Tony's damn alarms go off like the wrath of God, a thunder like shells across the trenches, the rattle of machine-guns in the woods. Steve's on his feet and searching for a gun he doesn't own any more quicker than the space between one heartbeat and the next, and doesn't realise until the alarm dies and Tony shouts a cheerful apology that it was his reaction and not the noise itself that has Natasha on her feet with her own gun in her hand, Bruce six steps away and looking alarmed.
They stare at each other.
"Christ," says Steve and drops back into his seat. "I thought I was done with that."
There are a lot of things he's not done with, though he thought he was when they woke him up: the war's just shorthand. Responsibility, leadership, tactics and strategy, grief, encouragement, getting up every morning with the same damn smile, pretending to OK.
One day he knows he'll wake up and it'll be real. Nothing lasts forever: not even reichs, not even wars, not even mourning.
He's forgotten how to wear civilian clothes.
Steve wasn't expecting to feel obligated to Tony, and he wasn't expecting to like him. Point of fact, he was determined to keep as much distance between them as possible, because Howard's son should not be twenty years older than Steve is himself. Just – not.
But Tony's a competent jackass, and Steve both likes and respects competent. (Howard was brilliant and reckless and brave but he wasn't competent, not like this.) Besides, he pushes Steve, pushes him a lot like the way Peggy did, pushes him to keep on moving and to concentrate on the future, because, in the words of the unshakeable Pepper Potts, the future's pretty amazing all things considered, and this is mostly because Tony built about a third of it himself. Don't tell him I said that.
Still can't talk to women. He doesn't actually want to, not with the memory of Peggy and everything they never got to have twisting his chest.
Dreaming about her feels more real than the waking world.
Being around Clint and Thor is easiest of all. They speak the same language, understand the same patterns (battle and death). Clint appoints himself Thor And Steve’s Guide To The Twenty-first Century, which mostly involves a lot of pizza and hanging around watching Clint’s favourite movies.
“What, Indiana Jones again,” Tony says, and Steve pauses in the half-open door, feeling oddly judged. “There are so many awesome movies out there. Star Trek! Have they seen Star Trek yet?”
“Leave it,” says Natasha’s voice, “it’s good for them, they need a little uncomplicated. You’ve got science and Pepper and Bruce has science and Betty if he ever calls her, they need Indiana Jones.”
“Hmmph,” says Tony thoughtfully, and it sounds like he’s scraping a spoon along the edge of a carton – are they eating ice cream or something? “What have you got, Tasha?”
Natasha doesn’t answer for a moment; Steve can’t see but thinks she must make some gesture. “Red in my ledger.”
“Ahhhh,” says Tony. Silence, scrape of the spoon again. Then he says, “Vodka?”
Whether or not Steve does in fact need some uncomplicated right now is not a question he feels qualified to answer (not being the wreck he still sometimes is oh no thank you), but he’s damn sure he doesn’t understand, let alone need, the kind of complicated that Nat and Tony bond over. He and Clint and Thor watch Indiana Jones, and then Steve talks himself hoarse about Nazi secret societies and the other two listen and it’s fine, it’s easy, it is, it will be, and afterwards they watch Star Trek after all.
He's not afraid of Bruce; never was. He knows Natasha was and sometimes still is, and understands it - Natasha's control is her life, both in a fight and out of it; Steve sees in her the signs of someone who's had it taken away from her once too often. But Steve doesn't mind out of control. Being out of choices makes him angrier.
So yeah, he's not afraid of Bruce. He’s sort of… he thinks this must be similar to the way Bucky felt about him, all those years Before. It’s not so much that Bruce needs protecting, it’s that it’s not fair. It'd be wrong to claim Steve feels responsible for the serum that did this to him, for the damage it did to a man who has become his friend, but he certainly feels... kinship, yeah, that's a word for it, understanding of the way your body is no longer your own, how you have to re-learn everything you knew about your physical self. Steve can't ever truly know what Bruce goes through, but he gets enough of the gist for them to understand each other, and more than enough to feel compassion for him.
Neither of these are things Bruce has known very much of in almost ten years. Once, a long – very long – time ago Steve knew what that felt like as well.
Natasha is far older than she looks. This is not a thing they have in common. She was conscious for the seventy years he was under the ice, and consciousness is a prerequisite of ageing.
Sometimes he wanders the streets of his city and thinks that New York is changed so completely he barely recognises it, changed so much Steve doesn't know how he finds his way home at night, changed to the point where it's not his city anymore, panic-attack-inducing knowledge, burning against his skin, struggling to rip itself out of him in a howl -
Until he turns a corner, and knows that house, those trees, the stretch of sky above that rooftop, grounding him, settling and centering him. It's to capture those moments, that familiarity, that he asks Tony about cameras, and begins a project of chronicling the city he loves.
Occasionally one of the others will catch sight of a photograph or a drawing he's done and ask for a print. By the time they've lived in the Tower a year, one of Steve's pictures hangs framed in just about every room in the place.
He takes one of Pepper and Tony once, mostly by accident - they were standing talking and it was perfect: on the balcony overlooking the city in front of a wash of storm clouds coming in from the sea. Pepper's hair is blowing loose in the wind, and Tony, by the railing, is angled to face her, weight on his elbow, body curved in an elegant slouch. Pepper's hand is at her shoulder, holding a strand of hair back as she talks – clever, poised, loving. Tony looks gleeful and lazy and besotted.
Pepper hangs a print of it in every one of her six or seven offices.
One day he wakes up from a dream about Peggy with a smile on his face instead of tears, and then, absurdly, wants to start crying after all, though in gratitude rather than grief: that it’s done, that the hurt’s gone away just enough, that he can remember her without being afraid of what it does to him to do so.
"May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out," Clint cracks about the blue glow of Tony's arc reactor through his shirt one day. Steve says, "Nice sentiment... where's it from?" and the upshot of that conversation is a weekend spent in his room with The Lord of the Rings; he actually even forgets about meals, the same way Tony does when he's working on something.
Steve starts wearing jeans... oh, eventually. Boots and jeans and his dog tags under his shirt; every now and then he forgets to comb his hair, but he still hates it when he doesn't get the chance to shave in the morning.
"Just don't be disappointed," he says to Maria, feeling awkward. "Or, you know, just... tell me what to do."
She throws her head back, unbound hair tangling down her back to trail on the sheets, body wriggling gleefully against the mattress, and laughs a giddy, exhilarated laugh. "Oh, where to start, where to start! Tell you what - that much I'll let you decide."
Steve laughs, watching the affection on her face, the softness revealed under Agent Hill's work persona. "OK then."
He wraps his hands around her hips, and bends over to kiss her navel because it's perfect, and then starts moving up from there.
"Hmmm. Wrong direction."
"Hmmm. First things first."
Maria drops back on the bed and hums contentedly into his mouth.
OK, look: Steve is far and away the youngest of them, and yet by unanimous and unspoken consent has been appointed Scout Leader. This is not just about the tactics, the ruthlessness, about the eye he has for a battlefield, for weaknesses and strengths. It's also stuff like the way he takes everyone seriously, and is honestly concerned for them; it's how he listens to people and how carefully he makes up his mind before deciding on a course of action; it's also simple fact that his anger can make even Fury step back, although not for long, and that Steve gives respect and loyalty where it's been earned, and there alone.
He doesn't realise it until a good while later, but it's that last quality above all that leads the others to put their trust in him.
Mindless loyalty is for equals. Mindless loyalty is for each other.
One day, the day he is given (by the grace of some higher destiny, some God that loves him despite everything he is and has failed at) absolution for a wrong he didn't commit, a failure that could never have been anything else, he drops his shield and puts his arms around his brother (my turn to protect you now and I will I promise you I will) and says "Come on, let's go, let's get outta here, I'm taking you home," and doesn't mean the city of their childhood anymore.
It’s still their city.