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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Avengers fic: With Your Shield (2/3)

December 24th, 2014 (06:17 am)

feeling: morose

Part One
Part Two
Part Three


Dinner is nice.

That’s at least the only way Steve knows how to put it, even if it isn’t the most precise descriptive term. The food is good, and the conversation is better. It’s not without its lapses. Steve and Sif are relative strangers from very different cultural backgrounds. He’s a super soldier who slept through the better part of a century. She’s lived from thousands of years and has fought battles Steve can’t even imagine.

Yet, they strangely have a lot in common. They both fight for a greater good. They both know what it is to win the battle and still lose everything that matters.

And she’s smart and funny and engaging.

Since the last woman he asked out was actually an undercover operative keeping an eye on him, it’s sort of refreshing. The fact that she’s from a distant culture that literally thinks of him as a goat, he has to think her growing interest is genuine.

“I do appreciate the meal,” Sif says. “I was more hungry than I thought.”

Steve shrugs. “It’s easy to neglect the little things,” he says.

“But simple pleasures are often the most gratifying,” she says.

“Now you’re getting it,” he says, pushing back from the table and picking up his plate. “I’ll just need a bit to do the dishes, and then I’ll run another perimeter sweep. You going to have another remote session with SHIELD?”

He’s already putting his plate in the sink, turning back to collect hers when he realizes she’s right behind him.

“Oh,” he says. He reaches for the plate. “I’ll get that.”

She doesn’t relinquish the plate. “This cleaning,” she says. “There is no one else to do it for us?”

“Last I checked, we’re the only ones here,” Steve points out. “We could leave it for Tony, I guess, but it seems rude--”

“Very well,” she says, matter of fact. She pushes by him and sets her own plate in the sink. “Then I will help you.”

“Oh,” Steve says, even more surprised. “That’s not necessary--”

“You prepared the meal,” Sif says, turning back toward him. “It seems only fair that I help in this manner.”

“But you have SHIELD--”

Sif’s mouth turns up in a small smile. “If living for centuries has taught me anything, it is this,” she says. “A few more minutes never hurts.”

Steve finds the humor refreshing. “Okay, then,” he says. “You get the dishes. I’ll run the water.”

She nods her head, apparently satisfied. He watches her for a moment while she goes back to the table, dutifully collecting the plates. She’s probably never washed a dish, at least not this primitively, a day in her life. It’s a strange land with strange customs, and the only thing they have in common is an enemy and a shield.

He turns back toward the sink, starting the water.

It’s not much, he knows. But somehow it seems like more than enough.


There aren’t a lot of dishes with one meal between two people, but Steve takes his time with it. He’s always been taught to do things thoroughly, and the truth is, this part doesn’t feel like a chore.

“So if you don’t do dishes back on Asgard, what do you do?” he asks.

“I come from a noble family,” Sif explains, methodically drying a plate with a dated hand towel. “We have hired individuals--”

“No, I don’t mean the dishes,” Steve says with a laugh. “I mean, for fun. If you weren’t sitting around on Earth, swapping intergalactic secrets, what would you be doing?”

This question seems surprising to her, and she regards Steve with a bemused expression. “I spend a great deal of time on my training.”

“Oh, come on,” Steve says. “There’s got to be more than work.”

“Being a warrior is not merely a job, as you think of it here,” she says, lying a polished plate on the counter. “It is an all encompassing lifestyle.”

“Sure,” Steve says, scrubbing at a spot of food stuck on a pan. “But you can’t do it all day. Especially for you. You can’t tell me that you’ve been alive hundreds of years and don’t have any hobbies.”

It’s a valid point, and Steve knows this by the look on her face. She picks up a cup and starts to dry it as well. “I’m afraid many of the games would not translate well to your culture,” she says.

“So you’re competitive,” Steve assumes.

Her keen look is answer enough. “Winning is strongly valued in my culture.”

Steve grins. “Somehow I think you’re probably pretty good at it.”

She does her best not to look smug, but she’s only partially successful. “I did not rise to train with the prince of Asgard for being mediocre.”

Steve rinses the pan off, putting it on the drying rack. “That certainly doesn’t surprise me,” he says, picking up a handful of cutlery. “But you really didn’t have any other hobbies?”

Sif shrugs. “Such as?”

“I don’t know,” Steve says. “Singing, drawing, cooking, movies--”

She gives him a banal look.

“None of them?”

She shrugs again. “What about you? What do you do when you are not protecting important assets from dangerous enemies?”

Steve runs water over the aged silverware. “I have to admit, I don’t do as much as I used to.”

Sif looks expectant.

“My social life took a bit of a hit,” he says, looking at the sudsy water. “I’ve had to do some...adjusting.”

“You suffered for your cause,” she says knowingly. “You were frozen in the ice, correct?”

He’s more than a little surprised. Not that his backstory is actually secret to anyone, but he’s never expected an alien with far better things to do to brush up on him.

Sif seems to realize she’s said more than she intended. “Thor has spoken of his comrades on this planet,” she explains. “He regards you highly, as a warrior and as a friend.”

It’s a little flattering and a little strange. He doesn’t think about himself like that, how he must seem to others. It’s hard enough being part of the world as it is without considering what the world thinks of him. That’s never mattered to him anyway.

“It was a sacrifice that someone had to make,” Steve says, rubbing at a bit of food on the tip of a fork. “Sometimes, someone has to take the fall.”

“That sounds familiar,” Sif muses, and it’s clear she’s remembering something else entirely. Before Steve can ask her what, she picks up a plate. “It is difficult, I imagine.”

“Hm?” Steve asks.

“Time on your planet changes dramatically,” she says. “I imagine the transition has been somewhat difficult.”

Difficult is one way to describe it. Surreal, tiring, heartbreaking -- those all work, too. The hardest part is that Steve won the battle, and he knows he should be happy about that victory.

But the personal loss.

Well, he’s still struggling to come to terms with that.

That’s not the conversation he wants to have, though. He shrugs affectingly. “We all have if difficult,” he says instead.

She eyes him carefully, as if testing his guises and gauging them accordingly. “Do you miss it?” she asks finally.

Her candor is striking, and Steve realizes that though his defenses are still up, hers are dipping precariously. This is a conscious choice she is making, however, and Steve stops what he is doing to contend with that. “There are still things I know, familiar things,” he says. “And for all that’s changed, there’s still so much that’s still the same. The same conflicts, anyway. The same battles that need to be fought.”

“Conflict is a constant in every realm,” Sif agrees. “But that’s not what I am asking.”

He smiles ruefully, putting his hands back in the suds to find something else to wash. “I know,” he admits.

“So?” she prods.

“Yeah,” he says, picking up a glass and swirling water inside of it. He uses the washcloth to clean the rim. “I was ready to die. I was ready to throw myself down, one last time. I was okay with never waking up. But then, I did. And everything I thought I wanted was already done. The world went on without me. My story was told; it was finished, but here I am. I’m still here, and I’m not sure what to do with that sometimes.”

Sif is watching him now, a fork still in her hand dripping water. “It is as if the things you knew are all still here, but they’re different,” she continues. “Irrevocably changed.”

“So familiar that you want to just pretend like everything is fine,” Steve continues.

“But different enough to make it impossible,” Sif concludes. She finally looks away with a small, rueful smile of her own. “I know something of that.”

He rinses the glass. “You do?”

She nods absently. “The Aesir live for hundreds, thousands of years,” she explains. “Though we do not embrace rapid change, we still see seasons in life. And the things we lose are lost far longer. The realms advance; progress propels us forward. But loss--”

“Is constant,” Steve says. He takes a breath. “I never thought about it like that. The dark side of immortality.”

“We are not immortal,” Sif reminds him.

“Which just makes it even harder,” Steve says. He shakes his head. “Thor doesn’t talk about it like that.”

“I imagine Thor does not speak of it at all,” Sif agrees.

He hears it again, that hint of something more. He doesn’t doubt that Sif is here on official business, but he also doesn’t doubt that she made a choice to come here. A choice that very much involved Thor.

If Steve were being polite, he’d leave it at that. It’s not his place to ask; it’s not his place to pry. This is a mission; this is friendly conversation to pass the time.

But time is something Steve’s had too much of these days. He thinks if he lives another shortchanged moment, it very well could drive him crazy.

“What is your relationship with Thor anyway?” he asks.

Her posture shifts, and though she tries not to show it, the question is not the one she’d been expecting. “He’s a friend, as I have told you.”

“I know,” Steve says. “But when you talk about him--”

She shakes her head, brusque now. “It is none of your concern.”

Steve holds up his hands, backpedaling as best he can. “I’m just making conversation.”

She takes a breath and seems to regain more of her composure. “I know,” she says. “And it is not a question without merit. Thor and I have a long history together.”

“He’s spoken of you,” Steve says. “A lot, actually.”

“We grew up with many of the same tutors,” she says, picking up another dish to dry. “And we were in the same training classes.”

“So friends,” Steve says, letting the supposition stand for what it is.

“Friends,” she says, somewhat distantly now. “It’s impossible not to like Thor.”

“That much hasn’t gotten lost in translation,” Steve assures her. “It amazes me how a guy can literally come from an outer planet and fit in instantly.”

“On Asgard, the people would have loved him no matter what. He was our prince, after all,” she says. She laughs. “But Thor was more than that. He was gold like the suns, and people followed him anywhere because he made you want to believe.”

“Natural born leader,” Steve agrees.

“And he is more than that,” Sif says. “He believed in me, even when very few did.”

“He’s a good man,” Steve says.

Sif looks at the plate in her hand, motions coming almost to a standstill. “He is the best man I know,” she says. Then she looks at him, almost with a furtive glance. “Or one of the best.”

At this point, Steve’s not sure what to pursue further: her feelings about Thor or the implicit compliment he wants to believe she just gave him.

Ultimately, he decides to pursue neither because he’s already pushed this topic further than he should. He has no right; he has no place; and at this point, he’s a little uncertain what he’s expecting to gain from this.

And he’s afraid -- he actually is afraid -- that if he asks another question, he may get an answer he doesn’t like, and this feels too good to take that risk. Yes, Captain America will charge into any battlefield with nothing but his shield and principles.

But Steve Rogers?

He’s going to think twice before stepping into a minefield he hasn’t even defined for himself yet.

Instead, he tries a deft transition. “So,” he says, wiping his hands on his shirt. “How about dessert?”

She polishes one last dish and sets it down in the stack. “Do you have anything for dessert?” she asks knowingly.

Steve reddens. “Well,” he says. “No. As a matter of fact we don’t. SHIELD gave us the essentials, but apparently they don’t think we need a sugar high on the job.”

“It is just as well,” Sif says, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I have much to do tomorrow. WE should both get some rest.”

“Oh, yeah,” Steve says, reaching down to pull the drain in the sink. “I’ll just finish up here and make sure things are secure--”

“If you need me to take a turn at watch--”

“Nah,” Steve says, waving his hand dismissively. “You came here to tell secrets. I came here to make sure you had a safe space to do so.”

“I certainly wouldn’t question your ability to do the job,” Sif says.

“They don’t call us Earth’s mightiest heroes for nothing,” he quips, hoping that the absolute awkwardness of his conversational skills is not something she picks up on the cultural divide.

Her brows knit together curiously, but she keeps smiling. “Very well, then,” she says, offering a perfunctory nod. “Good night.”

He nods back. “Good night.”

It’s only after she’s gone and Steve hears the bedroom door close that he slaps his palm to his face.

“Earth’s mightiest heroes?” he asks himself. “That line wouldn’t have even worked back when I was a kid.”

A bad line is a bad line.

No matter what decade you live in.

Rinsing the rest of the suds from the sink, he takes solace in knowing that at least some things were constant in his life, even if not for the better.


When he finishes in the kitchen, he checks the rest of the house. There is no sign of movement on the property, and all the checkpoints seem secure. When that’s done, he calls Tony for his official check in.

“Hey, how do you like the place?” Tony asks.

Steve sighs. “That’s not why I called.”

“Sure, I know, all is well, blah, blah, blah,” Tony says. “But how do you like the place?”

Steve furrows his brow. “It’s...fine.”

“I haven’t been there myself in upwards of twenty years,” Tony admits. “Thought about selling it more than once, but then mostly I didn’t think of it at all.”

“Well, it’s functional,” Steve says. “Lots of stuff that belonged to your dad--”

“And that’s why I don’t think about it all that often,” Tony says.

“But there could be historical relevance--”

“Yeah, history?” Tony asks. “Is in the past.”

“You could learn from the past,” Steve suggests.

“Is that a subtle way of telling me to listen to you more often?”

Steve rolls his eyes. “Just make sure Coulson knows that everything is fine.”

“Right,” Tony says. “Fine and dandy on the homefront. How is Sif by the way?”

“Sif?” Steve asks, trying to make it sound like he hasn’t been thinking about her this entire time. “I think she got a lot done--”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Tony says.

“Well, then, I’m not sure--”

“Um, super hot alien super soldier shows up,” Tony says. “You can’t say you haven’t noticed.”

“I’m on a mission, Stark,” Steve says indignantly.

“And isn’t that how you met the famed Agent Carter?” Tony asks. “Come on, Cap. Powerful women, it’s your thing.”

Steve’s cheeks flush. “I don’t think--”

“Hey, I’m not knocking it,” Tony says. “Apparently, it’s my thing, too.”

“This is entirely inappropriate--”

“Okay, okay,” Tony says. “Don’t get your Spandex in a twist. I’m just saying that if everything is well, then it’s okay to let everything be well. Besides, I think she likes you--”

“Goodbye, Tony,” Steve says.

“Wait, wait--”

Steve hangs up with no further ado.

He glares at the phone for good measure.

Tony’s an idiot, after all.

He just happens to be one of the smartest idiots Steve has ever met.

It’s impossible to say, then, if Steve wants him to be wrong or right in this situation.

Then again, Steve can just add that to the growing list of impossible things that seem to define him.

Because no matter what he accomplishes, no matter what battles he wins, sometimes he’s still a scrawny kid from Brooklyn, swinging his fists and hoping to make contact with something.

Anything, really.

After all these years, Steve’s not very picky.


Steve sleeps in intervals, stealing naps every now and then. Strictly speaking, no one said there had to be 24 hour alertness. That is part of the reason the house had been prepped prior to their arrival. The entire point of electronic checkpoints is to make it easier on the people inside.

And Steve’s been around SHIELD long enough to trust that they know what they’re doing. He’s been around Tony enough to know that he doesn’t go halfway with things like this.

Then again, he’s been around SHIELD and Tony a lot.

The best laid plans are usually the ones that go the absolute worst.

Even so, it’s just Steve and an alien warrior. He’s going to have to sleep sometime.

It’s not easy, of course. He’s on duty, and Steve’s had a hard time letting his guard down. Ever since waking up after decades, sleep has seem pretty overrated to him.

Overrated but still essential.

Like a lot of things, Steve can’t really fight it.

He dozes off on a chair by the back door, one of Howard Stark’s books open on his lap. For once, though, he doesn’t dream of ice.

This time, he dreams of fire.

And a shield at the center, forged brighter than all the rest.

It shimmers in the glow, the sleek facade glistening in the amber light. It pops and it sizzles, and Steve frowns as he smells something...cooking.

Then, he opens his eyes.

Blinking a few times, he’s still in the chair. The book has half-slipped from his hands and he puts a bookmark in and puts it aside. Something is different, though, and he’s on his feet, shield already in hand as he enters the kitchen.

And finds Sif over the stove.


He stares at her for a moment.

Without turning, she stirs the food in the skillet. “Is it customary to eat with your weapons on this planet?” she asks.

He blinks a few times more. Sheepishly, he looks at his shield. “It’s not a weapon.”

She darts a look over her shoulder. “In your hands, I would argue otherwise.”

Letting out a breath, his heart rate is returning to normal now that it’s clear there is no imminent risk. “I didn’t realize you knew how to use this equipment,” he comments, putting the shield to the side, propped up against the wall.

Sif half scoffs. “The technology is quaint,” she says. “But as I have told you, I can still remember how it works.”

He moves closer, stealing a glance in the skillet. There’s chicken in there, which isn’t really a surprise. She’s also included some eggs and vegetables in a combination that looks oddly human. “I’m surprised you know any human recipes.”

“There are only a few ingredients in the cupboard,” she says. “It’s not as if we have many options.”

Steve has to concede that point. He goes over to the coffee maker, which has clearly been added for their purposes, starts to fill it. “Let me guess, the menu here is quaint, too.”

She smiles at that, still stirring her mixture studiously. “After living hundreds of years, I think I know how to improvise in an antiquated kitchen.”

“We are a pair,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s all too slow for you, but just a little too fast for me.”

“Yet, here we are,” Sif says, reaching for a plate and putting a large serving on it. She turns and hands it to him. “Both surviving just fine.”

He accepts the plate graciously. “No arguments on that one,” he says, gesturing to the table. “Shall we?”

She puts a helping on her own plate. “Very well,” she says, sounding more cordial than last night. She offers him a winning smile. “I see no reason why not.”


The food is good.

Steve’s never been particularly picky when it comes to food. Growing up during the Depression, it hadn’t really been his place to be picky. A meal was a meal, and a hot meal was even better. Steve’s come a long way since then, but his appreciation for the simple necessities hasn’t changed.

Especially not with his present company.

Sif is dressed in civilian clothes again, and although she looks more feminine without her armor, her sense of presence is more pronounced than ever. It’s always been striking to him, how easy it is for people to dismiss others because they are smaller or slighter. As if the only way to win a battle is with sheer force.

It’s more than that. It’s cunning and it’s commitment.

And he sort of suspects that Sif could put any one of Earth’s Mightiest on their backsides whenever she wanted to.

“This is good,” Steve says, swallowing a large mouthful. “Really.”

Sif looks somewhat bemused. “You have said that,” she said. “A number of times.”

“Well,” Steve says, getting another pile on his fork. “It’s true.”

“It is adequate,” she says. “Given our lack of provisions, it should keep us satiated until our next meal.”

Steve does his best not to grin at how much he is looking forward to that. This is a job, after all. And he’s acting like some infatuated schoolboy.

Which is even more ridiculous because he never was an infatuated schoolboy.

Still, isn’t not wrong, he tells himself. It’s okay to like your job. It’s okay to enjoy the people you work with. It’s Natasha who is always reminding him to take a little time for himself. She’s the one who thinks he needs to start dating, and she’s the one who has tried to hook him up with the better part of SHIELD. He would have thought SHIELD’s downfall after the Winter Soldier would have stymied her efforts, but she is persistent.

And Steve’s not been interested, not really. The girls are all nice, and they’re smart, and they’re pretty, but none of them have been Peggy.

Sif isn’t Peggy, that much is certain.

But she’s sort of in a different class.


There’s no point in comparing Peggy Carter with Sif.

He can appreciate both.

Besides, he’s just making conversation.

That’s all.

Sif frowns at him. “What are you thinking about so seriously?”

Steve startles. “What?”

“You appear lost in thought,” Sif comments. “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, yeah,” Steve says. “I was just thinking a little.”

“About what?” Sif asks.

Steve shrugs. “This mission,” he says. “How it’s nothing like any mission I’ve done before. And yet how it’s exactly like all the other missions.”

Sif chews thoughtfully. “I find that is the case when your life is service,” she says. “The parameters of a given task may change, but the ultimate goal is always binding.”

Steve nods. “That’s it exactly,” he says. He gathers another forkful of food. “And I’ve been in a lot of battles.”

“You are too young to make such a statement,” Sif says.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Steve says. “I may surprise you.”

Sif narrows her eyes. “On this, I am not sure it is possible.”

“Try me,” Steve says, taking it as a challenge. He sits back a little.

Sif raises her eyebrows. “You wish to exchange war stories?”

“Why not?”

“I find it hard to believe you take pride in your conflicts,” Sif comments.

“Because I’m too young?” Steve asks.

“Because you are too good,” Sif replies. “You come from a culture that celebrates violence, but you are too principled for that.”

“Principled, yes,” Steve agrees. “But I’m not naive. I don’t need centuries of war to tell me that.”

Sif regards him again, more carefully. “Very well, Steve Rogers,” she says. “Tell me of your battles.”

“And?” Steve prompts.

She smiles slyly. “And then I will share mine.”

This time, Steve does grin. “Done,” he says. “But I’ll warn you. My story is pretty good.”

Smirking, she shakes her head. “We will see.”


It’s funny, to talk like this. For all the time Steve’s spent with the Avengers and SHIELD, he’s never had a best friend. He trusts Natasha with his life, and he enjoys hanging out with Sam, but none of them have ever been Bucky.

None of them have been Peggy.

To most of the people here, he’s Captain America, which is well and good.

But for the first time in a long time, he feels like Steve Rogers.

It’s easy with Sif, to let the years melt away. She’s the kind of person who can talk about a decade like the blink of an eye, so they have that common ground.

She’s a good listener, too. She’s not looking for a hero; she’s just there to hear him out. She listens attentively when he tells her about the scrawny kid he used to be. She expresses wonder at his transformation, and she seems compelled by his rise, not to power but to usefulness.

When he finally tells her about Bucky, she grows solemn.

“You blame yourself,” she says.

“I know it’s probably silly,” Steve says. “But Bucky was always there for me. I was supposed to save him, just like he’d saved me so many times.”

“He did not die, though?” she inquires.

Steve’s gut twists. “He’d probably been better off,” he admits. “I still don’t know everything that happened to him, but he’s suffered. They turned him into someone he’s not. It’s like, Bucky fell off that train and he’s still falling. And no matter what I do, I can’t catch him.”

Sif watches him, earnest now. “This is another feeling I know.”

He gives a small laugh. “You’ve grieved for a friend just to find out that it’s much, much worse than you could possibly imagine?”

Her lips twists up sorrowfully. “Better than you think,” she says. “I assume you’ve met Loki.”

Steve balks. “Loki?”

“I imagine he must be a villain to you people, and indeed, he has faced his punishments on Asgard,” Sif says. “But he was also a prince of Asgard. There was a time I called him my friend.”

Steve shakes his head. “I know Thor still speaks of him--”

“And he always will,” Sif says. “We all look back and wonder about the time Loki fell.”

“And wish you could have done more,” Steve surmises.

“Only to realize there is nothing we could have done,” Sif concludes.

He chews his lip, ignoring the swell of emotion. Instead, he chuckles. “Anyway,” he says. “I could tell you about the Battle of New York, but somehow I think you’re up on those stories.”

“Earth’s conflicts are gaining quite a bit of attention throughout the realms,” Sif agrees.

“Which means,” Steve says, sitting up more now. “It’s your turn.”

Sif scoots her chair back, shaking her head. “I am afraid not.”

“But you promised,” Steve objects.

“I am not here to tell stories,” Sif reminds him. “We have a task to complete.”

“But I told you everything,” Steve persists.

She’s on her feet now, smiling at him. “Steve--”

He doesn’t back down. “Sif--”

Her smile widens, just slightly. “Fear not,” she says. “For we will certainly need a topic of conversation at lunch.”

With that, she retreats to the other room, and Steve watches her go, his grin spreading across his face a little more.

“Something to look forward to,” he calls after her.

She glances back at him with bright eyes. “Something to look forward to,” she agrees.


Steve tries to keep himself busy.

It’s not like he doesn’t have plenty to do. Security is actually an issue on this type of mission. It’s actually the only issue, as far as he’s concerned, so while checking the perimeter isn’t particularly exciting, it’s not without its merits.

And Steve is nothing if not dutiful.

That still only takes him about five minutes every half hour.

Once, out of desperation, he goes for a walk in the wooded lot, but he finds it just as empty as everything else. He watches the road, but there’s minimal traffic, and none of the cars seem to slow down at all as they drive by.

It’s just life as normal in upstate New York.

With a super soldier and alien warrior, holed up, trying to save the world.

Though, it’s not like he has nothing else to do. Tony may not have any interest in his father’s old house, but Steve does. He finds more books in the attic, and some sketches and other paperwork are up there as well. There are things he recognizes; these are things he knows.

Normally, he’d be enthralled.

But despite the nostalgia, despite the duty, he finds himself standing on the bottom step, holding his breath as he balances just so, listening as Sif explains the nature of the threat and how to detect the messages being transmitted from Hydra.

It’s important stuff, too.

But all he can do is smile at the sound of her voice.

And cling to the seconds as they tick by.


He starts making lunch early, getting somewhat excited about the prospect. Their selection of food is still a little lacking, but honestly, he’s pretty sure neither of them care about the menu.

Still, he puts all he has into it, and he sets the table with a flourish, adding a small flower from backyard, where daisies are growing wild. He puts it in a dusty vase from the pantry and smiles to himself.

When Sif comes in, she looks both bemused and surprised. “Decor now?” she asks, nodding to the flower.

“Let me guess,” Steve says. “It’s a little subdued compared to Asgard.”

She scoots her chair out with a knowing grin. “At the palace, there are trained florists who dedicate their entire lives to adorning the grand hall,” she says. “It is rumored that entire gardens are cultivated for a feast.”

“Ah,” Steve says, seating himself in a chair across from her. “I imagine this is a little lacking then.”

“Hardly,” Sif says, picking up her fork and sitting erect. “My time on Earth is teaching me that bigger is not always better.”

“That’s not a common sentiment around here,” Steve admits.

Sif shrugs. “Perhaps if you saw the wealth of other realms, you would reconsider.”

“Is that an invitation?” Steve asks coyly.

“More like a lesson,” Sif tells him. “Humility is something humans could use more of.”

“Somehow I doubt Asgardians are the ones to teach us,” Steve returns.

She nods her head in agreement. “Fairly stated,” she agrees, cutting a piece of her meat.

“So,” Steve says, swallowing a bite of his own. “I’ve been waiting all morning.”

“For?” Sif asks.

“Your stories!” Steve says. “You did promise.”

“I am not sure we have enough time,” Sif says.

Steve just rolls his eyes. “Because your exploits are great and many.”

“You have little concept--”

“So tell me,” Steve says, leaning forward eagerly. “If not everything, then something.”

She watches him, chewing her food carefully. When she swallows, she takes a drink. Putting her glass down, she nods. “Very well,” she says. “Something it is.”


Something takes them the better part of an hour. Sif talks of her early days, training alongside the men. She tells Steve of the ridicule she endured and the obstacles she faced. She talks of her mother’s disappointment, and her father’s blessing, and she speaks of kneeling before Odin to become the first woman initiated into his army.

She talks of great wars, shrugging them off like skirmishes. She talks of great armies and powerful weapons like they are training exercises. She tells him of exploits with Thor and the Warriors Three, throughout all the realms for glory, honor and mischief.

When she speaks of Jotunheim, she grows somber.

“I knew it was a bad idea,” Sif admits. “I even knew that Loki was baiting Thor, as only he could.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“There would be no stopping the two of them,” Sif explains. “Thor was often heedless in battle.”

“That’s a little surprising,” Steve admits.

“Well, he has changed,” Sif says. “He has endured a great suffering from his wrongs on Jotunheim, even if he has turned out better for it in the end.”

“He doesn’t talk about that a lot,” Steve says.

“His banishment, you mean? Or Loki’s attempt to kill him and usurp his crown?”

“Either, actually,” Steve says. “He has talked about Loki, though. About what he went through.”

“It would be easy if Loki were simply the enemy,” Sif says. “And not the boy we grew up with.”

“We’d all prefer a world that was black or white,” Steve says.

“Funny how it seems less so, the older we get,” Sif comments.

Steve gathers a breath and lets it out.

“Anyway,” she says, finishing the last of the food on her plate. “I should get back to work.”

“So soon?” Steve asks.

“It has been nearly an hour,” Sif reminds him.

Steve can’t dispute this, she he tries to distract her instead. “But you never told me what happened on Jotunheim. Not really.”

“I told you the outcome,” she says.

“But not the details,” Steve says.

“Do they matter?” Sif asks. “Does it matter if Thor started a war over a wayward insult? Does it matter if Loki intended to end it in Thor’s absence? Does it matter if Odin came in to spare our lives and cost us everything else in the end?”

Steve doesn’t know what to say to that.

On her feet now, Sif shakes her head gently. “What matters is that it is behind me now,” she says. “And I still have nightmares of the cold.”

The cold, Steve knows. Steve knows what it is to be cold, to be frozen to your very core. He knows what it is to be consumed, to be numbed, to be overcome. He knows what it’s like to feel the fire inside get extinguished, how the coldest place is always inside your heart and mind and soul.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, finally.

She offers him a faint smile. “I’m not,” she says. “Is that not how it is?”

He has to nod at that. Because Steve gave up his life. He gave up the woman he loved and the war he won and the best friend he lost. And he regrets a lot of things, but he doesn’t know if he could change any of it. “Yeah,” he says, a little resigned. “I guess so.”

She moves toward the door, headed back to the living room.

He watches her, too numb to stop her, too numb to move.

But not numb enough to quench the growing feeling in his stomach.

It’s hard to say what that is, exactly.

But it’s starting to feel an awful lot like hope.


Sif works tirelessly through the afternoon. He listens to her, while he makes his sweep of the house. He listens to her while he sifts through the relics in the attic.

He stands with his back against the wall, eyes closed, just to hear her better.

He listens like he’s talking to Peggy as his plane crashes. He listens like he’s waiting for Bucky to remember or kill him, either way.

He listens.

Because he’s there. She’s there. People are more than their stories; relationships are more than promises. Communication is about more than words.

He could listen to her forever.


At dinner, Steve serves the meal and sits down with a shrug. “So, I was thinking,” he says as she settles across from him. “I’ve got a good story. But you’ve got countless stories. I think you win.”

“I told you I would,” she says, matter of fact as she starts to cut her meat. “Your wager was fruitless.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Steve says.

“You never had any chance of winning,” she points out.

“But winning isn’t the only thing,” he says.

She grins mischievously. “Perhaps not,” she concedes. “But it is the best thing.”


They talk all through dinner. They tell stories and ask questions. He finds she has a strong laugh and a quick wit. She is intelligent and humorous, and she can hold a conversation about everything from battle strategy to art.

It’s funny, because Thor’s talked of magic on Asgard, and he’s never quite believed him.

Until now.


After dinner, he starts to clear the table. She puts her plate by the sink and smiles. “I hope you will excuse me for tonight,” she says. “I not mean to be ungrateful--”

“Oh,” Steve says. “Well, you don’t have to help.”

“It’s not for a lack of desire,” Sif says. “It’s just that I believe I can communicate several critical points tonight. If all goes well, we should be able to leave by midday tomorrow.”

Steve is nodding without thinking until he hears what she’s said. “Tomorrow?” he asks. “But I thought you had several days--”

“We have been here several days,” she reminds him. “And I’ve been able to be very productive, more so than I anticipated.”

“Oh,” is all he can say.

“This way, you can get back to your home and your real job,” Sif says.

“And you can go back to Asgard,” Steve replies.

For a moment, an awkward silence lingers. “Yes,” she says, almost faltering but not quite. “I do not wish to be an imposition on you--”

“No, no, no,” Steve says quickly. He forces a smile. “I mean, I’m sure you’re ready to go home.”

She smiles in return but it is a dim approximation of her usual grin. Instead, she shrugs. “Anyway,” she says.

“Anyway,” he agrees.

She lingers a moment longer before turning back toward the other room. Steve stands there, listening while she starts up her equipment. He listens until she starts talking, a familiar cadence from the other room.

Then he turns on the water, high enough to drown her out, and starts to wash the dishes.