He scanned the cityscape but his worriy had been warranted. New York wasn't the same. It wasn't his home. This wasn't his world, it wasn't the one he'd died to save and protect.
He was John Carter and this had to be Mars.
Vegas, well, Vegas had been culture shock in every way but he'd navigated his way into travel money and got a lot of practice at being lost in bright and scary places. But the heat had been worth it after the ice.
He shivered and shook off his thoughts.
It had taken nine months to get this far and wearing long sleeves and a coat in the humid July sun was a sacrifice he was willing to make. He'd learned how to blend in by looking strange and he needed the clothes. Chills would make him look much more out of place than his outfit.
He scanned the Comfort Inn stationary for the address again and memorized the subway map, steadying his hands when he pushed in the cash for a metro ticket. He could do this, learn this.
Steve made a lot of stops when he left Canada after his second Rebirth. Defrosting from a block of ice was even less fun than stepping out of a vita-ray chamber in a new body. He still felt the pinpricks under his skin of the ice receding when he tried to sleep and it had been months.
He checked every name off his list, visiting their last known addresses and watching their children and grandchildren when he would find their gravestones.
New York had the two names left he needed to investigate. He knew Howard Stark was dead but he knew the man had a son and that was something he had to see for himself. As much as Howard liked women, it was almost more surprising to only find one kid on record, but he had to be something special if Howard had stayed with a single woman long enough to raise him.
The next name was more 'iffy. Dum Dum Dugan had been one of his closest friends, a godsend after he lost Bucky; and he had been pleased to find a long list of children, grandchildren and beyond attached to his name. His wife was still alive, in her late eighties but reportedly healthy and active in her community.
He hadn't approached any of the people attached to his list - he knew what year it was - and despite comic and history books about his heroic adventures, everyone he knew in person was dead.
Steve wasn't sure how he was going to handle it when he finally had to deal with the loss of everyone and everything he knew. Culture shock was pushing him through the looming grief for the moment.
One of the fishermen that actually believed his story had given him a pistol when he was packing to leave. Told him that if any of it was true that he'd need the single bullet.
He wasn't going out like that, Steve Rogers or Captain America. It wasn't going to happen, not yet. He wasn't going to regret selling the gun at a flea market on his way out of Missouri.
Dugan's widow's complex was in Brooklyn but one of the better neighborhoods considering how many drug deals he saw as he walked down the sidewalk with his backpack before he reached the right block. Even if he changed clothes at the hotel, as an oversized white guy in arctic gear and a stocking cap, he wasn't going to go unnoticed for long. He felt like he'd tiptoed through a war zone by the time he reached the designated block.
There was a small shaded courtyard as he approached the building and the greenery was well-manicured. He was glad that she lived in a nice place. Finding his friends' families healthy and happy was a balm for their loss. They lived full lives, lives they deserved.
He put down his bag and leaned against the light post for a moment, taking in the solitude.
Until the man in uniform turned the corner with a SHIELD patch that he was coming too familiar with over his internet searches.
"Can I help you find something, sir?" the man asked, puffing himself up with a stern frown.
Steve could take him but it wouldn't be a fair fight. "Just walking through. I used to live around here." It wasn't exactly a lie.
"This is private property, I'll need to see your ID - "
"Ozzie! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"This man's not on the list - "
"Don't question me, boy," the elderly black woman snapped, her eyes narrowing at the agent.
"But - " The man was in his forties, at least, and he cowered under her glare. "Ma'am..."
"Mr. Buchanan is my great-granddaughter's new boyfriend and I can do my own threatening."
"He's not on the list, Gertie, we need to do a full background check and - "
She moved swiftly even with her cane and pushed herself to her full height, to the man's chin. "That's Mrs. Dugan to you, Pup. You tell your bosses to stay out of my business. He's not armed or suspicious and you're not getting a pass back into the field with this kind of catch. Oh, don't give me that look, I know they only put you on 'old folks' patrol because you messed up somewhere but you can just scurry back to your hole now and leave me and mine alone. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am. Sorry, kid," the man said. Steve noticed he did seem to 'scurry' as he turned the corner.
They both watched him go and he finally turned to face her. "Thank you, but..."
"Yeah, I know who you are, Cap. A day didn't go by that those boys didn't mention you. There's no way I wouldn't recognize those baby blues. Get your ass in here and tell me where the hell you've been." She didn't leave any room for argument so he shouldered his bag and followed her into the building.
The hardwood floors were only the first sign that this was a fancy place, even nicer than the maintained garden outside would show off. The woman maneuvered the stairs with ease until she stopped outside of a closed door on the third floor. "You got a place to stay?"
"I've got some hotels on my phone to check out," Steve replied.
"Nah, you'll take this room where I can keep my eye on you. If you're a clone or something..."
"I woke up on a fishing boat after they pulled me out of a glacier," Steve replied without thinking.
She tilted her head at him. "I shouldn't believe you but I've heard stranger things. You passed the fancy biometrics scan that's installed on the cameras and I scared off Ozzie already so you're coming in and talking it out."
He had to regain control of the situation so he squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. "Are you Mrs. Dugan?"
"Call me Gertie, Cap. Now get your ass in the apartment before someone else sees you."
Steve sat quietly on the frayed sofa while Gertie, Dum Dum's lively widow flitted around the room, making sure he had a bottle of water and a wrapped sandwich before ordering him to take off his shirt.
"Excuse me?" He tore his eyes away from the faded photograph of himself standing with Dum Dum and Morita.
"I need to make sure you're not a robot," she said, poking him in the center of his forehead.
"Ma'am, I promise I'm not a robot."
She huffed but sat down beside him on the couch. "You're really him?"
"I think so. I woke up on a fishing boat. I still feel like I'm half-frozen. I've been touring the country trying to find anyone I know that's still alive."
Gertie took his hand with her wrinkled fingers. "Tim passed on about ten years ago. Went out with guns blazing, made us all proud."
"How do you believe it's me so easily?" Steve hesitated.
She motioned to the steel door off to the side of the room. "The boys never gave up on you, swore you'd lived through worse than a plane crash. Tim's rolling over in his grave, bless him, knowing you got swiped by Canadians. Bio-scan, fingerprints and preliminary DNA from your bottle over there say you're Captain America."
"Steve. I'm definitely not Captain America these days," he said, frowning when he realized she'd swiped his bottle.
"Fine, Stevie it is. I'll call Horace so he can fix up the apartment and we'll let the children know to close ranks until we figure out what we're going to do with you," Gertie decided.
He held up his hand. "I didn't come here to impose, I just..."
"Oh, stuff it, Stevie. You're one of mine now," she winked.
It only took a couple of hours for him to realize his life was out of his hands.
"Granddad talked about you like family, you've been a part of the Dugan history for generations," Eboni said, perching on the elbow of his chair. Gertie had been nagging at her since she arrived so Steve knew she was one of the woman's favorite grandchildren. There were a lot of grandchildren considering the overflowing apartment of boisterous guests.
"I just saw him. Feels like days, months. But he's been dead ten years," Steve said. She put her hand on his shoulders. "I'm still getting used to it. I'm so glad he finally found the girl for him. He would find the tiniest excuses to shoot down a dame."
Eboni smiled. "Sounds like Granddad. He had really high standards. Don't know how he settled for Grandma." Gertie glared at her from across the room and she snickered. "We won't leave you hanging, Stevie. You already won over Horace with your gambling talk and every woman in this room is going to start buying you clothes stat and making casseroles..."
"I like casseroles," Steve considered.
"The point is, you're a Dugan now and we're going to bring Stevie Buchanan into the 21st century. We didn't all follow in Granddad's footsteps but taking care of a big puppy superhero is right up our alley," Eboni grinned.
He didn't like the 'Stevie' part but he didn't mind borrowing Bucky's name for his surname. He'd been so wrecked when Bucky died that he hadn't considered that the other Commandos would have mourned him, too.
"I want to hear all the stories, it's a fair trade," Steve said.
"They're pulling out the projector for later, Grandma wants to feed you up first," Eboni said. "And we need measurements, what are you, an XXL in the shoulders and a medium in the waist?"
"My clothes are fine," he said, rolling his eyes and earning a bright smile.
"Maybe for a Canadian," she scoffed. "Not even hipsters wear flannel anymore, Stevie, and nobody wears parkas."
"I get cold," he replied, brushing crumbs off his puffed sleeve.
"Well, we can make sure at least you look good even when you're layering," Eboni said.
Gertie appeared in front of him and held out a cake. Not a slice of cake, but an entire cake.
"Thank you, but..." he started.
"No buts, you earned a cake," Gertie frowned.
"I was going to ask for a fork."
The Dugans went all out for his 'education', and there were a lot of Dugans. Eboni and her little ones stayed with Gertie most of the week and trained him on daytime and reality TV. He wasn't sure he liked the new definition of reality and it pushed aside any hope of being better at women than before the war.
Horace, the landlord and possible ex-car thief, taught him about cars and basketball. Baseball wasn't a 'thing' anymore, everything was basketball. He was devastated when Steve flattened the ball when he dribbled it too hard in his first and only lesson.
They cut his hair and taught him how not to comb it and how to arrange his hoodie to hide his face but not look suspicious when he rode the subway.
After brushing up on the civil rights movements, he'd hoped racism would be less of a thing, but with his elevated hearing he could tell it was still very much alive. Marcus, Eboni's boyfriend, had to scold him for glaring at strangers when they went shopping.
God help him, he settled. He had a safe place to live, a backstory for the Commandos and friends that knew what year he was actually born.
It was more than he could have hoped for after waking up surrounded by smelly fish and fishermen 70 years late.
He could have a life here. Hell, he already had most of one.
It had been a couple of months before he finally managed to get a meeting with Howard Stark's son, aka, Iron Man. There were superheroes these days and Stark Jr. had become one simply because he wanted to help - not because of mutant DNA or space radiation.
Tony Stark was definitely a man he needed to meet. Steve wasn't below asking for a job if he could use his 'gifts' for something other than the Taco Bell dollar menu.
Steve hoped his shoulders didn't slump when he processed the woman's words. "Mr. Stark didn't like his father?"
He'd missed too many years. He'd put too much hope in his friend's son.
"There was a lot of bad blood between them, yes," Ms. Potts replied after a beat.
He held in his sigh. It was only a dip in his mental flow chart, the checklist had already been marked knowing Howard's son was alive and successful. He stood up and gave her an apologetic smile. "Thank you for seeing me, but I think I should go if that's the case."
"Wait, you've been trying to meet with Tony for months. You aren't old enough to be a friend of Howard's," she said, frowning at him as her eyes flicked across him.
He smiled, suddenly weary. "I'm older than I look. I was away a long time but I knew him before he had a wife or a son. Since his son grew up to be Iron Man, I thought he might understand but if he felt that way about Howard then I don't think he'll feel too kindly about me. Again, I appreciate you setting this up for me, but I should go."
"If any of that's true, Mr. Buchanan, I'm pretty sure you should stay," she said, her eyes alert now.
Steve was already at the door but nodded his chin toward the clock. "He's already 20 minutes late and I don't think you really believed he would show. Plus, I don't want to deal with SHIELD today considering I had to avoid the three agents you have working in the lobby. It was a longshot but I wanted to try. Thanks again."
He wasn't going to push his luck and get on SHIELD's real radar if he didn't have to.
He had the news playing in the background and he noticed the shift in the reporters' voices before he processed their words. Aliens? Really?
Steve pulled the cleanest jeans he could find over his boxers and turned off the oven, abandoning the leftovers to look for shirt. There was a knock on the door that quickly turned into pounding.
Gertie's granddaughter and boyfriend were standing in the hall with panicked expressions. "Hey, did you see - are you gonna go?" Eboni asked.
Marcus jerked his head to the left. "We got some gear for you and Horace is loaning you his bike."
"The Harley?" Steve asked. Horace didn't let anyone drive his Harley. They blinked at him. "Yeah, I'm gonna go when I find shoes."
"We've got it, just come on, get your frisbee," Eboni ordered, sounding too much like Gertie to be third generation.
He rolled his eyes but caught sight of an explosion on the TV as he grabbed his shield. Marcus held his phone tightly, the voice of the live feed giving Steve more information about the flying aliens attacking Manhattan as they took the stairs in a rush. Shit.
Gertie was shuffling around the couch when they dragged him into the apartment. "About time, Stevie. Go get kitted out so I can scold you thoroughly before you take the bike."
Carrie, Eboni's youngest daughter held up a jock strap from the guest room doorway. "Protect your nuggets, Stevie!" she chirped.
He snorted out a laugh and took it from her as he ruffled her fuzzed hair and went to follow instructions.
It wasn't the same as backup, no one would be shadowing him with cover fire or calling out warnings in his ear; but the long-sleeved t-shirt and dark hoodie already laid out with brand new socks and sneakers was comforting.
"Chain mail goes on first, it's a fancy wetsuit but it'll keep knives and sharks from getting you, then the shirt, then the Kevlar and then the hoodie," Gertie barked from the other room. "Get a move on - they're headed toward that deli I like!"
Steve pushed the agent out of the line of fire and took out the alien with a flick of his painted shield. He turned to the man and frowned. "Your auntie's going to kill you," he told Antoine.
"Stevie? Shit, I didn't believe it but - are those the new Jordans?" Antoine replied before raising his eyes from his feet. "Never mind - we could use you three blocks up; our guys are busy at the tower with the nutjob."
Steve nodded. "Yeah, you should call me with updates, I have my Bluetooth in and your family's watching the news for me. You should probably show up to Sunday dinner, too, because Gertie's..."
"Going to kill me, shit. And I didn't see you, yeah?" Antoine scanned him again, hesitating on the sneakers.
"Thanks, and call me, I could use your Intel." He hurried out of the alcove broke into a run into the closest alley.
Steve caught a glimpse of red across the street and half of the oncoming flood of what Antoine called Chitauri turned with weapons ready. He had seen news footage of Spiderman but he didn't believe he was a bad guy. He'd saved people from the neighborhood and was a legend around Steve's new circles. He let his shield fly and took out the closest armed creatures and kept the guy from being slammed with the first shots as he swung through the crowd. Steve caught his shield as the man webbed several of the aliens into submission.
The two of them cleared the street efficiently and after a few moments of frantic hand-to-hand warfare, Steve leaned back against a blasted Toyota to catch his breath. Spiderman dropped down beside him. He recognized him even with the mask with his supersensitive nose. "You go to school with Raymond."
Spiderman jerked. "What? How the hell..."
There was an explosion in the distance. "Doesn't matter, mind helping me out over at the Pavilion? Channel 14 says they took out a convoy of cops."
Spiderman tilted his head. "Are you one of those SHIELD assholes?"
Steve shook his head. "No, I'm trying to keep off their radar and I figure I could use some backup that won't try and arrest me if we live through this. I'll watch your six if you watch mine."
He hesitated but there was another explosion. "All right," Spiderman said. "I can handle that."
"Play air support, you knock down as many as you can and I'll take it from there." Steve snapped his fingers when the memory clicked on. "I do know you - shit, we're going to talk about your aunt after this, kid." He played bridge with May Parker every Tuesday. "Please tell me she doesn't know."
Peter pulled his mask off. "Who the hell - Stevie?"
The next explosion was closer and he shook off his thoughts. "Lecture later, put your mask back on and let's go."
Eventually the portal closed in the distance and the aliens collectively slumped to the ground. Peter joined him as he found a seat on the curb, exhausted.
"I'm out of shape," Steve sighed, still out of breath.
Peter snorted. "No, that just took a while. Do you know what happened out there?"
Steve pulled his hood back and tugged out his Bluetooth, scratching at his irritated ear. "My battery ran dead. But I made sure Raymond went by your aunt's house to make sure she was tucked down. I'm starving."
Peter chuckled under his breath and patted him on the back. "I'm glad you were around, Stevie."
"I bet we can find a restaurant open on the way home," Steve said. He stripped out of the hoodie, turned it inside out before passing it to Peter. He looked less suspicious in the Kevlar and Peter wouldn't catch as much attention in an oversized hoodie even if he was still wearing tights. "You're still in trouble," he added, smirking at his rolled eyes and offering him a hand to his feet. "Can I use your phone to call my friends to let them know it's over?"
"As long as you're not telling Aunt May, sure," Peter shrugged.
He dialed Marcus and smiled at his gruff answer. "Hey, it's Steve. My battery went out."
"Dummy. Auntie's freaking out, where are you?"
"They closed the portal, it's all clear. I found a wayward kid and I'm going to drive him home but I'll be back in a few hours."
"The news got a few shots of you hanging out with Spiderman, so keep your head down. Oh, and get an autograph."
"Tell Gertie not to worry," Steve said. He caught sight of a group of SHIELD agents down the street and patted Peter on the back to alert him. "Got to go."
An SUV skidded to a stop in front of them and the door swung open. Antoine motioned for them to get in, revving the engine.
"He's a friendly," Steve told Peter and manhandled him into the truck.
"Bosses want you bad," Antoine said, shifting into gear. "Where's your exit? Do I know him?"
"No, you don't and I've got Horace's bike in the garage on 31st. What's the story?" Steve asked, grateful that Peter relaxed a notch and didn't bolt when he looked so close to falling asleep.
Antoine gave him a double take. "Horace let you drive the Harley? You really are a crazy mother - "
"Shut your mouth," Steve scolded.
He laughed. "Okay, so you don't tell Auntie that I'm working for SHIELD and I won't ask your friend for ID. Can we agree to those terms?"
Steve frowned but Peter spoke first. "Are you going to turn us in?"
"Hell no, Auntie would kick my ass if I messed with Stevie," Antoine snorted.
"Fine, now fill me in," Steve sighed, running his fingers over the edge of the shield. "I'm starving and we need to get going."
"It's a really long story and shit's still hitting the fan. You're on the radar and I agree you need to get going so I'll meet you at your place later when I have actual information. I'm still a probie on the strike teams," Antoine said. "The gist is - they closed the portal, deactivated the foot soldiers and captured the megalomaniac that started this mess."
His stomach growled and Peter snickered.
"I want the long story when you come by tonight. I think I want tacos."
"You always want tacos," Peter muttered.
Tacos were delicious.