastically, stomping in without invitation and clapping Thor on the shoulder. “My friend, you have returned!” 

The others followed, offering smiles and greetings of their own, glancing at Steve and giving him nods of acknowledgement. 

“Volstagg!” Thor set down his cards face-up, and Steve politely flipped them over before he could comit the hand to his perfect memory. “My apologies! I would have come to see you, but I was occupied.” The god glanced at Steve and gave him a big grin. “These are trusted comrades of mine, Lady Sif and the Warriors three, Fandral, Hogan, and Volstagg. And this is Steven, my good friend.” 

Steve shifted his cards to his healing hand so he could offer up the other to shake. Volstagg grabbed it and shook it heartily. 

“I look forward to seeing you at the banquet tonight, my mortal friend!” the large warrior cackled. “There will be more food and drink than you know what to do with!” 

Steve laughed, unsure exactly what to do with himself, and a little self-conscious about his weakened state in the presence of these other-worldly warriors. 

“We are glad you have returned safely,” Sif gave Thor a nod. 

“Of course I did,” Thor beamed brightly. “I had Steven to watch my back. Perhaps he would spar with you when he feels better, and you can see his strength for yourselves.” 

He’s showing me off, Steve thought, and somehow it wasn’t irritating him like it normally would. Thor was proud of him, boasting about his new friend to people he’d probably known for centuries. It was endearing, even if Steve didn’t feel the need to impress anyone.  

“We will leave you to your game,” Volstagg gave Thor a solid pat on the back, turning to lead his companions out of the room. “See you at the banquet!” 

-- 

Thor had set aside an outfit for him. Steve accepted the pile of folded clothes, brushing his hand over the soft fabrics. 

“I will leave you in privacy,” Thor dipped his head politely. “I shall meet you there. You know the way?” 

“Yeah,” Steve nodded. “Yeah I do. Thor, thank you... are you sure I can wear these?” 

“Indeed,” Thor grinned. “Blue is more your color than mine anyway.” 

“I don’t know about that,” Steve quirked a smile. 

They held there for a moment, just looking at each other until Thor patted his thighs and spun leisurely on his heel, striding for the door. “I will see you there, Steven.” 

Steve nodded and watched his friend go. The door closed, and he was alone for the first time in days. Thor hadn’t left his side since he’d dragged the demi-god back into the ship during their escape. He stood by the bed, picking up the new shirt Thor had given him. It was too nice, clearly fit for a prince. Steve shook his head, flushing and putting the garment down. 

“No, no come on,” he muttered to himself, taking off the beige shirt he was currently wearing. This one belonged to Thor too. It smelled like him. Heavens above, he knew what Thor smelled like all too well, the time they’d spent pressed up against each other. Even when Steve hadn’t been in immediate need of comfort, his friend had seemed all too happy to crawl into bed with him and cuddle. His heart shuddered like it hadn’t since Peggy. 

Pull it together, Rogers. He’s just a friendly guy. Steve was grinning around his thoughts, shaking his head with disbelief as he put on the clothes the God of Thunder was loaning him. 

They were comfortable, smooth fabrics cradling his skin. Thor had thoughtfully given him enough layers to hide the reduced yet still-present bulk of his bandages. I hope I can stay on my feet long enough to make this party worthwhile. It’d be a shame to let Thor down. The prince looked really excited about it. Steve looked down at himself. He felt at home in these royal blues and golds. He flexed his left fist, feeling hard muscle ripple around healing bones and ligaments. His injured arm still trembled faintly, aching too badly to pick up anything heavier than a mug of tea. Range of motion wasn’t too good either, but it was getting better. Let’s hope it doesn’t get in the way of this dance...  

His heart raced at the idea. Dancing with Thor in their isolated cell was one thing, but in front of all these people...? What would they think? Would they care? And what about Odin? Would he be there? Wasn’t he opposed to mortals being in his kingdom at all? 

I trust Thor. Whatever happens, I trust his judgement. If he thinks this is okay, then it will be. After all Thor had done for him, the demi-god deserved nothing less than his complete trust. Steve set his jaw and limped for the door, irritated that he couldn’t walk as well as normal, but pleased to be on his feet and not in need of any assistance. 

It was no trouble to remember the way to the great hall. Steve strode there as evenly as he could manage, summoning all of Captain America’s confidence and taking a deep breath. Then, he took a deep breath, turned the corner, and entered the great hall. 

It was teaming with Asgardians, all dressed in formal robes. There was gold all around, warm lights, and the whole universe pulsing outside through the pillars that led to a wide balcony. Tables of food and drink stretched from one end of the room to the other. One wall was lined with musicians playing a variety of vaguely familiar instruments, filling the hall with gorgeous music. People danced in the middle; men, women, friends, lovers, in all combinations. Steve saw a mother and daughter spinning casually on the floor without a care for choreography. They were laughing, having the time of their lives. He smiled. A man rushed past him, hurrying to the nearest table to grab his friend and drag him to the dance floor. The friend protested through chuckles, relenting. He spotted Sif leaning on a far table, lifting a mug of drink with hearty laughs and joining in with her male companions. 

It was nothing like the parties he’d attended in the past. For one, this felt like a dream, and it was the best dream he’d ever had. 

Secondly, Thor was waiting for him, leaning against a table and laughing with some other warriors, but glancing at the doorway continually, expectantly. The prince illuminated the whole hall with just his smile and the glow of his eyes, pushing away from the table and hurrying through groups of people to greet Steve. 

Thor had changed too, dressed in warm reds and gold accents. It was less grand than the armor he’d shown up to Earth wearing, but still... magnificent. Steve smiled, a little embarrassed as Thor grabbed his shoulders and squeezed proudly, looking him up and down. 

“My friend, you look marvelous!” he exclaimed. A few people were glancing their way, interested to see who this mortal was. Word must have gotten around that a human was in their court. And if not, well, Steve was a new face at least. 

“Y-you too,” Steve stammered as his friend looped an arm through his good one and trailed him along to the nearest table to be introduced to a few of his companions. 

“This is Steven, my good friend!” Thor announced to those close by, thrusting food at Steve’s chest and clapping him on the shoulder, a giddy glint in his bright eyes. “He has fought bravely by my side, and I owe him my life.” Steve flushed faintly, eating so he didn’t have to think of anything to say. 

The soldiers gave him welcoming smiles and offered hands to shake, which Steve accepted, politely returning brief greetings. There was a lot to process, but Thor’s hand between his shoulders kept him grounded. The prince turned Steve around, grinning at him and holding out his hands. 

“May I have this dance?” he asked, and Steve thought his heating neck might light the collar of his borrowed clothes on fire. He nodded mutely and placed his hands in Thor’s, because it was all he could do, and it felt right, no matter how flustered he was. 

Thor backed up into onto the dance floor, and Steve was distinctly aware of eyes on the pair of them, glancing around nervously. Thor tipped his head, furrowing his eyebrows as he settled Steve’s injured arm on his hip and pressed the hand into place. “Are you uncomfortable, my friend?” 

“I’m just...” Steve glanced around, letting Thor put his hands where they were meant to be. “There are so many people...” 

“Ah, not to worry, none of them are watching,” Thor assured cheerfully. “You have nothing to fear. They have no care for your skill. If anything, they will be impressed with yours.” 

“That’s... not what I’m worried about,” Steve admitted, shakily placing his feet. Thor invited him to elaborate with concerned silence. “Well... you’re... you’re a prince. Of course they’ll be watching... I’m just... Mortals aren’t supposed to be here, are they.” 

“Ah,” Thor replied, the corners of his eyes creasing as his cheeks rounded with a smile. “Yes, I suppose you are right.” He glanced around as they stood still at the edge of the dance floor, people moving around them. “Are you uncomfortable?” 

“I’m not used to being the center of attention...” Steve admitted with a guilty smile. “Well, a long time ago... they – the army – kind of dressed me up... made me do shows... for morale. I just don’t want to let you down.” 

“You cannot,” Thor reassured, his smile warm and unfading. “But if you are not enjoying yourself, then say so. We are here to have a good time.” 

There was no expectation from Thor. The prince genuinely just wanted him to be happy. But Steve wanted his friend to be happy too, and right now Thor looked like he really wanted a dance, his foot tapping on the floor in time with the music, and his hand squeezing Steve’s. Steve set his jaw and gave Thor a solid nod and a confident smile. Nobody else matters. I agreed to this, and you did teach me to dance. There probably isn’t anyone else I’d dance with back on Earth. Besides, I should be taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity while it’s here. “I’d really like to dance,” he spoke quietly, but with every ounce of conviction he had. 

He really, really wanted a dance, spectators be damned. He trusted Thor, and that was that. 

Thor’s smile swelled his heart and confirmed that this was a good choice. The prince led him deeper onto the dance floor and fell in-step with the music, guiding the Captain into a dance they’d practiced many times back on Sakaar. If not for his healing injuries, Sakaar would have felt like a thousand years ago. 

The demi-god led, and Steve followed, falling into memorized patterns easily, but it still felt... stiff. Steve did his best to relax, but it was hard with all these people here. Most of them were occupied, but he caught a handful of stares pointed in their direction, and his neck heated up again. 

“At ease, Captain.” Thor’s words spoke through the swelling music and swelled Steve’s heart with it. A sense of calm flowed through their connected fingers, and Steve didn’t know if he imagined it, if their connection through Mjolnir was at play, or if Thor was just that convincing. His deep voice commanded the Captain, and the world around them disappeared. 

It was just the two of them. No-one to impress, not even the god himself. 

Steve settled into the steps, giving up control, and giving up his fears. They weren’t washed away instantly, but Thor was doing a pretty good job of fighting them. The music swept them away, working much better with the dance than the old music from the radio. Like magic, Steve finally relaxed, and Thor truly swept him off his feet. 

The demi-god was constantly aware of his partner’s limited strength, keeping his motions gradual. He was gentle, and Steve found himself forgetting all his injuries simply because Thor was doing such a good job of protecting them. That, and he was actually having an amazing time. People watched, but that was fine. Thor was something to be marveled at, and Steve convinced himself they were only interested in their prince. 

In the end, he found himself not caring at all even if they were staring at the mortal in their midst, who also happened to be the only person in this entire hall who Thor had eyes for. A grin warmed his face, his burning embarrassment fading into a pink glow of pleasure. For all the suffering he’d endured, and all the people he’d left behind in the forties, it all felt worth it for this. Accidentally getting sucked into a space portal had perhaps been the best thing to have happened to him this year. 

Thor danced him through song after song, until they could both feel a weight starting to drag at Steve’s healing leg. 

“I need a drink,” Thor claimed and slowed them to a stop, but Steve knew his friend could tell he was hurting by the way the prince tucked right up close to subtly offer some support. Steve took it, following his friend to the nearest table for food and drink. 

“That was wonderful,” Thor smiled joyfully, offering Steve a foaming mug of drink. The Captain took it gratefully, inspecting the white cap on top of a golden liquid that certainly smelled like alcohol, but more potent. 

“It was,” Steve agreed, still not quite sure if this was all real. Thor’s hand on his shoulder assured him that it was. 

“I promised you a good time,” the prince grinned, giving him a hearty pat. “I will be carrying you to bed with this is over.” 

Steve blushed, promptly lifting the mug to his lips to hide it, though he knew Thor was referring to how drunk he’d be. The Captain took a couple of sips, immediately feeling a buzz he hadn’t felt since before the serum. He grinned around the rim of the glass, enjoying the flavor as much as the long-forgotten feeling. Thor topped up his mug without a word. 

It was Steve who grabbed Thor’s hand and tugged him back to the dance floor for another round, not yet drunk but certainly a little tipsy. Any concern for watching eyes was drowned, leaving giddy excitement in its place. People watched, but there was more curiosity than anything else, and no hostility what so ever. Perhaps a few disappointed women, but that was the worst of it. 

And no sign of Odin. Steve didn’t know what Thor’s father looked like, but he had a feeling he’d know the king of Asgard if he saw him. 

The party continued tirelessly, and Steve kept up, invigorated. He chatted with Thor’s companions, enjoyed tales of other-worldly battles, as well as offering a few of his own in return. Everyone was welcoming, and enjoyed his war-stories very much. They asked to know about the pair’s adventures on Sakaar, and Thor told them brief details of glorious battles. 

“Steven fought with the bravery of an army!” Thor explained holding up his mug of drink, but keeping a hand on Steve at all times. “It was truly an honor to fight at his side. I would not have defeated our foe without his aid.” 

“And we are grateful to have our prince back!” Volstagg arrived, pushing his way into the group and grabbing a chicken leg from the middle of the table. “Earth is lucky to have you!” 

Steve bashfully accepted the praise, chuckling as the group agreed with cheers of enthusiasm. They praised his strength, his dancing, and his ability to hold Asgardian liquor, all while Thor watched with proud but watchful eyes, ready to intervene if his friend started to wane. Steve felt like he could keep going for days. Enjoyment and alcohol quickly erased his aches, and he shared a few more dances with Thor before he started to feel too dizzy to walk straight. 

Giggling and swaying, Steve let Thor wrap an arm around his waist and guide him from the hall. 

Other people were filtering out too, too drunk or tired to keep going. Some were passed out on the floor or over the tables, while those who had paced themselves were still dancing slowly in the middle. Even Thor looked a little less sharp than usual, when Steve gazed up into his eyes, but the prince was still steady enough to provide reliable support. They staggered into Thor’s room and aimed straight for the bed, Steve overcome with some strange urge and shoving his friend against it. The demi-god gave in, collapsing onto his back across the vast mattress and tugging Steve down with him.  

The Captain sprawled across the prince ungracefully, grunting as they went down. He groaned and shifted, pushing up a little and staring through narrowed eyes at Thor’s blurry face. So blue... he thought to himself as he stared into the demi-god's eyes, mind too jumbled to form rational or complete ideas. He reached up, unsure what he wanted, but willing to look. Thor just lay there under him, letting Steve grabbed his face and come closer. The prince lifted his head off the blankets to meet him, slowly closing the distance. They noses brushed together... 

And Steve went limp, collapsing forward. His face dropped into the blankets and his arms settled, their cheeks pressed together. The Captain heaved a deep sigh, and was asleep. 

Chapter Text

Thor wrapped an arm around Steve’s back and pulled him backward across the bed. The Captain snored into his chest, comp l ete dead weight. His mouth was hanging open, cheeks pink as he giggled to himself. Mission accomplished, Thor would say.  

It took a bit of wrestling, but he managed to get his and Steve’s boots off. The leather and gold accents on his own shirt weren’t too comfortable to sleep in, so he took the effort to struggle out of that too. Steve snorted as the prince started to take off the Captain’s shirt as well .  

They’d been so close for a moment, and Thor honestly hadn’t known what to think at the Captain’s sudden forwardness. Wherever Steve had been headed, it had stirred a few emotions inside of him he’d never considered before. Or maybe he simply hadn’t noticed they were there.   

Steve made some kind of groaning sound, shifting on the covers and wrapping his arms around Thor’s chest. He seemed content, so the prince didn’t both trying to get them both under the blankets. He turned into the embrace, rubbing his hand in the Captain’s soft hair, immeasurably glad that his friend had enjoyed himself. He’d been worried Steve might not enjoy the crowds, or that the noise might be too much for him, but he’d seemed happy.  

You are a skilled dancer. Thor closed his eyes and remembered the hours they’d spent on the dance floor. It was a shame they’d have to return to Earth soon... Steve was almost healed. It was hard to believe he’d only woken up a couple of days ago. I am glad you are well, at least. If leaving here earlier means you are healing faster, then I would rather your well-being over a longer stay. Steve was probably happy to be healthy again.  

Thor fell asleep slowly, savoring every moment, and enjoying the sound of Steve’s steady breathing.  

--  

Asgardian alcohol was powerful enough to give him a hangover. Steve groaned and rolled out of bed, planting his feet on the floor and pushing at his forehead with his palms. Despite the uncomfortable ache in his head, he was happy. Steve smiled, but he didn’t dare stand up.  

“I promised you a good time,” Thor’s voice spoke from somewhere in front of him, and a hand took his, pressing a warm mug into it. “This will make you feel better.”  

Steve groaned and drank the tea, wiping his mouth with his hand and retuning the empty mug. Thor patted him heartily on the shoulder, shirtless, a towel draped over one shoulder and his hair damp. Steve looked down at himself and noted that his shirt was gone as well. He blushed and wrapped his a rms around his chest. “I didn’t crash in your bed, did I...?”  

Thor chuckled. “It is no matter. Here is more comfortable anyway. How are you?”  

Frankly, Steve had forgotten about all his injuries. His head ached worse than any of them right now, though the tea was helping. He patted down his torso, running his fingers along the ribs and vertebrae he’d broken, then clenched his fist a few times and rolled his shoulder. “Better,” he announced, pleased.  

Thor looked even happier than he did, patting his shoulder and taking him to breakfast. “That is good news. Though I regret that I must return you to Earth today. Father has insisted, since you are well.”  

Steve’s heart lurched in his chest with panic, and he stumbled over his words. “Y-...but... we- are you coming too?”  

“There are matter s I must see to before I can join you,” Thor replied quietly, regret in his eyes. “Loki must answer for his crimes. I have duties to attend to here.”  

Steve felt like his world was crumbling. He’d have to go back, alone, leaving his only friend behind for who-knew how long. He swallowed, wishing he could have healed a little slower if it meant he got to spent even one more day here. Thor furrowed his brow, pausing in the hallway as he regarded the sadness in his friend’s expression.  

Suddenly, the prince grabbed Steve’s hand and changed course. They were running, Thor leading him out onto the balcony and sliding to a stop in time to wrap his arm around the Captain’s waist. He held tight, and Steve had the good sense to wrap his arms around Thor’s neck. The demi-god jumped over the railing, opening his hand and catching Mjolnir as it flew to him and swept them both off over the city. It was just as exhilarating as the first time. Steve hung on and looked up at Thor’s firm jaw and determined stare fixated on the highest point of the palace.  

The demi-god flew them all the way to the top, landing on the balcony and dropping Mjolnir with a dull thud. He smoothed out the collar of Steve’s shirt as the Captain unwrapped his arms and stood straight.  

“Thor...? What’s the matter?” Steve frowned at his friend, who still hadn’t said a word. He clutched the balcony railing behind him, peering across into the god’s searching blue stare. They were very close, and Thor was leaning in closer, closer.  

“I wish I could come with you,” Thor broke his silence and leaned in, wrapping Steve in a tight hug. “I wish my duties didn’t keep me from spending more time with you. I wish my father would allow you to stay longer. Odin’s beard, Steven, I wish I could have prevented those things from happening to you-”  

“Thor...” Steve pulled back from the embrace, grabbing handfuls of the god’s shirt so his friend would look at him, and see the unwavering honesty there. “Thor, none of that was your fault. If I’d let you carry me, we’d have made it through the barrier and probably escaped before all that other stuff happened. In the end, you got me out, and I spent some of the best days of my life here with you. I wish it could have happened without worrying you, but we had a really good few days, right?”  

Thor nodded. “We did.”  

“Then that’s all that matters,” Steve promised with a smile. “I’ll miss you...”  

Thor leaned closer, his lips pressed together and his eyebrows trying to meet as he stood in deep and silent thought. He looked like he had more to say, more to do, but wasn’t sure if he could or should. Steve understood why the prince had suddenly taken them up here, where it was just the two of them. He could be honest, a friend instead of a prince. There was no responsibility up here.  

“You can say what you want...” Steve started, trailing off as Thor moved slowly closer. He fell silent, unsure what was coming, but ready to accept it, whatever it was. Inside his chest, his heart did a little hop-skip and a jump. Hadn’t he... been close like this before? Maybe recently...  

But Thor just fell forward into another hug, and Steve wasn’t sure how to feel. Disappointed didn’t seem... right, but it was there.  

“I should be apologizing,” Thor sighed, swaying gently. “We have shared something I wish nothing more than to continue, but I must abandon you on Earth.”  

“You’re not abandoning me,” Steve smiled, squeezing Thor’s solid chest. Continue? What do you mean continue? “You have responsibilities. So do I. And you’ll be back eventually, right?” You’ll come back and see the others, see me? And we can... pick up where we left off? 

“I will certainly come to visit at the earliest opportunity,” Thor nodded into the Captain’s shoulder. “I had an enjoyable time with our new team, though it was short-lived. And you, Steven, are the worthiest man I have ever met. I want nothing more than to fight alongside you again. And perhaps...”  

The demi-god hesitated, and Steve didn’t blame him. The Captain didn’t know what was going on either , nor why his hands were trembling with unspoken desire. He pulled back far enough to stare into Thor’s sad eyes, smiling gently. “I don’t know what this is, but it doesn’t end here,” he promised.  

Thor smiled with relief, visible relaxing. “Then perhaps we can resume when I return.”  

Steve nodded earnestly, a new warmth filling his chest and spreading all the way to his fingertips and toes. He felt warmer than he had since the ice.  

--  

Tony had returned to the tower as soon as he’d helped Bruce pack up their tracking supplies. His friend had actually agreed to come stay a while there, and so had Barton. Romanoff had said she would think about it.  

So here he was, standing on the decimated balcony floor, leaning on his elbow and idly twirling a hologram in circles.  

“Sir, Captain Rogers is at the door. He is requesting entrance,” JARVIS drew him out of his day-dream.  

“Send him to the lab, J” Tony perked up. Spangles is back, finally.  

The genius wasn’t sure what to expect. He took the elevator down to his workshop to wait for the Captain, surprised at the little bit of worry sitting in his chest. Despite their differences, and their arguing, Cap was a decent guy. A little up-tight, maybe...  

Golden hair caught his attention, and he looked up to see Steve standing in front of the glass door, finger hovering over the control panel as he tried to figure out how to get in. JARVIS beat him to it, and the Captain awkwardly lowered his arm and stepped inside, looking around curiously before settling his gaze on Tony.  

“What on Earth are you wearing,” Tony strode over and pointed accusingly at Steve’s pale blue shirt.  

Steve stared at him flatly, unamused. Try ‘a lot’ up-tight. “I fell through a portal in the middle of a battlefield. I didn’t exactly bring a change of clothes.”  

That meant those were Asgardian clothes, then. Casual, but regal all the same. The material looked like nothing they had on Earth. Tony wondered what he’d have to do to get his hands on a shirt like that. He doubted he’d be able to buy one.  

“Well, while you are Point-Break were off getting friendship haircuts the rest of us were fighting for our lives,” Tony spun on a heel, still a little bit annoyed. “ So you owe us an explanation. Where is Thor anyway?”  

Steve glared at him. “Back on Asgard. He had a few things to take care of.”  

There was a hint of sadness in the Captain’s voice. Tony felt his annoyance melt away. Steve and Thor had spent a month off-world, doing who-knew-what. Maybe not having such a great time. Tony still couldn’t resist teasing, not when Steve’s buttons were so easy to push.  

“Yeah, well, I guess partying can be hard work,” Tony walked to the door, noticing the fading bruises on Steve’s left arm as the soldier spun around to follow. He clued in as the door opened. If Cap’s been on Asgard for a few days now... then whatever happened to him was bad enough to take that long to heal. He wasn’t familiar with Steve’s healing factor, but he had a feeling the guy didn’t normally carry bruises for that long. Whatever part of him that was empathetic and sensible told him to back off, at least a little.  

“J, get everyone to the common floor,” Tony ordered, leading Steve to the elevator.  

“I will alert them, sir,” the AI affirmed.  

Tony walked in long strides, ignoring how easily the tall super-soldier kept pace behind him. They emerged from the elevator, and Tony walked over to the bar, nudging a stool and continuing to the other side of the counter. Steve sat down as he opened the fridge. “Hungry?”  

Steve didn’t answer, so the billionaire tossed a banana at him. The Captain caught it and mutely peeled it while Tony put the coffee on.  

The others weren’t far behind. Clint got there first, wandering to the counter and taking a seat beside Steve, smiling and offering a strong, friendly handshake. Bruce was next, taking Steve’s other side and giving him a respectful nod. The doctor subtly looked the Captain up and down while the man was distracted with Natasha’s arrival and returning her welcoming nod.  

“Okay, now that we’re all here, you only have to tell the story once,” Tony slid a mug of coffee across the bar. Steve caught it and took a slow sip, realization in his eyes that he wasn’t going to get away from this without divulging the information his team was waiting for.  

“The guy just got back,” Clint held out his hand expectantly, and Tony scowled at him, pointing at the coffee pot – get it yourself. The archer got up to fill a mug, and Tony stole his seat.  

“No, no it’s okay,” Steve smiled, but it seemed forced. “We left you hanging out there. You deserve to know.” The soldier glanced around the group, taking note of healing cuts. It had been a month for him, but only a few days for them. Nobody missed the way he rubbed his left arm.  

“You don’t have to tell us anything if you don’t want to,” Bruce offered sympathetically. “We don’t know each other very well. What happened can be private.” And he cast a purposeful stare Tony’s way.  

The billionaire rolled his eyes. “At least tell us if you’re staying.”  

“Staying?” Steve frowned and blinked, mug of coffee halfway to his mouth.  

“Yeah, in the tower,” Tony shrugged like it was obvious. “It’s nicer than your apartment, I know that much. Maybe not as nice as Asgard , but you can get Thor to take me there as payment... or just give me one of those shirts. I’d settle for that.” Steve lifted an eyebrow. Tony got back on track. “I set a floor aside for you, got you a dresser full of as many plaid shirts and pleated pants as you could ask for.”  

Steve self-consciously fiddled with the sleeve of his Asgardian shirt, taking a sip of coffee as he stared around at the group. “Are you guys all staying...?”  

“For a bit,” Clint shrugged. Bruce nodded in agreement.  

“I don’t have anywhere to be for a while,” Natasha glanced at the archer.  

“There’s a training room and everything,” Tony elaborated. “I can get you your punching-bag fix. You destroy those things by the dozen , so I’m told.”  

Steve looked between them, his young face surprised and confused and altogether overwhelmed. He was so young... maybe the youngest of all of them if you didn’t count the years he’d spent frozen. Tony thought the Captain might turn him down, but instead he smiled a little, expression settling into calm happiness. “I... think I will.”  

Tony blinked. Then he grinned. “Come on, I’ll show you to your floor.”  

--  

It was definitely an understatement to say Steve looked distracted. He wandered along behind Tony, who caught him staring aimlessly at his surroundings when he checked over his shoulder.  

“So... you need anything brought up from your apartment?” Tony asked.  

“Not anything to bring up,” Steve shrugged. “Maybe my clothes... but I can go get those-”  

Tony held up a finger and smirked at the Captain over his shoulder. “J.”  

“Already on it, sir.”  

Steve sighed. “You don’t have to do this.”  

“No, I don’t, but we’re a team,” Tony shrugged. “We worked good together. Besides, looks like you could use some friends.”  

“Are you offering?” Steve didn’t sound hopeful, exactly... but he did sound pleased.  

“Depends on how much you tell us,” Tony joked, leaving a little pause. “Yeah, Cap, hard to believe it myself, but we want you around. All of us.”  

Steve chuckled, and when they paused side-by-side at the door to the Captain’s new bedroom, the man was smiling. “Thor told me I should loosen up.”  

“Yeah, he’s right,” Tony opened the door and gestured inside with an exaggerated flourish. “It’s no Asgard, but it’s the best Earth money can buy-”  

“Tony, it’s great,” Steve turned around and smiled. “Thank you, really. After what happened... I don’t think I could have gone back to living alone.”  

It felt like an admission Steve hadn’t planned on making, because the Captain looked a little bashful about it. “You and Thor really were stuck together for a month, huh...”  

Steve nodded, but he was still smiling, and a little pink. “It wasn’t all bad,” he admitted, even though his face giving that away. “We had some close calls, but it worked out.”  

“You think I should get him a floor too?” Tony asked. “Because if so, then he’ll definitely have to pay up. He can afford it. Doesn’t he live in a castle of gold or something?”  

Steve nodded. “It’s somethin’ else.”  

--  

If not for Thor, he’d have headed back to his apartment. Steve sat in his new room and stared at the dresser, then down at the clothes Thor had given him. He’d insisted on the most casual thing the prince could find, not wanting to stride into Tony’s tower wearing anything too extravagant.  

He smiled to himself, rubbing the wrist on his healing arm. Thor’s words spun slow circles in his head. He had to give these people the chance to be his friends. No more living lonely and isolated; Steve wasn’t sure he could do it after spending a full month plus change with Thor. Tony might annoy the hell out of him now and then... but he was a good guy. The others he could get along with too.  

Steve got up and walked to the dresser, reluctant to change but knowing it would be for the better. Tony had only been joking about the pleated pants, but he did find a couple spare pairs of jeans and some t-shirts.  

“Captain Rogers,” the AI’s voice spoke from somewhere in the walls. Steve couldn’t help spin around and look for a person, even though he knew no-one would be there. “Sir requests your presence on the common floor for dinner with the other tenants. Will you be joining them?”  

“Uh,” Steve paused, glancing back at the changes of clothes in the cabinet. “Yeah, tell him I’ll be there. Thanks...”  

“I will let sir know you will be present. Dinner is at six-thirty.”  

Steve nodded and went to see what Tony had picked out for him. Everything fit. He pulled on a grey t-shirt and left Thor’s clothes folded on the bed.  

Dinner with his new teammates was a lot more enjoyable than he’d thought it would be. Steve made the effort to relax and enjoy himself, trying not to think too much about it when Tony or Clint made a joke he didn’t understand. He caught Bruce staring at his bruised arm, and felt the urge to jerk it away, wrap his body around it and hide the marks still visible on it. The doctor blinked up at him apologetically, but Steve shook his head and held out his left hand while the others were focused on their conversation.  

Bruce gave him a questioning look, hovering his hands to wait for permission. Steve nodded.  

“What happened?” the doctor murmured, turning Steve’s arm with clinical gentleness. It wasn’t the same as Thor’s grip, but it was slow and thoughtful all the same.  

“A fight we almost didn’t win,” Steve admitted, glancing at the other three. “Thor took me to Asgard to get it fixed.”  

Bruce seemed to understand the implications of that, but he didn’t push. “I know you don’t know us that well... but if you ever want to talk about it...”  

Steve smiled. “Thank you. I actually think I’m alright.”  

--  

Time passed a lot quicker in the tower than in his empty apartment. Steve found himself actually enjoying himself, even though he spent a lot of time wondering when Thor would come back. Every time JARVIS spoke from the walls, he wondered if it was to alert him of the demi-god's return. Usually, it was to let him know that group dinner was being arranged, and he was invited to come. Steve almost always did, finding comfort in the companionship even if it was jarring not to understand most of the references anyone made, and if he often got into arguments with Tony.  

He found himself in the gym a lot. It helped clear his head to be moving, and his body needed the frequent exercise. Destroying a punching bag wasn’t the same as sparring with Thor, though.  

Natasha found him one day, and asked to spar with him. He nearly turned her down.  

She continued to meet him thereafter, arriving in the gym the same time every day and inviting him wordlessly to join her. She couldn’t overpower him, but her speed and skill made her a formidable opponent. It was nothing like his sessions with Thor, but Steve still enjoyed them. Natasha was quiet, and perceptive, aware of his preference to fight in silence and not asking him too many questions. When they hung out as a group, she was the first to pick up on his anxiety. She could divert Tony’s attention onto Clint with incredible ease, or change the subject of conversation to something Steve knew about.  

Within weeks, she had become a good friend. They all had. Thor had been right, and it was because of him that Steve had stayed here in the first place. Even off-world, Thor was still looking out for him.  

Natasha found him in the gym late that night, punching the hell out of a bag. She waited until it burst, walking with enough sound for his enhanced hearing to pick up on and touching his arm.  

“Nightmares?” she asked quietly.  

Steve didn’t answer, using his shirt to wipe sweat off his face and going to pick another bag off the floor. “How did you know I was here?”  

“JARVIS,” she replied calmly, folding her arms and leaning against a support pillar, watching him through the shadows. “And I had a feeling. You seemed off at dinner.”  

“I get them a lot,” Steve admitted tersely, instantly feeling bad for his tone.  

“And this... helps you sleep?”  

“Keeps me awake,” Steve replied, sinking into a stance and facing off the bag. He gripped his fists tightly and prepared to strike, but he couldn’t. Not with Natasha watching.  

“I don’t know you that well, Rogers, but I know that whatever happened after the portal opened changed you,” Natasha paced slowly over, her voice softer than usual. “I’m not sure how. But you look out the window a lot, for one.”  

Steve peered at her. “I...”  

“Thor will be back. Did he promise you?”  

“He did,” Steve replied, glad she couldn’t see the pink soaking into the tips of his ears. He wasn’t sure what there was to be embarrassed about....  

“Then he’ll be back,” she replied easily.  

Steve lowered his fists and straightened, sighing. He looked up at the punching bag hooked to the ceiling. “I hope so...”  

“Get some sleep, Rogers, you’re starting to look your age,” he caught the tail end of her smirk as she spun on her heel.  

“Natasha,” Steve took a step in her direction, and she paused, giving him a patient stare. “I... thanks.”  

“We’re getting used to having you around,” she smiled. “And you’re a good leader, Captain. This team really needs you.”  

--  

The Avengers slowly started to get into a rhythm, heading out on small jobs together. No-one had made it official, but Steve had become their leader. They asked his advice, turned to him for plans and strategies, and deferred to his judgment. No matter how apprehensive he was to leading a new team, it felt right.  

Things hadn’t gone well today. Steve’s new uniform was slashed across the chest, blood soaking into the darker blues and reds. It wasn’t enough to slow him down, but it was enough to hurt. These clawed creatures were vicious and fast, and had nearly ripped Clint in half.  

“You okay?” Steve hurried over and helped the archer to his feet.  

“I think so,” Clint eyed the Captain’s slashed chest. “Not sure I can say the same for you though...”  

“I’ll be fine,” Steve reassured, scanning the park. Iron Man flew overhead, blasting a cluster of creatures that were hiding behind a nearby bush.  

“You’re bleeding pretty bad,” Clint insisted, reaching for an arrow. He had none.  

“You guys need me,” Steve set his jaw. “I’ll be okay until this is over, Barton, promise. We can’t spare the backup.”  

Clint nodded, giving up. He walked over to the nearest creatures and reclaimed two arrows from their bodies.  

“We got another wave coming your way, Cap!” Tony announced over the comms.  

“Roger that,” Steve turned and spotted the small cluster of lizard-like creatures racing across the grass toward the park, leaping over benches and picnic tables. Natasha appeared to help, glancing at Steve’s shredded chest but making no comment.  

“You guys need me down there?” Bruce asked.  

“All good, Doctor-” Steve started, and Clint finished for him.  

“But we need you to get some supplies set up,” the archer cut him off, firing his remaining arrows at the cluster of aliens approaching. “Cap’s gonna need stitches.”  

It was Steve’s turn to give up on the argument. There was no time to keep it going anyway. Fight now, argue later. They worked well as a team, coordinating attacks and covering each other’s backs. It was over in an instant.  

Steve nudged a lizard body off the nearest park bench and sat down heavily, catching his breath.  

“Woah there big guy,” Clint walked over. “ Quinjet , now. Let’s go.”  

“I’m okay, I promise,” Steve urged, standing up and snapping his shield to his back. He didn’t quite get his legs under him as well as he’d hope, but Clint was fast, and had anticipated the falter. The archer tucked himself under Steve’s arm and started to tug him in the direction of the jet.  

“Yeah yeah, tough guy, you might be jacked on steroids, but you’re still human, last I checked. Get your ass on the jet,” Clint pressed his hand into the middle of the bloody mess, and Steve was acutely aware of how much larger he was than his friend. Clint was holding him up, though, and Natasha fell into step beside them, looping her arm through his.  

“You look like shit, Cap,” she smirked at him despite the concern in her eyes, but Iron Man dropped onto the grass in front of them before he could retort.  

The face plate lifted, and Tony walked along just ahead of the group. “I second that, Spangles. Good to know you bleed like the rest of us.”  

“Everybody else okay?” Steve looked around. As far as he could tell, it was just him who’d gotten hurt... He felt stupid for not dodging or blocking that slash, but at least everyone else was okay. This was his job as Captain, to make sure his team was okay.  

Clint stepped away to help Nat fly the jet, and Tony slipped out of his armor and took his place. Iron Man followed in sentry mode, quietly standing in the corner as the billionaire helped get Steve into the back where Bruce was waiting with a gurney and supplies.  

“On the table,” Tony ordered. “Strip off.”  

Steve was acutely aware of how dizzy he suddenly felt, glancing down at his chest. There was a lot of blood. He turned sharply in protest as Tony plucked the shield from his back and set it to the side. The billionaire just shoved him into the bed. Steve tumbled against it and managed to hop up and sit on the edge. Bruce pulled on some gloves while the Captain fumbled with the buckles of his uniform.  

Tony groaned and rolled his eyes, reaching in to help. “Give it a break, old man.” He managed the buckles much faster, and had the top of his uniform off in seconds. “Are you blushing, Spangles? I knew you were a prude, but this is just adorable. It’s for medical purposes, you know. You’re not my type.”  

Steve couldn’t help it. He sat there in silence, flushed and wincing as the jet started to take off. Bruce touched his shoulder.  

“Steve, I’m gonna stop the bleeding and stitch it up when we get back, okay?” the quiet doctor was asking permission. Steve nodded, and Bruce handed Tony a handful of gauze pads. The billionaire pressed them into place and held while Bruce found some bandage and Steve tried not to show how much it hurt.  

“Ease up,” Tony glanced up, keeping the pressure. “Hey, these things happen, right?”  

Steve bit his lip. Both scientists grabbed an arm and helped him lie down on his back. Bruce tugged a blanket up to his stomach and pulled out some IV supplies. Steve glanced at it. “You know I don’t need that...”  

“You lost a lot of blood,” Bruce replied calmly, taking Steve’s hand and setting the IV. “You could use some fluid.”  

Tony leaned against the gurney and opened his mouth, probably to make some snide comment, but he was cut off. The billionaire lifted a finger to his ear piece and frowned. “Let him in, J. Send him to medical. We’ll meet him there.”  

“What’s going on?” Steve asked in his best Captain’s voice.  

Tony grinned at him. “Visitor.”  

Steve started to ask, but the billionaire walked off to the cockpit, leaving the Captain alone with Bruce. He sighed, uncomfortable with the situation as a whole, and embarrassed.  

Bruce connected the IV line to a bag of saline, calm as ever. “How you doing down there?”  

“Had worse,” Steve sighed. “I don’t think this is worth all the fuss-”  

“We care about you,” Bruce interjected. “All of us. You might not want to admit it, but you’re our leader, and a team is supposed to take care of their leader.”  

“The serum will heal it.” The same excuse, again and again.  

“The serum isn’t infallible,” Bruce smiled sympathetically, scolding gently as he did so. “Neither are you. You didn’t let Clint get away with a sprained wrist two weeks ago, and you tricked Tony into getting his cracked rib looked at. How is this any different?”  

Steve didn’t want to say what was on his mind. He chuckled to himself as he thought about it, and Bruce frowned, confused. Steve explained. “I just don’t want to be a burden,” he started. “I said the same thing to Thor. He told me off for it... can’t help feeling that way though.”  

“It’s not a burden,” Bruce confirmed. “I knew what I signed up for when I decided to stay on the team, and in the tower. Seems you didn’t, though.”  

It was Steve’s turn to look confused.  

“We all take care of each other here,” Bruce elaborated. “You lead us into battle, keep us sane, give us focus. You’re a fun guy, too. I know it doesn’t always seem like it, but Tony likes you even if he’s a bit mean. Nat really enjoys training with you, and so does Clint. Yeah, we have a long ways to go, but we’re friends. That means we have to look out for each other.”  

Steve blinked up at the older man, and all he could think was, Thor was right. “Thanks, Bruce,” he whispered.  

“Any time, Steve,” the doctor smiled back.  

They landed a few minutes later, docking at the tower. The ramp lowered, and Steve insisted he could walk, that he didn’t need to be pushed along on the gurney. Tony shut that down immediately, threatening to clamp him to the bed with Iron Man’s gauntlets. When that didn’t work, Natasha swooped in.  

“Rogers, sit your ass down,” she spoke calmly, and he obeyed, lying flat with reluctant obedience.  

Bruce ran on ahead to get some things set up, and Tony pushed him along through deserted hallways, Clint at the other end to guide the front wheels.  

“You haven’t called SHIELD medical, have you...?” Steve asked, desperation crawling into his voice.  

“Nope,” Tony replied. “Just us. Didn’t think you’d want an audience.”  

“No...” Steve breathed with relief. He didn’t care if Bruce wasn’t technically a medical professional. He’d take a friend over a random doctor any day.  

“Anyway, we have a surprise for you,” Tony announced proudly.  

Wha -” Steve started to ask, but they were here, pushing through the recently-outfitted medical wing installed in a section of Bruce’s lab. The doctor was setting up a small table of supplies, Natasha and another man at his side.  

“Steven,” Thor turned to look at him, dressed in casual Earth clothes, his hair grown back out to its previous length, his expression concerned but joyful. He rushed over as Tony wheeled the gurney into its place and put on the break, leaving space for the demi-god to approach.  

“Thor...” Steve breathed, starting to sit. He couldn’t help himself. The others hung back as the Captain wrapped the demi-god in a tight hug. “Thor, you’re back.”  

“A few minutes too late, it would seem,” Thor smiled bashfully, pushed Steve into the bed. “I apologize. Had I not paused to speak with Volstagg about trivial things perhaps I would have arrived in time to help, and prevent this.”  

“I’m okay, really,” Steve assured, and Thor glanced to Bruce.  

The doctor didn’t confirm nor deny that, instead turning to Tony. “Would you put on some tea or something please?” he asked.  

“Tea for one, coffee for the rest of you!” Tony announced, spinning on his heel and leading the spies out with him. Not before Natasha could throw Steve a knowing smile.  

“Okay, this will hurt,” Bruce sighed, cutting off the bandages he’d just applied and dumping them in the garbage can. They were soaked through. “These will need a lot of stitches. You know, I’m not a professional, Steve...”  

“That’s okay,” Steve breathed, glancing up at Thor. He’d completely forgotten about his shredded chest for a few moments. Thor was back. He was back!  

“It seems you had quite the adventure in my absence,” Thor chuckled, picking up Steve’s IV-free hand and squeezing it in both of his. He looked odd in his red shirt and tan jacket, but in a good way. Still... prince-like.  

“Bad timing...” Steve shrugged, smiling weakly. “Things normally go better...” He gasped as Bruce pushed a fresh handful of gauze into his bleeding chest. Thor squeezed his hand more tightly, pressing one of his into the Captain’s forehead with familiar tenderness. Steve forgot all about Bruce as the demi-god rubbed his thumb between the Captain’s eyebrows.  

If Bruce thought anything of the gesture, he didn’t say or show it. He just kept pushing. “There’s a lot of blood, Steve, these are pretty deep.”  

“You do look quite pale,” Thor noted. “May I assist?”  

“If you can keep the pressure while I start to stitch some of these closed, that would be great,” Bruce nodded, and Thor let go of Steve to replace the doctor’s hands with his.  

“I regret missing the battle,” Thor kept the pressure, shifting his hands down a little so Bruce could start work on one of the thinner cuts. “Breathe, Steven, this will only take a moment.”  

Just like that, he was back in their room on Sakaar , Thor’s hands gently caring for his wound, applying medicines with steady fingers. Steve settled, dizzy and in pain, but happier than he could express. Thor was back.  

The bleeding slowed. Thor pulled back his hands and wiped away the blood without being asked as Bruce continued to stitch all the cuts closed. They continued their work in silence, Steve watching Thor’s calmly focused expression as he helped the doctor as if he had for a thousand years.  

“Sit up,” Bruce asked quietly, and Thor slid his hand under Steve’s shoulder, easing him sitting. The doctor wrapped up the cuts and reached for the empty saline bag. “I’ll go get you some clothes,” he offered, sliding out the IV and heading for the door.  

Silence fell over the room, and it was just the two of them.  

Steve broke the silence, swinging his legs around so he could sit. Thor took a seat at his side. “So... the bi-frost. It got fixed.”  

“Yes,” Thor nodded, looking over. “How have you been?”  

Actually really good,” Steve smiled. “You were right, about the team. I still missed you though.”  

“As did I,” Thor replied, placing his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “But now that the bi-frost is repaired, we will be able to see each other more often. Tony has offered me a place here. I think I might stay a while.”  

Steve’s eyebrows lifted. “Stay, really? What about Asgard ?”  

“They will do without me for a while,” Thor assured. “And if they need me, I will go. But I will always return.”  

Steve smiled, his heart warm and his eyes bright. “That’s... really good.”  

“Indeed,” Thor agreed, glancing at the door as Bruce entered with some clothes.  

“Tony’s got food on the way, if you guys want to join us,” Bruce offered, awkwardly pausing in the doorway. Steve nodded, and Thor murmured his agreement, so the doctor made his exit and left the two of them alone.  

Steve picked up the shirt and pulled it on, changing out of his uniform pants and boots while Thor politely walked to the other side of the bed. He pulled on some jeans and slid into the shoes Bruce had brought for him. The prince walked back around and wordlessly slung Steve’s arm across his shoulders, leading him to the door.  

He couldn’t have been happier, and it couldn’t have been more obvious. Steve forgot his wound in an instant, sliding up to the table with Thor beside him. Clint slid over open pizza boxes, and Tony plopped a case of beer on the counter. Quietly, Thor nudged Steve’s arm and pulled a small metal flask from his pocket.  

They ate and drank for hours, Steve consuming just enough of Thor’s Asgardian liquor to feel a buzz. The other passed it off as blood loss, and didn’t ask any questions.  

The night was relaxing, and enjoyable, but as time went on it became clear that Thor had something on his mind. He sat on the couch beside Steve as they watched a movie of Clint’s choice, his arm snaking around Steve’s shoulders and his eyes locked into the middle distance while everyone was focused on the screen.  

Everyone but Natasha. She noticed and silently made her way over, tapping Steve on the shoulder. He peered up at her and opened his mouth, but she shook her head and pressed a finger to his lips. Then, she pointed over her shoulder at the night sky twinkling with stars, and gave him a shove.  

“Go,” she mouthed, and Steve blushed in the darkness, nodding. He looked over at Thor and grabbed the demi-god by the wrist, leading him away from the others.  

They slipped outside, and Thor held out his hand for Mjolnir. Steve latched onto the demi-god, his heart racing with powerful excitement and a thousand unspoken words. They leapt off the balcony, and Mjolnir carried them all the way to the top of the building. Thor landed them on the gravel where Loki’s portal had previously been installed, setting down his hammer and wrapping Steve in a hug. They hung there under the stars in a tight embrace, silently enjoying this moment alone.  

“It has been too long,” Thor admitted. “I missed your company.”  

Steve smiled. “Me too.”  

“I am glad you are well,” Thor beamed, pulling back and clutching Steve by the arms with his usual strength. Steve’s heart swelled in a way he hadn’t truly noticed until he’d been apart from the prince.  

“How’d everything go?” Steve asked.  

“As well as one could expect,” Thor smiled sadly, rubbing Steve’s arms for his own comfort. “Loki will be kept in his cell indefinitely.”  

Steve nodded sympathetically, and together they wandered to the edge of the roof, leaning on the wall and peering down at the city. It was a very different view than the one on Asgard’s balcony, but the company was all Steve cared about. The Captain looked over at his friend.  

“Um... about resuming...” he started, unsure exactly how to phrase what he wanted to say. Thor shook his head and moved in, turning Steve by the shoulders to face him. He seemed hesitant, leaning forward.  

The prince was taking too long. Steve grabbed his shirt and close the gap, responding to honed instincts without thinking and pressing their lips together. They held in place, before Thor opened his mouth a little to deepen the kiss, recovering from the mild shock and snaking a hand behind the Captain’s head. The prince’s beard tickled his chin as they clutched each other under a dim moon, strong hands holding him close.  

This is nothing like Peggy, was all he could think as feeling took over everything.  

Steve pulled away for a moment to catch his breath, grinning like a child and probably redder than a raspberry. He licked his lips, resting his hands on Thor’s firm chest. The Asgardian peered down at him, a little pink himself. Steve could just make out flushed cheeks with his enhanced eyesight, and it made his heart melt in his chest, warmth spreading all through his body.  

“I did not mean to hesitate,” Thor murmured. “I apologize-”  

“You just took me by surprise, that’s all,” Steve chuckled back. “I didn’t know you were, well... Or me, I didn’t think-”  

Thor cut him off, saving him the trouble of having to complete the idea and kissing his lips again. Steve turned them away from the balcony and fell onto his back, Thor toppling on top of him but still managing to scoop a hand under his head to protect it from the gravel. They sprawled on the ground, forgetting all forms of reason and logic for just pure sensation.  

When they returned, a little disheveled, Natasha gave Steve a knowing smile. The pair settled back on the sofa in silence to continue the movie.  

Bye-bye Brooklyn, Steve thought, settling into his seat. Maybe that was okay, to say goodbye. He had a family right here, and even if they were still figuring out the dynamic of their team, learning things about each other at a slow pace, it worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. Loki attacking New York had possibly been the best thing to happen this year, because without that, he’d have never formed this team. He wouldn’t have met Thor, wouldn’t have been swept away to another world and reminded what it felt like to be loved, and to love. He’d have kept on living alone in his apartment, trying to hang on to every scrap of the past he had for fear of losing the memory of everything he cared about, even if those things were all long-gone.  

The group split off at the end of the film, bidding each other good night. Tony apologized that he didn’t have a floor ready for Thor, but the demi-god politely explained that was alright, and he didn’t at all mind. He gratefully accepted the guest room offered to him, but quickly changed directions the instant Tony left. He and Steve were always going to end up in the same bed anyway... The pair were cuddled up together under the blankets in no time at all, Steve in a pair of sweats, and Thor in some borrowed PJ pants. There would be no nightmares tonight.  

--  

The Avengers continued to live and work together. It was a good system. Tony had a floor set aside for Thor in no time.  

The Asgardian and Captain were always in the gym, or outside running early in the morning, or swimming in the pool on Tony’s floor. Tony didn’t understand why Steve loved to get thrown around so much. He was always sparring with Thor, and generally losing. The demi-god could run circles around him, would pick him up and hurl him to the other side of the pool like a soccer ball, cackling and plunging into the water to close the distance while Steve spluttered and grinned and wrestled away from the demi-god.  

Movie nights became a thing. Clint picked, choosing films he thought Steve would both enjoy and learn something from. Thor, too. Steadily, the pair began to understand a few of the references tossed around during casual conversation.  

Steve insisted they train together, all of them, and as their Captain they respected his advice. They paired off, learning from each other. When the next battle came around, JARVIS informed Tony that the team was working at a higher efficiency, but he didn’t need a computer to tell him that. It was immediately apparent.  

Thor and Steve seemed pretty in-tune with each other anyway, and often paired up to fight whatever threat was knocking at their door next. They worked incredibly well together, aside from the fact that Steve was the only one who could physically compete with the Asgardian.  

Eventually, the story got out. Thor started it, much more the presenter than Steve and happily relaying a slightly dramatized version of the best parts of their little holiday on Sakaar . It made sense to Tony now why the two of them fought so well together. Their lives had literally depended on it.  

There were a few details left out, though. Tony could tell. It didn’t surprise him. Of course the golden duo would keep a few things to themselves. That didn’t stop Tony from teasing about it. Steve was just too easy to rile up, even if he was starting to become a good friend.  

One thing that didn’t seem ready to change any time soon was Steve’s stubborn tendency to shrug off any injury he might acquire in battle. Fortunately, Steve was an incredible fighter, but he made mistakes, and had a reckless streak a mile wide. If anyone was in danger, he would throw himself into the line of fire without hesitation. ‘I’m fine’ was all too common a phrase, one which the others struggled to dig past for an honest answer.  

Apart from Thor. He seemed to have his finger on the pulse during those situations, calmly chastising Steve for whatever he’d done and making sure he got the treatment he needed for his injuries, no matter how small. Tony had been alerted several times by JARVIS that his friend was hiding something his scanners had picked up upon return. He’d head down to medical to find Bruce there waiting, and a few minutes later Thor would appear with Steve reluctantly in tow.  

Steve took good care of the team, and it was relieving to know someone was taking good care of him. Tony didn’t know what kind of magic touch Thor had, but it worked every time. Steadily, the demi-god took care of more and more situations on his own as Bruce showed him where everything was and how to use what he needed. Steve rarely needed anything other than stitches, which didn’t have to be in more than a day or two before they fell out. The Captain didn’t scar, and didn’t catch infections, so Bruce was happy to leave the demi-god alone to sort out anything Steve brought home. Thor was meticulous and gentle anyway.  

Tony had some suspicions, but those were confirmed when he wandered down to medical with some drinks. Steve had had his side ripped open pretty badly, enough to warrant Bruce staying to help Thor for a few minutes. For all the harassment he gave the soldier, Tony still cared about him. He padded up to the door and peered inside.  

Oh yeah, they’re fine, Tony darted back round the corner and stared at the wall. That explains a lot.  

Steve, looking pretty lively for a guy currently getting a pint of blood through IV, was on his back, Thor practically lying on top of him, faces buried in each other. Tony pulled himself together in the hallways and walked a few steps back, then stomped as loudly as he could to the door.  

By the time he got there, Thor was standing by the bed smoothing out his shirt, and Steve was pushing his thumbs together. They were both a little out of breath.  

Lookin ’ pretty rough there Spangles,” Tony strode in, quick to revert to harassment and handing over a cup of orange juice. “Gotta get some vitamins in you, doc’s orders. Coffee for you, Sparky.” He handed Thor a cup of black coffee.  

“Thank you, my friend,” Thor cheerfully sipped the beverage.  

“Rest up, pal. Clint’s picking a movie tonight.” Tony patted Steve’s shoulder. “Another incident like this and I’m making you an Iron Man suit. No arguing. Or a bigger shield.”  

Steve smiled bashfully, but didn’t say anything.  

Tony patted him again and pointed at Thor as he lifted his eyebrows at his benched friend. “Stick with him, he’s good for your health.”  

Steve blushed, but to his credit managed a reply. “Doc’s orders?”  

“Nope, mine,” Tony replied, heading for the door. “You keep ruining those suits I make you and I’ll start charging you rent.” He shut the door before the Captain could reply, grinning to himself as he strode away. It would be hard to keep this to himself, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have some fun with it.  

Hah, I knew it. I’m a genius.  

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