"Daddy." Steve roused himself, but sleep felt so good. After having slept only four hours a night because he was a parent, any hours of sleep that he got was like the bliss of finally winning a war. Though, he'd never actually felt that...
"What is it, Princess?" he asked from the bed, still unable to sit up. The fluffy pillow and warm blanket were just too hard to rip himself from. Maybe if he tried to go back to sleep, he'd find out that this was all just a dream, and he was still asleep.
"II had... scary dreams." He heard the pitter-patter of her little feet running across the carpet, landing right beside him. Her small hands started to roll him like pretzel dough. "Are you awake? Daddy.." Her small voice broke with emotion. It seemed that he wasn't going to get a lot of sleep tonight.
He finally found the strength to pull himself up. He ran a few hands through his hair, and down his face, before he turned to his daughter. "All right. What's the problem?" He picked up his little girl and deposited her right at the foot of the bed, at the end of his feet. "What monsters does Daddy have to chase away?"
She sniffled a few times, a tiny fist rubbing some of the tears away. Her head tipped down, staring at the pattern on the blanket. Steve placed a finger under her cheek and tipped her head up to look into her eyes. Her eyes were wet and shining with tears, which made something inside of him tear apart. She was just so distraught and afraid. He was going to destroy her monsters. "What is it, honey? Daddy will make them go away."
His daughter threw herself into his arms, wrapping her stubby arms around his neck and clinging to him. Her tears flowed free, seeping into his shirt. He wrapped his arms around her and rubbed circles on her back as she whispered faint words into his chest. He couldn't hear any of it, so he just held her close. And, then, something clicked in his mind.
The terrible threehe had termed themstamped and ran down the hallway, bringing chaos and havoc with them. The oldest boy, the leader of the group, was dressed in an outfit similar to his father's Captain America suit. He pointed a finger forward and commanded his younger sister to attack the nightstand. Loki, the bad guy, had hidden out in the Avenger's Tower, and he had to be stopped. With the Thor and Iron Man action figures the oldest boy had gotten, she attacked the nightstand mercilessly. The older brother soon joined in, retrieving the Loki doll and bringing his own Hulk to the fight. They destroyed everything in their patha lot like what Loki had done. The youngest, not old enough to play games or understand what was going on, crawled around in nothing but a diaper and chewed on everything in sight. Including Steve's own shield that had mystically been dug out of the closet. It had hurt the baby more than it scratched the shield.
Steve had prayed for order and control in his house, but his kids always wanted to prove him wrong. The little monsters continued on their war path, the shield the only thing completely impervious to their attacks. Thank god he had kept the thing.
Here, in this moment, he realized what he was. In his own household, he wasn't the drill sergeant that could command the soldiers into doing what he wanted, or even an officer that ran the show behind the scenes. He was a fellow combatant. He could issue orders that he thought fit, though they would be taken more as advice, to help out his kindred souls. He could train them in the ways of the army, showing them the little tips and tricks to becoming a successful soldier, but they would have to find their path themselves. The greatest thing that he could ever be able to give them was a shoulder to cry on, and a superhero to chase their inner monsters away. He would be that shield to keep them away from their nightmares.
He pulled her closer to him, holding her until she tunneled her own spot in his heart. Even as her breathing evened out, and she fell asleep in his arms, he rocked them slow as the moon's ascent and held up that shield.
Though the monsters tore through the house, breaking and destroying everything they saw, they were still his soldiers, his companions. He wouldn't completely control them, but he was their father. So, no matter what they smashed, destroyed, or messed up, the little monsters were his little monsters. And he would do anything to shield them.
"Dad. Why are you working on that engine?" His son, almost an exact replica of him at that age, circled around the vehicle. He was making noises like an airplane earlier, but that had obviously been thrown out so he could make fun of his father's hobbies. At least he wasn't repeatedly asking him if he would go out to play soccer. Tony Stark does not go outside to play soccer. "It's so old! It probably couldn't run even if you worked on it."
Tony concentrated on the engine and on 'Black Sabbath' in the background. If he wasn't careful at this moment, the engine would blow when he tried to start it.
His son slammed on the brakes and dashed over to his father, his eyes filled with some mischievous gleam. Tony had seen that one too many times in his own eyes. Something bad was going to happen. His son touched the outside of the engine, smearing a plentiful amount of grease on his hands.
"It's so dirty!" Tony couldn't help but sigh loudly. The boy tried to shake the goo off. Nothing happened. So, he opted for wiping it on his 'Iron Man' shirt. "Why would you want to touch it?"
Tony, still trying unsuccessfully to ignore his son, rolled his eyes and finally gave in.
"All right. Come here." He set down his tools and held open his arms. His son gave a running start, then jumped into his lap. He successfully managed to wrap his arms around his son when he felt the continuing momentum push him backwards. The chair's wheels rolled out from underneath him, and they began to fall. Tony's new reflexes quickly pulled his son onto his chest, twisted himself so he would land on his back, and braced for impact. It came.
Pain blossomed across his back. Tony took a deep breath, and shuddered as he let it out. When did the room start spinning?
"Dad. Dad! Dad, are you okay?" The cracking, sorrowful voice of his son broke through the pain and delirium. Tony opened his eyes and gazed at the little man standing over him. He was fisting his shirt's shoulders, trying vainly to shake his father awake. He managed to move only Tony's shirt. "Dad, please don't be dead. You can't die on me! Dad!"
Tony chuckled before sitting up. The pain had receded a little so it was more of a dull ache than a throb. It would be gone in less than an hour. "Son, has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?" The little boy, tears in his eyes, shook his head no. "Good. Then I'll be the first to tell you. You talk too much." Tony smirked at his joke.
His son launched himself at his father, tightly gripping him in a hug. "You didn't die, dad."
Tony wrapped an arm around the little boy and smiled down at him."Yeah, I didn't die."
"So, that goes where?" His son held out a spark plug, then gazed questioningly at a board of plastic holes. It was supposed to go into one of the slots, maybe.
Tony sighed irritablywas this really his son?then smiled down at the boy. He pointed to the correct slot. "You put it in there."
"And... what does it do?" The boy leaned precariously over the edge of the car, reaching to insert the plug into the slot. Tony shot out to grab him by his sides, preventing the inevitable fall.
"Well, it creates a spark inside of the piston chamber to ignite the gasoline and push the piston back down." Now that the plug was securely inTony made sure to check, he pulled him away from certain death and back into the safety of a chair.
"That.... is kinda cool."
Bruce Banner never really understood children.
And he still doesn't.
However, his scientific inquiries into his daughter's life provided amazing results. When proffered two toys, one a control toy and the other her favorite doll, she chose the favorite 83% of the time. For the other 17%, she grabbed at the largely unfamiliar and not-so-loved toy. Did this mean that babies could cling to other things beyond love and familiarity? Maybe they also ventured into the unknown because
His scientific conjecture was brought to a screaming halt by the sound of the baby's wail. Bruce sighed heavily, sleep dragging at his eyes, and ran a hand over his face. He glanced at the computer's clock: 4:05 AM. He shut down the word processor with his project and shut his laptop. It was time to face her.
He entered into that all-too-familiar room. The baby girl squirmed and hollered in the small crib across the room. A small desk sat beside it, all manner of baby things thrown about it. A large, worn rocking chair lounged next to the desk, calling to Bruce. But, he couldn't manage to walk between the chasm separating him and the rest of the room.
Slowly, cringingly, he padded across the chasm, feeling her voice raise whenever he took a step. By the time he was next to the crib, her voice had to be reaching three decibels, at least. He was surprised his ears weren't bleeding.
Ever so slowly, as if touching an animal, he reached into the crib and picked up the baby. He held it out at arm's length, examining her outer body first. No swelling or scratcheshe even had to take off her clothes to check. He peeked into her diapernothing there.
Well, there was nothing outwardly going on. It must all be inside. He placed his finger inside of the baby's pink lips, and she instantly stopped crying to wrap her lips around the finger and suck. He had finally found his answer. She was hungry.
Bruce cradled the baby in both of his arms, though she only reached from the crook of his elbow to the very end of his wrist. He stalked off to the kitchen, and started on his mission. As the bottle turned in the microwave and the baby began to scream again, Bruce looked at the time. 4:25. Only twenty minutes had passed? He was both glad and saddened by that.
He rubbed his eyes with a free hand, then snatched the bottle from the microwave right as it beeped. The baby's voice had almost drowned out that delicious sound. Two drops of warm milk on his wrist told him that it was ready. He shuffled back into the baby's room, plopping into the comfort of the wooden rocking chair. She continued to scream furiously.
He popped the bottle in her mouth, and reveled in the sudden silence. He smiled, releasing all of his bottled tension with a deep sigh, then rested his head on the back of the chair. Promising he would only rest his eyes, he began to rock and curled his baby closer to him.
A blithe gurgle awoke him. He started, and realized that the baby was in his arms. His racing heart slowed. The empty bottle laid on the ground, discarded. Happy green eyes looked up at him. A slight pink blush contrasted with her slightly tanned skin. His own fingers brushing against her skin seemed to melt into the same color. He didn't know how to describe their skin beyond 'Italian'.
It was then when he realized that foreign feeling burning in his chest. Bruce Banner, the emotionally unshakeable man, the man of intelligence and science, had officially melted at the sight of his own daughter.
He shook off the scientific thoughts and theories behind love, and placed a burp cloth on his shoulder. He slung her over the cloth and gently patted her back. His fatigue was wearing him thin, but the short nap had helped. And, of course, seeing his baby girl did something to wake him up.
Bruce brought her back into his arms where he could see her. She cooed happily, her fist reaching up to her father. He placed his finger into her palm, and she eagerly clutched it. He wiggled his finger around, which made her loosen her grip. She stared questioningly and angrily at his finger before grabbing it again. Bruce shook her fingers off again. Her green eyes flared angrily.
In one swift motion, she yanked his finger down to her chest and clutched it tightly. No matter how Bruce tried to move it, it was shackled in place.
His jaw dropped. Had it already happened?
The girl released his finger in favor of using her hands to cover up her yawn. Her fists turned up to rub her drooping eyelids. Bruce, deciding to think about his breakthrough once the sun had risen, gave an identical yawn and eye rub.
He placed his little girl out on the floor, checking to make sure she was safe before rummaging around for blankets and pillows. He created a make-shift bed formation spread out on the floor, giving some extra 'mattress' for his daughter. He laid down first. Then, he arranged her so she was comfortable while still being safe.
Once he had finished, she gave her last yawn. Her eyes fluttered closed, hiding those green eyes, and drifted off. Bruce softly kissed her head, then placed a protective hand over her.
For the first time in a long time, Bruce did not dream in numbers or percentages. He saw those beautiful green eyes and the strength they held.
He couldn't wait to wake up to that face.
"All right. Pull back your arm, like this." Clint stretched out his arm, then pulled his elbow back, as if he had drawn the arrow of his bow. His little girl below him, barely turning ten, scrambled to mimic what her father had done. It was very sloppy and her hand could easily allow the string to slip through her fingers early.
"Good." He smiled down at her, though he wanted to cringe. Perfection didn't come easily to some people. It was her first time. He couldn't go hard on her. "Now, aim." He moved his arms into place, finding the center of the imaginary target as quick as a hurricane wind. His daughter, he noted from the corner of his eye, wasn't quite as fast. Her stiff arms swung into position just a little too farshe would be off of the center of the target by at least an inchand then continued on a little farther. She wouldn't even be on the target now. He had to restrain himself from dropping his imaginary bow and correcting her aim.
"Then, release." He let go, almost feeling the brush of the plastic fleching pass his fingers, the arrow splitting the air and rushing against the hairs on his fingers, the arrow fly and solidly thunk into the trunk of the tree. Perfectly on mark.
His daughter's pink tongue darted out to rest against the side of her mouth, and she closed one of her eyes. She finished up her final aiming, which moved her closer to the target this time, and clumsily released. With more power on her first finger, the string of the arrow was going to tilt upwards, and so was the arrow. It would land several inches higher than she wanted it.
"Good job, sweetie." He had to shove his pride down his mouth and support her. It was just so painful, though. She was going to have to improve if she wanted to follow him in his footsteps. And she had mentioned doing that so many times.
"Daddy, I want to be an archer like you when I grow up. I'll be the best bow girl in the whole world!" "How long does it take to become an archer?" "How do you do that? I want to be good at it, too!"
It made his sleepless nights feel just a little bit shorter.
"Now, try it like this." With one of the children's sets of bows and arrows he had picked up for her ninth birthday, he notched the arrow and handed it to her. He squatted down behind her as she put herself in position. Her hand pulled back the string with his guiding hand on her elbow. She closed one eye as he did, and he found the center of their target tree. He could hear her normally rapid breathing begin to slow down with his. Her hand relaxed a touchjust enough to level out the arrow. He adjusted her position as smoothly as a river flowing, aiming her toy arrow right to the heart.
Then, "Release." Her tiny fingers opened up, and the arrow flew. Clint swore he could see the arrow wobble in the air, feel his daughter's heartbeat as his own. They even breathed in time with the rest of nature. For that one moment, nature, father, and daughter were all one.
The arrow landed straight into the tree trunk. Right at the center of the target. His smile was as light as the sun, but he was outshined by his daughter. Her mouth dropped open as she saw her arrow in the tree, and her beautiful blue eyes opened wider than he ever thought they had been before. She turned to her father, pointed at the arrow, and said: "Look at it! Daddy, look at it!" Then, her unrivalled smile spread across her face. Never had he seen such happiness. "I did it! I did it!"
He grabbed her and held her in his arms. "You did it. You did it." Their blue eyes connected, and the mirth in her eyes shined in the light.
His daughter, sitting in his arms, quickly leaned forward and smacked a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, daddy. I know you helped too."
He only smiled and pulled her in for another hug.
"No, no, no. Son, adjust your position."
The boy heaved a sigh before moving slow as a snail into the same position. His feet, set apart at shoulder length, one hand holding an invisible weapon and the other open to block from attacks. He held out his spaghetti hands in a defensive position. "Is this better, Father?"
Thor gazed over his stance, thumb stroking his chin. Mjolnir rested comfortably at his waist, dangling off of his belt. "Not quite." Thor approached him, as if to correct his stance, when he suddenly changed tactics and pushed the boy over. He stared up at his father, mouth open and eyes wide.
"Father! What was that for--"
"You know as well as I that a warrior's stance is vital when fighting," Thor barked, his tone clipped and short. He reminded himself of Odin. His father shifted down into the correct position, straight and true as a tree. "Arms out, and straight." He slapped his arms to show how strong they were. "Strong stance. Shoulder-width. But, you must have your weight evenly distributed." He rocked on the balls of his feet, and even dodged a few invisible punches. "Your feet must always stay under you. If you aren't, your first priority is to bring them back under. Got it?"
He still laid on the ground, cheeks hot from the embarrassment. The boy rolled his stormy blue eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, but nodded.
"This is why it is important." Thor then acted as if someone had hit him, much like what he had done with his son. "If you fall," he did so, "whenever you opponent places any force behind his attack, then you will never win." He tried to get up on his feet, but the invisible hands attacking him were too much. He dramatically fell back onto the ground. "So," Thor pulled himself back up onto his feet, "you must always stay upright. No matter what." He offered his son a hand, which he took, and pulled him up to his feet.
"Okay, yeah," his son drawled, brushing the dirt off of the back of his blue cape. "So, I need a stronger stance. But, can I start with Mjolnir now?" Thor's identical blue eyes stared into his, wide and innocent, with his thin lips setting into a pout. His teenage son wasn't really all that grown up.
"No. Mjolnir can create uncontrollable damage. You aren't ready for that."
"All you say is no, anymore! No, son, you can't do this. No, you can't do that! Yes, I can! I can handle Mjolnir!" He stubbornly stomped his foot and crossed his arms across his chest. "I am ready."
"No, son. You are not ready!" Thor recoiled at the volume of his voice and his stomping foot. Then, he caught sight of his son's face. Pure sorrow and shame ripped through him. He reached out for his son, but he turned and gave him the cold shoulder. Thor tried to apologize, but the words were only received with his son's back. Once his son was out of sight, Thor crumpled down to the dirt.
Somehow, he felt that his son's inability to fight was his fault.
Thor clutched his head in his hands and stared down at the paper on his desk. He could only imagine what his hair looked likethousands of strands of blond hair crumpled and strewn in millions of directionsor his eyes. Oh, dark shadows galore. Thousands of meetings, people, and conversations had flown past him in just this last hour. And there were still more waiting for his attentions. How was it possible for one man, god or no, to focus on so many problems?
His large office door creaked open. He immediately moved to Mjolnir beside him, and began to get into a defensive positionwhen he saw his son.
Thor retracted his hand and pushed it through his hair, acting calm. "What has brought you to my office, son? I have a lot of work to finish." Thor pushed away the papers on his desk and turned to face his son.
His little head hung heavy as a weight, and Thor could hear muted sniffles. His heartstrings vibrated at the sound.
"Son. Come to me." Thor warmly held open his arms, and he was welcomed into them. Then, the tears began to fall. He fisted his father's garments, pulling himself as close as he could. Thor rubbed comforting circles on his back, and strained to listen to his incoherent mumblings. Whatever he heard or what he didn't, he was still his father and would still comfort him.
Once the sniffling and tears had ebbed away, Thor held his boy out in front of him. He flashed a grin at him which his son was quick to reciprocate. His little sea-blue eyes seemed to reveal the blue surface of the ocean sunken in the red, like a porthole in a blood-colored ship.
"I love you, son."
"I love you too, father." The little boy crushed himself against Thor.
Eventually the two separated, silence reigning over the two. Thor was contented that his son liked him again, though he still felt like he was a large problem for him. His son's examining eyes roamed over the large and spacious office before landing on the papers.
"Work?" he asked. Thor smiled down at him before getting out a colored writing utensil.
And that was exactly what both of them wanted to hear.
Loki gazed at himself in the golden plate. 20 years had passed since he had tasted the throne, and since it had been ripped from his lips. Only 19 years had passed since he had almost become the king of the Earth, and given a throne in prison. Now he had to abdicate that throne and was still, and forever would be, a prince of Asgard. His hand felt so light and grounded without the electric scepter in it.
When had he fallen so low?
"Loki!" A friend, one of the peasant gods that he had once ruled over, skidded around the corner. He was out-of-breath, and couldn't seem to articulate his thoughts. "He'she's"
Loki placed his hands on his friend's shoulders. "Take your time. Take a breath. Whatever it is you need say can wait for you to catch your breath."
"No. It cannot," he wheezed. He paused to take a large breath. "Your sonit was done today. And, they decided. It would be tonight."
"Tonight?" Loki smiled, then chuckled. "I don't understand. It was set for a week from today. There must be some mistake. Itit must be a joke on the Prankster God. They couldn't have done it today."
His friend was now clutching his shoulders. The serious look on his face made chills run down his back. "There is no mistake, Loki. It will be tonight."
Loki's smile fell. The shock and horror washed over him, then slapped him in the face. He recoiled.
Hues of orange, yellow, and red striped the golden palace floor. The sun was setting and washing the gold with a beautiful color that had Lokithe sun was setting?
The sun was setting!
"How long?" The silence felt like a knife in his back. It was his own son. His son. He had to know. He had to know. "How long?! When?!"
"Once the sun sets, it will be done."
He took off. He couldn't feel his feet moving beneath him, taking him as fast as he could run. He couldn't hear his friend yelling after him, or the sound of his feet slapping against the cold golden floor. He couldn't see the gathering storm-clouds when he dashed out of the palace or the eyes of the people that watched as he raced past them. He couldn't smell the fresh scent of the roses on the side of the walkway or the food that was being prepared for night. He couldn't taste the need for blood that the other gods felt, or the sweat that was rolling down his face.
He only thought. He thought about his son, about the years he devoted to raising him. About the first time he learned to conjure fire, about the first time he could replicate himself, about the first time Loki ever yelled at him, about the first time that he moved out of the palace, about the first time he came back from Midgard without telling his father, about that moment when his son finally understood what it was like to be a father. About that first time he lost his son. About that first time his heart felt so hollow, so empty with the loss. About that first time he finally cried.
The crowd of gods surrounding the wooden platform told him he had found his destination.
They hauled his son up onto the wooden platform, his wrists shackled together. Four men surrounded him, making sure he didn't escape. But he could only see the black-haired boy. He was skinnyskinnier than he should have been. His clothes were hanging off of his frame He wondered if his brother even fed his son. His son's skin was palehe could hardly see the color behind itbut it still matched his skin. It was his skin. And his hair, though mussed and dirty, was his hair.
Loki could finally hear himself panting; it matched his son's breath. His ears pounded with his heartbeat; it matched his son's heartbeat. His hands were sweating; it matched his son's hands. He could feel a tear running down his cheek; it matched his son's tear.
When his son stumbled on the last stair, Loki stumbled into the crowd. When his son was hit by one of the guards, Loki was jabbed by a man's elbow. When his son senselessly pushed through his fear, Loki senselessly pushed through the crowdand his own fear. As his son turned to face him, he turned to face his son.
A man, unimportant, stood forward and began to speak. Even though he couldn't hear anything but their syncopated breaths and heartbeats, Loki knew he was explaining the treachery of his son. How he'd run away from home at a young age. How he'd joined a cult and became a monster. How he'd joined a revolution to spite his father. How he'd finally been caught by the own hands that raised him. How he'd been put on trial by his own people. How he'd been sentenced to death. And how the gods would finally have payment for the revolution.
Loki trained his eyes on his son. He only hoped that everything he couldn't say aloud his son could see in his eyes.
Identical tears rolled down their faces. Identical emerald eyes held the same black hole and sun. Identical olive-skinned hands reached out for one another. Identical feet brought them together.
They crashed in a moment of complete similarity; all of the emotions, they shared.
"You cannot take him," Loki croaked, finally waking up, "by the command of your prince. You will all face death if you disobey." His green, puffed eyes burned into the guard's, daring them to challenge him.
One soldier bravely stepped forward. "But, Prince Loki, he was part of the rebellion. King Odin told us"
Loki stopped the man with an evil cackle. "I don't care what my father told you. If you continue to speak, I will have you added to the list and killed."
No one spoke up. Loki smirked.
The two separated, but Loki slung his son's arms around his shoulders. They slowly made their way across the gallows.
Once the two were headed back to the palaceback homeand far away from the rest of the world, his son hurdled himself into his father's arms. The two sat for a few moments, happy to just hold one another.
"Thanks, Dad," he whispered. "Thank you for everything."