Running. He’d been born running, in fire and death, with screams all around. He’d been born running and he wasn't sure he'd ever learn to stop.
He'd run from the government and their labs and the Strategic Science Institute, and then he'd run from Colonel Phillips and his logic and his tactics; they kept mistaking his running away for heroism, for integrity and honor, (for running towardsomething,) and they were wrong. He was running, (he'd run from SHIELD too, and their fake reality, their future their past their missions and responsibility. He'd run, for the first time, from responsibility.) and he didn't know how to stop. He didn't want to stop.
That was why he'd had that brush with Stark. Stark was running too, and if Steve could see that so clearly in him, then he knew Stark would see through him just as easily. (He'd started running so long ago. A dying man's trust is the heaviest burden he's ever borne, and he'd borne it running. He can't bear it any other way.)
And then-- nothing. He's in Brooklyn, his birthplace, and he runs, miles and miles of oddly smooth concrete, round every burough, across the bridges (even the ones he isn't supposed to walk on-- the police don't care.) He runs until the echoes in his head go silent, until the throbbing of his pulse takes up every iota of his consciousness. He runs until he stops, directly in front of Stark Tower with its now-shared power source (clean energy, he'd looked it up, was usually not clean or not very energetic. Stark's was both, and profound for all of that. Stark was using his power to run, too, and he knew, he must know.)
Steve went inside, as he always did, and smiled shyly at the receptionist, as he always did, and he did not ask for Stark's extension on the telephone, or his floor to use the elevator (with no attendant, which still made him pause awkwardly, which usually meant the doors closed, because-- no attendant.)
"He always calls down," the receptionist said, as he turned to go, to run again. "After you leave. He asks whether you look healthy, happy. He told me to give you this after last time." She held out a card, small and plastic (as everything in this marvel of a time was) and shiny black. When he took it, he saw it had his name on it, stamped with disturbing precision.
"Last time?" he heard himself ask, and his voice was hoarse, unused and breathless from running.
“You were feverish and your sleeve was torn off," she said.
"It wasn't a great day," he agreed. "But I don't like bullies." Bullies were learning not to like him either.
"He said to tell you that 'Howard would want you looked after, so just take the damn card.’"
Steve turned it over in his fingers. He knew what it was of course-- people used them all the time in the antiques shop. But still-- "Howard is dead," he said, and placed it precisely on the counter before turning to run some more.
He’d had nothing when he'd walked out of SHIELD. He'd gotten a job in an antiques shop (he'd been born in an antiques shop, he'd replied honestly when the proprietress had asked him about his experience. She'd laughed, charmed, and he’d moved into her spare room, while she helped him fumble through the first few weeks of his job, of this new era. She was kind, yet still he ran, every day, tireless.)
When he returned to the antiques store in Brooklyn, his proprietress rushed to his side and whispered, “Oh, Steven, what’s wrong?” the way she hadn’t when he’d come home bruised and torn up from bullies.
“You can’t run from dead men,” he said, and she didn’t look at him like he was a few cards short of a full deck, like she ought to (like he did, every time he forced himself to face a mirror).
“That makes sense,” she said. “As dead men can’t chase you.”
He stared at her and thought about Dr. Erskine and the weight he’d placed on Steve with the brush of a limp finger, about Bucky Barnes and Peggy, and about Howard Stark, who couldn’t chase him, not exactly, but whose son was running just as furiously as he himself was.
He shut his eyes against her quiet sympathy and pulled himself up. When he went up the stairs and shut himself in his room, he thought that while he’d been born running, he was now reduced to hiding. (He wondered when that had changed.)
He locked the door and lay on his single bed with its hospital corners and stared at the ceiling. He was hiding.
Stark had been right; they were none of them soldiers.
When dawn crept back into the room, he forced himself to sit up, to look into his mirror and shave, to put on a clean set of clothing.
The antiques store was still and musty when he walked down the stairs, back straight, and the bell jangled comfortingly when he pushed through the door.
He found the subway entrance almost by accident, but still, it was the entrance to the midtown train, and--
And dead men can’t chase you.
When he left the subway and saw the tower, a frisson of something like fear chilled him, but he walked in anyway. The receptionist’s friendly smile melted into something like surprise, something like disgust, and she reached into her desk and pulled that black card out again. When Steve glanced back up at her face, it was smoothed into a smile, but he knew what she was thinking.
She was wrong; he didn’t need Stark’s money. But he’d started mistaking running for hiding a long time ago, and Stark was doing the same.
Steve might not be the man to show him that, but Tony was Howard Stark’s son, and dead men might not be able to chase him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t pay back his obligations.
“Can you please direct me to Mr. Stark’s extension?” he asked, ignoring the black plastic card. She stared at him.
“I’m sorry, Captain?” she asked, and Steve smiled at her.
“You said he calls down when I leave; can you call up?”
“Oh! Yes, sir. It’s no problem--“
“Hey, Capsicle,” Stark said from behind him. “Didn’t expect you back so soon. The shortest time between visits excluding this one is four days, 18 hours and some change.”
Steve could feel his cheeks flushing, and the way his blood was pounding in his ears felt so much like running that he just stared at Tony, disoriented.
“You--“ he started. Stopped. Considered hiding again, and pretending it was running. “You’re like me.” He bit his tongue, because that wasn’t the right way to put it. Stark was smooth like glass and all spark and flash. Bluntness and empathy wouldn’t--
But Stark didn’t shy away, just shut his eyes wearily and nodded slightly. “You should come up, Cap,” he said, and it sounded like resignation, or it sounded like hope; what it didn’t sound like was Stark.
But then-- “Tony,” he said, and he offered his hand. “Dead men can’t chase you.”
It was an offering and a benediction; victory and surrender all rolled up into one. He may have owed Howard and more than owed him, but Howard wasn’t here. “Tony,” he said again.
Tony led him to the bank of elevators, called one. They stood comfortably, side by side, while they waited, and when the elevator arrived, Tony surged into it and turned, holding the door open for Steve to follow once he’d gotten over that initial hesitation.
“Dead men suck,” Tony said, and while it wasn’t the best rejoinder, it was an offering too, of sorts. Empathy without bluntness, because while he wasn’t Howard, he was still like glass; all jagged-sharp and bright and bloody.
Steve smiled at him through their reflections in the elevator wall, and Tony nodded back.