Steve finds balance in this new stupidly flashy, over consumerism driven, cheapskate, cold—so fucking cold—world somewhere between hating himself for waking up and falling in love with Tony Stark.
Steve thinks it over and over again as he stares into the mirror of his tiny bathroom, in his tiny apartment that is close to where he grew up. The building he was raised in was destroyed in the 1980’s. Fire, the records he found in the library said. The article he found over it said there was speculation over the structural integrity, whether it should have gone down sooner. A firefighter said that it was a miracle it hadn’t gone up in flames about ten years before it did what with all the faulty wiring, leaky pipes, outdated insulation…in short, it’s a miracle it lasted as long.
There’s now some sort of supermarket where his childhood apartment building used to be. Nothing in the store is under $0.39. When he was a kid, $0.39 would have bought him two quarts of milk and a loaf of bread, which here in the future costs him about $15.00. He’s learned not to look at the prices when he shops, even though he gets the off-brand products, otherwise he probably wouldn’t eat anymore.
It’s still a tempting thought.
Of course, he isn’t fine. He hates almost everything at the moment, from the New York City skyline that’s so different from how he remembers it, to the bits and pieces of the cellular phone he had smashed against the counter in a misguided fit of rage and frustration. He hates inflation and politics. He hates people acting too busy to actually watch where they’re going. He hates television and radio and billboard signs.
He hates the 21st century, in all of its detached glory.
After Thor is back with his brother in Asgard, Steve goes out in his civilian clothes and volunteers with a community disaster relief program to help clean up what he can. There’s a lot of destruction from the alien invasion, lots of places to work. He picks and chooses from day to day in an effort to feel something other than anger in his stupid little apartment that he tries to make feel comfortable, but fails at so miserably.
The cleanup is long and detailed. SHIELD is working with the government, local police forces, and clean up details to get the Chitauri sent to various places that Steve really doesn’t care about so that scientist can examine the bodies. The weapons are collected or stolen, and there’s a rash of crimes that involve the guns or spears. The chariots are being looked over by everyone and their uncle. Blah…blah…blah…the information he gets is buzzing noise in his ears.
He just goes out and helps, it keeps him busy, keeps his memories at bay, and when he feels good enough not to hate everything so viciously it makes him feel accomplished.
He doesn’t see the other Avengers. He doesn’t see many SHIELD members excepting the ones that occasionally pop up with a few folders, a new gadget that he breaks almost out of spite, or to do a psych eval. that he probably only passes because he’s Captain America, and they all moon over him like he’s too good for existence. Dames swooned over Erroll Flynn with more grace than some of these agents.
It surprises him that the first person he sees from the team that isn’t really a team is Stark. Stark in sunglasses and a black T-shirt that has some foreign symbol on it and the letters AC/DC. Steve has come to understand that’s a band, and not a commentary on electrical current. He’s also come to understand that music in this world is awful. Stark is inside his apartment, which is so confusing because he’s always locked his doors. Despite what people think, the depression wasn’t smiling people and knitting circles. His door was even still locked when he came in, covered in sweat and debris and grime and despair.
It shouldn’t surprise him…at least he doesn’t think it should because this Stark has no sense of moral judgment and breaking into an apartment is the least offensive thing Steve can think of the other man doing, save for perhaps making a suit that lets him help the civilians out. It does surprise him for the sheer fact that he kind of expected Natasha to show up first. He felt like he connected with her out of everyone else the best and she had seemed to like him as a general human being. But here’s Stark…who pretty much didn’t like him at all outside of their suits.
It’s been a month since they saw Thor off, carting his bother in tow with a gag over his mouth and manacles around his wrists. They had shaken hands, said farewell, good job done, thank god we didn’t kill each other first, and then Stark had taken Dr. Banner away in a flashy car and Steve had gone the opposite direction. Pretty much the theme of their interactions with each other.
“You know, you live in probably the most depressing atmosphere I’ve ever seen,” Stark begins, without looking around the small apartment.
Steve feels a flash of irritation, common not only with the man lounging on his couch, but with random things in general. The washer and dryer his apartment came furnished with, which have too many buttons and knobs that he doesn’t know what to do with and so consistently ruins his clothes. The microwave, and all the subsequent stupid things that go in the microwave or can’t go in the microwave. Not just Stark, just what Stark represents. The future. A future that Steve hates.
“What are you doing in here, Stark?” he asked, irritation still in his voice.
He doesn’t look up from the StarkPad in his lap. He doesn’t take his sunglasses off. He doesn’t actually move. He just says, “Uh, you weren’t here when I came over and your neighbors looked twitchy so I thought I would take cover in here and wait until you got back. Don’t worry I didn’t touch anything. Wouldn’t want to touch anything to be honest. Seriously this stuff looks like it contains-”
Steve interrupts him before he can continue to insult the things that Steve really could give a damn less about. “Why are you here?”
The sharp tone in his voice must gather Stark’s attention because he looks up, sunglasses in place, clear but dark blue in the fading sunlight of his apartment. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d pop by to see how our resident Capsicle was doing. I would have asked Fury, but in light of recent events I really don’t want to even look at his face, let alone ask him how the team is doing. That and I honestly think he detests the fact I even know you're awake, so--”
“I’m fine,” Steve cuts in again, staring at the other man blandly.
Stark just stares back, his face unimpressed and disbelieving. “Right. So am I. So is Bruce. He sends his regards by the way. We should do lunch sometime.”
Steve shakes his head. “That won’t be necessary. I’m usually doing cleanup during the day.”
“You have to get food sometime. I know. People yell at me if I don’t. Usually JARVIS…who you haven’t met, but I’m sure you will one day.”
“I pack a lunch. Some of the places set up sandwich bars. I’m fine, Stark.”
Stark nods, looking more like he’s placating him instead of agreeing with him. “Awesome. So, we’ll pick you up around noon. Have you had sushi? I’m feeling the need for sushi and sake.” He stands and quickly moves towards Steve, bowling over him this time when he attempts to cut in and tell Stark to knock it off. “No. No, this’ll be fun. Like team bonding or whatever. Afterwards we can play basketball and braid each other’s hair. Good times had by all. See you soon.”
He’s out the door in the next heartbeat.
Steve stares at the flimsy wood for a moment as if it’s betrayed him, but after two full minutes, he shakes his head, goes over to lock it again, and continues on his original plan, which had been to shower, to cook something on his stove…and maybe smash the microwave. He'll pay for a replacement later.
Stark actually does show up at the site he’s working on though it’s well passed noon. Steve glances at the watch on his wrist. Why…he isn’t quite sure. But the clock face tells him it’s 1600 hours and he feels the same surge of irritation he felt yesterday when seeing Stark in his apartment. He’s in a suit, expensive and well tailored and smiling hugely behind dark glasses as a few people run up to him for his autograph.
He throws up two fingers and a jaunty wave before he walks toward Steve, pushing his hands into his pockets and keeping those sunglasses on his face. Steve in general likes sunglasses, but he really wants to break Stark’s with a pretty deep passion.
“How long have you been out here?” the man asks, strolling up to him as if they’re old friends. As if either of them belongs here.
Steve tilts his head to the side with a slight frown. “Since seven.”
“Yikes. I didn’t know they would actually allow people to stay that long.” He looks around the street, completely unperturbed by the damage that is still just everywhere. Steve wants to bite out that he would know if he actually did something other than whole up in his lab or office, but he decides against it at the last second. He doesn’t want a redo of the Helicarrier. And he knows that Stark is busy, running a business, being a hero, inventing new and better things that will further confuse Steve but impress the world at large.
Stark looks around for a few seconds longer, appraising everything, though it doesn’t look as if he’s judging the progress made or not. When his sunglasses reflect Steve’s image again, he asks, “So, ready to go?”
“Cool. I found this nice little sushi place about a block away from here,” Stark says, his head jerking towards the car he’d just pulled up in. “Bruce is already getting us a table, and getting the sake ordered.”
Steve takes a deep breath, gearing up to tell Stark to go the hell away, but all of a sudden Stark is taking off his sunglasses and leering a way that Steve has never liked and sort of always associated with bullies, saying, “I will make a huge deal out of this right in the middle of this busted up street. Come on.”
Steve has a moment to glare, but he glances around at the other workers who already have their phones out, presumably taking pictures on the stupid things, because phones do that these days and people are too damn nosy for their own good. He tries not to glare at them, as well, not wanting to feed whatever curiosity is drumming through their brains, and he tries not to give into Stark. When he fails at not glaring at the onlookers and sees Stark take a deep breath, he caves painfully, invisible rocks collapsing on his shoulders.
Lunch goes about as well as can be expected. Dr. Banner and Stark get along like a house on fire, and talk about things that Steve can’t understand, which makes him even more frustrated and he picks at sushi and some weird soup and salad. They seem to notice. Try to bring him in on the conversations once in a while, but…
Steve decides to go home and stare at his old-fashioned television for a bit. Depending on his mood when he arrives home, he may even turn it on.
“Leaving already?” Dr. Banner asks, turning his tired but happier eyes to Steve as he stands.
Steve nods and forces a smile that he’s pretty sure looks real. “Yeah. I’ve got a few errands to run before I go back to my apartment.”
It’s pretty much a blatant lie, and he would feel bad for it, but he’s just…not really into sitting here and watching two geniuses talking about things that were beyond scientists of his time.
Banner nods, making an understanding noise in the back of his throat, but Stark gives him this look, like he can see through all of Steve’s bullshit.
For a moment, he thinks Stark might actually call him on it, start a fight right here in this tiny sushi restaurant. He stares, one chopstick in his hand and tapping against the table rhythmically. In the end, though, he just pushes his own smile out. “It was good seeing you, Cap. We should do this again some time.”
Banner nods and so does Steve, but he’s already gathering his things and preparing to go back to the volunteer station for more work, when it hits Steve that he hadn’t told Stark where he would be working that day. Steve has been working randomly all over the place since volunteering. His eyes dart up again, trying to catch Stark’s, but the other man is flagging down a waiter to get the check. Banner’s still looking though, his hands folded over his mouth and his eyes staring back at Steve critically.
He leaves without another word.
Steve is lounging on his couch, second hand and really squishy, but also comfortable, watching M*A*S*H on one of the few channels he has. It’s…surprisingly something he can get into. It’s about war, but it’s not about the nitty-gritty details that haunt his dreams and sometimes, if he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, his days too.
He doesn’t have a severe case of PTSD, but he’s paid enough attention to the psychology people to know that that’s what they’re looking for. Even if he did have acute post traumatic stress disorder, he thinks the time displacement is more brutal.
M*A*S*H, though, it’s something that he can watch, and in a way connect to, and it’s on one of the few channels he gets through basic cable. It also is apparently going through a marathon, so he doesn’t have to search for anything else, although he might because soon Murder, She Wrote is going to be on and he likes that show a little bit more than the one he’s watching.
It’s been about two weeks since Stark dragged him out to a late lunch, and he’s trying to forget that the man ever interrupted his schedule. It’s hard to do. Stark and Banner have been the only ones he’s seen that he has any sort of connection to. Even while working on the city, he tends to keep to himself because he just doesn’t get what the people around him are talking about. They seem to chatter in a different language that Steve understands some of, but not enough to interact.
He’s contemplated going to the SHIELD headquarters to see if he can find any of the rest of the people he worked with. Not the psychologists or doctors. Not even Fury. But he’d like to find Natasha. And that Clint guy. He’d like to see how they’re faring after the aliens—aliens!—had attacked New York. However, only having just been released from SHIELD, he’s not so eager to go back in on his own volition.
Sighing, he’s about to get ready to go to the gym, Murder, She Wrote or no, because he’s tired of sitting in his apartment and staring at the television, instead of doing something useful. It may be close to midnight, but he’s just not sleepy and he doesn’t want to stay here anymore.
Maybe Stark is right. This is kind of a depressing place.
He ends up under the hellish fluorescent lights of the stores that used to be his apartment building, staring at posters, and then at canvases and paints, and then for some reason he isn’t entirely sure, he ends up staring at throw pillows.
He buys a poster and a frame for it, and two throw pillows that sort of match his couch, but not really.
It doesn’t really make the apartment lighter and he still ends up going to a 24-hour gym until 0300.
Banner shows up at his apartment one night, looking worn thin and in need of a shave, or a friend.
Stark is off on a solo mission.
Steve lets the man stay with him for a week before Stark phones and says he's back. Bruce suddenly looks better than he had before, breathing out a sigh of relief and looking like he gained a few years back to his life.
“The other guy apparently worries about him,” Bruce says as he gathers up a few things. “After reading his file, I can’t say that I blame him.”
Steve nods, trying to check back his own feelings of worry for the infuriating thing that is Tony Stark.
Once Bruce has his duffle packed again, he holds his hand out and Steve takes it. “Thanks for letting me pace your living room, Steve. I appreciate it.”
“It’s not a problem,” he returns, giving a brief shake.
Bruce keeps hold of his hand, his eyes heavy on Steve’s skin, invisible claws picking at the surface. “If you ever need anything…”
Bruce nods slowly, but goes on his way.
Steve goes to sleep some weeks later and dreams of war. He dreams of people with Hydra weapons shooting at his unit that is somehow stationed in New York City; of Peggy shooting at Chitauri alongside Natasha while Bucky and Clint take crack-shots at chariots and Germans together. Then the world goes sideways and he can see Colonel Phillips in a shouting match with Director Fury, while Dr. Banner talks with Dr. Erskine and the Hulk sleeps in the middle of the street, his raucous snores shooing away enemy fire better than a force field.
There’s a young blond woman in the middle of the street, scared and shaking, and Steve starts running towards her, but then she turns around and all Steve can see is his mother, staring at him with horror stricken eyes. He stops running to just stare at her, unable to move for hours on end as chaos reigns around them and buildings fall in great crashes that are muted as the sound of Marie-Jose’s Au jour le jour begins whispering across his memory.
Steve looks up at the sky, gaping with the dark, sparkling of space, monsters flying everywhere—too many to stop. Helplessness settles over him, a bone-deep weariness.
He looks back to his mother, but she’s dead on the ground, like Peggy, and Bucky, but now joined by Clint and Natasha. He looks around in horror as he sees Bruce obliterated with a Hydra weapon. Thor wanders around placing mistletoe over everyone’s deceased forms while Howard comes running toward him, calling for him to come back, telling him that he built a time machine, that they can make this right.
Steve steps after him, looking around at the chaos for one last look.
Stark is next to Bucky’s fallen form when he finds them, picking up his hand and shivering from the cold. The man looks up, in a regular well-pressed suit as Chitauri and Hydra members go screaming by them. He looks old and worn, mouth set in a grim line as he says, “Not a soldier, but a good man.” Then he’s shot in the heart, where Steve notices the arc reactor is missing.
Steve comes awake with a gasp and struggles for the shield he keeps by his bunk…bed. It’s there, and for a moment he tries to let it ground him, but his realities are mercurial. He closes his eyes, wishes for home. He wishes for the 1940’s where he might still be in a war, but at least it would make some amount of sense.
He opens his eyes and 2012 slips into place and he’s lost all over again.