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American Punchline

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One hour. One hour ago Sean disappeared out the door after telling TJ everything they’d had was a lie and making it abundantly clear that TJ was nothing but a waste of space. A pathetic American punchline.

The empty bottle of Jack Daniels stared back at him from the counter top. It’s slow burn had long since stopped being enough. For the first time in months, TJ needed something stronger. All those months of being high on love and all that other bullshit happy people spouted, and he was more than ready to forget it all in exchange for a line or two of coke.

Shoving himself off the couch, he only stumbled slightly in the effort to grab his jacket. Deciding that meant he was sober enough, or perhaps too sober, TJ headed for the door and the nearest club where one of his acquaintances might help him solve his current situation.

Striding through the apartment lobby, he didn’t bother looking before stepping onto the sidewalk. Hitting a small patch of ice, TJ closed his eyes and waited for impact knowing he was far too gone to make any useful attempt at recovery. Instead of cold, hard concrete, TJ’s body connected with what felt like very warm, hard muscles.

“Are you okay?” TJ groaned as he recognized the voice. You’d have to live under a rock not to recognize the voice of Captain America after all the press he’d received from being thawed out and promptly rescuing New York and the rest of the world.

“M fine.” TJ mumbled, daring to pry his eyes open as he felt himself being righted and steadied by those same strong arms and hands. “Ice.” He added in explanation. When he finally dared to look up, he was met with eyes that appeared far more blue in person than they ever had on television.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” The super hero stared at him, expression full of concern. “I don’t mean to pry, but you really don’t look okay.” The blond shook his head. “Shit, that didn’t sound so bad before it came out of my mouth. I don’t mean you look bad, I just mean you look like you’re upset. I … I …”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. There’s no need for you to get yourself all worked up. Feel free to go about your evening without giving me another thought.”

“Trust me, I’ve got a ways to go before they classify me as all worked up. Seriously though, given that I just sent you almost crashing into the sidewalk, and you really do look like you’re having a bad day, would you at least agree to stop and have a cup of coffee with me? I’d feel better knowing you really are okay.” He pointed toward the Starbucks just down the sidewalk.

“You didn’t send me crashing into the sidewalk.” TJ was feeling far more sober than he had been moments before. “I’m pretty sure you fulfilled your heroic duty by rescuing me from a wayward patch of ice. Seriously. You can go. Captain America is bound to have better things to do than waste his time on some pathetic American punchline.” Sean’s words stung just as much coming out of his own mouth.

He watched as the heroes jaw tightened, eyes darkening as he stared down at TJ. “No.”

“No?” TJ’s voice trembled at the dangerous tone the other man’s voice had taken. He wasn’t sure what button he’d just pushed, but there was zero chance of him coming out on top if he’d just managed to piss off a super soldier.

“No, I don’t have better things to do. No, taking time to have a cup of coffee with you isn’t wasting my time. And no, you aren’t a pathetic American punchline. If you’re up for sharing, I’d love to know what asshole fed you that line of bullshit so I can go explain just how wrong they are.”

TJ stared at him, mouth gaping open. Not even his own family sounded that pissed when people insulted him. Hell, half the time they were the ones doing the insulting. “Do you even know who I am?”

“TJ Hammond. Hard to live in this town and not know who you are.” Captain America shrugged. “I’ve been trying to get caught up. I’m Steve, by the way. I prefer to avoid the title when I’m not working. You want to feel like a walking American punchline, try joining the Army thinking you’re going to make a difference with the war and ending up on stage in tights like a glorified chorus girl. I know all about being the punchline in all my red, white, and blue glory.”

This time TJ felt his lips twitch into a hint of a smile, and was surprised to see a much fuller smile on the face of his rescuer.

“Pretty sure people have mostly forgotten about your time as a chorus girl. You’ve done too much good since then.”

Steve shrugged. “I think people have mostly forgotten there’s an actual person beneath the costume and shield, but that’s neither here not there. It’s you I’m worried about.”

TJ felt an unexpected twinge at Steve’s words. Watching the other man’s expression he saw the same loneliness he so often saw in his own. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have a cup of coffee. Steve seemed to genuinely give a shit, and if he was reading things correctly, it looked like the super hero could do with some company.

“There’s no way you’re letting me just walk away, is there?” TJ decided to concede with minimal fuss.

“Well, I’m not going to kidnap you, but I’m certainly not backing down without an argument.” Steve’s eyes brightened as TJ shrugged and started toward the coffee shop.

“Well, come on then. Coffee probably isn’t the worse decision I’ve made today.”