Actions

Work Header

Kiss It Better

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers, The Man with a Plan, history called him.

But he woke up in the future, as historical figures rarely do. Then, S.H.I.E.L.D. fell, and Steve, a soldier seventy years out of time, needed a new plan.

Not that Steve knew that, but Sam Wilson saw what others missed. Steve needed a purpose, a reason to get out of bed, some damn thing to make him happy.

Because Steve wasn’t happy.

Steve wasn’t even fully functional in the wake of the revelations at the Triskelion, like knowing what he knew—S.H.I.E.L.D. was Hydra, Bucky survived the fall from the train, Bucky had no idea who he was, Bucky pulled him from the water, Steve wasn’t, in fact, bulletproof—had cut his strings and left him dangling without someone to point him in the direction of a problem that needed a punching solution.

Somebody—not saying who, but looking at you, Steve—needed a problem to solve that he couldn’t punch his way out of for once.

Steve Rogers needed a reason to live and Sam Wilson was just the guy to help him figure one out.

Start small, at home, Sam decided.

Problem number one: Steve had no home.

Steve’s D.C. apartment bore a great and distressing resemblance to a block of swiss cheese thanks to a certain amnesiac assassin. Putting on a bright smile, Sam rubbed his hands together, clapped Steve on the back, and suggested they find some boxes.

(Jarvis, installed on Steve’s StarkPhone, immediately delivered a welter of packing crates in all shapes and sizes and assigned a dozen Stark Industries’ movers with top security clearance to relocate Steve [and Sam] to Stark Tower until a decision could be made by the displaced pair of soldiers.)

They salvaged whatever wasn't shot to hell or covered in blood, loaded everything in Sam’s new SUV (thanks, Stark), hitched a toy hauler holding Steve’s bike up to it, and moved two retired soldiers, lock, stock, and barrel, to New York City.

Problem number two: Steve hated the tower.

Hate is a strong word.

Steve tolerated the invasiveness of Jarvis in every corner of his life, endured the disconnect he felt living above and beyond a city he once knew like the back of his hand, and suffered a world every day in which everything was new and shiny and disposable.

On the inside.

On the outside, Steve insisted, “It’s fine. Anything is better than living in a freezing canvas tent with six unwashed soldiers in the Italian Alps, right?”

And if Sam lived his life by “anything is better than a blistering hot tent in East Bumblefuck-nowhere, Afghanistan with a bunch of sweaty assholes whose faces you’re fucking sick of with sand up your butt twenty-four/seven”, a cardboard box under the Brooklyn bridge would qualify as a step up.

Missing the point, Steve.

Problem number three: Steve needed a little piece of something familiar.

Seventy years after putting his plane down in the ice, the only people Steve knew couldn’t remember him, and his hometown was overrun with hipsters and vintage clothing boutiques selling jeans at a hundred and twenty bucks a pop.

Steve bought an old, decommissioned army jeep and drove it down to Brighton Beach to walk the shore on gloomy days that matched his mood. Sometimes, he let Sam come along. Most of the time, Sam could have just stayed home because Steve was anywhere but there on that shoreline, or maybe he was there, but not then, his thoughts mired in some memory seventy years gone.

But the sounds of Luna Park and the flavor of a Coney dog always brought the ghost of a smile to his face.

If the man needed a daily dose of Coney Island to express a feeling, Sam could work with that. Fortunately, the old Brighton Beach firehouse came up at auction the summer after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. While Natasha and Jarvis scoured the world for viable leads on Bucky’s whereabouts, Sam showed up at Steve’s door—his temporary apartment at the tower—loaded down with takeout bags and real estate research provided by Miss Potts.

An auctioned fixer-upper would save the super soldier a few bucks and provide years of projects to occupy idle hands and troubled minds. (Sam knew Steve well enough to understand that Bucky would be coming home, too, eventually, so, yes, he planned ahead—two occupational therapeutic solutions for the price of one.) A renovation project like the historic firehouse provided Steve a reason to get out in the neighborhood to the lumberyard and hardware store, the post office, furniture stores, contractors, plumbers, electricians… Hell, over time, he even got to know some of the old firemen who’d worked out of the Brighton engine company before it merged with one of the newer, bigger houses a few blocks down and over.

The property auction, scheduled for June with favorable weather, never came to pass. Sam gently nudged and Steve made an offer on the building. The borough (holder of the deed to the aging property) happily snatched up the offer. They even threw in the fenced-in easement on one side and a rambling carriage house on the other side once utilized to store additional equipment and fire department vehicles. When all was said and done, Steve owned nearly half a block of property in Brighton Beach. Historic buildings like the firehouse came with zoning riders restricting how the property could be used and developed to help maintain the small town vibe of the community.

It was a perfect storm of challenges for the newly retired super soldier.

Despite—or perhaps because of—its zoning limitations, the old engine company building came at a pittance compared to the back pay the army deposited in Steve’s bank account two years earlier. Millions of dollars in back pay.

Millions.

So many zeroes, they started to look fake if Sam stared at Steve’s bank statement on the table serving as a desk in his office too long.

Not that Sam rifled through Steve’s mail without permission. They agreed Steve ought to let someone more familiar with modern banking practices and credit card agreements look over his finances until he got a better feel for handling the details himself.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. lackey assigned to help Steve catch up on such things died in D.C.

The nurse assigned to help reintegrate Steve when he came out of the ice died in the Battle of New York.

Which brought Sam to problem number four: Steve didn’t want to talk about it.

—‘it’ being anything that didn’t register as sunshine-frosted cupcakes and unicorns farting glitter.

And Sam got it—to a point. Steve’s life before and after the ice measured up to a lot of pain and death and disappointment.

Steve met Peggy. Got swole.

Erskine died.

Steve rescued Bucky. Bucky followed Steve.

Bucky died.

Steve raged, stomping Nazis and taking names. Peggy pointed him at more Nazis.

(Stomp, punch, lather, rinse, repeat.)

Steve put down his plane.

The Allies won. Peggy carried on.

Steve slept in the ice.

Hydra infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.. Howard became unrecognizable.

Steve slept in the ice.

The Howling Commandos died.

Steve slept in the ice.

Howard died.

Steve woke up.

Nicky Fury lied. Peggy forgot Steve. Aliens invaded New York. Coulson died. Nicky Fury lied. Sharon Carter was a plant. Nicky Fury lied. The S.T.R.I.K.E. Team tried to kill Steve. Hydra tortured Bucky.

Lather.

Rinse.

Repeat.

Sam understood why Steve might not want to talk about it, but Sam also knew that carrying that burden alone only made it heavier. Sharing it with a friend cut the burden in half, so if he wouldn’t or couldn’t unburden himself on his friend, Steve needed someone else. Everyone needed someone. A shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear. Hell, Sam just wanted his mom sometimes when shit went south, and poor Steve had nobody.

He paused, setting down the property agreement on Steve's desk.

Sam knew what Steve needed.

Sliding the StarkPhone from his back pocket, Sam thumbed open his contact list and hit the first entry.

The line picked up on the first ring. “Psychic Hotline, you have the wrong number.”

Sam laughed. “Hey, Mama.”

“Sammy!” He heard the smile in her voice and something tight between his shoulder blades eased. “You finally leaving that viper’s nest you call a city and coming home so I can feed you up right?”

Darlene Wilson never gave up on having her Sammy at home where she could bully him in person to take better care of himself. Most recently, her attempts to convince him to come up to Harlem were accompanied by a chorus of “you look thin, are you eating?” Just to be on the safe side, she regularly mailed him coolers full of his daddy's vacuum-sealed, smoked pork barbecue, packed in dry ice.

“Yes. I’m about to make all your dreams come true,” he promised. “I need your help. You and Dad got time to lend a hand with a special case?”

“With one of your soldiers? Sammy, you know you never need to ask,” she admonished. “One of your boys down on his luck?”

“He’s got nobody, Mama. Nothing but a big, empty house—no family, not even a cat.”

“Well.” Darlene took a deep breath. Sam pictured her balancing the old landline receiver between her ear and shoulder with practiced ease as she settled back in the chair at the kitchen table. “That’s not true. He’s got us, Sammy. You bring him on up to church tomorrow. He religious?”

“Used to be Catholic.”

“Used to?” She clucked her tongue in dismay.

“You know how soldiers get, Ma.”

“Mm-hmm.” She knew. “Well, if services aren’t to his taste just yet, you bring him up for lunch and ice cream in the social hall after. Tell him bring his appetite, too.”

Sam grinned. “That won’t be a problem.”

“Why’s that?” she hummed absently.

“Because Captain America eats like a pig, Mama.”

Silence.

“Mama?”

She took another deep breath. “We owe Captain Rogers a debt, Sammy.”

“I know.”

“This isn’t a small thing. He saved your father from those aliens with the lizard faces.”

“I know he did.”

“Is this why I’ve been pretending I don’t worry about seeing you plastered all over the news lately? You tryin’ to pay him back by getting involved in this S.H.I.E.L.D. mess?”

“Captain Rogers needed my help then and he needs it now, Mama. No better reason to get back in.” Sam wandered down the hall, peering over the couch—Steve’s lone piece of furniture at the moment—at the face of the sleeping American icon. Even at rest, his shoulders held a line of tension, brow furrowed, jaw clenched. “Now he’s outta work. His old apartment is full of bullet holes. The good guys are the bad guys. His girl is nearly a hundred and doesn’t know who he is. His best friend, too. And I don’t think he’s let anyone hug him since World War II.”

“Well, if you’re putting your oar in, so are we,” she decided. “When can you be here tomorrow?”

“First thing, but Ma… He’s prickly about affection he thinks he hasn’t earned and talking about his feelings.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem.”

And if Sam knew his mama at all, she was already planning to knit him a sweater for the excuse to get his measurements. She’d get her arms around him in a hug by hook or by crook.

He couldn’t wait ‘til she met Natasha.

The next morning, Sam’s mama took one look at Steve, wandering in from the street like a lost, baby duckling following her Sammy, and rolled up her sleeves.

Chapter Text

"Steven Grant, this place is a shit hole,” Mrs. Wilson declared the afternoon she finally got a look around the firehouse, hands on hips, lip curled in disgust.

"Darlene!" Reverend Wilson hissed.

But Steve snickered in agreement. "Yes, ma'am."

"He was in the army, Paul.” Mrs. Wilson rolled her eyes at her husband and the long-suffering face on her son. “In a dozen languages, I'm sure the boy's heard worse than the Reverend Mrs. Anyone describing a depressing, run-down rat trap as the shit hole it is."

Sam’s pop threw his arms in the air and stalked off to investigate and air out the rest of the first floor. Sam’s mama looked up at Steve from her diminutive height expectantly.

Glancing around at the dusty piles of debris and mystery stains, Steve assessed the space with a critical artist’s eye. “It was Sam’s idea, but I think it’s got possibilities. Just needs a little elbow grease and soap, couple of coats of paint. If science can fix me…” He winced. She hated when he put down his pre-serum self.

“It’s a diamond in the rough is all I’m saying,” he hurried to add, then paused and corrected himself. “Underneath all the pigeon shit.”

“And human shit!” Sam called out helpfully. “Squatters’ve been in the back office. And they were not concerned about resale value, man.” He backed away with a wave in front of his wrinkled nose.

“Floors wash,” Mrs. Wilson waved away that particular worry.

“They say you can’t polish a turd for a reason, Darlene!” Reverend Wilson bellowed from the side yard.

“Because whoever they are lack imagination,” she bellowed right back. “Mythbusters disproved that anyhow. Polishing giraffe turds or some such.” She must have caught the disgruntled look on Steve’s face. “Oh, honey, it’s all in good fun. Half of New York is buried under ten feet of shit. Always has been. Sammy was right, a project like this is good for idle hands. I’d rather see you someplace clean and warm right off the bat, but if your heart’s set on this, then this is what we’ll do.” Her brown eyes twinkled.

“You gonna talk all day or unpack the jeep?” Steve wasn’t sure which Wilson yelled that, but whoever it was knew well enough not to do it where she could pitch a broom at his head.

“ ‘Talk all day or unpack the jeep’, my ass. Your legs broken that you can’t come do it yourself if you’re in such a damn hurry?!” she shouted back, then threw a wink and a cheeky grin at Steve.

“You don’t have to do that,” Steve murmured, hurrying to take the bin full of supplies from her hands.

“Nonsense, sweetheart.” She patted his cheek fondly. “You’re family and you need a bit of TLC, just like this place. Besides, a little hard work will do my Sammy good if he’s gonna haunt my kitchen day and night, living on oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and going soft around the middle the next little while.”

The indignant squawk from upstairs surprised a snorting laugh out of Steve. Mrs. Wilson threw her head back and cackled at the ceiling.

“Well, then, I guess we ought to get to it. This turd ain’t gonna polish itself.” She grabbed another plastic basin filled with cleaning supplies out of the back of Steve’s jeep.

“You know you’re the only one doesn’t give me shit about cursing. Why is that, Steven?” she asked, making conversation as she set about organizing her cleaning supplies as she thought she'd need them.

“Don’t trust people who don’t swear these days. It’s a tell unique to your time—the more honest a person is, the more they seem to swear.”

Our time,” she corrected gently, laying a warm hand on his forearm.

“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded and looked away, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat.

An old workbench lay pitched against the wall. Steve righted it and pushed it around on the concrete until the crust fell away from the wheels and the ball bearings loosened up. It rolled freely on the scarred floor.

Mrs. Wilson wouldn’t let him set so much as a dust rag on it until it shined, though. “You sit over there,” she pointed at the jeep’s fender, “and tell me something about yourself—something the history books don’t say or something the historians got wrong. I know how that wartime propaganda works.”

“I went to art school,” seemed like a safe place to start.

“Pencil, paint, watercolor?” she asked, selecting  a bucket and filling it at the utility sink—one of the few things he’d so far taken the time to repair.

“Pencil or charcoal, mostly. Oil paint when the price wasn’t too dear.” Steve’s fingers itched for the pencil and sketchpad he kept under the front seat of the jeep. “Pencil most of the time. Proper art supplies were a luxury during the Depression. Worse during the war, but the Commandos always squirreled away pencils wherever a mission took us, supplies and the like for later. I’d draw little cartoons of the seven of us—Peggy, too—and they’d mail ‘em home to their girls. Sometimes, I’d draw pinup caricatures for them from their girls’ photos from home, just a little something for company on cold nights.” He felt his face heat with a telling blush.

“Don’t hear about that in the Smithsonian, do you?” Mrs. Wilson shook her head and splashed a bit of cleaning solution in the bucket, swirling it with a sponge.

Steve chuckled. “No, I guess not. I imagine Becca Barnes had a trunkful or two after the war. Heard she ended up with everything Howard couldn’t lay his hands on before the army swooped in and classified the rest.”

“You spoken to her?”

“Becca? No. She … she passed back in the 90s, I heard.”

“That’s right.” Mrs. Wilson nodded. “I’m sorry I forgot, honey, and I was sorry to hear it then, too, now I think about it. She was something of a celebrity activist back in her day—before she ran for office. Burned the American flag in protest on live TV back in the late 60s. Helluva thing. I watched the video of it in my women's studies class in college. I don’t know that it had the impact the protesters were after at the time, but it had something of a snowball effect on politics and the like. Rebecca Barnes was there in the thick of it, dusting up with the ‘politics as usual’ crowd and demanding answers. She ran for office later on, became the first female New York Senator. I got to vote for one of my heroes. Ain’t that somethin’?”

“You looked up to Becca?” Something about that stiffened his spine with pride for his best friend’s little sister.

“Not all heroes wear capes, Steven.” She eyed him like he knew better.

He knew better.

“I don’t know. I think Steve would look dashing in a cape,” Natasha said, appearing at the top of the stairs.

Mrs. Wilson yelped and sloshed her bucket in the sink. “Lord have mercy!” She patted her chest and eyed the newcomer warily.

Sauntering down the stairs, Natasha trailed a fingertip along the wall, checking it for dirt.

Steve snorted. Like dirt would dare to cling to the Black Widow.

“She do that a lot?” Mrs. Wilson asked when Steve showed no outward reaction to the redhead’s sudden appearance.

“Often enough.” Steve shrugged. “Mrs. Wilson, Natasha Romanov.” He gestured to each as he made the introductions.

“Lord, boy, I know who she is! I just didn’t expect a redheaded ninja to appear out of thin damn air like Harry Houdini! You crawl up the wall and through a window like that Spider-Boy over to Queens or is the Black Widow bit just for show?”

“Code name,” Natasha replied as Steve answered, too: “She probably parked a jet on the roof.”

“A jet on the—” Mrs. Wilson’s eyes widened. “Paul! You better go check the roof, make sure the whole damn thing ain’t about to come down on our heads!” she called after her husband.

“Miss Romanov,” the reverend murmured, hurrying into the room. “A pleasure to see you again.”

“ Again? Mrs. Wilson gave him an unimpressed look. Looked like that was news to her.

“Reverend Wilson’s an old army chaplain,” Natasha explained. “When Sam turned up with you, Steve, the reverend started making calls, trying to get the necessary security clearance to hear an Avenger’s confession.”

Recoiling in surprise, Steve settled back down on the fender. “I didn’t—”

“Precautionary measure,” the good reverend assured him. “I’m no use to my congregation if one of you is lacking the services needed. Someday,” he added, “when you’re ready.”

“Bethany is an interfaith sanctuary.” Steve was pretty sure he got that right.

“It is,” the reverend agreed, “but we started the church ourselves with the purpose of serving the faithful same as I did in the army, multi-denominational.”

“You’re cleared Level Ten for all Avengers Initiative and former S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel, sir.” Natasha nodded at the reverend. “They’ve been notified by official channels, so you can expect to see them start trickling in for services over the next few weeks.”

“Well, now.” The reverend squared his shoulders. “It’ll be a real pleasure. I hope they’ll introduce themselves, let us know how we can better serve them.” He looked to his wife. “Maybe we better ought’a hold a barbecue, welcome the newcomers.”

Mrs. Wilson rolled her eyes. “Any excuse to haul out the smoker you and the army engineers swore up and down you needed. Well, better it be used than collecting dust and taking up space in the garage, I suppose.” She brushed her soapy hands down the front of her apron.

“You like barbecue, don’t you, Miss Romanov?” The older man’s voice lifted in pleasure as he escorted Natasha through the side door to show her the perfect spot for the new grill and smoker his army buddies wanted to build for Steve.

“Uh, Steve?” Sam’s voice floated down the stairs.

“Yeah?”

“There’s a quinjet hovering three feet above the terrace on the roof and it’s making the neighbors twitchy.”

Steve sighed. “I’ll go move it to the side yard.”

“Yeah, sure,” Sam agreed with a snort, “because that’ll freak out the neighbors less.”

After Steve moved Natasha’s ride and returned to the garage bay, they got down to the meat and bones of the day’s cleanup plans, cleared the junk from the first floor to the dumpster Sam requested the city deliver to the alley out back. Not that Steve needed help with the heavy lifting, but having company was always nice. Mrs. Wilson kept up a steady stream of chatter and questions to pull Steve out of his own head when his thoughts wandered.

“I think Paul’s right. A nice patio with a grill out the side there is just what you need, especially for the summer. It’s so rare in the boroughs to have more than a little strip of yard, but you’ve got that whole lot. Might as well make the most of it.” She propped her hands on her hips and wandered over to the open doorway to look around the remaining space unoccupied by the quinjet. “We’ll plant you some forsythia for sunshine in the spring, and some hydrangeas over there in the shade by the hostas for color in the summer. Those hostas’ll have to be split up, but that’s no trouble. They’ll make nice plantings around the church on the side that doesn’t get any sun where the climbing vines won’t take.”

He enjoyed the cadence of her voice as it rose and fell while she planned his weekends for the next three months.

“Knock-knock!” someone called out from the street side of the building. The faint double-tap of knuckles would have been lost to normal human hearing. Mentally adding a doorbell and intercom system to his list of projects, Steve skirted the jeep and cleaning supplies as he approached the open garage door and his unexpected visitors.

Just as he caught sight of a spiky, blond head of hair, Natasha turned the corner from the side door and called out, “It’s probably Barton! He said he’d stop by to help if he had time today after scheduling training with the new recruits Pepper's running background checks on.”

The click-clack of an easy-going yellow lab’s claws across concrete masked the soft footfalls of the archer.

“That’s Pizza Dog,” Clint introduced the one-eyed canine sniffing at Steve’s work boots. “Don’t let him lick your face. He just had three slices of pepperoni and anchovy after sniffing every butt in Central Park.”

“Noted.” Steve gave the dog plenty of space.

“You’re going to give that dog an ulcer.” Natasha shook her head, then stopped and peered over Clint’s shoulder. “Darcy!”

Natasha hugged the petite brunette.

Natasha hugged a person.

Natasha hugged.

“Steve Rogers, Darcy Lewis,” Clint made the introductions before Steve got a good look at the new visitor. “Another career casualty of S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s crashing at my place for the time being and assisting Pepper, liaising between the Initiative and SI’s VP of Corporate Affairs. Used to be Dr. Foster’s personal assistant…?” Clint prompted his teammate to say something.

“Hi, right. You, you’re— Thor speaks highly. That is to say… Hi, I’m Ste—” Breath stuttered in Steve's throat when her lips tipped up in a shy smile for his bumbling benefit.

Darcy Lewis looked like a pinup dream come to life. Curly, dark hair, blue-green eyes, and curves in all the right places.

Steve cleared his throat and tried again. “Captain Rogers—Steve, Steve Rogers, just Steve is fine, yeah.”

Jesus. The earth could just go ahead and swallow him whole now, please and thank you.

“Steven, it’s traditional to invite guests in and offer them hospitality. Some folks go wild and do both.” Mrs. Wilson’s dry reminder brought him to his senses.

Sort of.

He tripped over himself twice, offered her a drink before he remembered all he had was the warm soda loaded in one of the old vending machines covered in pigeon shit, and realized too late the only clean spot he had to offer anyone a seat at the moment was on the fender of his jeep. Darcy eyed it warily and asked instead if there was anything she could do to make him more comfortable—she heard he was commuting between the tower and the firehouse and if he needed anything…?

Steve stared at her dumbly. Words dried up on his tongue. Languages and cultures were born and died. Civilizations rose from of the ashes and fell again.

“Steven!” Mrs. Wilson barked a quiet laugh.

He blinked.

“I think you need a coffee, sweetheart.” She patted his cheek and pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh again.

“I can do that!” Darcy whooped, sidling past the group to step outside and make some calls.

“Yes, you do that. Thank you, sugar.” Mrs. Wilson nodded at their visitor, then turned her beady gaze on Steve. “Well, that couldn’t have gone worse if you’d lit yourself on fire and burped the national anthem backwards. You always that bad with women or is this one a special case?”

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, renovating the firehouse and failing outrageously at flirting with a pretty woman couldn’t consume all of Steve’s time.

He had bad days.

Not every day and not all the time, but some days, he just couldn’t crawl out of bed.

On other days, he’d get as far as standing under the shower, but then he’d get overwhelmed staring at the shampoo and conditioner and soap and shaving cream and thinking about all the things he had to do to make himself presentable in order to leave his bedroom. Instead of showering, he’d turn on the little waterproof wireless Nat picked up for him at the farm market and sink down to the warm tile floor, sobbing over nothing and everything, sitting there shivering long after the water ran cold and his grief ran dry.

He’d startle to awareness by the sound of Sam or Natasha picking the bathroom door lock, or Nat stepping lightly into the fog-filled room with a stack of towels and eyes full concern. He’d sit on the toilet lid with a towel wrapped around his waist and she’d croon in Russian, finger-combing his over-long hair to work out the knots and asking if he's up to giving himself a decent shave.

Most of the time, he could pull himself together enough to throw on a T-shirt or a pair of sweats, maybe give his jaw a quick buzz with the electric razor.

Some days weren’t like the others, though.

Some days, getting out of bed seemed impossible, and showering, insurmountable.

“Tell you what, Steven,” Mrs. Wilson bargained with him when Sam ratted Steve out to his ma. “How ‘bout you run a hot bath, now we’ve got the plumbing all straightened out, hm? A change of pace could be just the thing to help you get a good night's sleep. Gingernut!” she called in the direction of the guest room, tugging a reluctant smile from Steve’s lips.

“You rang, Grand Poobah?” Nat’s head appeared around the edge of the door.

Mrs. Wilson smiled serenely. “I like your sass, girl. You’re the one I like.”

“I have a likeable quality.” Nat preened.

“You got some fruity bath bubbles or some such Steven could use?” Mrs. Wilson patted his leg and slid from the bedside chair to gather up the laundry littering his floor with a pointed look as she dumped it all in the hamper. “He’s having a bit of a day.”

Nat blinked and glanced over at Steve with a worried frown. “Sure thing. I’ll pick up more when I go out, too.”

Which is how Steve found himself up to his chin with his knees poking up out of the hottest water he could stand and a thick layer of banana-scented bubbles from a paper wrapper branded with a corporate name he never heard of before.

A bubble bath bomb, Nat called it.

When he lifted a hand from the water to search the small collection of bottles by the tub for his unscented shampoo, his hand sparkled.

With rainbow glitter.

Steve sighed.

The Black Widow, ladies and gentlemen, and her rainbow sparkle, funky monkey bath bomb.

He shook his head, chuckling despite himself as he soaked and shampooed. He skipped the conditioner and body wash, and laid his head on the back edge of the tub, drifting and enjoying the quiet moment of relaxation.

He flinched awake when a cold nose pressed against shoulder.

“Wha?!” he flailed, sending a tidal wave over the edge of the tub and across the floor.

Delighted with the cascade of suds, Pizza Dog barked and pounced and made a big mess even bigger.

“Aw, Pizza Dog, no…” a familiar voice whined from the kitchen.

“Lucky,” Nat hissed, bursting into the room like an avenging goddess. She corralled the Labrador and hustled him out to the kitchen.

Pizza Dog whined, claws scrabbling for purchase on the hardwood, and Clint grumbled, “You idiot,” at the overexcited dog.

“You--” Nat pointed at Steve. “--dry off or I’ll do it for you.”

Steve, who hadn’t caught a chill since 1943, narrowed his eyes at his teammate and friend.

“Clint brought some matzo ball soup made by one of his tenants. You’ll have some for dinner and go to bed early.”

“Yes, mother,” Steve sassed. He ate the soup in bed just to spite her.

After that, he ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in bed as often as four days a week.

On his better days, he scrubbed and treated the concrete garage floors and prepped them for porch paint, or stripped old layers of paint and wallpaper from the former offices and dormitories, or laid fresh tile and moved in new mattresses, or hauled bath fixtures up to the third floor for the guest room Sam used on the nights he stayed instead of heading up to Harlem to stay at his parents’ place.

Sometimes, Steve joined Sam and Nat in the half-finished living room on his scavenged, second-hand furniture to watch a movie on Netflix on the big screen TV Tony delivered as a housewarming gift.

Some nights, he slept without nightmares about falling, but those were few and far between.

Pizza Dog would frequently stick around for a few days at a time before getting bored and catching a ride back to Bed-Stuy with Nat or Clint. Steve enjoyed the dog’s company, though he rarely said as much. Pizza Dog loved sleeping on Steve’s bed and stealing the covers at night. During the day, he’d nose around the neighborhood or get underfoot when Steve felt like getting things done. The dog did as he pleased and stayed mostly out of trouble, so he and Steve got along pretty well.

On the bad days, Pizza Dog was an opportunist. He’d lay beside Steve and make big, sad eyes at whoever came by to nag Steve to eat and bathe. The lab nosed under Steve’s arm and cuddled close, discreetly nipping crumbs from the covers and enjoying all the lazy belly rubs he could get.

On Fridays, nearly everyone Steve knew came over for dinner. They ordered a stack of pizzas and sat out in the side yard at the new picnic table built by a friend of a friend of Reverend Wilson’s. They gossiped about teammates and church friends, and teased Sam as friends do over his unrequited crush on the handsome neighbor across the street. Sam’s eye candy came and went at all hours of the day and night, and they all took guesses at what sort of job kept him up at those odd hours until Nat did a little digging and found out he was an EMT lifeguard who ran ambulance on Brighton Beach and along the boardwalk at Coney Island. The summer months were busy and he often worked extra shifts.

Mrs. Wilson set down her tablet computer on the picnic table one evening shortly after they arrived for Friday dinner and grinned at her son like the cat who got the cream. “The handsome EMT with the butt you could bounce quarters off of is named Daniel, but his good friends call him Niel, and his facebook timeline says he’s out, proud, and active in the LGBTQA+ community. Hot damn!” She slapped the table.

“Ma!” Sam hissed. “Keep your voice down.” He scrambled to his feet and sidled over to the privacy fence to peer across the street at the renovated carriage house inhabited by his handsome fella. Daniel.

The others teased Steve gently about Darcy, too.

It was just his luck that he stumbled across her alone one day. Most of the team came over to help overhaul the landscaping in the side yard on a warm weekend afternoon and Darcy tagged along with Clint, as was becoming her habit from time to time. Though sometimes, she’d swing by for a word with Natasha or to pick the agent up in a Stark towncar on the way to an event as Natalie Rushman--the only remaining cover the Widow had left intact after the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Darcy volunteered to clean up the service kitchen area downstairs after lunch.

With dish soap suds up to her elbows in the sink, she stopped humming to murmur, “I don’t bite, Captain.”

“I know that.”

Shit.

He bit his lip and tried to find a way to save it before he made a mess of another attempt at conversation with the pretty brunette. “I know. I’m…”

He cleared his throat.

“Nervous around women?” she ventured.

“No,” he answered quickly.

Her shoulders drooped. “So … just me then.”

Steve stared at the floor and willed the ground to open up for once when he needed it to swallow him whole. Was that too much to ask?

“Um, yeah. Guess so.” He chanced a quick look at the pretty dame, retreating a step in surprise when her lips turned up, offering him a sweet smile.

“Just me. I make you nervous,” she surmised, drying her hands on one of Mrs. Wilson’s fancy embroidered guest towels.

Steve cleared his throat unnecessarily again and glared at the floor. Still no hole. He’d have to work on that. 

"Nervous is a strong-- Ah..." He winced and tried again, rubbing the back of his neck with a sweaty palm, "I'm big and awkward--when I'm not beating up aliens and Nazis. I know it. I used to be five foot nothing and a hundred pounds soaking wet. Women never saw me when my best pal was six foot, broad as a barn, and built like a brick house, you know? He's the only one ever saw me."

But Darcy just rolled her lips and nodded. "I see you just fine."

"You..." He staggered like a boxer after ten rounds with the champ. "What?" She saw him?

So, of course, he stepped on his shoe lace, over-corrected, and fell on his face.

Again.

She definitely saw that.

Darcy smiled as she folded her legs and sat on the floor, waiting for him to turn over, but Steve was still pinning his hopes on that hole opening in the floor. 

She smiled like she knew something he didn't when he worked up the nerve to meet her eyes again. "You remind me of a giraffe, sometimes. Or a colt, just learning how to walk with brand new long legs and seeing everything in the world all fresh and bright and loud." She patted his hand. "I've had bad days and bad weeks ... and months. Too many of them. I can wait until you grow into your feet, Steve, if you want me to."