Tony glanced at the TV as he walked into the living room. What in the...?
“Who's watching Ghost?” he demanded as he walked over to the couch
“Oh, uh. Um. I was just, um,” Steve stammered. “Looking for something to watch and didn't... This is called Ghost? Huh.” He randomly changed the channel (ESPN) and, as Tony came around the front of the couch, bent down to tie his shoe.
Which he wasn't wearing. Interesting.
“What's wrong, Cap? Embarrassed that you got caught watching a chick flick?" Tony grabbed the remote and flipped back to the movie. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. I'll only announce your movie preferences at a staff meeting after I catch you watching Necrophiliac Nurses 3.”
Steve shot Tony a look of disgust, and Tony could've sworn his eyes were rimmed red.
Before he could investigate further, Natasha walked into the room and proclaimed, “Oh god, Rogers is watching Ghost again! Somebody please shoot me.”
Steve practically turned purple at being caught in his fib, and Tony erupted into laughter.
Clint walked into the kitchen and found Steve intently reading something on his laptop. He grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and sat down across the table.
He took a bite and glanced over at Steve. Wait, was he...?
"Cap, is there something wrong?"
"No," Steve didn't take his eyes from the screen. "Why do you ask?"
"It looks like you're...I mean. Are you crying? Did something happen?"
“Oh." Steve brushed a teardrop from his eye. "Magdelene from Accounting sent me this email. It's about a boy with Multiple Sclerosis who had a last wish for everyone to send him a card and say a prayer to Jesus, and it's just so inspirational. Wait, I can forward it to y--”
“No!” Clint practically shouted. “I mean, uh, I think she already sent it to me, but, uh, thanks anyway.”
Clint's inbox was already filled up with every last chain email in creation from the aforementioned Magdelene, and he got a daily dose of LOLCats from Joe in Pyrotechnics. The last thing he needed was for the Captain to start forwarding things to him, too.
Steve stood at attention whenever the National Anthem played. Every sporting event they watched on TV. Every time they were watching a movie and even a few bars of the music were featured. At first it was a bit of a novelty, but eventually it just became Steve And What He Did. Nothing was ever said about it, or how his eyes were usually damp when the song concluded.
Once or twice Bruce's eyes got damp, too, but not out of any kind of patriotic feeling. If he was truly honest with himself, that longing he felt was tinged with more than a bit of jealousy. It had been years since he'd believed in something so strongly that it moved him to tears.
It took an Act of God to injure Captain America. Or just an entire building falling on him.
Steve's legs had been crushed, and while his mega-super peak of human conditioning body had healed right away, it had healed while he was still trapped under the debris. It had healed wrong.
Because his body was immune to drugs, Steve was locked down onto a rhenium diboride platform with rhenium diboride braces, and because his body was so hard to break, Tony was in his Iron Man suit, performing a medical procedure he was, as he kept emphatically reminding them, NOT qualified to do.
Natasha winced as Steve squeezed her hand almost - but not quite - hard enough to crush her bones. A grunt escaped him as Tony rebroke his left tibia and fibula and the medical staff scurried to straighten them into their proper places.
They waited the few moments necessary for the bones to reknit and the torn muscle tissue to heal.
“OK, now, Mr. Stark,” the cool tones of the chief doctor broke the tense silence. “If you could just adjust his femur one more time, that last fracture from the third X-ray on the left, that should do it.”
An inhuman sound tore out of Steve's mouth and a single tear fell from the corner of his eye as Tony broke his femur for the seventh time.
Natasha turned her head and puked quietly onto the floor.
Steve wasn't one for breaking rules, but when Thor had made his offer, he hadn't been able to resist. Just this once.
The sounds of the city were far away, and a few stars peeked through the light haze above them. He leaned back against the railing and gazed at the illuminated torch shining golden in the night. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Car horns honked in the distance. Water lapped at the shore. It was so peaceful up here.
He was startled by the clap of Thor's hand on his shoulder.
“You were right, Steven. She is beautiful.”
Steve turned and leaned over the railing, looking down at her face. He'd come here a lot, but he'd always had to look up, Back Then.
He still wondered what she was thinking, her expression so stern under her spiked crown as she kept watch over the harbor.
A slight breeze whirred past his ears, too light to have caused his eyes to be watering the way they were.
“Yes. She is.”
“Director Fury, what brings you to our happy home?” Tony called across the rec room.
“Gentlemen, Agent Romanov,” he inclined his head toward them, then turned to Steve, who'd been halfway across the room on his way to grab a soda from the fridge.
“Captain Rogers - Steve. I'm afraid I have bad news about Ms. Carter.”
Fury's voice lowered after that, so none of them could actually hear him telling Steve that Peggy was dead, but the look on his face as he delivered the hushed news was confirmation enough.
"Thank you for coming, sir," Steve said when he was finished, shaking his hand. Fury gave him a curt nod, then exited the room.
Steve stood staring at nothing, still, quiet, shoulders high, as if he were standing at attention. The silence stretched on, seemingly forever, until it was broken by a soft sniffle from the couch, barely noticeable. A stuttered breath cut short over by the window. Nobody looking at anyone else, fearing what the power of eye contact would do. Not knowing whether condolences would be welcomed or best saved for later.
Bruce, sympathetic from having been the center of so much uncertain attention himself these past years, gauged the situation and breathed out a barely audible, “Steve...?”
Steve's hands clenched into fists, relaxed, tightened again.
“She was the best woman-- the best person I've ever known.”
Clint held Natasha's hand tightly, each of them brushing at their eyes. Tears spilled openly down Thor's cheeks. Tony looked at the ceiling, the floor, out the window, over to Steve, then at everyone else, giving a wince-smile at Bruce in thanks for the kleenex he handed him before taking one for himself.
“She's the reason I'm alive. She was...”
His shoulders dropped. He swiped a hand across his cheek, looked at the tears on his fingertips as if he was surprised by their presence. Head bowed, he walked from the room.