He turns up in November.
Unless you don’t got nowhere else to go, you don’t come down Blake Street way. It’s cold and there’s no shelter, ‘cept for what condemned lots provide. Got worse after the aliens though. One of them sled thingies crashed straight through the front of 37. Don’t matter all that much, ‘cos no one ‘cept homeless have lived there for years, but weird rotting alien bodies and that sled thing brought Feds and Blake Street ain’t the place anyone wants Feds. Full of people just making do, ‘cept Feds think that’s illegal. Fuckin’ Feds.
Anyways, he turns up end of November. I’s looking for Eddie, ‘cos he got hisself on the bad side of Micah-over-south and came away with no shoes and a busted face. Eddie’s an idiot but he’s Blake Street’s so I gotta find him. If he’s dead someplace I gotta tell Kel, and that’s no good.
But instead a’ finding Eddie, I find this guy, just staring at the wall. Prob’ly a junkie, I thinks, what with that stare on and not moving; so far in his own head he can’t see me, and whatever he is seeing don’t look nice. But we’s all in the same boat here, junkie or no, so I goes over and says, “You OK?” ‘cos it’s polite, see? And you should never spook a junkie, ‘cos you’s no idea what they’s seeing. Could be you’s a demon with a shiv to them and you ends up dead.
He don’t say nothing though. He smells of the usual, piss and no washing, but also burning wires, like when them kids from West’n’Seven burn out cars – coppery and metallic-like. Nasty. But he’s not moving, just locked in his head. Light’s bad down this dead alley, but he looks like a young un. Least, young in body. God knows you can be only young with an old soul. Seen too much done too much lived too much. Just too much.
I comes closer, but he ain’t doing nothing; no seeing, no nothing. And I’s got Eddie to look for, if he’s not got hisself a Hudson bath, permanent like.
So I says to the guy, I says “Yous get cold here. Is cold, November. You need something, you comes to Blake Street. It’s got high walls, leastways,” and I leaves him there. Prob’ly never see him again, I thinks.
‘Cept I do.
Couple-three days later and Kel gets attacked down West’n’York. Way she tells it, she’s jumped on by two guys, and she yells and yells – and Kel’s a screamer, you’d hear her a mile off – and quick-flash this other un turns up. She don’t even see what happens, just that there’s two bodies on the road when there was two standing just two secs before. She don’t even check them, just runs. Runs runs runs back to Blake Street, only the other un’s following, like a shadow. She hardly has time to tell us the story before he turns up. Tall, he is – menacing – and Kel don’t want nothing to do with him, though he prob’ly saved her from a mugging or worse.
He looks worse now, even under shitty streetlamps. His clothes covered in blood and no wonder Kel ran ‘cos he looks like nothing you ever want to see, dark alley or no. Done got hisself a knife too, else it were hidden when I saw him last. When he spots us though – me and Kel and Eddie and Ol’ Sol and Vic and Stumps and Richard Murphy, what gets a proper name on account of being pompous as shit – he stops, confused-like. Wary. Kel’s behind Eddie and saying no no no and he holds up his hands, looking confused, but also like he wants to check Kel’s OK, even though there’s no chance of her letting him anywhere near her.
Ol’ Sol moves up, shapeless in his overcoat, and says “You’s done good, lad. Don’t ruin it now.”
But he just looks confused. And after a while he notices the knife he’s still got in his hand and he drops it like it’s burned him. He flinches at the sound of it hitting the blacktop, and there’s a silence broke only by Richard Murphy clicking his fucking spoons. Asshole.
Suddenly though, he keens – full on, like a dog what’s been locked up; high and banshee-like – and curls in on hisself, dropping to his knees and clutching his hair and wailing. Kel looks like she’d rather be back with the guys on West’n’York, Ol’ Sol stop two feet from him, and even Richard Murphy stops clicking his damn fucking spoons, just to watch. He’s shaking like a beat dog and when a car backfires a block over, he jerks like he’s been shot, pushing hisself up and into the wall so hard he looks like he’s tryin’a sink through.
Being on the street can fuck you up, but in all my years under bridges I ain’t seen nothing like that.
We calls him Steve.
He does nothing much and says even less, but when Stumps yelled out at Stevie from the other side of the Yard, his head just popped right up. Looked like he’d seen a ghost he had, and he watched Stevie like a hawk the whole time, until Stevie got weirded out and left. So we calls him Steve, ‘cos we’s gotta call him something and Steve’s as good as anything.
He stays under the furthest arch. Ain’t got no blankets or cardboard or nothing, just the clothes he’s in, what Kel’s fairly sure are all stolen ‘cos she saw them jeans were Levis and don’t no homeless guy wear Levis. Don’t most people wear Levis; I saw them in a shop once. Don’t no one need pants that cost that much. Vic got him some shitty sacking one day though, ‘cos Brooklyn dirt ain’t kind to no one. Steve disappeared after that, and came back two days later with apples and a gun. Don’t no one ask where he got either, no one wants to know. A gun’s no good for street sleepers. Cops like nabbing us for no good reason, and guns’re a good reason. Vic tells Steve so, and Steve looks like that’s the dumbest thing he’s ever heard and keeps it, giving the apples to Vic and not saying a word. With the gun and the knife, Kel won’t go near him, but then Steve pulls her out of a fight with Micah-over-south and some of his cronies and she decides he’s OK.
After that, no one from over south tries anything with Blake Street. I wasn’t there, but Kel says it were terrifying; that Steve moved so fast she couldn’t see him, that she’s pretty sure there’re five less people going back over south as a result. Says Steve didn’t even reach for the gun. I’s worried about cops for a while after that, but nothing comes of it. I don’t understand why, but I gots more important stuff to worry about. Maybe they’s not actually dead.
Talking it over with Stumps and Ol’ Sol, we thinks he’s military. Lotsa military types end up like us, ‘cos Capitol only cares when they’s doing the dirty work but not anything about what happens to them after the dirty work is done. Amir from Clinton Hill and Flick over Williamsburg-way, they’s both military. Vietnam and Iraq, the first time. There was Carlton too, but guns and homeless ain’t good for anyone and he decided he needed another hole in his head. Middle of December and they found him on the street corner, frozen through. He weren’t Blake Street but he were a good man. You become selfish, out here on the sidewalk, but there ain’t no one that can stay on their own forever. We looks out for each other as best we can and after Carlton, well, we looks out the harder.
It’s how we ended up with Steve really. It’s not like the man can’t look after hisself, not in a physical sense. Us on Blake Street haven’t eaten this well in months, and all ‘cos Steve can nab anything, and ain’t never gets caught. But he has a thousand yard stare – hell, two thousand, three thousand, a stare so far he can prob’ly see Washington and all those fat-cats on Capitol Hill – and even for a homeless guy, he’s too young for the screaming nightmares he gets. And I mean proper screaming nightmares. Richard Murphy complains about it all the time, but he ain’t gonna leave when Steve brings proper food every couple-three days. But Lor they are loud, and all in some foreign speak; European – Russian, Polish maybe. Straight up panic attacks, and it ain’t a good idea to try and wake him either. Stumps tried once, and almost got a knife to the gut and Vic yelled at him – and he don’t yell over much – but Steve just looked terrified and disappeared for a week. Kel was worried he’d left, got hisself shot or arrested or a Hudson bath. She pretends she don’t but she worries about him.
‘Cos he helps, see? Yeah there’s the nightmares and the screaming and the panic attacks and the scaring us half to death, but he helps. There’s the food, yeah, but then the rest of 35 collapsed and he helped build a fire pit, pulled bricks off of Vic when he got stuck. He knows all this crazy useful stuff like a hundred and one ways to light a fire in rain, and which of the condemned shitholes what makes up Blake Street are safe to hide in when the storms come.
So we helps back. He gets the night terrors and Vic’ll stay up with him. Tell him stories of what it were like in Puerto Rico in the 70s, and no one even knew Vic was from Rico. Kel got him another jacket when his horrible green thing finally packed up, and gloves when she worked out that he literally won’t use his hands without them on. Richard Murphy even tells him stories after the terrors, but that’s mostly ‘cos he likes the sound of his own voice, and not ‘cos he cares over much.
So Steve becomes Blake Street’s, and we looks out for him.
That’s not to say there aren’t days we think we’ve done the dumbest thing ever, taking Steve in. One day and the lot from Bed-Stuy show up looking for some guy. No one wants to mess with those guys; they’re mean and gots lots of guns and not a lotta care about who they use them on. They’s looking for some guy or girl who stole something from them. Why they think that Blake Street can help no one knows, but they turn up, after beating up Sal over west and Pinky and Ben from two streets down. They’s heading for Eddie and suddenly Steve is there. And normally this is fine – this is Blake Street looking out for Blake Street. Only Steve just stands there, and them Bed-Stuy lot get closer and close to Eddie, beat on him some and Steve juststands there and Kel’s screaming. Just no one’s sure if she’s screaming at the Bed-Stuy lot or Steve or Eddie or just screaming. So I don’t think the Bed-Stuy lot even sees Steve there. They’s yelling and kicking, and then Steve’s there there, in-your-face-there, not saying anything and they stop-like, confused.
I didn’t see the last fight, but I sees this one and Kel’s right. Ain’t no one got a chance against Steve. He just goes, beating on one, two, three, and then just keeps going, only he gets Eddie too, punches him and he’s out like a light but Steve, he doesn’t look back, goes right on. The Bed-Stuy lot come in a van, and Steve goes for it, and the gun is out and van is a ball of flames. And he just stands there, no care for the fire or Kel screaming at him or Eddie unconscious behind him.
He stands there and watches the fire until NYFD turn up. No one likes it when authorities turn up, ‘cos they question, want to know your address, and when you don’t got one you’s just not important anymore. So’s they ask Steve, and he says nothing and they get angry and reach for him and then there’s screaming and there’s a fire guy with a broken arm and Steve has disappeared, so quiet-like.
We leave Blake Street for two weeks then, in the middle of February, and we don’t see Steve for three. Kel says she’s never going to forgive him and Eddie is all quiet-like, but after a while we all gets to missing him. Even Richard fucking Murphy, and we’s not Blake Street right now so we all want him to fuck off but he don’t and more’s the pity. We’d swap Steve for Richard Murphy, easy-like.
When Steve comes back to Blake Street we can tell something has changed. No one knows where he went in the weeks gone but he looks… more haunted. Like he had a harder time of it than we did, and that shouldn’t be so ‘cos he’s probably the reason we’s so well off this winter.
More haunted yes, but he don’t smell of burning wires no more. You gets used to a lot on the streets, and it weren’t long before burning wires was just what Steve smelled of.
No one figured out why though.
Steve slinks back, quiet as he left. Haunted and not smelling fresh – none of us ever do – but not smelling like burning wires and we figure that’s a good thing, only he don’t say anything, as usual, so we can’t tell. He brings food – actual goddamned New York pizza – and looks uncomfortable, which is a first, and then squares his shoulders, sort of like, and turns to Eddie. Kel tenses right up, and Vic looks right wary, but Steve just shuffles his feet a bit and then says, “Sorry,” in a croaky voice that sounds somewhere between Brooklyn and them Polish guys that sometimes give you cigarettes if you’s lucky.
We ain’t ever heard Steve say anything that weren’t screamed in the middle of the night.
March and the fire were a month ago, and nothing much has come of it so we reckon it’s OK. The NYFD took the van away and alls the proof it ever happened is melted blacktop that the council ain’t going to fix on account of Blake Street being condemned. Though it’s been condemned forever so we’s not too worried. No fancy yuppies want views of the Navy Yard and the Yard want yuppies less than homeless folk.
So everything is back to normal, or normalish. The Bed-Stuy lot ain’t coming round here any time soon, and neither is Micah-over-south and so everything’s OK. Don’t know why but Steve says things now. Nothing much, but ‘OK’ and ‘yeah’ and sometimes he smiles when Ol’ Sol tells him of all the places he would go if he had money. So, normalish.
And then a ‘Venger turns up.
Mostly, it’s only the big news that filters down to our level; you know, police crackdowns, drug busts, murders, alien invasions. Tony Stark in a flying suit? Big news. ‘Vengers? Also big news. Everything else? Not so much. It’s not that we’s out of the loop so much as our loop’s smaller. Government don’t care about us, we don’t care about them.
So I’s no idea what’s happened, but suddenly some guy shows up coming out Navy Yard way. Looking for someone, he is, maybe some criminal, maybe the Bed-Stuy lot, maybe someone else. He’s in black and all stealthy-like. Comes down Blake Street, almost as menacing as Steve. But only almost. Not nobody as menacing as Steve.
So he comes down, goes to talk to Vic, polite-like, but no one gets a chance to find out what he’s wanting ‘cos suddenly Steve is there. Steve sees threats better than anyone else, but he also sees threats that ain’t there too and this guy looks like the last ‘til Steve throws the first punch and the other guy comes up swinging. Normally Steve’s got hisself a one sided fight but this guy knows what he’s doing.
And I’d thought Steve with the Bed-Stuy lot was terrifying.
They go at each other like guys who want the other dead, and there’s Steve’s knife and Steve’s gun but the other guy, he’s got a knife too, and a gun and a fucking bow and I couldn’ta put money on who’d win. And it looks like it could’a gone on all night apart from the other guy catches Steve on his arm, and instead of blood there’s a horrible metallic screech.
The other guy freezes, and in a split second Steve has him against the wall, knife so hard at his throat that he’s on tiptoes.
“Fuck,” the other guy’s going. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
He drops his knife, his bow, everything. He wraps his hand around Steve’s arm, but only to hold hisself up it seems, ‘cos he don’t do anything else then. Not struggling, not begging, not nothing. And Steve seems confused by that – hell, we all are; Vic and me and Richard fucking Murphy.
“Winter,” the other guy says and Steve looks more confused. But the other guy goes on, speaking so quite-like that we can’t hear, not without getting closer and there’s no way we’s doing that. The other guy talks rapid fire, and even from here, even in the goddamned half-light, you can see Steve’s eyes flicking all over the place. And then the other guy says something, and Steve full on flinches, pulling the knife away and dropping the guy, who stumbles and only just catches hisself in time.
Steve’s skittish now, like one wrong word could send him running, or sticking a knife in the other guy, just as we thought it’d all be OK. But the other guy starts up again, talking talking, waving his hands and muttering, and Steve’s getting more and more worked up and the other guy can’t see so in the end, ‘cos Ol’ Sol ain’t there to calm things down, I steps up.
“Stop it if you don’t want him to kill yous,” I says, ‘cos I ain’t the fucking diplomat of Blake Street, OK?
The other guy musta forgot we was there, ‘cos his head snaps round.
“This guy with you?” he says, surprised-like.
“Yeah, yeah he’s Blake Street. We looks after our own. Now get on, else you’ll get a beating you won’t get recovered from for a while.” Not that I think that’s likely. This guy’s prob’ly the only other guy I’s seen in my life that can fight like Steve can.
The guy just stares at me like I’s got two heads or something.
“I – ” he says. “He’s - ?”
“Blake Street,” I says, pointing at the chipped green sign down the ways. “He’s Blake Street and we looks after our own.”
Now the other guy’s staring at Steve like he’s got two heads and, in a way, I don’t blame him. Steve’s pressed up against the wall, clutching his head and rocking slightly. His knife’s at his feet and his jacket’s even more ripped than it were a‘fore. Vic’s stood close and talking to him quietly, prob’ly telling that story about the hooker and the bread, ‘cos that’s the one he can tell at the drop of a hat, no thinking needed. Vic’s like the Steve-whisperer. No one calms Steve down like Vic.
“He’s Blake Street,” the other guy says, mostly to hisself. “He got a name?”
I squints at him. I dunno why he wants to know, but all reasons I think of ain’t good ones.
“Steve,” says Richard fucking Murphy, ‘cos not even a full name can stop you being a fucking idiot.
The other guy says something his Mama prob’ly wouldn’t be amused by and scrubs his hand through his hair.
“That guy,” he says, pointing at where Steve’s still trying to press hisself through the wall, “is not a Steve. He’s a – Jesus Christ, this is fucked up. Has he hurt any of you?”
I think of Kel and Eddie and Stumps and that time he caught me with his arm and left me bruised like no punch ever should.
“No,” I says. ‘Cos meaning to and not meaning to are two different things and if he’s not on the juice – and he ain’t ‘cos after a while you can just tell – then what he did wasn’t anything he prob’ly wanted and so it’s by-the-by.
“Right,” the guys says, like he knows I’m talking shit. He bends to pick up his stuff, keeping half an eye on Steve the whole time. And suddenly I gets this feeling that he’s going to tell. He’s going to tell someone about Steve – the weird guy who has screaming nightmares and don’t let anyone see his hands – and then someone in a white coat’s gonna come and take him away. And maybe Blake Street ain’t the best place for him, but I reckon he’s not the kind to take well to being stuck with needles in a white room.
So I says, “Look here, you. Until he’s in a position to tell us hisself what he wants, we’s gonna look after him. He came here all on his own steam and he’s gonna stay ‘til he wants to leave under his own steam too. So you don’t try to make him leave, y’hear? Else I ain’t gonna do a thing to stop whatever he wants to hand you.”
And the other guy, he suddenly looks at me, proper looks at me, then at Vic still muttering to Steve, who’s at least stopped rocking and trying to escape through the wall, and then at Richard Murphy, who clicks his fucking spoons like the idiot he is.
“You’d fight for this guy?” he says.
And the way he says ‘fight’ makes me stop, ‘cos the way he says ‘fight’ makes me think he means ‘fight’ – with feet and fists and not just words. So I thinks, I thinks about the food and the help and Kel and the guys from West’n’York. And I’s about to says ‘yes’ when Vic says it a’fore me, but in a way that makes it sound like he didn’t need to think of anything first.
The other guy looks at Vic then. Vic’s sat next to Steve now, who’s relaxed enough to pick up his knife. Strange that that’s a good sign for us nowadays.
“OK,” he says eventually. “OK. I’m going to come back in three days time, and I’m going to bring someone else. I am not going to try and take… Steve away anywhere, but… I – this is important, OK? I – is that OK with you guys?”
Me and Vic share a look, and then we’s nodding in unison, ‘cos Steve needs help, and Blake Street ain’t no head-doctor.
“You know him?” Vic says as the other guy’s just about to leave.
The other guy looks at Steve like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. “No,” he says eventually. “I don’t know him. But I know of him.”
Once the other guy’s gone and Vic’s persuaded Steve back under the arches, I glares at Richard fucking Murphy. “Why the fuck’d you tell him his name?”
And Richard Murphy looks smug like he’s knowing something important.
“He’s ‘Venger. With the bow. Lives over Bed-Stuy way. Hawkguy or Hawkman or some such.”
And I thinks, what the hell does the ‘Vengers want with Steve? And how’s d’you know of a homeless guy with screaming nightmares and liking to knife fights?
Sun comes up and we sees Steve proper, first time since the ‘Venger turned up. He looks spacy and more skittish than usual and he don’t say nothing. The left arm of his coat is ripped all down to the elbow.
Steve’s left arm is entirely metal.
Kel and Eddie has left already, east this time, and Ol’ Sol and Stumps’ve been gone two nights now, trying their luck further south for a bit. Richard Murphy’s gone ‘round to the park early so it’s only me and Vic that sees – that he lets see, before he sees hisself and wraps it up, looking like we’s going to kick him to the curb.
Just ‘cos we lives in a world with ‘Vengers and thunder gods and Tony Stark don’t mean that’s not a weird fucking thing to see. ‘Splains my bruises though. And the burning wires smell, I guess, ‘cos it moves just like a regular arm. Don’t ‘splain much else though and Steve ain’t talking. We tries, but he shrinks further and further into hisself. So’s we stops, and as soon as we do, he leaves.
Me and Vic decide we’s not telling anyone about it. Steve don’t want anyone to know so we’s keeping his secret.
The Hawk’venger comes back three nights later, just like he said. He’s a woman with him, real knock-out, but looks like she could break your face with a spoon. Richard Murphy says “Widow” and Ol’ Sol says she don’t look old enough. Richard Murphy looks at him like he’s the idiot and goes back to watching.
Hawk’venger and the lady sure knows about approaching people who don’t wanna be approached. Hawk’venger comes up to me and Vic, seeing as we’s the ones he knows. They introduces themselves as Hawkeye and Black Widow (Ol’ Sol says ‘ah’ and Richard Murphy looks smug) and asks if they can speak to Steve, though he says ‘Steve’ like he can’t get his head around it. Vic’d talked to Steve about it, the ‘Vengers coming over, and Steve had looked like he’s not wanting anything to do with it, but none of us knows anything about Hawk’venger or where he is past ‘Bed-Stuy’ so’s it’s not like we can say no now. Vic says we’ll all be there – we’d filled in Kel and Ol’ Sol and Eddie and Stumps – and that had made him relax a mite.
So we nods, and Vic says he’ll be close by, and they nods and then the lady – Black Widow – goes to Steve and sits close-but-not-too-close, and says, “Do you recognise me?”
The light is terrible and everyone’s a washed out yellow but you can see how nervous Steve is, his eyes darting every which way. But he also looks like he’s working through something, so Black Widow just waits, with Hawk’venger stood close and waiting too. And they just wait, and Richard Murphy starts up with the fucking spoons and Hawk’venger glares at him and he stops.
Then Steve says, “DC,” like he’s unsure.
And Black Widow says, “Yes.”
And he says, “I tried to kill you.”
And Black Widow says, “Yes.”
She seems so unconcerned by this, like people try to kill her all the time. But she’s ‘Venger, so maybe they do.
“There was…” but Steve trails off, and he looks so confused that Kel starts towards him. ‘Cos Kel, Kel got over her fear of him pretty quick-smart, and she mothers him like she’s never had the chance with anyone else. He even lets her, sometimes.
Hawk’venger holds up his hand though, and she stops.
“The man on the bridge,” Steve says, ‘fore stopping. His mouth works, and his ‘xpression is horrible; lost.
“I knew him.”
And Black Widow says, “Yes.”
And Black Widow says, “Yes.”
“I – ” but he don’t get any further than that, like he don’t know. Like he don’t know what ‘I’.
And Black Widow says, so gentle-like, “Do you remember anything before DC? Who you are?”
And that’s such a dumb fucking question. He’s Steve, he’s Blake Street, he’s one of us.
But Steve looks blank and lost and like that don’t make a lick of sense to him, and I can feel when we – me and Ol’ Sol and Stumps and Kel and Eddie and Vic and even Richard fucking Murphy – I can feel when we gets it. He don’t talk, does Steve. He don’t talk ‘cos he ain’t got nothing to say, ‘cos there ain’t nothing to say, ‘cos there ain’t nothing. We calls him Steve, and he don’t answer so much as look when we says it. Steve ain’t him. Steve must be someone else.
And if we’s calling him by someone else’s name, how’s we been helping one bit?
Black Widow says, “301,” and we’s all confused until Hawk’venger says, “Give ‘em space now. She ain’t gonna hurt him but all the same, this ain’t gonna be nice.”
Kel and Vic looks like theys gonna say something, protest or the like, but Hawk’venger just says, “I know you have no reason to trust me, but please. Trust me. She’s not going to hurt him. But we have to be sure.”
“Be sure of what?” Stumps asks, limping after as we follow Hawk’venger towards the other end of the street. He knows the layout, takes us into 32, and I realise he’s been watching us. Disconcerting, that is. We’s never noticed a thing, and Eddie and Stumps have eyes like hawks.
Hawk’venger looks like he’s gonna say something, then changes his mind.
“We have a friend,” he says. “He’s got… a vested interested in your Steve. They go,” and he laughs here, bitter. Not happy at all. “They go way back. Just, your Steve, he’s messed up and it’s not a good idea they meet just yet. Not until we can tell how messed up your Steve is. ‘Cos see, our friend is a little messed up right now too.”
And I has an idea then.
“What’s your friend call hisself?”
And Hawk’venger looks at me, impressed-like, and says, “Steve.”
We’s quiet then. All what can be heard being occasional raised voices from over where Black Widow and Steve are, and Kel flinches and Hawk’venger sighs before pulling off the backpack I didn’t even see he had on and pulling out a bunch of food.
Before he hands it over he says, “This isn’t me buying you, OK? I know what this is like, street living. And you can believe me or not, I don’t care, but I ain’t lying.”
We sits in 32 for what must be three hours. Hawk’venger is pretty easy to get on with, and he tells stories ‘bout his run-ins with the Bed-Stuy lot. Says they’s causing trouble and to watch out. Tells a bunch of other stories, and even gets Vic to tell him about Puerto Rico, so we knows he’s in now. He’s just telling some funny story about… well, some people and a cat, though who, I dunno, when he stops midsentence, like there’s a signal that we’s all missed. And then Black Widow comes in, and the two of them has themselves some weird silent conversation, before Black Widow turns to Kel and Vic and says, “You go look out for him now.”
“What did you do?” Kel says suspiciously.
“I talked to him,” says Black Widow.
“If you talked to him, why’s he need looking out for?”
And I can see the same look on her face as I saw on Hawk’vengers’; impressed-like.
“I talked to him about who he is – was. About who he was. And who he was, was nothing good. Those are never nice conversations, trust me.” She smiles then, real small. “He needs his friends now, and that isn’t me.”
Friends. Never thought of Steve as a friend. Dunno if I ever thought of anyone of Blake Street as friends, we’s just Blake Street, and we looks out for each other, even Richard fucking Murphy.
It’sa nice thought, though.
So Kel and Vic goes, and Hawk’venger and Black Widow has another conversation, this time in that European sounding language Steve has night terrors in. She nods once, like a decision’s been made, and Hawk’venger turns back to us.
“I live Bed-Stuy way,” he says. “I’m gonna keep an eye out, OK? Make sure no one comes ‘round looking for your Steve that shouldn’t. And me and Widow are also gonna to make sure our Steve doesn’t come ‘round here either. You need me, you put word out for Mikhail on Seventh Acre or you drop a note into the phone box on Kingston and Timps. We’ll check it every two days or so.”
“What’s important though,” says Black Widow, “is that you just keep doing what you’re doing. I saw your Steve in April of last year and you will not believe how much better he is now.”
She smiles again, and I feels like I’s just been handed twenty bucks. You don’t hear all that many nice things when you’s people like us, but what’s better than hearing that you’s helped someone?
Hawk’venger looks like he’s debating something, then says, “I own the building I live in and I’ve got an apartment going spare.” He looks uncomfortable, and I wonders for a coupla secs how’s it came to be free ‘fore he goes straight on. “It’s not much but it’s got heat and water and it’s dry. You want that, you let me know, yeah? Any time.”
And then they go. Like he didn’t just invite seven hobos to live in his building, like they didn’t just say we maybe saved a life. Like this was all normal to them.
They’s ‘Vengers though, so maybe it is.
Steve disappears for a week after that, but Kel and Vic says that he’s OK and not to worry, so wes don’t. Mostly. Nothing unusual happens ‘part from Stumps being given two hundred bucks by some lady just over the river, and Steve turns up just in time to cash in on the first shower any of us’ve had in months in the gym ‘round the back of the Yard. He also brings a coat for Eddie, and boots for me on account of mine falling apart, and a bunch of tinned peaches. Not one of us has a tin opener or anything, and we can’t see Steve using his knife on them, but each one gets opened when we wants them.
Me and Vic shares a look. Metal arms’re useful for more than just punching stuff then.
Hawk’venger comes around every now and again. Not in any pattern but just popping by, like that’s something normal people do with homeless folk. One day he brings a bag of food, ‘nother and he’s got tarp and some other odds’n’ends. One time he brings a dog. We don’t get the dog, though it takes a mighty interest in Stumps and wes can tell he’d keep it even if it means another mouth to feed. Hawk’venger says it’s called Lucky, ‘cos it is. It has one eye and a bum leg, so’s either Hawk’venger’s bad at names, or before Lucky weren’t so lucky.
Steve don’t come near when Hawk’venger’s ‘round, and Lucky barking makes him flinch so Hawk’venger don’t bring Lucky ‘round no more. Keeps coming hisself though, on and off. Keeps us updated on the Bed-Stuy lot, and asks about Steve – does we think he’s better? Has he hurt anyone? Does we know if he has anything else ‘part from the knife and gun? That makes us stop, that one does.
“‘Sit likely?” asks Ol’ Sol. We’s sat under the arches, close as you can get to the Yard without getting shot by Naval goons with guns. It’s warmer here.
Hawk’venger laughs. “Sure it is. How many weapons am I carrying now?”
We’s all look at him. I can’t see any, but if you’s asking that question, you’s gotta be carrying something.
“None,” says Kel, same time as Richard Murphy says, “Twenty seven,” and Hawk’venger looks at him strangely.
“No,” he says, like that’s super dumb. “People can’t carry twenty seven weapons inconspicuously unless they’re James Bond. Or Nat.”
“Nat?” asks Kel.
“Never mind,” Hawk’venger says, waving his hand like it’s all nothing and chucking more wood onto our fire. He brought wood this time. Said he’d broke something in his building and figured it shouldn’t go to waste.
“So’s how many’s it though?” asks Vic.
“Seven,” Hawk’venger says. “But I’m not him.”
I squints at him. He ain’t got space for seven weapons. He was lugging a sack of wood through Brooklyn. Weren’t carrying anything else. I looks over at Steve where he’s sat as far away from Hawk’venger without leaving the shelter of the arch. I knows the gun’s in the back of his pants – and I ain’t ever asking him how he sits with it there – and the knife’s in his pocket that’s deeper than it looks, but it don’t look like there’s space for anything else. But if Hawk’venger has seven, what’s to say Steve ain’t got more?
We don’t get no warning. Folks in other parts of the city probably do, what with having TV and cell phones and nice houses what can get destroyed, but all wes get is a series of big bangs coming closer and closer to the Naval Yard. First one’s far enough away that wes just think it’s a car backfiring, and past it making Steve jump we pays it no mind, but theys get louder and closer and Steve gets twitchier and twitchier and wes can’t tell what’s going on ‘til something the other side of the arches goes boom! and suddenly Kel and Stumps find themselves the other end of Blake Street, carried there by Steve, one under each arm and we’s all running like mad to keep up.
Then there’s another explosion and the world goes black and white and upside down and alls I can see is dust and dust and where the arches was is now just rubble and Richard Murphy ain’t never getting those damn spoons back. I’s can hear screaming and yelling and see something that looks like a guy with wings swooping through the dust clouds, which are lit up with flashes and bangs.
I thinks I sees Iron Man.
And then Kel screams “No!” and I turns to find Eddie in a pool of blood.
Fed-looking guys are coming out the smoke. They’s got big guns and don’t seem fussed who they’s pointing them at. But they’s pointed it at Eddie, and Steve ain’t happy about that.
Steve was scary with Micah-over-south, and he was scary with the Bed-Stuy lot and with the fire guys. He was even scarier with Hawk’venger.
But with these guys? With these guys he’s terrifying, ‘cos there’s at least ten of them and he don’t even blink. Steve shoots ‘til he ain’t got no more bullets – bam bam bam – then drops his gun and picks up one of theirs and jus’ keeps going. And when that’s empty and there ain’t no other gun close he pulls out his knife. ‘Cept it happens so quick-like wes can’t keep up and a’fore wes got a chance to do nothing, it’s just Steve, with maybe a cut to his face and his left sleeve ripped off again, and a pile of bodies. And I knows they’s bodies this time; can only be bodies after that.
I turns back to Eddie to find Black Widow pressing down on his shoulder and yelling at Kel to pull herself together so Eddie don’t die and snapping at someone I’s not seeing.
There’s another explosion, and the guy with wings and Iron Man swoop out of the smoke by the Yard, and an ambulance comes screaming down Blake Street and Kel and Eddie are hustled inside by Black Widow ‘though they ain’t got no insurance or nothing so I’s no idea where they’s taking them, but I can’t ask ‘cos I can’t move – too scared stiff.
And suddenly Hawk’venger’s in front of me, looking ‘xactly same as first time we sees him, dangerous looking and all in black and… purple and snapping his fingers in my face and saying “C’mon c’mon c’mon you’ve gotta get W- your Steve out of here,” even though it looks like Steve ain’t going nowhere, not if there’s guys in black he can beat down.
We’s huddled into the side of 29, too scared to move, and Hawk’venger has better things to be doing than caring ‘bout homeless folk but he pulls me up and then goes for Ol’ Sol and all the time saying “C’mon c’mon c’mon”. He’s joined by Black Widow who forces Richard Murphy to his feet, but just then something comes hurtling out of nowhere and bam bam bam bounces off of some of the guys Steve is fighting, knocking them down’n’out.
Black Widow says, “Shit, too late,” just as Capt’n America steps out of the smoke.
There’s a roar and a crash and more of lower Blake Street falls, and suddenly the Yard’s security lights get all the way up to where we are.
There’s a silence, the kind yous only get after really loud noises. Hawk’venger and Black Widow look nervous, watching as Capt’n America picks up his shield and Steve knocks out the last of the guys in black. Steve looks up to find us and at the same time Capt’n America looks up and sees Steve, and Hawk’venger and Black Widow tense as Capt’n America looks shocked and says;
Steve’s head whips ‘round so fast I’s surprised he don’t get whiplash. He looks shocked and terrified and, OK so he’s not wailing or having a panic attack, but he’s pretty damn close.
Capt’n America takes a step closer and Steve tenses right up, and that, that gets Vic moving.
“Hey, hey,” he says shakily, shambling as quick-like as he can manage towards Steve. “You’s OK Steve.”
Capt’n America’s eyes snap to Vic then, but Vic ain’t looking at anyone ‘sides Steve.
“You’s good, Steve, you’s OK.”
Fucking Vic; the Steve-whisperer.
In the new-lit Blake Street, wes can see Steve’s eyes dart between Vic and Capt’n America, and we can see when Black Widow gets close enough to Capt’n America to start to talk him into moving too.
“You stay here, right?” Hawk’venger says to us, before moving to help out and he’s gone ‘fore we can do more’n nod.
Iron Man lands beside Hawk’venger, and the guy with wings after him. Iron Man seems surprising to no one but when Steve sees the guy with wings approach Capt’n America and Black Widow he just breaks; flinching back like he’s been hit, then crashing to his knees and wailing like we’s not ever heard, not during his night terrors, not when Black Widow talked to him, not even when he first turned up Blake Street way.
But he turned up Blake Street way and that means he’s Blake Street’s, no matter what any ‘Venger says.
I gets up, and Stumps and Ol’ Sol and Richard Murphy, and we ignores all the ‘Vengers yelling and Black Widow holding Capt’n America back and the rubble and the fact that maybe with Blake Street gone we’s not Blake Street no more, and we goes over to Vic and Steve who’s keening so hard to hurt, and we puts ourselves between them, blocking Steve from the ‘Vengers.
I’s maybe not the diplomat of Blake Street but Ol’ Sol’s holding Stumps up so’s he can’t be. So I turns to Capt’n America, who my pa told stories of when my pa were with it enough to tell stories, and I says, “You goes now. You’s not helping, and if you’s not helping then you’s no use. You goes now.”
Steve’s wailing has calmed down, and now he’s just breathing deep; gasping like he’s been drowning. It’s quiet-like, and I can tell all them ‘Vengers, ‘cept maybe Black Widow and Hawk’venger, are looking at me like I’s mad, ‘cos I bet no one’s talked to Capt’n America to tell him he’s no use before.
Hawk’venger and Black Widow tug on Capt’n America’s arm, and I turns to Steve, ‘long with rest of us, and tries to get him calm, up, his knife, something.
But into the new quiet comes Capt’n America’s voice again, small and lost and young.
“But – Bucky.”
And Steve’s head snaps up.
“Steve?” he says so small no one hears it but us. We looks at each other shocked, ‘fore, real slow, turning back to where Capt’n America is standing with Hawk’venger and Black Widow.
Capt’n America looks confused when he sees us turn, when he sees us staring at him like we’s never seen him a’fore. But he ain’t looking at us for long.
“I don’t – ” says Steve quiet-like, and then, “Steve?” louder this time, and Capt’n America’s face breaks into the most painfully hopeful ‘xpression I’s ever seen on anyone’s face, ever.
“Who’s Bucky?” Ol’ Sol asks us, quiet-like and confused, and we’s no idea until; “Bucky Barnes” I says, suddenly remembering my pa’s stories again, “Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. He’s…”
I trails off, but we all knows those stories, we’s all mostly of that age. And if our Steve’s actually Bucky, well, ain’t that horrible and wonderful all together?
We looks at each other wide-eyed and then, all quiet agreement, we moves outta the way.
You dreams of this. Don’t matter if you’s been down’n’out for three weeks or seventeen years – if you’s fifteen and scared or thirty and cynical or sixty five and resigned – if you’s on the streets a little part of you always dreams of this; that someone ‘members you, and cares enough to look. And ‘cos we all dreams of this, ain’t nobody going to stand in the way of it happening to someone else, not ever, not if yous can see that maybe it’s gonna be alright.
All we wants, deep down, is to be ‘membered by someone.
Capt’n America looks like a strong wind’ll break him open, years of hope’n’loss bleeding out across shitty Brooklyn blacktop. Black Widow has a hand on his arm but he’s ‘Venger and knows dealing with people ain’t easy, so he ain’t moving, not while Steve – Bucky – still looks at him like he’s not sure hisself if anything’s real.
But then the Capt’n takes half step forward, like he can’t help hisself, and Steve – no, no Bucky – goes hurtling backwards into the wall of 28, feet flat on the concrete and back against the wall. Vic shambles over again, quick-like, whispering all the while, and I’s seen the Capt’n face and he looks hurt and confused and like this is painful. ‘Cos o’course it is; ‘cos St-Bucky screams and rocks and ain’t got no good headspace, not none that I’s ever seen, and it’s horrible yeah, but Bucky ain’t been my friend since forever, has he? Ain’t my bes’ friend that someone fucked with so good that he don’t speak, that he hurts and don’t think that’s weird.
The Capt’n makes a strangled sound what could be ‘Bucky’ or could be something else. It’s painful and hurt and lost sounding, but it must’a snagged something in Bucky ‘cos it makes him look again; makes him stop rocking and clutching his hair.
“Steve?” he says again.
“Yeah, Buck,” the Capt’n – Steve Rogers, actual proper Steve – says, all broke and shuffling further forward ‘cos Bucky ain’t got nowhere to go and don’t look like he wants to just now. “Yeah, it’s… It’s me. I – ” The Capt’n chokes out a sob, and my pa wouldn’ ever believe that Capt’n America would cry, but my pa didn’ ever believe anything good or human ‘cos my pa were a whiskey soaked waste of space and has no place in my head when something so good’s happening.
“Oh Christ, Bucky,” says Capt’n America, ‘cos he’s close now, close enough we’s can see he looks hopeful and so young. It’s weird to think Capt’n America is younger’n us; he is o’course, but he’s also not, and Bucky’s the same. Both of them; young’n’old at the same time – seen too much done too much lived too much.
They’s nearly touching and Bucky’s letting him and yous can almost feel the ‘motion in the air, and… we’s not to see this. This ain’t for us, street folk with nothing good going for us.
We looks away.
Iron Man’s gone now, and the bird-man what so scared Bucky. There’s Fed types now, getting rid of the dead folks, and it’s just them and us and Black Widow and Hawk’venger, all not looking at the Capt’n and Bucky. Sargent James Buchanan fucking Barnes. Capt’n America’s Bucky. Fuck.
Hawk’vengers comes up to us then, where we’s standing and slumping among the mess that was the closest we’s had to a home. He’s still dangerous looking – and he’s gotta have more’n seven weapons on him now – with blood all down one arm and bruises all over his temple and cheekbone. But ‘fore he can say nothing, Vic says, “I thinks we’s gonna take your offer on that apartment now.”
And Hawk’venger grins, which knocks a couple-three years off his face, and says, “Good, ‘cos Eddie and Kel are already there.”
And suddenly Bucky keens again, and we’s all whip ‘round, but he’s clinging to the Capt’n like he’s a lifeline, and they’s holding so tight it must hurt, and I’s can feel it deep in my chest, and I sees it on the rest of the Blake Streets lot. ‘Cos it hurts, but it’s a good hurt, ‘cos someone’s ‘membered.
So today, someone’s getting saved.