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everybody wants to rule the world (except me)

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Sometimes, Steve has dreams.

Like any other person, he has more than one type of dream when he’s asleep, but the most common one involves the miracle of him flying. Weightless, high in the air and surrounded by nothing but blue sky and white clouds for miles. He isn’t ever scared in these dreams, which is usually what clues him in on the fact that they aren't real. If the real him were up that high, he wouldn’t be enjoying himself. He’d be too busy being terrified of falling. 

That feeling tends to be what interrupts his dreams when he’s awake, too. 

Today, what interrupts Steve’s dreams in the literal sense winds up being Sam’s voice booming in from behind Steve’s cracked open bedroom door. 

“Rise and shine, Rogers,” he calls, voice slightly garbled by what Steve assumes is his toothbrush stuffed into the side of his mouth. 

After five years of living together, they have a pretty good grip on each other’s morning routines, hence why Sam has taken it upon himself to give Steve a wake-up call not thirty seconds before Steve’s actual alarm goes off. Steve groans and smacks a blind hand out towards his nightstand, patting around until he finds the top of his clock to shut the sound off before patting around in a different direction to find where his glasses should be sitting. 

Really, Steve would love nothing more than to chuck the clock across the room until it shatters, but he just can’t bring himself to destroy the damn thing. He’s had it so long. Ever since middle school, the blaring of that alarm has been what’s woken him up— well, it used to be that and his Ma. She knew his urge to hit the snooze bar was a little too strong during those first few years of puberty, so if he wasn’t up within the first five minute interval past his set time to get up, she’d usually shove into his room and yank the covers off. 

As much as Steve had hated that when he was a teenager in the making, he really misses it now. He misses her a lot in general. It’s been six years since she passed, but losing a parent isn’t something you ever really get over. Steve should know that better than most considering he was barely eighteen years old by the time he lost them both.

Needless to say, that experience had been rough, but Steve knew he wasn’t the only kid in New York City who had it rough. He hadn’t grown up with much money, but neither had most of the people he’d grown up around in the part of Brooklyn where Sarah raised him. 

Right after Sarah’s funeral had been the roughest patch of it all. The grief of losing her had been so strong Steve could barely get out of bed some days, but he’d known it was coming for a long time. Sarah being sick was a definite turnaround from how Steve had always been the sickly one of their small family as a child, but as Sarah had told him a million times, that’s just life. 

Steve knows he’s lucky that she’d had pretty decent insurance thanks to her years as a nurse and the precaution of a life insurance policy she’d taken out after Steve’s father was killed. That had covered most of the hospital bills and some of the funeral costs, but Steve had still chosen to put off his plan of going to school for a year after in order to get his financials and feelings about the future together. 

That year is when Sam had come into the picture. He and Steve have known each other since high school thanks to their gym teacher seeing fit to pair the track star and a skinny asthmatic together for a reason Steve would still view as cruel if not for the fact that he and Sam ended up liking each other so much. They’d fallen out of contact for a brief period of time after graduation when Steve found himself overwhelmed with everything going on with his mother, but that had only made it even more relieving when Sam reached out to him out of the blue and asked Steve if he would be on board with them getting a place together. 

Although letting go of the apartment he’d grown up in was hard, Steve had said yes in a heartbeat once Sam had let it slip that them moving in together would help him out with his money situation just as much as it would Steve. They hadn’t gone too terribly far, in any case. The place they’d ended up settling down in is still in Brooklyn, which Steve is grateful for. 

Maybe it’s silly, but Brooklyn has always been home to him. It’s served him well during his 24 years of life so far. 

Things haven’t always been easy, but he’s doing pretty well for himself all things considered. He’s got a steady paying job at the community center down the block, is able to make rent every month in the apartment he and his best friend live in, and is halfway through his senior year of college, where he’s also maintained a pretty lucrative scholarship for the past three-and-a-half years. 

His mother would be proud. Steve never got to meet his father, but he hopes that Joseph would be too. 

With how old his aforementioned alarm clock is, it should practically be an antique. Steve gives the thing a glare once he has his glasses shoved on, sighing and steeling himself for the rush of cold air he knows will be coming as soon as he throws the covers back. Not everything about living in a cheap apartment can be perfect. 

But, while things in Steve’s life aren’t perfect, they’re still pretty good. He’s accomplished a lot on his own, even if his accomplishments mostly chalk up to him being an art student that helps clean up classrooms after kids who are taking free painting classes. 

Looking on the bright side, there is the fact that Stve hasn’t been sick since last summer. Ever since he finally hit that long-awaited growth spurt in the fall of his senior year of high school, his health crises have slowed down, even if the chronic ones can’t be completely solved. 

Steve rolls his shoulders and winces at the crack he hears when his back twists. His back and joints are at the top of that list of problems, but on the bright side, painkillers are the least expensive of the medications in his cabinet. The ones for his heart and blood pressure are what put a real dent in his wallet. 

He’s sure to pop an aspirin after making his way into the bathroom, washing it down with a gulp of tap-water, which probably isn’t the safest move considering the city’s water quality. Steve might care about that more if he wasn’t about to step in the shower to wash off his body with that same water. 

The shower he takes this morning is quicker than most of the ones he’d usually take, but there’s a good reason for that. Steve needs to look good today— not just good. He needs to look put together. That isn’t exactly his strong suit, but it needs to be something he gets better at if he wants to make it through his honors program. 

His shower isn’t long, but it is hot enough for the lenses of his glasses to be fogged up with steam when he tries to put them back on after stepping over the rim of the tub. He wipes them off on the dry corner of his towel after using it to rub out some of the wetness from his hair, combing the water-darkened strands out so they’ll dry flat as he gets dressed. 

He has to go back to his room to do that, but Sam should be busy in his room getting dressed in his own clothing for today. Unlike Steve’s, Sam’s classes require him to wear a uniform every day. Flight school is no joke. Sam isn’t even a certified pilot yet, but they sure expect him to dress like one as he goes through his own program. 

The uniform that Sam wears looks much more professional than what Steve throws on, but Steve doesn’t really have many more options to choose from than the striped brown slacks and white grid-checked button down he winds up going with. He knows that stripes and checks don’t really match, but the lines on his shirt are so thin that you can barely see them if you’re stepped back. 

In any case, this outfit is nicer than the jeans and hoodie combo that he’d usually be wearing to class. Besides, these pants are the only nicer ones he owns, bought from a thrift shop for his Ma’s funeral. That shop is where the shirt had come from too, albeit for the different occasion of his high school graduation dinner. Neither of them are the best fit, even now that his body is much bigger than it used to be, but it’ll just have to do for today. 

Steve needs to impress the honors committee with his ideas , not his fashion sense. If he cared that much about style, he’d be in the fashion program with Natasha. He might consider ironing the shirt before he puts it on if not for the fact he knows their iron is lost somewhere in Sam’s room, which Steve doesn’t really have the time to go through if he wants to get to campus early enough to run through his notes one last time before he presents.

He does stop in the bathroom to make sure his hair is drying properly, but by the time he finishes biking to class, it’ll probably be messed right back up again by the wind. There’s nothing he can do about that, though. Not unless someone magically appears with a limo and a chauffeur. 

“On your left,” he says to Sam, scooting past where the older man is standing by the toaster, eyes fixed intently on the machine as he waits for his breakfast to pop. 

Sam’s eyes don’t move, even as he steps back slightly to allow Steve to reach over and snag an orange from their fruit bowl. “You feeling confident?”

“Not really,” Steve mutters, but Sam already knows that. It’s why he asked.

Like he needs an excuse to give Steve a pep talk. “Just remember, when you make your speech, don’t look at anyone. And don’t imagine them naked. That’s the worst advice ever.” He shakes his head, catching his toast as soon as it pops up and grabbing a knife so he can butter it. “I don’t know why everyone always says to do that.”

“I think if I imagined Dr. Bosko without pants on, that might be what finally pushes my heart over the edge.” Steve digs his nails into his orange and begins to peel it, glad for his fingers to have something to preoccupy themselves with besides twitching with nerves. “I have everything all laid out in my notes and it’s not like they haven’t seen the outline I submitted last semester, but…”

“This is your first time talking to them about it face to face,” Sam finishes. He’s heard Steve spiral about this topic more than once. “You’ve got this, man. You’ve had exhibits up before and these professors have had you in class. They know you’re talented.”

Steve snorts. “I doubt they even remember my name. And those exhibits were for extra credit. I didn’t even have to attend most of them.” He bites into an orange slice and sucks the juice in through his teeth like the taste will somehow erase the tang of anxiety from the back of his mouth. “If I don’t do well on this project, I won’t meet the requirements of my scholarship to graduate.”

Sam rolls his eyes and bites into his own toast, hand curled under it to keep the crumbs from landing on his crisply-pressed shirt. “You’re not giving yourself enough credit.”

“Maybe you’re just giving me too much,” Steve counters.

“You’ve got this.” Sam thumps him on the back and crunches through the last few bites of his breakfast, taking a sip out of his travel thermos of coffee as he heads towards the door. “And I’ve got to go. I’ll bring takeout home tonight and you can tell me how everything went? Mr. Wok’s sound good?”

“Pick me up a couple of extra egg rolls in case everything goes wrong?” Steve tries to joke, but his apprehension must show through on his face, because Sam pauses and looks back at him with an exasperated expression. 

“You’re gonna be fine, man. Break a leg, okay?” And with that, Sam is out the door with one last wave, leaving Steve alone to finish his orange and try to turn his thoughts towards something more optimistic. 

That optimism doesn’t last very long. Sam may not have meant it in the literal sense when he told Steve to break a leg, but that’s exactly what Steve almost does when trying to ride his bike down the street. It’s something he does every day, but he’s so caught up in his own head that he almost crashes not even a minute after taking off. 

It’s embarrassing, but by some miracle, there’s no one else around to see. Steve tries to shake off the jitters the best he can. The last thing he needs is to show up at his presentation with ripped pants and a scraped knee. 

Steve wouldn’t exactly say he’s accident prone but he does have a long history of injuries, some of which he’s accumulated completely on his own. He’s not the most graceful guy in the world, especially when he’s got so much on his mind to distract him from his usual daily routine. 

He manages to make it to campus without any more near-crashes or other catastrophes, but the relief of that is pretty short lived, because he has a different sort of collision almost immediately after he locks up his bike on the rack in front of the Arts building and tries to head up the steps. Steve really is trying to look where he’s going, but during the two seconds it takes for him to look down and adjust the strap on his bag, he somehow manages to bump into the only other person who happened to be walking down the same stretch of stairs he was trying to head up. 

And as if his luck today weren’t rotten enough, it’s not just someone . It’s a professor. One of his. He’s only had Professor Glennon twice before in his time at SHIELD, but it’s enough for him to recognize her even with the addition of a cup of coffee nearly tumbling from her hand. She must have better reflexes than Steve, because she manages to get hold of the cup before Steve has even realized what he’s just bumped into is a person. 

“Oh, God, I am so sorry,” he rushes out, face no doubt turning as red as a fire engine as he comes to the further realization that he’s just nearly taken down a faculty member. “I’m so, so sorry, Professor, I wasn’t paying attention—“

“No, no, I had my nose stuck in my lesson plan.” She’s kind enough to laugh it off, but Steve feels like he could pass out of humiliation regardless. 

He feels like he could die when he realizes that a couple of other people have noticed what just happened, and of course one of those people just has to be fucking Gilmore Hodge. SHIELD isn’t a school known for the strength of its sports teams, but like any other college, their athletes garner a little more respect than most among the student body. Gilmore Hodge being one of those athletes, star of the Hockey team. An allstar on the ice and an asshole off of it. 

He’s laughing, but it’s much less nicely than Professor Glennon’s own chuckle. Steve presses his lips together to keep from scowling at him. He’ll just do what they normally do to him: pretend they don’t exist. 

“I’m so sorry,” he says again to the professor. “I’ll just— get out of your way.” Running off seems like a cowardly move, but there’s no real reason for him to stick around either. Her coffee is fine. It’s his ego that’s bruised. As if he weren’t feeling unsure enough about his self confidence this morning.

He seems to be taking one hit after another today, because although he doesn’t bump into anyone else in his way into the building, he’s offered only a brief reprieve from embarrassment when he finally gets inside and to a bench where he can sit down and collect himself during the little bit of time left he has before his presentation is scheduled. 

It isn’t technically his fault this time, so there’s that singular positive side of the situation. He isn‘t even moving, as a matter of fact. That might actually be the problem, though. He can’t think of why else someone wouldn’t see him sitting in such an obvious spot. Apparently he’s so stationary that the guy doesn’t even realize he’s not about to plop down on a bench until Steve makes a strangled sound in the back of his throat. 

“Oh, shit, man. You scared me.” This guy is laughing now too, more at himself than Steve. He’s the one that looks embarrassed this time too, but Steve still feels a twinge of the same emotion in the pit of his stomach. 

“Sorry,” he says for what feels like the millionth time in the two hours he’s been awake today. “I can scoot over if you—“ 

It’s probably a good thing the guy cuts him off before Steve can work himself up into needing his inhaler, waving a hand and stepping away while holding up what looks to be a wrapped sandwich in the other. “No, it’s cool. I’ll find somewhere to eat that isn’t on top of a stranger.”

“Oh. Okay.” If there’s one other positive to be found here, it’s that the guy isn’t Steve’s type. Steve doesn’t want to think about how high-strung he’d be right now if he’d been nearly sat on by someone he thought was cute. 

He’s polite, at least, nodding at Steve before turning and walking away. Steve can’t really be mad at the guy for not noticing him. Not a lot of people do. Steve kinda prefers it that way, to tell the truth. 

There’s only one person on campus that could spot Steve in a crowd every time without fail, but that’s because Natasha has a sharper eye than most, not to mention the fact that she’s pretty much been Steve’s second best friend since the first time they met in Drawing I freshman year. 

She’s in the fashion program, not art, but there was an overlap of required skills in their degrees that led to them having a few classes together in the beginning. The ability to sketch is an important part of being an aspiring designer, so Steve has been told. It makes sense. Natasha has about as many drawing pads around her apartment as Steve does around his and Sam’s, even if she doesn’t tend to dabble in other mediums outside of fabric. 

Natasha is the type of person that’d be impossible not to notice, both in a crowd or out of it. She’s not the tallest— especially compared to Steve, who she’d only met after his growth spurt— but even if she didn’t have bright red hair, the way she carries herself is hard to look away from. Steve isn’t even into women in that way, but he has enough of an eye for aesthetically pleasing people to have been drawn to Natasha from the first day. 

Admittedly, Natasha is the one that approaches him this morning, but the sound of her heels clacking against the floor signals him to her arrival. He doesn’t even have to fully look up to know it’s her. Who else casually wears heels to class other than a fashion major? Well, them and people who have to do presentations. 

Steve looks down at his own slightly-scuffed brown dress shoes. Another secondhand store purchase he’d made years ago. He’ll never know why Natasha chose him to be her closest friend on campus. 

No matter the reason, her smile is just as bright when she comes to stand in front of him, arms crossed and a hip jutting out at an angle to the side. Despite the chilly weather of January, she’s wearing a skirt with nothing but patterned tights underneath, more put together on an average day for herself than Steve probably will be at his own damn wedding, if he ever gets married. 

“Good morning.” Natasha’s greeting is so chipper that Steve almost feels guilty for how glum his sounds in response. 

“I’d say it was good, but someone just almost sat on me.”

“Really? Again?” If he were talking to anyone other than Natasha, Steve might be slightly more insulted by her smirk and the untrue implication that he gets sat on on a regular basis, but it is Natasha. Sarcasm is pretty much her number one form of self-expression. 

Doesn’t mean Steve can’t play at that game too. “And how many people have called you Daphne today already?”

“Just one,” Natasha shoots back without missing a beat. “But that’s what I get for wearing purple. Now are you gonna sit here and talk to me about Scooby-Doo all day or are you gonna let me tell you that your presentation is going to go okay?”

Steve sighs, shoulders slumping down at the same time his chin lowers to look at the stack of index-cards he has in his lap. “Sam already tried that. Don’t really think it took, but that wasn’t his fault.”

“He knows you’re thick-headed.” Natasha’s voice is uncharacteristically gentle, which speaks to how tied-up with nerves Steve truly is if she’s joining in on Sam’s attempt to coddle him into calming down. “But I mean it. Things might not go perfectly, but it’s going to be fine. You’re talented, Steve.”

“That’s what Sam said too,” Steve says quietly, only looking back up at her once he’s managed to twist his mouth into a tight smile. “You sure you two aren’t communicating about me behind my back?”

Natasha meets his smile with a lopsided one of her own, brushing the curled edge of her bangs back as she tilts her head. “Only to try and figure out where we want to take you for your birthday,” she deadpans. “Hope you don’t mind us counting it as your graduation present too.”

Steve laughs, and though it’s strained, he is slightly comforted by the attempt to lighten him up. He’d expect nothing less. None of them are exactly well-off, and Sam will no doubt be counting the trip as Natasha’s graduation present too since both she and Steve are in the same class. 

Natasha isn’t an art major, but she is still in a program that’s made sure she also understands just how nerve-wracking it is to present creative ideas and leave them open for criticism, even if she has much more confidence in handling it than Steve feels he does right now. 

“You’ve got this,” she tells him, another quote shared with what Sam had said earlier in the morning. “And even if you feel like you don’t, all you can do is grin and bear it until it’s over.” There’s a light touch to Steve’s shoulder then, one of Natasha’s hands moving down to pat over the crease of where Steve’s shirt sleeve folds out. “You’ve got good ideas, Steve. You’re gonna do great things. You’ve just gotta graduate first.”

“Changing the world is one of the main themes of my thesis,” Steve mutters, mustering up another smile to give Natasha before he stands, still gripping his stack of cards tightly in hand. “Thanks, Nat. I appreciate it.”

She leans up on her toes and presses a kiss to his cheek that would probably make the people around them speculate about their relationship if the boy she were kissing was anyone but Steve. This is another instance where Steve is happy to be invisible. 

That seems to be the main theme of this morning, at least where Steve Rogers is concerned. People never seem to notice him unless he’s making a spectacle with someone else, and the amount of run-ins he’s had this morning have done nothing but prove that. 

People don’t see him, let alone remember his name, and maybe that was understandable when he was small and skinny, but now that he’s finally had a growth spurt Steve only feels even worse about being reminded that he’s just a nobody who is always in the way. 

He’s grown, yes, but it seems he hasn’t quite grown into himself yet. That’s going to make it hard to make a difference in the world the way he’s always wanted, even with his art project that’s supposed to be one of the main things that helps him get started on that while he’s still young. Maybe Steve can’t change the world with his smile the way Natasha can, but he’s got his art. 

As his thesis is meant to point out, art always has the potential to impact people’s views and emotions. It’s certainly impacted Steve’s state of mind. 

“I’d go in there with you if I could, but this is as far as I can go,” Natasha says once she’s stepped back. “Call me about how things went later? Or maybe we can get brunch tomorrow?“

“If it’s not one, it’ll be the other.” The further Nat walks away, the more intimidating the door to the room Steve’s meeting is supposed to be in seems to look across the hallway.

Without looking back, Natasha calls out one final bit of reassurance doubling as advice. “Deep breaths, Rogers, and make sure you give them a smile at the start.”

As she’d said before, all he can do now is grin and bear it until it’s over. 

“You’ve got this,” he whispers to himself. Maybe if he, Sam, and Natasha have all said it, it’ll have an increased likelihood of being true. He can only hope. 

He steps towards the door. Here goes nothing. 

At the very least, if all turns to disaster, Sam will still be bringing him those extra egg rolls.  

 

-

 

Steve isn’t sure of what word he would use to describe the experience he just went through. Disaster feels like it’d be painting things (no pun intended) out too darkly, but Steve just…. He wouldn't say it went well either. 

Something in the middle, maybe. Mediocre? Average? Isn’t that only describing a different sort of letdown than doing downright awful?

His hopes hadn’t been very high to begin with, but considering that one of the first things the committee members did when he got in there was snap at him to speak up, the idea of starting off with a smile had gone right out the window. He’d kept going, though, heeding their instructions by raising his voice and squaring his shoulders back to stand up as straight as his scoliosis allows him. 

He doubts it’d ended up being as straight as they were expecting, but he’d tried to make up for it by making as much eye contact as he could without upchucking into the nearest trash can. Trying is the important part of it all, or at least that’s what his Ma had always taught him. 

Steve can only hope that his sweaty palms and slight stuttering won’t have put the committee off from seeing all of the effort behind the work that’s gone into his project and ideas so far. He’d barely been able to avoid the urge to wipe his hands off on his pants while talking, having to clear his throat a couple of times in the middle of his speech in order to keep his voice from cracking like a boy still going through puberty. 

The way all of those professors were staring at him was just so intense. It’d felt like they were somehow both picking him apart and looking straight through him at the same time. 

Steve is probably white as a ghost right now. Maybe that’s why he feels like he’s floating as he walks out of the room, flinching at the sound of the door slamming shut behind him. They’ve told him to wait out here for a moment until someone comes out with instructions for what he’ll need to do to follow up, which could result in either one of two options: Steve’s thesis gets rejected and sent back to the drawing board, setting him back by months, or it gets approved and he’ll continue to work, staying on track with the schedule he’ll need to take to make it to graduation. 

The thought of being told that his idea isn’t good enough makes Steve nauseous. It’s not that he wouldn’t get back up and try again on the project, because he would, it’s just— the thing is, he knows his idea is good. He just hates public speaking so much. No matter how strongly he believes in something, he’s always so scared that he won’t get his point across if he fucks up the delivery process. 

Which is exactly what he’s terrified he’s just done during this meeting. He’s been working on this idea for months, but actually putting it out there for criticism is different. Steve can take criticism, but that doesn’t mean it always leaves him feeling good. 

The mere possibility of it has him so nervous he’s near tears at the present moment. He might even head to the bathroom to squeeze in a quick breakdown before his actual classes for the day start if he weren’t still waiting for one of the professors to come out and deliver his fate. 

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), he doesn’t have to wait for much longer. It only takes another minute for the door to creak open and Dr. Lee to step out. 

“Steven,” he says, reaching out a hand for Steve to shake before he goes on. Steve’s suddenly glad he took the time to finally wipe off his palm once he got out into the hall. “Thank you for giving us your time this morning. I know senior year is often a busy time for students.”

“Yes, sir,” Steve says, hoping he doesn’t sound as numb as he feels with how hard he’s trying to prepare himself for what he’s afraid may be crushing news. 

“We’ll be emailing you sometime soon about our decision for approval and the timeframe for our next meeting. All I can say until then is… keep up the hard work, son.” He smiles and gives Steve a quick nod before turning to re-enter the room where the rest of the committee is still inside. 

Steve blinks and tries to process what that might mean. He knows he shouldn’t overthink what he can’t control, but that’s easier said than done. Keep up the hard work? That’s not the same as saying good work would have been, but it’s something. It’s an acknowledgment, isn’t it? That Steve is working hard. That he really is trying his best. 

There’s a million other implications Steve could pick apart in that statement, but as much as he’d love to stand here all day and do that, he has class, and after class, he has work. 

Stop dwelling on what-ifs a voice in his head helpfully supplies, sounding suspiciously like Natasha. 

Steve sighs and slowly begins trudging towards the stairs that’ll take him to the floor above where his Art History class is located. 

He tried. Like his Ma would’ve said, that’s the important part. 

 

-

 

Steve also tries not to fixate on the possibility of his presentation being a major fuck up for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, Steve’s attention span is just as stubborn as the rest of his personality is. 

He can’t shake the worry off, not even with his classes keeping him busy for most of the morning and afternoon. By the time he’s able to head over to work once he makes it out of his Ceramics class, it’s a relief to have something methodical to do in the form of cleaning. 

Technically his job at the community center is as an assistant teacher in the arts and crafts room, but he doesn’t really get to interact with the kids much outside of the summer just because his classes and studio time tend to run into the evening. 

As much as Steve likes helping the kids learn, he’s glad that he gets to be alone in the classroom today. Wiping down the tables and making sure the supplies are put away properly aren’t the most strenuous of tasks, but they are repetitive enough to help clear his head of some of the negative thoughts that have been taking it over all day. 

Steve doesn’t really mind not being the one to lead the programs. If today has proven anything, it’s that he’s not the best with people, even if kids are usually a lot easier to handle, in his opinion. They don’t care if you fuck up or stutter. Half the time they don’t even notice, and if they do they’ll usually forget in five minutes tops. 

Losing himself to the rhythmic process of spritzing the tables with cleaning and swiping them over with a cloth is easy. Normally Steve might go up to the front and turn the stereo that they usually play CDs of children’s music on just to have some background noise, but today he’s content with the silence. He needs some peace and quiet. 

There aren’t many people left in the center now that it’s approaching dinnertime, so no one comes to interrupt Steve’s cleaning process in the nearly two hours he takes to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape. 

His boss is kind enough to be understanding that school keeps him pretty busy during the semester, so most of Steve’s shifts are short, but given frequently enough to bring enough rent money in when paired with the casual selling Steve does of his artwork sometimes. The least Steve can do to repay that kindness is make sure that everything will be found squeaky clean for whoever is working with the kids tomorrow. 

By the time he’s deemed his job in the classroom done, the building is empty enough for the only person he passes on his way out to be the woman who always works at the front desk. 

Steve gives her a polite smile as he stops at her station to sign out on the employee’s log. “Don’t stay here too late,” he jokes. He’s known Lena long enough to know that the older woman likes to be the last one out. 

Her only response is to snort and wave a hand towards the door as if to shoo him out. “You’re the one that needs to get out of here,” she says. “The night is still young and so are you. Go have fun! That’s what your college years are for.”

The laugh Steve lets out is tired and a little bit forced. If only she knew how ironic that advice is to him on a day like today. Fun. Eating Chinese takeout with Sam once he gets home will have to cover that for tonight. 

“I’ll do that,” he tells her regardless, giving her a tiny wave before beginning to head towards the door. “See you next week.”

This time when Steve gets on his bike to head back home, it goes smoothly. No near crashes or anything. Pushing his feet down on the pedals helps clear his head in the same way cleaning had, and though the air that blows his face gets colder the faster he goes, he relishes in the way it makes him feel. Refreshed, almost. 

The ride back to his and Sam’s place from the center isn’t very far. It only takes a few minutes, and before he knows it, Steve finds himself outside his building. 

After such a long day, Steve is happy to be home, but he does have to take a second to himself before he begins heading up the stairs. Sam will inevitably ask him about how the presentation went over dinner, and while Steve doesn’t mind telling him… he’s not sure he wants to talk about it just yet. He needs a minute.

Unlike the ride over here, he takes the walk up to their apartment slowly, locking his bike in the rack under the stairs so he doesn’t have to carry it the whole way up. The temptation to stay down there and hide right next to it just so he doesn’t have to admit to his fears about failing is strong, but as usual, Steve calls upon the memory of one of his mother’s favorite sayings in order to keep moving. 

There’s nothing you can do when you get knocked down but pick yourself up and keep walking towards tomorrow. 

Or in this case, keep walking towards the front door. 

Steve twists his key in the lock and takes a deep breath before turning the handle to push it open. “I’m home,” he calls, just so Sam won’t think that there’s someone trying to rob them. He’s a little paranoid like that. 

He’s also apparently forgotten his manners, because when he yells back at Steve from the kitchen, his mouth is just as full with food as it had been with his toothbrush this morning. “You got mail,” he calls. “I left it on the arm of the couch. You know anyone from Europe? It’s got international stamps.”

“What?” Steve’s brows furrow as he trudges his way over to the envelope Sam must be talking about. He’s glad for the brief reprieve from talking about his day, but he doesn’t know anyone in Europe, unless one of his friends decided to study abroad without telling him. 

He flips the envelope over and his frown deepens. Abraham Erskine. Yeah, he definitely doesn’t know who this is, but whoever it is, they have pretty fancy handwriting. The envelope feels pretty fancy too, the paper thick and high quality. 

The confusion doesn’t lessen even a little when Steve pries the thing open to reveal the letter inside, written on a cream-colored stationary bordered with an ornate pattern that the artist in Steve marvels at when he takes it out. If anything, Steve only gets even more confused when he reads the first few lines. 

Steven Rogers,

I know this letter and the request it contains may come as a surprise, but if I can offer one reason that you should at the very least read what I have to say, here it is: I knew your father quite well before he died

Now Steve isn't just confused. He’s shocked, fingers so paralyzed by the emotion that the letter slips out of them and flutters down the carpet below. 

Who the hell is Abraham Erskine and how did he know Joseph Rogers?