Every morning for the past many, many years, Steve had been woken up by the loud and, frankly speaking, annoying shrill of the alarm clock that stood placed on the bedside table to the left of his bed. It was the kind of alarm clock that's old timey; vintage and retro and rusty in the way those kind of clocks could only be in this day and age. People just didn't make them anymore, these twin bell clocks, nor did they buy them.
Steve, though – Steve owned one, and he had been using it since he dug it out of the box of his mother's belongings that he had rediscovered when he moved into this house. And every morning at five am on the dot, the clock would start ringing that loud and jolting noise.
Every morning at five am, the clock would shake and rumble as the ringing filled the whole room, and Steve would jolt awake with a sharp intake of breath, unless his internal clock had already woken him up by then.
That wasn't what woke Steve up this particular morning, however.
No, what did wake him up was a rough tongue licking at his cheek, a wet snout pressing against his ear, a familiar whining and a soft barking (just a small boof every now and then, a boof that was more of a huff than anything remotely close to a bark) and a pair of paws pressing down on his chest, shifting and poking at him, urging him to wake up.
Steve blinked a few times as he slowly climbed out of his (for once) deep sleep, brows slowly furrowing while he breathed in. And when Daisy nudged against him with her snout again and his brain finally registered it properly, he jolted awake and sat up.
Daisy was his service dog, a five year old doberman that got her name from being born in a field of daisies, and she didn't usually wake him up before his alarm clock rang or before he got up by himself. Not unless he had been having a nightmare, which was why his heartbeat had already picked up and he was starting to panic a little, body reacting before his brain had even fully woken up.
He blinked and blinked while his eyes got used to the dim lit room he was in, his chest heaving as he breathed deeply and rapidly. With a shaky hand, he instinctively reached out for Daisy, who was there in the blink of an eye, pressing her head to the palm of his hand to anchor and comfort him.
It took him a minute, but eventually Steve calmed down. And that was when he frowned in confusion, because he didn't remember having a nightmare. He didn't remember the same horrible, terrible nightmares that had been torturing him for the past several years.
Confused, he looked down at where Daisy was looking back at him, ears down and eyes big. “Hey,” he whispered softly, voice rough with disuse and sleep and from the excessive breathing he'd just done. “Hey, why'd you wake me, huh? What's wrong?”
Daisy whined and shifted against him, nudging him. Steve looked at her for a moment with a frown, but only a second passed before he realized why she had woken him up.
Barking. A distant but familiar barking coming from outside, and Steve flew out of his bed the second he heard it.
As he rushed out the bedroom, down the stairs, and toward the front door (it was wide open, and he was certain he had closed and locked it the night before, just like he did every other night), he stepped into his boots, grabbed the first shirt he saw, and picked up the unloaded shotgun he kept locked up in the closet under the stairs.
The shotgun had never been loaded, the ammunition kept locked away separately. It hadn't been loaded since Steve retired from the army, and it was going to stay that way. No matter what had started the barking.
Daisy was right behind him like the trusted service dog she was, when Steve stormed out of the front door and off the porch in only a handful of marching strides, gun clutched in his hands and jaw set tight.
The sun hadn't even fully risen on the sky yet, he realized as he fast walked around the corner of the house and down the trail that lead to the barn; the barn where the barking and growling was coming from, the doors wide open. He took in a deep, deep breath to calm himself as he headed toward it, his heart hammering in his chest and his mind carefully blank.
The first thing Steve saw when he stepped into the barn, Daisy on his six, was his farm dog; an anatolian shepherd named Atticus. He was standing by one of the last stalls in the barn, the one Steve used for hay and various tools that didn't fit in his shed. It was one of the only stalls that weren't occupied by the cows currently mooing to each side of him, and Steve ignored the rapid heartbeat in his own ears as he headed toward him.
Atticus glanced his way at the sound of footsteps and stopped barking immediately at the sight of him. But the moment he looked back into the stall, he started growling, his ears turned downward flat against his head. Steve raised the shotgun and carefully stepped closer, Daisy trailing up beside him.
When he rounded the corner and finally saw what all the ruckus was about, Steve couldn't help but let out a quiet breath as his heart seemed to calm down a little and his jaw unclenched, his grip on the shotgun that was raised and held out in front of him loosening just slightly.
A man was cowered into the far left corner of the stall. His legs were drawn up to his chest, arms hidden between his thighs and his torso. His hair was dark and long, covering his features, and his face was dirty with what looked like dirt and mud. His pale eyes were only just poking out from below his low and furrowed brows.
A backpack was resting against his side, looking awfully thin, and he was wearing clothes that looked well-worn and in need of a long and careful wash and boots that were as full of dirt and mud as his face was – maybe even more than.
The guy looked like a hobo, Steve realized. If he was harmless, he didn't know, but when Steve pointed the shotgun at him in a threat, the guy tensed and slowly raised his hands from behind his legs in surrender. A glint of something shiny caught Steve's eyes.
The guy's left hand looked to be made entirely of metal. It could be a prosthetic, but it moved just like the guy's right hand; moved exactly like a real, flesh and bone hand. If the guy really was as much of a hobo as he looked to be, that was one hell of an expensive looking prosthetic to be carrying around.
It didn't explain why the guy was there, either. Steve figured he just needed shelter for the night, since he'd heard from fellow farmers that hobos liked to take shelter in their barns. But it didn't rain the night before and it was near the end of summer and Steve's farm was out in the middle of nowhere, forty-nine minutes by car away from civilization.
That was a long way to go just for shelter.
It looked like all his cows were still there – Steve had counted them as he had walked over – so not a thief. Steve didn't trust easy, never had, but he found himself lowering the gun and putting it down regardless, resting it against the side of the stall as he stepped forward carefully, eyes locked onto the stranger and guards kept up despite his weapon being put down.
“Atticus,” he said firmly, and Atticus stopped growling and sat down obediently a moment later. “Daisy, my six,” he continued in a mutter, and Daisy came up right behind him as he crouched down a few feet from where the stranger was pressing himself even further against the side of the stall.
The stranger was watching him as carefully as Steve was watching him, pale eyes glued to him and watching his every little move. Apparently he wasn't bothered by the dogs, not even Atticus. Atticus was a large dog, seven years old and fully grown, and yet the stranger hadn't shown any sign of fear.
“Hey,” Steve said, his voice softened a little. He made sure to stay those few feet away from the stranger, didn't want to invade his personal space. One would think that was ridiculous, considering the guy broke into his barn, but Steve didn't care. “Who are you?”
His question was met with silence, the stranger shifting uncomfortably and his eyes flickering across Steve's face. There seemed to be a permanent frown stuck to his lips, stare hard and guarded. The question went unanswered.
“You don't speak English?” Steve guessed after a minute of silence passed. “Um okay... what about French?” He paused. His own French was rusty, hadn't been used since he last spoke with Dernier's wife which was several months ago. “Uh, parlez-vous français?”
The stranger's frown deepened, and Steve's question was, once again, met with silence and a blank and hard stare.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” Steve tried after another moment.
The stranger made a face but remained silent, nothing changing.
Steve sighed and scratched his neck, thinking, before he asked, “An labhraíonn tú Gaeilge?” The guy looked far from Irish, but it was worth a shot. At least that he could speak, although, like his French, it was rusty after a while of disuse.
But again, his words were met with silence. The stranger just stared at him, his facial expression never changing and his stare continued to be blank and guarded, fixed on Steve.
“Do you speak anything at all?” Steve asked, desperate now. “Are you mute? Do you,” he brought up his hands and started signing slowly and carefully as he asked, “do you sign?”
Steve was about ready to give up when the stranger continued to just stare at him in silence. But then, ever so slightly, the stranger shook his head. Just a little movement from one side to the other, his eyes never leaving Steve's face and his frown staying firmly in place where it had been.
It wasn't much, but it was a start.
“Do you understand me?” Steve asked, slowly pulling himself back up to stand, his knees hurting from staying crouched down for too long. Daisy followed from where she had sat down right beside him, having his back like always.
A nod answered the question, a quick and slight movement but it was there, and Steve took a careful step forward. Only to have the stranger jerk back and his eyes going wide with the first sign of fear. Steve held up his empty hands and stopped walking.
“I'm not gonna hurt you,” he promised. “I'm unarmed. You see that?” He motioned over to where he had left the shotgun leaning against the side of the stall. “Only weapon I've got, I swear.” He paused, then lightheartedly added, “Except for my fists and the dogs.”
The stranger blinked up at him, then scowled and stayed where he was, metal hand now clenched into a fist and resting on his left knee. The plates were shifting, and Steve tried not to stare – although it was hard not to, because it was quite fascinating to look at. But rude to stare, he had to remind himself.
“Alright, no jokes,” said Steve, slightly disappointed that his attempt at lightening the mood or getting any sort of emotion from this stranger that wasn't fear or anger had failed. “Got it.”
Atticus was slowly and carefully stepping forward now, Steve noticed when he came walking up beside Daisy, who was standing obediently by Steve's side with her full attention on the stranger. The stranger noticed him too, apparently, because his eyes flickered from Steve's face to the dog curiously sniffing in his direction. But Steve was quick to hold out a hand, silently telling Atticus to stay put.
The guy was harmless. He was just scared, and Steve wasn't going to make him more afraid.
“Can I come closer?” he asked, looking back at the stranger.
The stranger looked at him warily for a calculating moment, before he gave a silent and quick nod, and Steve slowly stepped forward. He stopped maybe a step or two from him and crouched back down, eyeing him carefully.
The dirt, he realized, maybe wasn't all dirt after all. It looked more like war paint that had been smudged all over his face, more around his eyes than the lower part of his face. The paint looked to be mixed with mud and dirt, and there were chunks of red in there too. Steve didn't need to get a closer look to know the red was blood.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, carefully reaching a hand out. Only to quickly retract it, when the stranger jerked back again, the metal hand whirring quietly as it clenched. Steve held up his hands and leaned back. “I'm sorry, I won't touch you. Can you tell me if you're hurt?”
The stranger said nothing, so Steve decided to move on and said, “I've got a phone in my house. You can use it to call someone, if you want.” A pause, then he frowned. Maybe the guy really couldn't talk. “Is there someone I can call for you? Family, maybe? A friend?”
The guy just stared at him, face unchanged and stoic and guarded. Steve was almost certain he saw the guy's jaw clench just a little, but it was such a small and quick movement and the long and brown hair was covering most of his jaw, so Steve was probably just imagining things.
“Okay, well,” Steve started with a slight nod. “I've got a shower you can use, if you want. You could probably need it. Some food too, maybe some clean clothes?” He offered the stranger a crooked smile he hoped was friendly enough. “I'm not gonna hurt you, I swear. Cross my heart.”
The stranger stayed silent, staring at Steve. Then quickly and pointedly, his eyes shot to the side, and Steve followed his gaze. Atticus was still standing there, watching the stranger with his ears now perked and tail raised, almost like he was watching one of the farm animals.
“Atticus won't hurt you,” Steve said, looking back at the stranger. “He's just here to protect the farm and if you're not a danger to it, then all he'll want is some head rubs and belly scratches.”
As if on cue, Atticus' mouth dropped open and his tongue lolled out, his tail wagging wildly. Apparently he had decided the stranger wasn't dangerous or a threat, which settled the worry in the pit of Steve's stomach. He trusted Atticus' judgment more than his own, after all.
“See?” Steve offered the stranger a smile, when he looked back at him. “He ain't gonna hurt you.”
The stranger continued to stare at him, face still hard but softer now. He shot a pointed look to where Daisy was standing next to Steve, and, without looking away, Steve said, “Daisy's here to protect me. She won't hurt you, unless you hurt me.”
There was a prolonged pause, but then slowly, the stranger stood up and wrapped his metal hand around the backpack, picking it up as he stood. The guy was about as tall as Steve was, maybe an inch or two shorter, but he was hunched in on himself, shoulders sagged but tense and head ducked down, which made him look much shorter.
By the time they made it out of the barn, the sun was almost all the way up, the sky going a soft orange, and Steve could hear his rooster, Redwing, welcome the morning in the distance. This would be about the time he'd be getting out of bed too, so he hadn't missed that much sleep.
Daisy stayed right next to him, plastered to his side, during the whole walk back to the house, while the stranger walked a few feet behind him. Steve would feel uneasy with that, not having an eye on him, if it wasn't for Atticus walking behind all of them, watching them like a guard dog.
Back inside the house, Steve quickly went and locked the shotgun back in its locker under the stairs, and then returned to the living room where the stranger was standing, looking so out of place and awkward there that it almost made Steve snort. He was clutching his backpack to his chest, hanging onto it like a lifeline, and his eyes immediately snapped over to Steve the moment he stepped into the room.
Atticus was sitting by the couch, and Daisy stayed glued to Steve.
“Shower's in there,” Steve said, pointing toward the guest bathroom that was just down the hall, “if you want it.”
The stranger said nothing, stayed silent, and just slowly sunk down onto the couch, placing his backpack in his lap. Never once did he take his eyes off of Steve, and Steve shifted awkwardly under his intense gaze.
“Okay.” Steve scratched his cheek, roughing up his beard a little, then nodded. “I'm gonna get you something to wash your face with, then.”
He couldn't have been gone for more than one minute, and when he returned to the living room, a wet washcloth in hand, Atticus was sitting with his head on the cushion next to the stranger, tail wagging across the floor and thumping against the coffee table's leg. His ears were perked and his eyes were pleading and firmly on the stranger, but the guy just stared back and didn't give him the petting that Atticus was clearly begging for.
“He won't bite if you pet him,” Steve said, offering the guy a quick smile when his eyes snapped to him. He lifted the washcloth momentarily and stepped over. “Can you clean your face yourself, or do you want me to do it for you?”
The guy looked at him, glanced pointedly at the cloth, then looked back at him. Steve could take a hint, so he nodded and stepped over toward him. “Close your eyes,” he said softly, moving between his closed legs and the coffee table in front of him.
The guy instantly startled back, face going hard all over again.
“I'm not gonna hurt you,” Steve quickly promised, holding his hands back and up. “I've got no weapons, I just wanna get you clean. Don't wanna get water in your eyes, that's all.”
A hesitating shift, and then the guy slowly closed his eyes and tilted his head back just a little. The frown was still stuck in place, the corners of his lips tugged downward, and his brows were furrowed and lowered.
Steve carefully reached out and brushed away the strands of hair that fell over the guy's face. It really needed a wash, he mentally noted as the hair slowly fell from his face. The guy was tense as Steve continued to clear his face of his hair, and he flinched when Steve brushed against what was undoubtedly a bump on his head.
“Sorry,” Steve immediately apologized, pulling his hands back.
The bump was pretty big, looked fresh too. Steve guessed that when the dirt and mud and dried blood was washed off of this guy's face, there would be scrapes and bruises all around, and Steve's heart sank a little at the thought.
“I'll be careful,” Steve promised. Gently, he put the wet washcloth to the stranger's face and cleaned it, slowly revealing the tan skin underneath the dirt. Just like he had thought, there were cuts and bruises and scrapes as well as the pretty impressive bump, and Steve frowned at it.
It looked like the guy had been in a fight recently, a fight with either some stairs or a whole group of people. Whatever it was that had caused this amount of injuries, it couldn't have been good. None of it had been treated in any way either, and all of it definitely needed to.
After a while, the dirt and mud and dried blood and war paint was as gone as it could get, and Steve pulled the washcloth back and took a proper look at the guy he had brought into his house.
His jaw was sharp, thick and dark stubble running along it and framing a pair of plush lips that were stretched into a thin line, a slight frown. Dark circles hang low under his eyes, his eyes bright and pale and piercingly blue when they blinked open and looked back at him. His brows were low and furrowed, shadowing over his eyes, and his cheekbones were sharp. His face was thin, like he hadn't eaten in a while.
He was shockingly beautiful, Steve realized as he continued. Despite the slight dirt that still covered parts of him, he was definitely a looker.
And way too young to have been put through whatever hell he had been put through. He couldn't be more than twenty-eight. Twenty-seven, maybe.
Steve cleared his throat and tore his gaze away, when he realized they had been staring at each other for far too long. He put on a little smile, waved the now dirty washcloth, and said, “That's as clean as you're gonna get with just this. You're still welcome to use my shower, if you want.”
The guy didn't move, didn't say anything, so Steve nodded and stepped away. “I'll make you something to eat,” he said. “Just gotta make a quick call to a friend of mine.”
That, apparently, got a reaction from the guy. He tensed up in a split second and his left hand shot out for his backpack. He looked more than ready to bail out of there, his eyes wide with fear.
“It's okay,” Steve reassured him calmly. “Sam's a great guy. You'll like him. Plus, he's way better at treating wounds than I am,” God knows Sam had treated plenty of Steve's wounds in the past, so Steve would know, “so you'll want him to take a look at those.”
Slowly, the stranger sunk back into the couch cushions. Atticus hadn't moved from his spot, still looking at him with pleading eyes, and Steve smiled a little when the guy slowly pushed his left hand toward the dog.
Steve stepped away and found his phone where it had been put to charge over night in the kitchen. The cell reception out there was surprisingly good for being in the middle of nowhere, as was the internet even though he so rarely used his computer. But it was nice to have, when he did need it. And nice that it wasn't total and utter crap, like he had thought it probably would be after buying the place.
He thumbed through his few contacts and found Sam fairly quick, pressing call and putting the phone to his ear. It rang no more than five times, before the call was picked up.
“Hey, man,” Sam greeted him. His voice was rough, and Steve figured he'd only just woken up. “You okay? What time's it?”
“Just after five,” Steve answered with a shrug Sam couldn't see, glancing at the clock that hang above the dog calendar just beside the fridge.
Sam sighed heavily on the other end and asked, “There a reason you're calling me at ass am?”
“Yeah.” Steve glanced into the living room, where Atticus was sniffing curiously at the stranger's metal hand, while the guy's face remained stoic. He was looking right back at Steve, and Steve offered him a quick and hesitant smile in return to the cold stare. “Could you maybe come over a bit earlier than you were planning? I could really use your help over here.”
“You okay?” Sam asked, instantly sounding more awake and alert. “Do I need to bring the kit with me?”
“No, I'm fine,” Steve reassured him. He paused, then said, “Actually, maybe you should bring the kit with you.” After all, Steve's own first aid kit was probably close to empty, while Sam's was more than likely fully stocked and way better.
There was a long pause on the other end, then Sam said, “Steve, that does not sound like you're fine.”
“Sam, I'm fine, I promise. Just...” Steve cut himself off, paused, and sighed. “I'll explain when you get here, alright?”
“Alright,” Sam said slowly. “I'll be there in an hour.”
The stranger ate like he hadn't eaten in ages, the plate Steve put in front of him practically devoured by the time Steve was halfway through his own bowl of breakfast cereal. The guy didn't even pause or hesitate to start eating, stomach rumbling loudly as he took the first mouthful.
Steve tried not to stare, he really did, but it was actually kind of fascinating to watch.
And when the guy was finished, he licked his lips, put the plate down, and fell back onto the couch, eyes moving right over to Steve. After everything he did, the guy just looked at him with such intensity, like he was trying to figure him out or waiting for something.
Steve couldn't figure out what, and the guy still wouldn't (or couldn't) speak.
Atticus was already standing by the front door, whining and tail wagging, when Steve heard the sound of a car pulling up from outside. The stranger heard it too, it would seem, because he suddenly tensed and sank further into the couch cushions.
“It's just Sam,” Steve reassured him, sending him a quick smile, before he stood up and walked out the front door, leaving it open and letting Atticus run out first. Daisy sat herself down on the porch, while Steve followed Atticus off of it.
“Morning!” Sam called out as he hopped out of his car, first aid kit already in hand, the other reaching out to scratch Atticus' head. “You and the dogs look perfectly fine. What's so urgent that you need me this early?”
Steve sighed and pulled Sam in for a quick hug of greeting once he was close enough, Sam squeezing him back. When they stepped apart, he motioned toward the house and said, “Atticus found something in the barn this morning.”
“Wolf?” Sam guessed, following Steve back toward the house, Atticus trailing after them.
“Uh, no,” Steve said with a shake of his head. As soon as they were on the porch, Daisy stood back up and was right by his side. “Not exactly.”
Sam frowned at him, one big question mark written on his face. He stepped inside and was still looking at Steve quizzically when they headed toward the living room. He asked, “The hell do you mean- Oh.”
The stranger was still sitting where Steve had left him, backpack clutched in the metal hand and face hard and guarded once again. His eyes snapped from Steve to Sam the moment they walked inside, and he looked about ready to bolt once again, tensing up visibly.
“Okay,” Sam said slowly after a full minute where the two of them just stared at each other had passed. “So you've gotten a whole new way of picking up guys now. Got it.”
Steve shoved at him and said, “Sam, come on. Don't be an ass, he's hurt.”
“Yeah, I can see that.” Sam stood and stared silently at the guy for a few seconds more, before he carefully stepped over toward him. Steve could see the guy sink further into the cushions, almost like he wanted them to swallow him and take him away.
“Hey, man,” Sam said, and even though Steve couldn't see his face anymore, he knew he was smiling. Sam stretched out his right hand and said, “I'm Sam Wilson. What's your name?”
The stranger gave Sam the same treatment he had given Steve; silence and a cold and intense stare.
“He doesn't speak,” Steve told Sam. “Hasn't said a word since I found him in my barn.”
Sam shot him a quick glance. “Are you sure he speaks English?”
“Yeah,” Steve said with a nod, bringing his arms up to cross them. Daisy sat down at his left. “He understands it, at least. If he's mute, he doesn't sign.”
“Damn,” Sam muttered.
“Yeah, I know how much you wanted to impress someone with your signing abilities,” Steve said flatly.
Sam shot him a look, a brow quirked. “You mean other than the one guy I learned it for?”
“Of course. I know how disappointed you were with how unimpressed Clint was.”
Clint had been ecstatic, actually. He'd practically beamed when both Steve and Sam had greeted him in sign language a few years ago, only three months after Clint had lost his hearing permanently and joined them in retirement from the army.
Sam hummed quietly and turned his attention back to the stranger, who was now looking between them, watching them both carefully. “You tried getting him to write or something?” Sam suggested after a moment, glancing back at Steve.
Steve blinked. “Oh fuck, I didn't even think about that. Hang on.” He rushed out of the living room and into the kitchen. There was a notepad in one of the drawers, one he used to write down his grocery list and other things he needed to get next time he was in town. He grabbed it and returned to the living room along with a pen, Daisy trailing after him like a shadow.
Sam was sitting on the coffee table in front of the couch now, facing the stranger. The first aid kit was placed beside him. It was open but he didn't seem to be in any hurry to start cleaning the guy's wounds, nor did the guy seem like he was in a hurry to let him.
“Here,” Steve said and held the pad and pen out to the guy. The guy just stared at him in return, face hard but blank. Steve frowned and shared a quick look with Sam.
“Well,” Sam said, while Steve dropped the notepad in defeat. “No way to communicate, it looks like.”
A wet snout pressed against Steve's forearm, and Steve tore his eyes off of the stranger to look down at where Atticus was poking at him, whining softly and wagging his tail. Steve sighed and put his empty hand on his head, scratching behind his ears. The sun was up, and the farm was still asleep.
“Sam, I gotta get some work done,” he said. “I should have started an hour ago already. Could you watch him for me? Maybe try to get something, anything, out of him?”
“You got it, man,” Sam agreed immediately. He turned to reach into the kit, eyes on the stranger and a kind smile on his lips when he spoke again. “We're gonna fix you right up, make you look brand new.”
The only reaction that got out of the stranger was a quick glance in Steve's direction, and then he sat up straight. Well, it was better than him leaning away from Sam, Steve decided as he offered him a quick smile that he hoped was reassuring.
Steve left the two of them to it and walked out of the house with Atticus and Daisy trailing after him. Daisy stayed by his side while he stepped into a better pair of boots, and Atticus ran ahead of them toward the barn.
Steve had gone into the whole farming business knowing it was hard work, but it was what he needed to do after retiring from the army. He had needed to do something to keep himself busy, something to keep himself moving around and not sitting still, and farming turned out to be the perfect thing for him.
He only had a few cows and two handfuls of chickens, all of which roamed free during the day and all of which were desperate to be let out when he walked over to do that. His farm was fenced in, giving the cows their own space while the chickens got theirs.
Atticus kept watch of them both, the cows more than the chickens because Redwing the rooster already had an eye on the chickens.
Steve didn't do all the heavy lifting by himself. He had tried to, for the first while. But he'd burned out and Sam had volunteered to help him out where he needed an extra hand.
Steve wasn't able to go to the farmer's market for more than a little while before freaking out, even when he had Daisy to anchor him. So Sam took over for him and had done it for him ever since the time where Steve had broken down and nearly had to be put in the hospital, because he just hadn't been able to breathe.
Sam helped out on the crops and helped him gather the eggs the chickens lay (and hang out with Redwing, because the two of them were cool with each other) and took care of the farm when Steve just couldn't get out of the bed.
Sam was a life saver, and Steve owed him his. They had met years ago, back when Steve was recovering from having lost his entire unit except for one man and when Sam was recovering from having lost his partner in the air force. They had been each other's security crutch for a while, helping each other through their recovery, and now they were best friends. Brothers, maybe.
Other than Sam, Steve had Clint to help him whenever the guy had a day away from his full-time job at the Bishop shooting range in town. Clint was deaf, his hearing shot out during a tour in the army, and Steve had met him when the guy moved into town a while ago.
He wanted somewhere quiet, he'd told him. Clint wore hearing aids when he needed to, but he preferred not to. It was just too loud and disorientating, and Steve understood that. So Clint never once wore his hearing aids around Steve, never once wore them around the farm. He didn't need to.
Lucky, Clint's service dog, was always brought along, and he and Daisy were work buddies, in a way. When they weren't on the job, they were like best pals and both acted like they were puppies again. Both Steve and Clint loved seeing that.
Atticus loved Clint almost more than he loved Steve. Steve took no offense to that.
Natasha was the only person who didn't help out at the farm. She helped out in many other ways, though. Like dragging him away from the farm every once in a while to clear his head and make sure he wasn't working himself into an early death, or forcing him into town once a week so he wouldn't become a total hermit, or coming by to make sure he wasn't becoming a total mess and dwelling in his survivor's guilt or depression.
Natasha was amazing, and Steve liked to ask her to marry him at least once a month. She always answered with a kiss on his cheek and a teasing, “Sorry, Rogers. You're one Clint Barton too late.”
There had never been anything romantic between her and Steve, though. She wasn't his type, and he wasn't hers, and they worked much better as friends anyway.
It was late in the afternoon before Steve finally found himself walking back into the house, Daisy trailing after him and Atticus still sitting outside, watching over the cows like a hawk.
Steve was sweaty and dirty and, to be completely honest, exhausted by the time he stepped inside and closed the door after him, stepping out of his boots. He felt gross and in desperate need of a shower, but instead of heading to the bathroom like he would have any other day, he headed for the living room.
He found Sam sitting on one of the armchairs, a thoughtful look on his face and gaze firmly locked onto the stranger. The stranger was still sitting where Steve had left him, looking less dirty and patched up now than earlier, but he didn't look like he had moved. At all.
Both of them were scowling, scowling at each other. Glaring, maybe.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Steve asked, breaking the tense silence that hang in the living room.
Both sets of eyes shot to him at the same time, and Steve raised his brows questioningly at both of them. The stranger was still silent and didn't move an inch, but Sam stood up with a huff and walked over to Steve. Steve saw the guy on the couch narrow his eyes at the back of Sam's head, and for a second Steve was worried.
But the guy didn't move, and Steve looked at Sam with a questioning brow raised.
“Well,” Sam started, crossing his arms and glancing over his shoulder at the stranger for a quick moment. “He's not speaking, but he can definitely hear. Every time one of the animals made noise after you'd let them out, he looked out the window like he was curious or something. Still hasn't said a single word though, and he's been ignoring me this entire time, except for many murderous glares because he apparently wasn't happy with the way I patched him up.”
Steve bit back a little amused grin and dipped his chin instead, hiding his face even though he knew Sam would know he was silently laughing at him anyway.
Sam paused for a moment, then nudged him and said, “Ya know, either he's severely traumatized, or he's a psychopathic serial killer. Plus, it looks like his whole left arm is made of some kind of metal, or something.” He shook his head, brows furrowed. “Maybe don't keep him in your house, Steve.”
“Fuck you, I do what I want,” was Steve's immediate response, although he never said it out loud. But apparently, the expression on his face gave him away, because Sam caught on immediately.
“Steve, no,” Sam said, shaking his head and giving him an almost stern look.
“Sam, I can't just throw him out,” Steve said, lowering his voice to a hushed whisper, even though he was fully aware that the stranger would probably still be able to hear everything they were saying.
“Then hand him over to the police,” Sam whispered back. “Steve, you don't know a damn thing about that guy. The fact that you're even considering keeping him in your house is crazy.”
“I don't care.” Steve glanced over at the stranger, his face softening when he saw him sinking back into the couch cushions and gripping his backpack so tightly. “Sam, the guy looks like no one's been nice to him for years. How am I supposed to be okay with just sending him off somewhere?”
Sam sighed heavily and looked heavenward. “I swear to God, if I come by tomorrow and find you dead in your bed, I'm gonna find a way to bring you back to life just to kill you again.”
And that was how Steve ended up with a stranger living in his house.