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"This is yours," Tony said after they shook hands, and he tucked something into the bag strapped to the back of Steve's bike, almost carelessly. Steve didn't look until he was well out of town - well out of state, well out of range of anyone who even knew he was alive.

The motel he stopped at was old but clean, and he hesitated before scrawling his name across the receipt he got after handing over his SHIELD-issued debit card. ("I don't think I have any money," he'd said hesitantly to Coulson at one point, and had been rewarded with a rare startled expression. "It's been handled," Coulson assured him, and of course, it turned out that it had, although he still wasn't entirely certain where the money had come from. "Royalties," had been the only explanation he'd managed to get out of anyone, and most of the paperwork they'd had him sign had included the words Estate of Steven Rogers, which had wound something inside him so tight that he couldn't bring himself to ask anything further.)

He unpacked his bag, found the computer, and packed it directly away again, but not before booting it up long enough to send Tony an email that just read "Nice try, Stark. You're not invited."

He traveled. Aimless and without much of a pattern initially, and when that began to grate at him, he mapped out a route on a paper map he bought from a gas station. He stopped at a library every other day, and read something - anything - and when that finally began to feel inefficient and futile, he started Tony's computer again (he was in Denver by that point, sitting on the porch of his hotel with a beer by his side that made him feel nothing, but was one of the few things that tasted familiar anymore), and he began to read in earnest.

Fury had offered a crash course on history, and Steve had turned it down, not least because - being a soldier - the last people he trusted to give him an honest viewpoint on anything were the military. He still wasn't sure if SHIELD even qualified as military, exactly, but they certainly weren't objective, and although Stark Industries wasn't either, he figured a self-guided tour might be the best chance he had at trying to figure out people's angles before they tried to get one over on him.

The reply to his email was just as short - "Didn't think I was. Thought you might like some reading material, though." - and Steve didn't reply to it.

Instead, he interspersed his crash course with reading up on his new team. Tony was easy - he was everywhere, and nothing he did or said ever stayed private for long. Clint and Natasha were more difficult, but what the internet was lacking, Tony had provided in spades on the computer, and Steve made a mental note to never ask Tony where he had gotten some of the information he had. Thor made for the most fascinating reading, but mostly because almost everything Steve found was only half-truth, buried in myth.

He was in California when he started to think that maybe he should find himself a project - something to do with his hands - until Fury called him up again, but instead he opened the last file and lost himself to three days of doing nothing but reading and watching everything he could find on the rise and fall of Dr. Banner.

He discovered there was a house - not far from where he was staying - and he hopped on his bike and drove there one morning almost without a second thought. The For Sale sign out front was so old it was falling over, and the walls still were only half-there, the windows shattered, the garage in pieces. Steve stood for a long time looking at it, and when he got back to his hotel that afternoon, he carefully began researching the purchase of real estate, without taking the time to look too closely at his motives.

"I have many lovely houses in this style - " the realtor tried to tell him when he finally got in contact, but he just shook his head.

"This one," he informed her, and her face while he signed the papers said, it's your funeral. He didn't tell her that he'd already had one of those - had watched the footage of it online, in fact - and that it had been lovely.

He got called in for a mission shortly after that, and no one asked where he'd been. He didn't offer any information, but afterwards he found himself back in California, standing in a shattered living room and sketching out floorplans into a notebook.

It was slow work, hard work, and he found himself learning things about Banner's Other Guy with each dent he inspected, each wall he carefully reconstructed on paper. He was halfway through the planning stage and most of the way through the cleaning out debris stage when his phone rang one evening and he answered it absently, seeing the Stark Industries number and thinking it was Tony.

There was quiet on the other end of the line for long enough that he snapped to attention, and carefully asked, "Dr. Banner?"

"What exactly - " Bruce's voice was very low, very level, and painfully calm - "do you think you're doing?"

"I'm..." Steve hesitated, tucking the phone against his shoulder and looking around the room. "Building something," he finally said decisively.

"I have been trying to unload that place for - " Bruce began, and Steve could hear the phone shift as he shook his head. "You're a crazy person, Rogers."

"Maybe," Steve agreed. "Hey, while I have you on the phone, I've been thinking that the next time I'm in New York, we should sit down with some video and do some fight analysis on the big guy." He didn't pause long enough for Bruce to object. "I'm noticing some patterns here that could be - " he shrugged. "Useful." He was quiet for a moment, listening to Bruce's careful silence, and he looked down at the floor, toeing at a broken baseboard. "I needed a project," he said, and the words felt hollow as he said them, an excuse that said nothing about his reasons at all.

"That project?" Bruce asked, but he didn't ask why, because the same universe existed in his mind as Steve's - the one where Steve had gone green instead of red, white, and blue.

"Yeah," Steve said. "This one."

There was a long silence, long enough that Steve started to think that Bruce was going to hang up on him, or was maybe fighting off a transformation, but when he spoke again, his voice was steady and normal and maybe even a little thawed out. "You've got some insights on the fighting thing, huh?" he said. Steve imagined him rubbing at the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "When are you going to be in town again?"

Steve shrugged. "When do you want me to be?"

"Next week?" Bruce offered. "I should be done with this project by then, and Tony's been saying he wants to talk over some of the training equipment he's working on with you."

"Done," Steve agreed. He paused, at a loss for anything more to say, but Bruce filled the silence instead.

"I'll see you then," he said. "And Cap?"


"Good luck." He sounded like he meant it.