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was a miracle it hadn’t gone up in flames about ten years before it did what with all the faulty wiring, leaky pipes, outdated insulation…in short, it’s a miracle it lasted as long.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.
...I kinda forgot to mention that this has spoilers. I'm sure it was pretty simple to figure out, but I feel a little agitated that I forgot that one. Hello, my name is FAIL! And I'm addicted to writing fanfiction!
Natasha comes by a few nights later, showing up in his apartment like a whisper.
“New assignment?” he asks, coming to his feet easily from his couch.
Her brows quirk upward. “You would know if that were the case, Captain,” she says regally. “That’s why we have the communicators.”
Steve flushes, thinking of how many SHIELD issued electronics he’s broken, accidently or not. He can feel her disapproving gaze on him but when she speaks, she simply tells him, “Not a mission, Steve. A reconciliatory briefing.”
He looks up and her eyes are hard, mouth pinched angrily. She moves her hand toward his apartment door, unlocked this time after a break in, but otherwise pristine and as perfect as an apartment door can be.
He’s just dressed in slacks and an undershirt after a well deserved post-work shower, but he quickly grabs a button-down shirt and makes towards his socks and boots. He finishes dressing in less than two minutes, leaning down to grab his shield on the way back towards Natasha.
She looks at the shield like she may tell him to leave it. When he tightens his grip, she lets it go and together they exit his apartment.
For the first time since the Chitauri incident, the Avengers are all in one location, and they are a united front against a common enemy. This enemy, however, is Fury. All eyes stare accusingly at the Director and at Hill, who stands to his right.
Anger, shock, and betrayal emanates around the room. There’s yelling from almost everyone, the only silent one being Clint and that seems to be more because he’s suffering from shock. Bruce is keeping his cool, but looking increasingly like he’s going to leave soon or risk causing an incident. Stark looks like he wants to rip out someone throat with his bare hands, and Steve can’t say he blames the man. Steve kind of wants to do the same thing.
“Dammit, people hold it down!” Fury finally yells. There’s a vein in his forehead that is prominent and his one eye glares with mutinous intent. “Now, I know none of you are pleased with the way this was arranged, but you have to get it through your thick fucking skulls that this was the only way both Agent Coulson and I could see you saving the fucking world!”
Steve thinks that there had to be other ways. They were working their way pretty close to cooperation before Loki orchestrated their separation. Steve felt they would have gotten it together. “You couldn’t have said he was in critical condition?”
Natasha, standing beside Clint and looking murderous, says, “You told us that they called it,” and then in a considerably lower voice she growls, “I had to tell Clint that Phil was dead only five minutes after he came out from Loki’s spell.”
Hill speaks up from behind Fury. “This is an agency running to save the world. Every agent here knows there are risks and should expect to have to make a sacrifice for the greater good, Agent Romanov.”
Natasha looks like she might actually bare her teeth at the other woman. Looks like she may put all of her considerably terrifying moves to use against Hill and then perhaps some torture techniques against Fury for this slight against her and her friend.
Then Thor speaks up from the corner of the room, ominous and imposing as he says in no uncertain terms, “We will see him now.”
Neither of the two argue with him. Shocker.
It’s been over a month since Phil was stabbed. For the most part he’s okay now. He's still bandaged, though not as heavily as Steve had been anticipating. He is also, unsurprisingly, still under observation for some internal injuries that haven’t been healing up properly. Alien weapons…hard to account for them.
Clint grabs one of his hands and refused to let go the entire time he’s there and Natasha stands close to them both with a stiff jaw and bright eyes that could be rage…could be relief. Stark says that Agent Coulson can stay in the tower while he recuperates…and that Natasha and Clint are more than welcome to stay as well.
Thor says, “This is a blessed day that we learn of your fortitude on the battlefield.”
Steve says, “You’re gonna need Fury to get you a new card set.”
Phil smiles tightly, sitting on his bed. “Trusts me. We have had that conversation.”
After they’re shooed out of room by a gaggle of nurses, Clint and Natasha post themselves outside the room like sentries. Bruce talks with Stark for a few moments before Stark hands over his car keys and pats him on the shoulder, sending him off.
Thor stands by Steve, arms folded over his chest as he watches the proceedings with the same critical eye that Steve does. He seems stiff and happy at the same time. Steve feels just as conflicted. He’s so happy that Phil is alive and recovering, if slowly. But he’s furious that this came about at all, that Fury tricked them like this, and that they all mourned for a man who was secreted away.
Thor settles his large hand on Steve’s shoulder, squeezing in what is probably gentle to him, but would likely pain a normal person. When Steve looks up at him, his eyes are warm but cloudy with the swirl of emotions. “Do not let Fury’s deceit overwhelm the joy that we have been returned one of our brothers.”
Steve nods, forcing a smile. “I’m fine.”
Thor might be about to reply something, but Stark comes over to them, looking carefully relaxed, with his hands in his pockets and his sunglasses hooked in the collar of his tee. His face is passive, but Steve thinks he sees tension at the corners of his mouth, a slight downward turn that betrays the façade.
“We should get drinks,” he says and Steve…
Steve feels all the emotions just rush out of him, leaving him blank and empty. Alcohol won’t fix that, but it may fill up the hole he feels inside him. Even if it only is for a brief second, it’s worth a shot. Or fifteen.
“I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Stark says: “We can go somewhere else. I hear Florida is nice this time of year.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know, Cap.” He almost looks sad for him.
“Yeah.” They both take shots. “I’d send you back if I could…”
“Too bad you can’t join me.”
Some weeks later, someone buzzes his apartment…like actually seems to remember what a door is for. Imagine his surprise when he asks who’s there, and hears Clint on the other end.
“Yeah, hi, Steve,” he says, grainy and static-y all at the same time. “Phil and me thought we’d stop by for a visit. That okay with you?”
Steve barely even has to think about it. “Come on up,” he says and then quickly buzzes them in.
In the five minutes it takes for them to get to his actual door, Steve has a mild internal panic about where he should put everyone. He has his couch, and it could seat all three of them, but Steve isn’t sure how he feels talking on a couch where they’re all facing his television that is apparently ridiculously outdated. He quickly goes to his tiny little room and grabs his desk chair, setting it off to the side of the couch, just in time for the door to knock.
Phil and Clint come in, not looking around, but Steve knows they’re cataloguing his apartment. He also knows they probably find it as wanting as Stark. He’s added a few more framed posters, but that’s the only thing he’s tried to improve and most of his posters are cheesy useless things or landscapes.
They don’t comment on it, because they have some modicum of couth, unlike Stark, who still breaks into his apartment randomly. Instead Phil says as Clint ushers him onto the couch, “Thank you, Captain, for letting us come up.”
“It’s no problem,” Steve responds, feeling like that’s the closest to honesty he’s come in a long time.
Clint settles in a way that makes him look like a soft leather bag of so many bones, curling towards Phil as if to shield him from the only visible entrance that is the door they just came from. “No, really, man. You don’t know how much this means. We've been with Tony for a week and he’s cool and all…but all the construction workers make me paranoid.”
Steve is momentarily shocked by that statement. He knew Stark had offered, of course, but he hadn’t thought he meant it, and he sure as hell hadn’t expected Phil and Clint to take him up on that offer. It makes him wonder if Natasha is there somewhere as well, because the offer had been extended to her as well.
Instead of asking about her, because he’s not sure he wants to imply something that may offend them, he asks, “So, Stark is rebuilding the tower?”
At this they both give him a strange look. Steve feels like maybe he missed something important, but he can’t see how he possibly could have. He works to help rebuild the city; watches the news (if it can still be called that anymore); and reads the newspaper (when he can convince himself to actually spend three dollars on it). He doesn’t know what he could have missed.
Finally, Phil wipes his face clean of any emotion and says with a small smirk, “Yes, Mr. Stark is rebuilding his tower.”
“As well as like…half the damn city,” Clint mutters into a bottle of water that Steve swears he pulled out of thin air. And with recent events, he isn’t saying it isn’t possible.
Steve stares at the bottle of water for a brief second as the words fully sink into his head. “Stark is…?”
Clint smiles disbelievingly. “I know. Doesn’t really suit him. Did some digging when I got there, though. He’s got several charities going to reconstruction projects.”
“Wow. That’s…surprising,” Steve says, even though…maybe it isn’t so surprising. Stark is a mess of contradictions, Steve is slowly learning. Very slowly.
Clint snorts. “Not so surprising as him building some apartments at the top of his skyscraper…for not being a team player, he’s goin’ outta his way to have a team around him…”
Steve isn’t sure what to make of that. He isn’t sure what he would do in Stark Tower…if he’s even having an apartment being built. Clint isn’t good at subtlety off the job. Steve knows that Stark is building apartments for the Avengers. But his and Stark’s relationship is shifty and best; built on sand that is sinking faster than they can build up land.
“Iron Man! Report!”
“Uh…this all sucks and I better be getting an awesome retirement plan for this bullshit! Coulson, you hear that?”
“Iron Man! An actual report!”
“Alright. Alright. Keep your flag on. We got five ships above. Our lovely green adversaries are currently getting their asses kicked by me and our colorful but deadly friends…and Loki seems to be offering himself up as a sacrifice while Thor argues his brother’s integrity…I’m gonna go see if I can speed up the process.”
“No! Wait! Stark! Stark!”
He’s too distracted by yelling at Tony to see the Skrull coming at him with a copper pipe.
Restoration in New York was slowly finishing up, when an attack on Italy transpired. Steve got the call on his newly distributed phone and was out the door, hopping on his bike in order to head to SHIELD headquarters. On the way, he could hear the chaos over his comm.
The mission itself took all of their will power. Thor showed up with Loki, who lacked power on the human realm, but had offered himself up like a lamb for slaughter. Steve had to say, the guy may have tried to take over the world, but he still didn’t like seeing anyone kneel like that before another life form, like that was their allotment in life, their penance for mistakes.
The battle finished when Hawkeye sent an arrow flying through the main Skrull’s head. It wasn’t a clean finish like with the Chitauri, but there was a sudden influx of green among the human populace as their command had been felled.
Take the snake head off and the body will halt with it, Steve supposes.
Steve and Natasha end up in SHIELD medical unit. Steve was stabbed with a copper bar and Natasha had been buried under rubble for the better part of two hours.
Natasha stays in her room and for the most part so do Clint and Phil…which adds more questions to Steve’s mind about the relationship there. Everyone parades in and out of Steve’s room; doctors, nurses, stabilized teammates. He is…for the most part alone. The only one who sticks around with any regularity is Stark, who after only an hour demands, “Call me, Tony, or I get really obnoxious,” which actually makes Steve laugh, because he doesn’t want to even contemplate the man being really obnoxious.
Tony stays with him damn near the entire time he’s in SHIELD, which Steve will never admit to, but means a lot to him. A woman—he assumes the infamous Pepper Potts—stops by a few times so as Tony can sign a few things, but she leaves relatively quickly. Bruce stops by to see how Steve is doing, to which his answer is usually “I’m fine.”
It’s probably just the elephant tranqs. pumping through his system, but he kind of means it.
Sexual deviance, despite some common belief, is not a new thing. Nor is it a new way of thinking that people are born attracted to one sex, or another, or both simultaneously. It is not a new concept for people to have multiple partners in a single relationship. It isn’t a foreign idea that people cheat or have pre-marital sex. Hell, in the forties, people even knew what marijuana was, although most people were fonder of cocaine or heroin.
Steve’s time was not simpler than the time he has found himself thrown into. It’s just that nobody talked about it.
There had been a couple above Steve’s apartment with his mother, where two opium addicts had lived and distributed drugs out of. But no one said it.
The bakery across from the rundown place he and Bucky had rented before war had been run by a pleasant Jewish man, and his only employee had been a well fed atheist who constantly picked at him. The entire block knew they were gay. It’s just that no one said it.
In high school, it had been well known that Eleanor Mason’s mom and dad had been seeing Mr. and Mrs. Warburton. It just wasn’t aired publically unless someone was being a jerk.
Social outcasts have been around since the dawn of time.
History just white-washes that.
Still, he can understand why one day, when he finally asks Natasha, “How long have you three been together?” she gives him a calculating and frankly ruthless look. Quite honestly he’s a little terrified himself. That question was supposed to be in his head forever and ever.
But he supposes…some things have to wear off on a person after so long in a strange world. He’s only broken two electronics this month. Apparently, the innability to control his mouth is wearing off on him too.
Natasha, thankfully, only glances up at him before turning her attention back to the Big Bang Theory on his television. “Eight years in December.”
Steve just cracks what he hopes an actual smile and by the way she elbows him in the ribs, she understands that he meant no harm.
His home phone rings and Tony is on the other end, obviously drunk.
“Pepper and I are having, like, the most awesome break up party ever. Anyone who’s anyone will be there, and since you’re Captain America, I expect you at the Tower in like…twenty. If you don’t show up, Bruce has standing orders to pout at you.”
Steve pauses, considering the fast-paced speaking that just came from Tony, and decides to ask, “How did you get this number and who actually does a break up party?”
He can hear the annoyed huff from the other side of the phone line and oddly has to fight the urge to smirk. “I have awesome break-up parties and I got your number through shady connections to the phone company database. We’ll just leave it at that. Now you’ve got nineteen minutes to get here. Happy should be outside now. So wear the most risqué thing you have in that puny thing you call a closet and get your ass over here. Peace!”
He hangs up, and Steve stares at his phone with a raised eyebrow and a small frown. He has a moment where he contemplates not going, just because Tony is such an assuming ass. However, he has no doubt that there will be pouting, and probably from more than just Bruce.
He sighs, and goes into his room, changing out of the clothes he threw on after his shower after the gym and into jeans and a button up, rolling the sleeves up his forearms. It’s the best Tony is going to get from him in terms of risqué.
Grabbing his wallet and the stupid communicator that he has managed to resist breaking for three weeks in a row, Steve locks up behind him and heads down the stairs. As Tony promised, a man is standing in front of a very expensive car that looks out of place, wearing a suit and sunglasses with a sign that has Tony’s familiar hand writing calling for a ‘Geriatric Star’. Tony’s brand of humor leaves much to be desired.
“Happy?” Steve asks, holding his hand out to the man.
The other man takes it with an ease of a man who’s done this meeting and greeting millions of times. “Captain Rogers. Pleasure to meet you. Mr. Stark is expecting us back at the Tower.”
“Please, call me Steve,” he responds with a smile that feels mostly easy and half real.
Happy nods and reaches behind him to open the door, saying with an exasperated air about him. “Sorry about the sign. Gotta do what the boss says, y’know?”
Steve just shakes his head, but takes the sign from Happy, though he’s not entirely sure why. “Sadly, I’m starting to expect it from him.”
He finds it strange that he really meets Pepper Potts on what is usually supposed to be one of the most dramatic days of a gal’s life. He doesn’t find it strange at all that she greets him with a smile, a warm handshake, and an offer of Champaign. The dames of this era are just as—no, definitely more—complex than those of his time, but Pepper proves she can be just as inviting and warm as the women he remembers. He’ll never say this, but the way she carries herself, her will to persevere through anything, reminds him of Peggy…and of his mother.
He takes the glass she offers him, presenting her with a simile of the smile directed at him. In all honesty he has no idea what to say. He’s never heard of, let along been to, a break up party. Does he say ‘congratulations’ or ‘I’m sorry to hear you broke up’? His mother never had etiquette for this situation.
He’s saved when she looks him over critically, appraising the place where he had been run through with a pole. “I’m guessing there’s not even a scar,” she says once she’s met his eyes again.
She nods, and something in her eyes goes distant, hurt in a subtle way. “That would be a wonderful ability to have.”
She doesn’t look around for him, but Steve knows she’s thinking of Tony: who doesn’t listen to orders, or reason, or pain. Wouldn’t it be nice if Tony had his healing ability? Wouldn’t it have been a relief to the lady waiting at home for him? Wouldn’t that have saved their relationship?
But while she is mourning his humanity, Steve gets to grieve for his own extended life; shots fired before his one way trip into ice that would have killed lesser men; a lost lifetime that he survived because of his ‘ability’; people he will still likely outlive even now.
He almost thinks he can hear the screaming already.
“It has some drawbacks,” he tells her, feeling hollow in his chest…a numbness in his fingers…the creeping anger that is never too far away from him. His skin is too tight, and it burns just the way it did those first few days in this body. Beneath that his muscles starts that old ache that he always had to push out of his mind, just the like he did with sharp pains in his bones. All for the chance to serve his country.
He tries not to regret it. He really does.
He decides to leave as soon as he can, walking the distance to the subway before jogging to the gym.
Tony will get over it.
He keeps the sign calling for a 'Geriatric Star', though. It seems fitting.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
He gets used to the Avengers trampling in and out of his dinky apartment with barely a moment’s notice and, more often than not, without consulting his lock. The only two who seem to have any sort of manners are Bruce and Clint. However, seeing as Clint usually comes over with Phil if not both his lovers, he’s willing to bet that has more to do with Phil. Bruce, when he comes over, usually comes with some sort of foreign food to share with him or stuff in his fridge and small talk about an group event he’s missed…there is quite a bit of pouting.
Steve, himself, doesn’t go over to the Tower that often, thus Bruce’s pouting, but he knows the lobby pretty well, and finds himself thinking more often than not that it isn’t as over the top as he had been expecting. Stone flooring, rich wall colors, extravagant paintings that Steve would guess are pretty contemporary. It’s all clean lines, understatedly flashy unlike the man who built it. The people who work in the receptionist area are kind once they figure out he’s not a journalist, or a photographer, or whoever else may show up around the Tower.
That’s about as far as he ventures though. A few times he’s been up to see the apartments Tony is installing. He’s never seen any of the offices, or been to the cafeteria, or the coffee shop on the ground floor. He’s more than wary of the labs Bruce and Tony are always going on about, just imagining all the things that he won’t understand, and will likely break in a fit of frustration.
He’s beginning to realize he may have a problem with breaking electronic things he doesn’t like. He still has yet to brave a computer for that exact reason.
Despite how little he’s been there, or who he was waiting on when he arrived, Tony will usually come down for a few seconds to see how he’s doing. Every so often he’ll ask if Steve would like a job, because he pays much better than SHIELD or any form of government could ever hope to and that was just for cleaning paper off the floor.
Sadly as the weeks wear on, and Thanksgiving hovers in the cold air, as the streets are looking better and better, and there’s less and less for him to throw himself at, he really considers it. Anything is better than sitting at his sad little apartment, watching rain turn to sleet to the beginnings of wet snow and knowing that this Thanksgiving he has very little to be thankful for.
Instead he starts going to shelters, helping with the soup line and checking donations to make sure they’re usable. His mother always kept a roof over their head, but some other things were harder to come by and their priest always made sure to have numbers and addresses up for those who were lesser off. It only seems fair to return the gesture.
Clint comes with him sometimes, because he has actually had to stay in some of these houses, and he likes playing games with the kids after the meal has been handed out and Steve is helping to clean. It’s…kind of sweet to watch him and it fills him with a sense of warmth that comes around a bit more often, but not nearly often enough.
It’s not enough to battle the snow that’s beginning to accumulate, the shivers that are wracking his body despite his ability to endure the cold, the flashbacks that are too close for comfort when he sees a layer of white on the walkways, awnings, and steps down to the subway.
Steve doesn’t decorate his apartment for the holidays. He doesn’t really even leave his apartment during the holidays except to make short trips to the grocer’s. He’s looked at the decorations, all of the baubles, lights, and fake trees in the store that make Christmas seem so cheap and commercial and nothing of what it used to mean when he was growing up in the 20’s and 30’s.
The most he does is get his radio to play a Christmas station, and occasionally, when he isn’t reading, he’ll watch a Christmas themed movie on the television. They don’t play the ones he saw in the theaters, but most of them are pretty good; decent if nothing else.
A week before Christmas, Steve has himself locked away in his apartment with all the blinds shut firmly against the view outside, his heat on higher that conscionable, and a blanket over his lap as he watches a strange movie one of his channels is playing, called the Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s very morbid, but increasingly intriguing. He wonders what it would be like to wander into towns dedicated to holidays. When he saw the tree with the clover, he could only imagine what living there would be like.
He’s actually frighteningly engrossed in the movie when Tony comes around with a box of cookies from an expensive looking bakery. He lets himself in like he usually does; humming a Christmas carol under his breath as he sets the cookies on the table and settles in cozily next to Steve like this is their daily routine, or something.
Steve has a moment to be sidetracked, to notice the cookies, and name the tune being sung, before Tony pulls on the front of his tee shirt a few times saying, “It is hotter than the hinges of hell in here, Cap.”
“I got cold,” he returns with a shrug, unwilling to feel bad for the heat when he’s been having nightmares of not being able to reach his first friend, his best friend and watching him plummet into the valley's of ice-capped mountains, of ice coming at him at 120 mph before engulfing him in a sea of freezing water that he felt far longer than he should have… so much longer than he should have. He clears his throat and wraps his hands in the blanket one more time. “Were you humming Rudolph?”
Tony, who pretends not to notice that Steve is trying to curl further into the comfort of the blanket, allows the subject change with a mischievous grin that makes Steve feel a little warmer. “No. I was singing an improved version. I made it up. Wanna hear?”
He feels his own cautious smile sliding across his face, knowing that sometimes the best thing to do is to say know. Unfortunately, his curiosity gets the better of him before he can actually listen to that train of thought. “Sure.”
Tony makes a grand show of clearing his throat and then begins to sing, not horribly off key, but dramatic as he ever is:
“Steven, the good, kind fellow, had a heart made of gold, though if you ever met him, you would find his body slow. All of the other bullies used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Steve join in all their baseball games. Then one starry, Expo’s eve, Erskine came to say, ‘Steven, with your heart of light, won’t you fight the good man’s fight.’ Then how the whole world loved him, as they shouted out with glee, ‘Captain America! My hero! Won’t you come and marry me!’” He pauses for a moment as he thinks over that last line, which Steve will admit, even with his limited singing skills, was off a little. “I’m still working on that last bit. It’s hard to get Captain America to fit in the tune!”
Steve is part embarrassed, part flattered, and completely horrified. “How long have you been working on that?”
“Since Thanksgiving,” Tony answers with a shrug as he reaches for a cookie. “I’m thinking of doing your return to the tune of Frosty the Snowman.”
Steve unwraps his hands long enough to cover his face, and the subsequent unbelieving laugh that somehow escapes his mouth. He cannot believe this man. More than anything else in the 21st century, he cannot believe Tony Stark exists, but not for the first time, he finds himself glad that he does.
“If you patent that song,” he threatens through his hands, “I will destroy you.”
Tony settles back against the couch smugly. “Whatever you say, my good, kind fellow.”
Steve shakes his head, grabbing a cookie for himself before curling back under his blanket to finish watching this strange movie, which ends with snow in Halloween Town and a love song between the strange couple. It’s sweet and makes Steve smile a little, because it’s a strange love story, yes, but these days…these days all love stories seem a bit odd.
Tony, beside him, stretches fully, his arm coming down on the back of that couch that would remind Steve of those old tricks guys used to use on their girls if it weren’t for the fact that Steve is curled up on the opposite side of the couch, huddled under a blanket and leaning against the arm. He looks around the apartment, like he does almost every time he comes to invade Steve’s space.
For once he cracks a smile. “Y’know, for not having any decorations, I think this place is a little cheerier than Time Square. Has a sort of vintage feel to it that could go on a Hallmark card.”
“That’s what I was going for. You caught me.”
“You are such a lying shit, Rogers!”
In more ways than one, Steve thinks, but the smirk they share makes this lie a little more acceptable.
There is one day in February where Steve kind of feels perfectly fine.
One day, when Tony invites him over to Stark Tower and the rest of the Avengers are there, even Thor. Pepper, Coulson, and dark man Steve doesn’t recognize off hand are there as well, and Tony’s opening a glass of Champagne because the Tower is officially complete and open for business.
Tony gives them a tour, despite the fact that everyone there, apart from Steve and maybe Thor and the man he comes to know as Rhodey, has all but been living here for the past several months. Tony shows them all the apartment, of which there are six but only three are currently in use. He tells Thor and Steve that they can stop by or decorate or take over any time they want to. They go through the R&D labs, Tony specifically pointing out the floors where he and Bruce work.
The rest of the building will likely be corporate. Tony talks about renting out some floors to other companies and installing a donut shop somewhere, which has everyone rolling their eyes, even Steve. Tony’s penchant for sweets is one of the only things Steve can actually make sense of.
When they head back up to Tony’s apartment, there are more drinks. They play music that Steve still doesn’t like, but can tolerate so long as he give everyone a hard time about corrupting their eardrums, and they tease him about being old fashioned. Everyone talks loudly, like they’re friends, clamoring to be heard over everyone else.
It feels good…
Feels like he might be okay...
And it doesn’t last.
The next chapter is going to be much longer, so it will probably take me two or three days to have it out for everyone.
Also, sadly enough, the song Tony sings is something I came up with when I had too little sleep and not enough to occupy me. It has been said that I need help...I no longer deny it!
I am so sorry this took me so long. I didn't forget about the story, I just couldn't make the next chapter work for me. It's not really that long, but it was the best that I liked out of all the tries I did and if I have continued to work on it I would have beat my head against the wall and turned Steve into a frog.
That one day in February is a painful and shining beacon in Steve’s mind.
The months that follow turn his mind bleaker; push him back into his dark state of mind. March brings Bucky’s birthday, the first one Steve has lived through without his friend, even though the world has moved on and doesn’t even know who James “Bucky” Buchanan Barnes was. Steve’s best friend, practically his whole life before the war, is gone, and this, though not the first time he’s felt the sting of that absence, like a phantom limb, is harder to take.
It doesn’t help that it’s here, in the future, that none of his old friends are here to mourn the loss with him. He bets the Howling Commandos would have all gone out to a bar and toasted every single accomplishment, blunder, and heroic deed he ever did. There would have been laughter and poignant silences. There would have been companionship, if he weren’t here.
He only leaves his apartment once, that day, to go to a local liquor store to grab a bottle of bourbon. Bucky had never really been particular about his alcohol, but he enjoyed a good bourbon, would sip at it like it was the finest thing in life. He buys a more expensive brand, not really paying attention to the logo on the bottle, just taking the elderly saleswoman at her word before heading back to his place, locking the door and ensuring that no one breaks in by putting his small, but sturdy coffee table in front of it. Then to make sure that they can’t muscle their way in, he sits on the coffee table, leaning his back against the door, and just drinks straight from the bottle.
He likes the taste fine, the burn of it. He tries to start off slow, trying to make this more about commemoration than trying to forget. It gets lost somewhere between the fourth sip and the fifth needy gulp.
He’s calculated it before.
If he can drink an entire fifth of a sturdy proof alcohol in under thirty minutes, he can achieve drunkenness. He has half a gallon of bourbon and he’s pretty sure he can chug it in the a half hour maybe less if he can keep his eyes from burning and his gag reflex from working at the awful smell of it. The inebriation won’t last but for an hour…maybe two if he’s lucky. He might pass out, which seems like the best idea ever right now.
He hasn’t done that in a long time.
He keeps drinking, the alcohol finally numbing his senses enough to let the liquid pass into his stomach without incident. He feels heavy and sleepy, fuzzy around the edges, mind muzzy, but not muzzy enough.
The memories still filter through. They still take hold of him and infuse him with guilt, taunting him. ‘You could have saved him,’ his mind sneers at him. ‘You could have been faster. You could have braver. You could have done your job, you useless piece of filth! Why do you get to still be here when actual heroes die? Why should you get a second chance?!’
He’s heard them all before. His mind spits the same thing it has since five minutes after he woke, but it feels worse right now. Stronger. More demanding.
He closes his eyes, clenching his jaw against the ache in his in his chest, bubbling up his throat, burning his eyes. Behind his eyelids though, his friends stare at him accusingly, Peggy and Bucky at the forefront looking betrayed.
He chokes on his own angry scream, banging his head against the flimsy door behind him, his fist clenching around the neck of the bottle still in his hand until it breaks, cutting into his fingers and palm, but it doesn’t fucking matter because it’ll heal in an hour! Throwing the rest of the bottle across the room, it shatters against his living room wall, glass shards clattering to the floor in a poor reanimation of his life.
He picks the glass out of his hand with shaking fingers, moving slowly to feel every bit of pain he can, and then sets about destroying everything new in his apartment.
It’s not much but by the end of the night, and more importantly his inebriation, his television is fizzing on the ground. His communicator, cellular phone, and the small tablet he’d been given are obliterated. His washing machine is flooded and his dryer only wheezes when it tries to start.
It doesn’t ease the pain, but when he falls into bed, he feels a little bit like he has control again.
Three days later, Steve still isn’t quite back to himself.
The glass is still on the floor.
The coffee table is still blocking his front door.
His electronics are still broken.
Steve doesn’t do anything about them. Doesn’t do much of anything, really. He tries drawing for a few minutes at random intervals, but they turn out hazy and sloppy, a world through hazy snow. He can’t sleep, not since the first night when he drank a bottle of alcohol. He wants to, but when he closes his eyes, the silence of the apartment is much too close to the silence of rooms in SHIELD just after he woke.
He’s regressing. He knows that in his own mind. He’s a tactician. He knows retreat even if he can’t really see it. It doesn’t help make him feel better, though. He had almost thought that he would be okay, that he might be adjusting.
He was only fooling himself though.
He doesn’t belong here. Even if he has people around him, people who understand in their own way, this is not his home. This is not his time, and friends though he may have, that he may love and who may love him, it’s not the same. He wants it to be. He really does, and he can’t explain why he can’t just allow himself to adjust; just make the best of it, Rogers.
He wants to be okay again; to be fine like he always tell people he is.
And nothing will ever make it so.
His home phone rings, but he only takes it off the hook, before going to sit on the coffee table, leaning his head against the wall and closing his eyes to keep everything out.
The sounds still pervade his senses. New York lives loudly all around him, but he doesn’t have to see it anymore, so he can almost pretend it’s home.
He wakes up, still sitting on the coffee table; head tilted back against the thin material of the door, and someone is in his apartment. It’s a shock to him that someone is actually inside his residence, and he comes to his feet quickly, prepared to fight, to disarm weapons, and disable the perpetrator before calling the cops. He’s quiet, always is in these situations and he rounds into his kitchen where the sounds are coming from and nearly punches Bruce right in the face.
“Geez!” he breathes, irritation in his voice and face as he stares the other man down incredulously. He looks calm and collected, like he normally does when he isn’t five seconds from Hulking out and throwing bits of road at an enemy. He also has a dustpan and a handheld sweeper in his hand. That seems wildly out of place, even more out of place that Bruce is in his apartment. “What are you doing?”
Bruce looks down at the items in his hands, shrugs and says like it’s the most natural thing in the world, “There was broken glass by the window…and around your broken television…and around you. Thought I’d take care of it.” He looks around at all the other broken electronics. “Looks like I have a bit more to do though. Those tiny phone pieces can be a bitch to dig out of your skin. Trust me. I have experience with that.”
Steve watches as he goes about scooping the small messes made by the broken electronics, dumping them in the small little trash can in the kitchen. Then, after setting the dustpan and small brush in his tiny hall closet, he goes about trying to make sense of the crumpled papers around the floor. Steve almost tells him to leave them, not to look at them, just let him take care of it, dammit!
What comes out is probably a little more pressing. “Why and how did you get in here, exactly?”
If his tone is a little more hostile than it normally is, Bruce doesn’t seem to catch it and if he does, he doesn’t let it bother him. He answers like they’re having a normal conversation, and Bruce sneaks into his apartment everyday—though that’s actually the other scientist, “I climbed the fire escape after I found your door locked and no one answered. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my Tuesday, but it’s good to know I can still do it.”
There he gives a soft, somewhat bitter smile. Just as quickly as it’s there though, it’s gone and he continues on with his explanation, getting to the why of that matter. “Thought I’d come check on you, since you haven’t been answering your cell, your comm., or your home phone.” He lets out a small amused laugh. “That and I also had to put an end to Tony and Fury actually cooperating. They were all in league to host an intervention. Fury didn’t even argue when Tony dubbed the operation ‘Come to Jesus’.”
Steve gives something that might be a smile, might be a grimace, because that is a kind of amusing name for an operation, but the idea of Fury and Tony getting along is highly disconcerting, especially when it’s over him. Feeling his cheeks flame a little in embarrassment and rage, he bites his tongue to keep both emotions inside. He’s angry that they’re doing this, that they talk about him like someone who needs to be saved from himself and he’s not. But then again…he hasn’t been doing much of anything except wallowing about how much he misses his old life. Maybe he deserves this treatment.
Still, it doesn’t do much to battle the rage and he bites out, “It’s only been four days. It’s not that concerning.”
“Maybe not for you,” Bruce says, still paying no mind to his tone. “But Tony’s…well, he gets used to people indulging him, and five days is a long time in Starkland.”
Steve doesn’t respond to that, at war with himself. Part of him doesn’t give a good goddamn about what Tony Stark wants or how often he gets what he wants. Steve is his own person and he can do whatever he wants. While the other half…the other half really likes Tony, had missed him on some level and was maybe a little disappointed that it wasn’t the eccentric billionaire that had shown up in his destroyed apartment.
It’s a confusing combination and it only serves to make his head hurt and his heart ache.
“So what broke your record amount of time without incident?” Bruce asks after a long silence, where he’s really not doing much but shuffling some things around, to make his hands busy. Bruce likes to have busy hands, fidgets a lot when he doesn’t.
For some reason that fact, along with the fact that Tony has been worrying about him in his own over the top way, makes him want to be alone even more.
Bruce’s head shoots up quickly, his eyes a quietly veiled anger as he asks in a deadly even tone, “Are we back to that now, Captain?”
He sighs, feeling shame curl in his belly, but refuses to back down. “Bruce. Look, no offense… I’d just like to be alone now.”
For a long moment, Steve doesn’t think he’s going to give in. Bruce may be quiet and look like a meek history teacher, but he’s just as unmovable as the Hulk…just as angry. He stares at Steve, fidgeting with his hands. To his relief though, Bruce looks away, down at the couch where a few more crumpled balls of paper were thrown. “Right,” he says, “Alright, but at least answer your phone. It’s scary when Tony and Fury are in agreement about something.”
He takes a step toward the door and Steve lets out a silent sigh of relief, but that’s when Bruce turns and touches his arm, his fingers firm and steady as any doctors. “Hey…we’re all lost in our own way. It doesn’t mean we have to go through it alone.”
Steve shrugs away from his hand. “I’m…”
“Fine,” Bruce finishes for him, with a small nod. “Yeah, I can see that. Mind if I let myself out the front door this time?”
Steve doesn’t get the chance to answer him. Just watches as Bruce moves the coffee table from in front of the door with strength that his clothing hides, unlocks the door and leaves.
He doesn’t shut it behind him and Steve feels a little like he’s losing himself.
Shaking himself, he moves to finish cleaning up his apartment.
The phone rings and for the first time in five days, Steve picks it up.
“Steve?” Tony doesn’t really sound any different…or he wouldn’t if Steve hadn’t spent the last six months listening to his voice and all the small nuances within. He sounds relieved.
“Hey, Tony.” He leans against the wall and feels a little bad for not being happier to talk to his friend.
“Long time, no pester. Did you fall off the face of the map?”
“Something like that. Did you call off the intervention?”
Something that sounds like forces amusement plays in his voice, “Bruce is such a spoilsport. It’s not an intervention if you know about it.”
“Did you call it off?”
“Fuck, Steve, yes! Operation Come to Jesus has been aborted. Get a sense of humor.”
“I’ll work on that.”
There a drawn out pause that Steve isn’t used to from Tony. “So, Bruce said it looked like someone robbed your place…”
“Leave it alone. It was just a bad couple of days.”
“Yeah. Right…Bucky’s birthday?”
Steve doesn’t ask how his friend knows that. Doesn’t want to talk about it. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait, why don’t you come to the…”
Whatever he’s about to say is cut off as Steve replaces the phone on the receiver.
It only makes Steve feel worse.
A SHIELD agent comes by a day later with more communicators, a few more cell phones, and a tablet thing with the latest threat to New York City.
He glances past him at the ruins that still make up his apartment, a question in his eyes, a story to tell the other agents when he gets back to base. Steve closes the door in his face, ignoring the voice that still sounds too much like his tired mother telling him ‘that is rude, Steven Rogers.’
He tosses all but the communicator on his couch, picks up his duffle of dirty clothing and heads to the Laundromat.
In hindsight, perhaps destroying his washer and dryer was a bad idea.
He’s away from mostly every one for two weeks when the threat, HYDRA’s new plan to take over the world, destroys half of Brooklyn, his apartment building included.
There are minimal damages considering so many buildings collapsed. Collateral damage had been expected, but contained. Words of soldiers (‘We are not soldiers!’ Tony says in his head, and perhaps he’s not anymore. He’s losing every other aspect of himself), but it hurts to know that people were killed or injured in the altercation. It makes him think, like every battle before, present or past, that if he had just been quicker, smarter, stronger, it wouldn’t have happened.
There’s chatter over the comm., but Steve ignores it, taking in the ruins around him. Thor stands by his side, grimacing at the destruction. He claps Steve on the shoulder, heavy handed and it would probably knock over a lesser man, but Steve stands firm.
“This was your home, was it not?” he asks, strangely quiet, almost mournful for him.
Steve doesn’t know why. Home was probably stretching what the apartment was a little thin. Still, he shrugs, “Yeah…it was.”
This building only had three people injured, none of them fatal. Nothing sentimental was in his apartment. Most of it had been demolished by him anyway, and he supposes that it saves him from taking out all the heavy, broken electronics, though he’ll still pay for the things that had actually belonged to the apartment…and probably finish out the rest of his contracted rent. The only thing he’ll even miss is sadly a sign calling for a Geriatric Star.
He sighs, checking his elbow into the god’s armor. “At least I have somewhere to go. The other people in the building might not be so lucky.”
Thor nods. “We will do our best to help them. Until then, we shall rest in the Tower and regain our energy.”
Steve shakes his head, feeling a certain amount of guilt and resignation when he says, “I’m not staying at the tower. I’ll just get a hotel somewhere until I find a new place.”
Tony seems to hear that on comment through the comm. and spares no breath in yelling, “Oh, like hell you will!”
Steve argues with Tony over the comm. unit all the way to SHIELD headquarters. Tony says he has space in the tower, made space specifically for Steve. Steve doesn’t need to waste money on hotels or other apartments. He can come and be with people, y’know, people he might want to talk to. Why does he want so bad to stay in a hotel? What is so wrong with living in the tower? Is it too much to ask that he takes Tony’s hospitality?
It all finally comes to a head. All of the terrible, feelings that have been welling up inside him since Bucky’s birthday, fuck, since he woke up in this strange new world crush him. He doesn’t want to weigh anyone down with his depression, and inability to cope. He doesn’t want them to have to baby him, or take care of him, because he shouldn’t need it anymore. He’s strong. He’s supposed to help other people. That’s what Doctor Erskine’s serum made him! Why couldn’t they just let him figure it out for himself?!
In the middle of a debriefing after the umpteenth time Tony brings up the fact that Steve will be staying in the tower, Steve loses it.
“I’m not going to stay in the Tower, Tony! Just shut up about it already!”
The room falls silent around him, everyone staring between him and the man he’s glaring at. He’s breathing heavily, his fists clenched in his lap. He thinks Tony might leave it alone, but he never does. Tony picks and picks and picks until the wound his bleeding profusely and Steve is just so tired of it and his meddling ways.
“Give me one good reason why.”
“Because I don’t want to be around you!” Steve all but yells, and that’s not what he means. It isn’t, and he wants to explain. “I don’t want to be around any of you right now!”
From the corner of his eye he sees his team, his friends, react in varying manners but Tony’s is the only one he really sees. He watches the quick but deep flash of hurt go through his friend’s dark eyes, which makes him want to punch a hole in the wall, because it’s still not what he meant! He doesn’t understand why he can’t just say what he means. Why is his mouth not cooperating with his brain?
“I just want to get through this entire…thing,” he says, trying to make it better, trying to get them to understand that he’s not adjusting as well as they thought he was; that he’s floundering and he doesn’t want to drag them down. “I don’t want you around for that.”
But it’s still wrong. It’s still so wrong and he’s hurting his best friend, the man who he’s constantly cursed and blessed the entire time he’s been here. Tony’s jaw clenches and he tilts his head defiantly, and he looks ready to unleash verbal acid like he hasn’t since the first day they were in each other’s presence.
In the end, he just nods, standing from his chair and leaving the room.
Steve sits in his chair, trying to figure out a way to make this better, to explain, and to make his words work for him. After so long in the suffocating silence though, he too stands from his chair and makes his way out of the room, immediately hearing the hissed whispers of his team. It makes his stomach churn to know that he tucked tale and ran, but he can’t.
He’ll fix this later when his head is on straight.
If they let him.