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Routine

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Steve had a routine.

He woke up without an alarm; he hadn't needed one in a long time. Every morning at the exact same time, Steve was rolling over in bed, checking the clock. The time, date and year always blinked back at him in bright red, imprinting themselves on to his brain. You're still here. Though he did it every day now, reading the time 1:11am, always felt like something was clicking into place.

1.

After that first click, he rolled out of bed mechanically, stripping down and showering without much thought. He dried off and combed his hair into place, then brushed his teeth nine times, the numbers beginning to run circles in his mind as he brushed, over and over and over until the next number clicked into place.

9.

He got dressed in his running gear, then he was out the door. He always tried to jog at first, something he remembered from too long ago about warming up and not straining himself, but he never jogged long. The numbers pressed against his mind like they wanted to be written across his forehead, begging him to go, take off and never stop. Before he knew it he was always running, sprinting until he couldn't breathe and still going, going until he reached the four hour mark and it clicked into place.

4.

Wherever he was when he hit four hours, he always stopped. He only ran so fast, so far, because of the numbers. He'd tried so many times to stop; to not run, or to run for only an hour, but the numbers just screamed at him, rattling around in his head and driving him insane until he was the one wanted to scream. He'd learned to just listen to them. So he ran until the numbers stopped, then he walked back to the Avengers Tower, using the time to steady his shaky, panicked breathing. Depending on where he ended up in his runs, by the time he got back the sun was usually almost up. He went inside, locked the door, unlocked it, and locked it again.

2.

The morning routine was over then, and the numbers had been silenced for the moment. He usually took a minute there, steadying himself against the doorframe, breathing in the sweet silence in his mind before he went to go make breakfast and continue his day. The rest of the day was sort of routine too, but it wasn't the desperate, needy routine that filled Steve's mornings. This was just a comfortable, easy routine the team had fallen into together as they became familiar with each other.

Steve would make a buffet of breakfast food, partially because he was the first up, and mostly because he loved to cook. Natasha and Clint would enter the kitchen first, arguing amicably about something or the other. Clint always stacked his plate high no matter what Steve made, always with extra bacon and at least a gallon of orange juice. Natasha simply shook her head and told him his skin was going to turn orange someday, while she took modest portions and a hot cup of tea.

Coulson (who still claimed adamantly he did not live there, in spite of his constant presence) was the next to show up with Bruce soon to follow, and the spies would both use each of their entrances as a distraction to pick off each other plates. Both Coulson and Bruce had a large cup of coffee, and while Coulson wasn't a big eater, Bruce was the one who ate a surprising amount. Well, surprising at first; once Steve had given it any thought, it had occurred to him that Bruce had been on the run for so many years that having this much food around was probably a considerable luxury. After that, Steve had always made sure there was more than enough to go around.

Thor was always the last of the ones to wake up naturally, immediately setting his sights on the heaping plate of poptarts Steve had prepared in advance. After devouring that he moved down the line and had a go at whatever was left, while Steve turned on the unique coffee machine Tony had in the corner. He clicked through the settings to have it brew Tony's perfect cup of coffee, and the dazed-looking, still more than half-asleep man himself usually wandered in a moment or so later.

Breakfast was always a rambunctious affair. They were all very physical people and there was always bickering and teasing, even occasionally a physical fight, but between Coulson and Steve none of it ever escalated too far. They laughed and messed around, chattering of plans for the day and arranging spars. The way they all lingered over the last bits of their food, enjoying each other's company, always made Steve smile.

After breakfast broke up, they usually all went to train, minus Tony and Bruce who would go off to their workshop and lab respectively. The others went straight to the basement for their morning workouts, usually training alone at first and eventually migrating together and sparring. Coulson often watched, offering tips and pointing out weak spots, and every once in a while he would lay Barton out flat when he was being more of a pill than usual.

They each finished training at different times, wandering off to do their own thing for a while. Mondays and Fridays they had SHIELD meetings, and they would all suffer through that and go out for lunch afterwards. Otherwise they ate lunch on their own or with one of the others, occupying their afternoons by spending one on one time with each other, bonding and doing things or even just talking.

Steve was the only one who didn't participate in this.

They were fantastic teammates, really, and the only people in this century he could rely on. He fought alongside them, trusted them to have his back like he would always have theirs. Yet, he couldn't become friends with them, not really. Because friends told each other things, talked about their problems, and Steve didn't want to give any of them yet another problem to deal with.

They didn't need to deal with Steve's increasing neuroticism since leaving the ice. Didn't need to know about his unhealthy dependance on his increasingly impossible to ignore compulsions to keep him sane. Didn't need to see the way he obsessed over the newspaper, taking it up to his room and pouring over every inch of it every afternoon after they went their separate ways.

This...thing, these numbers, they were his problem, his failure. He would deal with it on his own.

So the days trickled by. When they were bonding he would read or draw or wander the city, and when they were all together as a group for press events or movie nights or saving the world from complete destruction he would join in with them, fitting in instantly with a laugh or a smile he'd practiced to perfection in front of the mirror, and no one was the wiser.

And every night, he padded downstairs, locking the door, unlocking it, and locking it again with a bone-weary sigh. Because every night the numbers would rush in his ears again, crackling like static as the fuzziness of routine, of mindless habit, took over.

2.

There was one difference from his morning routine, and at first Steve had simply been glad for small miracles because he wasn't sure if even he could run eight hours a day. Yet, there was something about this particular part of his routine that made him feel sick even as he did it, like he was swallowing bile. Changing into his pajamas, getting in bed, turning out the light, then turning it back on, getting out, and changing out of his pajamas only to do it again for a total of four times drove home to Steve more than any of his other numbers exactly how completely fucked up he really was.

4.

He would then get out of bed for the fourth and final time, run cold water and splash it on his face, hoping to wake himself from this endless nightmare. Nothing. He wanted to scream, so instead he prayed. Please, God, help me. I can't...I can't keep doing this, can't keep hearing these numbers and their screaming and I'm going insane and I know it but I can't stop and I just...I can't do this anymore. I know you must have brought me back for a reason, but I can't see it. I can't do this alone, please...please help me. But God either didn't hear or didn't care, and the numbers continued to press against his skull with increasing urgency until he picked up his toothbrush and aggressively, angrily scrubbed his teeth nine times. Then the numbers finally began to slow, circling in his mind lazily as he counted down.

9.

He looked at the clock with tired, world-worn eyes as he pulled up the covers one last time, the familiar red numbers blinking brightly at him as the last piece clicked into place. 11:11pm.

1.

Steve had a routine, and it kept him sane.

Relatively speaking.