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Caught in the Middle

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Every day, before he's even fully awake enough to remember, before he makes the bed with military precision and goes about his morning routine, Steve gets a feeling of wrongness.

Like he's missing something. Like something's missing him.

Like he's not where he's meant to be.

– ---

Thor, on the other hand? Thor's about the only one who doesn't find his presence on Earth strange.

More often than not he'll leap out of bed before his eyes are even open, roaring words in a language no one else knows, and attempting to summon lightning. (The bedside table suffered one too many catastrophes from Thor's sleep-swinging of Mjölnir, and has now been removed entirely).

Of course, he'll wake up the moment the damage is done, thump his chest with one massive fist, and proclaim something about great warriors and requiring a breakfast worthy of the gods themselves. Although every inhabitant of the Avengers Mansion has their own room, Thor speaks at a volume that probably renders him audible across the street.

It's an odd start to a daily routine, and it's one that took a while for his fellow Avengers to get used to. Fortunately, Tony was willing to provide everyone with super-soundproof earmuffs.

– ---

Even Steve can admit that a lot of the time it's funny.

(That first night when they'd moved into the Stark mansion – wrongStarkwrongStarkwrongStarkwro-- everyone had been grouchy and cagey and wary of their new team-mates, and a tour of the house had been foregone in favour of various combinations of brooding, drinking, and sleep. Of course, that meant that come morning, when the military training still ingrained in Steve got him up at least two hours before everyone else, he had no idea at all where anything was.

Tiptoeing around and pushing open various doors had eventually found him a kitchen, even if it was far shinier and more intimidating than the one he'd been allowed to use since he woke up. S.H.I.E.L.D. had been doing their best to introduce him to the modern world as slowly and carefully as they could, but obviously that was never going to happen with a Stark.

Steve had rolled his eyes, not awake enough to be hit by the crushing waves of guilt and sorrow that usually came with thinking of Howard, and dared to step into the kitchen. The number of distorted reflections peering back at him from various metal surfaces in the dim light was definitely in the double digits, and that alone was disturbing enough. Honestly, what was up with Starks and their deep abiding affection for shiny metal things?

Surprisingly, it was easy to locate the coffee machine, despite its monstrous size and its ridiculous number of levers and buttons – and the mugs were actually logically stored in the cupboard above it. Maybe Coulson had been in here already.

The problems only started when Steve actually had to try working the thing.

By the time Natasha was strolling through the door, perfectly done up as always and pointedly snapping over her shoulder at Clint, Steve was sat in the middle of the floor, wide-eyed and wondering if this was what shell-shock felt like, and the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. Natasha had stopped dead, a strangled sound that was probably trying desperately not to be a giggle escaping before she could censor it.

Steve raised his big, innocent, blue gaze to her face, and looked so terrified that Natasha couldn't help herself. When Tony staggered in, already sniping about showers and JARVIS and humanity in general, she was sliding down the wall in hysterics, unable to support herself.

Chairs flung back against the walls, table overturned, and each and every cupboard and oven and dishwasher thrown open. Little lights were flashing everywhere, and all the beeping complaints of various appliances were loud enough that they could be heard even over Natasha's laughter.

Tony sighed.

“I guess we're going to Starbucks for coffee then.”)


Thor still doesn't seem to have any idea what the coffee machine is, or how it works – in fact, now he comes to think about it, Steve is pretty certain that he's never actually seen Thor drink any coffee out of the big, red mug he claimed as his own. He might suspect that Thor has never tried coffee, except that he's met Jane Foster and he knows exactly how much she gets through in a day, so it seems highly unlikely. No one in the Avengers mansion is particularly worried about trying to convince Thor of the benefits of coffee though; after all, a caffeinated Thor? Is there anyone in the world who doesn't shudder at such a horrifying thought?

There was that week in which Clint decided to teach Thor to make hot chocolate. He was tired of being badgered by the god at increasingly inconvenient moments because he wanted “to sup upon that most wondrous and noble of beverages” and Clint was the only one who made it properly, in a saucepan with real chocolate rather than that cheap powder that was “but a mere shadow of its true, glorious taste”. And also he was the only person willing to let Thor add marshmallows.

That week had been stressful and rather traumatising for everyone – and by the end of it, even Natasha had let off her sniping at Clint, who was looking more than a little wild around the eyes, and had been seen stroking his bow and muttering to it whilst glaring at an oblivious Thor.

Thor did learn to make hot chocolate though, and most of Tony's kitchen was apparently fixable, which was good. Fury still isn't very impressed with the enormous amounts of marshmallows the mansion gets through – all of which go on their expenses sheet – despite the majority of the Avengers arguing that they didn't order them, they just didn't argue with the god who did.

– ---

Occasionally, it's just plain odd.

(Like the first time they went on a practice mission and Steve was watching Tony dance around Thor throwing insults and gibes until finally Thor got fed up and thwacked his hammer into the ground hard enough that Steve stumbled, let alone Tony – when suddenly, they were surrounding by tinny ringing noises and whistles and beeps and Steve could swear he heard a duck somewhere in the cacophony.

Steve had leapt backwards, swinging his shield up without thinking, but it was like the incessant ringing was following him. It was only after spinning in a circle a few times, and curling round to look behind him, that he noticed that most of the irritating noises had stopped.

And the rest of the Avengers were staring at him.

Clint had a little box thing pressed to his ear, and chuckled at Steve even as he spoke into it.

“Yeah, yeah, we'll be there. Just watching Cap have a mini-freak-out, that's all.”

Steve blushed to the roots of his hair. Even Thor had picked up on cell phones quicker than him.)


It's true. Thor had, remarkably, only needed the concept of a phone explained four (and a half) times before he'd learned it. Admittedly, the other Avengers and most S.H.I.E.L.D. staff still avoid calling him unless they have to (he 's loud at the best of times, and understandably most people find it a tad uncomfortable having him bellow into their ear) and his texts are all entirely in caps lock and using his outdated and long-winded phrasing (they were essentially a visual representation of his usual speech patterns, in fact), but he can at least use the tiny machines quite proficiently when necessary.

At any rate, it's better than Steve stumbling constantly over which way up to hold the phone, and which button answers it without putting it on loudspeaker, and how to turn it off, and remembering to “charge” it – and when it comes to texting he's still caught in that place where he knows he could just about do it were it not for the “predictive text” feature (which is seemingly always wrong) but doesn't yet know how to turn it off. And his team-mates – especially Tony – are being annoyingly unforthcoming on that front.

– ---

But sometimes-- sometimes it's awkward and it's alienating and it hurts.

(The team's only been formally together a couple of weeks when the alarm comes in saying that Loki has been spotted in several states across the USA – probably cackling evilly each time, Steve thinks, still grouchy and uncomfortable in his new-but-not role – and that mysterious fires have been springing up exactly two days after he's seen.

And he was seen in Virginia day and a half ago.

Not even an hour passes before the jet is in the air, and they're rushing towards the military-declared Danger Zone, each of them focused on the massive screen installed along one wall of the plane, giving them a view of Fury and Coulson in the War Room back at HQ.

Steve is so preoccupied with the tension in the air, his attention divided between Fury's scowl and barked orders and the files in his hands that he grabbed before they left, that he carelessly pushes the strangeness of the modern plane to the back of his mind. Nothing like a mission to take your mind off your personal problems, after all.

Or at least that was what he had thought.

At first, there are no problems. They get to some spot a little ways away from Washington, D.C., exact location pinpointed by Stark Industries technology, to find nothing out of place. They're focusing on evacuating civilians, and Steve is in his element, pointing and cajoling and shouting as the occasion demands, and it's only procedure to give chase when Loki finally appears, automatically taking the lead and directing the other Avengers to follow just as he would have with his former team.

This time, Loki apparently knew to expect them, and he's brought reinforcements. Steve doesn't even know what to call the bizarre crosses between oversized spiders and machines, doesn't really want to think about it, but he laughs at the sound of Clint's “Take that, spider-bot!” somewhere behind him and to the left.

Swinging his shield off his back, he uses it to carve a path through the creatures, bellowing at Stark when a laser burns through a “spider-bot” far too close for comfort. Steve registers a faint crackle of Tony sniggering over their radio, but doesn't even have time to roll his eyes before he's through the crowd of robots and sprinting after Loki.

His feet are thudding on the grass, and the wind is whistling in his ears, and it takes a few moments for Steve to identify the regimented lines of white rapidly approaching amid all the green. He automatically slows, stumbling slightly, when he understands just where they are.

He can't charge across here, he can't fight Loki in the middle of Arlington.

But the rogue god isn't giving him much choice. Laughing maniacally and swinging his staff around to face Steve, Loki leaps right on top of the Tomb of the Unknowns and suddenly the ground around Steve's feet is exploding.

Setting his shoulders, Steve starts to run again, and the rest of the team is here too, Natasha somersaulting past him, missing a blast by inches, and Tony zooming down right on top of Loki, red against green. When Loki flashes out of sight though, it's all Tony can do to back-pedal until he's hovering horizontal just above the surface of the thankfully unharmed monument. The radio is filled with curses and swearing and muttering at JARVIS.

Steve rolls his eyes, and is about to make some snide comment at Stark when he's dragged off his feet by a hand on his shoulder and a flash of blue light that blinds him, leaves him staggering. A laugh that can't belong to anyone but Loki is right behind him, and Steve straightens, turning to face the noise, shield up in front of him and blinking frantically.

He can still hear the clash of battle, so they can't be that far from the Avengers, but he doesn't have time to get back to them, because suddenly Loki is driving that spear straight at his chest.

The following half hour is a blur. Roars from the Hulk herald the destruction of the vast majority of the spidery machines, and Loki is deflecting arrows that somehow never hit Steve despite the speed with which he is having to move. It's not long before Thor is shouting at his step-brother though, speeding between the rows of graves, hair and cloak twisting in the air behind him.

Just for a moment, everything stops. Crushed right up against the enemy, Steve is close enough to feel the momentary freeze of every muscle in Loki's body as he notices Thor over Steve's shoulder, close enough to hear the murmured “Brother...”.

But then, just as Thor is about to reach them, Loki throws a cocky smile at Steve, and pushes him backwards into Thor's path. By the time they've untangled each other, he's disappeared and the Avengers are standing in (or flying above, in Tony's case) a field of destruction, bits of machine tossed in heaps over the trampled grass.

Miraculously, every tombstone is still standing unharmed and peaceful.

Steve breathes hard, but smiles through it, feeling the thrill of victory run through him. Right at that second, it didn't matter what year it was, or who he was with – they had fought, and they had protected the good people of America, and that was what he had been trained to d--

His breath catches in his throat.

Thor is saying something, voice booming and loud, and a massive hand claps him on the back. Steve staggers under the force, but barely notices, can't tear his eyes away, can't hear the rest of the team putting aside their usual animosity and laughing about their success.

Steve just tries really hard not to cry.

Finally though, Tony lands right in front of him – and its either look up again, or stare at Tony's crotch, which would be sort of awkward.

“All right, Rogers, I'll give you that you can fight well. Even if you are a jumpy son of a bitch,” Tony grins, and his helmet is sliding open, and Steve's heart is hammering in his chest because oh god it's Howard and there's a war going on and Hydra and they have to stop them and--

“Oi, Captain, I just gave you a compliment! Are you even awake in there?”

There's the hand of a heavy metal suit pressing against his chest, warm even through his uniform from all the fighting and electricity, and suddenly Steve snaps back to himself.

The overlay of his previous – his real, his mind whispers longingly – life dissolves, and suddenly it's 2010 again and Tony's in front of him, Howard's son, not his friend, and this Stark isn't grinning at him and laughing about whatever they can find to laugh about in the middle of a war, but he's rolling his eyes and shoving Steve lightly.

Steve gives a lame response, he's not even sure what it is, and lets himself get caught up in the group, in the walk back to the jet and the sniping and jokes about whose moves were best, and who was sloppy, and whether Clint let a spider-bot throw him on top of Natasha on purpose or not.

He refuses to turn around, resists the urge to walk back, or break down, and he forces his mind into the present.

They won, they fought as a team, and Loki's plans, whatever they are, will have to wait until another day.

He very definitely does not think about the tombstone Loki had been about to slam him into, doesn't think about the past and growing up small and picked-on in Brooklyn, doesn't think about successful missions and celebrations and teams in another lifetime. He most definitely does not think of the name “James 'Bucky' Barnes” carved into a slab of white marble, “1918-1945” beneath it, the date of death squeezing around his heart like a noose.)


It's difficult to do anything at all after that, when all Steve wants to do – all he feels like he can do – is curl up in a corner, fisting his hands over his chest, and rock until he can't feel the pain, the guilt, the responsibility for everything he left behind. Until he can't hear their voices, feel slaps on the back and lips on his cheek, can't see the colour from his memories fading away, trickling out ever so slowly, under the barrage of patterns and flashes and lights of this brave new world he woke up in.

He knows there was a debriefing, that he stood at attention and gave his report like the soldier he cannot, will not, stop being. He knows there was a strategy meeting, an argument with Thor over what to about Loki, and dinner in the living room, all of them collapsed across sleek leather sofas, clutching bowls of Clint's homemade pasta and chicken, talking warily now over the hum of the massive television.

Steve is sure that, instead of trying like he normally does, he avoided watching this 'TV' as much as possible, dragged his gaze away whenever it strayed towards the bright colours and brazen 'special effects' that secretly he doesn't want to get used to. He doesn't want to let go of everything just yet, he can't, and he's afraid it would be far too easy to take this incredible invention for granted, just like everyone around him. What if, when he does that, he starts to lose his past, the things he grew up with, the people? Steve knows it won't stop hurting until he lets himself assimilate into this new place that is so like home but just so wrong at the same time, but right now--

Tonight, Steve can't forget.

Steve doesn't think he slept much that night, isn't sure how much of the tossing and turning was in his head, how much was real. There were shadows too, and a glow, moonlight or memories, and when Steve finally gives in, blinks open his prickling eyes to the sun pouring through the window, his head aches and he can't tell if it's from the bad night or from all the thoughts charging around inside his skull.

– ----

With a beginning like that, Steve doesn't expect the day to be up to much – and at first, he seems to be proved right. He had dropped the simple blue mug he'd claimed as his own, watched it shatter into pieces all across the floor, and woken up Natasha with the noise. She hadn't been pleased but, as she put it, “At least you're not Barton, Steve. If you were, I might have to kill you.”

He somehow manages to burn toast, and when he heads down to the gym to try to get his head back in order, he manages to break the chain holding up the punching bag, and whack himself in the shin with a dumbbell. It doesn't do any damage, not really, and his physiology will deal with it quickly enough, but that doesn't mean he has to enjoy walking around all day with the ghost of pain in his leg, trying not to limp out of sheer habit. For him, his days of being small and easily breakable are all too recent.

When Fury announces that he has a special assignment for them, Steve is torn between relief and irritation. Relief because maybe having something that actually needs doing will distract him from the lingering whirl of feelings in his gut; irritation because at the rate he's going, he'll screw up any 'special assignment' even more spectacularly.

Of course, when Fury announces said assignment, Steve actually sort of wants to cry.

Coulson shepherds them to the local library, all decked out in their Avengers uniforms – Tony had even been forced into his full armour (not that it was ever very hard to get him to show off his own creation). There's a small crowd of people clustered outside, adults and children and the elderly, all crammed into some semblance of a queue, eagerly awaiting the arrival of 'Earth's Mightiest Heroes'. They may only have been a team for a short amount of time, but any one of them alone could generate a decent amount of excitement. Now that they're all together, it doesn't matter that all they've done so far is argue and bicker and stamp out a few of Loki's mechanical spiders, because surely they're going to save the world and isn't it amazing lucy that's captain america he's meant to be from brooklyn where I grew up you know--

And when he looks in the direction of the voice, he sees a young girl with blonde pigtails clutching the hand of an elderly woman with the brightest brown eyes, and something stutters at the back of him mind, a memory, and suddenly Steve knows that Lucy's grandma is little Margaret Smithson. She'd lived just down the road from him before he'd gone away to war, she'd been five, and now look at her, her whole life lived and a family around her and no idea who the man walking past her actually was.

A librarian guides them into the main room itself, and Steve has his 'people smile' fixed on his face, learned from months of working on the stage, drumming up support for the war effort in the only way he thought he could. His throat has gone all tight, but he tells himself the cozy little place is just stuffy, the books around them must have collected dust, and it must be some lingering form of the asthma that plagued him growing up, never mind that he'd been reformed by the super soldier serum.

They're left alone for a few minutes, while the staff go to work on filtering the public into the room with them, making sure everyone has enough space. Coulson turns to them, stern, and reminds them of how good an opportunity this is to gain public support, that they really can't ruin it this time, some of these children don't have homes to go back to, and watch your language because this is family-friendly, I mean you, Stark.

Steve is nodding. He knows this, knows how to deal with civilians, he did this before. This, for once, is something he can do without feeling out of place and wrong in his own skin. He doesn't like it – ever since he got back on the front lines a couple of yea-- no, seventy years ago, and he stifles a dry sob, but ever since then, he's been unwilling to go back to this world of pandering and acting. He's a soldier, not a hero, but at least this isn't new.

“Honestly, Phil, I don't know what you think of me, I'm a people person, you know--” Tony starts, raising his eyebrows and leering over Coulson's shoulder in the direction of the, ahem, rather well-endowed librarian who was standing at the entrance to the hall. Steve clears his throat quietly and bounces once on his toes. He can see Clint grinning and nodding.

Agent Coulson folds his arms. “You will behave, Stark. As will the rest of you. The idea is for you to read a story to the children here, and then spend some time with them and their families. We need to make sure that it's clear you're not a threat to ordinary people, and that you're here to protect them. The press will be watching, so no mistakes, please.”

He stares them down until there's a general murmur of agreement, all of them shifting uncomfortably like chastised schoolchildren.

And then they're swept up in the whole 'Public Relations' palaver. The press is eager to get some quick interviews, and the public wants to know about them, so they're each pushed up to a makeshift podium, forced to give a quick speech, explain their role, reassure the locals. Tony is eager to step up, full of grins and jokes, carefully hovering the suit just a foot or so above the floor, to the delighted gasps of children and parents alike. Natasha seems perfectly comfortable, dimpling prettily at their audience, and explaining simply how she's with the Avengers “because someone has to show these boys that girls are way more awesome, isn't that right?” with a bright grin. The little girls love her, and parents smile affectionately, and even the little boys think she's just the coolest, mom. Bruce is quiet but friendly, Thor is loud and pompous and a bit strange, but no one calls him on it because he has that sort of personality that just draws you in. Clint has no problems, chats to the crowd like he's known them all his life.

And then it's Steve's turn. He steps up, swallows, fixes his mind in the present.

“Uh, hello, everyone. I guess you all know that I'm Captain America, huh?” and he starts to relax as he sees the kids in the front row grinning up at him, rapt, faces glowing with excitement. “I grew up just a little way away from here, did you know that?” Really, when he ignores the cameras flashing, and his team-mates watching him, intrigued, it's not hard to give a speech about how great it is to be American today, how he's so glad that the United States are even greater than they were when he was a kid, how hard he's going to fight to keep them all safe. When he rounds it off, the roar of applause is deafening – he'd forgotten how loud it could get, but when he turns, blushing, to get out of the way so that this whole event thing can start properly, he's shocked to see the Avengers standing there, clapping too. Natasha is smiling, and Tony's nodding approvingly. Clint cheers, and Thor slaps him on the back. Bruce gives a quiet “Nicely done, Captain Rogers,” as he shuffles past to get back to the little dais that the staff have set up in the corner of the library.

“Hi again, everyone. So, we're going to spend some time with you now, and I've been told that a book you'll all hopefully enjoy is this one--” at this point, he holds up a collection of Dr Seuss rhymes. Steve smiles. “My friends are going to sit in with all of you while I read you some of these poems, if that's all right.”

Surprisingly, Bruce is excellent at talking to the children and the adults together, without sounding patronising. It's sort of adorable really, and when every head in the room turns to look at the Avengers, clustered together as they are, Steve has to force himself not to 'awwww' out loud.

The children and their parents are sat around on chairs, the floor, bean bags, and stools. Some of them are tucked up next to tables, books and toys and crayons spread out around them, but every single child is looking eagerly at the team, clearly hoping they'll decide to sit next to them.

Clint is the first to move, and he bounces over to where a few boys seem to be mock-fighting with dinosaur toys. He offers high-fives to the group and promptly sits down, pulling a tyrannosaurus rex towards himself and making a ferocious growling noise. The spatter of giggles that follows encourages Steve to make his way over to a boy diligently colouring in at a table in the corner, quiet and a little bit alone.

“Hey there.” He taps the boy's shoulder gently, shooting a look at the man he assumes is the kid's father for permission – and receives a beaming smile in return. The boy turns, wide-eyed, but doesn't say anything. “Is this seat free?”

The boy nods, still silent, but Steve just smiles softly and sits down. Pulling over a spare piece of paper and a crayon, he pretends not to notice the little boy watching him with interest, letting him get used to his presence.

He's starting to feel better already.

By halfway through the book, most everyone is staring up at Bruce, listening raptly. His quiet, lilting voice is really suited to reading aloud, and he's just animated enough to make the poems fun without sounding irritating.

Tony is gently bouncing a brunette girl in a pink dress on his lap while she grips his armoured hand with chubby little fingers. Natasha is sitting on the floor in front of some slightly older girls on chairs, letting them brush and braid her hair, while simultaneously playing hand games with a boy in a fire engine top. Clint's dinosaur is apparently being torn apart by rabid diplodocuses, and Steve is showing Charles – the quiet little boy with a floppy brown fringe – how to draw a dog.

Thor is sat right in the middle of the group of smaller children on the floor, staring up at Bruce, utterly engrossed in the poem, forehead furrowed as though he's giving deep thought to the antics of the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat.

Steve can't help but smile.

When the book is finished, most of the children clamour for more, some of them climbing into Bruce's lap. He laughs and pats their hair, patiently explaining that they have to go away and work now, that although they'd love to, they can't stay any longer. Charles' father shakes Steve's hand, looking ever so slightly starstruck, and Charles himself hugs Steve around the shoulders before letting his parents coax him out, clutching his drawings in one hand.

Steve is just stretching, rolling shoulders that are uncomfortable from being curved over a tiny table like this, when he happens to glance towards Thor – and so notices the odd flush on his face, and the way his gaze is fixed on the door. Following the direction of the stare, Steve twitches at the sight of Loki – this time simply wearing an elegant suit and looking positively harmless – leaning against the door jamb, apparently having listened to the poems along with everyone else. He's not sure what the 'brothers' are communicating through their stony expressions, but eventually, Loki nods once, shoots a sudden grin at Steve himself, and twists away out the door, carried along in the line of people.

Steve shakes it off. Loki hadn't done anything, after all, and he easily could have. And Thor didn't seem worried, although there was still a very strange look on his face.

Making his way over, trying to ignore the cameras that were once again flashing everywhere (and didn't these machines look so strange, very odd, and Tony had tried to explain how they worked but it had mostly gone right over Steve's head), Steve smiled encouragingly at Thor.

Before he could say anything though, Thor was grinning broadly, showing his perfect white teeth.

“Ah, Steve,” he boomed, “these stories that you have for children are very strange, and I could not divine a meaning from them, but they were very enjoyable all the same.”

Steve laughs. “They're silly nonsense poems, Thor, they not really meant to make a lot of sense. But I'm glad you liked them. Are you all--”

Once again, just as he was about to bring up Loki, Thor talks right over him, gripping his forearm firmly. “This Sam character is very odd, though. Green eggs and ham do not sound at all tempting, and I cannot see the question of eating them ever arising, not in any of the Nine Realms. And I do not understand why anyone would want him to eat them in a box, or with a fox-- do such animals like food of this kind then?”

Steve is a little speechless – a feeling that is pretty common when talking to Thor, because what? But before he can think of anything to say, someone bumps into him from behind, and he's knocked forward slightly, face-first into Thor's chest. Letting out a little 'oomph!' he straightens up quickly, rubbing his nose. Thor's armour is hard. Thor chuckles, a rumble deep in his chest, and helps him right himself.

“Come, American Captain, we should return to Director Fury now, for there may be enemies to vanquish!”

Rolling his eyes good-naturedly at Thor's dramatic phrasing (not to mention, mangling of his name), Steve lets Thor lead him by the arm out of the building, but promises himself that he'll bring up the subject of Loki another time.

– ---

(The picture of Thor and Steve apparently hugging that appears in all the papers the next day – with various unlikely explanations attached – should have been awkward. Of course, they don't escape teasing from their fellow Avengers, and Clint and Tony decide it will be hilarious to lie in wait to push them into each other any time they pass in the halls, but Thor is so indifferent that Steve can quite easily bring himself to set the bizarre rumour-mongering aside, and focus on training.

Whatever Fury and Coulson were hoping to accomplish from their outing, it had clearly worked. The Avengers were starting to work as a team. Steve, laughing with Thor on the way back to the living room, didn't even notice that he was finally loosening his grip on the grief that had been plaguing him since the fight by Bucky's grave.)

– ---