The world was a different place following the snap.
It had taken months for the world’s routine to even resemble anything close to normal. Half of the world’s population had been eliminated in the snap and that had been devastating enough. To make matters even worse, so many people died that day as a result of the snap.
If pilots were snapped, their crafts went down with no survivors among those who’d been left. Engineers of trains, bus drivers, cab drivers, Ubers. There were endless reports of car crashes, freak transportation accidents. Clint’s family had apparently made it through the snap. They were killed when they were hit on the highway by a driverless car, its driver snapped. It had veered off into their lane and hit them head-on.
Clint had been stuck at home on house arrest. Steve Rogers knew his friend and fellow Avenger had to have been completely destroyed by his family’s loss. Steve would have been there for him. Only Clint had disappeared without a trace immediately after…
There were hundreds of deaths at hospitals, shelters, and nursing homes. Even more in everyday situations. Amusement parks, at schools, on battlefields, in shopping centers…
Steve had been through a lot of loss in his life only to have Thanos take most of what he’d had left. He’d lost Bucky, and that was a bitterness that nearly consumed him at night as he stared at the ceiling in those long, dark, sleepless hours. Bucky had been his best friend, the one person he could never get over losing. It had been a miracle when he’d found him and he’d fought so hard for him, scoured the earth for him with Sam’s help.
Losing him for a second time had almost finished Steve off.
He’d lost Sam too. And Tony, though that had apparently happened before the snap when he’d left the planet accompanied by Dr. Stephen Strange and young Peter Parker. They’d lost Scott Lang, King T’Challa and his sister Shuri, Nick Fury and Maria Hill. So many good men and women were lost that day in a variety of ways, leaving a new broken world that was on the edge of chaos. They’d be years yet cleaning up from that day.
They’d never truly recover from the losses.
Steve had just left a support group he’d been sitting in on for the last few weeks. Natasha had been well-intentioned when she’d recommended it to him. Honestly, he hadn’t gotten a lot of benefit from it. It was hard to take in the coping mechanisms that the group leads shared when you were too busy picking apart your actions from those events, from that day.
Could he have done anything differently? Could he have stopped Thanos and saved his friends? Bucky? Everyone? There had to have been something he’d missed.
The questions haunted him endlessly. Sometimes Steve felt like he was losing his mind.
Life had resumed. People went on and most things you could do or have were still there, still available. The Avengers trudged on, missions much fewer now. Situations were less dire. Even the bad guys had taken losses, seemed to struggle with how to move forward.
There were shadows behind the eyes of every survivor he passed or encountered. Loss and grief swam in the eyes of men, women and children alike.
Steve was so lost in his thoughts that instead of taking the elevator up to his apartment at the front of the tower, he walked in through the lobby. When he got so far into it, he decided coffee might be nice. He wasn’t likely to sleep anyway, and the autumn air had been chilly. It would be a nice warm up.
Steve was almost ashamed to admit that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in the lobby. It had been months, since way before the snap. The coffee shop was just about to close, and he saw a young man and woman working there as he waited in line. The young man he hadn’t seen before, looked like a nice kid.
The young woman he’d noticed before. She’d worked there for at least a couple of years. Steve had always thought she was a beautiful girl, but it was more than just her physical appearance. She had a friendly smile that reached her bright, clear eyes. He’d admired the way she didn’t treat him any differently even though the slight tremor of her hands and the nervous lilt to her laugh when she waited on him told him she was very aware of who he was. Yes, she was shy, but her manners were exceptional for a girl nowadays. Even though Nat would probably call him a sexist asshole, her demure behavior appealed to him.
Steve was happy to see that she’d survived.
“What’s your number, sweet thing?” the man in front of him asked her in a tone Steve didn’t care for.
She handed him his order and tried to smile. “That will be $9.57 please.”
“Give me your number,” the man insisted now. “Then I’ll give you the money.”
“I don’t even have a phone,” she muttered, nervous now. “I’m sorry. Please let me finish your transaction so I can wait on our other guests, okay?”
“You lyin’ to me?” the man tried to sound like he was playing but he didn’t quite hit that note.
“No,” she said, her discomfort obviously growing.
She didn’t owe him an explanation. She didn’t owe the man anything.
“You sure?” the man pressed, moving closer to the counter.
“Pay for your order and move along,” Steve broke out his Captain’s voice, watching with amusement as the coarse-looking man, he wasn’t a lot bigger than her to be honest, angrily turned around to face him. It took him all of three seconds to recognize Steve and he enjoyed watching the other man diminish as she watched.
“Sure, yeah,” the man mumbled, nervously digging his wallet out of his jacket and slapping a ten down on the counter in front of her. He mumbled something that sounded like “keep the change” but he didn’t look at her again. Instead, he made a beeline away from the coffee shop in the direction of the front doors.
“Are you okay?” Steve asked stepping up to the counter, gazing down at her. No one was behind him. The young man grinned at him before dashing behind the counter, probably getting ready to shut down.
Her wide eyes had watched the retreating figure of the man for another beat before her gaze shifted to him. Steve loved the color that flooded her lovely face and neck, disappearing into the collar of her sweater. Such a modest blush. He wondered how far that color extended…
“Thank you,” she said, smiling at Steve. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“Has he done that before?” Steve asked her.
She swallowed hard, he could tell she was scrambling for an answer when the young man she worked with came up behind her.
“Yeah,” he explained. “Not often but…”
He got back to his efforts as she waited at the counter.
“Hopefully he won’t be back,” Steve told her, making a mental note.
Nodding, she dropped her gaze for just a second before glancing back up at him.
“What can I get for you?” she asked sweetly.
Was it wrong that he loved her demeanor? No artifice, no guile. She didn’t seem to have the snark and entitlement so many young people had these days. It was refreshing.
Steve ordered what he normally did, simple black coffee, and he watched as she went about getting it ready for him. She moved quickly, almost apologetically. When she had his order ready, she placed it gently on the counter before him.
Steve smiled. “What do I owe you?”
She shook her head, her long hair shining in the lights. “On the house. With my thanks.”
Steve nodded, accepting it. He didn’t want to hold them up because he knew they wanted to get home, but he had one last thought. He reached for the order pad and pen lying on the counter next to their register and wrote down a number.
“If he shows up again, or you have any trouble,” Steve explained, “send a text to that number. It will get handled.”
The blush again. It was delicious and it was working on him. He watched her pick up the slip of paper with a trembling hand, reading the panic that flashed in her eyes for just a split second. Then her gaze returned to him and she nodded.
So had she been telling the rude bastard he’d gotten rid of the truth? Did she not have a phone?
That wasn’t safe. What if she needed to call for help? For a ride?
“Thank you, Captain Rogers,” she said that sweet smile back in place. “Have a good night.”
“Good night,” he told her, taking her in for another beat before heading for the elevators.
His mind was swimming with questions, and he had to admit, it beat the hell out of obsessing about the snap and the aftermath of dealing with that as he had done for weeks.
Steve had just reached the elevators when he realized that he was concerned about her getting home. Would it hurt to follow her? He could easily do it without her noticing. If she had a phone, she’d likely check it on her way home from work. If she didn’t, well, he could make sure she made it home okay. He wasn’t doing anything else at the moment.
It only took about fifteen minutes for her to head towards the front door of the tower. She never noticed him where he’d tucked in near the elevators. Steve fell in behind her, tightening his coat around himself. His coffee had been perfect, and he’d already finished it.
She should have been wearing a coat as cold as it was. Only a thin jacket covered her as she walked along in her jeans. No sign of a phone. She walked with her head down, again looking for all intents and purposes like she was trying to avoid anyone’s notice.
The problem was such body language often had the opposite effect. Muggers and worse selected those they didn’t think would fight back and she definitely fit into that category.
Finally, she turned at a rundown apartment complex and Steve’s hopes sank. Poor thing. He didn’t know her story, what happened that left her living in the dark, dingy set of buildings heading for the bad side of the city. Probably all she could afford. He did know that a lot of drug and prostitution calls came out of the place and it left him feeling even worse about her situation.
Maybe he shouldn’t have followed her.
She wasn’t his problem after all.
But as he stopped, watching her pace pick up with her destination in sight, he remembered the color that had stained that pretty face, the warmth in her eyes. It stirred feelings in him he hadn’t felt in many years.
No, he couldn’t ignore her or her situation now. He wanted to help.
Steve pondered that question long into the night.