It wasn't that Steve hated the twenty-first century. It was loud and fast and there was no one he really knew, but he could get past that. If there was one thing Steve did well, it was pick himself up and carry on fighting, and he wasn't going to let iPads or Artificial Intelligences change that.
The problem he had was that he didn't understand it. He'd experienced that before as well; the Tesseract, HYDRA weapons, Johann Schmidt's scarlet skin - all were beyond his comprehension when he first encountered them. But they'd been beyond everyone's comprehension. Even Howard Stark had looked blank the first time Steve had handed him one of the blue-powered guns, and Howard was probably the sharpest guy he'd ever met.
In the twenty-first century Steve didn't understand the huge screens in Times Square or the machines to wash dishes and clean the floor or half the references his team mates let trip out of their mouths with every sentence, and he was the only one who didn't. He was the only one who looked blank when Stark yelled "YOLO!" after knocking back a shot, or who thought padawan was a type of tropical fruit.
Worse, his team mates were getting sick of explaining. Or, like Tony, they were just amused at the things he didn't know. It was like being back in basic at Camp Lehigh - there were jokes and lewd stories and Steve was the skinny kid no dame had ever looked at, so the guys didn't even bother to include him in the conversation.
He was trying to catch up, reading the history text books their new handler Agent Sitwell had found for him and watching television with the rest of the team, trying to pick up what was being talked about. Ads were good. Ad breaks were great - the product name was mentioned then there was a picture of what it was and usually a scene of someone using it. Ad breaks let him pick up all sorts of things (except that one with the scruffy guy saying, "Inevitable". Steve still didn't know what that had to do with perfume.).
But now movies were television, and television could be recorded and Tony ordered JARVIS to skip all the ads, so Steve was left wondering why everyone else was laughing when the characters on the show started talking about Ross and Rachel.
Modern humor really did rely on having seen everything that everyone else had seen.
Steve was thinking on all of this in Tony's lab when he should have been reading a colorful book entitled "Hippies". He sometimes thought Tony and Bruce didn't like having him in the lab, but neither of them had said anything and they'd yet to kick him out, so he kept wandering down after his time in the gym to read on the sofa while they talked about things he wouldn't have understood even if he'd been born in the same year as Tony. Not understanding the science, knowing that the two of them were geniuses that no one could really understand, was somewhat comforting.
Besides, Steve had never lived alone. He liked the comfort of other people, even if they weren't talking to him. And he was hoping that familiarity would breed something besides contempt between himself and Tony.
Today it was quiet. Both Bruce and Tony were bent over screens, immersed in their own work. The music was, well, boppier than what Steve was used to, but it wasn't the loud stuff that Tony often listened to. Steve could at least understand what everyone was singing about. It was easy to become engrossed in the book, and he felt like he was learning something about the culture rather than the facts and figures that were in most of the books Sitwell gave him.
It was comfortable, and Steve didn't even realize that time was passing until Bruce gave a huff of laughter. It seemed he was laughing at the song that had just started coming through JARVIS' speakers.
Tony didn't even look up from the piece of machinery he was doing something to. "Pepper added it to my playlist. She adds it to every playlist."
"Not a fan of the Fab Four?" Bruce asked and Steve felt his forehead crease. Was the Fab Four what those guys in blue called themselves? With the rock man? What were their names?
"I'm a huge fan. It's just that this song seems like some sort of pointed message."
Steve listened to the words just as Tony joined in. "I don't care too much for money. Money can't buy me love."
Tony seemed to notice that Steve had stopped reading the history text and kept singing along. He crooned as if he was born to be on stage and Steve could not help rolling his eyes. Typical Tony Stark grandstanding.
Still, as the song finished he found himself applauding.
"The Fab Four?" he asked. "Reed Richards has a band?"
Bruce gave one loud burst of laughter before his hand covered his mouth, eyes still sparkling with mirth.
Tony looked outraged. "How dare you? How dare you?"
Steve raised an eyebrow in what he hoped was a questioning manner.
"How dare you mistake that cheap scientific hack with the genius of the Fab Four?"
"Tony." There was a warning tone to Bruce's voice.
Steve rolled his eyes. "You can't just explain my mistake?"
"No! For you have insulted genius!"
Steve sighed and stood up. There were some days he could handle Tony Stark, but many more when he just couldn't.
"That's right," Tony continued. "Don't come back until you've educated yourself."
"Steve, you don't have to go."
"It's okay, Bruce. Howard was exactly the same when he was inventing." It wasn't strictly true. For all of their similarities, and there were a lot, Howard had always had time to explain fondue or vibranium or women to the naive kid from Brooklyn. Steve thought Tony was so many steps ahead of him that he really had no concept of how far behind Steve felt. But comparing Tony to Howard was probably better than explaining how he always felt so stupid around Tony - the relic Tony so often described him as - so he pressed on. "Like father, like son, I guess. I'll go read on the roof and stop being so distracting."
There was a tenseness in the line of Tony's shoulders as he bent over his work, but Steve kept walking, wanting to get away from the strained atmosphere as soon as possible.
"Good sciencing, guys," he said. Bruce flashed him an apologetic smile before the door clanged shut.
"Did you have to be so mean?" he heard Bruce ask as he walked away, the serum allowing him to hear, even through the thick glass.
Tony's voice was tense and his reply confusing. "He has to learn to googol sometime."
Steve didn't go to the roof. He went to his apartment in the tower where there was a pile of gifts that grateful New Yorkers had sent after they'd saved the city. SHIELD had sorted through them once already and made sure none had been sent by the modern HYDRA or super villains of some sort or, well, fans of Loki, he supposed. Steve had read every letter and looked at every gift. Thor had eaten any foodstuffs and Steve had packed up the clothes and toys, ready to send to an orphanage until he was told they didn't really do orphanages anymore. There were still nuns collecting for the less fortunate, though, so he'd sent everything off there. But there were a few things that were either not something the poor would have wanted or something that was a bit too personal.
In the back of a box was a leather-bound journal. It was embossed with a copy of his shield and was made well. It wasn't something stamped out in a machine, it had been done by hand, and even though the lines on the pages made it useless for a drawing journal he'd kept it, thinking it might come in handy some day.
Today was the day. No more waiting for people to explain, no more showing his weakness to his entire team. Bucky had always told him he had to learn to protect his vulnerable spots. He'd never been very good at it. He'd always stood up, lifted his chin, invited the bullies to take another shot despite what bruised ribs did to his breathing. Bucky always had his back.
Well, Bucky wasn't around anymore, so he'd have to cover his own six.
He opened the journal and carefully wrote on the first page:
Fab Four -
He wasn't going to let his team see his weakness anymore. He could smile and nod and write things down and go back to them later and no one need ever know that he was writing his own guide to the twenty-first century.
The problem with deciding to look stuff up on his own was that he wasn't sure where to start. He wasn't sure the local library had catalogue cards anymore, and even if they did, sometimes he was looking for a single phrase or one word that everyone was laughing about. Computers could probably help him, but everyone assumed he was more comfortable with paper, so they left piles of hard-covers around the place.
Agent Coulson had given him one of those tablet things, had assumed he'd know how to use it. Everyone else treated him like he was a senile ninety-year-old who couldn't remember that the war had ended.
"You are a ninety-year-old man, Rogers," he muttered to himself as he parked his bike in front of a shop called Starbucks. "And now you're talking to yourself, so senility is a possibility."
He took his helmet off before he decided to strike up a whole conversation and walked into the cafe.
Thankfully there was someone in the present day that he did trust to have his back.
Steve was still staring at the menu board when he heard a second motorcycle roar behind him. He turned to see Logan pulling into the spot beside his bike and he stepped away from the cashier while he waited.
Steve smothered a laugh as the sound of Logan's grumbling drifted in through the window. "Damn helmet laws," he said as he fiddled with the bike. "Not like I can die."
Then Logan's bulky presence was filling the door and he was stepping forward, hand outstretched, as if a week had gone by since they'd last talked, not seventy years.
"Good to see you, Cap," he said and it was so familiar Steve could have cried.
He didn't. It wasn't something men did. Instead he pulled Logan into a half-hug, hands still clasped and one arm around his shoulders, and murmured, "Likewise."
"Have you ordered yet?" Logan asked and Steve looked back to the menu.
"Do you still think of the days when your coffee came black and with the rough consistency of diesel, and the girl behind the counter filled your cup every time you nodded at her? Is macchiato actually a drink? I thought it was a town in the Italian Alps."
Logan laughed and clapped him on the back before stepping up to the counter, leaving Steve to find his balance after the powerful knock.
"A double espresso for me and a venti moccacino for my friend."
"Logan," he said without a blink. "And the moccacino can come in one of those reusable cups. Steve'll like it."
The woman nodded and grabbed a large silver thing, handing it to someone working at a machine that wouldn't have looked out of place in Tony's lab.
"Was that all?" Logan nodded. "Won't be too long."
Steve shuffled along behind Logan to the end of the counter and they milled about with a number of other people until Logan's name was called. They used to bring your coffee to you, but he'd been living with Stark long enough to see coffee served in paper cups. They collected their drinks and walked out into the park to find a sunny spot to sit.
"This isn't paper," he said when he was lounging somewhat uncomfortably on a park bench looking out over the lake.
"It's reusable. Take it back and they'll charge you a little less and refill it. One small way you can save the planet, Cap."
Steve snorted at that as he moved the plastic lid thing to the side to expose the smallest aperture to drink from that had ever been invented. He shrugged and pulled the entire lid off before taking a gulp of what turned out to be a delightful mix of coffee and chocolate with foam on the top.
"Drinking coffee saves the planet now? I'll retire the shield and let Stark caffeinate himself to peace on earth."
Logan snorted at that. "Less litter saves the planet."
Steve liked Central Park. Unlike the city that rose and fell and rose again around it, it stayed largely the same. The trees were a bit bigger, and the cars driving through the center looked more like the flying things Howard had dreamed of instead of the cars of his time, but it felt the same. It was still an oasis of calm; somewhere to take a deep breath and take stock. He didn't try to break the silence; instead he watched the ducks swimming along and wondered if there was somewhere to buy bread to give them a feed. He spotted a sign in the distance.
Please do not feed the ducks. Bread is bad for their digestive system.
"Can't even feed the ducks anymore?"
"Don't feel too bad. You can still feed the pigeons." Logan laughed at the glare Steve sent him, before continuing. "So, want to explain why I'm getting voicemails from you about Google?"
"I'm sorry. I would have asked Jarvis - I did ask Jarvis - but -"
Well, he wasn't sure what happened. It was possible he didn't have the - the context of having lived in the twentieth century to understand Jarvis' answer, but he knew that the AI had made no sense whatsoever.
"Well, the conversation went something like this," he told Logan. "I said 'What's a googol?' and Jarvis said, 'It is a number that is equal to one followed by one hundred zeros'. So I asked why I had to use it and he said, 'You don't, Sir, that's what you have me for.' Then he said, 'Incidentally, a googol is approximately how many times better I am than that trumped up piece of software you were asking about.' Then I called you."
"Who's Jarvis and why were you asking him anything?"
"Jarvis is Stark's Artificial Intelligence robot thingy, and I was asking because Stark said I had to learn to googol sometime."
He heard that huff of breath that said that Logan was laughing. "So what you're telling me is that Stark's robot butler is as big a jerk as Stark is?"
"No, Jarvis is usually very helpful. I think I just didn't understand..." He trailed off at the look on Logan's face and turned his gaze back to the ducks. One of these days he was going to realize he was the butt of a 21st Century joke when it was happening.
"We'll find an internet cafe when you finish your mocha and I'll show you. In the meantime, how are you settling in?"
Steve sipped at his drink, wanting time to formulate his response. He didn't want to say he was confused. He didn't want to say he missed everyone, from Peggy and Bucky, down to Dum Dum and even little Annie, who'd entered into the orphanage as he was leaving and who probably had great-grandkids by now. What was that to Logan? SHIELD had confided that Logan was probably immortal; Logan knew all of this. Steve wasn't sure which was worse: watching everyone you love grow old and die or waking up one morning to find that seventy years was gone and every single thing was different, from clothing to music and food and sure he was a smart guy but it was a bloody lot to take in and -
"I'm only twenty-six years old. I want to feel like a twenty-six year old instead of feeling like sitting on a park bench watching the ducks like an old man is the only place I fit in."
He didn't have to ask Logan if he was making sense. For all the temper and growling, Logan was damned good at understanding people, and he only had another seventy years experience at it since the last time they'd seen each other. Logan grunted and sipped at his coffee, which was exactly the response Steve had expected.
After a moment of sipping his coffee, Logan spoke again. "You adapted from being the skinny kid everyone beat up to being Captain America. And then from being Captain America, seller of war bonds, to being an actual soldier. You'll adapt to this as well."
And with that simple statement, Steve relaxed. Logan had known him before, as a soldier on the frontlines. They'd covered each other's backs on more than one occasion. More importantly, Logan knew what it was like to live back then. If Logan thought he could do it, then he could.
He relaxed back onto the bench, stretching long legs in front of him and enjoyed his mocha until a young woman in very short shorts and something he'd describe as underwear on her top half stopped in front of them.
"Do you have the time?"
Steve blinked then looked at his watch, which had been kept in storage for all the years he was frozen. "It's quarter to two," he told the girl.
"Is that one forty-five?"
Steve blinked again, not sure what to say. Finally, "Yes," escaped his mouth.
She called, "Thanks," over her shoulder as she strode off, Steve's eyes following her as she went.
"Did she just ask..?"
"Dames wear a lot less these days."
Logan flashed him a grin. "Yup. Welcome to the 21st century."
After the woman with the cut-offs was out of sight Logan had stood and walked away without a word. Steve had followed, the same way he had when Logan had taken him to a Parisian brothel. The same way he had when Logan had stripped naked and walked into the warm waters of the Mediterranean on the first day without fighting that they'd had for a month.
The internet cafe was less enlightening than the brothel but the sense of relief he felt at discovering Google was as great as the relief he'd felt at that cove. Different, of course, but he still felt a great weight lift from his shoulders; he felt like things made sense again.
After two months someone was finally explaining things and showing him a place where he could look up everything that didn't make sense. He didn't have to make sense of other's explanations. He trusted his team to save his life, but giving him a straight answer was something they just couldn't do.
He pulled out his notebook and began to write.
"Uh, Cap, you're not supposed to draw it."
He smiled. "I'm not. I'm just writing down things as I learn them. A glossary, I guess."
Under Googol - a number equal to 1 followed by 100 zeros. he wrote, Google - how to figure out what Stark is talking about at any given moment. Next was Wikipedia - very, very useful, but not always to be trusted. Remember, don't search for myself unless I want to be very disturbed. Steve added, Mocha - delicious! Do it again! just to be thorough.
Logan also showed him news sites, twitter and finally lolcats, where he lost most of the next two hours, barely acknowledging the clap on his back that signaled Logan's good-bye.
When he realized, he sent an email on his new account. "Thanks for all your help. Remind me I owe you a beer."
The reply was almost immediate. "You still owe me one for Paris. Let me know when."
Steve discovered bikinis when he got home that night. The renovations to Stark Tower had included a swimming pool on the roof for the team to share and tonight, in the August heat, most of the team was relaxing in it while Clint turned steaks on the barbecue.
Pepper and Jane were there, lying on loungers in their swimsuits and chatting away. Steve tried not to stare but also tried not to be obvious about looking away. It was just so much skin; even watching television had not got him used to it, and this was different. These were his team mates’ - his friends’ - girlfriends. He looked at the pool instead just in time to see Agent Romanov climb out.
He could not have looked away. Not even if it was a direct order.
This swimsuit was different to the ones covering Pepper and Jane. This was more akin to the top the girl was wearing earlier, black triangles tied strategically in place and Steve sat down before anyone realized he was growing hard.
Natasha walked straight towards him and stood dripping water as she stared at him. "How are you, Cap?"
He raised his eyebrows. She wasn't usually this friendly. "Fine, thank you. You?"
"I'd be better if you weren't sitting on my towel."
"Oh." He could feel the blush spreading across his cheeks and he quickly tugged the towel out from under his thighs. She took it from him and began drying her body, and to stop himself from looking he drew out his notebook and began to illustrate the definitions he'd found, starting with the Fab Four.
He'd discovered that the Fab Four were a band from the 1960s. The internet even let him listen to some more of their music. Beside the definition he drew the Fantastic Four behind the Beatles instruments. Ben Grimm made a good Ringo, he thought, and Reed would be John Lennon, leaving Sue as Paul McCartney and Johnny as George Harrison.
The sketch was rough, but he was satisfied once he added the floppy haircuts he'd seen earlier to their heads. The Thing looked particularly ridiculous. He heard a snort from beside him and looked up to find Natasha watching him sketch.
"Do you mind?" he said automatically, sounding exactly like he had when the younger kids had watched him drawing in the orphanage.
She shrugged and tied a piece of fabric around her waist before walking towards Clint. Steve almost stopped when he realized his graphite was sketching the lines of those legs, but realized he needed to illustrate whatever it was the swimsuit was called anyway, so added a quick illustration of her front as well.
"It's called a bikini," Bruce said from his side, and Steve looked, thinking he was watching Steve sketch as well, but his eyes were firmly on Natasha's thighs. He glanced back at Steve. "I think they were after your time."
With that Bruce walked to the barbecue, snatching a glass of wine from Dummy as he went and smiling down at Natasha as he presented it to her. Natasha touched his arm and laughed - actually laughed - at something Bruce said.
Steve wrote, Bikini - scraps of fabric roughly fashioned into something that covers all the essential parts of the female body. Apparently designed by a male who was either the smartest man ever born or a bit of a masochist. and quickly changed the model's features so no one could tell it was based on the Black Widow.
Their little party devolved as people started drinking and Steve really wished that alcohol affected him. Everyone was in various stages of inebriation and it was never fun being the only sober one at a party.
"We need to - shush - need to get to know each other," Tony said from the hot tub, thankfully interrupting Doctor Banner's explanation of his attempts to recreate the super serum. Apparently Bruce didn't realize that Steve had just been the subject and no one had ever bothered to explain the science to him.
Tony had an arm securely around Pepper and Jane was on his other side, pinned to Thor's torso. The girls were giggling even though nothing appeared to be funny.
"Everyone in the tub! We're gonna play a game!"
Bruce and Clint had protested, Natasha had just glared, but Tony had insisted. "This is the perfect way to get to know each other. If we know each other we trust each other and then you all know I won't let you fall from sixty stories up." That got him a glare from everybody. "Just kidding! Now get in the tub."
Steve reluctantly slid into the hot tub, thankful for something called board shorts. He didn't want to be wearing a swimsuit that looked like a pair of very revealing briefs like the ones Tony was wearing. Clint had thrown them at him, and despite the fact they had a picture of his face on the leg - and his shield on the butt - they concealed everything necessary.
Pepper had looked at them with distaste and asked who his merchandising manager was, and he'd quickly scribbled 'merchandising' into the book for later examination.
Now as he slid into the warm water - that was where the 'hot' part came from, obviously - next to Natasha, he could only feel apprehensive about what was to come.
"I'll start!" Tony said. "Steve, truth or dare?"
"Oh, did they have truth or dare where you came from?"
He felt fingers light on his thigh as it was tensed to push him out of the tub. "Tony, start with someone else," Natasha said, and Steve let himself relax again. He wasn't willing to stay for yet another round of 'Tony-ridicules-Steve-to-feel-better-about-himself', but he also wasn't willing to move with Natasha's fingers still resting against his leg.
"Okay, Agent Romanov, truth or dare?"
"You pick one, Captain, and have to answer or do the dare, and there are consequences if you don't. Truth."
"How much did you want me when you started working for me? Come on, the truth now!"
"Not one bit. Pepper, truth or dare?"
"How the hell do you put up with him?"
"Practice," Pepper replied promptly, leading to a pout from Tony and laughter from everyone else.
It went like this for a while, questions about siblings and first loves and most embarrassing moments. Steve was already composing what he would write in his book: Truth or Dare - infantile game where people ask you questions or dare you to do things and you have to submit or risk ridicule from your peer group. I think stories around the fire or the pressure of battle a much better method of team building. There was a definite aim to stay away from sensitive topics, so when Tony asked the question again, Steve answered, "Truth."
"When and where did you lose your virginity?"
"That's... what..." Steve closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Why did he still lose his cool in the social situations? He could command a team with ease, but ask him something personal and he was back to being little Stevie, holding up a wall in the dance halls and blushing every time a pretty girl so much as looked at him. "I don't kiss and tell," he finally managed to say.
"Whoever it was is probably dead by now, so what difference does it make?"
Steve cringed at that, the memory of his lost team, his lost friends, suddenly sharp in his heart.
Tony ignored the glares that comment got and continued gleefully. "Or is she? Did you only get that v-card punched since you woke up? Or is it still on your to-do list?"
Steve considered writing 'v-card' in his book, but given the context he could guess what Tony meant. Thinking about it gave him time to get his temper under control.
"I'm not answering that," Steve said, and he could hear the commander come out in his voice. He hoped Tony left it at that.
There was an awkward silence then while Tony took a swig from a bottle and it was Bruce that filled it. "I guess that's a forfeit then, Cap. I think we should take you out clubbing for it."
"I think you should take him to a brothel," Tony muttered, a suggestion that was met with numerous protests from the rest of the group.
"Stop being an ass," Pepper was saying when Steve spoke again.
"I've been to a brothel."
All conversation stopped.
"I was a soldier in an overseas deployment, not some innocent raised in the lap of luxury. What did you imagine happens during wartime?"
"Well, that answers the where of where Cap lost his virginity, and the when in a general sense, so I'm calling that answered," Clint said, and Steve hoped the blush creeping up his cheeks would be attributed to the hot tub and not the knowledge that this was a lie - of omission at any rate.
He looked at his watch. "Ten-thirty. Past time for all ninety-year-olds to be in bed. Good night, everyone."
There was a chorus of good nights from everyone except Tony who just looked at him over his glass, giving the impression he was a lot more sober than he was acting. Steve didn't care, he just had to get away before the memories overpowered him.
Back in his room he looked at the locked footlocker that Tony had presented him with when he moved in. Howard had kept it for him all this time, and Steve hadn't been ready to look inside, had known what was in there without having to look. But tonight he had to see.
He had to break the lock, had no idea what Howard had done with the key that he kept safe when Steve was out on missions, but it was a cheap, army issue lock and easy for him to pull off. He went straight for his sketchbooks hidden under some spare socks and a couple of novels. He flipped past some pictures of the Howling Commandos and a detailed image of them with Howard that he'd drawn from a photo, to an image of a woman reclining nude on a chaise.
She was the woman Steve had met - had paid for - the first time Logan had taken him to the brothel. She'd been lovely, someone else doing what was necessary to put food on her family's table during terrible times. Steve had told her, stumbling over his words, that he was waiting, and could they just talk, and she'd smiled, absolutely delighted.
She'd let him talk about Peggy and how strong and brave she was and of the picture that he was trying to draw of her. She'd loved the idea of his art, and asked him to draw her, and so she became the first life drawing he ever did. She'd had full breasts and full hips and chestnut curls that reminded him of Peggy's and he'd stayed all night, filling the pages of his book.
He'd gone back every time they were in Paris, and she'd told the other girls so that they were always happy to entertain the American Captain and have a night to just sit and chat or catch up on sleep while he recorded the line of their spines or a particularly full set of lips.
Howard had seen the pictures of course, he'd been particularly fascinated by the nude pictures Captain America drew, and had tried to convince Steve to draw the girls in pin-up fashion, but Steve's favorites were when the girls fell asleep, harsh lines from a lifetime of hardship falling away as dreams overtook them and he could capture a soft smile or eyelashes dark against a creamy cheek.
Sometimes he got aroused, and more times than he could count he'd gone back to barracks, thanking the Lord that rank came with a private room so he could shove his pants down and bring himself off, but it had always been Peggy's name on his lips as he came and it had left him feeling embarrassed and a little guilty, but looking forward to the war's end when he could court her properly, make an honest woman of her.
And seventy years later he was still waiting for the right dance partner. Or maybe he'd waited too long and he'd never get that dance.
The next morning the people who could get drunk were feeling very sorry for themselves when the Avengers were called to assemble. By the time they made it back to the tower Tony was brainstorming a fool-proof hangover cure as well as a way to be able to inject it directly into his bloodstream while wearing the suit.
Steve was trying to figure out why the man they'd been fighting had turned to crime.
He opened his laptop on the kitchen table and tried to figure out what to type into Google. The villain had called himself Abacus and had seemed to be obsessed with numbers. He'd said that people had stopped using some of them, which was crazy because people still knew how to count to nine and eleven. Then he'd said that he would count the cost in blood, which was when Steve had decided it didn't matter what he was raving about, he just had to be stopped.
But now it was over he wanted to understand, because Clint had said, "Poor, crazy bastard," like he understood and Natasha had murmured, "He must have lost someone," and had sounded almost sympathetic.
Typing '9' and '11' into the computer gave him nothing, so he tried '9' space '11' and opened his notebook to make some notes. The first answer Google gave him was 'September 11 Attacks', so he clicked on the wikipedia entry.
There was a photo of a giant plume of black smoke that on closer inspection seemed to be coming from two buildings. Part of another building collapsed. Rubble. A building on fire. Part of the caption read 'a section of the Pentagon collapses'. They'd flown the Howling Commandos back to the US for a week of R&R so that Steve could be there for the official opening.
And now it was... what? He quickly read the article and some words stuck out. Suicide bombings. Terrorist attacks. World Trade Centre. It wasn't just an attack on a military installation, but on civilians as well. Two thousand, six hundred and sixty-nine dead in ... a matter of hours. His pen stayed resting on the open book because he didn't know what to write.
"You alright, Cap?" Bruce asked as he dropped into a seat, a giant plate of curry in front of him. "You look a little shocked."
"No one told me," Steve replied, and he could hear in his voice that he sounded confused, and maybe a little scared. "They flew planes into buildings and - I didn't even know the World Trade Centre had ever existed."
Bruce put his fork down and looked at him. "I'm sorry. I thought it would have been in your official debrief from SHIELD."
"They were giving me time to settle in before an official debrief, but then Loki happened, and since then I've been living here. And I'm doing history chronologically - I'm still in the sixties."
"It was a defining moment for the nation. We're still fighting a war in Afghanistan that started on that day. I was already overseas by that stage. Unfortunately the world hasn't changed that much since you went to sleep - there's still hatred and there are still people who think harming others is the way to get their message across, or gain power. I mean, the Khmer Rouge, the Balkans, the Rwandan genocide -"
"There's still genocide?"
Bruce looked a little guilty at that question. "Maybe you should ease into this. It's a lot to take in at once."
"Doctor, I was there at the liberation of more than one concentration camp. I saw Auschwitz mere days after the Nazis fled. I know about the atrocities that humans can commit."
"There's not really much more to tell," Bruce said, but he told Steve the history, and when Steve asked why no one went in to save everyone, Bruce explained how the United Nations missions often ended up with soldier's hands tied rather than with any sort of actual peacekeeping.
Steve searched as Bruce talked and he wound up with a list of numbers in his book.
World Trade Centre - 2,996 dead in the initial attacks, 1 million + in the War on Terror.
Bosnia – 25,609 dead.
Somalia – 500,000+ dead.
Rwanda – 800,000+ dead.
Cambodia – 1.4million+ dead.
"It was the same after World War One," Bruce says. "They all called that the war to end all wars."
"But if we're not learning from our mistakes..." Steve trails off. "Why did I fight? Why do any of us?" There was a time Steve didn't think like this, only thought of whether something was the right thing to do.
Apparently that time was in the 1940s and seventy years on ice made him question even this part of him that he thought was hard-wired in.
"If you want the world to be a better place, Cap, you have to make it that way."
"That was very Gandhian of you, Mr. Stark."
"Well, you don't need to sounds so surprised, Dr. Banner."
"I don't know. If Tony Stark starts being right about things that aren't science-related, I may start worrying about the end of the world."
Steve let their friendly banter wash over him; it reminded him of the Commandos and he wished he could fit in with this team as well as he fit with that bunch of misfits.
"We thought we were going to change the world," he said softly, interrupting them. Bruce and Tony both turned to listen. "Our little squad of heroes, with Jim Morita and Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter, though she was only rarely on the front lines. But we were an integrated unit and we never acknowledged it, but when the Howling Commandos stepped up for awards at the end of the war we were going to be proudly integrated - we were going to insist on it. We were fighting a war against a madman who thought he was better than another race, and we were going to prove we were all heroes. But there's still hate and genocide and...all of it."
"Don't know what to tell you, Cap. The world sucks."
"That's very helpful, Tony. Thank you."
Tony shrugged as he walked out, coffee in his hand.
"Do you know who Gandhi is yet?"
"Gandhi was active long before World War Two, Bruce," Natasha said. Steve hadn't even realized she'd wandered into the kitchen; she was always so quiet.
"I'm sorry, Cap." Steve shook his head. It didn't matter.
"Bruce, you're about to fall asleep in your Wheaties."
At Natasha's words, Steve looked a little more closely at Bruce. "You should go get some shut-eye." Bruce smiled a little apologetically and ambled from the room.
"I think I used to be better at this."
"Telling people to go to bed?"
"Realizing what my men need."
"You call the shots when we're in battle, Cap. You don't need to make sure we eat our greens."
"I guess I'm just feeling lost. Maybe I'd be better off back in the army. That never changes."
"You'd be surprised." She smiled at him over a bowl of fruit salad and yogurt. "And I don't think the army would fix anything for you. You're just feeling lost because nothing is familiar. Because people and technology and fashion and even the streets are all different."
"You're almost as helpful as Tony."
"Have you read my file?" she asked.
"Everything that wasn't redacted."
"I was in a similar situation. I walked away from everything that was familiar, from the men who gave me orders to the ideology that we believed superior. Funnily enough, the people and technology and fashion and even the streets are very different here to what they were in the USSR. My best advice would be to find things that you love about this new place you find yourself in, and concentrate on those. And the things that you don't like? Genocide and hatred? Change them. You're Captain America; you can do that."
"What did you find to concentrate on?"
"Oh, you know. Freedom and individuality. Things like that. Reese's peanut butter cups."
Steve smiled at that. "I remember when they were released. I've still never had one." She raised an eye brow. "They were a bit out of our price range, and Bucky always preferred to spend any change on hard candy. It lasted longer."
"Well, Captain, we'll have to change that." She picked up her empty bowl and headed for the kitchen.
That night he found a small bag on his bed. Inside was a selection of Reese's chocolates – peanut butter cups in three sizes as well as M&M type chocolates called Reese's Pieces.
There was also a small print, a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, with a quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
It was easy to hear Natasha's advice, but harder to put it into practice. He was scribbling furiously in his notebook.
Angry Birds – There are birds. That are angry. And they try to kill innocent pigs who are just trying to protect themselves with what they can. And I know it's not the worst out there, because Clint showed me the game where you steal cars and get extra points for hitting people. And I'm probably getting angry about this because my mind can't process other things, like all the wars and genocide and the atrocities. And the fast pace of life and how angry everyone is, but they're pigs, just trying to live their life. And maybe everything I need to know about the 21st century is encompassed in that.
He read back what he'd written. No matter how hard he looked for the positive, he kept finding things like this. He walked down to the gym for yet another session of destroying punching bags.
An hour later his mind felt clearer and his old SSR t-shirt looked like he'd been out walking in the rain and his track pants felt like they were sticking to him. Sometimes running hotter than everyone else really, well, sucked. There was a part of him that felt proud that he used some modern vernacular, even if it was in his mind. He turned as he was unwrapping his hands to find Natasha standing in a corner and observing.
"Agent Romanova." He felt himself get even hotter; it was one thing for her to see him dirty and disheveled on the field of battle, but did she have to catch him looking so disgusting at home? "What can I do for you?"
"Sitwell said you might need some company."
"I should go apologize," Steve said immediately.
"He's gone back to SHIELD, so it can wait. Why did you destroy his phone?"
"It's stupid. I know it's stupid, but that game."
"He said you were talking about Angry Birds."
"I asked him why they were killing pigs. What did the pigs do wrong? And he said they didn't do anything, they just needed to die."
"They're just pixels on a screen, Cap," Tony said, walking in with his friend Happy following behind.
"It's what the Nazis used to say about Jews."
"Is that Godwin's? I think that's Godwin's. Whoa, Agent Romanova, stop glaring at me. I'll shut up."
Steve thought Godwin's was something he should probably look up, and he walked to where his notebook sat by his towel and scribbled it down.
Godwin's Law – the idea that any online argument will eventually end in comparison to Hitler and the Nazis. The person who makes the argument loses. I'm not sure it's fair when I was fighting them about three months ago; I don't have many other comparisons to make.
"Did you want to go a few rounds, Cap?"
"What?" Steve looked up from the StarkPhone he was googling things on trying to figure out what Natasha had said. "No. I -" He didn't want to fight her when he was sweaty and disgusting and he couldn't say that without spontaneously combusting, so he gestured helplessly and pulled the t-shirt away from his damp skin.
"I noticed that." Of course she did. And of course she'd comment on it. Natasha was very direct with her team in a way he hadn't been expecting when he'd learnt she was a spy; it was as if she got tired of dancing around issues in her work life, and wanted as many straight answers as possible at home.
"You could turn the air conditioning up," Tony said. "JARVIS?"
Cool air started blowing immediately and Steve gave a sigh of relief. "I always forget about air-conditioning," he said with a shrug. Tony's back was to him, but he could almost feel him roll his eyes.
Natasha gave him an appraising look. "You know, they also have new material you could wear. It's moisture-wicking." She was walking around him and he could feel her eyes taking in the damp patches on his back and thighs and, well, glutes. Her fingers touched his lower back, sending a jolt of electricity through him, then she stepped back. "Hit the showers, soldier. We've got a mission for the afternoon."
"Yes, Ma'am," he said before executing a perfect left turn and marching himself out of there without looking back. If he looked back she'd see his face which had gone red again at her observation. If he looked back she might see another part of his body that was having a more visceral reaction to her appraisal, and if Tony saw Steve would never live it down.
Unlimited hot water was a luxury of the 21st century he usually indulged in, but today he'd go for the icy cold shower option.
By the time he made it downstairs Nat and Clint were dressed in civilian clothes and waiting for him.
"You're right," Clint said, looking him up and down. "It's past time we took him shopping."
Steve looked down at his chinos and plaid shirt. "What?"
"You're dressed like a grumpy old man," Natasha said.
"At the moment I am a grumpy old man."
"You're only twenty-two -"
"-and we're going to get you dressing that way."
"Honestly, Cap," Clint put in. "how are you ever going to get laid dressed like that?"
"I- whu - Clint!"
"Getting laid is having sex."
"I know what it means, but it's not something you talk about in front of a lady."
"Nat's not a lady."
"Of course she is. And she's one that could kill you with her bare hands, so it's always better to err on the side of caution."
"Yeah, Barton." Clint flinched as he was slapped in the back of the head. "Treat me right. Okay, Cap, we're ready for a shopping experience. I've called on Clint to be the sassy gay friend, but it's more likely he'll be comic relief."
"I'm ready," he said, though he felt anything but.
Mostly shopping meant standing in the change rooms and letting Clint and Natasha shove things at him. He'd managed to look up a few more things while he waited, like moisture-wicking - moves moisture away from the skin so body temperature stays regulated, like wearing woolen underwear - muscle shirt- sleeveless shirt designed to show off guns, like Clint usually wears, - and polyester - plastic they make into clothes, may need to ask Tony if I want to understand more than that.
When the grumbling of his stomach had finally been louder than his verbal grumbling, Nat said they could take a break for lunch.
"So is shopping pretty much the same, Cap?" Clint asked.
"There's certainly a lot more money to spend now. But Macy's still has the same escalators." Steve grinned. "Bucky and I came to Manhattan just to ride them when we were kids."
He was sitting in front of a burger with a pile of bags around his feet. Even with super-serum, shopping was exhausting.
"You know, you're even more gorgeous in person than on the old news reels."
Steve jumped about three feet and ended up with his drink all over his shirt.
"Even coca-cola is sexy on you."
"Um, thank you?" The man speaking was well-built with a slightly mad glint to his eye, and he was getting very close to invading Steve's personal space.
"Wilson, what are you doing here?" Clint asked over his burger. The name 'Wilson' seemed to put Nat on high alert.
"You know this guy, Clint?" Steve asked.
"You don't know me? There hasn't been a debriefing with my name on it? A warning to avoid me? Logan didn't mention me? He said he was going to mention me."
"I'm sorry, he didn't."
"Yeah, well he's been pissy ever since I told him Hugh Jackman wasn't my type."
Steve looked across at Clint, hoping the 'help' was implied in his eyes. Thankfully Natasha spoke up.
"What are you doing here, Wilson? Just providing me with a target?"
"I am actually here to offer my services."
"You want to join the Avengers?" She sounded dubious.
"Golly gosh, no." The man - Wilson - pointed at Steve. "Notice I didn't cuss. That was for you, buddy." He turned back to Natasha. "I just want to be able to say I fought alongside Captain America, and since you've had two baddies trailing you since sporting, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity."
"What?" Steve started looking around for the people trailing them and Wilson smacked his palm into his forehead.
"You don't look, Cap. Geez. By the way, poor work on the spying, widow lady. I saw you - too busy checking out the Captain's gluteus maximus to keep an eye out for enemy insurgents. Completely understandable. That Cap's on everyone's freebie list - even mine." Wilson turned and Steve found himself looking into deep blue eyes and batting eyelashes.
"I was looking for the enemy," Natasha muttered as she pulled out her phone. Clint had disappeared, clearly looking for a vantage point.
"They've got a camouflage unit like mine. They've been changing faces pretty regularly, but they're definitely there. Walking towards us at the moment, actually."
There was a young couple walking towards them. The girl had pink hair; the man had bits of metal sticking out from his face.
"I think they're just shopping," Steve told Wilson. "They're kind of weird-looking, I guess, but they don't look like the enemy."
Then the girl opened her mouth and it kept growing and growing and there were more teeth than he could count on display.
"Get here now!" Natasha was yelling into her phone. "And bring our gear!"
More of the creatures were popping up around them and Steve sorely wished he had his shield in hand. Next to him Wilson's face was flickering and then it was replaced with a red mask with huge black ovals were his eyes should be. "Here, Cap. You can have one of mine." He was holding out a katana, and Steve shook his head.
"I'll do better with the table," he said, and picked it up, hoping Tony would bring the others soon.
Wilson - Steve still didn't know if that was a first or last name - was reckless and out of control and brilliant and completely fearless. He launched into the fight against whatever the hell the aliens were with complete abandon, katanas taking them out left and right. Unfortunately, cutting them in half made each part grow teeth and for a short while their enemies were growing exponentially.
Steve's option of hitting them with heavy things seemed to be doing a better job. Next time he went past Wilson he handed him a table leg. "Blunt force trauma," he said.
"Aww, Cap, you take away all my fun."
He gave Wilson his best commanding officer look and was surprised when it worked. Wilson gave a jaunty salute and turned to go back to the fight.
He heard the sound of flight from above him and looked up to see Tony coming in to land. "Holy shit, is that Deadpool?" he asked.
"Holy shit, is that the Hulk?" he heard Wilson say. "I'm fighting with the Avengers. This is the second best day of my life."
Steve took his shield from Tony's hands and turned to deflect another row of teeth. "They need blunt trauma. Cut them in half and they'll grow back."
"S'cool, Cap. We're all good with blunt force."
It was true. Hulk had one of the beasts by the tail and was using it to beat its fellows. Thor was hitting things with his hammer and Tony began to punch things. Natasha seemed to be using tables to help cover people who still needed to be evacuated and an arrow whizzed past his ear, and they discovered sharp objects through the brain were acceptable.
Once the Avengers had assembled it was short work to take out the swarm of beasts. Thor was moving through the bodies, bashing through the skull of any still twitching, and Wilson was following him around like a puppy asking to hold the hammer.
"I'm sorry, my red friend, it can only be wielded by those who are worthy."
"It's Deadpool. And who says I'm not worthy?"
"I think none on Midgard would be worthy, Pool of Death. This is an odd name for a Midgardian, is it not?"
"But oh, so accurate. Is it true your brother had sex with a horse?"
Steve shook his head to clear it and turned to the police captain that had walked in.
"Thank you, Captain Rogers. You got here very quickly."
"We were, uh, shopping." He turned around looking for their bags. He did not want to go through the whole rigmarole again. There was a thud behind him.
"You good, Cap?"
"Clint! Where did you get a bow?"
"Sporting goods were kind enough to loan me one. They're minding our bags as well."
"Oh, thank God."
"Uh, guys," Tony said. "We've got incoming."
Steve spun on the spot, bringing up his shield, in time to see a number of reporters picking their way through the rubble.
"I'd better find out where Bruce went," Clint said.
"It was a real honor, Cap!" Deadpool yelled as he climbed up the wall towards an upper floor window.
"I'm just retreating," Tony said. "Better part of valor, and all that."
Steve sighed, and turned towards the reporters.
Later that night he finally got a chance to look up "freebie list". He was blushing so much he decided not to write it down.
"Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer."
Steve frowned at Clint's words. This was the sort of thing he had the book for, but he'd seen the acronym and spoken without thinking. And Tony was in the room; he wouldn't let this one go.
"Frowning that they're all so open now, Cap?"
Steve felt his frown deepen, but he had to ignore Stark. "No. It's just... well, lesbian, bisexual and queer were all used when I was young. Queer wasn't a very nice word either. And transgender I can make a guess at. But why are happy people included in the group?"
"Gay people. Why are they included?"
Clint laughed at that. "Not happy. Gay is the word used for homosexual men now."
"So when Natasha called you her 'sassy gay friend' she wasn't saying that you were happy and a little cheeky?"
"Oh. Why do you have 'gay' when you're already using 'queer'?"
"Queer is more an overarching sort of thing. An umbrella term, or if you don't quite fit into any of the above but still aren't straight. Heterosexual. Straight is the word for heterosexual."
"That's an awful lot of labels."
"And what did you call them in the forties?" Tony asked, sounding very defensive.
"Well, I called Arnie 'Arnie'. And I called his boyfriend, 'Michael'. And if I had to put a label on anything, I called them friends."
"You had gay friends during the war?"
"Before the war. Arnie grew up with Bucky and me. He went into the navy. Didn't come home from the Pacific."
Steve looked back down at his cereal. It hadn't even been four months since he'd found out. Well, four months that he'd been awake for. Bucky had got a letter from his sister right before they headed for the train mission. Yes, it had been a war, and people died during wars, but he'd barely had time to process Arnie's death before Bucky was gone. Then there was the ice, then there was here and the madness of the 21st Century, and really Steve hadn't had time to process any of it.
"So you think gays should be able to serve in the military?"
"Of course. It was illegal, and men had to hide it from the brass in my day, but it was often an open secret. If you could hold a gun and were willing to shoot Nazis, then you were welcome."
"Wow. Your Republican friends aren't going to like you."
Steve had some notes about the new GOP in his book:
Tea Party – nothing to do with the queen. Something to do with Republicans.
Teabagging – nothing to do with Republicans. A reminder to never look up words just because Tony or Clint mention them. (see: Goatse)
Under that he wrote: GLBTQ – Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer. It's a mouthful, and I'll need to remember that queer isn't an insult anymore.
He had no idea why everyone thought he was a Republican. His family had been Democrat for as long as he could remember. He could even remember the first time his mother had voted. She didn't bother exercising her new right until '32, hadn't even gone out to cast a vote for Al Smith, though that was largely because she worked a double shift that day. But 1932 was after the crash, and where life had been hard for a single mother raising a sickly child before 1929, afterwards it became almost impossible.
He'd been sick that day, as a matter of fact. It had been a wet start to winter and there hadn't been a lot of food. Every cough had wracked his body, and the wet sound had caused his mother to frown with worry. But that Tuesday she'd put on her best and gone to the nearest polling booth.
When Roosevelt won she'd hugged him tight and told him things were going to get better. That the Democrats were bringing a New Deal that would bring food back to tables and jobs back to the country. Steve hadn't been sure he believed her – at fourteen he was starting to get a little cynical – but he believed Roosevelt wanted to help the poor, the millions out of work and starving, and he'd been a Democrat ever since.
Of course she never saw it get better – her own cough had started in the new year and Steve had celebrated his next birthday with Bucky in the orphanage.
He considered telling Tony the story, but he must have known. Surely Howard would have told him stories of the nights they stayed up arguing politics and religion over a glass of Howard's finest whiskey – or the cheapest swill they could find, depending on where they were in bombed out Europe.
Steve wasn't sure why, but Tony didn't appear to want to see him. Not as he actually was. He seemed to have an idea in his head of what a man who grew up in the twenties and thirties was like and was unwilling to change that opinion. And it was confusing, because Steve thought they'd come to a truce during the Chitauri invasion, that they'd settled some differences and were heading towards colleagues – maybe even friends.
Tony's vision of a forties man didn't make any sense either, given who Tony's father was; Howard was always wild and completely disrespectful of authority. More than willing steal a military plane and fly over enemy lines because it was a wild adventure and the right thing to do. He was chaotic and creative and when Steve saw Tony in action in his lab it reminded him so much of Howard that it hurt.
He'd thought that they could be friends. He'd started to hover around the lab with that hope. But although they fell together well enough in a battle, away from a fight all they could do was, well, fight. And he didn't want to fight this morning; he was tired of it.
"Republicans. What's this teabagging they do? I heard you talking about it the other day."
He'd timed it perfectly so that Clint's coffee sprayed across the table to land on Tony's toast. He hid his smile behind his orange juice and waited for the explanation.
A couple of weeks later Tony suggested a movie night. He wouldn't tell anyone what he had lined up but they all drifted into the home theatre room at the appointed time. Clint was grumbling that if it was a bad movie he was leaving again. Natasha gave him a look and he flopped onto the closest armchair.
"Well, Tony, what are we watching?"
"JARVIS?" Tony looked entirely too smug when he said that, but the lights lowered before Steve could express his concern. He settled back onto the couch and grabbed some popcorn.
The MGM lion was old-fashioned, the color had a quality that told him that this was an older film, not one of the new ones with lots of explosions. That was good; he thought the older ones had better stories.
Then the music started, and it took him a couple of bars to realize, but it sounded like an instrumental version of Star-Spangled Man. He felt Natasha stiffen beside him. He looked at her and the dim light showed she was sending a glare at Tony whose grin had only got wider at the introductory music.
The film was showing a scene that looked like New York – Lower Manhattan if he had to guess – and kids in the sorts of clothes he'd had were running around the streets. Then the camera showed an alley where a blond kid was leaning against the wall coughing.
Captain America came up over the scene and Steve realized the kid was meant to be him.
"Is this -?" he started quietly, but he wasn't sure how to finish the question.
"It's a biopic they made of you in the sixties. Everything you ever wanted to know about Captain America." Tony sounded almost gleeful as he explained.
Steve decided to settle back and see what they'd made of his life. Nearly three hours later he felt the same as he had when Bobby Monroe punched him in the gut.
Bucky hadn't even been his best friend. They'd turned Bucky into a teenager who discovered his secret and nagged until Steve let him join in fighting. They had a white actor playing Gabe and had changed his last name to Dugan, mixing him and Dum Dum into one character. Jim and Peggy weren't in there at all. The Captain America in the film was in love with a pretty, blonde WAC who did Colonel Phillips’ filing. Her name was Private Lorraine and Steve wondered if she was actually based on the real woman he'd kissed so long ago.
It was so far from what the war and his life was actually like that he would have laughed if they hadn't treated his friends so poorly. The Howling Commandos were his friends – his team - and the film ignored them. Made them into sidekicks with a witty quip while Captain America took down the bad guys. These guys were heroes and the filmmakers had made them an afterthought.
They'd even ignored his time in the monkey suit.
Finally he watched himself crash into the ocean, though they even had that wrong. The plane was a weird sort of missile and he and Bucky both died dismantling it, making sure it didn't hit London.
He stared blankly, waiting for the credits, but instead the screen went black and writing began appearing. A deep voice read the words aloud.
Gabe Dugan transferred to the Pacific Theater and died on Okinawa.
James Falsworth returned to England after VE Day and later became Lord Falsworth, Earl of Webley. He died at 73 and was survived by his daughter.
Jacques Dernier helped rebuild France after the war, but sadly died in a car crash in 1963.
Private Lorraine never married and joined Steve Rogers in heaven at the age of fifty.
Steve had known, of course, that everyone would be dead. It had been seventy years; the chance of anyone surviving was always going to be slim. But he hadn't looked. Hadn't wanted to see their lives reduced to words on a page. And now here it was in front of him.
"What did you think, Cap? Good story, isn't it?"
Steve looked at Tony for a second trying to think of any way to answer that question politely, but he couldn't. He grabbed his notebook and walked out. He stopped once the door had slammed closed and leaned against the wall, breathing deeply.
"That was a dick move, you know that?" Natasha's voice reached him through the door.
"What? I was helping."
"It was barely four months ago that he was fighting that war, Stark. Those people were his friends, and now they're gone. He woke up and he'd lost every friend, every familiar landmark, every sense of security he had in an instant. How about you get rid of whatever has your panties in a twist and give him a break."
"He didn't need to watch the movie. He could have walked away any time."
"Of course he couldn't. He's young and alone and he wants to be friends. With all of us. God, he's little more than a lost puppy. Leaving would have – he didn't want to lose face."
"You're telling me Captain America is lonely and wants to be my friend?"
"All of his are dead, Stark. Or were you not listening during the final voiceover?"
Steve didn't want to hear any more. He walked to the gym as quickly as he could.
"Am I your 'in case of emergency' person now?"
Steve jumped at the sound of Logan's voice. He must have been more lost in his thoughts than he'd realized. "Hi, Logan. It's nice to see you," he said with a raised eyebrow. "My what?"
"Next of kin."
"Oh." Steve frowned at that. "I'm not sure who's listed. Fury maybe, but I can make it you if you like."
Logan shook his head. "I was actually commenting on the fact that I've had four calls this morning from people asking me to check on you. Did something go down over the weekend?"
"We only went down to get takeout. Other than that we stayed in the penthouse."
"Whatever it is can't be that bad if you're trying to get that past me." Logan looked over his shoulder at the sketchbook. "Cute puppy."
Steve looked down what he'd been sketching. The mutt had a star on his chest and a shield on his back.
"Looks just like you."
"Well, I heard last night that I'm young and naive and little more than a lost puppy."
"Who the hell told you that?"
"I, uh, might have been eavesdropping. It was Natasha."
"The Black Widow? I'm pretty sure she thinks anyone who doesn't sleep with three knives under their pillow and shoot first ask questions later is young and naive."
"She has to be strong to make it in this business."
Logan looked worried. "Steve, she's not Peggy. The Black Widow is a cold-blooded killer who eats guys like you for breakfast. Yes, she's strong, but she gave up a lot to be that way. Is that why you've disappeared and your team are calling me asking me to find you? Because someone who barely knows you called you naive?"
"Not really. Tony suggested movie night. We watched Captain America: A Nation's Hero."
"Okay, I'm gonna kill Stark."
"It's not his fault it's a bad movie. They took out Jim and Gabe and Peggy. I know it's a pretty old film, but the men who were different, and that's not even the right word, but you know what I mean. They were looked down on enough during the war when we were at any normal base. They deserve to be remembered the same as the rest of us. And then Clint was saying this morning that some people don't believe Jim and Gabe were on the team. I found whole discussion boards saying that it was made up so people would think Captain America's team was diverse. That it's some sort of cover-up. How is it that in seventy years nothing has changed?"
"First off, well done on figuring out discussion boards. Second, I've been alive for a lot longer than seventy years. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it won't ever change. Humans just keep finding new ways to hate each other."
"Well, thanks for coming down here. You've really helped."
"We were two days behind the Russians in Mejdanek, Steve. You know exactly how deep hate can run."
"I'd hoped it would change."
"Well, you know what to do about that."
"Make it better."
"As simple as that?"
"For you it is."
"Because of my puppy-like qualities?"
Logan snorted. "No. Because you're a good man. Always were. Forget the puppy thing and the atrocities and whatever and concentrate on that. And buy me that drink you owe me."
"Come on, then. I know a good place."
They'd gone to a spot in Brooklyn that had been there since Steve was young. He and Bucky had worked there the summer before prohibition ended, Bucky running errands and Steve acting as look out in case the police arrived. It had been bread money, and his mother was so grateful for it that she'd never questioned where it came from. It had turned into a police bar when prohibition ended and still was, a comfortable place for Logan and Steve to sit in a corner, have a drink and lament the fact neither of them could really get drunk.
Natasha was waiting for him when he got back. "Can I interest you in a different sort of movie?" she asked.
He felt a little uncomfortable around her, knowing what she thought, but he shrugged and nodded. "What's this one about?"
"He's coming up a lot."
Natasha smiled. "Do you know a lot about him?"
"Not really. But I was often in England during the war. There wasn't a lot of reporting about him because of, you know, the threat of imminent invasion, but if you read the paper cover-to-cover you often saw a small article."
"You read the paper cover-to-cover?"
"There's a lot of downtime in the army. They made a movie about him?"
She sat next to him again, but Steve shifted slightly to the right so that their legs weren't touching. Then he became enthralled in the story of one man changing the world. When the movie finished Natasha was resting against him again and he hadn't even noticed.
"All through history the way of truth and love has always won," Steve said, quoting the last lines of the movie.
"He also said, 'Be the change you wish to see in the world,'" Bruce said.
Steve's head spun around. "I didn't see you come in," he said.
"I was walking past and couldn't resist. It's a great film."
"Be the change?" His little picture was pinned to the mirror, but he didn't feel like he was living up to the challenge. "I should do that."
"I think you have that one sewn up, Cap," Bruce said with a laugh.
"What do I do besides sit around here? Read and draw and make notes?"
"Er, save the world?" Natasha said.
"That's big stuff. I'm talking about little things. Making individual lives better." There was movement behind him and he turned to see Clint and Thor had entered as well. "When I was young I wouldn't have survived without Bucky coming to my defense, and old Mrs. MacDowell giving me the odd meal. Mac O'Dwyer giving me a job that one summer, even though I was always out of breath when I got to the bottom of the stairs with a warning."
"Mac ran a speakeasy." Everyone was staring at him. "We had to eat. And it's beside the point. Lots of people helped me and I should help them."
"So Captain America's always relied on the kindness of strangers." Tony sauntered into the room.
"Your southern accent is terrible, I hope you know," Steve told him.
"Are you planning to go help old ladies across the street?"
"Maybe. I guess I'll think of something."
"Because people long dead helped you out?"
"It doesn't matter that they're dead."
Tony just shrugged, every inch of him showing disdain.
Steve couldn't believe how quickly Tony could take away his good mood. He'd started looking forward; Natasha's movie choice had matched so closely with Logan's earlier advice that he thought it was fate. He'd known for a while that he had to build a life here in this time, and he'd had an idea of how to do it, and then… Tony. No, he didn't care about the long dead people, but Steve did. They were his mentors, his brothers in arms, his best friend.
There was a thud as the bag he was punching went skidding across the ground.
"You don't have to be wound so tight all the time, you know? So in control."
"Are puppies in control?" he asked Natasha, not turning around to look at her.
"Listening at doors, Captain?"
"A hazard when your hearing is enhanced."
"You shouldn't believe everything I say, Captain. I don't believe everything I say. I use words to get information. To manipulate people."
He glanced at her as he hefted a new punching bag to the hook.
"So you don't think I'm young and naïve?"
"I do think you let Tony get to you too much. Why are you down here punching bags instead of upstairs punching him?"
He pointed at the three bags awaiting repair by the side of the gym. "I'm too strong to be punching people. And… we did the yelling thing on the helicarrier."
"It seemed to work."
"I thought so too, but now look at us? Yelling I'll just be… escalating the problem. I keep hoping he’ll get bored."
"I think you need to clear the air. But even if you decide not to, I think you have to remember you're not always the Captain. You can let the rest of us see Steve."
He did turn around at that. "You think you're not seeing the real me?"
"You control your anger. Your tears. How sore was your jaw after the movie? I saw you clenching it, fighting not to cry."
"This coming from a woman who just admitted she manipulates her teammates like she would a mark," he said with a wry smile. Then he sighed. "Men don't cry. It's bad enough that I'm an artist, that I was small and skinny and sick. You think I'm going to add crying to that? I want them to respect me."
"It's not like that anymore. Men are allowed to cry."
"When was the last time you did?"
"I'd hardly want you to end up like me."
"Why not? What's wrong with you?"
She looked away at that. "I can't – I can't take off my mask," she said finally. "I'm not even sure who I really am most of the time. Don't lose who you are. Don't lose your hope."
Her voice was quiet and it made him ache. He closed his eyes, trying to think of something to say, but when he opened them again, she was gone.
The least he could do after she bared herself like that was follow her advice.
The most obvious place to start helping was in the rebuilding efforts. Fury had told him that his presence would be distracting, but not very many people had seen him without his cowl on during the attack, so he took his chances, put on a cap and a pair of sunglasses and wandered to the nearest volunteer station.
"Can you cook?" the woman asked him. He nodded. "Good. Go see Puck."
Puck was a small, slim man with green hair and a mischievous grin whose nickname came from Shakespeare. "Well," he said."You look like a strong one. You can follow me. We're going to Costco."
Steve did a quick search on his phone and scribbled down a definition - shop that apparently sells everything - but the website really didn't prepare him for what he found. There was so much stuff.
"You know, you sound like you're from Brooklyn, but you're looking around this place like you grew up in a commune. Or outer space."
"I've been, uh, away for a while. What did we need?"
Puck pointed and Steve grabbed the boxes of canned food and slabs of meat that he indicated. They went to the check-out and Steve continued to do all the heavy lifting once they got to a high school gym just outside of what the media had termed the 'destruction zone'. Puck had continued to talk as they went.
"It was largely a business district, which is kind of lucky, I guess. Not as many homeless. I mean, compared to Katrina." He sent Steve a significant look and Steve nodded as he made a mental note to find out what the supervillain Katrina had done.
Puck pushed open the door to reveal a gym full of people. "Are there so many who still have nowhere to go?"
"No. We're feeding the volunteers. I'm Marsha, and I'm in charge of the kitchen." Steve turned to find an older woman with her arm out to shake. He knew 'negro' wasn't the right term anymore, but he couldn't remember if he should be thinking 'black' or 'African-American'. He knew it shouldn't matter at all, but it was still a little strange even in New York which had always been a melting pot.
"I'm Steve," he said, taking her hand.
"Did you lose anyone in the attack, Steve?"
"Yes, Ma'am, I did," he replied, remembering the feel of sticky blood under his fingers as he picked up Agent Coulson's cards.
"I'm sorry, son. Helping, well, it helps. So you grab those trays and start bringing them out."
Apparently he and Puck had been shopping for the dinner shift, but it was time to feed the volunteers lunch. He concentrated on the feel of his muscles working as he carried large trays of food between the kitchen and the serving station. It felt honest, in a way that punching a bag no longer did. Then there was chopping vegetables for the evening's salad and stirring a giant container of chili as it cooked.
It was dark when Marsha came up beside him. "You can go on home now, Steve. Our shift's over."
"I'll see you tomorrow?"
The next day Natasha made him wear his new jeans and a t-shirt that felt too much like underclothes for his comfort and she came with him, hair in a pony tail and a tight tee of her own – one that featured a drawing of his shield.
"You're a Captain America fan?" Marsha asked her.
"Yes, I am. I think he'd want to, you know, do something, so I wanted to as well."
Steve was blushing even before Marsha patted his arm and told him what a good girl he had and how he should keep her.
When they got home Steve was feeling good enough that he finally brought a proper sketchbook to the communal area. No more rough sketches in his little glossary, he was going to draw a proper picture of whoever was in the living room.
Natasha was in the living room.
He considered turning around and walking back out. It was one thing to work beside her, either in battle or at a serving line, it was another to study her closely enough to draw. It was like a caress in charcoal and he wasn't sure he was ready for that yet.
"Drawing again? Am I allowed to look this time?"
"What? Oh." He remembered hiding the sketch from her out by the pool. "Sorry about that. I was used to the other kids stealing my book or teasing me for drawing. I got used to hiding them."
"That's okay. I would not have… liked… someone looking at my creation without permission. If I could create, that is."
"Not an artist?"
"No, I – I used to dance."
Steve sat down beside her and held out the book. It was the one he'd been working at before the ice, another possession Howard had kept safe for him. "You don't dance anymore?"
"No. Now I kill." She was paging through the sketchbook already, but he didn't think she'd missed his slight flinch. "These are very good, Cap. She's beautiful."
She'd paused at an image of Peggy in dress uniform, hat perched on her hair and a gentle smile on her lips.
"Agent Peggy Carter," he said.
"I know. I've seen her picture at HQ."
Natasha nodded, amusement dancing across her lips. "Of course. She's a bit of a legend among the female agents. We get told her story when we join. A female was among the first agents – it's almost unheard of. You didn't know?"
"No. I – I wanted her to have a happy life but I haven't been quite ready to hear about it."
Her hand went out to rest on his arm, gentle and comforting. "Well, she's an inspiration to many in SHIELD. A great undercover agent; she spent a lot of time in Russia after World War Two. She was very… resilient."
She said it in a way that made Steve wonder what she'd gone up against; if she'd been tortured. If someone had found her the same way he'd found Bucky. He swallowed, grief rising up inside him at the same rate as the anger. He was angry at fate for taking him away from her, angry at himself for not being brave enough to hunt this information out beforehand.
Angry at her for always walking into harm's way when she should have stayed safe and happy even if it wasn't with him.
He rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the tension away. "Can I draw you?" he asked, remembering why he'd come downstairs in the first place. Maybe a pencil in his hand would let the anger flow out of him.
"Yes, Natasha." Tony's voice came from behind him and Steve felt himself tense, waiting for the disparaging comment. "Let him draw you like his French ladies."
Steve saw red at that. "You've been going into my things, Tony? Invading my privacy?"
"You must have, to know…"
"Wait? There are French ladies?" Tony gestured at the picture of Peggy still open on Natasha's lap. "Is she one of them?"
There was a sickening crunch when Steve's fist connected with Tony's nose.
"Ow. What was that for?"
Steve didn't bother replying. He grabbed the book from Natasha's hands and stalked to his rooms.
Twenty minutes later Steve was paging through his sketchbook looking at the pictures of Gigi and Rochelle.
"It's from a movie." Tony stepped into the room. "It's a quote from a movie. The main character is an artist, and the romantic interest asks him to draw her like one of his French girls. Or ladies. Whatever."
Steve looked back down at the book. "Not even knocking now, Tony?"
"I didn't think you'd let me in." Tony walked over and stood beside the window seat Steve was sitting in, looking uncomfortable. "I shouldn't have said what I did. I guess I was trying to be funny. I'm sorry."
Steve had an urge to dig in, to say the apology was not accepted, but it wouldn't do anything to make his life happier. Then again, nor would saying 'apology accepted' and letting Tony walk out of here. Instead he said, "Do you realize you're bleeding?"
Tony lifted a hand to the line of blood on his cheek. "Yeah, Natasha bitch-slapped me."
"I'm sorry, she what?"
"She slapped me. I think she turned her ring around as well, so it would cut."
"What does that have to do with female dogs?"
"Jesus, Cap. Are you for real?"
Steve made a point of pinching himself before he nodded. He'd never get over the way everyone here thought he couldn't lie, couldn't even joke. "Sit down," he said as he walked to the bathroom for his first aid kit.
He pulled out tweezers and an antiseptic wipe and began to dab at the torn skin. "So why did Natasha attack you?"
"She said it was to knock some sense in to me. I think she was defending your honor."
"I didn't realize my honor had been impugned."
"She said that I'm the adult. That you're a twenty-something-year-old kid who just lost everything and everyone familiar, and I'm almost twenty years older than you and have the benefit of familiar surroundings and a support structure, such that it is, though yeah. She's right. Pepper and Rhodey and JARVIS are great. And you have us and a psycho mutant who is more into growls than words as communication."
"Logan's not a psycho."
"Whatever. The fact is, she's right, but you're still the one being responsible and administering first aid rather than punching me and walking out."
"I don't get it, Tony. I thought we were getting to be friends, and then everything changed. We were doing, you know, okay, and then the jokes seemed to cut again." Steve shrugged. "Maybe I'm just still no good at making friends. I've always better at convincing people that they want to punch me."
Tony's cheek moved under the antiseptic as he grinned. "That's funny. That's what I'm good at as well."
"Did something happen? Did I do something?"
"You compared me to my father."
"You said I reminded you of Howard. Honestly, Cap, I've never been so insulted in my life."
Tony's voice suddenly turned arrogant and airy and Steve thought he was telling the absolute truth and trying to hide it in his tone.
"You must have heard it before, Tony. You have the same smile when you discover something new. The same disregard for authority. You both ignore everything from the rules to common sense to do the right thing when it's called for. Hell, you even sound the same as he did when he was teasing me about not knowing how to act in public."
"You were awkward even in the forties?"
"Completely. He teased Peggy about the two of them going for fondue one night, and I thought they were talking about, well…"
"Yeah. And when Peggy found me getting kissed by a WAC I threw it back in her face. Howard had to tell me that fondue was a cheese dish."
A smile was starting to play around Tony's lips as Steve stuck a butterfly bandage to his cheek. "What did she do?"
"Shot a service revolver at me." Tony laughed then, and it was more open than Howard's, less affected, but still so similar that he had to comment. "That's even Howard's laugh. You must know that."
The laugh dried up in an instant. "My father never laughed, Captain, and only smiled when it was required by social convention. I'm sorry, you must have him confused with someone else."
Steve sat down heavily. "He wasn't a good father."
It wasn't a question, but Tony answered anyway. "I wouldn't know; he was never around. He was always in the Arctic looking for you."
And Steve suddenly saw it. Before Tony was born, before Howard even met his wife, Steve had stolen his father away. Howard had always had that intensity, the obsession. And he'd read about the Manhattan Project, knew how that would have affected Howard, though he would have said that it was required for the good of the war and the lives of the troops. Would he have done it if Steve had survived? Would they have relied on Steve and the Howling Commandos to end the war in the Pacific Theatre without Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
"Oh, Tony. I'm sorry."
"Amazingly enough, it is not your fault. As Natasha just slapped into me."
"I could have –"
"What? Not saved New York from obliteration?"
"I guess not." He looked down at the bloody tissue in his hand. "That's why I liked going down to the lab, you know. Lots of odd explosions and words I was never going to understand. It was like being back in his workshop, making sure he didn't kill himself trying to invent something interesting for us. But you're not exactly like him. You're an evolution – an improvement. He used to do wild, crazy things, but he would never have made the sacrifice play. He certainly wouldn't have suited up every day to stand on the front lines. He admired that about us. He'd have admired you."
Tony looked like he was getting a little emotional, so Steve did what any man did and walked away. He took more time than he needed to put the first aid things away in his bathroom and wondered if Tony would be there when he went back.
Tony was still there, Steve's sketch book open on his lap. "Are these your French ladies?"
Steve thought he should make yet another comment about privacy, but he didn't want to break their tentative truce and he also didn't think it would make any difference, so instead he just said, "Yes." He sat next to Tony and added, "That's Gigi. And that's Rochelle on the other page. They worked at the brothel I used to go to."
"And did you draw them before or after you...?" Tony wiggled his eyebrows.
"I didn't do any of that, Tony."
"What?" Tony lifted his hand to his heart as if in shock. "You lied during truth or dare?"
"You assumed. I just didn't correct."
"You can't lie."
"I falsified four enlistment forms to get into the army."
"Yes, but that was before you were Captain America."
"Fine, Captain America can't lie. But I'm Steve Rogers. Pleased to meet you." He held out his hand.
"Tony Stark. Likewise."
"So if you didn't sleep with the brothel girls, who did you lose your virginity to?"
"Well, he was pretty adventurous back in the day. Your dad, I mean." Tony looked like all the blood was draining from his face. "Was it too soon for that sort of joke?"
He grinned when Tony glared and punched him in the shoulder.
Two days later he and Natasha walked in to the kitchen after a shift to hear the end of an argument.
"You're like the scientific equivalent of a Muggle, Barton. You don't believe we can do anything."
"Nah, I just like winding you up."
Tony was growling, Clint was grinning and Bruce was laughing into his coffee, as usual.
Steve pulled out his notebook and added Muggle in his careful hand. Wikipedia told him that a Muggle was a person with no magical ability and he suddenly remembered he'd heard it while watching an English movie on the television. There was a werewolf and a boy with glasses and a man who was wrongfully imprisoned. He thought that it might have been a sequel. With a grin he started sketching Iron Man with a pointy hat and a long beard and Clint waving a wand tipped with an arrow head.
"What are you planning on making?" Natasha asked.
"A flying broomstick, just for you."
Steve looked up when the team got to that part of the conversation. Did Tony have a death wish?
"You're looking very pretty today, Natasha. And lethal. Pretty and lethal."
Natasha's t-shirt today had a Hulk fist and Steve thought she looked beautiful in green. He didn't add that to the conversation, though.
"I am pretty lethal, Tony."
"Please don't kill me."
Everyone laughed at that and Steve liked the sound of a team around the kitchen table.
"Come on, Nat, let's leave him to his fantasies and go work out."
Bruce stood and followed them out leaving Tony staring at Steve. "What do you keep scribbling in that book, anyway?"
"Do you always have to know everything?"
Steve rolled his eyes as he went to the fridge to get some juice. When he turned around Tony was reading his notebook, which was not very surprising.
"It's just me trying to get my head around this new time, Tony. Nothing interesting."
"You seem to be doing well. When Thor finds his way back from New Mexico we'll get you to tutor him."
Tony put the book down and looked at him intently. "Pepper tells me that friends ask how their friends are doing. So. How are you doing?"
"Natasha says I need to concentrate on the good things. Find something I love and do that. But some days it's hard."
"Well, of course it's hard. Look at your little book." Tony snatched it up again and began to read out loud. "'Watergate – the time when a criminal sat in the White House. The only time a President has resigned. PATRIOT Act - A) A very long acronym. B) Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. C) An attack on civil liberties. Neo-Nazis, Waco, GMO Food. Hey, you're positive about GMO food."
"Am I not supposed to be? I mean, feeding people who are hungry is pretty important. I grew up when a good day was two meals instead of one."
"What was a bad day?"
Steve was glad when Tony didn't comment on that. "How did you find out about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?"
"I heard Bruce saying that he was a pastafarian one day. I'm still not sure whether it's meant to be a joke or not. I mean, Wikipedia said it was a satire, but then I saw a website where they could get official Certificates of Ordination."
"It's a satire," Tony said dryly.
"Well, you know what you need? Good words. Words of happy things. There are a lot of good words in V."
"And what about the other letters?"
"Okay, we're adding 'The Fifth Element' to your viewing schedule. Right after 'Titanic'. What I'm saying is that too many horrible things happen in this world and the media mostly reports the bad stuff. You have to look for the good stuff. Like all your volunteering. And it's even a V word. And there are still puppies and kittens in this world and love-ins and Halle Berry in an orange bikini and getting laid."
"Do you only think about sex?"
"When my girlfriend's been in Malibu for three weeks on business? Yes." Tony picked up Steve's pen and wrote a few things in the book. "You should ask her on a date," Tony said without looking up.
"Who?" Steve asked, though he was already blushing.
"Miss Hulk t-shirt. You think the Black Widow usually volunteers at soup kitchens?"
Tony shook his head, as if Steve was deluded. "Well, I think she likes you." He slid the book across to Steve and stood. "Think about it."
Steve opened his notebook to find Tony's additions:
My Little Pony -
Dirty Dancing –
Random Acts of Kindness –
Bionic Ear (search YouTube for 'boy hears mother's voice') –
I Have a Dream –
Make A Wish Foundation –
Pay it Forward –
Four hours, a few cartoons and countless video clips later he had added new definitions to his glossary.
He turned the page to a fresh sheet and found one last phrase in Tony's hand-writing.
Brooklyn Los Angeles Dodgers. Dammit, Stark.
Steve thought about what Tony had said for the next couple of days, but by the time he worked up the courage to ask Natasha out to dinner, she'd disappeared on a mission and he was left telling Marsha and Puck that she'd gone out of town to visit friends. SHIELD wasn't sharing any information on where she was or when she'd return, so he and Clint were left fidgeting around the Tower.
Finally he dragged Clint down to the high school to help with cooking and Bruce tagged along, looking at Clint more often than a normal person would. Tony turned up an hour later complaining about how quiet the tower was with everyone gone and soon after that the media showed up, wanting a story out of Tony.
"You didn't tell me you knew Tony Stark," Marsha whispered.
"Can anybody truly know Tony Stark?" Bruce said in reply and Clint snorted as Steve watched Tony play the media.
"It's been two months since the attack on New York, and we're still clearing the rubble. We haven't even started to rebuild. Stark Industries has donated money to the effort, but I realized that I haven't done anything. It's not enough to just sign a check; getting out and seeing what's going on and helping is important as well."
"What inspired this, Tony?"
"Captain America did, Kat. He wanted to help, and he went out and helped. He said that he wanted to change the world, and he went out and changed it. He lives by the idea that he should be the change he wants to see in the world."
"Then where is he?"
"Right over there." Tony pointed to him and Steve closed his eyes in mortification. When he opened them he found Marsha and the other volunteers looking at him in shock, but he pulled on his Captain's smile and gave a little wave as he stepped up beside Tony.
"Captain America, why are you here?"
"It's like Tony said; I wanted to help."
"You didn't want to help lift rubble?"
"Well, I went to the volunteer's office, and they sent me here."
"How are you finding the twenty-first century, Captain?"
That question made him pause, and he glanced at Tony who was giving him an encouraging look. "It's different than I expected. No flying cars, for starters." He paused for the mob of reporters to laugh, noticing that more were coming in as he spoke. "But there are more similarities to my time than I was expecting.
"At first I only saw that as the same hatred and the same fears. We thought we were stamping out genocide when we fought Hitler, but it's still happening. There are still people who wear swastikas on their arms and the bullies who wish to attack others for being different.
"Then I realized that the good things are the same as well. There are people willing to stand up and fight for what they believe in. People willing to give up their days off to help clear rubble and cook for people who lost everything. There's still love and beauty and bravery. And I realized that if I wanted to see more of that then I'd have to help create it.
"I plan to continue to volunteer in other ways after New York has rebuilt, and I encourage others to do so as well. And not just in organized efforts like this, but in checking on your neighbors and paying for the next guy's gas and helping your mom around the house. People helped me when I was young and not sure where my next meal was coming from. I intend to help others people and be the change I want to see."
"And the Avengers are all behind him," Tony said. Steve glanced behind him to see Clint and Tony grinning and Bruce clearly wishing there were fewer cameras around, but smiling anyway.
"Weren't there a couple more of you?" the reporter Tony called Christine asked.
"Uh, Thor is not currently in the city and -"
"I'm right here," Natasha said and she slid into place beside Steve, wearing her Captain America t-shirt again. Her hand nudged his thigh and she gave him a smile that made him think she was proud of him. He let Tony answer the next question while he fought that damned blush.
That night he carried his sketchbook into the common area and found Natasha sitting on the couch reading, a glass of wine by her elbow.
"Can I try sketching you again? Not like any French lady, just how you are now."
"Of course. Do you want me to move or pose or anything?"
"No. Just, you can keep reading. You look enthralled."
"It's a biography of Peggy Carter by her niece Sharon. Unpublished, but perhaps when all the records are de-classified we can get some recognition for her."
"That'd be great." He sketched in silence for a minute. "You remind me of her, you know."
Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.
"Not that you're completely the same, or that I think all strong dames are the same. Strong women. Agents. Strong agents." Natasha was sipping at her wine in a clear attempt to hide her smile and Steve bent to his sketch to capture the way her eyes sparked with warmth and crinkled at the edges. "You are both strong and capable, like she was, but more than that you seem to see me as I really am. I feel comfortable around you, even if I do still stumble over my words."
He looked up finally and the warmth was still in her eyes, though the smile had faded. "Thank you,
Steve," she said, and it was the first time he remembered her using his first name. He felt uncomfortable all of a sudden and went back to his drawing, concentrating on the charcoal between his fingers and the way her hair curled at her shoulders.
"Did you find something you love?" she asked after a while. "Something to concentrate on?"
"There's the soup kitchen, and Pepper's talking about creating some sort of foundation to promote volunteering or something that I'd head."
"I meant something for you. Just for you."
"Hot showers are pretty wonderful."
She laughed at that and it was rich and full and left Steve feeling like his asthma was making a reappearance.
"Considering this is your second chance, you should pick something you always wanted to do and go do it."
"Well, I've already gone to Macy's and bought anything I wanted."
"What's next on your list?"
"You must have danced, Steve. Didn't everyone dance back then?"
"Not with a guy they might step on." He remembered having the same conversation with Peggy and for the first time the sweet was a little stronger than the bitter.
"Well, we can fix that right now. JARVIS, put on something appropriate, please."
The strains of Vera Lynn came through the speakers and Natasha dragged him to his feet and placed his hand on her waist. She placed her hand on his shoulder and started moving from side-to-side and he followed a little clumsily until she stepped in closer and rested her cheek on his chest.
Then they seemed to move as one, rocking slowly as Vera told some lucky soldier that they'd meet again some sunny day. Steve couldn't help but think of the life he'd lost and what could have been and he felt moisture on his cheeks as he drew a shuddering breath.
When the song ended she pulled away and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
"Thank you, Steve," she said, and they both settled back in their seats. But Steve felt lighter, like he'd let something go.
He almost felt like he was finally part of the twenty-first century.