Vikings were supposed to be strong. They were big, buff creatures with hands strong enough to break boulders, beards thick enough to rival forests, laughter loud enough to rival thunder, and enough salt in their souls that even the ocean would be jealous.
But Steve was not like his Viking family. He was small, skinny, and could barely lift the lightest ax despite reaching full maturity. He sneezed himself silly in spring, burned his skin to a crisp in summer, was useless for harvests in fall, and toed the line of frostbite every winter. Steve Rogers was the weakest runt ever born in recent memory, but that wouldn’t have mattered if the blacksmith’s son would just give him the time of day.
Tony, son of Howard Stark, was the most beautiful man in the village. His light brown hair was soft like long grass as it swayed in the wind. His dark eyes glowed like coals in the fire. His whit was sharp and his laugh was like sparks off a hot sword. He was lithe in build, but could hold his own against the meanest Vikings. He was strong enough to topple giants, smart enough to outwit the biggest brute, and brave enough to face down a boar with nothing more than his bare hands.
The entire village revered Tony, but from the way Steve’s heart beat like a drum every time the blacksmith looked at him, Steve knew his feelings admiration for Tony different.
Every time he heard Tony laugh; Steve’s entire face felt like it was on fire. He’d anxiously watch smoke rise up from the smithery and would spend hours listening for the sound of a hammer on an anvil as it echoed across the valley. And whenever his father or brother came home from a sacking, weapons dulled and armor dented, Steve immediately gathered their things up and ran down to the forge, happy to have an excuse to talk to the blacksmith’s son.
His family would look on with concern at Steve stumbled under the weight, but Steve didn’t care. As long as it gave Tony a reason to look at him, Steve would happily carry every scrap of metal in the village to the forge and back.
But that all changed during the spring festival.
“Care for a dance?” asked Tony as well-known couples started pairing off for the Dance of Fertility.
Steve looked up at Tony and then looked around. This had to be a mistake, right? There was no way Tony was talking to him. The Dance of Fertility wasn’t just any old dance. It was for couples, specifically for couples hoping for a fruitful relationship. Surely Tony was talking to someone else. But no one else was around. All his friends had left him in lieu of the dance or in pursuit of more beer.
“Me?” squeaked Steve, still not believing that this wasn’t a dream.
“Who else?” asked Tony.
‘Anybody that’s not me? Anyone that’s not a runt?’ Steve didn’t say.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Come on,” he said, taking Steve’s hand.
Steve yelped as Tony dragged him over to the line of dancers. The girls stood in the inner circle and the guys in the outer, ready for the music to start. Tony pushed his way through with an offhanded “pardon me,” before leaving Steve in the guy’s line and pushing his way into the girl’s.
Steve felt his cheeks burn as the other dancers sized him up. The guys eyed Steve in confusion while the girls whispered to themselves in less than quiet voices. How unconventional! If someone strong like Tony took a partner, surely a man of Steve’s stature would take the girl’s part.
Embarrassment seized Steve’s heart. Who was he kidding? Steve didn’t belong here. A runt like Steve didn’t deserve to dance with someone like Tony.
But when Steve looked up to excuse himself, the smile on Tony’s face made all his doubts vanish into thin air.
Tony’s normally focused gaze was soft, like embers gently flickering at the bottom of a fire. His lips were curled up into the smallest hint of a smile. His cheeks, normally red from the forge, held the slightest touch of pink as he held his hand across the expanse, waiting for Steve to take it.
“You ready?” asked Tony as the music swirled around them.
“I… I don’t know if I’m strong enough.”
Tony chuckled. “Of course you are. You’re a Viking, Steve. Vikings are resilient enough to live through the coldest of winter, the hottest of summers, and a pollen season so bad that even the trees turned to gold. Vikings are stubborn enough to drag their entire family’s armory down to the forge so the local blacksmith can buff out a scratch that’s barely there. And Vikings, or at least one in particular, are gentle enough to hold a man’s heart in their hands without crushing or marring the surface.”
Steve ducked his head, trying to hide the full body flush as his heart threatened to beat out of his chest. “Even if I’m not the tallest or the strongest?” he asked.
“Espically then,” Tony said. “I don’t care what anybody says. As long as you promise to be the the ViKing of my heart.”
Steve chuckled. “I promise.”