34,604 days – 16 hours – 5 minutes – 28 seconds
Steve Rogers is born as a tiny boy in a tiny house in a tiny street in the biggest city of the world, and immediately it is decided for him that he is broken. Not only is he quiet, merely staring at the ceiling in a bright-blue-eyed daze of complicated wonder, as if he already realises that there is a time to cry and it is not now, and that he should treasure every moment of his life that he doesn’t necessarily have to spend crying.
He is given up for adoption the same exact day, his mother pulling her hands back in fear when her eyes fall on the black numbers on his tiny wrist, looping around as much as five times to show just how broken his heart will be.
He is broken, is decided, broken beyond repair, and no one wants a broken toy, a broken boy like him. His mother hands him over without crying, her eyes hard and her mouth thin line – she has no son.
31,001 days – 2 hours – 36 minutes – 41 seconds
They never let him wear shirts with short sleeves, and Steve doesn’t understand why. He’s asked, asked why he can never show his wrists, because he doesn’t have the scars that Lizzie has, and he doesn’t have red spots on his skin like Andy. But the sisters at the orphanage only shake their heads, telling him to hide the letters, because there is something wrong with him, that he can’t yet understand, because he is too young and too naive, too weak and sick and that is why he has no friends, and that is why Luke avoids him.
30,931 days – 23 hours – 18 minutes – 30 seconds
Steve spends a lot of time just looking at the letters, the black letters burned into his skin, some of which ever changing, others only shifting once a year. He’s learned not to ask questions by now, questions are unheard of, but he’s starting to understand how they work, starting to recognise the numbers he’s been trying to learn at school, but can’t quite grasp because they often swim across his vision, twisting and turning and dancing around. Not the ones on his skin though, they are the only ones that stay, the ones he can always rely on to be there.
30,689 days – 11 hours – 7 minutes – 2 seconds
Steve has been eavesdropping on the other kids, looking at their wrists whenever he gets the chance. None of them have four swirls, four rows of numbers down their arms, and Steve is starting to realise that his numbers are the reason, the reason for everything. The reason why he’s broken and hated, and why they sometimes hesitate to touch him, why he knows he’s not getting as much food, and why the teachers let him sit to the side at P.E., because he is broken, and he can’t even run.
30,212 days – 8 hours – 24 minutes – 56 seconds
The running is perhaps the worst thing, because there is no way out for him. He cannot flee, he cannot go away. Can’t even run after his ball before it bounces across the street and is stolen by the neighbourhood kids, who skip away laughing and pointing at him.
30,003 days – 15 hours – 52 minutes – 47 seconds
In the end, it is Lizzie who pulls him aside at lunch, and in hushed tones tells him what the numbers mean. She tells him that he can’t tell that she told him, and that the sisters would spank her if they knew, because there is something wrong with Steve’s numbers, and he is not supposed to know.
It is then that he looks at them in a new light, and steals a pencil from his teacher, and a notebook from Mark. He writes down his calculations, as best as he can, remembering that a year has 365 days, but sometimes 364, and that a day is 24 hours, and that an hour is 60 minutes, and a minute 60 seconds. The number is too big, and his conclusion is ‘too long’.
27,015 days – 20 hours – 1 minute – 19 seconds
War breaks out, and Steve forgets about the numbers. He’s learned by now, what they indicate, and with the oncoming storm of anger and destruction, he knows that he’ll never live to be that old. Steve is a person with nothing to gain, and thus nothing to lose, so he joins at the back of the queue, lining up to be a soldier, and to be of use at last.
26,014 days – 4 hours – 23 minutes – 47 seconds
Steve is now sure that he will never be of use.
25,581 days – 17 hours – 14 minutes – 8 seconds
The day that he meets Peggy Carter is, for him, a special day, and he even takes a moment to glance at her wrist, to see if perhaps her clock is also broken, or just ticking down to zero, when she finally meets him.
It is not. Steve sighs and moves on.
That day he throws himself onto a grenade, and he doesn’t die. Not yet.
25,498 days – 2 hours – 50 minutes – 3 seconds
As it turns out Steve is too broken to die.
4 days – 14 hours – 11 minutes – 53 seconds
Steve wakes up.
Just two lines are circling around his wrist, and he looks at them in wonder and bliss, after which he crashes through a wall and out onto a street, just to confirm what he already knows. Calculations whir around in his head. 2000? 2010? He looks at a bright wall made of light, and sees 2012.
Four days. Four days.
Maybe he is not broken.
1 day – 10 hours – 39 minutes – 12 seconds
There is something strangely disconcerting about suddenly having a reason to live. Not that Steve hadn’t had one before, but it had never been so present. He’d had Peggy, of course, but she had her own soul mate waiting for her. He’d never expected to have anyone.
And now he is one day and a half away from meeting that person, and Steve is not ready.
He’s sitting on the floor in his room, with his back against his bed, wheezing and shaking, with his fingers clutching to his sides as he’s bent over, curled up into a ball of fear.
His whole life, he’d been prepared to die without knowing, he’d been prepared to be alone, never waiting, never stopping to think. Because why should he ponder over what he would say when he met his soul mate, like all the girls in the orphanage had? He’d been so sure he’d never need such words anyway.
As it turns out, he does. And he’s not ready.
A faint knock on the door, and Agent Maria Hill’s voice sounds through the wood. “Captain, can I come in?” She asks, her voice light as ever.
Steve scrambles to his feet, wiping his eyes and bending over to the tiny mirror on his dresser to see if he looks even remotely presentable – he doesn’t. He swallows, and walks to the door, opening it just a bit, peering at her through the crack. “Can I help with something?” He asks.
Maria shakes her head, “No, I just came to give you some more files. Fury wanted to brief you on some more things before you take off to the helicarrier tomorrow.”
Steve nods, and opens the door a bit more. If Maria is surprised to see him in the state he is in, she does a remarkable job at not showing it. “Thank you, Agent Hill.” He says, holding the file to his chest.
“Maria, and you’re welcome Captain.” She replies, smiling back at him, nodding once before she leaves.
0 days – 1 hour – 14 minutes – 58 seconds
They found Loki, and Steve is on his way, anxiously counting down the minutes. He is afraid that he might miss his soul mate in the chaos. Perhaps just a woman in a crowd passing by, and the fear of it grips his heart and his teeth dig into his lower lip. He can’t miss her. He can’t. Not after 34,604 days of waiting.
He has to know who it is.
0 days – 0 hours – 2 minutes – 3 seconds
Steve is thrown into the air, and hits the floor, hard, rolling over a few times before he’s able to get up again. Lying on the stones, and just before he jumps up to attack Loki again, he slides his glove to the side, checking the time. His time.
0 days – 0 hours – 1 minute – 28 seconds
He jumps to his feet, swings his shield at Loki, and jumps after it, punching and kicking and dodging Loki’s blows, counting the seconds in his head. When. Who. And why will they be here?
Loki throws him to the ground again, and then presses the back of his sceptre against Steve’s head.
“Kneel.” He says in his icy voice.
Steve grits his teeth, and grabs the sceptre, pulling it away. He jumps to his feet, kicking Loki in his chest, knocking him back. “Not today!” He shouts, because today is special. Today is his day.
0 days – 0 hours – 0 minutes – 51 seconds
Steve lands a punch on Loki’s jaw, but is caught by his arm, and Loki slings him through the air. Steve falls to the floor several metres later, rolling over a few times, and gritting his teeth in pain. This would really be a good time for his soul mate to show up and save him, he thinks bitterly, and he hopes that he’s not broken. He hopes that his clock actually means something. Someone. He hopes that someone will come for him, because he’s so tired of fighting alone. His whole life, he’s fought alone. No more, He thinks, I don’t want to be alone anymore.
--ready gonna fire at will!
Cause I shoot to thrill and I'm ready to kill!
Steve rolls over, squinting up at the sky in confusion, just in time to see a comet— no! A man. A man in an iron suit. With wide eyes, he watches as Iron Man shoots a blast of light at Loki, and then lands on the ground in front of him.
I can't get enough and I can't get my fill!
0 days – 0 hours – 0 minutes – 0 seconds
Cause I shoot to thrill!
Steve slowly gets up, the movement almost mechanical. So this is it. This is it.
Iron Man points his weapons at Loki. “Make your move, Reindeer games.”
Perhaps Steve won’t have to fight alone any more.
He walks up to the man, heaving his shield back onto his arm as he moves. It is strange, for most of his life he’d never thought this moment would come, and then for the past five days he’d been living for it. And now... he’d expected to feel empty, finally relieved of his 90 years of waiting, stripped of what was, perhaps, his purpose, but he doesn’t. He watches Loki light up and then his weapons disappear.
“Good move.” Iron Man says, and Steve breathes heavily, finally realising that it’s all over. He wonders if the other knows.
“Mr. Stark.” He says, not capable of any other greeting. This is it. The defining moment of his life.
He’s home. He’s finally home.