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Clouds Over A Century Sky

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“You know what they call this?”

Steve eyed his toiletries pouch, contemplating the benefits of packing a whole new tube of toothpaste, when the pouch was lowered from his gaze.

“Denial. This is called denial,” Sam declared as he took a step back when Steve moved around him to put the pouch in his bag.

“I think I’m done,” Steve pulled the flap of the suitcase down and made a face when the broken zip was stuck to the cloth, trying to pull it free, “Alright, so maybe I do need a new bag.”

“It’s like he can’t hear me,” Sam turned to Natasha, pointing at Steve as he addressed both of them, “Did you hear even a word of what I said?”

“I think the entire building did at one point,” Natasha snorted and covered it up with a cough when Sam shot her a deadpan look, “What? You two are definitely on a different scale of dramatic.”

“This one’s dramatic,” Sam shot back, moving Steve’s bag to sit on the bed, “I am being perfectly reasonable. And sane, which is a rarity around here apparently.”

Natasha rolled her eyes and mouthed an incredulous ‘wow’ under her breath before pulling her feet up onto the bed as she leaned against the headboard to watch Steve pretend to be busy sorting through his sock drawer.

It had been seven hours since Steve Rogers had gotten a call from Belfast while wrapping up lunch at work. Natasha had heard about it from Sam and between the first call and the second, things had escalated to something they hadn’t been able to calm down for hours now.

“You’re sure you’ll be able to handle Pierce, right?” Steve asked as he threw two balls of socks at Sam, who instinctively caught them with a huff.

“Yes”

“No,” Sam shot Natasha a look before staring back at Steve, “No, we can’t. Which means you can’t go. Whoops.”

“Great, thanks,” Steve grinned at Sam as he came around, hip-checking the shorter man to pack the socks in with his carry-on, “I’m sure Nat’ll have fun handling him alone.”

“Fun is not the word I’ll use,” Nat mused with a small smile, shrugging at Sam, “Okay, what do you want, birdman? You know we can handle the smug-ass easily.”

“Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea?” Sam asked her incredulously but she shot Steve a small glance before shaking her head.

“No, so do I,” she agreed and met Steve’s narrowed look with a steady stare, “You know I do. But I’ve seen you go through worse ideas and have learnt, from terribly exhausting experience, that it’s best to let you hit the wall than yell at you to swerve sometimes. It saves energy.”

“Your energy?” Steve laughed and Nat nodded as she leaned across to pat Sam’s back.

“The only one that matters,” she replied before addressing Sam, “You’ve got the tickets?”

“It’s in his phone, I’m not his AI,” Sam quipped but dug out his own phone to show her the copy, “I can’t believe we actually got a ticket this late. I knew Scott was handy but this is just impressive.”

“The man’s got skill,” Nat agreed and used Sam’s shoulder as support as she got off the bed, smirking when he made a face at her pressure, “Alright. Steve, you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Steve patted his thighs and exhaled as he looked at his best friends, reading the mix of frustration and resignation in their faces. It had been different when they’d first met, and it still hurt thinking about the reason they had met but it was a fading hurt that he had learnt to manage. The price of learning that had been high through and Steve remembered all the reasons Sam was insistent he didn’t go to Ireland.

When the first break-up had hit him, it had strangely felt numbing rather than painful. He could still recall the way Sharon had looked at him, a mix of pain, determination, and disappointment in her eyes as she stood from the table. They’d never completed their dinner that day and Steve had calmly stored the leftover in the fridge even as his girlfriend had packed her bags in the bedroom. It had been eerily polite, the way he had told her that she could sleep through that night and then leave in the morning. There had been no anger, no heart-break, and Steve knew that that had shattered Sharon more than the break-up itself. She had tried to be supportive, be there for him from the moment he had come back after his discharge, having won the war but lost the battle against an accidental car crash. She had held him as he had packed his best friend’s things into a box for some dark corner. She had done more than he had asked and he hadn’t asked her for anything she wanted him to. It had been an abyss growing between them and their friends hadn’t known till he’d told them that she wouldn’t come by for Sam’s birthday celebrations one day.

He remembered everybody being happy when they’d gotten back together, the perfect couple reunited. Then there was the ‘time-out’ he wanted before they came back together for Christmas. Then there was the ‘break’ she suggested that he argued but only because he couldn’t hear between her lines. And again. And some more.

The last time he had seen her, Steve remembered being perversely glad that he could cry somewhere outside the shower and it felt disgusting to think about the next minute but he knew that it was unavoidable. She’d tried to build her life along with support him build his own and he had tried to keep his control about everything from snapping when she had no fault. Sharon had been wonderful before she had been his girlfriend and that made him feel more uncomfortable than letting her go when they’d last separated.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t live without her, even though she was one of the most wonderful friends he had ever had, but rather something he didn’t want to discuss with anyone. It had hit him one day, when he had taken the laundry out of his washing-machine, that he’d never have a family. Being an art teacher at a high school was safe, clear, and peaceful after his years with the Army. Having a small but tight group of friends made his life have an order. He didn’t owe anyone anything and didn’t have any enemies to battle. It should have been perfect.

But it wasn’t and Steve had gone through a breakdown in the laundry room, with soap bubbles in his arms and a gravy-stained shirt clutched in his hands. He’d never have a family, he realized, especially since he didn’t date like others and wasn’t the easiest man to live with for a long-term.

So when Sharon had called earlier to invite him to Dublin for her book launch, he had grabbed the opportunity and decided to try to mend things with her. She had needed commitment and support, and Steve believed that he could do both.

Sam had called his idea an ‘idea of desperation’ and Nat had said that some things were ‘better left in the past’. Especially since Sharon and him had never been able to completely agree on marriage or similar lines when they’d been firmly together.

Now looking at his best friends, Steve knew that they believed he was making a mistake but he couldn’t explain it to them. Not right now. To them his fear might come off as irrational but to Steve -

“One last chance, man,” Sam said and Steve smiled softly as he hugged Nat before hugging Sam, “We can still cancel this.”

“I’ll be fine, Sam,” Steve promised and picked his bag off the bed, “I know what I’m doing.”

“Oh, it’s not you I’m worried about. That poor girl doesn’t know what’s coming her way,” Sam quipped but sighed and nodded when Steve clapped him on the back, “Fine. She can kick your ass back here once you’re done embarrassing yourself.”

“How’re you a VA counsellor again?” Nat asked drily and Steve choked on a laugh when Sam pulled a finger on her.

“I’m just telling the man the way it is,” Sam shrugged and pushed at Steve as he grabbed the carry-on, “I guess it won’t be too bad. At the worst you’ll have a vacation and at best, Sharon Carter will claw your brain out.”

“How is that the best?” Steve nodded at Nat to pick up the car keys as he made his way towards the door.

“Boy, you’ve never been on vacation before, have you?” Sam asked in a dramatically disgusted voice and Steve grinned as Natasha pulled Sam out the door finally.

---

The last time Steve had been on a flight to Ireland, he had been a teenager and his mother had spent half her savings on getting them there and back. While Sarah Rogers hadn’t lived with the best of fortune she had lived with dignity and pride, things she had passed on to her son in more ounces than was sometimes useful. Steve had watched her work overtime and double-shifts to save enough for the trip, because not going to her nephew’s wedding was something that would set tongues wagging more than they already had been.

It had been a flight for more than just a wedding for them. It had been to uphold their dignity in her family’s side.

Steve put the in-flight magazine back into its pocket and shifted in his seat. Reading the same page a dozen times wasn’t helping his tension and he dug out his ear-phones from his jacket, accidentally hitting his elbow on his neighbour’s arm.

“Sorry,” Steve moved away from the lady who winced and rubbed at her arm, “I’m really sorry, I - I was just getting my ear-phones. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just a sting, big guy,” the grey-haired woman waved his apology off but looked at him curiously, gaze flicking between his ear-phones and his hand, “Is that a ring tangled in your cords?”

“What -,” Steve looked at his earphones and bit back a curse, pulling the tangles wires off the ring he had clearly forgotten to put in the carry-on bag, “ - yeah, thanks.”

“It’s a pretty ring,” the lady commented and Steve smiled politely at her as he stuffed the ring back into his jacket’s pocket, zipping the pocket up for good measure, “Looked like a Claddagh with a vintage style. Grandmother’s?”

Steve blinked at her for a moment, caught between wariness and curiosity, and some of it must have shown on his face making her laugh.

“Sorry, I’ve been told I come on strong. Hi,” the lady extended her hand, a pleasant smile on her face, “I’m Janet. Janet Van Dyne.”

“Steve Rogers,” Steve shook her hand and noted the awkward way she was seated, “Are you okay? You seem uncomfortable. Am I  -”

“Oh no, it’s nothing. I’m just not used to flying economy,” Janet cut Steve short and cringed at her own words, offering a sheepish smile, “That sounds terribly elitist, doesn’t it?”

“I’d love first class for a 6 hour flight too, if I could afford it,” Steve laughed and Janet pushed back into her seat with a vehement nod, “Good guess about the ring, though I’m not sure if it’s my grandmother’s or my father got it from somewhere else. It’s my mother’s ring.”

“It’s beautiful,” she commented and thankfully didn’t ask to see it. Steve settled back in his seat and plugged his earphones into his iPod, selecting a random playlist as he tilted his head back a bit to try getting some sleep. It wasn’t ideal and he didn’t have a habit of sleeping through flights, but he did try through Marvin Gaye proving why he was better than any modern version of Get It On and Rolling Stones jamming to That’s How Strong My Love Is . His potpourri of music choices were largely influenced by his friends and for a moment Steve wished for a simpler time when he wasn’t trying a crazy idea that none in his group really approved.

Exhaling hard, Steve thumbed the playlist to a stop and rolled his head to the side, trying to look out the window as he pulled an earbud out. He frowned a little when he heard someone humming and felt his lips quirk a little as he turned back to his neighbour.

“Ghost Loft?” he asked and felt like a heel when Janet startled from the iPad she was browsing through, “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, I was just - wait, you know Ghost Loft?” Janet turned more in her seat and grinned brightly when Steve chuckled.

“One of my friends thinks it’s her mood music,” he admitted, recalling all the times Nat called him a fossil for liking only old music, “I’m not averse.”

“How gracious of you,” Janet laughed and nodded to the iPod Steve had put down, “Nothing interesting?”

“Nothing helpful,” Steve admitted, getting a quick glance of the screen on her iPad, looking up to see Janet raise an eyebrow, “Nice design. You’re an artist, ma’am?”

Ma’am ?” Janet raised both her brows and shook her head with a teasing huff, “I see how it is. You don’t like my music and suddenly I’m ‘ma’am’. Good going, Mr. Rogers.”

“I’m not going to get off easy with any direction that conversation goes,” Steve commented much to Janet’s delight, “It’s an old habit. My Ma was pretty particular about language.”

“So is my daughter,” Janet shrugged with a fond look flashing across her eyes. She looked down at her iPad for a minute before she looked back at Steve, her smile more practiced this time. “I’m a designer, actually, to answer your question.”

“Oh, that’s - wait,” Steve frowned, “Van Dyne. Van Dyne of the Wasp’s Sting brand? That’s you?”

“You get more interesting by the minute, my friend,” Janet pat Steve’s arm-rest, “Your partner’s a customer, I presume?”

“Oh, no, well, I don’t know exactly,” Steve cleared his throat and continued, “One of my students got it as a present for his coming out party.”

To her credit, Janet didn’t bat an eye before looking delighted about it and Steve felt more relaxed about things.

“Students, huh? You’re a teacher?”

“Art,” Steve nodded and snorted when her eyes widened tellingly, “Yes, that’s why I asked about your design.”

“I kind of got some military vibes from you, I’ll admit,” Ms. Van Dyne eyed Steve critically and he nodded vaguely.

“Army. Captain Rogers. Discharged five years back.”

“Captain fits you well,” his companion replied with an approving nod, a gleam of mischief entering her eyes, “So, Captain Rogers, what does this visit hold for you? A romantic proposal?”

Steve wasn’t fast enough to hide his surprise and she grinned, looking fascinated.

“That’s wonderful, Steve, I’m sure your partner will love the Claddagh,” Janet assured, iPad and design forgotten, “I love the romantic legends. There’s something magical about an old-fashioned love, isn’t it? I mean, sure, a lot of change is for the better but I do miss some good romantic tales. So, how long have you been dating?”

Steve felt his jaw lock and throat tickle, a sense of discomfort passing through him and Janet sensed it as she eased off on her questions.

“A complicated story there, huh?” she asked in a mildly apologetic tone, clicking her tongue as she sat straighter, “Yeah, I tend to get all in people’s business sometimes. Hope, my daughter, reminds me about it whenever she’s around. Mom, people will tweet about their life if they want you to know , she says. She’s a lot quieter, but whip smart. A real stinger, my girl.”

The discomfort had passed with Janet’s quiet chatter and Steve breathed out, shooting her a small smile. They chatted for a while and Steve ended up telling her about his plan to propose after the launch.

“You think it’s a bad idea?”

“Well, I’m a bit of a romantic, Steve. All my ideas regarding romance are a bit cheesy and bad,” Janet chuckled before shaking her head, “But I do believe that there’s no set formula for a happy ending and  - quite honestly, there are no happy endings.”

“I thought you were a romantic?” Steve joked but Janet shot him a wistful smile.

“Yes, but I’m also a woman who married the love of my life, had a kid with him, divorced him and am now finally learning to love my life again,” she said and huffed chidingly when she caught Steve looking troubled, “Oh don’t feel bad for me, I still am fond of Hank. He’s the guy I spent more than half of my past with. We’ve got enough memories to last a lifetime. I admire him and we just had the most wonderful family holiday back in the US.”

“But you don’t believe in happy endings?”

“I don’t know if endings are something to be happy about or if we’re happy about it, the thing that ended was something to be happy with ,” she replied and paused thoughtfully before continuing, “I’d rather have a happy now. No good story is interesting because it ended happy. It’s interesting because it had a good journey. Journeys make the most fun. In fact, my father, bless his soul, had the most wonderful thought about love and journeys.”

“Sir, ma’am,” the air-hostess interrupted and both of them looked up, “would you be interested in some hot towels?”

“No, thank -”

“We don’t want your boiled rags,” Janet said in the most courteous tone and Steve choked on air, swallowing his laughter at the expression on the stewardess’ face before she politely nodded and left.

“I do like that show,” Janet told Steve casually and he buried his face in his hands for a minute before looking up at her smirk, “Now, where was I? Ah, yes, my father.”

“Dear God”

“He said,” Janet ignored Steve’s chuckles and continued, “that ‘love is just one misadventure away on a journey of chances’. Of course, he and mom had an arranged marriage so he must know what he was talking about, considering that he got married first and managed to fall in love with the same woman later. Skipped the proposal nervousness, the lucky man.”

“Misadventure? Shouldn’t it be adventure?” Steve asked as he caught her iPad when it slipped.

“Oh, the crazier adventures, the ‘misadventures’, are the most memorable parts of life, Captain,” Janet pointed and accepted her tab with a nod, “now, I think I’ve kept you from your sleep enough and I should probably go through these too. Get some rest. We’ve got a long way ahead.”

Steve agreed and let his neighbour get back to her work, putting the earphones back in and turning to look out the window. It wasn’t long before his eyes shut and he let his nerves die into sleep.

When he came awake, it was to the knowledge of something being wrong.

“What’s going on?” Steve asked, blinking away the sleep as he sat up straighter, looking at a nervous looking Janet, “Is it turbulence? How long was I out?”

Janet didn’t have to answer as the Captain announced over the intercom about a storm warning that was causing them to divert the flight to the nearest base.

“Where’s that?” Steve asked and Janet eyed the aisle nervously before looking back at Steve.

“Wales, apparently. The hostess said it would be that before you woke up,” she informed and Steve bit back a curse before he noted the way she was breathing out hard.

“Hey, it’ll be fine, breathe. How about we talk about something else?” he asked in an attempt to distract her and Janet shot him a scathing look saying what could we possibly talk about distracting enough . Steve ignored that and continued, hoping it would get her to focus on something other than her nerves. “How about I tell you about Sharon?”

“I’m sure she’s a lovely girl and you’ll have a super sweet life but honestly Steve, I really don’t -”

“We’re not dating,” Steve blurted and Janet paused, slowly focusing on Steve.

“What, and you’re proposing for fun?” she asked with a frown and Steve decided to just go on with the conversation.

The conversation lasted till the announcement came for them to prepare for descent and Ms van Dyne didn’t say a word throughout Steve’s explanation. When they landed, Steve kept his silence and she didn’t look at him.

It was only once they’d got off the plane and were in the airport that she spoke again.

“I think it’s interesting.”

“And that I’m crazy,” Steve suggested knowingly but the older fashionista scoffed it away smoothly.

“Most people are, but not many are brave,” she commented, making Steve smile as they waited for their luggage.

“I’m glad you think I’m brave,” Steve said with a rueful shake of his head as he lifted a bag off for a lady nearby, nodding at her thanks, “My friends think I’m being foolish.”

“You can be both,” Janet shrugged and patted Steve’s arm, pointing at her luggage as it came, “Get that for me, will you please? Thank you. It’s not mutually exclusive, bravery and foolishness. But you’ve got to try something for both, so, take a toss I suppose. And hope you get the right answer.”

“Well, I hope a bit of some Irish luck rubs in,” Steve quipped as he handed Janet her luggage, “Are you catching another flight now? Should I -”

“Oh no, I think I’ll stay here tonight,” Janet brushed him off amicably, “I know a place in Wales and they usually ring up a room for me with a bit of charm. What about you? Would you like to stay too?”

“No, I think I’ll find some other way,” Steve refused politely, looking for his own bag to come around, “I’ve got a schedule to keep and I’m sure I can get a ferry somewhere.”

“Alright then,” Janet accepted and held out her hand for a goodbye, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Steve.”

“It was nice to meet you too, Ms Van Dyne,” Steve smiled as he shook her hand and watched her go with her bag dragging behind her. She stopped a few feet away to turn back at him.

“I hope you find the adventure that’s destined to change your life, Steve Rogers,” she called out, shooting him a lazy salute, “Don’t let the Irish luck blind you to it when it comes along!”

Steve waved back and turned around to get his bag, letting his interesting stranger move into the crowd. With a bit of a wait, he finally gathered his luggage and walked out the airport, confident about finding a ferry that could take him to his destination on time.

“Next stop, Cork, and then, Dublin,” he muttered to himself and set forth to the nearest port, hoping that this would be the end of the complications in his journey.